Yet another beautiful vagrant has been spotted on our shores, the Orange-crowned Warbler!
As you can see from the map, the Orange-crowned Warbler is nowhere near its winter range. This, from Cornell, “Medium to long-distance nocturnal migrant. Many birds winter in Mexico, with some continuing south to Guatemala and Belize. Others winter in central California and the southern U.S.”
Finding insects in the brush, bark, and rotting wood
Finding plenty of insects in rotting pieces of driftwood, peeling bark, and drying seaweed, the little fellow is very active and seems relatively unperturbed by the below freezing temperatures of the past month. Orange-crowned Warblers are purported to be one of the most hardiest of warblers. I met up with some old time knowledgeable gentlemen birders and they shared that about once a year an OCW shows up in Massachusetts, but rarely as far east as Cape Ann.
After looking at the photos you may wonder, as did I, why this yellowish-olive green songbird is so named ‘orange crowned?’ You can just barely see a very slight rusty orange hued patch of feathers when its head is bowed forward.
While watching a young Mockingbird grooming its wings, the fledgling suddenly perked up as one of its parents approached with a mouthful of dinner. Mom and Dad Northern Mockingbirds both care for their young so the adult in the photos could have been either or. Mockingbird pairs are strongly monogamous and boldly defend their nests and nestlings from people, pets, and predators.
With their fluffy new feathers, fledglings of many species often appear larger than the parent. I sometimes wonder how baby birds ever get off the ground as they become plumper and plumper from the rich diet provided by their parents. Mockingbird fledglings and adults eat a wide variety of fruits, berries, and insects.
As you may or may not be aware, a statewide moratorium on feeding birds at feeders was declared because of an avian disease killing birds in the South. No cases have been found in New England and the mysterious disease seems to be waning in the South. Mass Audubon has announced it it safe to once again resume feeding at feeders. For the health and well being of songbirds, to help prevent the spread of any disease, it is recommended to clean bird feeders and bird baths about every two weeks with a solution of bleach and water, 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Thank you to Monarch friend Judy A. for sharing the update!
The past week I have been astounded with the array of warblers that we are seeing in our garden and on walks in the neighborhood. The big attraction in the garden is the native pink flowering dogwood tree (Cornus florida ‘Rubra’), my neighbor’s maple tree and the tiny insects feeding there, and our funky weathered old bird bath. There has been so much activity in the bird bath we are changing the water several times a day! Perhaps the travelers are dusty and dirty and appreciate the fresh bathing water.
One of the most fun to see was an American Redstart and the new-to-my-eyes Bay-breasted Warbler.
We also had a trio of black and white birds for an afternoon, the Black and White Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and a female Yellow-rumped Warbler.
Black and White Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Yellow-rumped Warbler
There’s much that could be written about each species. I’m posting these photos for ID purposes in case anyone else has noticed a recent influx of warblers in your backyard or neighborhood. Please write if you do. Thank you!
If you are looking to be inspired by creatures and colors of the upcoming season, and what to plant to make your garden a welcoming haven for wildlife, please join me tonight at 7pm. I am super excited to be presenting “The Pollinator Garden” for the Mass Pollinator Network. Because it is a Keynote presentation, I was able to add and collage many more photos. The presentation looks great and is chock full of ideas for your pollinator paradise. I hope to see you there!
Please join me Wednesday evening, March 17th, at 7pm for “The Pollinator Garden” presentation, via Zoom, for the Massachusetts Pollinator Network.
From early spring through winter, I will take you on a journey of understanding the beautiful creatures found in your gardens and how you can create a welcoming haven by planting trees, shrubs, vines, native wildflowers, and non-invasive ornamentals. Some of the wild creatures covered include Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, moths and butterflies, bees, Baltimore Orioles, and much, much more.
Located in our East Gloucester neighborhood is a rare bit of New England coastal habitat called a Relic Sandplain Grassland or Open Heathland (see below to read more about Sandplain Grasslands). I love walking there in the early morning when the light is especially beautiful. The native flora attracts a wide array of wildlife, including favorite songbirds, skippers, butterflies, hawks, and Eastern Coyotes.
Eastern Coyote (Canis latrans) Seine Field
Earlier in the summer on an evocatively lit semi-foggy morning I went to photograph. The sun was pouring long shooting rays through the atmosphere and it was stunning to see.
Several weeks later I went again on a foggy morning and was delighted to find the field shrouded in seine nets. Called Seine Field because during the 19th and 20th centuries, fisherman laid out their seine nets across the expansive field to dry and to repair.
Seine nets were used by Gloucester’s seiner boat fishermen, the same type of boats we see during Fiesta: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. The field is still used by local fishermen and it was totally random and by chance when I was there while in use.
Gloucester Seine Boats
In 2018, Essex Greenbelt applied for, and received, a Community Preservation Act grant to improve the quarter mile trail. The wide, newly graded walkway provides accessibility for most and I especially love it because ever since I had complications from a tick bite, I don’t feel much like traipsing through grass and dense vegetation, particularly during the summer months, and especially when with Charlotte (she loves Seine Field, too!). The trail is fantastic for adults and young children alike.
