Jeff Denoncour, the Trustees of Reservations Eastern Region Ecologist, gave an outstanding and informative presentation to a packed audience Saturday afternoon. Subjects included the formation and history of Crane Beach, marsh, and dunes; the seven uniquely different ecological zones; the many species of flora and fauna that comprise the rich biodiversity at Castle Island; and the Trustees protective measures managing rare and endangered species.
Since 2010, Jeff has managed the Trustees Shorebird Protection Program at Crane Beach. Because of the very excellent shorebird management at Crane Beach, 2018 was a banner year, with 42 pairs of nesting Piping Plovers and approximately one hundred PiPl chicks fledged. Our community can learn a great deal from the success at Crane Beach in how to better manage shorebirds migrating and nesting at Cape Ann beaches.
We learned from Jeff that Crane Beach is part of a string of barrier beaches formed from sediment deposited by the outflow of the Merricmack River. Salisbury Beach is at the northern end, then Plum Island, then Crane, with Coffins and Wingaersheek at the southern end. The sand that was deposited at Salisbury Beach is the coarsest; the sand at Wingaersheek the lightest and finest as it would have more easily flowed furthest away from the mouth of the river.
Excerpt from a previous post OUTSTANDING COASTAL WATERBIRD CONSERVATION COOPERATORS MEETING! talking about Jeff and the success of the Crane Beach Trustees Piping Plover
“Readers will be interested to know that our region’s Crane Beach continues to have one of their best year’s ever. Trustees of Reservations Jeff Denoncour shared information on the latest census data from 2018 and Crane Beach has a whopping 76 fledglings, with 25 more chicks still yet to fledge. Because of the huge success at Crane Beach, the northeast region, of which we are a part, has fledged a total 136 of chicks in 2018, compared to 108 in 2017, and as I said, with more fledglings still to come! The northeast region encompasses Salisbury Beach to the Boston Harbor Islands.
Jeff noted that this year they had less predation by Great Horned Owls. Because of owl predation, several years ago the Trustees gave up on the wire exclosures and now use electric fencing extensively. The Great Horned Owls learned that the Piping Plover adults were going in and out of the exclosures and began perching on the edge of the wire, picking off the adults as they were entering and exiting the exclosure.
Crane has an excellent crew of Trustees staff monitoring the Least Terns and Piping Plovers, as well as excellent enforcement by highly trained police officers. No dogs are allowed on Crane Beach during nesting season and dogs are prevented from entering at the guarded gate. As we saw from one of the graphics presented about nesting Double-crested Cormorants, when a dog runs through a nesting area, the adults leave the nest, temporarily leaving the eggs and chicks vulnerable to predation by crows, gulls, raptors, and owls.”
Mama (left) and Papa (right) return to Good Harbor Beach on a bitterly cold day, April 3, 2018.
Part Two: Spring
By Kim Smith
The return of Mama and Papa Piping Plover to Good Harbor Beach filled our hearts with hope and heartache. Although not tagged with a definitive id, we can be fairly certain they are the same because the pair attempt to build their nest each year within feet of the previous year’s nest. Not only did our returning pair try to nest on Good Harbor Beach, there were two additional pairs of Piping Plovers, and several free-wheeling bachelors.
Each spring the Good Harbor PiPl have returned earlier than the previous, which show us that the pair is gaining in maturity, and in familiarity with the area. Tragically, at the time of their arrival in April, dogs are permitted on the beach. Dog traffic running through the Piping Plover nesting area was unrelenting, despite signs and roping. The Plover family never caught a break, and were soon making overtures at nesting in the parking lot.
Even with desperate calls for help and repeated warnings from the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, owners continued to allow off leash and on leash dogs to run freely through the PiPl’s nesting area, daily forcing the PiPl off the beach. They were at first torn between maintaining the territory they had established on the beach or establishing a new territory on the white lines in the parking lot. After one particularly warm sunny Sunday in April, they gave up completely on their beach nest scrape.
We learned that during the month of April, dogs at Massachusetts barrier beaches, such as Good Harbor Beach, not only endangers the lives of threatened Piping Plovers, but many species of migrating and nesting shorebirds.
On May 5th, the first egg was laid in the parking lot. Thanks to Gloucester’s amazing DPW crew, a barricade around the nest was installed within hours of the first egg laid. Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer soon followed to install a wire exclosure around the parking lot nest.
No shortage of vandals.
Garbage left on the beach brings predatory gulls and crows and they, too, became a serious threat to our Piping Plover family after the chicks hatched. The lack of a common sense ordinance to keep dogs off Good Harbor Beach during the month of April, the unaware dog owners, the garbage scavenging gulls and crows, and the vicious vandals are absolutely our responsibility to better manage and to control. For these reasons, and despite the kindness and care of dozens of PiPl volunteer monitors, as well as good people from around the community (and beyond), the Piping Plovers face terrible odds nesting at Good Harbor.
Scroll down to the end of the post to find links to some of the dozens of stories that I have written about the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers. Many communities throughout Massachusetts and coastal New England have in place common sense management rules and are successfully fledging chicks. I wrote about that extensively during the summer months and you will find a list of the posts regarding that topic in Part Three: Summer
Most of the Snowies from the great Snowy Owl irruption of 2017-2018 had departed for their Arctic breeding grounds by the time the Piping Plovers arrived to Cape Ann beaches. This was a relief as I imagined that the Piping Plovers might make a tasty meal in the mind of a Snowy Owl. Thinking we’d seen the last of Hedwig and all Snowies, Bob Ryan called to let us know there was a Snowy Owl hanging around the distillery. I jumped in my car and raced right over. She appeared in good health and stayed for a day.
