Category Archives: Birds

GOOD MORNING GLOUCESTER, BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE SENSATIONAL MR. SWAN!

mute-swan-mr-swan-niles-pond-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithGlorious swan’s wings! In these photos you can see Mr. Swan’s magnificent new set of feathers.

Mr. Swan has resumed his habit of traveling from body of water to body of water within his territory. Why does he not travel during the summer months, primarily dwelling at Niles Pond? Swans molt each summer and during the molting period, they cannot fly.

Mute Swans molt when their cygnets cannot fly. The female (pen) begins to molt almost immediately after the young hatch. The male, or cob, waits until the female’s flight feathers have grown back completely. The reason for this staggered molting period is because swans use their wings in battle and to defend their young. The swan family will never be left defenseless with at least one of the pair’s set of wings fully functional. The molting period lasts anywhere from four to seven weeks.

mute-swan-stretching-wings-niles-pond-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithGood morning Gloucester! Mr. Swan’s big morning stretch before he sets off to patrol his territory

WELL HELLO THERE BIG FOOT! RED-NECKED GREBE SPOTTED AT NILES POND

red-necked-grebe-niles-pond-gloucester-ma-1-copyright-kim-smithForaging around the perimeter of Niles Pond this morning was a charming Red-necked Grebe. I write charming because his feet are exquisitely enormous! As it dove for food, they were put to good use as a sort of paddling propellor. The bird spent much of the morning with its head half submerged and feet furiously working, vigorously hunting small fish and vegetation.red-necked-grebe-niles-pond-gloucester-ma-4-copyright-kim-smith

Check out the size of the Red-necked Grebe’s foot 🙂red-necked-grebe-niles-pond-gloucester-ma-3-copyright-kim-smith

Elusive

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Niles Pond is a special place that provides habitat for myriad species of wildlife, birds especially. Its close proximity to the ocean, abundance of food, and clear fresh, gentle water draws beautiful creatures to our shores all year round.

red-necked-grebe-niles-pond-gloucester-ma-6-copyright-kim-smithAlthough considered a large member of the grebe family, the Red-necked Grebe is comparatively quite a bit smaller than the Mallards. The Red-necked Grebe is on the far right.

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rgrebe_leeRed-necked Grebe in Breeding Plumage, photo courtesy Cornell All About Birds

THEY’RE BACK! BEAUTIFUL CAPE ANN WINTER SHOREBIRDS

Hello winter friends! As the herons, egrets, and plovers have departed for parts warmer, Cape Ann welcomes mergansers, buffleheads, grebes, and so many more. Overcast morning walk along the shores of Niles Pond –

male-female-red-breasted-mergansers-copyright-kim-smithMale and Female Red-breasted Mergansers

pied-billed-grebe-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithJuvenile Pied-billed Grebe

male-bufflehead-female-red-breasted-merganser-copyright-kim-smithMale Buffleheads and Female Red-breasted Merganser

brace-cove-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithBrace Rock

SCENES FROM AN EARLY MORNING WALK ALONG THE BRACE COVE NILES POND CAUSEWAY

Sleepy Mr. Swan waking up on this coldest and most blustery morning of the season #scenesofnewengland

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

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Mixed flock of gulls and ducks feeding in the surf Brace Cove #scenesofnewengland #gloucesterma

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

brace-cove-daybreak-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithBrace Cove daybreak

HOLY CANNOLI–A PENGUIN IN GLOUCESTER–AT NILES POND–NOW I’VE SEEN EVERYTHING!

great-cormorant-juvenile-niles-pond-gloucester-massachustts-2-copyright-kim-smithThose were my initial thoughts upon catching a glimpse of a large black-feathered and white-breasted mystery creature from across the pond. I entered the narrow opening through the shrubby growth that surrounds Niles Pond and inched my way closer to the sleeping bird, when up popped its head. Naturally not a penguin, it looked like some sort of cormorant, just not the ones we see on a daily basis on the shores of Cape Ann.

I later learned it was a Great Cormorant. As you can see from the photo below, in the early morning light and from a distance, its not hard to imagine a penguin.great-cormorant-juvenile-niles-pond-gloucester-massachustts-copyright-kim-smith

I wrote the title of the post thinking that possibly we could all use a beautiful creature to learn a bit about and a touch of humor, too. It has been a very difficult and divisive election and a very tough day for slightly more than half of the American electorate. Let’s keep our chins up, and realize going forward that it is preferable to build bridges together than to construct walls that divide.great-cormorant-juvenile-niles-pond-gloucester-massachustts-3-copyright-kim-smith

