Category Archives: Birds

The Dreadfully Despicable and Despised Poison Ivy

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Eastern Bluebird and Poison Ivy Berries

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“Leaflets three, let it be!”

Perhaps the most disliked plant of all is poison ivy, despised throughout its range for the blistering rash that oozes and itches when one has the misfortune to come in contact with any part of the plant. What is the substance that causes that most dreaded of unpleasant of rashes? Poison ivy is infused with usushiol, a compound that not only wards off humans, but caterpillars, too (generally speaking, caterpillars are a plant’s number one enemy).

Toxicodendron_radicans_01Poison Ivy in Flower

Several of my landscape design projects are located on Plum Island. I laughed initially when it was first brought to my attention that poison ivy was one of the “approved” plants permitted on Plum Island. Of course, whether approved or not, I wouldn’t dream of planting poison ivy on a client’s property, but I did want to learn more about why it was on the approved list. And here’s the reason why we might want to rethink our dislike towards poison ivy: Plum Island is home to and breeding ground for hundreds of bird species and small animals. The blossoms of poison ivy are a rich nectar source for many pollinators, and the berries are a prime winter staple for dozens and dozens of song birds, including cardinals, mockingbirds, and robins.

800px-Toxicodendron_radicans_(L.)_Kuntze_-_eastern_poison_ivy,_poison_ivy,_poisonivy_(3778180456)“Berries white, run in fright.” ~ More than 60 species of birds eat the fruit of poison ivy.

Malign poison ivy if you will for its dreadful rash and clamoring habit. Lets rip it out of our backyard play spaces and public pathways. But knowing it holds an important place in our ecosystem, lets allow it to continue to grow wild in wild and appropriate places. Poison ivy is one of the essential reasons why we are privy to the legions and legions of beautiful birds that dwell, nest, and migrate through our region.

140256018.pF0PzVtqYellow-rumped Warbler and Poison Ivy Fruits

Yellow-rumped warblers are able to withstand our cold winters by switching from a diet of primarily insects, to one of poison ivy berries, bayberry, and other small fruits.

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“Red hairy vine, no friend of mine!”

The telltale reddish hairs of the vine are clearly evident in the above image; leaves, vines, stems, and hairs are all toxic to humans. As I am constantly exposed to poison ivy due to landscape design projects, and oftentimes filming and photographing in locations where poison ivy is prevalent, my number one solution to avoiding contact is to identify its presence and to wear protective clothing. Knowing poison ivy’s mnemonic rhymes will help with its identification: “Leaves of three, let it be!”, “Berries white, run in fright!”, and “Red hairy vine, no friend of mine!”

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My sincere thanks to John Snyder for the use of his photos. Permission to post the bluebird and poison ivy berry photo was requested and John not only graciously allowed the photo, he also forwarded along the photo of the Yellow-rumped Warbler. You can see more of his beautiful photos here: John Snyder Photography.

All other images are courtesy Wiki Commons Media. 

October Nor’easter Storm Snapshots

Eastern Point Seagulls ©Kim Smith 2014Out on Eastern Point this morning great flocks of seagulls were riding the waves while the Niles Pond swans and ducks were tucked into their shoreline retreats. The cormorants were many and could be seen clustering on rocky perches all around the inner harbor.

Niles Pond Swans ©kim Smith 2014Gloucester’s DPW crews were out and about clearing the streets from downed limbs.Gloucester DPW ©Kim Smith 2014

I only stayed for a moment at the Brace Cove berm because the waves were so tremendous that it really didn’t feel safe. I am glad to report though that at 10:30 this morning the narrowest slip of land that prevents Niles Pond from becoming Brace Cove’s salt marsh appears to have weathered this October nor’easter.

Brace Cove seagulls ©Kim Smith 2014

storm damage Gloucester ©Kim Smith 2014Downed Tree Mangles Portable Potty

The Real Deal ~ Good Harbor Beach September Sunrise

Good Harbor Beach September sunrise SUP ©kim Smith 2014.Good Harbor Beach Sunrise ~ Click to view full size.

Good Harbor Beach September sunrise ©kim Smith 2014

Below is the double exposure from several days ago, where you can see the sunrise is to the left of Salt Island, which is not possible in September. For the explanation, see post What is Mysterious About This Sunrise?

Good Harbor Beach ©Kim Smith 2014JPG

Great Egret Good Harbor Beach September sunrise ©kim Smith 2014.Great Egret at Daybreak, Good Harbor Beach

Hummingbirds are on the Move!

Hummingbird Feeder ©Kim Smith 2014 copyWith the unseasonable low temperatures, the hummingbird exodus from the north will soon follow. Keep your feeders full of sugar water to help sustain the southward migrants on their long journey to winter destinations.

