A beautiful mysterious Snowy Owl has spent the winter here on Cape Ann. She is very elusive, never dallying too long in one location. She has been spotted in the Good Harbor Beach dunes, Long Beach, Salt Island, Middle Street rooftops, woods, Back Shore, Bass Rocks, Rocky Neck, Smith’s Cove, and even at the bottom of our hill on Pirate’s Lane.
Thank youto many friends who have alerted me to her presence – Hilary, Catherine, Grace, Nicole, Gordon, Arley, Frankie, Susan, Roger – if I forgot to include you, I mean to thank you, too!
If you spotted a Snowy on Cape this winter, please write. I do not believe Cape Ann’s Snowy is still about however, if you do see a Snowy, please leave a comment or feel free to email at email@example.com. Thank you!
I am almost certain she is not the same Snowy that stayed with us several winter’s ago. Unlike Piping Plovers, from tracking data, we know that Snowies don’t generally return to the same location every winter, and many only migrate during their youth. In case you missed it, here is a link to a series of fun educational short films that I made about Cape Ann’s 2018 resident Snowy Owl, including bathing, capturing a seabird, and passing a pellet. Snowy Owl Film Project
It’s been a banner year for Snowy Owls at Salisbury Beach, Sandy Point, and Parker River, so much so I have gone out of my way to avoid stopping to photograph owls at these locations for fear of disturbing the Snowies. There are a great deal more people out and about photographing than in previous years, due largely to the pandemic, and the owl disturbances are many.
Several years ago my husband suggested I write a “year end” wildlife review about all the creatures seen over the preceding year. That first review was a joyful endeavor though daunting enough. Over the next several years the reviews became more lengthy as I tried to cover every beautiful, wonderful creature that was encountered on woodland hikes, beaches, dunes, marshes, ponds, and our own backyards and neighborhoods. 2020 has been a very different year. There were just as many local wildlife stories as in previous years however, the pandemic and political climate have had far reaching consequences across geographic regions around the world, touching every living creature in the interconnected web of life we call our ecosystems.
This first year of the global pandemic has had a profoundly negative impact on wildlife and their habitats. In urban areas in developed countries, perhaps the economic slowdown afforded wildlife a break, with less pollution, less air travel, and some wild animals even reclaiming territory. Though the true downside of Covid-19 is that the pandemic has had an extraordinarily harmful impact on wildlife in rural areas and in less developed countries People who are dependent upon tourism, along with people who have lost jobs in cities and are returning to rural areas, are placing increasing pressure on wildlife by poaching, illegal mining, and logging. As mining and logging destroy wildlife habitats, animals are forced into ever shrinking areas, causing them to become sick, stressed, and to starve to death. These same stressed wild animals come in contact with people and farm animals, creating an ever increasing potential to transmit horrifically deadly illness, diseases such as Covid-19.
There are many, many organizations working to protect wildlife and conserve their habitats. I am especially in awe of one particular grass roots non-profit organization located in Macheros, Mexico, previously featured here, Butterflies and Their People. Co-founded by Ellen Sharp and Joel Moreno Rojas, the work they are doing to both protect the butterfly’s winter habit and provide employment for the forest’s guardians is outstanding.
All the butterfly sanctuaries (their winter resting places), are closed this year due to the pandemic. Dozens of people in the tiny town of Macheros are wholly dependent upon the income received by the work they do protecting the butterfly trees from illegal logging, as well as income from the tourist industry. Ellen, Joel, and their team of arborists have come up with a wonderfully creative way to bring the butterflies to you. For a modest fee, you can sign up to “Adopt a Colony” to receive monthly newsletters and video tours of the Monarchs at Cerro Pelon. The newsletters are written by Ellen, who writes beautifully and clearly about the month-by-month current state of the butterflies in their winter habitat, as well as human interest stories drawn from the community. To subscribe to “Adopt a Colony” from Butterflies and Their People, go here.
