Category Archives: Birds
Please join me April 6th at 7pm, at the Sawyer Free Library where I will be giving my Pollinator Garden talk and screening several short films. The event is free and open to the public. I am looking forward to presenting this program at our wonderful Sawyer Free and hope to see you there!!
Echinacea and Bee
A small duck with a big personality, the little male American Wigeon flew on the scene, disgruntling all the Mallards. He darted in and out of their feeding territory, foraging along the shoreline, while the Mallards let him know with no uncertainty, by nipping and chasing, that they did not want him there. American Wigeon was not deterred and just kept right on feeding.
Smaller than a Mallard but larger than a Bufflehead, the pretty male flashes a brilliant green swath across the eye and has a beautiful baby blue bill. They are also colloquially called “Baldplate” because the white patch atop his head resembles a bald man’s head.
Male American Wigeon and Male Mallard
According to naturalist and avian illustrator Barry van Dusen in “Bird Observer, “In Massachusetts, they are considered rare and local breeders, uncommon spring migrants, and locally common migrants in fall. They are also fairly common winter residents in a few localities. Spring migration occurs in April and fall migrants arrive in September with many remaining until their preferred ponds freeze over.”
After looking at the range map below, I wonder if our little American Wigeon has been here all winter or if he is a spring migrant. If you have seen an American Wigeon, please write and let us know. Thank you!
The pretty white gull was on the last remnant of ice at Niles Pond yesterday morning, preening and bathing alongside a mixed flock of Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls. Although doing his/her best to blend with the other gulls, he appeared to be playing with a feather blowing around on the ice.
I wonder who amongst our readers has seen an Iceland Gull, and where it was spotted. Please write and let us know. Thank you!
Iceland Gulls are most often only seen in our region during the winter. Despite their name, they do not breed in Iceland, but in the high Arctic and Greenland. Their diet consists of fish, marine vertebrates, carrion, some terrestrial and aquatic plants, and berries during the late summer.
I wished I could have gotten closer to get a better photo, but if you scroll through the following pdf, written by Dick Coombs, you’ll find an excellent description of a 1st-winter immature Iceland Gull, just like the one at Niles, along with photos of a mature Iceland Gull: http://www.southdublinbirds.com/nimages/fyles/IDofIceland&GlaucousGulls-print(DC).pdfNiles Pond foliage readying to burst
Under the weather with a two-boxes-of-tissues-a-day head cold, I haven’t been out walking as much as usual. This afternoon I popped over to Niles to take our Rosie out for a very short walk, just in time to see off in the distance a male and female Ring-necked Duck resting at the icy water’s edge, along with freshly opened branches of pussy willows. Spring is surely on her way!
We friends of Mr. Swan think he is practically a genius. You would have to be, to survive the oftentimes inhospitable shores of Cape Ann. And, too, he is well over twenty years old and has out lived two mates!
Mr. Swan at Brace Cove
Mr. Swan is a species of swan called a Mute Swan, which do not migrate great distances. Instead, they move around from body of water to body of water within a region. When Mr. and Mrs. Swan were raising their young, by mid summer, when food was becoming less plentiful and water levels receding at Henry’s Pond, the entire swan family–mom, dad, and all the cygnets–would travel for the remainder of the breeding season to Niles Pond, a larger pond with a more plentiful supply of aquatic vegetation. Several weeks ago, the brackish water of Henry’s Pond thawed. Mr. Swan returned to the Pond, but then with a stretch of cold weather, it quickly refroze. He headed over to Pebble Beach to forage for food in the saltwater cove. This week, sensing the coming nor’easter, Mr. Swan moved over to Rockport Harbor, which rarely freezes, is less rough than Pebble Beach, and where a supply of food is readily available. Whether a September hurricane or March blizzard, Mr. Swan rides out the storm tucked in along the edge of pond or harbor.
