Category Archives: Birds

DOG OWNER TROUBLE AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH AND WHY IT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA TO IGNORE FEDERAL LAWS

Piping Plover overexposed copyright Kim SmithFor the sake of the Piping Plovers folks really and truly need to keep their dogs off Good Harbor Beach. It is a matter of life and death for these beautiful creatures and their soon-to-be-arriving offspring. Additionally, the following article was brought to our attention by friend Pauline Bresnahan. The town of Scarborough, Maine, was threatened with a $12,000.00 fine for not enforcing their leash laws. A dog off leash killed a Piping Plover. If one of Gloucester’s Piping Plovers are killed by a dog, we taxpayers could very well be held responsible for the maximum fine. Read the story here.Good Harbor Beach No Dogs cooyright Kim Smith

Good harbor Beach ScofflawThis morning I arrived at GHB a little later than usual, around 6:30am. Within the first three minutes, there were three dogs on the beach, and all off leash. The man in the above photo had two dogs, and one of the dogs made a beeline for the Piping Plover nesting site. The guy did absolutely nothing to prevent his dog from running into the restricted area. I called out to him to let him know. He made a rude remark and called his dog back, but only after it was halfway in. The dog owner then walked the length of the beach with his dogs still off leash. When he returned his dogs chased the gulls as well as the Plover feeding at the shoreline. Now if it was a fledgling Plover, the baby bird wouldn’t have stood a chance in heck in the face of the exuberant dog. So after the dog ran into the restricted area, chased one Plover at the water’s edge, he then put his dogs on leash as he was leaving the beach. He was joined by another fellow at the footbridge, whose dog was off leash.Good harbor Beach no dogs copyright Kim Smith

It is in some dog’s nature to chase birds. Why oh why would a dog owner bring a dog like that to the beach with a known endangered bird species? The rule is no dogs during the summer months. We have a sweet Scottish Terrier and I sure would love to bring her with me when I am filming and photographing early in the morning. But even she, with her calm, gentle disposition, I know would terrify the Plovers and could easily accidentally squish a nestling.Good Harbor Beach Dog copyright Kim Smith

The Culprit. Is this a bad dog? No, of course not. I think it looks quite cute. Are there any bad dogs, or just thoughtless owners?

Piping Plover retruning to nest copyright Kim Smith

Plover returning to its nest this morning

With merely only a few thousand pairs of nesting Piping Plovers remaining nationwide, it’s super important that we all work together as a community to insure the successful nesting of the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers. There are so many unavoidable, natural mishaps for the birds and their nestlings; let’s prevent the avoidable disasters. Please, let all your friends and family know to keep dogs off the beach. If you see a dog, please ask the owner to remove the dog.

Piping Plover comparative photo with seagull copyright Kim SmithIn the above photo, you can compare the size of the adult Plover to the size of the immature gull and get an idea of just how tiny they are. And the nestlings are teeny tiny!

It’s no excuse for the behavior of today’s scofflaws, but I think we need bold signs at both ends of Good Harbor Beach, clearly explaining what a federally endangered species is, what a Piping Plover is, and why it is so important to keep all dogs off the beach. Also, perhaps if an officer were stationed at the footbridge end beginning at 5:30am, handing out tickets, folks would take the law more seriously. Or, if the officer were positioned in the middle of the beach, he would catch offenders in the act. I imagine it wouldn’t take more than a few days of ticketing for word to get out that the laws were being enforced. In just the short period of time that I was there this morning, the City could have earned well over a thousand dollars in dog fines alone!

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Male and Female Piping Plover’s take turns on the nest. Every morning they each spend time at the water’s edge feeding and bathing in the tide pools. Today this little fellow gave himself an extra vigorous washing! 

Piping plover bath copyright Kim Smith.Piping plover bath -2 copyright Kim Smith.Dunking from side to side

Piping plover drying wings copyright Kim Smith.Drying WingsPiping plover drying wings-2 copyright Kim Smith.

GOOD HARBOR BEACH SUNRISE SCENES AND PIPING PLOVER NEST!

Good Harbor Beach Sunrise -2 Gloucester MA copyright Kim SmithPiping Plovers nesting -4 Gloucester MA copyright Kim SmithAn approximately six foot in diameter protective barrier has been installed around the plover’s nest. This is a huge relief as many of us have noticed dog tracks in the cordoned off area. The plover’s don’t seem to mind the wire construct and go about their morning routine, running through the spaces between the wire grid as if the barrier had always been in place. In the above photo, you can see a plover sitting on its nest between the two clumps of grass within the enclosure.

