Category Archives: Birds

HELLO FUNNY CATBIRDS!

I’ve yet to meet a Catbird I don’t love! With big personalities and a repertoire of beautiful melodies they are no stranger to gardens planted with blueberry bushes.

The first Gray Catbird to make an appearance in our garden arrived the day we planted blueberries. We don’t grow enough blueberries to provide all that we, and the Catbirds, would like to eat, so for the past several years I have been feeding the Catbirds handfuls at a time, the ones that come in the box that are smallish, and generally more sour tasting. If I forget to refill the bowl, the mom Catbird perches on a table just outside the kitchen window, calling and calling until the bowl is replenished. This summer she was joined by two fat little fledglings, also demanding of blueberries. The other day, both fledglings sat smack in the middle of the blueberry bowl and then proceeded to have a disagreement over the fruit!

Mature Gray Catbirds are mostly slate gray all over, with a little black cap, and when in flight, flash rufous red underneath. They belong to the same family of birds as do Northern Mockingbirds and Brown Thrashers, Mimidae, having that wonderful ability to copy the sounds of other songbirds and string them together to make their own music. During mating season, male Catbirds use their songs to establish their territory. The song may last up to ten minutes. This past spring, while walking along the wooded edge of a dune, I came upon a male singing his heart out. I didn’t have my tripod with me, but began recording him while singing. Boy, did my arms grow weary trying to capture the song in its entirety!

Catbird Egg

The oldest Gray Catbird was recorded to live 17 years. Catbirds are monogamous and if undisturbed, return to the same nesting site year after year. I love knowing that it’s quite possible that our current Catbird mama and papa may be the very same family that have been here for the past several years.

Patti Papows resident blueberry-eating Catbird

Note about the benefits of of planting blueberry bushes ~ Did you know that blueberries are native to North America? Fantastic for attracting songbirds to the garden, the foliage is also a caterpillar food plant for Spring and Summer Azure butterflies, and the blossoms provide nectar for myriad species of pollinating insects, including many species of native bees.

 

KIM SMITH POLLINATOR GARDEN PROGRAM FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC THURSDAY EVENING

Please join me Thursday evening, August 10th, at 7:00pm, at the Peabody Institute Library, South Branch. I will be giving my talk about how to create a garden to benefit a host of pollinators and screening several short films. I hope to see you there!

The day we planted blueberries, is the day the Catbirds moved in. Many species of songbirds are pollinators, too!

Painted Lady nectaring at wildflower Joe-pye, Good Harbor Beach

POSSIBLE LITTLE CHICK SIGHTINGS!

A postscript to yesterday’s “Farewell Little Chick” ~ 

Thank you to Everyone for your kind notes, thank yous, love, and interest in our Little Chick. 

I thought  readers would like to know that since Little Chick departed Good Harbor Beach Friday morning several friends have shared that they have seen a small flock of Piping Plovers at other local beaches!

Carol Ferant wrote that Friday afternoon she was swimming by Corliss Landing and saw a small group feeding on lots of worms at the low tide sandbar. They stayed for a good long while and then flew off towards the marsh.

Abbie Lundberg wrote that in Annisquam this morning, Saturday, she saw a group of four Piping Plovers, three the same size, and one seemingly appeared smaller, about 2/3 the size of the others.

It makes complete sense to me that the Piping Plovers would move around from local beach to local beach before undertaking the long journey south. Comparing notes from last year, a mixed group of adults and fledglings grew larger and larger in number until one day, nearing the end of August, they all departed.

Today I was looking through the photos, from back in April though yesterday. We have every aspect of our Good Harbor Beach plover family documented–courtship, mating, eggs, all the different stages of development, friends, predators, other species of migrating shorebirds, scenery–thousands of images to organize. And after that, the next step is tackling all the film footage.  Big Project!

 Four-day-old and five-week-old Little Chick

FAREWELL LITTLE CHICK!