Don’t you find it very interesting that although not indigenous to this country, Mute Swans have adapted many strategies for surviving our changing seasons, and with the seasonal changes, the differing types of, and amounts of, food available.
If you see Mr. Swan at any of our local bodies of water, please be very kind to him. Dogs, no matter how well meaning, will make any swan feel threatened. And please, if you must feed him, only feed him whole corn. No junk food ever. Swan junk food includes bread, crackers, chips, and Doritos. In all the years that I have been filming Mr. Swan, never once have I fed him. Mr. Swan has friends, wonderfully kind stewards, who regularly look after his well-being, supplementing his native diet of pond greens and seaweed with cracked corn, and that is quite sufficient for his good health.
Thank you everyone for looking out for Cape Ann’s one and only Mr. Swan!
Since Saturday and Sunday was so cold and windy, it was difficult to go out to photographs some birds, so set up the tripod in the living room at the window and took some photos at the our feeders.
PIPING PLOVERS NESTING AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH
The City of Gloucester and Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken will be working closely during the 2017 beach season at Good Harbor Beach with the Essex County Greenbelt Association and the MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to manage Piping Plovers if they return again to nest on the beach.
“For generations, Gloucester’s citizens have existed in a delicate balance with our coastal ecosystem, from the open ocean, to the rocky shorelines and of course to our beaches,” Mayor Romeo Theken said. “We are committed to making every effort possible to protect nesting Piping Plovers at our beaches but we will do so while maintaining public access to these amazing areas. Please help me and the City by cooperating with any short-term restrictions imposed at our beaches in 2017.”
In 2016, Piping Plovers, a small shorebird, were observed nesting for the first time at GHB, and the City acted quickly and responsibly along with Greenbelt and MADFW to protect the birds and their nesting areas. The City is preparing more proactively now for the 2017 beach season.
Piping Plovers are a small shorebird that was placed on the US Endangered Species List in 1986 as a threatened species. Piping Plovers nest directly on the sand at beaches throughout MA, typically on the upper beach just below the outer dune edge. Statewide the Piping Plover population has been increasing over the past 20 years and the population reached about 650 pairs in MA in 2016.
In Gloucester in 2016, 4 pairs of Piping Plovers nested at Coffins Beach and fledged 10 young. A single pair of Piping Plovers nested at GHB, hatching 3 chicks but none survived to fledge. The Piping Plovers at GHB nested later than normal in the season which may have contributed to the lack of chick survival. Better early season protections could help eliminate this problem in 2017.
Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover making a nest scrape for his lady love to inspect
The US Endangered Species Act requires public and private landowners to take necessary measures to protect listed species like Piping Plovers. MA also has guidelines and laws for beach nesting bird management. The city is making every effort to be compliant with all regulatory guidelines.
Piping Plovers typically arrive from their southern wintering areas to our local beaches in late March or early April. Males and females quickly form breeding pairs that begin the process of courtship and nest site select throughout April and May. During April and May, it is important to limit disturbance to the birds and their habitats. Chicks can hatch from nests in late May and are immediately mobile and move out of the nest in search of food. As chicks grow older and larger, they will roam from the dunes to the water’s edge in search of food. Chicks are very vulnerable to human disturbance and are susceptible to predators like gulls and foxes.
One day old Piping Plover chick
PLAN OF ACTION FOR 2017:
Gloucester officials have directed City staff to collaborate with Greenbelt and MADFW to development management strategies to protect Piping Plovers found nesting on any Gloucester beaches.
Beach Scraping – Limiting beach cleaning activities like beach scraping with a tractor and mechanical rake is very important once Piping Plovers arrive at GHB. This could start in April and last though June in certain areas at GHB.
Fencing – It is also important to strategically select areas for temporary closure with single strand fencing and signs. These fenced areas allow a refuge for Piping Plovers to begin their nesting season normally in May, before the busy beach season. fences could be installed in April and be in place through June in certain areas at GHB.