We can be hopeful in 2021 that with a new administration, a much greater focus will be paid by our federal government to stop the spread of the virus in the US as well as around the globe. Not only is there hope in regard to the course correction needed to battle the pandemic, but the Biden/Harris administration has made climate change and environmental justice a cornerstone of their platform, including measures such as stopping the environmental madness taking place along our southern border and reversing many of the previous administration’s mandates that are so harmful to wildlife and their habitats.
Around the globe, especially in less developed countries, the pandemic has set back environmental initiatives by years, if not decades. We are so fortunate in Essex County to have conservation organizations such as Greenbelt, MassWildlife, The Trustees, and Mass Audubon; organizations that protect the sanctity of wildlife and recognize the importance of protecting habitats not only for wildlife but equally as important, for the health and safety of human inhabitants.
The following are just some of the local images and stories that make us deeply appreciate the beauty of wildlife and their habitats found on Cape Ann and all around Essex County. Each picture is only a brief window into the elusive, complex life of a creature. Every day and every encounter brings so much more to observe, to learn, to enjoy, and to love.
To read more, each image and story from the past year is Google searchable. Type in the name of the creature and my name and the link to the story and pictures posted on my website should come right up.
Some Beautiful Raptors of 2020 – Red-tailed Hawk, Short-eared Owl, American Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Merlin, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Osprey, and Snowy Owls
Essex County Greenbelt’s Osprey pair, Annie and Squam, successfully fledged three chicks, Vivi, Rusty, and Liz (nestling photo courtesy ECGA)
Dave Rimmer video from the Osprey cam at Lobstaland
The Snowy Owl Film Project was completed in March, with the objective of providing pandemic- virtually schooled kids a window into the world of Snowy Owls in their winter habitat (see all five short films here).
Spunky Mute Swan Cygnets
Utterly captivated by the winsome Red Fox Family
A tiny sampling of the beautiful songbirds that graced our shores in 2020 – Cedar Waxwings, Baltimore Orioles, Catbirds, American Robins, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Snow Buntings, American Pipits, Horned Larks, and Eastern Bluebirds
A new favorite place to film is at my friend Paul’s wonderfully fun sunflower field in Ipswich, School Street Sunflowers. Beautiful Bobolinks, Common Yellowthroat Warblers, and Bluejays were just some of the songbirds seen feasting on the expiring seedheads of sunflowers and wildflowers growing amongst the rows of flowers.
Graceful White-tailed Deer herd of adult females and youngsters
Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and juvenile Little Blue Herons delight with their elegance, beauty, and stealth hunting skills. Included in the montage is a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron that spent the winter at Niles Pond
A fraction of the different species of Shorebirds and Gulls seen on Cape Ann this past year – Dowitchers, Killdeers, Black-bellied Plovers, Common Tern, Least Tern, Laughing Gulls, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Glaucus Gull, and rarely seen Dovekie, or”Little Auk.”
Cecropia Moth life cycle unfolding in our garden, from mating, to egg laying, to caterpillar, to adult.
Dozens and dozens of orb spider webs draped a small patch of wildflowers. The dream catchers were attracting Cedar Waxwings to feast on the insects caught in the webs. The following day I returned after a rainstorm. The webs had melted away in the downpour and the Waxwings had vanished into the treetops.
Harbor and Gray Seals hauled out on the rocks at Brace Cove, as many as 28 were counted on a winter’s day!
Piping Plovers and Marshmallow Montage
In 2020, our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair fledged one chick, nicknamed Marshmallow. Despite the global pandemic, a group of super dedicated Piping Plover Ambassadors worked tirelessly from sunrise until sunset to help ensure the safety of the Piping Plover family and to help educate beachgoers about the beautiful life story of the Plovers unfolding on Gloucester’s most popular beach destination. We worked with Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, the Gloucester DPW, and Gloucester City Councilor Scot Memhard, with much appreciated advice from Mass Wildlife Coastal Waterbird Biologist Carolyn Mostello.
Piping Plover Marshmallow Montage, from egg to thirty-eight days old. Filmed at Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester, Massachusetts.
