Category Archives: Birds

My Program for Essex County Greenbelt, Thursday March 5th: Planting An Essex County Pollinator Garden

Catbird eating Pagoda dogwwod fruits ©Kim Smith 2014. Catbird Eating Dogwood Fruits

Please join me at the Essex County Greenbelt’s Cox Reservation headquarters on Thursday, March 5th, from 6:30 to 8:30. I will be presenting my pollinator garden program. The program is free. RSVP to alice@ecga.org.

I look forward to seeing you!

American Lady Butterfly New York Ironweed ©Kim Smith 2014

 Painted Lady Butterfly and New York Ironweed, Gloucester HarborWalk Butterfly Garden

From the ECGA website:

Our second session to our pollinator film/lecture series will feature local designer, writer, filmmaker and gardening expert Kim Smith. Kim specializes in creating pollinator gardens, as well as filming the butterflies that her plants attract. She will present a 90-minute slide show and lecture about how to create a welcoming haven for bees, birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Native plants and examples of organic and architectural features will be discussed based on their value to particular vertebrates and invertebrates. Kim will also discuss specific ways to be sure your gardening practices are not harming pollinators. There will be time for questions from the audience about particular problems and quandaries they may have with pollinators and their gardens.

To learn more about Kim Smith’s work, visit her website here. This lecture will take place at our headquarters on the Cox Reservation in Essex, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Light refreshments will be served. Please RSVP to alice@ecga.org.

monarch-butterfly-c2a9kim-smith-2012-1Monarch Butterfly Nectaring at New England Asters

Harbor Walk Butterfly Garden ©Kim Smith 2012Gloucester HarborWalk Butterfly Garden

Did You Know That ANYONE Can Become A Member of the Audubon Society?

In case you were unaware, The Audubon Society is not a restricted organization. It is comprised entirely of people like you and me. Massachusetts alone has over 100,000 member citizens that belong to the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Here is a link to get you started: Get Involved.

Particularly for Massachusetts residents, the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s website is especially helpful in identifying birds observed locally; see the Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas Find a Bird Page. The Common Eider seen on Rogers Street, and guided to safety by Thomas Donahue, is on the Mass Audubon Find A Bird page and you can read more about this interesting bird here: Common Eider.The atlas isn’t always helpful, for example, GMG contributor Donna recently spotted a Horned Grebe. That particular species is not included on the page however, it was easily identified by looking at other sources, including books and websites such as Cornell’s All About Birds website.

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Reminder: Cape Ann Winter Birding Weekend, a program sponsored by the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Massachusetts Audubon Society was rescheduled for the weekend of February 27 through the 29th. Click here for details.

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Robert Chem Sanderlings painting currently on view at the Trident Gallery

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Robert Chem Northern Shrike 

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Additional information about Mass Audubon membership:

Members of the Massachusetts Audubon Society enjoy the following benefits:

Free Places to Explore, a full-color guide to Mass Audubon’s wildlife sanctuaries, nature centers, and museums.

Free one-year subscriptions to Connections, our member newsletter, and our new annual publication (first issue will be sent in February).

Member-only discounts on hundreds of exciting programs, camps, courses, and most special events.

Savings on purchases and access to member-only sales at our gift shops.

Member-only access to:

Savings on green auto insurance (10%) with the Environmental Insurance Agency (EIA).

Migrate to Explorer level or higher for even more benefits. Learn about our different membership levels.

Check out our Frequently Asked Questions or contact us.

Carolina Wren

For the past several years a pair of the sweetest Carolina Wrens have made our garden their home. The wrens are at the very edge of their northern range and because of that, they are much more at risk than many of the species of birds that we see at our feeders. Knowing this is one of the reasons why we are so vigilant in keeping the bird feeders well-stocked. The Carolina Wrens are easy to please; safflower seeds and suet are amongst their favorites. The following I wrote awhile back but because they are so vulnerable in this snowiest of winters, I think the information is worthwhile to repost.

Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianusCarolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

Come-to-me, come-to-me, come-to-me, repeated from sun up to sundown. Mellow and sweet—though loud enough to attract my attention—what was this new-to-my-ears birdsong coming from the thicket of shrubs? Occasionally we would catch a quicksilver glimpse of a petite sparrow-sized songbird singing energetically atop the fence wall or rapidly pecking at the chinks of bark on our aged pear tree. But this was definitely not a sparrow. His is a rounded little body with tail held upward. He has pale orangey-buff underparts and rich russet plumage, with white and black barred accents on the wings, and long white eye-stripes. Because his coloring is so similar to, my husband took to calling it “that chipmunk bird.”

After much running to the window and out the back door at his first few notes I was able to identify our resident Carolina Wren. All summer long and through the fall we were treated to his beautiful and sundry melodies. Here it is late winter and he is again calling me to the window. We can have a longer look through bare trees and shrubs. Much to our joy there is not one wren, but a pair!

The Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) is common throughout the southeast; so populous it is the state bird of South Carolina. When found on Cape Ann it is at its most northern edge of its territory. Gradually, as the climate has warmed over the past century, its range has expanded. They are sensitive to cold and will perish during severe weather. The Carolina Wren is a highly adaptable creature, dwelling in swamps, forests, farms, and tree-filled urban and suburban communities. They hop around leaf litter and dense brush, using their elongated bills to forage for food close to the ground. A pair may bond any time of the year and will stay together for life. It is the ardent male who sings the loud song and he is apt to anytime and anywhere. Carolina Wrens work together to construct their nests and feed their young. Their nesting sites are varied, built in both man-made and natural nooks and crannies; tree holes and stumps, and just as frequently, windowsills, mailboxes, tin cans, garage shelves, and holes found in porches, fence posts, and barns.

Short Film: Snowy Day Robin and Starling Flock

If you are fortunate enough to have a flock of robins visiting your neighborhood, take a closer look and you may notice other species of birds mixed with the flock, most notably European Starlings. The starling’s winter plumage is shiny black, bespeckled with white dots and some iridescence to their feathers. During breeding season they gain an even greater degree of iridescence.

Native to Europe, the starling was introduced to the United States in the 1890s. They often join flocks with American Robins. Starlings eat many of the same fruits and berries (crabapples, sumac, holly, and winterberries) as do robins and they are very competitive. Starlings also compete with birds such as Eastern Bluebirds for nesting sites. In a recent mixed flock of robins and starlings I also noticed one gorgeous waxwing!

Several years back we posted this short video. I wish I still had the footage because I am a much better editor today however, at approximately 30 seconds, the starlings make their entrance.

Anne Malvaux inspired today’s post. This morning she very sweetly sent along photos of the flock of robins and starlings that were in her neighborhood on Rocky Neck. She writes,

“Hi Kim, thinking about you because I have at least 50 robin red breasts in my tree in front of my window. I hope all is well. – Anne Malvaux”

Thank you Anne!!!

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Original post from 2012: Round Robin Redbreast Snowy Day

Where Are All the Goldfinches?

GMG reader Anita writes with a question about goldfinches ~

Hi Kim, I hope you can help me with this. I used to have lots of goldfinches. Lately I have not seen a one. I have the feeders but still no goldfinches.

Hi Anita,

Their lower numbers have been reported up and down the east coast. I’ve seen a few, but not nearly as many as in previous years. Goldfinches are migratory and nomadic, following food sources. And their population numbers vary widely from year to year. I’ve read the theory that they may be finding all the food they need in the wild, but that hardly seems plausible these past few weeks.

In 2011, an irruption of pine siskins arrived on Cape Ann. They, along with the goldfinches, were at the nyjer seed feeder from morning until nightfall. I would continue to keep your nyger seed feeders filled for finches, grosbeaks, and traveling siskins. Goldfinches (and squirrels) also love black oil sunflower seeds. 

The male’s plumage shows in much quieter tones at this time of year. You may, as do I, have a few goldfinches feeding alongside your sparrows but they are less noticeable because their brown and beige color blends with the flock. 

Goldfinch and Cosmos ©Kim Smith 2013Male Goldfinch in Breeding Plumage Eating Cosmos Seeds

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Filled bird feeders equals happy birds!

Watch the Instagram with the volume on–you’ll love hearing birdsongs in the snow and it will remind you of spring.

Happy Birds!

