Tag Archives: Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

ATTENTION BIRD LOVING AND PHOTOGRAPHY FRIENDS – RUN, DON’T WALK, TO PARKER RIVER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE!

According to Rangers at Parker River, the 2020 fall migration at Plum Island is the best they have ever seen, with over 180 species on the current list (last ten days).

Perhaps the lessened human activity across North America has allowed for many species of birds to flourish.

Female Bobolink (more about beautiful Bobolinks in an upcoming post)

I was filming at a location nearby at dawn or I would have gone at my usual daybreak time, which I find is the best time to observe birds, and wildlife of all sorts. Mid-day is not the best time to go, but it was my one and only chance and I wanted to check it out. Plum Island is gorgeous whenever you go. Autumn hues are beginning to show (especially the brilliant purple-red of PI), there are great swaths of goldenrods in full bloom, and there is a wealth of bird food, berries and seed heads, for the birds to forage upon. Stage Island and Hellcat are two current hotspots for bird sightings.

When you drive up to the kiosk where you show your membership card, ask for the species list of birds seen recently. Or click this link here:

Recent Bird Sightings from Plum Island

Stage Island, Plum Island

WHY THE SAND IS PURPLE AND PINK ON CRANE BEACH, PLUM ISLAND, AND OTHER NORTH SHORE BEACHES

Hard to miss in the wintertime both at Crane Beach and at Plum Island are the layers and swirls of pink and purple sand. On a recent visit to Revere Beach I noticed there were also rivulets of pink and purple sands.

The pink and purple are mineral deposits of rose quart and garnet and come to north of Boston beaches via the White Mountains. Water and wind worn rock is carried in river waters until it meets the ocean and becomes deposited on barrier beaches. We mostly see the garnet and quartz deposits in winter as storms erode the dunes, leaving the heavier minerals exposed. During the spring and summer, the lighter white quartz sand blows back over the dunes and covers the heavier sand.

JEOL is a supplier of electron microscopes, ion beam instruments, mass spectrometers and NMR spectrometers. On a visit to Plum Island looking for Snowy Owls, several JEOL employees found purple sand. They analyzed it using an optical microscope, a scanning electron microscopes (SEM) and an energy dispersive X-Ray spectrometer (EDS).

From JEOL USA –

At first look under the optical microscope, the granules of sand appeared like scattered jewels of many colors; predominantly glassy pink angular grains, with smaller quantities of milky white rounded grains, clear angular grains, black grains (some magnetic and some not), and even the occasional green.

What could be the cause of the purple color? The answer was one that came as no surprise to the scientist, but was exciting for the beach walkers because they had an exact answer to a question that no doubt is one that many people have when they visit Plum Island – which was actually named for its beach plum bushes, not the plum-colored sand.

When large amounts of fine grained pink is intermixed with a smaller number of darker grains and dampened by rain or sea water the human eye will “see” the sand as a much darker pink to almost purple. The two most common pink minerals are rose quartz (while quartz is one of the two most common minerals on earth, the pink rose quartz variety is not so common ,especially in the New England geology, and is found only in a few isolated pegmatite deposits in NH & southern Maine which are where most gemstones originate) and the solid solution series of almandine and pyrope garnet which is also a very common mineral (and is quite common in the Seacoast area from the abundance of metamorphic rocks called mica schist and from contact metamorphism. This is also why many commercial sandpaper products have a pink color as the angular hard gains of almandine / pyrope garnet are the perfect abrasive. The most likely candidates for the white and clear are any of the feldspars and or quartz. The green is most likely epidote. Just based on the optical examination these are no more than educated logical guesses (but still guesses).

Vern Robertson, JEOL’s SEM Technical Sales Manager, originally examined the grains under a low power optical stereo microscope with the above conclusions. In addition to providing technical and scientific support to JEOL SEM customers for a multitude of applications, Vern holds a degree in Geology. After a cursory look optically, it was time to get down to some spectroscopic analysis to determine the actual mineral species present in the sand.

