Category Archives: Birds

PRETTY BLUE CATBIRD EGG

Gray Catbird holly tree copyright Kim SmithMew, mew, mew coming from the trees overhead–my husband asks–“Are those catbirds making that dying cat sound.” Yes, honey, and we’re going to be hearing a great deal more of that cat call with this sweet Gray Catbird nest!

Discovered amidst the holly bush branches while giving the shrub a good pruning, the female was seen building the nest, with her mate supplying bits of straw and twigs for the nesting materials. The Gray Catbird is a frequent visitor to gardens. I swear, the day we planted blueberry bushes is the day the Catbirds began to call our garden their home. If you want Catbirds nesting in your garden, plant the foods they love, which include shadbush, holy, winterberry, and both high and low bush blueberries. And too if we don’t have any fruit ripening in the garden, I’ll place a bowl out on a table with berries from our frig (chopped into small bits), not only attracting Catbirds, but also Cardinals, Robins, and many of our other fine feathered friends.

Gray Catbird egg nest copyright Kim SmithOne pretty blue Catbird egg–on average, the female will lay four. Hopefully more are yet to come.

Gray Catbird copyright Kim Smith

BREAKING: PAIR OF SWANS AT NILES AND HENRY’S PONDS!!

Pair Cape Ann Swans third year swans copyright Kim SmithA pair of swans was spotted at Niles Pond this morning by my friend Lyn. I stopped by the Pond at 8:15 to have a look. They were on the far side of Niles, getting ready to take off and was only able to take a few quick photos. The pair flew overhead in the direction of Henry’s Pond. After doing the podcast with Joey and the wonderful Gloucester Stage Company cast, I raced over to Henry’s. In the meantime, the two had returned to Niles, but were chased away by our Mr. Swan. As I arrived at Henry’s they flew in!

Cape Ann Swans copyright Kim SmithThe pair appear to be in their third year. This is evident by the patches of brown feathers and dullish pink bills, although the bill of the larger of the two is gaining a more coral-orange hue. Third year swan copyright Kim Smith copyNote both have black eyes, unlike our rare and beautiful blue-eyed swan. I am hopeful that Mr. Swan will find a new mate and if we are fortunate, this newly arrived on the scene pair will decide to make Cape Ann their home too!Pair Cape Ann Swans copyright Kim SmithIf you catch sight of swans at any of our area ponds or in the harbor, please write in and let me know. Thank you so much!

FIRST LOOK BEAUTIFUL GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS!

PIPING PLOVERS RUNNING 2 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITHNot shy in the least, the four Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers spent the early part of the morning running and feeding along the shoreline, bathing in the tidal flats, and ferociously defending their territory against other avian intruders. A jogger ran past the one preening at the water’s edge–he was quite close–but that did not seem to alarm the Plover. They are diminutive little creatures, about six to seven inches in length, and show mostly white feathers when flying overhead.

PIPING PLOVERS -Eating 4 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

Breakfast – Piping Plovers eat insects and small invertebrates

One Piping Plover seemed to be testing different sites to nest, momentarily hunkering down, then leaving the spot, and then returning a few moments later to vigorously dig a deeper depression in the sand, before then flying away.

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING -5 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITHTesting the depression

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING 2 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

Leaving the possible nesting site

PIPING PLOVERS -5 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

Returning to the depression

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING -3 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING -4 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

Digging in!

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

The roped off area appears to be a terrific solution in helping to protect the possible nesting sites. Visitors to Good Harbor Beach this morning were very mindful about respecting the boundary. And there was not a single dog in sight, off leash or otherwise. The Plovers flew in and out of the restricted area, as did Killdeers and several other species of shore birds.

KILLDEER GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITHA Killdeer feeding near the Piping Plovers. The Killdeers, also members of the Charadadriidae, are slightly larger and a much darker brown than the Piping Plovers.

PIPING PLOVERS GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER -1 COPYRIGHT KIM SMITHPIPING PLOVERS PREENING GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITHPreening

Piping Plovers at Good Harbor Beach – Fenced Off Area

For Immediate Release from Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken

Public Works in conjunction with our local Conservation Commission, MA Dept of Wildlife and Fisheries and Mass Audubon have been following the activities of Piping Plovers on Good Harbor Beach for the past 4 weeks. The birds have shown signs of nesting activities in this area.