Piping Plovers nesting Gloucester MA copyright Kim SmithEvery morning the plover’s switch places several times, with both parents taking turns sitting on the nest, while the other leaves the restricted area to feed at the shoreline and bath in the tide pools. The above photo was taken on the 13th of June, before the barrier was put in place. There are minimal tacks around the nest site, so it would be logical to assume the nest was very recently established. The photo below, taken on the 15th, show many more tracks and it looks like there are three eggs.

Piping Plovers Three eggs Gloucester MA copyright Kim Smith

Piping Plovers Two eggs Gloucester MA copyright Kim Smith

Nest on the 16th, I only see two eggs however I think the plovers move the eggs around in the nest. And too, my camera lens is zoomed all the way, and the image is cropped.

Piping Plovers nesting -3 Gloucester MA copyright Kim SmithThis morning the plovers were easily slipping through the wires.

Twin Light GHB Sunrise copyright Kim Smith

Snowy Egret Good Harbor Beach copyright Kim SmithSnowy Egret Good Harbor Beach -2 copyright Kim SmithSnowy Egrets fishing at the GHB tidal river this morning.

 

DUCK LOVE

Mallard duckling families from around Niles Pond, Henry’s Pond, and Loblolly CoveFemale mallard ducklings copyright Kim Smith

The ducklings appear so small and vulnerable when crossing the road

Ducklings foraging in seaweed copyright Kim Smith.JPG

Ducklings hungrily foraging in the seaweed at dusk. The duckling with the darker feathers on top of its head has a gimpy leg yet despite that, she keeps up with her sibling.
Female mallard ducklings -2 copyright Kim SmithMama Mallard with ducklings tucked under her breast and well camouflaged

Female mallard ducklings -1 copyright Kim SmithThere’s always one in every crowd

Male mallards copyright Kim SmithThe bachelors

GOOD HARBOR BEACH STORM SKY DRAMA AND PIPING PLOVER UPDATE

Good Harbor Beach storm sky copyright Kim SmithJPGStopped at Good Harbor to check on the Piping Plovers on my way into work this morning. No babies yet. I spotted three adults, feeding in the tidal flats, grooming, and giving every bird of another species besides their own the business, in no uncertain terms. Big raindrops began to fall, I don’t trust the manufacturer’s claim that my cameras are waterproof, and work was waiting. First light at Good Harbor is always different, depending on what is happening in the sky above, and it is always beautiful.

Piping Plover good Harbor Beach Gloucester MA copyright Kim Smith

Bath time

Piping Plover good Harbor Beach Gloucester MA -2 copyright Kim Smith

Piping Plover good Harbor Beach Gloucester MA -1 copyright Kim Smith

SNOWY EGRET ENCOUNTER

Snowy Egret Egretta thula copyright Kim Smith

It’s not often that a wild bird permits such a close encounter. The Snowy Egret was drinking, feeding, and bathing at the pond edge. At one point a noisy family appeared and began throwing stones into the water. All the Mallards swam toward the far end of the pond and the egret retreated up into the trees. As soon as the family departed, the ducks and Snowy returned to the beach, resuming business as usual.

Snowy Egret Egretta thula -12 copyright Kim Smith

Snowy Egrets forage on mostly aquatic animals including frogs, fish, crustaceans, worms, and insects. The vivid yellow feet are often used to probe in the mud for prey.

Running back and forth along the shoreline while hunting, several times plunging in and becoming completely submerged.Snowy Egret Egretta thula -14copyright Kim Smith

Snowy Egret Egretta thula -15 copyright Kim SmithDuring breeding season the Snowy Egret develops beautiful wispy curving plumes on its head and back. A great deal of time was spent smoothing and arranging its feathers.

Snowy Egret Egretta thula -13 copyright Kim SmithSlender and elegant, the Snowy appeared smaller than a duck when its neck was tucked in.

Snowy Egret Egretta thula -21 copyright Kim SmithSnowy Egret Egretta thula -11 copyright Kim SmithSpiraling to dry its feathers.

Heron feet copyright Kim Smith

WHAT BIRD FOOT?

Unexpectedly I encountered a stunning bird that let me stand within only a few feet while photographing and filming, for quite a good long length of time. I hope to post tomorrow after I have time to look at the photos but in the mean time, love the feet! In one piece of literature that I read, the feet were described as golden slippers. With those corn on the cob toes and black claw-like toe-tips, I wouldn’t exactly describe them as such!

Heron feet copyright Kim SmithThe corncoblike serrations on the toes are used to remove mud and fish slime during grooming. Strong, unwebbed feet allow the bird to walk and run great distances while foraging. 