Individual grains of various colors were selected and mounted for examination with the JSM-6010LA+ InTouchScope SEM and for analysis using EDS. The SEM allows much higher magnification imaging with greater depth of field than a traditional OM and the low vacuum capability allows examination of the sample without the traditional conductive coating that needs to be applied for SEM imaging. However, it generates images in only black & white (electrons have no color!). One specialized detector in the SEM, the Backscatter Electron Detector, yields images with the gray level intensity directly proportional to the average atomic number (or density). This means that minerals containing only lighter elements like O, Si are darker in appearance to minerals that contain heavier elements like Fe or any of the metallic or rare earth elements.

Once located, each grain can be analyzed with the EDS. When an electron beam hits a sample it creates not only an image from the emitted electrons but creates X-rays, which when collected in a spectrum, indicate what elements are present and at what concentrations. This allows not only the elemental composition of the individual grains to be determined but the concentrations can be compared to known stoichiometry of the suspected mineral grains. The combination of color and magnetic properties from OM examination and the chemical makeup of the individual grains yield the answer.

The purple color (or more appropriately, pink color) comes from the abundance of almandine-pyrope garnet with a nominal solid solution composition of Fe3+2Al2Si3O12 to Mg3+2Al2Si3O12. As expected, the white grains are a mix of feldspars but mostly K-feldspar (potassium alumino-silicates) and quartz SiO2. The black nonmagnetic grains were a mix of a pyroxene called augite which showed its characteristic strong cleavage, (Ca,Na)(Mg,Fe,Al)(Si,Al)2O6 , and a mix of ilmenite FeTiO3 and hematite Fe2O3 which are the magnetic components. The green was confirmed to be epidote Ca2(Al,Fe)3(SiO4) 3(OH). With the exception of the high concentration of garnets the rest are common minerals one would expect to find in sands.

 

READ MORE HERE

A SOGGY SNOWY OWL FOR A SOGGY DAY

This sweet messy-faced girl was relaxing on the limb of a craggy tree after what had clearly been a successful morning hunt. She coughed up a pellet while enjoying a rare quiet moment perched in the branches.

BEAUTIFUL RED-TAILED HAWK TAKES FLIGHT

Red-tailed perched on a chimney scanning the marsh with its keen vision.

The Red-tailed Hawk’s vision is eight times more powerful than a human’s, allowing it see a small rodent such as a mouse or vole from 100 feet away. It dove into the tall dry grass making a loud crackly rushing sound but, came up empty-mouthed. Again it flew to the top of the Pink House chimney from where, only a few moments later, it made a second dive.

When diving to catch prey, their speed may exceed 120 miles per hour, and no joke, this Hawk’s speed appeared to increase as it became torpedo-like in shape.

Successful hunting! I only captured a photo of the second half of its flight from a distance; nonetheless, you can see the mouse (or vole) in its mouth in the last photo.

SHORT-EARED OWL PERCHED AT SUNSET ON THE GREAT MARSH

Shorty perching at sunset

BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL SNOWY OWLS

I haven’t seen any Snowies yet this winter on Cape Ann; there simply seem to be fewer that migrated to our region than there were several years ago when Hedwig was the star of the backshore.

These Snowy Owl photos were taken earlier in the month at Parker River. The dirt road, the one that begins after the Hellcat Trail, has reopened, although I wouldn’t recommend going there on the weekends, much better to go during the week. There are so many photographers and owl lovers on the weekends, especially in the afternoon, that it has become really disruptive to the owls, both the Snowies and Short-eared. Even though folks are very respectful and (most) stay on the road, the Short-eared Owls aren’t catching much food, as far as I can observe, when there are great crowds chasing them up and down the road.

MORE SNAPSHOTS OF THE BEAUTIFUL SHORT-EARED OWL, SNOWY OWL, TENDERCROP FARM, AND IPSWICH CLAMBAKE

Charlotte and I had a wonderful adventure morning checking on the owls at Plum Island. We observed several Harrier Hawks flying low over the marsh grass hunting for prey, a Short-eared Owl perched on a craggy tree, and a Snowy parked for the morning far out in the dunes. We played on the beach and she had a blast zooming up and down the boardwalk at lot no. 2.

Tiny white wedge in the distance

We next stopped at the refuge headquarters to play in the marsh boat that is part of the exhibit about the Great Salt Marsh. She brought along her own stuffed Snowy to join on the boat ride.