Seine Field is managed by Essex County Greenbelt Association and is located on Farrington Avenue in Gloucester. For more information about ECGA and to learn how you can be come involved follow this link: Essex County Greenbelt Association
Sandplain Grasslands are open, essentially treeless, grass dominated communities that generally occur on sand or other dry, poor soils; Occurrences are maintained by fire, salt spray, and, now, mowing.
Differentiating from Related Communities: Sandplain Grasslands are part of a structural and successional continuum with other coastal communities. When communities are not distinct the best fit should be named. Sandplain Heathlands and Sandplain Grasslands share ~70% of their dominant species: the proportions of the species and the community structure separate the types. Sandplain Heathlands look shrubbier with a taller shrub layer comprised of scrub oak, black huckleberry, and/or lowbush blueberry, and overall have fewer plant species. Both Sandplain Grasslands and Maritime Dune Communities have grasses, forbs, and low shrubs, with patches of bare soil. Dune communities are often dominated by beach grass and beach heather that occur less abundantly in grasslands, where if they occur they are with other plants. Sandplain Grasslands – Inland Variant are located inland away from maritime influences and fewer coastal species including sandplain flax, golden heather, and sandplain blue-eyed grass.
With early predictions of a Snowy Owl irruption heading our way and several sightings in Gloucester, I have been periodically popping over to Cranes Beach in Ipswich. Thanks to Bill Foley, Cranes Chief of Police (and Kate’s awesome Dad!), who showed me around and provided some great tips on locating the Snowies, I was able to find one second time out. The first day was a bust because a dog owner had allowed his dog off leash. I watched the dog chase the Snowy, who then headed far and away over the dunes. This made me so very sad for myriad reasons, but especially so at Cranes Beach because there is a fabulously huge area that dogs are allowed off leash. Anyhow, seeing the Snowy that first day, and knowing he was there, was all I needed to keep trying.
Dunlins, Sanderlings, Snow Buntings, and Horned Lark
That day, a flock of Dunlins was resting in the sand, with one lone Sanderling, and there was a small flock of Snow Buntings in the parking lot. Feeding amongst the flock was, what I believe to be, a female Horned Lark!
Second day out was wonderfully rewarding. Approaching the stairs to descend to the beach, I inadvertently startled a Snowy and he flew from the area, way, way down the beach, perching on one of the poles that mark the access to the Green Trail. Off I trudged in 15 degree weather, keeping my eyes peeled on where he was resting. He stayed for quite some time while I stood back at a great distance, not wanting to disrupt his hunting. Suddenly, and with what I thought, great bravery, he flew quite close and past me, heading over to the sandy beach. I wasn’t anticipating his flight and didn’t get much of a photo, but it was exquisite to see.
The temperature had climbed to twenty, but I was getting worried about exposed photo fingers and frostbite. After taking a few more photos and some footage of the Snowy in the sand, I very reluctantly headed home.
Today I didn’t see the Snowy Owl, but did find a scattering of Snowy feathers in the sand, in the same area where one had been hunting the previous week. I showed the ranger at the gate, Emily White, the feathers and she confirmed they were from a Snowy. She said that hawks and falcons will attack Snowies. I didn’t see any bones or body parts, so hopefully it wasn’t a fight to the death. Emily was super helpful and shared lots of useful information. This year’s Audubon Christmas Bird Count at Cranes was relatively uneventful, with fewer numbers counted than usual. Many more beautiful birds will be arriving to our shores in the coming weeks, foraging in the dunes and shrubby habitat, and hopefully, there will be lots more Snowy Owl sightings!
Northern Cardinals have been extending their range for decades and are now a beautiful and beloved part of the New England landscape, all the year long. Safflowers seeds are a favorite (and squirrels don’t care much for these seeds). At this time of year, we daily place a small handful of chopped peanuts in a bowl to help fatten the fledglings, and they also love the Catbird’s blueberries. Meet our resident Cardinal family!
Papa Cardinal is always first on the scene in the morning, scoping his territory for potential danger. His feathers are mottled because at this time of year, like many songbirds, Cardinals are molting.
Fledgling #1 – The fledglings are shyer than the adults, but also persistently vocal, nonstop actually, especially when hungry. Notice how its beak has not gained its red-orange color.
Splish Splash! Mama Cardinal taking a bath. Oh no, Junior shows up–“haven’t you had enough to eat?”
All are welcome at The Mary Prentiss Inn, people and pollinators!
Pollen-dusted Honey Bee
We’ve planted the front dooryard garden with an array of eye-catching, fragrant, and nectar rich flora for both guests and neighbors to enjoy, and to sustain the growing number of bees, butterflies, and songbirds frequenting the garden.
Fabulously fragrant Oriental Lilies are planted adjacent to the front door to welcome visitors as they enter the Inn.
The Mary Prentiss Inn, from the pollinators point of view ~
The Mary Prentiss is a stunning twenty-room Greek-Revival style inn located on a quiet street minutes away from Harvard Square. Elegant, comfortable, and charming, with period architectural detail and decor, the Inn is outfitted with all modern amenities. Visit The Mary Prentiss Inn website for more information.
Enjoy a delicious made-to-order breakfast or afternoon tea at the Inn’s secret garden.
The Mary Prentiss Inn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the proud recipient of the Massachusetts Historical Commission Preservation Award for 1995.
The Mary Prentiss Inn is located at 6 Prentiss Street, Cambridge. Call 617-661-2929 or visit maryprentissinn.com