GROSS!

Not really gross, but actually quite beneficial!

Song Sparrow eating caterpillars copyright Kim Smith

Through my camera’s lens, I thought this sweet little Song Sparrow was hopping around with a breakfast of leaves until downloading the photos. Rather, his mouth is stuffed with what appears to be the larvae of the Winter Moth, those annoying little green caterpillars that dangle from trees, which pupate into the dreaded adult Winter Moths, which are destroying trees and shrubs throughout the region. So, thank you Song Sparrow!

The Song Sparrow was most likely bringing the caterpillars to its nestlings. Although adult Song Sparrows prefer seeds, to a newly hatched bird a plump juicy green caterpillar is easy to digest and rich in nutrients. As a matter of fact, most songbirds rear their young on insects. The Song Sparrow photo illustrates yet another reason why it is so important not to spray trees with pesticides and herbicides. When a landscape is pesticide free, a natural balance returns. Insects are bird food!

SWAN, DUCKLING, AND PLOVER UPDATE AND HUGE SHOUT OUT TO THE GLOUCESTER DPW UNDER THE DIRECTION OF JOE LUCIDO FOR DOING A TREMENDOUS JOB CLEANING OUR BEACHES

Piping Plover with garbage plastic bottle pollution copyright Kim SmithLandscape design work is keeping me away from beloved film projects (although I do love my work no doubts). I did mange this morning to go to Good Harbor Beach to check on the Piping Plovers, to Henry’s to see Mr. Swan, and to the marsh for the ducklings. There were two plovers awakening in the little GHB cordoned off sanctuary, feeding and chasing away intruders. Mr. Swan was chilling at Henry’s, and the three sweet duckling families I have been filming don’t appear to have lost any additional members.

Spending time at Good Harbor Beach filming the plovers before the beach has been cleaned has certainly been an eye opener. Although not even officially summer yet, every morning at daybreak I find the beach littered with an astonishing amount of plastic bottles, trash, food, and plastic bags. According to Rose Piccolo at the DPW, the cleanup crew arrives around 7am and typically has the beaches cleaned by 8:30am. They do a really truly phenomenal job of making our beaches look pristine and attractive before the 9am opening.

A most sincere thank you to Joe Lucido and the Gloucester DPW for a job well done.

Sleepy Mr. Swan- hard work defending his territory from the new swans on the scene.

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

SWAN FLIGHT IN THE MIST OVER NILES POND

Swan pair flight Cygnus olor copyright Kim SmithTruly, one of the most beautiful sounds heard the world over is the sound that the wings of Mute Swans make when airborne. I call it vibrant throbbing wing beats. The highly audible sound of the wind through the wings is mesmerizing and it is the reason, or one of several reasons, why I became so interested in swans and why I decided to make a film about the swans of Cape Ann. No other species of swan’s wings make this sound, only Mute Swans.

As I am usually trying to capture the swans flying on film, I didn’t have any photographs of them in flight. Sunday afternoon I arrived at Niles just as Mr. Swan was chasing the new couple off his turf. I did not have time to get out my movie camera but did manage some snapshots. In the photo below you can see Mr. Swan is “busking;” his feathers are fluffed to their fullest to make himself look as large and threatening as possible to what he considers intruders upon his territory. This photo was taken moments after he chased the new couple to the harbor, returning to Niles to do a victory lap around the pond.  Swan Busking Cygnus immutabilis copyright Kim Smith

PRETTY BLUE CATBIRD EGG

Gray Catbird holly tree copyright Kim SmithMew, mew, mew coming from the trees overhead–my husband asks–“Are those catbirds making that dying cat sound.” Yes, honey, and we’re going to be hearing a great deal more of that cat call with this sweet Gray Catbird nest!

Discovered amidst the holly bush branches while giving the shrub a good pruning, the female was seen building the nest, with her mate supplying bits of straw and twigs for the nesting materials. The Gray Catbird is a frequent visitor to gardens. I swear, the day we planted blueberry bushes is the day the Catbirds began to call our garden their home. If you want Catbirds nesting in your garden, plant the foods they love, which include shadbush, holy, winterberry, and both high and low bush blueberries. And too if we don’t have any fruit ripening in the garden, I’ll place a bowl out on a table with berries from our frig (chopped into small bits), not only attracting Catbirds, but also Cardinals, Robins, and many of our other fine feathered friends.

Gray Catbird egg nest copyright Kim SmithOne pretty blue Catbird egg–on average, the female will lay four. Hopefully more are yet to come.