Monitoring – Regular monitors from Greenbelt, MADFW and theCity will visit GHB in March/April to determine if PipingPlovers are present and to ensure that any nesting Piping Plovers are well protected. Monitoring will continue as long as Piping Plovers are present at the site.
Public Access – GHB will remain open to the public during the beach season. Only selected small areas may be closed to the public to protect Piping Plovers. Mayor Theken encourages all beachgoers to respect the closed areas and to consider Piping Plovers as an important part of Gloucester’s rich and healthy coastal ecosystem.
Dogs – Unleashed dogs can pose a very real threat to Piping Plover adults and chicks. Dogs owners are responsible for controlling their dogs and may be legally responsible for any adverse impacts to Piping Plovers and their habitats.
For more information, please contact Greenbelt Essex County Trust at firstname.lastname@example.org or (978) 768-7241 x14
Excerpted from Sanctuary Magazine, by John H. Mitchell
The Mothers of Conservation
One of the seminal events in the history of environmental activism in this country took place in a parlor in Boston’s Back Bay in 1896. On a January afternoon that year, one of the scions of Boston society, Mrs. Harriet Lawrence Hemenway, happened to read an article that described in graphic detail the aftereffects of a plume hunter’s rampage—dead, skinned birds everywhere on the ground, clouds of flies, stench, starving young still alive in their nests—that sort of thing. The slaughter was in the service of high fashion, which dictated in those times that ladies’ hats be ornamented with feathers and plumes, the more the better.
Harriet Hemenway was properly disturbed by the account, and inasmuch as she was a Boston Brahmin and not just any lady of social rank, she determined to do something about it. She carried the article across Clarendon Street to the house of another social luminary, her cousin Minna B. Hall. There, over tea, they began to plot a strategy to put a halt to the cruel slaughter of birds for their feathers. Never mind that the plume trade was a multinational affair involving millions of dollars and some of the captains of nineteenth-century finance; the two women meant to put an end to the nasty business.
…[Harriet] and Minna Hall took down from a shelf The Boston Blue Book, wherein lay inscribed the names and addresses of the members of Boston society. Hemenway and Hall went through the list and ticked of the names of those ladies who were likely to wear feathers on their hats. Having done that, they planned a series of tea parties. Women in feathered hats were invited, and, when they came, over petits fours and lapsang souchong, they were encouraged, petitioned, and otherwise induced to forswear forever the wearing of plumes.
After innumerable teas and bouts of friendly persuasion, Harriet and Minna established a group of some 900 women who vowed “to work to discourage the buying or wearing of feathers and to otherwise further the protection of native birds.” Hunters, milliners, and certain members of Congress may have found the little bird club preposterous.
But the opponents of any regulation on the trade underestimated their opposition. The Boston club was made up of women from the families of the Adamses and the Abbots, the Saltonstalls and the Cabots, the Lowells, the Lawrences, the Hemenways, and the Wigglesworths. These were the same families that brought down the British empire in America. This was the same group that forced Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, and it was these families that were about to create the American tradition of environmental activism. Within a matter of decades, the little bird club had spawned what would be the most influentional conservation movement in America up to that time.
Notorious, independent Boston women notwithstanding, these were not the freest of times for society women, and Hemenway and Hall were wise enough to know that if their group were to have any credibility it would need the support of men, and most importantly, would need a man as its president, even if he would be a mere figurehead. The women organized a meeting with the Boston scientific establishment, outlined their program, and got men to agree to join the group, which would be called, they decided, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, in honor of the great bird painter John James Audubon.
Download a pdf of the entire story, which was published in the January/February 1996 issue of Sanctuary magazine.
She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head, a children’s book written by Kathryn Lasky, tells the story of the founding of Mass Audubon.