We did learn weeks later that during July and August there were still a few Snowies remaining on Massachusetts beaches and, from examining their pellets, it was clear they had been eating Piping Plover adults.
A fabulous Green Heron was photographed and filmed on an area pond–signs of a great summer season for all species of herons, yet to come.
For the past several years, at least, Killdeers, which is another species of plover (although not endangered) have been nesting in the dunes at Good Harbor Beach. This year we had, at a minimum, two successful nests!
All four chicks hatched and, at only one-day-old, made the epic journey to the beach. Miraculously, four teeny tiny mini marshmallow-sized baby birds, led by Papa and Mama, zigzagged across the parking lot, trekked through the dunes, and landed within feet of the parent’s original nest scrape.
Only one chic, the one PiPl volunteer monitor Heather names Little Pip, survives into summer.
Part One: Winter
By Kim Smith
Cape Ann provides welcome habitat for a menagerie of creatures beautiful, from the tiniest winged wonder to our region’s top predator, the Eastern Coyote. Last year and the previous year I posted a Cape Ann Wildlife: A Year in Pictures 2016 and Cape Ann Wildlife: A Year in Pictures 2017. This year I changed the title to A Year in Pictures and Stories and have provided a partial list of some of the stories. You can find links to the posts at the end of each season. I hope you have found the wildlife stories of 2018 equally as interesting and beautiful. Click on the image to find the name of each species.
* * *
The first days of January began with the dramatic rescue of our blue-eyed swan by Mr. Swan’s Niles Pond caretakers, Skip, Lyn, and Dan. He flew onto the ice and could not maneuver off. The most amazing thing is that two black-eyed “angel swans” magically appeared at just the right time they were needed and, in a swan sort of way, helped release Mr. Swan from the ice.
She arrived sometime in December and stayed until mid-March. Hedwig staked out a territory that covered a great part of East Gloucester, from Captain Joes Lobster Company on the inner harbor, up over the Bass Rocks Golf Club hill, and all along Atlantic Road, even battling a young male we called Bubo to maintain her dominance over this rich feeding ground. Late in the afternoon we would see her departing for her nightly hunt and she was seen eating a wide variety of small animals, including rabbits, mice, and Buffleheads.
Hedwig was photographed battling, bathing, grooming, and eating.
Mostly though, Hedwig was observed while sleeping and resting on her various perches; not only the beautiful rocks along the shoreline, but Atlantic Road homeowner’s chimneys, as well as the rooftop railings of the Ocean House Hotel and Atlantis Oceanfront Inn.
This remarkably people-tolerant owl drew crowds from all over (including a Canadian visitor), providing a wonderful window into the secret world of these most magnificent of Arctic wanderers.
Resident Eastern Coyotes and beautiful migrating ducks were photographed and filmed. And then came the terribly destructive power of the four’easters of March, reeking havoc on wildlife habitats all along the coastline.
Hedwig was last seen during the early evening on March 12th, departing the rooftop of the Ocean House Hotel. This was also the night before the third nor’easter. She was perched on the railing of the Ocean House Inn facing towards the sea. The wind was blowing fiercely. After making several attempts, she successfully flew in a southerly direction out over the water.
Mr. Swan Rescue Update and a Pair of Mysterious Swans Arrive at Niles Pond!
Mr. Swan Update Rescue #2
Not One, But Two Snowy Owls on the Back Shore
Snowy Owl Aerial Fight
Close Encounter of the Coyote Kind
Snowy Owl Hedwig Takes a Bath
My What Big Feet You Have Hedwig
Hello Hedwig! What Are You Eating
How Can the Wings of a Snowy Owl Be Quieter Than a Butterfly’s Wings?
Good Morning Sleepyhead
Snowy Owl Feathers in the Moonlight
Beautiful Brants, Scaups, and Ring-necked Ducks Migrating Right Now On Our Shores
Gloucester March Nor’easters Storm Coverage 2018
Clear Evidence of the Destructive Forces of Global Warming on the Coastline and How this Negatively Impacts Local Wildlife
Snowy Owl perching in a pine tree after sunset.
I wasn’t expecting to see a Snowy Owl overhead in a pine tree, although its not entirely uncommon. Because Snowy Owlets hatch in the summertime in the treeless Arctic tundra, they may never even see a tree until they migrate southward.
For the same reason (their home territory is above the Arctic Circle), Snowy Owls hunt during the day in their summer range. Their eyes have evolved to hunt in the continuous daylight of the far north. When migrating to the lower 48 states, Snowies adapt to the shifting light. Unlike other species of owls, the Snowy Owl hunts during the day (this behavior is called diurnal), the night (nocturnal), and at twilight (crepuscular).
From observing Snowy Owls in our region, they mostly feed very early in the morning, before daybreak, rest during the day in dunes and fields, then at day’s end, fly up and perch on an open rooftop or phone pole (less occasionally to treetops), to begin hunting again. The elevated perches provide better visibility for triangulating prey.
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
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.