Although I’ve written about this Beaver family previously, I have never been close enough to catch a photo of a Beaver’s teeth but here you can see, they really are that famously orange color!
This hungry fellow was near enough to the pond’s edge that I could see him energetically and two-fistedly stuffing his face nonstop with lily pads. I had read they roll them like enchiladas, but not this lily pad eater, he was just shoveling them in as if there were no tomorrow.
Did you ever wonder how Beavers can chew through trees?
The teeth of Beavers, like all rodents, grow constantly however, Beavers have evolved with orange teeth. Other rodents have magnesium in their teeth whereas beavers have iron. The iron makes the teeth very strong, colors the teeth, and makes their teeth more resistant to acid.
In the warmer months, Beavers devour lily plants; the flowers, the roots, the seed capsules, and as you can see here, the leaves.
Beaver food and frog hideout – Native fragrant Water Lilies (Nymphaea odorata)
Frances Backhouse writes in her book, Once They Were Hats, about the relationship between beavers and water lilies.
“Every year in late summer, the beavers devoured the seed capsules [of water lilies], digested their soft outer rinds and excreted the ripe undamaged seeds into the lake. Meanwhile, as they dredged mud from the botom of the lake for their construction projects, they were unintentionally preparing the seed bed. Seeing the lilies reminded me that beavers also inadvertantly propagate willows and certain other woody plants. When beavers imbed uneaten sticks into dams or lodges or leave them lying on moist soil, the cuttings sometimes sprout roots and grow”.
Puttering through a cut in the marsh, a moving brown shape appeared. Much too big to be a muskrat, and too small to be an otter, it was a very large and pleasantly plump Beaver!
He swam through several small pools of water then climbed out onto dry land to oil his fur. Beavers have a pair of glands located at the base of their tails that produce a fatty, waxy secretion called castoreum. The Beaver combs the castoreum through his fur to waterproof, enabling him to swim without getting his body wet.
Beavers don’t see or hear very well, but they have an amazing sense of smell. They also use the castoreum to mark their territory. The substance is surprisingly pleasantly scented, made pleasant by the Beaver’s diet of tree bark, twigs, stems, and buds.
Beaver waterproofing his fur.
The castoreum smells of vanilla and raspberry, with sweet floral notes. You could actually say, Beaver butts smell great!
After pausing briefly, the chubby fellow waddled back across the marshy land, heading for deeper water.
Where do Beavers go during the winter months and do they hibernate? Beavers are less active in the winter, but they do not hibernate. They spend the winter in a cozy cone-shaped winter lodge built of sticks and mud. When the muddy wall freezes, it is nearly as strong as cement. The Beavers leave a ventilating hole open at the top of the cone. On a cold winter day, you can see steam arising from the hole of an active beaver lodge, and also, if close enough, smell and hear the activity within. Winter dwellers of a beaver lodge might include the Mom and Dad, yearlings, kits born the previous year, and even possibly a muskrat family.
There are two tiers to the upper part of the lodge that is above the waterline, the lower for feeding and for drip-drying, and the higher tier for sleeping. The sleeping platform is cushioned with grass and shredded wood fibers. The snow pack above, the chamber’s thick walls (two to three feet thick) and heat generated by the lodge dwellers keeps the den toasty warm (by Beaver standards). One study showed that a Beaver lodge in Ontario maintained a fairly constant temperature of 32 degrees while the temperature outdoors ranged from -6 degrees to 19 degrees.
In anticipation of winter, Beavers stock pile great caches of the bark and stems of aspen, maple, willow, birch, black alder, dogwood, and black cherry trees. They also eat a great deal, and the fat is stored in their bodies and tails; the size of the tail fluctuates with seasons. The Beavers huddle together on the sleeping platform, eating less during the winter, which helps keep their activity levels low and reduces their metabolic rate.
A spunky female Hooded Merganser was seen for a day, skittering about Eastern Point. Don’t you love her cinnamon-colored feather-do? Her crest looked especially beautiful when she swam into sunlit areas.
Sightings of Hooded Mergansers nesting in Massachusetts are on the rise. Like Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers nest in tree cavities. The natural reforestation of Massachusetts over the past one hundred years has increased nesting habitat. And too, Hooded Mergansers have benefitted from nesting box programs designed to encourage Wood Duck nesting.
Hoodies eat crustaceans, fish, and insects. As water quality in Massachusetts has improved so too has the prey population increased. Additionally, the statewide recovery of North American Beavers has increased nesting habitat for many species of birds, including Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks.