Next destination was a visit to see the farm friends at Tendercrop Farm. Currently in residence are a turkey, ginormous steer, pony, chickens, ducks, llama, and the sweetest miniature goat who is just wonderful with toddlers.

I purchased the best steaks we have ever had, Tendercrop’s own grass fed rib-eye, made even more magnificent cooked to perfection by Alex, with a beautiful red wine demi-glace.

Everything at Tendercrop Farm is always amazingly delicious. They have the freshest and best selection of fruits and vegetables during the winter months, bar none.

Great bunches of freshly cut pussy willows are for sale at Tendercrop

Last stop was lunch at the Ipswich Clambake. The owners and staff are just the most friendly. The clam chowder at the Clambake is perfection. Charlotte and I shared a mini super fresh fried clam appetizer and that, along with the chowder, made the best sort of lunch to top off our fun adventure morning.

Tendercrop Farm is located at 108 High Road, 1A, in Newbury.

Ipswich Clambake is located at 196 High Street, 1A, in Ipswich.

SHORT-EARED OWLS IN OUR MIDST!

Melded to the grass as he was, in monochromatic winter pasture shades of taupe, buff, and gray, it was nearly impossible to spot the impostor posing in the dry stalks and twigs. But there he was, a small mound resting along the thicket edge. You can barely see him in the photo below.

He sat up for a brief moment and even from a great distance his wide-eyed, and only seconds long, golden-eyed look was unmissable.

I’ve read the Short-eared Owl flight described as erratic, but I would call it anything but that. They swoop gracefully over fields in multi-directions, with great intention, listening for the sound of voles, moles, mice and other small mammals scurrying through the tall winter grass and phragmites. Flying low while hunting, their wingbeats are smooth and steady.

The Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)  is called as such because of the little tufts of display feathers atop its head, which aren’t really ears at all. The Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) is a cousin of the Short-eared and it has longer feather tufts. Owls have a highly developed hearing system and their ears are actually located at the sides of their heads, behind the eyes, and are covered by the feathers of the facial disc.

Unlike many species of owls, which prefer forest and woodland, the Short-eared Owls is a bird of open country. They require fields, grasslands, marshes, bogs, heaths, and dunes. Shorties are crepuscular, which means they mostly feed at dawn and dusk.

Short-eared Owls are found the world over on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Sadly, in Massachusetts, breeding pairs have been driven to the brink of extirpation. There may still be one or two pairs that breed at Nantucket’s Tuckernuck Island but, because of loss of habitat, the Short-eared Owl was listed as endangered in Massachusetts in 1985.

Listen for the Short-eared Owls wing “clapping” in the video below, and some adorable chicks, too 🙂

From Cornell: “Hawaii’s only native owl, the Pueo (Asio flammeus sandwichensis), is a Short-eared Owl subspecies found on all the chain’s major islands. Pueos may have descended from Alaska forebears, taking hold in the islands after the first arriving Polynesians brought owl food in the form of the Pacific rat.”

Short-eared Owl Range Map

OWL FEVER!

This past weekend’s glorious and record breaking mid-January 70-degree-plus weather encouraged everyone to get out doors and it was wonderful to see. On both Saturday and Sunday there was a line to get into Parker River Wildlife Refuge. Many were enjoying the beaches and hiking the trails while quite a few were there to see the Snowy Owls and Short-eared Owls.

There are currently two Snowy Owls and several Short-eared Owls at Parker River. Folks are asking where the owls can be found specifically. I can only share where I have seen them and that covers almost the entire refuge, from parking lot no.1 (where the gates are) all the way down to parking lot no. 6. The photographers and birders out shooting at the refuge are super helpful and if you see a bunch, park  your car (intelligently please, so that you are not blocking traffic) and ask. Many of the birders will also share a look through their scopes.

 

SNOWY OWL ALERT! AND BALD EAGLES, TOO!

It was a beautiful morning at Parker River despite mostly overcast skies and a strong wind. This first day of our “January thaw” was made even more beautiful by the presence of the Snowy Owl.