Our six-week-old Little Chick has begun his southward journey. At sunrise this morning I found him sleeping in front of the roped off area. Way down by the water’s edge, was a small flock of three Piping Plovers, but the light was so soft I could not tell if they were males, females, or fledglings. Sensing Little Chick’s time to depart was nearing, I didn’t want to investigate just then, but stayed on the beach to film our plover.

Little Chick awoke with his usual stretching routine and then made his way through the tidal flats mostly eating, but stopping several times to arrange his feathers. In no time he was foraging alongside the three migrating Piping Plovers and, within mere moments he, and the Piping Plover flock, flew, not along the beach or over to the creek as he has been doing, but this time, first straight out to sea and then curving around and disappearing behind the Sherman House.

I stopped by Good Harbor Beach several times later this morning and again in the afternoon, as have several of the volunteers, and no one has seen our Little Chick. Although feeling somewhat melancholy (but also very happy) to see him depart, this is the best possible outcome. We can all hope his journey is a safe one. And we hope too, that he parents many offspring!

We have been treated to a window into the world of nesting Piping Plovers. Most species of shorebirds breed many thousands of miles away, in the Arctic tundra of Canada and Alaska. We were blessed to see this beautiful story unfold, despite taking place in the least of safe habitats.

The greatest thanks to all the Piping Plover volunteers: Carol Ferant, Caroline Haines, Jeannine Harris, Hazel Hewitt, Charles King, Cliff King, George King, Paul Korn, Chris Martin, Lucy Merrill-Hill, Diana Peck, Ruth Peron, Catherine Ryan, Karen Shah, and Ken Whittaker. Without their daily monitoring of people, balls, dogs, gulls, crows, and what have you, we most assuredly would not have seen our Little Chick grow into a fledgling. Thank you too for their eagerness in sharing information about the PiPls with interested beachgoers. There is still a great deal about Piping Plovers that is a mystery. Studying the life story of one plover family creates a focusing lens from which we can all learn. I’d like to add special thanks to volunteer Hazel Hewitt who created the informative signs describing the PiPl that you may have seen all around the beach entryway ways.

If you see Ken Whittaker, Gloucester’s conservation agent, please thank him for all his help. After I discovered the Piping Plover nest on May 23rd, I spoke with Dave Rimmer to let him know precisely where the nest was located, and Ken immediately became available to lend a hand. In a way, we can thank Sharon Bo Abrams, too. After reading about how we were struggling to keep last year’s chicks alive, it was she who suggested that we form a group of volunteers. I mentioned this to Dave, who in turn spoke with Ken. It was Ken who spearheaded the volunteer effort and organized the group’s schedule so that at all times of day, from sunrise to sunset, someone was on the beach monitoring the Plover family. We can also thank Ken for listening to us volunteers regarding the importance of leaving the symbolic fencing in place as long as the chick was using it as his “safety zone.”

Thank you to Mayor Sefatia, Chris Sicuranza, and Frank DiMecurio for their interest and support. Thank you to all our readers for your kind comments and interest in the Plover daily updates.

Thank you to Gloucester Police Chief John McCarthy and Gloucester’s Animal Control Officer Dianne Corliss for their help monitoring the dog owner situation. They both made Good Harbor Beach part of their routine and their mere presence has made a tremendous difference.

A huge shout out to Gloucester’s Department of Public Works Mike Hale, Mark Cole, and Joe Lucido, and the DPW’s team of beach cleaners and rakers, who always went out of their way to keep an eye out for Little Chick and helped keep him safe.

Thanks is owed to Gloucester’s volunteer beach-picker-uppers who, on a daily basis, before everyone else arrives to enjoy the beach, are out there cleaning up what was left from the night before and helping to prevent a plethora of plastic from contaminating the ocean. Three who come to mind immediately, and who have been taking care of Good Harbor Beach for years are Patti Amaral, and husband and wife Patti and Kerry Sullivan. By cleaning the beach, it helps tremendously to keep down the crow, gull, and coyote populations, all of which are predators of shorebird eggs and chicks.

