All living creatures need clean water, clean air, and safe habitat. The North American River Otter has made a remarkable comeback as a direct result of bipartisan clean water acts first written in 1948, and then rewritten in 1972. Stop the republicans from their continuous environmental rollbacks that will have a tremendously harmful impact on our water quality.
Vote the Blue Wave!
What is happening in this clip? Mom River Otter caught a frog. Rather than eating it herself, she set it on the log between her feet for her kit to find and eat.
Read More – The Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters.
Under the CWA, EPA has implemented pollution control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry. EPA has also developed national water quality criteria recommendations for pollutants in surface waters.
The CWA made it unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters, unless a permit was obtained.
In June 2020, EPA director Andrew Wheeler eliminated states’ and tribes’ rights to halt projects that risk hurting their water quality by rolling back a section of the Clean Water Act (CWA).
Jon Devine, director of federal water policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, counters:
Enforcing state and federal laws is essential to protecting critical lakes, streams, and wetlands from harmful pollutants and other threats. But the Trump administration’s rule guts states’ and tribes’ authority to safeguard their waters, allowing it to ram through pipelines and other projects that can decimate vital water resources.
This is a dangerous mistake. It makes a mockery of this EPA’s claimed respect for ‘cooperative federalism.’
This action undermines how our foundational environmental laws work. The federal government should be setting baseline standards, while states apply and enhance them to the benefit of their unique natural resources and residents.
The most joyous story about Cape Ann wildlife during the summer months of 2018 is the story of the high number of Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in gardens and meadows, seen not only in strong numbers along the Massachusetts coastline, but throughout the butterfly’s breeding range–all around New England, the Great Lakes region, Midwest, and Southern Canada.
Three days after celebrating the two week milestone of our one remaining Piping Plover chick, Little Pip, he disappeared from Good Harbor Beach. It was clear there had been a bonfire in the Plover’s nesting area, and the area was overrun with dog and human tracks. The chick’s death was heartbreaking to all who had cared so tenderly, and so vigilantly, for all those many weeks.
Our Mama and Papa were driven off the beach and forced to build a nest in the parking lot because of dogs running through the nesting area. Despite these terrible odds, the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair hatched four adorable, healthy chicks, in the parking lot. Without the help of Gloucester’s DPW, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, Ken Whittaker, Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, and the AAC, the parking lot nest would have been destroyed.
These brave little birds are incredibly resilient, but as we have learned over the past three years, they need our help to survive. It has been shown time and time again throughout the Commonwealth (and wherever chicks are fledging), that when communities come together to monitor the Piping Plovers, educate beach goers, put in effect common sense pet ordinances, and reduce trash, the PiPl have at least a fighting chance to survive.
Little Pip at twelve- through seventeen-days-old
All four chicks were killed either by crows, gulls, dogs, or uneducated beach goers, and in each instance, these human-created issues can be remedied. Ignoring, disregarding, dismissing, or diminishing the following Piping Plover volunteer monitor recommendations for the upcoming 2019 shorebird season at Good Harbor Beach will most assuredly result in the deaths of more Piping Plover chicks.
Not one, but at least two, healthy and very hungry North American River Otters families are dwelling at local ponds, with a total of seven kits spotted. We can thank the fact that our waterways are much cleaner, which has led to the re-establishment of Beavers, and they in turn have created ideal habitat in which these beautiful, social mammals can thrive.
Several species of herons are breeding on our fresh water ponds and the smaller islands off the Cape Ann coastline. By midsummer, the adults and juveniles are seen wading and feeding heartily at nearly every body of water of the main island.
In order to better understand and learn how and why other Massachusetts coastal communities are so much more successful at fledging chicks than is Gloucester, I spent many hours studying and following Piping Plover families with chicks at several north of Boston beaches.
In my travels, I watched Least Terns (also a threatened species) mating and courting, then a week later, discovered a singular nest with two Least Tern eggs and began following this little family, too.
Least Tern Family Life Cycle
Maine had a banner year fledging chicks, as did Cranes Beach, locally. Most exciting of all, we learned at the Massachusetts Coastal Waterbird meeting that Massachusetts is at the fore of Piping Plover recovery, and our state has had the greatest success of all in fledging chicks! This is a wonderful testament to Massachusetts Piping Plover conservation programs and the partnerships between volunteers, DCR, Mass Wildlife, the Trustees, Greenbelt, Audubon, and US Fish and Wildlife.
Cape Ann Museum
Friends Jan Crandall and Patti Papows allowed me to raid their gardens for caterpillars for our Cape Ann Museum Kids Saturday. The Museum staff was tremendously helpful and we had a wonderfully interested audience of both kids and adults!
In August I was contacted by the BBC and asked to help write the story about Monarchs in New England for the TV show “Autumnwatch: New England,. Through the course of writing, the producers asked if I would like to be interviewed and if footage from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing, could be borrowed for the show. We filmed the episode at my friend Patti’s beautiful habitat garden in East Gloucester on the drizzliest of days, which was also the last day of summer.
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
The North American River Otter is making an amazing comeback, not just on Cape Ann and all around Massachusetts, but in many regions throughout the United States. River Otters need unpolluted wetlands, streams, rivers, and ponds to survive, along with secluded places to den. Hollows in the banks of ponds and rivers make excellent dens and so do former Beaver lodges. As the perpetually-lodge-building Beaver has returned, so has the North American River Otter.
River Otters also need plenty of prey. Locally, they eat fish, frogs, snakes, and EELS!
This summer over in West Gloucester there appeared to be two Otter families, one mama with three pups and another mama with four pups. After watching the romp of Otters eat tadpoles and frogs early in the summer, by midsummer they had graduated to American Eels. I at first could not figure out what they were doing skirmishing around in the tall grass at the pond bank. Compared to diving and resurfacing with a mouthful of frog, this was entirely new behavior. There was much excited chortling when one of the pups caught an eel, which then seemed to set off a chain of eel ambushing and eating. One morning I had the great fun of observing three otter siblings chomping down on an otterly delicious breakfast!
First one pup catches an eel and brings it to the old wooden perch, which is also the otters favorite place to play hide and seek with each other.
Then the second pup, and soon all three were chowing down on eels!
The first one was getting jostled by his siblings and sought out more private room in which to dine.
American Eels can grow up to five feet long and weigh as much as 16 pounds. These Eels were about three to four feet long. American Eels spend most of their lives in freshwater and only return to saltwater to spawn and then die.
The pups deftly use their feet to hold fast the slippery eel.
Photographed on a different day, I think this pup is eating a snake. Notice the tapering tail in the above photo.
Why is clean water so vital to the survival of River Otters? Pesticides, industrial pollution run off such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and mercury are absorbed by the River Otters prey. The chemicals accumulate in the River Otters, causing illness and death.
What a treat to come upon this North American River Otter family foraging along the pond’s edge. They are quite shy and mine was a brief encounter, but I hope to meet up with them again soon.
River Otters are returning to Massachusetts for several reasons, including better wetland conservation, pollution control, and the fact that the remarkable comeback of North American Beavers has also helped NA River Otters. For the few short moments that I saw the otters, the youngsters were playing with each other, while also intently feeding on frogs and tadpoles.