Winslow Homer “The Berry Pickers”
Forum on the Cape Ann Landscapes
A thoughtful and thought provoking forum was held this morning at the Cape Ann Museum. The discussion was led by Ed Becker, president of the Essex County Greenbelt Association, with presentations by Mark Carlotto from Friends of Dogtown; Tim Simmons, restoration ecologist; Mass Audubon’s Chris Leahy; and Cape Ann Museum representative Bonnie Sontag.
Today, the undeveloped areas of Cape Ann look much as it did when Champlain arrived in 1606, a mostly verdant forested peninsula, with some land management of grasslands conducted by the Native Americans that farmed and fished the landscape. In the coming months, the community will be examining how to restore very specific areas of Dogtown to the years when the landscape was at its most productive and richest in biodiversity, approximately 1700 to 1950. Most areas will remain forested and others will be returned to grasslands, moors, meadows, and pastures, similar to how it appeared when 19th and 20th century artists such as Homer, Hopper, Hartley, and Brumback painted Dogtown Common.
Tim Simmons charmed the audience with his “Blueberry Metric,” a formula whereby prior to grassland restoration, it takes approximately one hour to pick four cups of blueberries. After a blueberry patch has been restored, the time to pick a pie’s worth of blueberries is reduced to just 20 to 30 minutes. Here is Tim explaining how fire management helps blueberry bushes become more productive:
Not only blueberries but many, many species of wildlife, especially those in sharp decline, such as Prairie Warblers, Eastern Whippoorwills, native bees, and nearly all butterflies, will benefit tremendously from restoring native grassland and meadow habitats.
This is an exciting time for Cape Ann’s open spaces and a great deal of input from the community will be needed. A facebook page is in the making. It takes time to effect positive change, but the alternative of doing nothing is not really an option at all. Eventually a fire will occur and when landscapes are not managed well, the outcome may well be cataclysmic.
From the Cape Ann Museum: The once open landscape of Cape Ann, a mosaic of glacial boulders, pastures and moors, has given way over the past century to a uniform forest cover. Through short presentations and public engagement, this forum examines the issues, methods and benefits of restoring this formerly diverse and productive landscape. Can Cape Ann once again include the open, scenic terrain that inspired painters, writers, walkers, bird watchers and foragers of wild blueberries? Come and lend your voice to this exciting and important conversation moderated by Ed Becker, President of the Essex County Greenbelt Association. The forum is offered in collaboration with Essex County Greenbelt, Friends of Dogtown, Lanesville Community Center and Mass Audubon.
Successional forest regeneration graphics and images courtesy Google image search
TOTALLY FREE! CONSERVATION FILM FESTIVAL HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND AT PARKER RIVER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Our Great Salt Marsh is beginning to spring back to life. Red-winged Blackbirds can be seen, and heard, chortling from every outpost, Morning Doves are nest building, and the Mallards, Black Ducks, and Canada Geese are pairing up. Only 19 more days until the official start of spring!
POST FOR GMG FOB DAVE IN RESPONSE TO HIS QUESTION ABOUT WHY THERE WERE NO WILD TURKEYS ON CAPE ANN IN HIS YOUTH
GMG Reader Dave wrote recently saying that he did not recall seeing turkeys on Cape Ann when he was growing up. Although the Eastern Wild Turkey is native to Massachusetts, it was rarely seen after 1800 and was completely extirpated by 1851.
The Wild Turkey reintroduction to Massachusetts is a fantastic conservation success story and a tremendous example of why departments of conservation and protection are so vital to our quality of life.
Massachusetts was recently ranked the number one state by U.S. News and World Report and conservation stories like the following are shining examples of just one of the many zillion reasons why (healthcare and education are the top reasons, but conservation IMO is equally as important).
Reposted from the Wild Turkey FAQ page of the office of the Energy and Environmental Affairs website.
“At the time of Colonial settlement, wild turkeys were found nearly throughout Massachusetts. They were probably absent from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and perhaps the higher mountain areas in the northwest part of the state. As settlement progressed and land was cleared for buildings and agriculture, turkey populations diminished. By 1800, turkeys were quite rare in Massachusetts, and by 1851 they had disappeared.