Thank you Community!  Without your support, care, and kindness I would not be writing this thank you note.

Several readers have suggested that I write a children’s book, with photographs, about The Good Harbor Beach Little Chick. While I am giving this idea serious consideration, I would only want to undertake a project like this with a top-notch publisher.

Perhaps Papa Joe and Mama Joy will return to Good Harbor Beach for a third year. With less than 8,000 Piping Plovers remaining in the world, we can only hope.

Bon voyage and safe travels Little Chick!

If I have neglected to thank you, please accept my sincere apology and please write and let me know so that I may add your name to the post. Thank you so much.

HAPPY SIX WEEK BIRTHDAY LITTLE CHICK!!!

Celebrating day forty-two with our Good Harbor Beach Little Chick!

Our Little Chick had a great morning, feeding in the intertidal zone, resting and preening by the enclosure, and flying more than several times up and down the length of Good Harbor Beach. He is gaining confidence in his flying ability. And, too, he quickly moves out of the way of approaching danger. Little Chick didn’t associate much with the other species of birds feeding at the water’s edge until the mixed flock got spooked by a jogger and all took flight at once.

He only flew to the edge of the enclosure while the Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderlings, and Semipalmated Sandpipers headed down to the private end of Good Harbor. Last year, about mid-August, migrating Piping Plovers began arriving at Good Harbor Beach, staying for varying lengths of time to forage and to rest. My greatest hope for our Little Chick is that he will find a flock of Piping Plovers (or they will find him) to join with before undertaking the long journey south.

Notice how Little Chicks flight feathers are gaining in length and strength. Everyday his bill looks more and more like an adults’s bill, too.

Little Chick showing off his primary and secondary flight feathers

Resting, Preening, and Piping, all on one leg!

Foraging at the tide pools at day break.

And at the intertidal zone later in the morning.

  

Sherman House reflection

 

WHY IS LITTLE CHICK “MISSING” A LEG?

Why is Little Chick “missing” a leg? That is a question I am often asked when filming Little Chick and an interested person stops by to visit our GHB Piping Plover. Or the comment, “Oh, no, he is one-legged!”

If you see Little Chick resting in the sand and he is standing on one leg, know that he is doing it very purposefully. The short answer is that for the simple reason that you put your hands in your pockets when cold, birds stand on one leg to conserve heat. Birds also stand on one leg to relax muscle fatigue in the retracted leg.

The long answer is that birds’ legs have a blood flow referred to as “rete mirabile” that minimizes heat loss. The arteries that transport warm blood into the legs are next to the veins that return colder blood to the bird’s heart. The arteries act as a heat exchanger and warm the veins. Because the veins also cool the arteries, the bird’s feet are closer to environmental temperature and thus don’t lose as much heat as they would if they were at body temperature. By standing on one leg, a bird reduces the amount of heat lost through unfeathered limbs.

Birds that have short legs, such as Mourning Doves, do not need to stand on one leg because they have fleshy feet and they can snuggle down so that their warm belly presses against their feet.

Forty-one-day old Piping Plover standing on one foot.

Our Little Chick is doing beautifully. I checked in on him briefly at day break and again at 9:30 this morning. Foraging, resting, flying (the longest distance yet, from the enclosure to the back of the Creek.) Both last night (thank you Heidi Wakeman) and this morning, I found him in the enclosure. I think our Little Chick is extra super smart to recognize the roped off area as his “safety” zone. We are grateful to the community and to Gloucester’s conservation agent Ken Whittaker for allowing the roping to remain in place. 

The light was very low and the photo is a little too softly focused, nonetheless I liked the image of Little Chick taking off.

WHERE WILL YOU GO LITTLE CHICK?