I looked for the little Hoodie on subsequent days, but only saw her that one afternoon. The photos included here, of a singular male, were taken in Rockport in 2016.
Watch as the one-day old Hooded Merganser ducklings skydive to the forest floor, from a nest cavity five stories high up a tree.
Hooded Mergansers, like Cowbirds, often lay their eggs in other bird’s nests, including other Hooded Mergansers. Although a female Hoodie can lay up to 13 eggs, in one nest 44 Hooded Merganser ducklings hatched!
Mother Otters burrow near to, and within, North American Beaver lodges, to give birth and to raise their young. The den will often have many entrances and exits. The mother raises her young alone. At about five weeks old the newborns will begin playing. At two months, the kits (also called pups) coat has grown in and she introduces them to water. At nine weeks they begin to eat solid food and are weaned by twelve weeks.
North American River Otter Kit
The family bond is beautiful to watch and the young River Otters are utterly adorable in their playfulness. Just some of the familial behaviors that have been so wonderful to observe–otters grooming each other, snuggling under Mom (and playfully biting her tail), siblings wrestling each other, and all taking a morning nap together.
One of the most interesting moments was observing what happened one morning after the mother caught a frog. At first look it appeared as though the kit was stealing the frog from her, but after examining the footage, she caught the frog and deliberately incapacitated it, although she did not eat. She was holding the frog for her young otter to come and catch it from her.
An Otter’s whiskers are extra sensitive; the long whiskers have evolved to aid in hunting underwater. NA River otters are near-sighted, possibly as a result of underwater hunting.
A family of otters is called a “romp.”
Cape Ann’s growing Otter population is a clear sign that our waterways are in good health. North American River Otters are very sensitive to dirty water. Clean water, along with the expanded range of the North American Beavers, has helped create a welcoming habitat for River Otters to dwell and to breed.
Mom continually checks the landscape for pending danger. At the slightest hint of disturbance, underwater they all go. A NA River Otter can last up to four minutes underwater.
The recent winter storms of 2018 have provided empirical evidence of how global climate change and the consequential rising sea level is impacting the Massachusetts coastline. Whether broken barriers between the ocean and small bodies of fresh water, the tremendous erosion along beaches, or the loss of plant life at the edge of the sea, these disturbances are profoundly impacting wildlife habitats.
The following photos were taken after the March nor’easter of 2018 along with photos of the same areas, before the storm, and identify several specific species of wildlife that are affected by the tremendous loss of habitat.
Barrier Beach Erosion
Nesting species of shorebirds such as Piping Plovers require flat or gently sloping areas above the wrack line for chick rearing. Notice how the March nor’easter created bluffs with steep sides, making safe areas for tiny chicks nonexistent.
You can see in the photos of Good Harbor Beach (top photo and photos 3 and 4 in the gallery) that the metal fence posts are completely exposed. In 2016, the posts were half buried and in 2017, the posts were nearly completely buried. After the recent storms, the posts are fully exposed and the dune has eroded half a dozen feet behind the posts.
In the photo of the male Piping Plover sitting on his nest from 2016 the metal posts are half buried.
Although scrubby growth shrubs and sea grass help prevent erosion, the plants have been ripped out by the roots and swept away due to the rise in sea level.
Plants draw tiny insects, which is food for tiny chicks, and also provide cover from predators, as well as shelter from weather conditions. If the Piping Plovers return, will they find suitable nesting areas, and will plant life recover in time for this year’s brood?
Other species of shorebirds that nest on Massachusetts’s beaches include the Common Tern, Least Tern, Roseate Tern, American Oyster Catcher, Killdeer, and Black Skimmer.
Common Tern parent feeding fledgling
Where Have All the Wildflowers Gone?
Female Monarch Depositing Egg on Common Milkweed Leaf
Wildflowers are the main source of food for myriad species of beneficial insects such as native bees and butterflies.
Monarch Butterflies arriving on our shores not only depend upon milkweed for the survival of the species, but the fall migrants rely heavily on wildflowers that bloom in late summer and early fall. Eastern Point is a major point of entry, and stopover, for the southward migrating butterflies. We have already lost much of the wildflower habitat that formerly graced the Lighthouse landscape.
Masses of sea debris from the storm surge washed over the wildflower patches and are covering much of the pollinator habitat at the Lighthouse.
American Wigeon Migrating at Henry’s Pond
Barriers that divide small bodies of fresh water from the open sea have been especially hard hit. The fresh bodies of water adjacent to the sea provide habitat, food, and drinking water for hundreds of species of wildlife and tens of thousands of migrating song and shorebirds that travel through our region.