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

 

Brown Pelican Pesticide Ban Success Story and Why This is Relevant to Gloucester Lobstermen and Our Community

California Brown Pelican taking flight El Matador Beach ©Kim Smith 2015 copyBrown Pelican Taking Flight

When I was a young girl my family lived in Southern California for several years. I recall seeing few, if any, brown pelicans at our local beaches. Due to the widespread use of DDT in agriculture, brown pelicans on both the east and west coasts, along with other species of birds, were made nearly extinct. Pelicans incubate their eggs with the skin of their feet, essentially standing on the eggs to keep them warm. DDT caused thinning of the eggshells and when the pelican parents stood on the eggshells, the shells fractured and broke.California Brown Pelican preening ©Kim Smith 2015

Preening Pelicans ~ You can tell that these two are young pelicans because their eyes, usually brown, turn blue during courtship.

During the 1960s brown pelican colonies along the Southern California coast had shrunk by more than 90 percent. For decades, a chemical plant had been discharging thousands of pounds of DDT into Los Angeles sewers. The toxic chemical was ingested by anchovies and other fish consumed by pelicans. The chemical altered the pelican’s calcium metabolism, which caused them to lay eggs with thinner shells. DDT-caused shell thinning also exterminated peregrine falcons in the east, and took a terrible toll on bald eagles and ospreys.

El Matador Beach Brown Pelican habitat ©Kim Smith 2015. JPG

Insulation: After deep diving for fish, pelicans perch on rocks and preen. Pelicans feather’s keep them warm and dry; they do not actually get wet thanks to the oil in their preening gland. The glands secrete oily waxes and fats that they work into their feathers making them wind- and weatherproof, as well as providing insulation from the cold.

As a direct result of Rachel Carson’s seminal book Silent Spring, in 1972 DDT was banned nationwide. The brown pelican has recovered ground and was delisted from the federally endangered species in 2009. Unfortunately, after DDT was banned, two years later Monsanto brought to market their glyphosate herbicide Round Up.

El Matador Beach commorants ©kim Smith 2015

 Brown Pelican Habitat ~ El Matador State Beach

While visiting Liv and Matt, we spotted pelicans everywhere and it was absolutely wonderful to see. They are magnificent birds with an extraordinary life story. Here are several links to learn more about the California brown pelican:

About Pelicans, California Brown Pelicans

El Matador  Beach Pelican ©Kim Smith 2015

Today the lobster industry faces several major threats. Not only are the lobsters stressed from warming ocean waters and a protozoan parasite, but several pesticides used in massive mosquito spraying, including methoprene, malathion, and remethrin are linked to contributing to the collapse of the lobster fishery in the waters off Connecticut and New York. Lobsters are arthropods, which places them in the same phylum classification as mosquitoes and may help explain why they are affected. Lobster landings on Long Island Sound are of particular concern as they have declined from 3.7 million pounds in 1999 to 142,000 pounds in 2011.

Bearing in mind that worse chemicals are often used after specific chemicals are banned, the Maine Lobsterman’s Association is somewhat reluctant at this point to endorse banning specific pesticides until more comprehensive testing is done.

Gloucester lobsterman follow strict conservation guidelines. It would be very interesting to learn what they consider are the reason(s) for the declining population of lobsters in fisheries further south.

El Matador Beach ©Kim Smith 2015El Matador Beach

Overkill: Why Pesticide Spraying for West Nile Virus May Cause More Harm Than Good

Silent Spring

Readers Doug and Jacqueline Share Photos

IMGP1057IMGP3426Thanks so much Doug for sending the photo of your 2 1/2 gallon capacity bird feeders! See yesterday’s post “Everyday Birds of Essex County.” I took several squirrel photos this week for a little post I am planning. And thank you Jacqueline for submitting your crow and sanderlings photos, too.squirrel friend
asthe crow fliessanderling parade

What to Feed the Robins

American Robin in the Snow ©Kim Smith 2014The robins in our community have several different habits for surviving winter. There are year round resident robins that breed throughout Cape Ann during warmer months and also spend the winter here.  A second group only breeds in our region, then migrates further south during the winter months. A third group, the robins that we see flocking to our shores beginning round about January 28th, are migrating from parts further north. They are very hungrand are looking for berries, fruit, and small fish.