I believe she’s a female, although the lightest females can look like the darkest males. She appeared largely unperturbed by the gaggle of photographers that came and went. The Snowy flew across the dune for a few moments, but then flew back to roughly the same spot; in both locations she was somewhat protected from the blustery wind.

I have it on good authority that there are currently SIX Bald Eagles at Parker River, two hatch-years, two that are roughly three years old, and two adults. I have only seen one youngster this week, in a battle with a crow, and I couldn’t tell who was chasing who 🙂

RED-TAILED HAWK: THE URBAN-SUBURBAN-EXURBAN RAPTOR KING

Chances are that if you see a hawk, it is most likely a Red-tailed. Unlike so very many bird species, the Red-tailed Hawk population has increased over the past one hundred years. The global population hovers around 2 million and its success is due largely to the bird’s ability to adapt to a wide range of habitats, including urban, suburban, and exurban developments. As long as their is some open space, trees or tree-like structures for perching, and small mammals, you will find Red-tailed Hawks.

The Red-tailed Hawk seen here was photographed at Parker River on the luxuriously warm Saturday afternoon last weekend. There were loads of people out walking and enjoying the sunny skies. It was difficult to tell if the Hawk was simply extremely tolerant of people or if he were struggling with an injury or illness. He stayed for a very long time in a small area, over an hour, but flew periodically to hunt in the thicket below (unsuccessfully), and then flew easily back up to the phone lines and trees. At one point, he almost flew into a car driving into the refuge, missing the windshield by inches. I hope that after the gates closed at sundown the Red-tailed was able to right himself and find a tasty dinner.

FIRST SNOWY OWL SIGHTING OF THE 2019-2020 WINTER

Far, far down the ridge sat a little white wedge-shaped dot. We were all wishing he would fly our way, but alas, he was content to stay in place while washing his face and preening his flying feathers, with the crowd standing comfortably behind the rope set up by the refuge.

There are two Snowy Owls currently at Parker River and one has been spotted at Salisbury Beach. Hopefully, more will call the North Shore home this winter. The photo below was taken with a 400mm lens and very closely cropped.

ENCHANTING ENCOUNTER WITH THE BEAUTIFUL AMERICAN BITTERN

Taking advantage of whatever sunshine can be had at this time of year, I took Charlotte to Plum Island for the day this past Thursday. We began at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and were immediately enchanted with an American Bittern stealth hunting in the marsh, a regal buck, Pintail Ducks, and hawks. Next we made sand castles at Sandy Point and then spent a great deal of time exploring a seemingly abandoned bulldozer in the parking lot there.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B5J-kSDnwTM/

Lunch was a shared lobster roll from Bob’s Lobster Shack, which is located on the causeway heading out to Plum Island. We then stopped at the refuge headquarters to see the Snowy Owl, Piping Plover, and Monarch displays.

Charlotte’s day was made perfect when we learned that homemade cupcakes could be found at the Buttermilk Baking Company.

Last stop was one of my favorite shops for wonderfully unique and vintage home decor, The Barn at Todd Farm. The shop is decorated beautifully for the holidays and is bursting with Christmas gifts and treasures.

The American Bittern hunting in the marsh at Parker River was not at first easy to locate. Not only do the brown and buff colors of their feathers meld perfectly with the surrounding vegetation, but this heron has adapted an additional, highly effective method of camouflage. The Bittern stands motionless with its neck tilted upward, mirroring the tall reeds where the bird forages for fish, crustaceans, amphibians, insects, reptiles, and even small mammals.

The Bittern was beautiful to watch, perfectly poised in striking mode and waiting for the exact moment to attack. He wasted not an ounce of energy and did not miss a single strike.

American Bitterns breed in our region however, they generally migrate further south for the winter to regions where the water does not freeze. Managed wetlands such as those found within Parker River Wildlife Refuge play an important role in the survival of the American Bittern, especially during migration and the winter months.

 

HANDSOME BUCK OF THE MARSH

Charlotte and I spent the morning at Parker River Wildlife Refuge this past Thursday. We saw some beautiful wildlife and I am especially excited to share about one special bird, which I will post tomorrow when I have time to write.

This handsome White-tailed Deer buck briefly appeared at the marsh edge before bounding back under cover of brush.

Hellcat Reopens!