Back to Great Cormorants. With its white-feathered breast, this one is a juvenile. Great Cormorants, although widespread in much of the Old World, are generally only found in North America along the Atlantic Coast. Great Cormorants are described as heavy-bodied seabirds and larger than the usually seen Double-crested Cormorant. I watched him depart, his take-off was heavy and clumsy, but perhaps that was because he had awoken only moments earlier.

double-crested-cormorant-niles-pond-gloucester-massachustts-copyright-kim-smithCompare the Double-crested Cormorant (above photo). Massing in great numbers as they fly along the Annisquam and Essex Rivers at this time of year, the Double-crested Cormorants are ubiquitous. They are a true North American species and breed, winter over, and migrate along the shores of Cape Ann. great-cormorant-juvenile-niles-pond-gloucester-massachustts-1-copyright-kim-smith

Great Cormorant — notice the white throat pouch of the Great Cormorant, versus the orange pouch of the Double-crested Cormorant.

great_cormorant_map_largeRange Map Great Cormorant in North America

double_crested_cormorant_map_bigRange Map Double-crested Cormorant

UPDATE FROM BEAVER POND: A WONDERFUL WORLD OF WOODPECKERS!

hairy-woodpecker-cape-ann-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithHairy Woodpecker

Rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat resonating through the trees tops. The little wild wood encircling Beaver Pond was alive with a veritable rhythm band. I must have arrived on the ideal day, for there were seemingly dozens of woodpecker excavations taking place. Not one, not two, but three different species of woodpeckers were drumming the forest canopy!

It is no mystery as to why the pond shore is a sanctuary for woodpeckers, surrounded as it is with trees in a wonder of varying stages of decay. Woodpeckers excavate dead and dying trees and limbs not only to create nest cavities and to forage for insect prey, but to also enlarge cavities used for winter shelter. During the fall, a woodpecker will spend about a week excavating winter roosting holes.

Winter roosts created by woodpeckers may later provide shelter or nest sites for many other species of animals including owls, flying squirrels, bluebirds, nuthatches, and chickadees.

red-bellied-woodpecker-cape-ann-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithRed-bellied Woodpecker

Woodpeckers mostly eat insects, in all stages, from egg to larvae to pupae to adult. During the winter their diet is comprised of seeds, nuts, fruits, and berries. The woodpecker’s tongue is quite extraordinary, being long and extendable, and also coated with bristly hairs. Woodpeckers use their tongues to spear and extract wood-boring insects, as a sticky trap for catching ants, and as a brush for licking up sap.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers look similar. Hairy Woodpeckers are about the size of an American Robin. Downies are smaller and their bills are more delicate in appearance. The outer edge of their tail feathers are white, barred with black, lending a spotted appearance. The outer edge of the tail feathers of Hairy Woodpeckers is pure white (see top photo above to compare).
beaver-pond-gloucester-copyright-kim-smithI’ve returned to Beaver Pond several time since the day the bonanza of woodpeckers was photographed but haven’t been treated to the rhythm band since. A few woodpeckers have been sighted, their calls noted, and only an occasional distant drumming heard. Perhaps they are tending other tasks in preparation for winter, collecting and caching food in their newly excavated holes.

There are a few moments after sunset when the light is still bright enough to photograph and to film. The Beaver Family makes their appearance just about then but none have ventured to the side of the pond where I am stationed since that one evening when a solitary beaver swam within arm’s reach. But I am patient!

 

BEAVER CENTRAL!!

pond-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithLast winter Liv and Matt showed me a place on the outskirts of Dogtown where they go rock climbing. I filed it away under places to visit during warmer weather. With all things Piping Plovers and filming shorebirds I didn’t have a chance to revisit until this fall. The pond is somewhat difficult to explore, with no trails, lots of viney runners to trip you up, rocky uneven surfaces for falling flat on your face, and loaded with ticks but nonetheless, is exquisitely beautiful. Until its name is learned and for the time being, I’m calling it Beaver Pond because so far, I’ve counted FIVE beavers there!beaver-lodge-2-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

beaver-lodge-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithThe beavers appear to have one large lodge with multiple mini-dens strategically built around the perimeter of the pond.

log-chewed-by-beaver-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

Evidence of an active beaver pond with gnawed log

The Beaver Family is nocturnal and conducting most of its business on the far side of the pond. I have only been able to shoot a photo outside my camera’s range of quality photo.

beaver-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithThere’s the beaver, on the far side of the pond, blending with the lily pads and fallen leaves

I did manage to take some fun footage, which I will be hopefully uploading in the next few days. One early evening, I sat as still as a stone, for at least half an hour, when one swam nearly right up to my feet!! I am usually filming and photographing simultaneously, but was afraid to make a move to switch to my still camera for fear that the slightest bit of motion would send the creature diving. Also on the furthest side of the pond were a family of the unbelievably beautiful Wood Ducks. That photo is also too far outside my camera’s quality photo range, but at least you can get an idea of their striking feather patterning. More information from Beaver Central to come!wood-duck-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith Male and female Wood Ducks – notice the female’s large white eye patch and the way she blends perfectly with her surroundings.

