Tag Archives: White-throated Sparrow

Cape Ann Wildlife: A Year in Pictures

snowy-owl-gloucester-massachusetts-c2a9kim-smith-2015My 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.
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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.

piping-plovers-chicks-nestlings-babies-kim-smithWork on Mr. Swan’s film will also resume this January—the winters are simply not long enough for all I have planned!swan-outstretched-wings-niles-pond-coyright-kim-smith

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-copyright-kim-smitrhFemale Red-winged Blackbirdeastern-coyote-massachusetts-kim-smith

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-muskrat-family-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithThree Muskrateers
female-monarch-depositing-eggs-1-copyright-kim-smithnewly-emerged-monarch-butterfly-copyright-kim-smith-jpgThere 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.

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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.
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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.

I wonder what 2017 will bring?

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Super Moon, Howling Coyotes, Flying Swan, Songbirds Going Crazy, and Beautiful Brace Cove Daybreak

rocky-neck-smith-cove-daybreak-copyright-kim-smithLast Tuesday was a photographer’s magical dream morning. After photographing and filming December’s “Long Night’s Moon” descending over the Gloucester city skyline, I turned toward the east to see a peaceful daybreak scene over Rocky Neck. Perhaps the sun hadn’t fully risen I thought and hurried to Brace Cove. The sun had rose behind Brace Rock with just enough clouds that it was still pretty, not blasted out by too much light.

I then walked along the edge of Niles Pond, meeting up with Mr. Swan who was occupied with his morning swim, which often indicates he is readying to take flight. He did, and with movie camera in hand, he circled the Pond before landing at Brace Cove, near the breakwater.

Eerily, the coyotes were howling in the distance, actually howling, like wolves, and for quite a long while. I often hear their meet-and-greet yipping and socializing barks that they make shortly after sunset, and too the terrible sound they make when killing a creature, but I have never heard them howling in the morning. I wonder if it had something to do with the full moon? Do our readers hear coyotes howling regularly?

tufted-titmouse-copyright-kim-smithTufted Titmouse

Further along the Pond walk there was a large flock of American Robins and they, along with a lively group of Blue Jays, Tufted Titmice, Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and Cardinals were hungrily eating every berry in sight, so much so that when I returned to the same spot a few days later, there wasn’t a berry or fruit to be seen. A magical morning at a magical place we’re fortunate to call home.

full-cold-moon-frosty-moon-december-2016-gloucester-ma-city-skyline-1-copyright-kim-smithDecember Long Night’s Moon

White-throated Sparrow and the Winter Moth

White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicolli)

Last May my husband and I were delighted to discover a large flock of White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicolli) rumpusing about our garden. A chorus of choristers chortling My Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada or alternatively Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody, their clear, elegant notes were heard for several days and they were easily spotted rustling about in the hedge, dining on safflower seeds scattered on the ground below the bird feeder, and feasting on Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) caterpillars in the trees. I believe it to be a fairly rare occurrence to observe a flock migrating this far east through Cape Ann. My East Gloucester neighbor Jen, who has a lovely garden even closer to the easternmost edges of the peninsula, reported same. Her flock also stayed for several days enjoying the winter moth caterpillar banquet found in her yard. Rather than walk or run, White-throated Sparrows hop, and we delighted in our all too brief encounter with this beautiful and entertaining “Whistler of the North.”

White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicolli)

White-throated Sparrow Eating Winter Moth Larvae

Kingdom: Animalia (Animal)

Phylum: Chordata (Vertebrates)

Class: Aves (Birds)

Order: Passeriformes (Perching birds)

Suborder: Passeri (Songbird)

Family: Emberizidae (Seed-eating birds with a distinctively shaped bill)

Genus: Zonotrichia

Species: Z. albicollis

White-throated Sparrows breed from Mackenzie, central Quebec, and Newfoundland south to North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. They spend winters in much of the southeastern U.S. and in small numbers in southwestern states. Frequent visitors to back yard feeders, White-throated Sparrows build their nests toward the ground in shrubby thickets or semi-open mixed woods, wood lots, scrub lands, gardens, and backyards. Of note, the sparrow comes in two distinct color forms: white-crowned and tan-crowned. The two color morphs are unique among birds. Individuals almost always mate with a bird of the opposite morph. “Normally, a single brood is raised each season, with the female remaining with the fledged young even after they have left the nesting territory” (Mass Audubon Breeding Bird Atlas).  After the breeding season ends, the adults molt and attain their winter plumage.

White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicolli)White-throated Sparrow Tan-crowned Morph

Last year I wrote an article, “Looking to the Future,” which was about Alain Baraton, the charismatic head gardener of the Palace of Versailles. Mr. Baraton has made it his mission to transform the 2,000-acre traditional landscape into a model of sustainable gardening, and in prohibiting the use of pesticides at the Palace of Versailles, the songbirds have returned in prodigious numbers. I thought of Monsieur Baraton in relation to our visiting White-throated Sparrows. From sunrise to sunset the sparrows could be found in our garden devouring the one-inch green winter moth larvae that were devastating our fruit trees. In hopes of mitigating the damage done by Winter Moths, several times throughout the winter we spray our trees with dormant oil. However, our neighbor does not tend to her dying tree. When the caterpillars grow to about one inch, they descend from her long suffering cherry tree and begin to devour our pear trees. The dilemma is that I do not want to spray with anything stronger than dormant oil and the reasons are manifold. Nuthatches store nuts and seeds in the chinks of bark of our pear trees, myriad species of bees are on the wing and in close proximity, and countless Lepidoptera larvae would also most certainly be adversely affected. As the winter moth expands its territory, logical too would be the assumption that migrating species of birds would find fortification in a diet of winter moth larvae and perhaps their range and population will also increase.

Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata)Adult Winter Moth ~ Operophtera brumata

White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicolli)