The back shore was abuzz this weekend with bird sightings of several interesting species including Redheads, Black-headed Gull, Glaucous Gull, and Arctic Gull. With their round cinnamon-colored heads, this dynamic duo of male Redheads were particularly beautiful in the late afternoon light. Redheads are diving ducks and as you can see in the photos, they are feasting on the vegetation found along our currently unfrozen shores.
Category Archives: Birds
Mute Swans mostly drink freshwater (and a great deal of it) because most of the places that you find swans living at are on freshwater ponds, lakes, rivers, and inlets. However, just above the eyes and under the skin, swans have a gland that enables them to drink saltwater. This gland removes salt from their bloodstream and concentrates it into a solution that is excreted from their nostrils, which the swan can shake its head to clear.
There are a number of good folks in Rockport and Gloucester who keep a watchful eye on our local swans. Thursday I had the joy of meeting Lois and Serena, who have been feeding and observing the swans for over twenty years. They have photos of Mr. Swan (known as Buddy in Rockport) dating from 1998. He was already full grown by then, which makes him at least twenty years old. That is quite extraordinary as most Mute Swans in the wild live on average only to twelve years of age.
My deepest thanks and appreciation to Lois and Serena for the time they took sharing swan stories, the reading material lent, and for their kind and goodhearted nature, especially towards Buddy/Mr. Swan!
As you may or may not have read here on Good Morning Gloucester, I have been filming the swans over the past several years for a film project. If you have a Cape Ann swan story that you would like to share I would love to hear from you. Please contact me at email@example.com. Thank you so much!
Many thanks to Plum Island’s Bob Pete for the Red-tailed Hawk information.
Nine Swans a-Swimming
After checking in with my elbow doctor at Anna Jacques Hospital in Newburyport, I took a drive along the road to Plum Island. I only meant to stay for a few minutes as I was planning to hurry on back to work on current projects but within moments of being there, a gorgeous Red-tailed Hawk was spied circling around. It was too tempting and I desperately wanted to stay longer and photograph and film but turned right around and headed back over the causeway. Halfway across a bevy of some sort of large white avian creature caught my eye–could it be–yes, it was a large flock of swans! They were feeding on the seaweed and seagrass along the Merrimack River shoreline.
Quickly finding a place to park I got out my gear and with a wide swathe of marsh grass dividing me from the swans, I tried to get as close to the water’s edge as possible. There were NINE swans in all, two adults and seven almost year-old swans. So much for getting back quickly. And was I ever pleased with my rule never to leave the house without cameras.
A passing woman from the neighborhood out walking said that this was the first time she had seen the swans at the river’s edge in over two years. For my swan film, footage of one year old swans was needed, and here were seven! Every cloud has a silver lining as I never would have been on Plum Island today if not for elbow injury.
Climate change is complicated but the damage done from rising sea levels is very apparent in our own community. With the inundation of seawater upon freshwater ponds, vernal pools, and wetlands, at risk especially are habitats for fish, shellfish, wildlife, and plants.
Penzance Road, the narrow strip of land that divides Pebble Beach, on the Atlantic side, and freshwater Henry’s Pond on the opposite side, is periodically closed because of storm damage. I don’t recall ever seeing this degree of destruction however, we have lived here for only twenty years. It would be very interesting and much appreciated to learn from any of our readers who have lived through some of the worst blizzards and hurricanes to hit Cape Ann to compare the levels of damage.
I am looking forward to presenting my “Pollinator Garden” program tonight at 7:30 for the North Shore Horticultural Society. The program begins at 7:30 at the American Legion Hall, 14 Church Street, Manchester (behind Town Hall). I hope to see you there!
Male and Female Monarch Butterly Marsh Milkweed
“Following the rhythm of the seasons, celebrated landscape designer Kim Smith presents a stunning slide show and lecture demonstrating 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.”
I am so pleased with my prints from Cape Ann Giclee for the Rocky Neck Art Colony’s upcoming show “For the Birds.” Thank you James and Anna!
Learn the fundamentals of image processing using RAW, Photoshop, and Bridge. Sign up for James’s Saturday Photoshop Class (tomorrow from 10am to 1pm)!
“For the Birds” is opening January 26th. Please join us for the reception on January 31st, Sunday, from 2 to 4 at the Rocky Neck Cultural Center. We hope to see you there.
Ornithophily is the pollination of flowers by birds. Plants pollinated by birds generally have flowers with extra sweet, highly concentrated nectar. The blossoms are typically red or orange and have a long tubular shape, which allows them to hold ample amounts of the sugary sweet nectar. Birds that pollinate flowers, hummingbirds for instance, often have long bills, brushy-tipped tongues, and are light enough to perch on the flower, or display a form of flying called swing hovering, which allows them to drink nectar while suspended mid-air.
Nearly 130 species of North American plants have evolved ornithophilous associations. Bee balm, salvia, and native honeysuckle are examples of plants that are pollinated by both insects and birds.
THE POLLINATOR GARDEN ~ Please join me Tuesday, January 26th at 7:30 pm at the North Shore Horticultural Society, American Legion Hall, 14 Church Street in Manchester.
I hope to see you there!
Photo: Male Allen’s Hummingbird and Aloe Blossom
I am very excited to be giving this new talk “Beautiful Birds of Cape Ann,” which was created to celebrate the Rocky Neck Art Colony’s upcoming exhibit “For the Birds,” opening on January 28th. Please join me for the exhibit’s opening and for the talk. I hope to see you there!
I am sorry to report that there have been no recent sightings of Mr. Swan’s girlfriend.
Today at 9:30am while out doing errands, I stopped by Niles Pond to see if I could find my brand new glove, which was lost the morning previously. That Monday, the day after the weekend storm, the mergansers had moved overnight to Niles Pond to escape the wind and waves on the harbor and I had captured footage of Mr. Swan with the Red-breasted Mergansers. Last I saw him, he was alone and circling the pond, plaintively calling.
Just as I got to the spot where filming yesterday I looked up and flying overhead were not one, but two swans! They were flying towards Brace Cove. I hurried back to my car to get cameras, checking all the while to see if the pair would stay at Niles or continue up the coast. They circled back around Niles before landing on the far side of the pond. The large pure white male looks like Mr. Swan and his girlfriend appears to be much younger as she is comparatively smaller and still has some brownish-gray cygnet feathers.
I immediately called my friend Lyn to let her know about the swan pair swimming at her end of the pond. There was a large patch of ice that prevented the swans from coming closer to where she was calling them from shore but we did have a good long look and we both agree it could very well be Mr. Swan (Lyn calls him Poppa Swan and in Rockport he’s known as Buddy).
The pair of swans stayed, feeding on pond vegetation and moving slowly through the icy waters. Swans use their powerful breast muscles in a lifting and lurching movement to break up ice. It takes a great amount of effort to cut a path through the ice and Mr. Swan is much more adept at ice breaking than is his new girlfriend.
By a swan’s second summer (in other words two years of age) it will have lost all the characteristics of an immature. The brown feathers are gradually replaced with the white feathers. The last thing to visibly change is the color of the swan’s bill. A cygnet’s bill is blue/grey changing over the two year period to pinkish and then orange. Swans can breed as early as two years of age although most don’t begin until three years.
I can’t saw with 100 percent certainty that this is Mr. Swan because I didn’t get a close look at the distinguishing marks on his bill however, all signs point in this direction.
Note the young swan’s brownish feathers and greyish-pink bill (left). This tells us that she is not quite two years of age.
Not really, although it is wonderful to see a flock of so many. Red-breasted Mergansers are a diving duck found readily on our shores. They are funny to watch as they seem to get into spats and chase each other around. I read that a group can sometimes appear to be cooperatively hunting. They will line up and drive schools of small fish into shallow water and scoop the fish up without having to dive, which seems precisely what they were doing when I took these photos.
Feeding amongst the mergansers, a pair of Horned Grebes, a Common Loon, and a Common Goldeneye can all be seen, although both these “commoners” don’t seem at all common to me.
SEE PHOTOS OF COMMON GOLDENEYE, HORNED GREBE, AND COMMON LOON HERE
As our local ponds begin to freeze, look for diving ducks along the sea’s edge. They are hunting for mollusks, crustaceans, snails, shrimp, and other small creatures.
Niles Pond Canvasback Duck with Male and Female Ring-necked Ducks
I haven’t seen the Canvasback or Ring-necked Ducks since Niles Pond started to freeze on Monday. Only partially frozen in some areas and with the warmer weekend temperatures predicted, I hope they’ll return soon!
Interesting short video of eiders diving for mollusks in the Arctic ~
Norman Smith, Director of Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton, has been relocating snowy owls from Logan Airport for 35 years. He does this for the safety of both the owls and planes that use the airspace.
On Wednesday, December 30, Smith brought an adult female snowy owl he had safely removed at Logan to Sandy Neck Beach in Barnstable and released it back into the wild. This owl was one of 15 Smith has removed from the airport this year. Before she was released, Smith attached a a new G3 solar transmitter, which will track her movements. The transmitter was provided by Project SNOWstorm, who collaborates with Trailside’s snowy owl research.
The Cape Cod Times was there to capture the release on video. Read more about Norman Smith and the Snowy Owl Project here. From the Mass Audubon website.
The Rocky Neck Art Colony kicks off the 2016 exhibition season with an extraordinary six-week exhibition and fundraising event at the RNAC’s Cultural Center at Rocky Neck. Juried by Amy Montague, the Director of the Museum of American Bird Art at Mass Audubon, in Canton MA, the exhibition “For The Birds” features multi-media avian art. The public is invited to a reception on Sunday, January 31 at 2-4 PM. Save the dates for a talk on the life and art of John J. Audubon by noted local author Chris Leahy, Bertrand Chair of Field Ornithology at Mass Audubon, at the Cultural Center on Thursday, February 11 at 7:00 PM, a talk about the Birds of Cape Ann by local photographer and filmmaker Kim Smith, and “The Artful Birdhouse,” an auction of original, artist-created birdhouses on Sunday February 21, beginning at 1:00 PM. A raffle of a basket full of birding-related items concludes the events with a drawing of the winning ticket on Sunday, March 6 at 2:00 PM. A portion of all events proceeds will support Mass Audubon’s mission to protect the flora and fauna of Massachusetts.
