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.
This past week while photographing a Snow Bunting and several American Pipits, a friendly bird, not in the least skittish, caught my eye. It was acting sort of Pipit-like, similar size-wise and foraging in the sand, but had a striking black streak across its cheek and lemony yellow face. I wasn’t sure what I was looking at until returning home to look it up. I always take lots of photos when I am unsure of what it is I am photographing, just because you never know. I am so glad, because several of the photos gave a great clue. In the snapshots where the bird is looking dead on, you can actually see its tiny feathery “horns.” I think there were two Horned Larks with the small mixed flock, one slightly paler than the other.
‘Horns’ of the Horned Lark
The Snow Bunting was clearly the boss of the mini flock. If another approached too closely to where it was foraging, the bird gave a brief but aggressive hop and flutter toward the intruder.
In winter time, look for Horned Larks in fields, meadows, beaches, and dunes, in large and small mixed flocks. Interestingly, in Europe, the Horned Lark is called the Shore Lark and after the wonderful beach walk surprise, it’s easy to understand why.
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.
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.
A fresh-faced and sleepy-eyed Miss Snowy Owl, a flock of Snow Buntings, and a gang of turkeys made for a beautiful morning ❤
The Snow Buntings were too far away to get a good snapshot, but it is wonderful to see their return to Massachusetts from summer nesting grounds in the high Arctic.
Stirring up the leaf litter with their feet.
A great gang of Wild Turkeys (approximately three dozen!), of mixed age, were foraging amongst the leaf litter, using their big feet to kick up the leaves. The first-hatch year poults stayed more to the center of the flock, while the older hens were foraging at the perimeter.
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.
This sweet sparrow-sized bird caught my attention as it was feeding alongside a more subdued-hued Song Sparrow, both smack dab in the middle of the road. How could it not, with its strikingly patterned tail feathers, brilliant white underparts, and unusual hopping-walking-running habit.
Aptly named Snow Bunting, and colloquially called “Snowflake”, worldwide this little songbird travels furtherest north of any member of the passerine, breeding in the high Arctic tundra.
In Massachusetts, Snow Buntings are seen during the winter along the coastline and in small flocks, foraging on seeds and tiny crustaceans.
I hope more Snow Buntings join the lone Snowflake spotted on Eastern Point. If you see a Snow Bunting, please write and let us know. Thank you!
Snow Bunting in Arctic summer breeding plumage, photo courtesy BirdNote