A precariously perched pod of plump pinnipeds pose for passersby at Brace Cove. Say that three times fast.
A precariously perched pod of plump pinnipeds pose for passersby at Brace Cove. Say that three times fast.
Although Red-winged Blackbirds are spied around Niles Pond during the winter months, spring brings flocks, and the males are an especially welcome sight chortling atop the pussy willow branches along the water’s edge. Red-winged Blackbirds are one of North America’s most abundant birds. If you were a male of the kind, you might be singing your heart out, too. The species is highly polygynous and some males have been known to have as many as 15 mates during a single season!
The males are glossy black with distinctive red epaulettes and yellow wing bars, which they often puff out confidently when singing from their perches. The females have a streaky brown song sparrow-like wing patterning and stay close to the ground feeding and building their intricately woven nests at the base of cattails and reeds, along the marsh’s edge.
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I am presenting 2 lectures this coming week, Monday on Butterfly Gardening in Shrewsbury and Wednesday evening on The Pollinator Garden at the Flint Library in North Reading. Please visit the events page of my website for more information.
There was a time when I would have known what these were, but they are cute and there were a bunch of them on the shore at Brace Cove. Anyone know what they are?
View standing on the flooded path, looking towards the Atlantic
This big rolly polly seal was trying so hard to stay on his rock as the tide came in at Brace Cove. Eventually the sea won and knocked him off.
The above photo is a lucky capture as I was actually filming the Gadwalls behind the swan. When the swan began to lift out of the water I quickly turned my attention toward it. The first two photos are the same; the first is cropped, the second uncropped so that you can see the tremendous scale of the swan’s body and wings in relation to its environment. The Mute Swan is the second heaviest waterfowl, second only to the Trumpeter Swan. In observing swans, I marvel in nature that a creature this heavy can soar majestically through the clouds and swim so gracefully through water.
Mute swans feed primarily on submerged and emergent aquatic vegetation and a small percentage of their diet also includes frogs, small fish, and insects. Because swans feed in deep water they do not compete with smaller waterfowl such as ducks. It is thought that food is made more readily available to ducks because the swans do not eat all the food they pull up. This seems logical and factual from my own observations at our local ponds and marshes. I very often see a wide range of waterfowl congenially feeding with the Mute Swans.
Note ~ Mute swans, which are a nonnative species, do compete directly for food with North American native Trumpeter Swans, in regions where Trumpeter Swans are indigenous (Trumpeter Swans are not native to Cape Ann).
For more photos, information, and video see previous GMG posts about the Mute Swan:
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I counted a half dozen seals having a rumpus of fun sunbathing on the rocks at Brace Cove this past week. They were clearly enjoying themselves–all that blubber must keep them well-insulated against the frigid air temperatures!
Our plane was delayed 7 hours en route to Cincinnati for Christmas. Fortunately, we were able to stay in contact with the airline from home. My daughter Liv and I went for a walk along the berm dividing Brace Cove and Niles Pond while waiting to leave. As we were looking at the sun setting over Niles Pond, we by chance turned towards Brace Cove and were captivated by the vibrant colors reflected in the windows of the home on the point. Magically a Harbor Seal swam onto the scene and scootched up on the rock and he too, caught the last of the sun’s fleeting light!
A reader emailed inquiring as to where do the Niles Pond swans go during the winter months. The Niles Pond swans are Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) and they are neither mute nor migratory. They do not fly south in the true sense of a great migratory distance traveled, but do move around between bodies of water, and may move to a slightly warmer region.
Mute Swans swans grunt, snort, and hiss and their wingbeats make a beautiful throbbing sound when flying. See previous GMG posts about the Niles Pond Mute Swans ~
This morning at Brace Cove there was a pod of Harbor Seals sunning themselves; unfortunately a little too far out of range for my movie camera, but I tried filming nonetheless. They were wonderful fun to observe especially as the younger members of the pod seemed more interested in playing “King of the Rock,” rather than basking in the sun. It was challenging to figure out a total number because the younger seals were so playful, but I think there were ten in the herd. I only know this from one of the snapshots where you can see ten in all. Because the Harbor Seals were out of my camera’s ability to sharply focus, the footage may be too grainy, but I will try working with it.
In case you are wondering, as did I, a goup of seals is most commonly referred to as a pod or colony. The terms harem, herd, and rookery are also used, depending upon from where you originate.
I can only hope the young Harbor Seal hauled out at Good Harbor Beach earlier this summer has a pod to which it belongs!