Between 1911 and 1967 at least 9 attempts in 5 counties were undertaken to restore turkeys to Massachusetts. Eight failed (probably because of the use of pen-raised stock; and one established a very marginal population which persisted only with supplemental feeding.
In 1972-73, with the cooperation of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, MassWildlife personnel live-trapped 37 turkeys in southwestern New York and released them in Beartown State Forest in southern Berkshire County. By 1976, these birds had successfully established themselves and by 1978 this restoration effort was declared a success.
Beginning in 1978, MassWildlife began live-trapping turkeys from the Berkshires and releasing them in other suitable habitat statewide. Between 1979 and 1996, a total of 26 releases involving 561 turkeys (192 males, 369 females) were made in 10 counties (see the following Table and the accompanying map).
|Turkey Transplants within Massachusetts
|Hubbardston State Forest||Hubbardston||Worcester||1979, 1981||22 (10M, 12F)|
|D.A.R. State Forest||Goshen||Hampshire||1981-82||14 (6M, 8F)|
|Mt. Toby State Forest||Sunderland||Franklin||1982||22 (7M, 15F)|
|Holyoke Range||Granby||Hampshire||1982||24 (8M, 16F)|
|West Brookfield State Forest||West Brookfield||Worcester||1982-83||24 (12M, 12F)|
|Miller’s River Wildlife Management Area||Athol||Worcester||1982-83||24 (11M, 13F)|
|Koebke Road||Dudley||Worcester||1983||25 (7M, 18F)|
|Groton Fire Tower||Groton||Middlesex||1984||21 (10M, 11F)|
|Rocky Gutter Wildlife Management Area||Middleborough||Plymouth||1985-86||25 (12M, 13F)|
|Bolton Flats Wildlife Management Area||Bolton||Worcester||1986-87||24 (8M, 16F)|
|Naushon Island||Gosnold||Dukes||1987||22 (6M, 16F)|
|John C. Phillips Wildlife Sanctuary||Boxford||Essex||1988||21 (9M, 12F)|
|Fall River-Freetown State Forest||Fall River||Bristol||1988||24 (11M, 13F)|
|Baralock Hill||Groton||Middlesex||1988||16 (5M, 11F)|
|Camp Edwards Army Base||Bourne/Sandwich||Barnstable||1989||18 (6M, 12F)|
|Jones Hill||Ashby||Middlesex||1990||20 (7M, 13F)|
|Whittier Hill||Sutton||Worcester||1990||22 (9M, 13F)|
|Conant Brook Reservoir||Monson||Hampden||1991||27 (3M, 24F)|
|Bradley Palmer State Park||Topsfield||Essex||1991||18 (1M, 17F)|
|Hockomock Swamp and Erwin Wilder WMA||West Bridgewater||Plymouth||1992-93||24 (5M, 19F)|
|Slade’s Corner||Dartmouth||Bristol||1993||23 (10M, 13F)|
|Wendell State Forest||Wendell||Franklin||1993||19 (4M, 15F)|
|Facing Rock Wildlife Management Area||Ludlow||Hampden||1994||8 (1M, 7F)|
|Peterson Swamp Wildlife Management Area||Halifax||Plymouth .||1994||26 (11M, 15F)|
|Cape Cod National Seashore||Wellfleet||Barnstable||1995-96||28 (5M, 23F)|
|Terrybrooke Farm||Rehoboth||Bristol||1996||20 (8M, 12F)|
|Totals||561; (192M, 369F)|
By 1996, turkeys were found in Massachusetts about everywhere from Worcester County westward, except in the immediate vicinity of Springfield and Worcester. Good populations are also now found in suitable, but more fragmented, habitats in Bristol, Essex, Middlesex, and Plymouth Counties. On Cape Cod, Barnstable County, turkeys may be found on and near the Massachusetts Military Reservation and the Cape Cod National Seashore. These birds have also moved northward from releases in Plymouth County into southern Norfolk County. On Martha’s Vineyard, wild-strain birds are absent; however, feral pen-raised birds may be found over much of the island. Turkeys are absent from Nantucket and Suffolk Counties. The average statewide fall turkey population is about 18,000-20,000 birds.
