Tag Archives: Piping Plover

GONE CRAB FISHIN’ FOR DINNER -SNOWY EGRET AT THE CREEK

Quietly slipping through the shallow creek water, the graceful Snowy Egret would stop every now and then to shake its leg. Stirring up the sandy flat in hopes of awakening a sleeping crab or fish, the elegant bird would then violently pierce the water with its dagger like beak, more often than not coming up empty billed.

Success!

Watching the brilliant yellow-footed Snowy Egret foraging at the creek for diner I was reminded of how Piping Plovers have a similar foraging technique, pattering their (much smaller) feet, also in hopes of disturbing unsuspecting prey.

Snowy Egrets are sometimes described as piscivorous (a diet that consist largely of fish), however they eat a wide variety aquatic foods such as jellyfish, crustaceans, mollusks, and aquatic insects. Ospreys are a better example of a piscivorous bird species.

The bird in the photos above is in full breeding plumage. Their stunning aigrettes are the reason they were nearly brought to extinction by plume hunters, and one of the main reasons for the creation and passing of the century old Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

How to tell the difference between a Showy Egret and Great Egret: Snowy Egrets have yellow feet and black bills, while Great Egrets have yellow bills and black feet. As the name suggests, Great Egrets are the larger of the two. Great Egrets

The Magical Month of May for Migrations in Massachusetts

I first posted the “Magical Month of May for Migrations in Massachusetts” on May  22 in 2017. Right on schedule, our skies are filling with beautiful winged creatures – last night and this morning our East Gloucester neighborhood was graced with thousands of Chimney Swifts pouring onto our shores. Several days ago our same neighborhood hosted a flock of beautiful, beautiful Cedar Waxwings, which also included a half dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers darting in and around flowering branches.

What will tomorrow bring!

The Magical Month of May for Migrations in Massachusetts

May is a magical month in Massachusetts for observing migrants traveling to our shores, wooded glens, meadows, and shrubby uplands. They come either to mate and to nest, or are passing through on their way to the Arctic tundra and forests of Canada and Alaska.

I am so excited to share about the many beautiful species of shorebirds, songbirds, and butterflies I have been recently filming and photographing for several projects. Mostly I shoot early in the morning, before setting off to work with my landscape design clients. I love, love my work, but sometimes it’s really hard to tear away from the beauty that surrounds here on Cape Ann. I feel so blessed that there is time to do both. If you, too, would like to see these beautiful creatures, the earliest hours of daylight are perhaps the best time of day to capture wildlife, I assume because they are very hungry first thing in the morning and less likely to be bothered by the presence of a human. Be very quiet and still, and observe from a distance far enough away so as not to disturb the animal’s activity.

Some species, like Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons, Great Egrets, Brant Geese, and Osprey, as well as Greater and Lesser Yellow Legs, are not included here because this post is about May’s migration and I first began noticing their arrival in April.

Several photos are not super great, but are included so you can at least see the bird in a Cape Ann setting. I am often shooting something faraway, at dawn, or dusk, or along a shady tree-lined lane.

Happy Magical May Migration!

The male Eastern Towhee perches atop branches at daybreak and sings the sweetest ta-weet, ta-weet, while the female rustles about building a nest in the undergrowth. Some live year round in the southern part of the US, and others migrate to Massachusetts and parts further north to nest.

If these are Short-billed Dowitchers, I’d love to see a Long-billed Dowitcher! They are heading to swampy pine forests of high northern latitudes.

Black-bellied Plovers, much larger relatives of Piping Plovers, look like Plain Janes when we see them in the fall (see above).

Now look at his handsome crisp black and white breeding plumage; its hard to believe we are looking at the same bird! He is headed to breed in the Arctic tundra in his fancy new suit.

The Eastern Kingbird is a small yet feisty songbird; he’ll chase after much larger raptors and herons that dare to pass through his territory. Kingbirds spend the winter in the South American forests and nest in North America.

With our record of the state with the greatest Piping Plover recovery rate, no post about the magical Massachusetts May migration would be complete without including these tiniest of shorebirds. Female Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach.

PIPING PLOVERS ARE HERE AND THEY NEED OUR HELP!

Friends, the Piping Plovers are on Good Harbor Beach!! They arrived on March 22nd and are definitely here to stay. The endangered/threatened species signs have Not Yet been installed, so most people are unaware that they are nesting at Good Harbor.

These are the signs that were installed last year on March 27, two days after the Piping Plovers arrived. Dave Rimmer and Essex County Greenbelt were working with us last summer and their ongoing support was one of the key reasons why we were able to successfully fledge three chicks.

Piping Plover nest scrape, March 2020

The little Dad is building tiny nest scrapes in the sand in nearly the exact same area they were nesting at last year. Please be on the look out and please give them some space until the proper roping and signs are installed. Thank you so much!!!

In case you don’t recall where they were last year (and the three years prior to that), they have made an area between Boardwalk No.3 and the corner of Saratoga Creek their home.