I got to spend a very special morning with Ann Kennedy on Tuesday, toward the end of her and Bob’s month-long annual visit to their beloved Gloucester. We met early for a delicious and hearty breakfast at Sailor Stan’s, then went for a nice long walk out Eastern Point, to the spot I now call Evelyn’s Point, beyond the Retreat House and Brace Cove. We encountered many beautiful and fun things along our journey, including a mother duck with her ducklings (she had to be babysitting, as they couldn’t all have been her’s) and two turtles sunning on a rock in Niles Pond, plus a dreadful and vicious bullfrog that Ann attempted unsuccessfully to capture and bring to Joey. This has become one of my favorite spots to walk to and it was nice to be able to share it with Ann, who had never been there. The trails through the woods are soft and peaceful. At one point we were forced to stop and turn back because of a large uprooted tree that made the path we were on unpassable. It was a special time with a special FOB and friend, and I look forward to a repeat when they return next year.
Congratulations to Ann and Bob who just celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary.
Spring has barely sprung, but yesterday was a little taste of summer. I went for a walk in the late afternoon sunshine at Brace Cove and Niles Pond where I ran into my friends JoeAnn and MJ, who were also walking their dogs on this glorious afternoon. I was looking for muskrats and seals. I didn’t see the seals, but the muskrat swam alongside our route, keeping a wary eye on my every move.
After the luxuriously delightful beach walk, I came home and cooked up some Captain Joe and Sons lobsters and fresh corn for dinner. So looking forward to the warm weather!!!
Seals enjoying a morning bask in the sun on the rocks at Brace Cove. Seagulls enjoying a morning meal of dead seal on the Niles Beach side of Eastern Point.
Several weeks ago in one of my posts about Niles Pond at Risk, I wrote about the beautiful Mute Swans at Niles. A reader wrote requesting a description of a phrase that I used, the “vibrant throbbing wingbeats” of the Mute Swan. I have shot hours of B-roll for both my Black Swallowtail and Monarch films at Niles Pond and at Brace Cove, so much so that I am making a mini film about Niles Pond. In organizing the Niles footage, I discovered some good audio of the swans throbbing wigbeats, filmed at sunrise.
The swans often take flight in unison, circling round and round the pond before returning. I patiently wait and wait and sometimes they don’t return, and as has happened more times than I care to say, while I am packing up my gear, they return and then I miss the shot for not being patient enough! Other times they will take flight and head over to feed at Brace Cove. A wedge of swans flying overhead is beautiful to observe, although a challenge to hold in my camera’s lens. Reviewing the footage I heard myself frequently cussing at the mosquitoes because their bite causes me to jag the camera sharply and then I lose sight of the swans. But one especially lucky dawn in September, I did manage to capture several flights.
Isn’t the music so swan-like? The composition is called “The Swan,” written by Camille Saint Saint-Saëns, and is the 13th Movement in a suite of 14 of the humorously themed Carnival of the Animals, Zoological Fantasy for 2 Pianos and Ensemble. See below for more about Carnival of the Animals from allmusic.
Watch on Vimeo if you prefer:
An embarrassment of riches ~ Whether dawn or dusk, when standing on the footpath between Niles Pond and Brace Cove, sometimes I can’t decide which direction to point my camera. When that happens I focus the video camera in one direction and turn and face the opposite direction with the still camera.
This batch of photos was taken on a chilly afternoon in early January, looking first toward the pond, and then heading down to the beach at Brace Cove after a wedge of eight Mute Swans flew overhead and landed in the cove.
The bevy was comprised of six cygnets and parents. The bill of the adult Mute Swan is vivid red-orange whereas the cygnet’s bill ranges in shades from dark gray through muted browns. A black knob at the base of the cob’s (male) bill bulges prominently during mating season; the rest of the year it is often difficult to distinguish pen from cob. Anyone who has ever encountered a hissing, snarling, gnarling, and whistling Mute Swan wonders why they are called mute. Mute Swans lack the vocal trumpeting when compared to other members of the genus. The most beautiful sound the Mute Swan makes is the vibrant throbbing of their wingbeats in flight. I believe this sound is unique to Mute Swans. Click photos to view larger.
Eight Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) at Brace Cove, Gloucester
In several places along the footpath, there are cuts clear through the granite dune and a sandy beach is forming on the Niles Pond side. Shrubs, wildflowers, and ground covers that help retain the sides of the causeway have been uprooted and washed away.
To read more about what makes this narrowest strip of land dividing Niles Pond and Brace Cove so unique, see JoeAnn Hart’s beautiful story about Niles Pond.
Niles Pond and Brace Cove Footpath Storm Damage
On Eastern Point there is a lovely stately home called Three Waters, so named because from the property the inhabitants can view the three separate waters of Gloucester Harbor, Niles Pond and Brace Cove.
One night recently I had a rare sleepless night during which the words “three waters” kept running across my mind like a broken record. Muses can be very persistent and annoying sometimes. When I got up the next morning, I spent the day creating this montage called “Three Waters”, using 22 different photo layers. I have slept just fine since.