The recently rebuilt causeway (2014) between Niles Pond and Brace Cove was breached many times during the nor’easter. The causeway is littered in rocks and debris from the sea.
The causeway being rebuilt in 2014.
The road that runs along Pebble Beach, separating the sea from Henry’s Pond has been washed out.
The footsteps in the sand are where the road ran prior to the storm.
Mallards, North American Beavers, Muskrats, North American River Otters, and Painted Turtles are only a few examples of species that breed in Massachusetts fresh water ponds and wetlands. All the wildlife photos and videos were shot on Cape Ann.
Migrating Black-bellied Plover
Cape Ann is hardly alone in coping with the impact of our warming planet and of rising sea level. These photos are meant to show examples of what is happening locally. Regions like Plymouth County, which include Scituate and Hingham, have been equally as hard hit. Plum Island is famously heading for disaster and similar Massachusetts barrier beaches, like Cranes Beach, have all been dramatically altered by the cumulative effects of sea level rising, and recently accelerated by the devastating winter storms of 2018.
Covering storms back to back, I didn’t have time to post on both Good Morning Gloucester and on my blog. The following are links to storm posts from the region’s three March nor’easters, beginning on March 2nd.
Cape Ann provides welcome habitat for a menagerie of creatures beautiful, from the tiniest winged wonder to our region’s top predator, the Eastern Coyote. Last year I posted a Cape Ann Wildlife Year in Pictures 2016 and I hope you will find the wildlife stories of 2017 equally as beautiful. Click on the image to find the name of each species.
Winter: Only partially frozen ponds allowed for dabblers and divers such as Mallards, Mergansers, and Buffleheads to forage at the freshwater. Mr. Swan had his usual entourage of quwackers and daily heads to the other side of the pond to get away for his morning stretches. Sightings of Red-tailed Hawks and other raptors abounded. Although photographed in Newburyport, the owl photos are included, well, just because I like them. An Eastern Screech Owl (red-morph) was seen daily perched above a playground and Barred Owl sightings too were reported throughout the winter. Raptors live on Cape Ann all year round but are much easier to see in winter when the trees are bare of foliage.
The beautiful green eyes of the juvenile Double-crested Cormorants were seen wintering at both Niles Pond and Rockport Harbor. And during a warm February day on a snowless marsh a turkey bromance shindig commenced.
In early spring, a male and female American Wigeon arrived on the scene making local ponds their home for several weeks. In the right light the male’s electric green feathers at the top of his head shine brightly and both the male and female have baby blue bills.
Meadow and marsh, dune and treetop were graced with the heralding harbingers of spring with photos of a Red-winged Blackbird, a pair of Cedar Waxwings, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Kingbird, Tree Swallow, and Grackle included here.
The Great Swan Escape story made the news in Boston as Mr. Swan eluded captors for hours. He had re-injured his foot and someone took it upon themselves to call the animal rescuers, which would have surely meant death for our beloved 27-year old swan if he had been wrangled into captivity.
M is clearly for Migration through Massachusetts and the month-long arrivals and departures did not abate. Short-billed Dowitchers, winsome Willets, Yellow Legs, and Ruddy Turnstones are just some of the migrating shorebirds spied on Cape Ann beaches and marshes. The best news in May was the return of the Piping Plovers. Of the five or six that camped at Good Harbor Beach to investigate potential nesting sites, one pair bonded and built their nest mere yards from the nesting pair of last year. Could it be the same pair? The nesting Piping Plover story took up much of the spring and by early summer four little Piping Plover chicks hatched over Fiesta weekend. Hundreds of photos and hours of film footage are in the process of being organized with a children’s book and documentary in progress.
Piping Plover Courtship Dance
Piping Plover Nest
The survival of one Piping Plover chick was made possible by a wholesale community effort, with volunteers covering all hours of daylight, along with Mayor Sefatia and her team, Ken Whittaker from the conservation office, Chief McCarthy, and animal control officer Diane Corliss all lending a hand.
Sadly, several Northern Gannets came ashore to die on our Cape Ann beaches, struck by the same mysterious and deadly disease that is afflicting Northern Gannets in other regions. During the summer season they are typically at their North American breeding grounds, which are six well-established colonies, three in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec, and three in the North Atlantic, off the coast of Newfoundland.
An orphaned swan was introduced to Niles Pond, much to the dismay of Mr. Swan. Eastern Point residents Skip and Lyn kept watch over the two while they reluctantly became acquainted.