On a recommendation of the state we have fenced off an area approximately 200 feet by 200 feet – southwest of board walk number 3. This area starts at the base of the dunes and extends to the high tide rack or water line. This area is to be off llimits to all humans as well as any domestic pets. These birds are listed under the State and Federal Endangered Species Acts and are granted special protection.

We will continue to work with all agencies to provide the support they need to let nature take its course. We ask for the support of the general public to adhere to the regulations set forth. Any questions should be directed to the Department of Recreation and Conservation (DCR) and/or Mass Audubon.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

 

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A little background information from Dave Rimmer, Director of Land Stewardship Greenbelt

There are clearly at least 2 pairs of Piping Plovers scoping out the upper beach for nesting. But no nests with eggs yet. Someone will get back to check the site Mon/Tue next week. If we find a nest that will trigger the following:
  • The nest site will be surrounded by a single strand fence with a few signs staying it is a RESTRICTED AREA. Usually on beaches like GHB, we try to keep this fencing to a minimum, but if it appears the birds are still being disturbed after the fence is in place, it may need to be expanded to provide an additional buffer.
  • Information will be provided to help beach staff understand Piping Plovers so they can communicate on some level why the area has restricted access.
Piping Plover Quick Facts:
  • they are a shorebird that is on the US Endangers Species List as a threatened species
  • they nest right on the sand, laying 4 light brown speckled eggs.
  • it takes them about 4 weeks to incubate and hatch the eggs.
  • Chicks are precocious and leave the nest immediately to begin foraging on the own for food. They may stay within fenced area for first day or so but eventually they will wander beyond the fence either along the high beach or down to the waters edge. They are extremely vulnerable during this time, so beach scraping may need to be curtailed. In addition, ATVs driving on the beach will need to be extremely careful.
  • chick fledge (fly) in about 25 days
  • So total time from egg laying to chicks fledging is about 8 weeks.
As I mentioned, the US Fish and Wildlife Service administers the US Endangered Species Act and enforce laws related to the “take” of listed species, inadvertent or deliberate. So during the chick phase, a high level of sensitivity it required.
It means you have a healthy well managed beach if you are attracting Piping Plovers. That’s the good news. Having Piping Plovers nesting on any beach requires some change, which I can be challenging. Drew and I (and Erik Amati from MADFW) stand at the ready to help in any way we can to make this work. If we find a nest next week we will let you know immediately. And from there, we just need to figure it out. Every beach is different.
Ken – Let’s coordinate your efforts. It will be a big help for you to go to the site from time to time to monitor Piping Plover activity.
Thanks all,
Dave
Dave Rimmer
Director of Land Stewardship
Greenbelt | Essex County’s Land Trust
82 Eastern Avenue
Essex, MA 01929
dwr@ecga.org
(978) 768-7241 x14

 

RARE AND ENDANGERED PIPING PLOVERS AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH

Yet another bird that was nearly hunted to extinction for its beautiful feathers, as of 2012 when the most recent study was concluded, there were only 3,600 breeding Piping Plovers along the Atlantic Coast.

piping-plover-on-nestPiping Plover’s are a softy colored, mostly tan and white, pint-sized shorebird and like their nests and eggs, exquisitely camouflage with colors of sand and pebbles. This also makes them highly vulnerable to disturbances by humans; even if when people are trying to avoid their nesting sites, it is very easy to unwittingly crush eggs and chicks.

Piping Plovers have been observed on Good Harbor Beach this spring and could quite possibly nest here. The Gloucester DPW, working in conjunction with the Conservation Commission, MA Department of Wildlife, and Mass Audubon have cordoned off a roughly 200 feet by 200 feet area between the GHB bridge and boardwalk number three (the large rock that was exposed several storms ago lies within the area).

This area of the beach may be closed off for as long as eight weeks, possibly longer. If the nest is disturbed, the Piping Plovers will abandon the first and create a new nest, which will extend the time of beach closure.