Gray Catbird copyright Kim Smith

BREAKING: PAIR OF SWANS AT NILES AND HENRY’S PONDS!!

Pair Cape Ann Swans third year swans copyright Kim SmithA pair of swans was spotted at Niles Pond this morning by my friend Lyn. I stopped by the Pond at 8:15 to have a look. They were on the far side of Niles, getting ready to take off and was only able to take a few quick photos. The pair flew overhead in the direction of Henry’s Pond. After doing the podcast with Joey and the wonderful Gloucester Stage Company cast, I raced over to Henry’s. In the meantime, the two had returned to Niles, but were chased away by our Mr. Swan. As I arrived at Henry’s they flew in!

Cape Ann Swans copyright Kim SmithThe pair appear to be in their third year. This is evident by the patches of brown feathers and dullish pink bills, although the bill of the larger of the two is gaining a more coral-orange hue. Third year swan copyright Kim Smith copyNote both have black eyes, unlike our rare and beautiful blue-eyed swan. I am hopeful that Mr. Swan will find a new mate and if we are fortunate, this newly arrived on the scene pair will decide to make Cape Ann their home too!Pair Cape Ann Swans copyright Kim SmithIf you catch sight of swans at any of our area ponds or in the harbor, please write in and let me know. Thank you so much!

FIRST LOOK BEAUTIFUL GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS!

PIPING PLOVERS RUNNING 2 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITHNot shy in the least, the four Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers spent the early part of the morning running and feeding along the shoreline, bathing in the tidal flats, and ferociously defending their territory against other avian intruders. A jogger ran past the one preening at the water’s edge–he was quite close–but that did not seem to alarm the Plover. They are diminutive little creatures, about six to seven inches in length, and show mostly white feathers when flying overhead.

PIPING PLOVERS -Eating 4 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

Breakfast – Piping Plovers eat insects and small invertebrates

One Piping Plover seemed to be testing different sites to nest, momentarily hunkering down, then leaving the spot, and then returning a few moments later to vigorously dig a deeper depression in the sand, before then flying away.

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING -5 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITHTesting the depression

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING 2 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

Leaving the possible nesting site

PIPING PLOVERS -5 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

Returning to the depression

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING -3 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING -4 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

Digging in!

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

The roped off area appears to be a terrific solution in helping to protect the possible nesting sites. Visitors to Good Harbor Beach this morning were very mindful about respecting the boundary. And there was not a single dog in sight, off leash or otherwise. The Plovers flew in and out of the restricted area, as did Killdeers and several other species of shore birds.

KILLDEER GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITHA Killdeer feeding near the Piping Plovers. The Killdeers, also members of the Charadadriidae, are slightly larger and a much darker brown than the Piping Plovers.

PIPING PLOVERS GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER -1 COPYRIGHT KIM SMITHPIPING PLOVERS PREENING GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITHPreening

Piping Plovers at Good Harbor Beach – Fenced Off Area

For Immediate Release from Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken

Public Works in conjunction with our local Conservation Commission, MA Dept of Wildlife and Fisheries and Mass Audubon have been following the activities of Piping Plovers on Good Harbor Beach for the past 4 weeks. The birds have shown signs of nesting activities in this area.

On a recommendation of the state we have fenced off an area approximately 200 feet by 200 feet – southwest of board walk number 3. This area starts at the base of the dunes and extends to the high tide rack or water line. This area is to be off llimits to all humans as well as any domestic pets. These birds are listed under the State and Federal Endangered Species Acts and are granted special protection.

We will continue to work with all agencies to provide the support they need to let nature take its course. We ask for the support of the general public to adhere to the regulations set forth. Any questions should be directed to the Department of Recreation and Conservation (DCR) and/or Mass Audubon.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

 

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A little background information from Dave Rimmer, Director of Land Stewardship Greenbelt

