During early morning walks it has been a joy to observe the many beautiful songbirds breakfasting on the array of autumn foods readily available, truly a smorgasbord of seeds, berries, and fruits.
My wild creature habitat radar has been especially drawn to a wonderful spot, so nicknamed ‘Four Berries Corners.’ Always alive at this time of year with chattering songbirds, there is a lovely crabapple tree, bittersweet, a small tree with black berries, privet I think, and two scraggly, but highly productive, Eastern Red Cedar trees.
In thinking about the about the most successful habitats for songbirds, a combination of seed-producing wildflowers, grasses, and garden flowers are planted along with primarily native flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs. The shrubs and trees also play the important role of providing nesting habitat and protective cover. The photo collection is a small sampling, and meant for design inspiration.
Native Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and Male House Finches
A male and female House Finch feeding each other in the Crabapples!
Grass seeds, much beloved by many including Song Sparrows, Bobolinks, and even Snow Buntings
Poison Ivy berries – by no means am I suggesting to plant, just mentioning that over 60 species of birds have been documented eating Poison Ivy drupes.
Cattail seed heads for male Red-winged Blackbirds
Sunflower Seeds fo all!
Along with songbirds, come their predators. Look for Merlins, Red-tailed and Cooper’s Hawks
Blue Jay preening after a morning of berry eating
The berries of Spindle Tree are the most beautiful part of the tree, but the tree is not recommended as it reseeds freely and is notorious for pushing out species of native trees and shrubs.
Seed heads make great perches for dragonflies and damselflies
Coyotes getting in on the action– much of their scat at this time of year has plainly visible partially digested fruits and berries.
Did you ever wonder why some birds, such as Bluebirds and Robins, lay blue or bluish green eggs? And just as interesting why, in some cases, Bluebirds which generally lay blue eggs, a nest may comprise eggs that are almost white?
The earliest avian eggshells probably lacked color, or pigmentation. Over time, most likely to protect the eggs from predators, birds evolved a diverse range of colored shell markings from mottled brown, gray and beige to rainbow hues from pure white to pale pink, lavender, yellow, aqua, orange, blue, born and even black.
The molecules that cause pigmentation in bird eggs are biliverdin (the blue-green shades) and protoporphyrin (red and brown colors and speckles) but we can talk about blue eggs without getting too technical.
Basically, blue and blue-green strikes a balance between white and very dark colored eggs. Darker eggs are predicted in moderate light to shield the embryo from intense light, including harmful UV radiation. If when eggs are in an exposed nest and the shells are too dark, it can cause the interior to heat up, similar to a “dark car effect.” Simply stated, blue eggs regulate the effects of sunlight on the developing chick (embryo).
This doesn’t explain entirely why Eastern Bluebird eggs range from white to blue green. Many cavity nester’s eggs are white because the adults need to see the eggs in the dark. Wood Ducks are an example of cavity nesters with white eggs. American Robins generally nest in trees or a semi-exposed site and their eggs are blue, affording both protection from dangerous UV light and low risk from heating up. Eastern Bluebirds are cavity nesters but only about 4 to 5 percent of their eggs are white. Oftentimes when learning about a topic, myriad more questions come to mind!
In reading about blue eggs I thought readers would enjoy seeing the amazing speckled and pear-shaped brilliant blue egg of the Common Murre, from USFWS
Some birds with blue eggs that nest locally include Red-winged Blackbird, Gray Catbird, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, House Finch, Bluejay, Goldfinch, European Starling, Eastern Bluebird, and American Robin.
American Robin nest at a friend’s home
Both Bluebird nest egg photos courtesy Google image search
Friday afternoon into evening the light was spectacular in our neighborhood, The fog was coming and receeding in waves. At moments the sun was shining brightly, seconds later, the sun and anything ten feet in front of you was obscured.
Featuring: Brant Geese, Black-capped Chickadees, Black-crowned Night Heron, Blue Jays, Cardinals, American Robins, Mockingbirds, Savannah Sparrows, House Finches, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Common Grackle.
Beautiful iridescent feathers of the Common Grackle.
Spring is a fantastic time of year in Massachusetts to see wildlife, whether that be whale or winged creature. Marine species are migrating to the abundant feeding grounds of the North Atlantic as avian species are traveling along the Atlantic Flyway to summer breeding regions in the boreal forests and Arctic tundra. And, too, the bare limbs of tree branches and naked shrubs make for easy viewing of species that breed and nest in our region. Verdant foliage that will soon spring open, although much longed for, also obscures nesting activity. Get out today and you’ll be richly rewarded by what you see along shoreline and pond bank.
Male Red-winged Blackbird singing to his lady love
Once the trees leaf, we’ll still hear the songsters but see them less.
Nests will be hidden from view.
Five migrating Brant Geese were foraging on seaweed at Loblolly Cove this morning.
Aside from Spring Peepers, is there a sound of the New England meadow that announces the arrival of spring more eloquently than that of the Red-winged Blackbird calling to his lady love? I think not. Happy Spring!
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.
Yellow Warbler hopping through the Shadblow branches eating small insects
Shadblow blooming with Red-winged Blackbird coming in for a landing
Shadbow, Shadbush, Chuckleberry Tree, Serviceberry, and Juneberry are just a few of the descriptive names given the beautiful Shadblow tree lighting up our marsh and woodland edges. With lacey white flowers, Shadblow (Amelanchier canadenisis) is one of the first of the natives to bloom in spring, growing all along the Atlantic coastal plains.
A fantastic tree for the wild garden, over 26 species of songbirds and mammals, large and small, are documented dining on the fruits of Shadblow (including bears). The small blue fruits are delicious, though rarely consumed by humans because wildlife are usually first at the table. The foliage of Shadblow is a caterpillar food plant for the Red Admiral Butterfly. Look for her eggs on the upper surface at the tip of the leaf.Shadblow in bud at the water’s edge with dewdrop necklace
Fruiting in June at the same time of year as the annual spawning migration of shad, is how the names Shadblow and Juneberry came about. The common name Serviceberry is derived from the flower clusters gathered for use in church services.Shadblow in bloom Loblolly Cove
The Shadblow and reeds create a beautiful symbiotic habitat for the blackbirds, Grackles and Red-wings, especially. Reeds of cattails and phragmites make ideal nesting material and sites, and come June, above the nesting area, a songbird feast of Shadblow berries ripens.
Male Common Grackles nest building in reeds
Female Red-winged Blackbird perched on cattail while collecting fluff for her nest and calling to her mate.
Cape Ann marshes are coming to life, in spite of the snowy days and unseasonably cold temperatures. Choristers make themselves readily known with their mating songs and with still bare tree limbs, they are fairly easy to spot.
Sing, sing, sing!
Camouflaged! No eggs yet at the Mouring Dove nest.
Mr. Swan looking good.
Dissipating cattail seed heads make for terrific songbird nesting material.
Turn up your volume and listen for the male Red-winged Blackbird song in the instagram below, just audible enough through the noisy Mallards quacking.