Category Archives: Birds


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



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.


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



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, 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



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


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.


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 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.


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

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

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


harvest-moon-2016-copyright-kim-smithLast night’s Harvest Moon rising was spectacular, especially the striations of clouds in the moonglow. Early this morning the moon was nearly as big and beautiful too, and as I was setting up my gear, Snowy Egrets flew into the setting moon.


Just announced: Gloucester author Deborah Cramer wins major awards for The Narrow Edge! National Academies of Science Best Book Award and Society of Environmental Journalists Rachel Carson Book Award

Congratulations Deborah Cramer!

Remember her request to share horseshoe crab reports and memories




National Academies of Science Best Book Award 2016 

National Academies of Sciences press release: “The winning entries represent science communication at its finest and exemplify the ability of science writers to engage, inform, and inspire the public.”

Society of Environmental Journalists Rachel Carson Book Award 2016

15th Annual awards for reporting on the environment press release excerpt:

Judges were impressed by the painful beauty and eloquence of Deborah Cramer’s writing; one saw “The Narrow Edge” as a story of loss and hopeful restoration while another said the book “represents everything about Rachel Carson’s legacy that the book award stands for.” In her book, Cramer follows the 19,000-mile migration of an endangered shorebird called the red knot, which depends on horseshoe crab eggs for survival. So do humans:

Read more


Tropical storm Hermine’s rain has breathed new life into Cape Ann’s drought depleted freshwater ponds and brackish marshes. Perhaps it was her winds that delivered a surprise visit from the Yellow-crowned Night Heron, a rarity for Massachusetts as we are at the tippy northern end of their breeding range. Towering waves accompanied by a tumbling undertow tossed from the deep sea gifts of nutrient rich seaweeds, mollusks, and tiny crustaceans, providing a feast for our feathered friends. See all that she brought!

Yellow Crowned Night Heron, juvenile

muskrat-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithMuskrat! Eating tender shoots and going to and from his burrow, via refreshed canals along the wetland banks.

Wind and weather worn Red Admiral Butterfly, drinking salty rain water from the sand and warming its wings in the sun.

sanderling-eating-clam-copyright-kim-smithSanderling breakfast

great-blue-heron-immature-snowy-egret-great-egret-copyright-kim-smithImmature Great Blue Heron, Two Snowy Egrets, and Great Egret (far right)

snowy-egret-minnow-in-mouth-copyright-kim-smithA multidue of minnows for the herons and egrets

piping-plovers-hermine-eating-copyright-kim-smithThe Wingaersheek Piping Plover family has not yet begun their southward migration. Here they are foraging in the bits of shells, tiny clams, and seaweed brought to the shoreline by Hermine and not usually found in this location.

cormorant-injured-copyright-kim-smithinjured-gull-copyright-kim-smith3Injured Cormorant and Gull finding refuge and food at the pond bank.

pebble-beach-seaweed-foogy-morning-copyright-kim-smithSeaweed Swathed Pebble Beach in the lifting fog


Nine Piping Plovers napping Gloucester copyright Kim SmithNine Piping Plovers Napping 

WONDERFUL creatures are currently migrating through our shores. How blessed are we who live along the Atlantic Flyway. Whether traveling by shore or by sea, there is this great and continual movement of life happening always in our midst.

Many thanks to my friend Jeff Denoncour, Trustees of Reservations Ecologist for the Northeast Region, for assistance with identifying the birds. I met Jeff earlier this summer when he kindly took me out to the tippy far end of Cranes to film the Piping Plovers nesting there.

Additionally we have seven tiny Monarch caterpillars in terrariums. It’s so late in the season for these teeny ones. Last year at this time we were releasing adult butterflies and I worry that they are not going to pupate in time to successfully migrate to Mexico. The caterpillars are too small to handle, but if any of the kids in our community would like to come see, please comment in the comment section or email me at The last of the Cecropia Moth caterpillars has not yet pupated and he is fun to watch as well.

Here are some photos to help you identify our migrating feathered friends.

Black bellied Plover Semipalmated Plover Massachusetts copyright Kim Smith

Compare the larger size of the Black-bellied Plover in the foreground with the Semipalmated Plover and Semiplamated Sandpiper in the background

Yellow Legs

Red Knot non breeding plumage copyright Kim Smith

The above group of four photos are of either a pair of Red Knots or White-rumped Sandpipers in non breeding plumage. The White-rumped Sandpiper is thought to migrate an even greater distance than the Red Knot, from Canada’s Arctic Islands to the Southern tip of South America, and some further still to islands near the Antarctic Peninsula. These shy birds did not allow for human interest and the photos were taken at some distance.

Juvenile Laughing Gull copyright Kim Smith

Juvenile Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull copyright Kim SmithAdult Laughing Gull


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Today’s daybreak scenesGood Harbor Beach Sunrise August 28, 2016 copyright Kim Smith

Sanderling copyright Kim SmithSleepy Sanderling in the morning light

Brown Gull copyright Kim SmithMystery brown gull. Possibly a juvenile Herring Gull however, its legs legs, feet, and head are unusually dark if that is the case. If you have a clue, please comment. Thank you!

Semipalmated Plover copyright Kim SmithSemipalmated Plover

Wildflower patch copyright Kim SmithOur neighbor Richie Arnold’s wildflower patchGood Harbor Beach Sunrise August 28 copyright Kim Smith



Piping Plover fledgling standing on one leg copyright Kim SmithPiping Plover Fledgling warming on a chilly morning. Birds stand on one leg to conserve energy.

Love everything about this bird–even its tracks in the sand are sweet. The PiPl are with us still, although getting increasingly difficult to discern as their breeding plumage fades to non breeding plumage. You often feel as though you are trying to locate sand upon sand but their fleur delis tracks and gentle melodious piping bird song will lead you to them.

Piping Plover tracks copyright Kim Smith



Piping Plover Fledglings copyright Kim Smith .Sweetly beautiful birds and full of personality, whether called ploh-ver or pluh-ver. This pair of fledgling siblings was photographed at Wingaersheek Beach.

How do you pronounce plover? Do you say ploh-ver, like clover, or do you say pluh-ver, like lover? I was convinced the clover pronunciation was correct until having dinner with friends recently who were equally as convinced that the lover pronunciation was accurate. The conversation reminded me of that old film, Shall We Dance and the potato song, or “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” A quick Google search offers both pronunciations!

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