In early spring, robins begin to disperse from flocks. The ground thaws and worms, insects, and snails once again become part of the robin’s diet. Spring, too, is when we begin to hear the beautiful liquid notes of the male robin. He is singing to attract a mate. The robin’s song is one of the of most beloved and it is his music with which we associate the coming of spring.

With several edits and updates since I first wrote the following article, I think you’ll find the information helpful in knowing what to feed and to plant for the robins.

American Robin Sumac ©Kim Smith 2014Flock of American Robins Eating Sumac, Halibut Point Rockport

Food for the American Robin

During the winter months Cape Ann often becomes home to large flocks of robins, and we have had the joy of hosting numerous numbers in our garden. I can’t help but notice their arrival. Their shadows descend, crisscrossing the window light, followed by a wild rumpus in the ‘Dragon Lady’ hollies. This pair of hollies is planted on opposing sides of the garden path, alongside my home office. I have learned to stealthily sneak up to a window, as any sudden activity inside startles birds that are investigating our garden, and they quickly disperse. Dining not only on berries of the ‘Dragon Ladies’, but also the ‘Blue Princess’ Meserve holly and winterberry bushes, I find dozens of noisy, hungry robins.

These winter nomads flock to trees and shrubs that hold their fruit through January and February, feasting on red cedar, American holly, Meserve hollies, chokecherries, crabapples, sumac, and juniper. Robins traveling along the shores of Cape Ann also comb the shoreline for mollusks, and go belly-deep for fish fry. Depleting their food supply, they move onto the next location. Gardens rife with fruiting shrubs and trees make an ideal destination for our migrating friends.

Year round resident robins will call your garden home when provided with trays of chopped fruit and raisins, supplemented with meal worms.

What to Plant for Robins

The garden designed to attract nesting pairs of summer resident robins, as well as flocks of winter travelers, would be comprised of trees and shrubs for nest building, plants that bear fruit and berries that are edible during the summer and fall, and plants that bear fruits that persist through the winter months. Suburban gardens and agricultural areas provide the ideal habitat, with open fields and lawns for foraging insects as well as trees and hedgerows in which to build their nests.

The following plants, suggested with robins in mind, will also attract legions of songbirds and Lepidoptera. The list is comprised primarily of indigenous species with a few non-native, but not invasive, plants included.

Trees for nesting ~ American Holly (Ilex opaca), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).

Summer and autumn fruit bearing trees, shrubs and vines for robins ~ Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Blackberry (Rubus spp.), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Gray Dogwood (C. racemosa), Red-osier Dogwood (C. sericea), Silky Dogwood (C. amomum), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Apple (Malus pumila), Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana), Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Wild Grape (Vitis spp.).

Trees and shrubs with fruits persisting through winter ~ Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana), Crabapple (Malus spp.)Sargent’s Crabapple (Malus sargentii), American Holly (Ilex opaca), Meserve Hollies (Ilex meserveae), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra), Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina).

American Robin winter crabapple turdus migratorius, americanus ©kim Smith 2015American Robin Eating Crabapples

I Love Sumac

Worms!

The American Robin and Bird Food

The MIGRATING ROBINS HAVE RETURNED!

American Robin winter crabapple turdus migratorius, americanus ©kim Smith 2015American Robin and Crabapples

Right on schedule, the robins have returned to our East Gloucester neighborhood! They were seen flocking to the holly berries, crabapples and sumac. This morning it was bleak and drizzly; I hope to see them back in our neighborhood on a sunnier day!

Dear Readers, If you spot robins in your garden or neighborhood, please comment in the comment section and let us know when and where. If you get a good capture of a robin, or any songbird for that matter, please send to kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com and I will be happy to share the photos here on GMG. Thank you so much!

For more information about robins see previous posts here:

American Robin Nestlings 

The American Robin and Bird Food

I Love Sumac

Keeping the Bird Feeders Well-stocked for the Songbirds

Black-capped Chicadee ©Kim Smith 2015The Massachusetts state bird, the Black-capped Chickadee, is well-known at bird feeders. We’ve strategically placed one of our bird feeders adjacent to an iron trellis. The chickadees pop in for a safflower seed and then hop over to the trellis to crack it open against the metal.

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