By mid-July many of us were seeing Monarchs in much greater numbers than recent years. Nearly every region within the continental United States experienced a fantastic Painted Lady irruption and butterflies of every stripe and polka dot were seen flitting about our meadows, fields, and gardens.
The tadpoles and froglets of American Bullfrogs and Green Frogs made for good eating for several families of resident otters, who are making their homes in abandoned beaver lodges. Little Blue Herons too, find plentiful frogs at our local ponds.
In early August we see the Tree Swallows begin to mass for their return migration. They find an abundance of fruits and insects in the dunes, headlands, and beaches. The Cedar Waxwings and Ruddy Trunstones were back again observed foraging on their southward journey, along with myriad species of songbird, shorebird, diver, and dabbler.
Tree Swallows Massing
The Late Great Monarch migration continued into the fall as we were treated to a wonderfully warm autumn. Waves and waves of Monarchs came ashore and more butterflies arrived on the scene including new batches of Painted Ladies, Clouded Sulphurs and Common Buckeyes (nothing common about these beauties!).
A pair of Northern Pintails called Cape Ann ponds and coves home for nearly a month while we seem to be seeing more and more raptors such as Red-tailed Hawks, Osprey, Bald Eagles, and Peregrine Falcons. Juvenile herons of every species that breeds on Cape Ann lingered long into the fall—Black-crowned Night Herons, Yellow-crowned Herons, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, and Green Herons.
Just as Mr. Swan and the Young Swan appeared to be warming to each other, the Young Swan, who has yet to learn to fly, became trapped in the ice at Niles Pond. He was rescued by caretakers Lyn and Dan and is now spending the winter at a cozy sanctuary built by Lyn and friends.
Thank you to all our readers for your kind comments of appreciation throughout the year for the beautiful wild creatures with which we share this gorgeous peninsula called Cape Ann. If you’d like to read more about a particular animal, type the name of the animal in the search box and the original post should come up
With its expansive marshes and dunes, bodies of fresh clear water, saltwater coves and inlets, and geographic location within the Atlantic Flyway, 2017 has been a banner year for Cape Ann’s wild and wonderful creatures. I can’t wait to see what awaits in 2018!
Snowy Owl “Hedwig” January 2018 Backshore Gloucester
My husband Tom suggested that I write a year-end post about the wildlife that I had photographed around Cape Ann. Super idea I thought, that will be fun and easy. Not realizing how daunting and many hours later, the following is a collection of some favorite images from this past year, beginning with the male Snowy Owl photographed at Captain Joe’s dock last winter, to December’s Red-tailed Hawk huntress.
Living along the great Atlantic Flyway, we have been graced with a bevy of birds. Perhaps the most exciting arrival of all occurred when early summer brought several pairs of nesting Piping Plovers to Gloucester’s most beloved (and most highly trafficked) of beaches, Good Harbor Beach. Their story is being documented on film.
Work on Mr. Swan’s film will also resume this January—the winters are simply not long enough for all I have planned!
While photographing and filming Red-winged Blackbirds this past spring, there was a face-to-face encounter with a hungry coyote, as well as several River Otter sightings.
Female Red-winged Blackbird
The summer’s drought brought Muskrats out from the reeds and into full view at a very dry Henry’s Pond, and a short film about a North American Beaver encounter at Langsford Pond. Numerous stories were heard from folks who have lived on Cape Ann far longer than I about the extraordinary number of egrets, both Snowy and Great, dwelling on our shores. Three Muskrateers There were few Monarch sightings, but the ones seen thankfully deposited eggs in our garden. Thank you to my new friend Christine who shared her Cecropia Silkmoth eggs with me and thank you to the countless readers who have extended an invitation to come by and photograph an exciting creature in their yard.
Pristine beaches, bodies of fresh water, and great swathes of protected marsh and woodland make for ideal wildlife habitat, and Cape Ann has it all. With global climate change pushing species further away from the Equator, I imagine we’ll be seeing even more creatures along our shores. Butterfly and bee populations are overall in decline, not only because of climate change and the use of pesticides, but also because of loss of habitat. As Massachusetts has become less agrarian and more greatly forested, fields of wildflowers are becoming increasingly rare. And too fields often make the best house lots. Farmers and property owners developing an awareness of the insects’ life cycle and planting and maintaining fields and gardens accordingly will truly help the butterflies and bees.
Thank you to all our readers for your kind comments of appreciation throughout the year for the beautiful wild creatures with which we share this gorgeous peninsula called Cape Ann.
The images are not arranged in any particular order. If you’d like to read more about a particular animal, type the name of the animal in the search box and the original post should come up.