Our Little Chick is growing stronger (and plumper) everyday. He will most likely leave Cape Ann by the end of August, based on the Plovers that I filmed last summer. His voyage is a long one for a little bird weighing only about six ounces. Like all migratory species of birds (and butterflies), he must build his lipid, or fat, reserves before undertaking the journey.

Where will Little Chick spend the winter? Perhaps along the Atlantic coastline of South Carolina or Florida, or possibly even further afield to the Caribbean Sea, to the Bahamas, or further still, to Turks and Caicos.

*Note to Friends of Little Chick ~ While walking toward the enclosure yesterday, I was slammed in the back with a football. It was very startling, painful, and wholly unexpected. I was under the impression that there are guidelines about not playing ball in densely populated areas of the beach, whether football or volleyball. This occurred after five, after the lifeguards had left, but the beach was still crowded. Facing toward the enclosure, the ball games were taking place just to the right. If the ball had hit the chick, he would have been killed instantly. I am hoping folks can help Little Chick keep safe by taking their ball games to less populated areas of the beach, away from the roped off area. Just hoping 🙂

Piping Plover Chick Day Forty

HOORAY FOR LITTLE CHICK!

All by his lonesome, Little Chick survived his first super busy Sunday entirely on his own. Perhaps he needs a new grown up name, such as Tuffers, something that recognizes his strong little spirit–or instinct for survival–subject to how anthropomorphic your views. I’ve gotten used to calling him Little Chick, but am open to suggestions 🙂

Little Chick in a Bowl

Stretch two three, right two three, left two three.

Thirty-nine-day old Piping Plover

PIPING PLOVER CHICK DAY THIRTY-SEVEN AND THIRTY-EIGHT AND NO PAPA PLOVER

Saturday through Sunday and still no sign of Papa. He has not been seen since Friday night. We can only surmise that he has departed of his own accord or been killed by a predator. Either way, it’s terribly worrisome for the chick, just one of its kind, at the city’s most popular of beaches. Little Chick hasn’t as of yet shown great flying skills, and only Friday, Papa was piping warning commands when predators approached.

Bonapartes Gull

The summer migration is underway and within this past week we’ve seen Bonarparte’s Gulls, Laughing Gulls, Least Sandpipers, Sanderlings, and Semipalmated Plovers at Good Harbor Beach.

Flock of Semipalmated Plovers at Good Harbor Beach

Little Chick has been foraging in close proximity to the Semipalmated Plovers, which are similar in size to Piping Plovers, only much darker. The SemiP know to fly away when the beach rake is near; Little Chick still only hunkers down deeper into the sand. His plumage works as both an advantage and disadvantage. He’s well camouflaged from predators, and too much so from well meaning beach goers.

Notice how much paler the Piping Plover (foreground) is in comparison to the Semipalmated Plover.

Little Chick tried to rest at the high tide line during yesterday’s blustery afternoon. He didn’t like the strong winds one bit and quickly changed his mind, taking shelter beneath the vegetation in the roped off area.

Thirty-seven-day old Piping Plover

PAPA PLOVER IS MISSING

Papa Plover was no where to be found this morning (5:30 to 8am). This is very unusual as neither he nor Mama ever left the chicks alone for more than a few moments.

Little Chick spent a good part of the morning resting alone in the sand except for a few moments when he was feeding with the migrating Semi-palmated Plovers. If you see Little Chick, keep a safe distance, which will allow him to forage and rest. If anyone notices Papa, please let us know in the comment section or email me at kimsmithdesigns.com. Thank you so much.

EAT, SLEEP, STRETCH, CHECK IN WITH PA, REPEAT

Day thirty-six and our Superstar is growing beautifully. Barring people and predator dramas, Little Chick and Papa’s days have taken on a confident routineness –forage, sleep, wake, preen, do stretches, maybe practice flying (and maybe not), check in with Pa, repeat.

Extra shout out to Chief McCarthy for making Good Harbor Beach his early morning routine, too. Thank you everyone for all that you are doing to help the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers!