Lovers of Parker River Hellcat trail will be happy to know the marsh loop has reopened! See the video below for more information.

Barred Owl at Hellcat. One of the best places to find owls is on the marsh loop.

The House Built of Spite

Pink house, pink clouds, pink marsh sea – 

The lonely pink house of Plum Island’s Great Marsh is today only visited by hawks and Snowy Owls, perching to scan the surrounding vista for their next meal.

Local lore has it that the house was built in 1922 by a couple who were in the process of divorcing and sorting their affairs. The wife asked that the husband build a replica of their Newburyport family home. She did not say where the house was to be sited. Out of spite, he built the house atop the isolated salt marsh, with only saltwater plumbing.

The Pink House has not been occupied since the early 2000s and looks worse with each passing year. Last winter I was at the refuge for a program held at the PRNWR headquarters. After the event I tried to drive towards Plum Island but with sea water gushing in from the marsh, the road in front of the house was dangerously impassable.

The house is FREE, if only you will either take it off the marsh or give Parker River National Wildlife Refuge a few acres of comparable land. The second option allows for the house to stay in its current location. Read more here: Free Pink House of Newbury: Take Me I’m Yours

TWO OWL SPECIES IN ONE DAY!

Saturday my daughter Liv and I took a break from all things Christmas and visited Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and Sandy Point Reservation. Hiking around the refuge is one of our favorite things to do and I was thrilled that she got to see not one, but two owls, a Barred Owl, and a Snowy Owl. The Barred was very nearly completely obscured in a dense thicket, nonetheless exciting to see, and the Snowy was spectacular, causing quite a hullabaloo with the onlookers as he perched in a tree by the road leading into the refuge.

To see an owl in the wild is a gift, and I am counting my blessings, for my beautiful, kind-hearted daughter, and wonderful wild creature encounters.

 

CATS AND DOGS AND BIRDS ON THE BEACH: A DEADLY COMBINATION

Thank you to Good Morning Gloucester reader Dave Moore, who is stationed in Korea and sent this brochure published by the USFWS. Dogs are not allowed at USFWS sanctuaries such as Parker River National Wildlife Refuge all year round, leashed or unleashed and this brochure explains just one of the reasons why. Thanks to Dave Moore for sharing the following PDF.

Cats and Dogs and Birds on the Beach: A Deadly Combination

A tale of cat or dog versus bird may make an enjoyable cartoon, but the real-life version is deadly serious. When birds encounter cats and dogs, the birds rarely win. Many people believe that cats and dogs should be allowed to roam free. People introduced domesticated cats and dogs to this country, and however much we may appreciate them as part of our lives, those animals are not native wildlife or part of a naturally functioning ecosystem. Along the Atlantic coast, cats and dogs pose a serious threat to the continued survival of beach-nesting birds such as piping plovers, least terns and American oystercatchers.

Two months of living on the edge Piping plovers are vulnerable to wild and domestic animals as well as human interference while they guard their nests on sandy beaches for a month before eggs hatch. Plovers blend with their surroundings, so it can be difficult for you to see them. Adult plovers will stagger and feign a broken wing to distract predators from their nests and chicks. Unfortunately, the plover ploy backfires when they face predators more nimble than predators in their native environment. The plover may be caught and killed or injured.

After plover eggs hatch, the tiny chicks spend most of the next month foraging for the food needed to gain weight and develop flight feathers. The flightless chicks face myriad challenges and are simply no match for an agile cat or dog that instinctively sees the chick as something to hunt or chase. With the plovers’ low population numbers, each tiny chick embodies a precious hope for future recovery of the species.

An unfair fight Cats are natural hunters, and even wellfed cats chase and kill birds. Beach-dwelling birds are not adapted to co-exist with cats. Each year in this country, hundreds of millions of birds meet death in the claws of cats. Cats kill roughly 39 million birds annually in Wisconsin alone, according to a 1996 study. Many dogs are naturally inclined to hunt birds after generations of breeding for that purpose. Unleashed dogs chase birds, destroy nests and kill chicks. Plovers are so difficult to see on beaches that it is extremely easy to miss seeing a bird that your dog is chasing. Even when they are on leashes, dogs can frighten and kill birds. In a 1993 study, researchers found that the mere presence of pets disturbs piping plovers far more than human presence. While we cannot tell birds where we want them to nest, we can control cats and dogs.