GOOD MORNING GLOUCESTER BROUGHT TO YOU BY LOBSTER COVE!

Glorious autumn color–everywhere you turn, Cape Ann foliage is beginning to peak! Snapshots from a walk along Lobster Cove this morning.

great-blue-heron-lobster-cove-copyright-kim-smithGreat Blue Heron feeding in the flatsfall-foliage-maple-leaves-2-copyright-kim-smith

Brilliantly colored maple leaves, although looking a bit dog-eared from Winter Moth damagefall-foliage-maple-leaves-copyright-kim-smith

fall-foliage-lobster-cove-copyright-kim-smithgreat-blue-heron-in-the-marsh-copyright-kim-smith

BEWARE!

poison-ivy-vine-in-fall-toxicodendron-radicans-copyright-kim-smithPoison Ivy Run Amok

Oh how pretty! Doesn’t this bucolic scene look interesting? I had to stop and take a photo. And then began to walk toward, wanting a closer look, before catching myself. If poison ivy even looks at me, or I look at it, that most unpleasant of itchy rashes finds a home on my person.

Poison ivy is in full glorious color right now, dissipating in shades of golden yellow, tangerine, and crimson scarlet. The oils found in the foliage and stems are just as potent at this time of year as they are during the summer months.

poison-ivy-in-autumn-toxicodendron-radicans-copyright-kim-smithLeaves of three, let it be, 

Berries white, run in fright,

Red hairy vine, no friend of mine!

Cape Ann shores and meadows are rife with poison ivy and the best defense is to recognize the leaves and wear protective clothing. Not a plant one desires for the home garden, it is an important bee and bird food. The flowers provide nectar for pollinators in the spring and the small white berries are a winter staple for our some of our most beloved songbirds, including American Robins, Northern Cardinals, and Mockingbirds.

HIGH AMONG THE TREE TOPS

great-blue-heron-sunset-2-copyright-kim-smithWell before I could get close enough to take a crisp photo of the Great Blue heron feeding at the water’s edge, he flew up and away towards the opposite side of the river. I didn’t mind too much as it was so beautiful to see this magnificent bird soaring into the sunset.great-blue-heron-sunset-copyright-kim-smith

essex-river-sunset-copyright-kim-smithgreat-blue-heron-essex-river-copyright-kim-smith

RUDDY TURNSTONE ON CAPE ANN

ruddy-turnstone-rockport-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithHere’s another sweet little migrating feathered friend observed recently on our shores. A bit bigger than the Sanderlings, and not quite as large as the Black-bellied Plovers with which it was feeding, the solitary Ruddy Turnstone’s bright orange short, stocky legs and big feet are what caught my attention. Although its behavior is anything but, the Ruddy Turnstone is anther one of the birds whose plumage appears almost boring compared to its beautiful harlequin patterned summer coat.

ruddy-turnstone-black-bellied-plover-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

Ruddy Turnstone, left, Black-bellied Plover, right

As are Black-bellied Plovers and Red Knots, the Ruddy Turnstone is highly migratory, breeding on the rocky coasts and tundra of the Arctic and spending winters in coastal areas throughout the world. And like members of the plover family, the male’s nest-like scrapes are part of the courtship ritual. I was excited to learn Ruddy Turnstones’s are a member of the plover family (Charadriidae) and thought it would be a great addition to our Piping Plover documentary however, as scientists are want to do, they have reclassified the RT and it is now considered a member of the sandpiper family (Scolopacidae). Oh well.ruddyturnstone

During the non-breeding season, look for the Ruddy Turnstone on rocky shorelines where it energetically feeds by probing and pecking, seeking aquatic invertebrates and insects at the surface of rocks. I believe Ruddy Turnstones are seen with regularity on the “other” Cape. I wonder how many of our readers see Ruddy Turnstones on Cape Ann, and if so so where, and what time of year? Please share, if you do, the information is wonderfully helpful. Thank you!ruddy_turnstone_map_big

 

GREAT EGRET EPIC BATTLE ROYALE

Don’t mess with these bad boys!great-egret-battle-ardea-alba-5-copyright-kim-smith-copy

great-egret-battle-ardea-alba-6-copyright-kim-smith-copyThe Interloper arrives

great-egret-battle-ardea-alba-copyright-kim-smith-copyThe face-off

great-egret-battle-ardea-alba-1-copyright-kim-smith-copyBeat it

In no uncertain terms

great-egret-battle-ardea-alba-4-copyright-kim-smith-copy

The Victor

Tussles over turf pop up regularly between the egrets and herons feeding in the marsh. They often conglomerate in one small area to fish for minnows, occasionally steeling a catch from one another, and there is always one who appears to be the big kahuna of the marsh.