Land-use changes have historically influenced the population and distribution of the wild turkey and other wildlife. Such changes will continue to affect the natural environment. For a historical perspective, see the references by Cardoza (1976) and Cronon (1983).”
From far across the marsh, large brown moving shapes were spotted. I just had to pull over to investigate and was happily surprised to see a flock of perhaps a dozen male turkeys all puffed up and struttin’ their stuff. I headed over to the opposite side of the marsh in hopes of getting a closer look at what was going on.
Turkey hen foraging
Found along the edge, where the marsh met the woodlands, were the objects of desire. A flock of approximately an equal number of hens were foraging for insects and vegetation in the sun-warmed moist earth.
Males begin exhibiting mating behavior as early as late February and courtship was full underway on this unusually warm February morning. The funny thing was, the toms were not fighting over the hens, as you might imagine. Instead the males seemed to be paired off, bonded to each other and working together, strategically placing themselves in close proximity to the females. A series of gobbles and calls from the males closest to the females set off a chain reaction of calls to the toms less close. The last to respond were the toms furthest away from the females, the ones still in the marsh. It was utterly fascinating to watch and I tried to get as much footage as possible while standing as stone still for as long as is humanly possible.
With much curiosity, and as soon as a spare moment was found, I read several interesting articles on the complex social behavior of Wild Turkeys and it is true, the males were bromancing, as much as they were romancing.
Ninety percent of all birds form some sort of male-female bond. From my reading I learned that Wild Turkeys do not. The females nest and care for the poults entirely on her own. The dominant male in a pair, and the less dominant of the two, will mate with the same female. Wild Turkey male bonding had been observed for some time however, the female can hold sperm for up to fifty days, so without DNA testing it was difficult to know who was the parent of her offspring. DNA tests show that the eggs are often fertilized by more than one male. This behavior insures greater genetic diversity. And it has been shown that bromancing males produce a proportionately greater number of offspring than males that court on their own. Poult mortality is extremely high. The Wild Turkey bromance mating strategy produces a greater number of young and is nature’s way of insuring future generations.
The wattle (or dewlap) is the flap of skin under the beak. Caruncles are the wart-like bumps covering the tom’s head. What are referred to as the “major” caruncles are the large growths that lie beneath the wattle. When passions are aroused, the caruncles become engorged, turning brilliant red, and the snood is extended. The snood can grow twelve inches in a matter of moments. In the first photo below you can see the snood draped over the beak and in the second, a tom with an even longer snood.
Male Wild Turkeys with snood extended (foreground) and snood retracted (background).
In case you are unsure on how to tell the difference between male (called tom or gobbler) and female (hen), compare the top two photos. The tom has a snood, large caruncles, carunculate (bumpy) skin around the face, and a pronounced beard. The hen does not. Gobblers also have sharp spurs on the back of their legs and hens do not.
Read more here:
Brought to you by Mr. Swan –
We’re happy to see our buddy surviving the winter without too much ado (except when he got himself frozen solidly into the ice).
A friendly note to folks who would like to visit Mr. Swan. He is very shy around dogs so perhaps leave your furry companion in the car. And if you plan to feed him, please, please only whole corn or shredded veggies (swans don’t have teeth, so no large chunks). Junk food is a killer and weakens their bones.
The two eagles were spotted at 4pm yesterday, Monday. Thanks so much to Morgan for sharing!
In case any of our readers do not already know this, Morgan is the sculptor who created the “Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Memorial.” For more information about the monument, visit the Filed Guide to U.S. Public Monuments and Memorials here.