Protecting our environment We not only have an obligation to protect birds as an important part of our environment, it is the law. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed Atlantic coast piping plovers on the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in 1986 with a “threatened” designation, meaning that without care the species could face extinction. The plover future is so tenuous that for more than 20 years, people from local, state and federal agencies along with dozens of private organizations have provided intensive protection for the birds. They have spent countless hours managing predators and posting nesting areas to protect birds from pedestrians and off-road vehicles. By 2005, the piping plover population had grown to more than 1,400 pairs. However, protection is neccesary for the species’ survival because threats, including those from cats and dogs, remain.

Monitoring nests and protecting habitat are only part of the piping plover protection story. Plovers need everyone’s help, and vigilant pet owners play an essential role. We need to take advantage of every means to prevent plover deaths if we are to ensure the survival of this bird.

Piping Plovers Have Returned to Cape Ann Beaches!

Male Piping Plover

The sweetest and tiniest of shorebirds has been spotted at several of our local beaches, including Wingaersheek and Good Harbor Beach. They have also been seen at Plum Island, as well as other Massachusetts barrier beaches, for several weeks. The Plovers have traveled many thousands of miles to reach our shores and are both weary from traveling and eager to establish nesting sites.

What can you do to help the Piping Plovers? Here are four simple things we can all do to protect the Plovers.

  1. Don’t leave behind or bury trash or food on the beach. All garbage attracts predators such as crows, seagulls, foxes, and coyotes, and all four of these creatures EAT plover eggs and chicks.
  2. Do not linger near the Piping Plovers or their nests. Activity around the Plovers also attracts gulls and crows.
  3. Respect the fenced off areas that are created to protect the Plovers.
  4. If pets are permitted, keep dogs leashed.

The last is the most difficult for folks to understand. Dogs threaten Piping Plovers in many ways and at every stage of their life cycle during breeding season, even the most adorable and well-behaved of pooches.

Dogs love to chase Piping Plovers (and other shorebirds) at the water’s edge. After traveling all those thousand of miles, the birds need sustenance. They are at the shoreline to feed to regain their strength.

Dogs love to chase piping Plovers at the wrack line. Here the birds are establishing where to nest. Plovers are skittish at this stage of breeding and will depart the area when disturbed.

Dogs love to chase Piping Plover chicks, which not only terrifies the adult Plovers and distracts them from minding the babies, but the chicks are easily squished by a dog on the run.

Please keep dogs leashed when at the beach. Thank you!

Female Piping Plover

*   *   *

Dave Rimmer, Greenbelt’s director of land stewardship, is giving a lecture about the Piping Plovers at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Thursday, April 27th, from 2:00 to 4pm. Preregister by email at: Andrew@ecga.org.

Gloucester From Plum Island

I think these are Gloucester’s wind turbines, looking across Ipswich Bay. The photo was taken at Sandy Point. Please write if you believe otherwise. Thank you!

Super windy and chilly Saturday afternoon but nonetheless beautiful. I renewed our annual Parker River National Wildlife Refuge pass, which is good for one year, and think it is the best twenty dollars spent. Kudos for being the cutest pass, too!

https://www.instagram.com/p/BSpWN8CFncy/

Plum Island Canada Geese

New Short Film: The Uncommon Common Tern

What fun to encounter a small flock of terns teaching its young to fish. Nearly as large as the adults, the tubby terns cheekily squawk and demand food (shrimp I think in this case). Watch as the fledglings try to master fishing skills while the adults tirelessly guide the young on how to feed themselves.

With many thanks to Paul St. Germain, president of the Thacher Island Association, for information about the ongoing restoration of shorebirds on Thacher Island.common-tern-fledgling-feeding-copyright-kim-smith

There is nothing common about the uncommon Common Tern. They were named Common because hundreds of thousands formerly nested along the Atlantic Coast. As with many species of shorebirds, the rage for wearing fancy feathered hats during the 1800s nearly drove these exquisite “swallows of the sea” to extinction. After the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was ratified in 1918, terns began to recover.