It has been a wonderful, exhilarating, infinitely educational, and beautifully challenging journey creating my documentary, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterflies. The film was released in February 2020, but because of the pandemic, was not seen by the public until August, when it premiered (virtually) at the New Haven Documentary Film Festival. Beauty on the Wing has gone on to win honors and awards at both environmental and children’s film festivals, including the tremendous honor of Best Documentary at the Boston International Kids Film Festival. I’ve just received the very attractive award in the mail and have not had time to post a photo yet.
Beauty on the Wing portrays Cape Ann in the most beautiful light and I think when we are ever able to have a live premiere in this area, local friends will be delighted at the outcome. Joyfully so, Beauty is now being distributed to schools, libraries, institutions, and the travel industry through American Public Television Worldwide.
Beauty on the Wing continues to be accepted to film festivals and I will keep you posted as some are geo-bloced to this area, including the upcoming Providence Children’s Film Festival.
Last but not least, our wonderfully wildy Charlotte, little adventurer and nature-loving companion throughout the year
Thank you so very much to Scott Weidensaul from Project SNOWStorm for his thoughtful suggestions and kind assistance while writing the script for the film A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Ann. Not only that, but he has shared the project with the Project SNOWStorm community and people are making very kind comments. Means much coming from knowledgeable owl-lovers <3
Wherever you are during this pandemic lockdown, here’s a special treat to ease the passing of time.
Kim Smith, a naturalist and filmmaker on the North Shore of Massachusetts, spent the winter of 2018 shadowing a young female snowy owl on windy, stormy Cape Ann. The result was five short films about the owl, which Kim was kind enough to share with our team during production, and is generous enough to share with the whole Project SNOWstorm community now that they’re finished. They’re simply beautiful.
You can find all five of Kim’s films here — enjoy!
I started following Project SNOWStorm several years ago and love their posts.. You can sign up here: Subscribe by email, on the right side of the page, or on any of the blog post pages. I promise, you will enjoy reading the fascinating information provided and will look forward to their arrival in your inbox. You can also make a donation here, too, if so inclined 🙂
Thank you to everyone for your very kind comments for this series. It has been a joy creating for such an enthusiastic audience <3
Thank you to Jennifer Davis and her adorable daughters Ellie and Isla. They stopped by one morning to see if they could find Snowy Owl. The girls and Mom were being so good at watching her from a safe distance. I asked Jenny if she minded if I took a photo and some footage, too. Jenny very graciously said yes!
Some good news-
In the two years that have passed since our Snowy visited Cape Ann’s Back Shore, all of Boston’s North Shore has not seen the same tremendous numbers of that winter of 2018. I read though on ProjectSNOWstorm’s website of the possibility of an exciting upcoming winter of 2020-2021 because there has been a good population of lemmings in the eastern portions of the Snowies breeding grounds. Let’s hope for more visits by beautiful Snowies <3
A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Annwas created for the kids in the Cape Ann community during this at-home school time. Please share with young people you know who may be interested.
A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Ann
Part Five: Snowy Owl Returns to the Arctic
Friends of Snowy Owl wondered how long she would stay before heading north on her return migration to the Arctic. Typically, Snowies leave New England by March or April, but some have stayed as late as July.
Why do people find Snowy Owls so captivating?
Owls symbolize wisdom and intelligence, and the characters they are given in popular culture and literature strengthen our associations.
We are provided a wonderful window into the world of owls through Snowies because they are crepuscular creatures, which means they are most active at dawn and at dusk.
There are only about 30,000 Snowy Owls in the wild. No one knows if their numbers are stable or decreasing.
Snowies face many threats, especially when they come south to us, including vehicles, planes, and toxic chemicals.
Research analysis shows that most carry some degree of rat poison, pesticides, and/or mercury in their bodies.
We can all be conscientious stewards of Snowies by not using poisonous chemicals and by keeping a safe distance when observing.
In early March, Snowy Owl began to appear restless. Migration is the most dangerous period in an owl’s life, but hormonal changes triggered by longer days were urging her northward.
Snowy Owl survived the fierce winds and waves of powerful nor’easters along with constant heckling by gulls and crows.
She ate well during her winter stay on Cape Ann.
Snowy Owl was strong and healthy when she departed, increasing the likelihood of a safe journey and return to her breeding habitat of Arctic tundra and grasslands.