Concurrent with RNAC’s “For The Birds” exhibition, The Trident Gallery, Director Matthew Swift, presents “Nest” its third annual exhibition in partnership with Mass Audubon’s Museum of American Bird Art offering artworks from the Museum’s collection. Exhibition dates: January 30 – March 6, 2016.
The songs, vivid colors and enormous variety of bird species attracted to Cape Ann’s coastal waters, marshes, and waterways often bring with them both birding enthusiasts and artists, each drawn by their vibrant visual appeal. Come to The Cultural Center at Rocky Neck to view the aesthetic heights their wildly patterned beauty has inspired in the work of New England artists’ multi-media offerings in painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, assemblage, and more.
This spectacular melding of the avian and the artistic is juried by Amy Montague, Director of the Museum of Bird Art at Mass Audubon, the only museum dedicated to art inspired by the beauty, science and wonder of birds. In her 23 years at Mass Audubon, Ms. Montague has stewarded and grown the organization’s broad and eclectic art collection that embraces fine art, folk art, sporting art, illustration, and more. She has curated more than thirty exhibitions exploring the intersection of art and nature focusing on artists as varied as John James Audubon and Andy Warhol. She has twice been a juror for the internationally renowned “Birds in Art” exhibition at the Woodson Art Museum in Wisconsin.
The Artful Birdhouse Auction: Sunday, February 21. Preview 1-2PM, Live Auction at 2:15 PM. The Cultural Center at Rocky Neck, 6 Wonson Street, Gloucester MA. Engaging the charm and appeal of birdhouses as a foundation, the imagination of friends and members of the Rocky Neck Art Colony will soar in creating whimsical, modern, traditional, fantasy and completely unexpected “artful” birdhouses. The following artists have donated their time and talents for an auction of their birdhouse creations in support of Mass Audubon and in conjunction with the “For The Birds” art exhibit at The Cultural Center. Promoting the Auction, early bird creators will have the opportunity to display their works at several venues in and around Gloucester.
Artists participating in the auction event are Kathy Gerdon Archer, Deborah Barnwell, Carol Mansur Benesh, Lisa Carlson, Joy Dai Buell, Elizabeth Gauthier, Rachel Gauthier, Joy Halsted, Jane Keddy, Mindy Lind-terk, Ron MacNeill, Tom Nihan, Sinikka Nogello, Christy Park, Hans Pundt, Kenny Riaf, Karen Ristuben, Sally Seamans, Pam Stratton, Karen Tibbetts, and Karen Tusinski among others.
“For the Birds” A Juried Exhibition of Avian Related Art, January 28 to March 6, 2016, Opening Reception: Sunday, January 31, 2–4 PM.
John J. Audubon: The Man and His Art, A talk by Chris Leahy, Bertrand Chair of Field Ornithology at Mass Audubon, Thursday, February 11, 7 PM.
Birds of Cape Ann, Talk,photos, and short films by local filmmaker and photographer Kim Smith, Thursday, February 18th, at 7PM.
The Artful Birdhouse: An auction of artist-created birdhouses, Sunday, February 21, Preview: 1-2 PM, Live Auction at 2:15 PM.
Raffle Drawing for a basket of birding related items, Sunday, March 6 at 2 PM
The Cultural Center Gallery
6 Wonson Street, Gloucester, MA 01930 Gallery hours: Thurs-Sun, 12:00-4:00 PM
Bonaparte’s Gulls Preening Lighthouse Beach
Last week a reader wrote asking how to tell the difference between Buffleheads and Common Eiders. Both males of the species are black and white and both frequent our shores during the winter months. The easiest difference is that the Eiders are much larger, about 25 to 27 inches, while Buffleheads are about half the size of an Eider, only measuring 11-15 inches in length. Common Eiders are the largest diving duck in North America; the Bufflehead the smallest diving duck.
Male and Female (right) Buffleheads
Buffleheads are sprightly and butterball shaped. From a distance the male Bufflehead looks striking, appearing black and white. Up close, the head feathers are a stunning iridescent purple and green. Both Eiders and Buffleheads can be seen feeding all along the Massachusetts coastline during the winter months. Buffleheads inhabit fresh water ponds and salt water whereas Common Eiders are sea ducks. During the summer breeding season, Common Eiders are found across Alaska and Canada all the way south to our region, whereas Buffleheads breed in the boreal forests and aspen parklands of Canada and Alaska.
I am sure you’ve heard of eiderdown pillows and quilts. The eiderdown, plucked from the female’s breast to line the nest, can be collected sustainably and safely after the ducklings leave the nest. Eiderdown has been largely replaced by down from farm raised geese.