In thinking about our community’s efforts to Save Salt Island from deforestation and development, I wanted to share evidence that the vines and shrubs on the island are an important source of food for a host of small mammals and birds.
One of the most reviled of plants, Poison Ivy, is an excellent food plant for wildlife and will not cause the itchy uncomfortable rash if you do not touch the leaves, stems, fruits, and roots. Poison Ivy can either look like a shrub or a vine. Regardless of the shape, the leaves are easily identifiable in that they are always arranged in three; two leaves opposite one another, and between them the third leaf is borne on a stem growing at a right angle from the two shorter leaves.
Common Bonnet Fungi and Poison Ivy
Out on Eastern Point there are large patches of Poison Ivy that grow smack on the edge of very well traveled pathways. They have grown that way for decades, yet no one bothers the Poison Ivy and the Poison Ivy bothers no one. The spring blooming greenish yellow clusters of flowers are beloved by bees and myriad pollinators, while the vitamin rich white waxy berries are relished by resident and migrating songbirds alike.
In autumn, the plant’s glossy green leaves turn a brilliant red, which acts as a “red flag” to hungry songbirds. The long list of birds that dine on Poison Ivy fruits include Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Bluebirds, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Mockingbirds, Song Sparrows, Gray Catbirds, Bobwhites, and many, many more.
Poison Ivy Tips – If you come in contact, rinse the area with cold water, not soap, as soon after contact as possible. Ocean water works well when near to the beach. If you have Jewelweed growing handily nearby, smear the juice of the stem on the exposed skin. Never burn Poison Ivy. With burning, urushiol (the poisonous oil in Poison Ivy) becomes volatilized in the smoke and you can get it in your lungs, which is very dangerous and can even lead to death.
You may have noticed that Good Harbor Beach looks exceedingly well-kept and super clean. Every morning before visitors arrive, the DPW crew spreads out over the entire beach and manually picks up the trash. By doing the trash clean up by hand, rather than using a beach raking truck, an amazing songbird attracting habitat has been created. Natural debris has accumulated mostly along the high tide line, supporting tiny insects that not only feed Piping Plovers, Killdeers, and Sanderlings, but also attracts myriad species of songbirds, including Mockingbirds, Song Sparrows, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, House Finches, Eastern Kingbirds, Chimney Swifts, and Red-winged Blackbirds. These are bird species we have observed over the years at Good Harbor Beach however, this past summer we are seeing far greater numbers.
You may also have noticed some changes in the vegetation growing at the base of the dunes. Because of the symbolically roped off areas created for Plover protection, lush beach grass has begun to grow as much as ten to fifteen feet into the beach in some areas. This lush growth is a a natural weapon in lessening beach erosion. And, too, Sea Rocket is now growing throughout the protected sanctuaries, also a tremendous help in slowing beach and dune erosion.
We are so appreciative of the good work the DPW is doing at Good Harbor Beach and of their kind assistance throughout the Plover breeding season. Thank you!
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.
Beaver Pond, also known as Langsford Pond, is located on the outskirts of Cape Ann’s Dogtown. Exquisitely beautiful and peaceful, the pond is teeming with life, habitat largely created by the relatively new presence of the North American Beaver (Castor canadensis).
Beavers were absent from the Massachusetts landscape from 1750 to the early 1900s due to deforestation from agriculture and unregulated hunting and fur trapping. In the early 1900s forests began to recover as farmers abandoned their fields to work in cities. By 1928, a Beaver was found in Stockbridge. The public’s enthusiasm for the return of the beavers abounded and in 1932 three additional beavers from New York were introduced and released in Lennox. Today, Beavers have rebounded to the extent that some controlled hunting is permitted.
Beavers are ecosystem engineers and the ponds they create become wildlife magnets. Think about just this one example of the ecology of a beaver pond: woodpeckers make holes in the dead trees engineered by Beaver activity, Wood Ducks nest in the holes created by the woodpeckers, and raptors hunt the smaller birds.
More examples of how Beavers benefit other species of wildlife include favored nesting sites of both the Great Blue Herons and Osprey are the dead treetops of older trees in beaver swamps. Local species of turtles, the Snapping Turtle and the Eastern Painted Turtle, benefit from abundant vegetation created by beaver tree felling, which causes the forest to regenerate. Snapping and Eastern Painted Turtles prefer standing and slow moving water and hibernate under logs and lodges of Beavers. Painted Turtles also use floating logs to bask upon.
Like Niles Pond and Henry’s Pond, Langsford Pond is another superb example of a body of fresh water close to a saltwater cove where the combination of the two ecosystems provides shelter, nesting sites, and an abundance of food. While at Langsford Pond, I often see Great Blue Herons, swooping overhead, coming and going, between feeding grounds at the head of Lobster Cove and the shelter found in the vegetation surrounding the pond. Today, December 8th, a juvenile was seen on the far side of the pond, as were numerous Wood Ducks.
Since 1999, Langsford Pond has been protected by the Essex County Greenbelt Association. When I was filming there in October and November it was wonderfully overgrown and somewhat difficult to access. Recently, vegetation has been cut back, which makes walking to the pond’s edge much easier. Disease bearing ticks are present.
Some favorite Beaver food, ferns and American White Birch (Betula papyrifera).
Similar scenes as several in the film, only a month later without the vibrant fall foliage –“stick” season
During this snowiest of winters, we’ve been refilling the bird feeders several times a day. We usually only purchase safflower seeds because squirrels do not much care for the hard shell seeds. Recently though I thought that with all the snow cover, our little bird friends would benefit from some variety and decided to add black oil sunflower seeds to the mix. What a colossal error! This morning at the feeder a fight broke out over the sunflower seeds, with no less than five squirrels defending their new found cache. The sunflower seeds also drew two fat black rats to the feeders last night. We’re back to strictly safflower seeds!
The following are eight common birds that we see at feeders at this time of year and these eight species are content with the safflower seeds provided.