About a week ago, a very narrow corridor of symbolic roping was installed along the entire length of the beach; we presume for dune conservation, because it is far too narrow for the PiPls.

Also, no signs are there to indicate the purpose of the symbolic rope fence, so many folks are walking through and within the roped off area. Last year’s installation, March 27, 2019

Currently, the PiPls are hanging out and nest scraping about ten to twelve feet outside the area where the symbolic fencing ends. We need to widen the area to create a similar footprint to last year’s to make a safe zone for the PiPls.

In the above photo taken a few days ago, you can see where the PiPls are trying to nest, outside the roped off area (Papa Plover is in the lower left quadrant, almost to the midline of the photo). The bird’s efforts are constantly thwarted by people and dogs, no fault of the peoples, because no one knows the PiPls are here without proper signage.

People are sitting in the area where the PiPls are repeatedly trying to nest. This nice group of young folks was not aware that the PiPls are here, because there are no signs posted.

The most important thing for everyone to remember is that the earlier the Piping Plovers are allowed to nest, the earlier they are off the beach. Allowing them to nest early is doubly important this year because as the pandemic breaks, our beaches are going to be flooded with people.  It’s no use to say well they should just find another beach, because these lack of habitat issues are taking place at beaches on both coasts. Wildlife doesn’t stop being threatened or endangered because there is a pandemic, nor does our responsibility to help the birds survive.

If the city has the manpower to place fencing along the entire length of the beach, then we have the manpower to set aside one small area for the PiPls, and to install the endangered/threatened species signs.

If the City does not have the manpower or the funds for signage, then it is not too late to contact Essex Greenbelt for assistance.

Piping Plovers foraging last night at low tide

CAPE ANN EARLY SPRING WILDLIFE UPDATE

Hello Friends,

I hope you are all doing well, or as well as can be expected during this heartbreaking pandemic event. The following kind words were spoken by Pope Francis today and I think they could not be truer.

“We are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed,” he said.

“All of us called to row together, each of us in need of each other.”

In the world of wildlife, spring migration is well underway and gratefully, nothing has changed for creatures small and large. That may change in the coming days as resources for threatened and endangered species may become scarce.

A friend posted on Facebook that “we are all going to become birders, whether we like it or not.” I love seeing so many people out walking in the fresh air and think it is really the best medicine for our souls.

Several times I was at Good Harbor Beach over the weekend and people were being awesome at practicing physical distancing. Both Salt Island Road and Nautilus Road were filled with cars, but none dangerously so, no more than we would see at a grocery store parking lot. I’m just getting over pneumonia and think I will get my old bike out, which sad to say hasn’t been ridden in several years. Cycling is a great thing to do with a friend while still practicing distancing and I am excited to get back on my bike.

An early spring wildlife scene update

The Niles Pond Black-crowned Night Heron made it through the winter!! He was seen this past week in his usual reedy location. Isn’t it amazing that he/she survived so much further north than what is typical winter range for BCHN.

Many of the winter resident ducks are departing. There are fewer and fewer Buffleheads, Scaups, and Ring-necked Ducks at our local ponds and waterways.

Male and female Scaups

No sign lately of the American Pipits. For several days there were three! Snow Buntings at the Brace Cove berm.

I haven’t seen the Northern Pintail in a over a week. Sometimes the Mallards play nice and on other days, not so much.

Male Northern Pintail and Mallards

As some of the beautiful creatures that have been residing on our shores depart, new arrivals are seen daily. Our morning walks are made sweeter with the songs of passerines courting and mating.

Black-capped Chickadees collecting nesting fibers and foraging

Song Sparrows, Mockingbirds, Robins, Cardinals, Chicadees, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice, and Carolina Wrens are just a few of the love songs filling backyard, fields, dunes, and woodland.

Newly arrived Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets have been spotted at local ponds and marshes.

Cape Ann’s Kildeers appeared about a week or so ago, and wonderful of wonderful news, a Piping Plover pair has been courting at Good Harbor Beach since they arrived on March 22, a full three days earlier than last year.

Kildeers, Gloucester

Why do I think it is our PiPls returned? Because Piping Plovers show great fidelity to nesting sites and this pair is no exception. They are building nest scrapes in almost exactly the same location as was last year’s nest.

Piping Plover Nest Scrape Good Harbor Beach 2020

I’m not sure if the Red Fox photographed here is molting or is the early stages of mange. It does seem a bit early to be molting, but he was catching prey.

We should be seeing Fox kits and Coyote pups any day now, along with baby Beavers, Otters, and Muskrats 🙂
It’s been an off year for Snowy Owls in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic with relatively many fewer owls than that wonderful irruptive winter of 2017-2018 when Hedwig was living on the back shore. 2019 was a poor summer for nesting however, reports of high numbers of Lemmings at their eastern winter breeding grounds are coming in, which could lead to many owlets surviving the nesting season of 2020, which could lead to many more Snowies migrating south this coming winter of 2020-2021.

Take care Friends and be well ❤

Mini-nature lover

WE HAVE A PIPING PLOVER NEST SCRAPE!