There are clearly at least 2 pairs of Piping Plovers scoping out the upper beach for nesting. But no nests with eggs yet. Someone will get back to check the site Mon/Tue next week. If we find a nest that will trigger the following:
  • The nest site will be surrounded by a single strand fence with a few signs staying it is a RESTRICTED AREA. Usually on beaches like GHB, we try to keep this fencing to a minimum, but if it appears the birds are still being disturbed after the fence is in place, it may need to be expanded to provide an additional buffer.
  • Information will be provided to help beach staff understand Piping Plovers so they can communicate on some level why the area has restricted access.
Piping Plover Quick Facts:
  • they are a shorebird that is on the US Endangers Species List as a threatened species
  • they nest right on the sand, laying 4 light brown speckled eggs.
  • it takes them about 4 weeks to incubate and hatch the eggs.
  • Chicks are precocious and leave the nest immediately to begin foraging on the own for food. They may stay within fenced area for first day or so but eventually they will wander beyond the fence either along the high beach or down to the waters edge. They are extremely vulnerable during this time, so beach scraping may need to be curtailed. In addition, ATVs driving on the beach will need to be extremely careful.
  • chick fledge (fly) in about 25 days
  • So total time from egg laying to chicks fledging is about 8 weeks.
As I mentioned, the US Fish and Wildlife Service administers the US Endangered Species Act and enforce laws related to the “take” of listed species, inadvertent or deliberate. So during the chick phase, a high level of sensitivity it required.
It means you have a healthy well managed beach if you are attracting Piping Plovers. That’s the good news. Having Piping Plovers nesting on any beach requires some change, which I can be challenging. Drew and I (and Erik Amati from MADFW) stand at the ready to help in any way we can to make this work. If we find a nest next week we will let you know immediately. And from there, we just need to figure it out. Every beach is different.
Ken – Let’s coordinate your efforts. It will be a big help for you to go to the site from time to time to monitor Piping Plover activity.
Thanks all,
Dave
Dave Rimmer
Director of Land Stewardship
Greenbelt | Essex County’s Land Trust
82 Eastern Avenue
Essex, MA 01929
dwr@ecga.org
(978) 768-7241 x14

 

RARE AND ENDANGERED PIPING PLOVERS AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH

Yet another bird that was nearly hunted to extinction for its beautiful feathers, as of 2012 when the most recent study was concluded, there were only 3,600 breeding Piping Plovers along the Atlantic Coast.

piping-plover-on-nestPiping Plover’s are a softy colored, mostly tan and white, pint-sized shorebird and like their nests and eggs, exquisitely camouflage with colors of sand and pebbles. This also makes them highly vulnerable to disturbances by humans; even if when people are trying to avoid their nesting sites, it is very easy to unwittingly crush eggs and chicks.

Piping Plovers have been observed on Good Harbor Beach this spring and could quite possibly nest here. The Gloucester DPW, working in conjunction with the Conservation Commission, MA Department of Wildlife, and Mass Audubon have cordoned off a roughly 200 feet by 200 feet area between the GHB bridge and boardwalk number three (the large rock that was exposed several storms ago lies within the area).

This area of the beach may be closed off for as long as eight weeks, possibly longer. If the nest is disturbed, the Piping Plovers will abandon the first and create a new nest, which will extend the time of beach closure.

It is to everyone’s benefit, plover and people alike, to heed the signs and to please keep dogs on leash at all times.

Are dogs allowed on the beach at this time of year?

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You can see from the photos of different Piping Plover nests from several regions of the country how perfectly the pebble-lined nests and babies meld with their surroundings–a good thing to keep them safe from predators, but not such a good plan for nests in well-trafficked areas.

The male selects the nesting site, defending it from other males. He scrapes a nest in the sand and both the male and female toss stones and bits of shell into the depression. Both the male and female incubate the eggs. It takes about 25 days to incubate the eggs and another three to four weeks for the chicks to fledge.

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Like the Killdeer, Piping Plovers cleverly display a broken wing, a trick designed to distract predators from their nests and babies. Both Killdeers and Piping Plovers are in the same family, Charadriidae. The Piping Plover’s scientific name, Charadrius melodus, and common name, comes from its lovely melodic piping bird song.

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ALL IMAGES EXCEPT THE LAST TWO, COURTESY GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH

DEAD TURKEY IN A COYOTE LAIR

Turkey feathers wild copyright Kim SmithAll that remained of this turkey found in a coyote lair were its beautiful flight feathers. The kill was so fresh, clumps of flesh around the quills were still red with blood.

A bunch of these zebra striped turkey feathers in a vase I thought might be attractive. And too perhaps our neighborhood kids may like some to make quill pens with. Knowing that bird feathers are rife with parasites and lice, rather than picking them up with bare hands, I went home and got a large plastic bag and secured that tightly around the collected feathers. The feathers were kept in the freezer for over a week. Next step is to store the feathers at the ambient air temperature for another week to allow eggs of any remaining parasites and lice to hatch. After the week in fresh air, they will be placed back in the freezer for another week. Feathers that are dirty will be washed very gently in mild soapy water. The quill ends will need to be soaked in a light bleach and water solution to sterilize and remove residual clumps of turkey skin.

Interestingly, while looking up how to make quill pens, I learned that the word pen comes from the Latin word penna, which means feather.

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