Hummingbird Rose of Sharon ©Kim Smith 2014Our resident female Ruby-throated Hummingbird was spotted yesterday, making her rounds nectaring at the Rose-of-Sharon, native honeysuckle, hibiscus, and jewelweed.

Hummingbird Feeder Recipe: 1 Cup water to 1/4 Cup pure granulated sugar. Do not add red food coloring or substitute honey for sugar. Replenish frequently, especially during warm weather.

Endangered Pied-billed Grebe Encounter

In the dim light of daybreak at first glance I thought the diminutive duck was somehow related to the female mallard. Both were inconspicuous and camouflaged amongst the cattails. Mrs. Mallard was preening and standing on one leg, a thing birds do to regulate their body temperature, and Mystery Duck was actively diving all around her. As the light grew brighter with the rising sun it was easy to see that they weren’t at all akin; Mystery Duck’s bill was shorter and chunkier when compared to the Mallard’s bill, Mystery was half her size, and its perky cotton white tail feathers were unmissable. The Mallard flew off eventually and our Mystery then traveled away, deeply diving and then reemerging some distance further, staying close to the shoreline and always well hidden.

Pied-billed Grebe Massachusetts mallard ©kim Smith 2014

Side-by-side comparison: Pied-billed Grebe, left, female Mallard, right.

The Pied-billed Grebe is rarely seen breeding in Massachusetts any longer and is listed as endangered in nearly every New England state. Rhode Island considers the Pied-billed extirpated (locally extinct). The reason for their decline is low breeding numbers and wetland degradation. Their feathers are thick and soft and were used to make hats and earmuffs during the 19th century. Wantonly hunted to near extinction, Pied-billed Grebes never fully recovered in our region. As wetlands have given way to development, the Pied-billed Grebe’s numbers continue to decline dramatically. They are extremely sensitive to human disturbances, and, too, are less likely to be seen as it is a nocturnal bird, traveling mostly during the night.

Pied-billed Grebe Massachusetts -2 ©kim Smith 2014Fluffy Cottontail

A fun fact about the marsh-nesting Pie-billed is that both male and female contribute to building what at first appears to be a floating nest in vegetation, near open water. The nest is actually a platform anchored to plant stalks.

I wonder if this Pied-billed is a fall migrant or if on Niles Pond, Pied-billed Grebes were nesting this season. Has anyone else documented or seen a Pied-billed Grebe at Niles Pond during the past few months?

Niles Pond Gloucester ©Kim Smith 2014

Niles Pond is Ideal Pied-billed Grebe Habitat

See previous GMG post for more information about why birds stand on one leg.

See more photos and audio links here ~
Read more

Isn’t it Ironic?

An ironic place for some seagulls to snack on lobster legs, isn’t it?

Brazen little buggers sat right on top of our live lobsters to dine on some of their cousins.  Well, I can’t really prove that they’re actual cousins…but, you know what I mean.

I can almost hear the lobsters in the crate….”Enough already.  I can’t take it. STOP!  Why are you doing this?  What more do you want from me?”

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New Bird Feeder

At the Waterfront Festival I bought an Edible Birdhouse/feeder. This bird feeder has the seeds all around the house. When the seeds are gone you can put peanut butter on the house and put more seeds on the peanut butter. The Woodpeckers are really loving their new feeder and here is photo of a Chickadee waiting and a Nuthatch enjoying their treats.
August 24, 2014 A nuthatch
For more information please follow the following link.
http://www.ediblebirdhouses.com
August 23, 2014 edible bird feeder

Fishing Gear at Milk Island From Adam Bolonsky

Adam submits-

Fishing gear at Milk Island. Milk Island’s a cormorant and blackback seagull nesting ground. Lots of of fishing gear washes up on its lengthy gravel bar running north towards Rockport. By August  adult blackbacks start cannibalizing their young – grabbing fledglings by the neck and drowning them, dragging them ashore to pull them apart.

The lobster gear uses non-floating line, required to prevent whale entanglement and a source of large capital outlay for local lobstermen.

Shot with a home-made OliviaTech jib and a cheap $10 wide-angle lens. The guy who presents the OliviaTech jib is sort of a goofball, but I like his presentation because it leaves no doubt about how to build the jib for about $40.

Provocative Pokeweed

The charming note posted below was in my inbox today. I thought Fred would enjoy, as would our GMG readers find interesting.

Allen writes:

Dear Madame Butterfly,

(You may recognize my name as an infrequent commenter on

GMG. More importantly, I am an FOF, Friend of Fred Bodin, although he NEVER invited me to his gallery soires !!!!!)