Eat

Nap

Wake up 

Preen

Stretches

Check-in with Papa

Repeat 

 

DANCE OF THE TREE SWALLOWS

Male Tree Swallow

You may have noticed the pretty swallows perching in clusters on telephone lines and flying low over the sand. Both Barn and Tree Swallows can be found at the beach throughout the warmer months, but the birds that are beginning to gather on Cape Ann en masse are the Tree Swallows. The following is a short film from last year’s migration that explains what is happening at this time of year with the Tree Swallows here on our beaches and dunes, and in our neighborhoods.

M is For Migration Through Massachusetts
Responding to Reader’s Questions About Tree Swallows
New Short Film: Tree Swallows Massing

LITTLE CHICK CELEBRATING FIFTH WEEK MILESTONE! AND CURRENT STATUS UPDATE

Little Chick is spending greater amounts of time in the deeper tide pools.

On Gloucester’s busiest of beaches, a tiny Piping Plover chick has survived five whole weeks. His survival is in large part due to the tremendous effort and kind caring of our community.  My most heartfelt thanks to everyone who has helped this resilient little guy come so far. Thank you especially to all the PiPl monitors, the crews of the DPW, especially the gentlemen who clean the beach and who drive the beach rake, beach picker uppers such as Patti Amaral, Patti and Kerry Sullivan, Gloucester conservation agent Ken Whittaker, Police Chief McCarthy, Animal Control Officer Dianne Corliss, the Volleyball Players, Coach Latoff and the GHS sports teams, the GHS cheerleaders, and countless others who have made allowances for the Piping Plovers to successfully nest at Good Harbor Beach.

All who are monitoring Little Chick have seen him fly fairly low to the ground in approximately ten foot distances. Within days he will have fully fledged, but it will still be several weeks more I think before he can undertake his first migration to the lower Atlantic states, Bahamas, or West Indies. He and Papa have adapted well to Good Harbor Beach and they very possibly could stay several weeks into August, feeding to build reserves for the long migration south. Or, they could leave GHB and join the Piping Plovers starting to gather at other barrier beaches such as Cranes and Plum Island. Young birds travel with old birds, who show them the way.

Hourly monitoring may no longer be needed, but it doesn’t hurt either to check in with the little guy and Papa regularly. It’s super important for the roping to stay in place as the family continue to use the cordoned off area as a “safe zone.” I will continue to film and update as long as they are at Good Harbor Beach, because that is part of the documentary, too.

The most rewarding moments are meeting on the beach fans of our Little Superstar. They are full of delighted interest and concern for the chick. Just this morning, I met mom Amy and her daughter Emma. They live in Southborough and have been daily following along with the adventures of Little Chick on Good Morning Gloucester. Amy thanked us for sharing Little Chick’s story.The beach was awash in seaweed, perhaps brought ashore by the storm of several nights ago. Extra wormy and mini-sea creature breakfast deliciousness today.

Well camouflaged in the sand and taking a brief rest before returning to the tide pools.

Warrior Three mastered, and don’t you love the beautiful patterning of the Piping Plover feathers.

Papa never to far off and always, always watching.

LITTLE CHICK SUPERSTAR

 Hooray for day thirty-four Little Chick!

SUPER HIGH TIDES AND LITTLE CHICK IN SLO MO

Arriving at the beach at 5:30 this morning, Little Chick and Papa Plover were found quickly, both feeding in the the intertidal zone, and both doing beautifully, despite the previous day’s cold, wet, and windy weather.

What first caught my attention though was the fact that the high tide line was up to the edge of the dunes, so high that if a similar super high tide had happened in June, the PiPl nest would have been flooded. Are we experiencing a King Tide I wonder? I have been filming daily at GHB since April and have not previously seen the high water mark quite so high this season. Meteorologists reading this post, please let us know what you think. Google wasn’t much help. Thank you!

The seaweed deposited from last night’s tide shows that the high tide was up to the edge of the dunes in some areas.