HAVE YOU SEEN THIS LITTLE BLUE HERON ON CAPE ANN?

little-blue-heron-egretta-caerulea-cape-ann-copyright-kim-smithThe Little Blue heron is common in the Southeast and only the second time I have spied this migrant on Cape Ann. I am curious to know if any of our readers have seen this pretty heron–how often, where, and at what time of year, if so. The Little Blue Heron in the photo was fishing in the shallow pond water with the Snowy Egrets. Whereas the Snowies have an energetic method of foraging, stirring up the bottom with their feet, dashing and diving, the Little Blue stood stock still observing the minnow’s movement in the water. The moment it caught a glimpse of me, off it flew, and did not return.little-blue-heron-massachusetts-egretta-caerulea-copyright-kim-smithlittle_bliue_heron_map_bigLittle Blue Heron range map

BORING BIRDS

Boring Birdsblack-bellied-plover-grey-plover-2-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

Especially that Black-belied Plover. Just look at his washed out and mud spattered feathered coat in drab shades of sand and dirt. He’ll never find a girlfriend attired in that old thing. He is so undistinguished, it is often difficult to discern the difference between him and his surrounds.

black-bellied-plover-grey-plover-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

Really, hanging out in that smelly, bug and mollusk infested seaweed patch?

Migration routes of black-bellied plovers tagged on breeding grounds and a stopover location along the St. Lawrence River.

Migration routes of black-bellied plovers tagged on breeding grounds and a stopover location along the St. Lawrence River.

But wait, from where did you say he hails? I heard tell he summers in islands of Nunavet, Canada and winters in Brazil, stopping in Cuba or Honduras along the way. Known as the Grey Plover on the other side of the globe, his kin are world travelers, too, some leaving the Arctic circle breeding grounds and heading to fall stopovers in Great Britain and Norway, migrating all the way to South Africa, while other members of the family travel over Russia to winter in Japan, Australia, or perhaps even as far away as New Zealand. Black-bellies have  been tracked flying 3,400 miles nonstop from Brazil to NorthCarolina in five days. Tedious, I know.

While at his summer tundra home he sports a handsome black and white tuxedo, in reverse, sort of get up, like this –black-bellied-plover-b57-13-038_v

You mean that tired old coat molts to that dapper cutaway? Yes!

black-bellied-plover-grey-plover-in-flight-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithDespite his flashy tux, he’s genuinely shy, and will flush on a dime if danger is sensed (i.e. this filmmaker for instance). He knows all the tricks of the plover trade, feigning broken wing to distract the enemy from his territory, and scraping together a nest from nothing but mere sand and tiny bits of stone.

And just look at the Black-bellied Plover’s spotted eggs painted in shapes and shades of lichen covered stones. A clever disguise if ever there was one.bbp-chick-and-egg-meagan

Perhaps the Black-bellied Plover isn’t so boring after all. We living within the continental flyways encounter these Plain Janes and James when at their plainest. Black-bellied Plovers are seen along Atlantic coast beaches at this time of year within mixed groups of Sanderlings, Semipalmated Plovers, yellow legs, and sandpipers. Although similarly as drably feathered as the other ‘boring’ birds during the winter months, at 11 inches, Black-bellied Plovers are easy to spot in these feeding flocks because they are almost twice as large as the smallest shorebirds. Next time you see a flock of birds feeding along the shoreline take a closer look for the world traveling Black-bellied Plover.black-bellied-plover-grey-plover-sanderlings-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

Each and every wonderful species of bird that I have been documenting while working on film projects over the past several years has a fascinating life story. Living in the midst of the Atlantic Flyway, I can’t imagine a more interesting region, although when I was visiting our daughter and son-in-law in Santa Monica, the creatures flowing through the Pacific Flyway were pretty exciting too. I hope to in the future spend time in the Central and Mississippi Flyways as well. I love thinking about this constant longitudinal movement of life force flowing as it does, year in and year out, century in and century out, millennium in and millennium out. For the most part, we go about our daily lives relatively unaware of this extraordinary undercurrent. Whether migrating by land or by sea, we are surrounded by this great movement of life, forms always in search of plentiful food on which to rear the next generation.

black-bellied-plover-grey-plover-in-flight-2-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithIf having difficulty identifying, one of the clues to look for is the black feathers under the wings, visible when in flight as in the above photo.black-bellied-plover-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

All photos not attributed to Kim Smith are courtesy of Google image searches.

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