I always read your GMG posts and enjoy and learn from them.

I have a plant that comes up in my back yard and grows to a height of 5 or 6 feet. This week it fell down. Do you know what it is? Can I cut it up safely and dispose of it? Should I throw it over the fence in the back and let wildlife eat the berries?

Any help, thanks,

Allen

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Hi Allen,

Allen, as an FOF and FOB, of course you are invited to ALL GMG soirées. I hope you’ll come to the mug-up this Saturday morning at E.J.’s new summer gallery on Rocky Neck. I am planning to go, but will not get there until closer to 11:00. I look forward to meeting you!

American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is what you have growing in your backyard. Pokeweed possesses nearly as many common names as the birds that find nourishment from its fruit, including pokeberry, Virginia poke, inkberry, ink weed, bear’s grape, American spinach, and American nightshade. The American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Mourning Dove, Gray Catbird, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Cardinal, Great-crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, European Starling, Brown Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, and Pileated Woodpeckers are some of the birds that dine on the fruits of pokeberry. Many mammals such as Red Fox, Virginia Opossum, Raccoon, White-footed Mouse, and Black Bear eat the berries, too.

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Pokeweed can grow to ten feet, with an equally as long taproot as is it is tall in height. It typically grows in disturbed areas, pastures, roadsides, fencerows, open woods, and woodland borders. All parts of the plant are toxic to people and livestock, and especially to children. The root is the most toxic and the berries the least. It is not recommended to add to you compost. If you have children visiting your garden, I would suggest that you talk to them about the plant’s toxicity, and only throw it over you fence if beyond your fence is part of your property. To control a plant, cut below the root crown. An older plant may have a ten foot taproot, which would be very difficult to dig up.

 

 

Images courtesy wiki commons.

Baby Turkey Encounter!

Turey baby poult ©Kim Smith 2014A baby turkey is called a poult.

Turkey baby poult hen ©kim Smith 2014Where was the Tom?

This little turkey family seemed so vulnerable. Although blending well with the surrounding vegetation, the hen was disabled. She was only able to half walk, half hop. Despite her injury, she kept close watch over the babies as they foraged. I was especially surprised that no Tom came charging to protect the flock, which has been my experience with past turkey encounters.

Turkey baby poults ©Kim Smith 2014

Turkey baby poult flying ©Kim Smith 2014.Turkey babies poult hen ©kim Smith 2014.Turkey Hen and Poults

Birds of Cape Ann: How to Tell the Difference Between a Snowy Egret and a Great Egret

Great egret Gloucester ©Kim Smith 2014Great Egret

For the Chief, and anyone who wants a quick and easy reference on how to tell the difference between the Snowy and Great Egrets, both white and both often times found feeding in the marsh and tide pools together. The Great Egret is greater in size and has a bright yellow bill, with black legs and black feet. The smaller Snowy Egret has the opposite markings, with unmistakeable cadmium yellow feet and a black bill.
Great Egret Snowwy Egret how to tell the difference ©Kim Smith 2014

Snowy Egret and Great Egret

In the above photo taken this morning, the egrets were too far away for my camera’s lens to get a really clear picture however, when cropped, you can see a side-by-side comparison. The Snowy Egret, with black bill and bright yellow feet, is flying in the background and the Great Egret, with black feet and yellow bill, is perched.

Great Egret lobster Cove Gloucester ©Kim Smith 2014Great Egret Lobster Cove

More posts about Great Egret and Snowy Egrets:

BIRDS OF CAPE ANN: GREAT EGRET VS. GREAT EGRET

BEAUTIFUL GOOD HARBOR FOGGY MORNING SUNRISE, SNOWY EGRET, AND WHIMBRELS

Lights! Camera! Nature! Movies by kids ages 7-12 @ Cape Ann Community Cinema Tomorrow (SAT 7/12) NOON-2pm

From Cape Ann TV’s Lisa Smith:

Lights! Camera! Nature! Come to the Cape Ann Community Cinema on Sat., July 12 at Noon to 2 PM , to watch nature movies made by kids ages 7-12 in the the Kestrel Educational Adventure Program.

Here is one of the movies being screened “Telephone Island”:

Welcome to Telephone Island a magical island off the coast of Gloucester, Ma and it is filled with fascinating animals. This movie was made in the Spring-Summer of 2014 by a student in the Kestrel Foundation’s Lights, Camera, Nature program. The program is led by Jessica Kagle and made in co-operation with Cape Ann TV where the students edited their movies. Screening of this movie and the others made in the spring program will be at the Cape Ann Community Cinema on Main St. in Gloucester, Sat., July 12, 2014 at noon to 2pm along with NOVA’s “The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies”.

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