With the tide so high, Papa and the chick were not feeding in the wrack line, no insects I imagine. We’ve all seen short little flights, but no sustained flights as of yet. I am not surprised as this coincides with what was recorded last summer filming Plovers.    

Yesterday morning and today were too wet and drizzly to use the good cameras, especially my new (and this time, insured) lens, but I did have my cell phone with. The first shows Little Chick running in average speed, not the top speed in which he is capable. The second, in slo mo. He really is the cutest, a small little bird with a big huge personality 🙂

Little Chick in slo mo #pipingplover #goodharborbeach #gloucestermass

A post shared by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

HAPPY ONE-MONTH-OLD BIRTHDAY MILESTONE TO OUR PIPING PLOVER LITTLE CHICK!


A simply glorious Good Harbor Beach morning on this weekend’s one-month-old Piping Plover milestone! Hatched on the morning of June 22nd, he is officially thirty-one-days old today.

Yesterday morning at daybreak it was warm and windless, and today, very chilly and windy. The chick’s foraging and resting habits reflected the weather. During the warmer morning he spent a great deal of time at the water’s edge feeding hungrily.

Today he was chilled and, within the roped off sanctuary, he tried several times to nestle under Papa. It looked super silly because Little Chick is nearly as big as Papa Plover. Papa rebuffed him and Little Chick found a clump of vegetation to warm under.

Little Chick on the left, looking not so little. Papa standing on one leg to conserve heat.

Papa Plover is an outstanding dad, never too far away, and always keeping a protective eye on Little Chick.

Folks are asking, where is Mama? With some Plovers, the female will leave the family to begin the southward migration, departing earlier than the male and fledglings. The GHB Mama has not been seen in over a week. This was not the case with the PiPl family that I filmed last year; they maintained a family bond through the end of the summer.

The Piping Plovers that migrate along the Atlantic Coast winter primarily from North Carolina to Florida, as well as the Bahamas and West Indies.

A sighting of Little Chick flying about ten feet across the beach has been reported!

Thirty-day-old Piping Plover Chick

 Thirty-one-day old Piping Plover

Good Harbor Beach weekend sunrises

NORTHERN GANNET MYSTERIOUS DIESEASE STRIKES AGAIN

A second Northern Gannet, in little over a week, has come ashore to die on a Cape Ann Beach. Jim Dowd messaged from the Backshore that the Gannet was resting on the rocks and was not walking well.

Heartbreaking to see, the usually majestic Northern Gannet is struggling to survive.

This beautiful Northern Gannet appears to have the same neurological symptoms of the mysterious disease that has caused over one hundred Gannets to wash ashore on Cape Cod beaches. Veterinarians are sending samples of the dead and dying birds to the USDA to see if federal experts can find the cause. A harmful algae bloom (often referred to as Red Tide) is suspect.

The Gannet tried and tried to take flight, but to no avail, wobbling instead and repeatedly tipping over.

The first dying Northern Gannet seen on a Cape Ann beach was shared by Ann Rittenburg. On July 12th, she discovered the bird struggling at Good Harbor Beach. Dianne Corliss, Gloucester’s Animal Control Officer, rescued the seabird. Dianne tried to help, but the Gannet was eventually put to sleep. She warns that the bills of Northern Gannets are extremely powerful. If you come across a Gannet on the beach, do not go near it as they are known to go for the eyes and necks of people. 

What makes the deaths even more troubling is that Northern Gannets are winter migrants through our area, and most months are spent at sea. During the summer season they are typically at their North American breeding grounds, which are six well-established colonies, three in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec, and three in the North Atlantic, off the coast of Newfoundland.

My husband Tom and I saw  these magnificent seabirds from the shores of Provincetown last spring. They were feeding along with the Right Whales. The Northern Gannets soared high above the whales and then plunged straight down with a powerful ferocity. It was dramatic and gorgeous to see. I hope the same illness or Red Tide that is killing the Gannets will not affect whales.

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