A second major setback occurred when in the 1970s open landfills were closed, displacing thousands of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls. The aggressive and highly adaptable gulls resettled to offshore nesting sites used by terns.

Common Terns are a Species of Special Concern in Massachusetts. Through a statewide long-term commitment of restoration, protection, and management of nesting colonies, the populations are very slowly and gradually increasing.

Former nesting sites include islands such as Cape Ann’s Thacher Island. During the mid 1950s, over 1,125 pairs of Arctic, Common, and Roseate Terns nested on Thacher Island. Today there are none.

The southern side of Thacher Island is owned by the Thacher Island Association. The northern end of Thacher Island is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under the authority of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. These organizations are working together to restore terns and other species of birds to Thacher Island.

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Part One

red-tailed-hawk-2-copyright-kim-smithJuvenile Red-tailed Hawk listening for prey

I am in the midst of doing research for the Piping Plover film project and have found the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to be a great resource. Recently I met a terrific warden there, Jean, and she gave me a copy of the historic brochure written in 1947 by Rachel Carson about the refuge. The brochure was reprinted and if you inquire, they may still have some copies in the back office. You can also download the brochure at this link: Rachel Carson Parker River Wildlife Refuge brochure

The brochure provides an early history of the refuge and is a fascinating view of mid-century conservation. And, too, it is a tremendous example of Carson’s thoughtful and thought-provoking style of writing.

barred-owl-hunting-strix-varia-copyright-kim-smithBarred Owl hunting – The refuge provides over 300 species of migratory and resident birds with vital habitat

Some interesting facts about the refuge —

Located along the northeastern coast of Massachusetts, the Parker River National Refuge includes lands that lie within the three towns of Rowley, Ipswich, and Newbury. We think of Plum Island as the heart of the refuge. The wildlife refuge also includes a range of diverse habitats and geographic features; over 3,000 acres of salt marsh, freshwater marsh, shrub lands, a drumlin, cranberry bog, salt pannes, beach and sand dunes, and maritime forest. The land is not conserved to revert back to a wild state, but is intensely managed in order to preserve and maintain the diversity of wildlife habitats.

parker-river-national-wildlife-refuge-wardens-headquarters-copyright-kim-smithThe original warden’s headquarters

Unlike our national parks, which preserves parklands or historic buildings, and are designed for people, a national wildlife refuge is established first and foremost for wildlife and their habitats, not for people. The preservation of wildlife is the number one priority of all our national wildlife refuges.

plum-island-sunrise-copyright-kim-smithsandy-point-parker-river-national-wildlife-refuge-copyright-kim-smithPlum Island is a barrier island and especially noteworthy for providing critical habitat for Piping Plovers.

The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1942 to help species of waterfowl that migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. There were three sharp declines in waterfowl populations in the early half of the 20th century, notably the American Black Duck, and national wildlife refuges all along the Atlantic coast were created in response to the precipitously low numbers.

parker-river-wildlife-refuge-impoundment-copyright-kim-smithSalt Island Impoundment

As we can see with our local Niles Pond, Henry’s Pond, and Langsford Pond shorebirds, waterfowl, and myriad species of wildlife thrive where they have easy access to both fresh water and salt water. The three bodies of fresh water that you see in the refuge look like ponds but they are actually manmade impoundments, created by dams and are highly controlled by a series of dykes and pumps.

parker-river-wildlife-refuge-impoundment-pump-copyright-kim-smithSalt Island Impoundment Pump

Parker River provides pristine habitats for a wide variety of mammals, insects, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. Hunting birds such as owls, hawks, osprey, eagles, herons, and egrets find an abundance of food at the wildlife refuge. Whenever at Parker River I never not see a raptor!

Red-tailed Hawk Preening 

red-tailed-hawk-copyright-kim-smithWhen the Hunter is Hunted

Transfixing Owl Eyes

barred-owl-strix-varia-copyright-kim-smith

Because owls mostly hunt at night their eyes are very efficient at collecting and processing light. To protect their extraordinary eyes, owls are equipped with three eye lids; an upper and lower lid, and a third lid that diagonally closes across the eye. This action cleans and protects the eye.

 

More about Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to come.