As you may recall from Sunday’s post, our sweet Piping Plover pair arrived on March 22nd. This is three days earlier than last year. The two are concentrating their courtship in exactly the same area they have been courting, nesting, and raising their chicks for the previous four years (with the exception of the parking lot nest). Today PapaPl made a serious nest scrape about five feet away from last year’s nest.

Each year, as they become better at migrating and better parents, they are arriving earlier, and earlier, and are wasting no time in getting down to the business of reproducing. Piping Plovers famously show great fidelity to their nesting sites and our PiPls are no exception.

Piping Plover nest scrape today at 8:30am

You can see in the photos, the male is in the nest scraping, and the sand is flying in the middle photo as he digs out the nest.

We are very much hoping the symbolic Piping Plover fencing can be installed as quickly as possible. Yesterday, protective dune fencing was installed the length of Good Harbor Beach. What was installed yesterday only needs to be widened in a relatively small area  to accommodate the Piping Plover’s nest scrape.

With all the terrible consequences of Covid-1 taking place all around us, some people may think it not important during the pandemic to help the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers. I don’t think I am in the minority when I write nothing could be further from the truth. It’s critical to post the threatened/endangered signs and symbolic fencing and let the community know the birds are here. Helping endangered and threatened species is a meaningful way for us all to better understand our natural environment. The fact that the PiPls successfully fledged three chicks last summer gives us hope for a brighter future for all living creatures on our Planet.Pops Plover getting down to business this morning!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

HERE’S TO A HAPPY NEW YEAR AND A HAPPY NEW DECADE! 

In spending the afternoon reflecting on the past year’s wildlife stories and photos, I have been thinking about what an extraordinary place is Cape Ann. How fortunate we all are to see amazing and beautiful wildlife stories unfolding in our own backyards each and every day! I am planning a Cape Ann Wildlife 2019 Year in Pictures and hope to find the time to post that this week.

News this year of an increase in Monarchs at the butterfly’s overwintering sites in Mexico, as well as strong numbers during the summer breeding season and fall migration, gives me great hope for the future of this beautiful species, and for all wildlife that we take underwing.

Monarchs flying into Gloucester butterfly trees, forming an overnight roost.

Our community has taken under its wings a pair of Piping Plovers. The two began calling Good Harbor Beach home in 2016. Because the community came together and worked as a team, this year we were able to fledge three tiny, adorable marshmallow-sized fluff balls at Gloucester’s most well-loved and populous beach. Thank you Piping Plover friends and Community for all that you did to help these most vulnerable of shorebirds successfully reach flying age. 

Another example of “underwing” – three nearly full grown PiPl chicks, all determined to nestle for warmth under Papa

WITH THREATENED AND ENDANGERED SPECIES OF WILDLIFE IN MIND, MY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GLOUCESTER CITY COUNCILOR AT LARGE

Dear Piping Plover Friends,

The Gloucester citywide election is just around the corner. I want to take this opportunity to give a shout out to the candidates who I believe, based on their actions and words, are in favor of helping and protecting the threatened and endangered wildlife species that make their home on Gloucester’s shore.

As many are aware, the ordinance to disallow dogs at Good Harbor Beach was changed this past spring. Rather than May 1st, which was the previous time frame for several years, dogs are no longer permitted after March 31st. Without a doubt, the change in date allowed the Piping Plovers to successfully fledge three chicks at Good Harbor Beach, and not in the parking lot. The recommendation to change the ordinance was put forth by Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee and helped through the City’s government process by several key members of the City Council including Councilors Melissa Cox, Scott Memhard, Steven Le Blanc, Jamie O’Hara, Paul Lundberg, and Sean Nolan.

My recommendation for candidates does not address the individual ward councilors, only the councilors running for at-large positions.

With threatened and endangered species in mind I hope you will consider voting for incumbent councilors Melissa Cox and Jamie O’Hara. In the case of Melissa Cox, she was on board to help the Plovers immediately, from day one.  Initially, Councilor Jamie O’Hara had many questions and suggestions. He was courteous and respectful at all times, a great listener, and came to be in favor of helping the PiPls and changing the ordinance.

Candidate John McCarthy, who was the acting Chief of Police during the summer of 2018 (when the Plovers had resorted to nesting in the parking lot), went to great lengths to help the PiPls. Daily he walked Good Harbor Beach at daybreak, before his workday began, to help monitor the PiPls during the early morning shift.

From speaking with Chris Sicuranza when he was an administrator in Mayor Sefatia’s office, I know that he is entirely in favor of the Piping Plovers and will work to keep in place the current protections.

I recently spoke with Peter Cannavo. Prior to running for elected office, he had in the past expressed interest in the PiPls. He assured me that he is in favor of continuing the Piping Plover protections and I know him to be a man of his word.

There you have it, five recommendations for the four at-large positions. With each of these five candidates we can be confident that they will work to continue to protect threatened and endangered Cape Ann wildlife.

Thank you for taking the time to read these recommendations.

Sincerely,

Kim Smith