It is to everyone’s benefit, plover and people alike, to heed the signs and to please keep dogs on leash at all times.

Are dogs allowed on the beach at this time of year?

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You can see from the photos of different Piping Plover nests from several regions of the country how perfectly the pebble-lined nests and babies meld with their surroundings–a good thing to keep them safe from predators, but not such a good plan for nests in well-trafficked areas.

The male selects the nesting site, defending it from other males. He scrapes a nest in the sand and both the male and female toss stones and bits of shell into the depression. Both the male and female incubate the eggs. It takes about 25 days to incubate the eggs and another three to four weeks for the chicks to fledge.

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Like the Killdeer, Piping Plovers cleverly display a broken wing, a trick designed to distract predators from their nests and babies. Both Killdeers and Piping Plovers are in the same family, Charadriidae. The Piping Plover’s scientific name, Charadrius melodus, and common name, comes from its lovely melodic piping bird song.

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ALL IMAGES EXCEPT THE LAST TWO, COURTESY GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH

DEAD TURKEY IN A COYOTE LAIR

Turkey feathers wild copyright Kim SmithAll that remained of this turkey found in a coyote lair were its beautiful flight feathers. The kill was so fresh, clumps of flesh around the quills were still red with blood.

A bunch of these zebra striped turkey feathers in a vase I thought might be attractive. And too perhaps our neighborhood kids may like some to make quill pens with. Knowing that bird feathers are rife with parasites and lice, rather than picking them up with bare hands, I went home and got a large plastic bag and secured that tightly around the collected feathers. The feathers were kept in the freezer for over a week. Next step is to store the feathers at the ambient air temperature for another week to allow eggs of any remaining parasites and lice to hatch. After the week in fresh air, they will be placed back in the freezer for another week. Feathers that are dirty will be washed very gently in mild soapy water. The quill ends will need to be soaked in a light bleach and water solution to sterilize and remove residual clumps of turkey skin.

Interestingly, while looking up how to make quill pens, I learned that the word pen comes from the Latin word penna, which means feather.

MASS AUDUBON TEN POUND ISLAND STUDY REPORT

Ten Pound Island Gloucester -3kimsmithdesigns.comMASS AUDUBON

28 April 2016

Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken

City of Gloucester

9 Dale Avenue Gloucester, MA 01930

Re: Ten Pound Island

Mayor Romeo Theken,

At your invitation, Mass Audubon staff members Jeff Collins, Chris Leahy, and I visited Ten Pound Island on April 8th with assistance from your harbormaster staff. Jeff is our Director of Ecological Management, Chris holds the Gerard Bertrand Chair of Ornithology and Natural History and is a Gloucester resident. I direct our Ecological Extension Service through which we offer technical assistance to conservation partners such as municipalities and land trusts.

We spent approximately one hour exploring the island, conducting a very brief plant and wildlife inventory, and discussing ways that we could assist the City in evaluating potential uses of the island including wildlife habitat enhancements and improvements to permit greater public access. Our immediate takeaways were as follows:

 The island appears to serve as nesting habitat for several bird species including Black-crowned Night Heron, Herring Gull, and Common Eider. Other heron species have also been observed investigating the island during the pre-breeding period. Ten Pound is part of a constellation of North Shore rocky islands that provide critical nesting habitat for a number of bird species that have evolved to use the historically predator-free setting.

 Norway Rats, a non-native invasive species, appear to be present on the island, based on presence of burrows. Rats are egg predators and can severely reduce reproductive success of a bird nesting colony.

 While non-native species are the dominant plants, the vegetation structure is representative of other rocky islands with a few trees of medium height, dense shrubby areas, and some open areas of low ground cover and grasses, all ringed by bare rock.

 There is currently no improved access to the island, in either the form of a protected landing or a distinct trail.

 Unmanaged human access and any dog presence during bird nesting season would have a very negative impact on breeding success of the nesting birds.

 Wildlife habitat could be dramatically improved with an effort to reduce invasive plant species and eradicate the rat population.

 We observed no endangered or threatened plant, animal or bird species during our visit.

 Any improved public a access to the island should be strictly managed to protect wildlife habitat.

 Under appropriate management and professional interpretation, the educational and passive recreational value of the island could conceivably be enhanced, while protecting the natural resources it contains.

Additional Detail: No active Common Eider nests were seen, but old nest bowls and one predated egg from a previous nesting year was observed. Three Black-crowned Night Herons were seen including one nest that appeared to be active. Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls were present, but no evidence of their nesting on the island was observed. Our visit was early in the breeding season, and birds may be setting up nests now or in coming weeks.

READ MORE HERE Read more

SHADBLOW, SHADBUSH, CHUCKLEBERRY TREE, SERVICEBERRY, JUNEBERRY…

Shadblow Red-winged Blackbird Atlantic Coastal Plain copyright Kim Smith

Shadblow blooming with Red-winged Blackbird coming in for a landingYellow Warbler Shadblow Amelanchier copyright Kim Smith

Male Yellow Warbler hopping through the Shadblow branches eating small insects

Shadbow, Shadbush, Chuckleberry Tree, Serviceberry, and Juneberry are just a few of the descriptive names given the beautiful Shadblow tree lighting up our marsh and woodland edges. With lacey white flowers, Shadblow (Amelanchier canadensis) is one of the first of the natives to bloom in spring, growing all along the Atlantic coastal plains.

A fantastic tree for the wild garden, over 26 species of songbirds and mammals, large and small, are documented dining on the fruits of Shadblow (including bears). The small blue fruits are delicious, though rarely consumed by people because wildlife are usually first at the table. The foliage of Shadblow is a caterpillar food plant for the Red Admiral Butterfly. Look for her eggs on the upper surface at the tip of the leaf.

Dew drops and Shadblow -2 c Kim Smith

Shadblow in bud  at the water’s edge with dewdrop necklace

Fruiting in June at the same time of year as the annual spawning migration of shad, is how the names Shadblow and Juneberry came about. The common name Serviceberry is derived from the flower clusters gathered for use in church services.

Shadblow reeds Atlantic coastal plain copyright Kim SmithShadblow in bloom Loblolly Cove

The Shadblow and reeds create a beautiful symbiotic habitat for the blackbirds, Grackles and Red-wings, especially. Reeds of cattails and phragmites make ideal nesting material and sites, and come June, above the nesting area, a songbird feast of Shadblow berries ripens.

Common Grackle males copyright Kim SmithCommon Grackle nesting copyright Kim SmithMale Common Grackles nest building in reeds

Female Red-winged Blackbird copyright Kim SmitrhFemale Red-winged Blackbird perched on cattail while collecting fluff for her nest and calling to her mate.

Shadblow moonlight copyright Kim SmithAmelanchier in the moonlight

PRETTIEST ROBIN’S NEST (and crabapple, too)!

Robin's Nest copyright Kim SmithThis beautiful Robin’s nest is located at the lovely home of the Del Vecchio family. Daughter Clara noticed that a sprig of lavender was used in nest building so they left out some colorful bits of yarn. The Robins built the nest atop a rolled up rug that was left standing beside their well-trafficked front door. Mama Robin doesn’t seem to mind a bit the constant comings and goings of the household. I’ve seen robins build nests in some crazy places, but this has to take the cake!

Thank you to Michele for allowing me to come and film what has to be the world’s most charming Robin’s nest!

Update on the Robin’s nest: Sadly, Michele reports that the nest was knocked over and the eggs have been scavenged. In our region, Robins typically have several broods and often use the same nest, so perhaps the nest can become reestablished.

pink flowering crabapple tree copyright Kim SmithDel Vecchio’s crabapple in full glorious bloom! 

Crabapple blossoms

TURKEY ON THE RUN!

What a delightful surprise to see this young turkey in our hood. I imagine they are ubiquitous, but it’s only the second time that I know of that they have been seen perusing Plum Street. My husband thinks she slept in our garden the previous night. Wild turkey Gloucester Massachusetts Meleagris gallopavo c Kim Smith

Hungry, fearful, and on the run, she didn’t stay very long.

Wild turkey Gloucester Massachusetts Meleagris gallopavo -2 c Kim Smith

BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL GOOD HARBOR BEACH

Scenes from this morning’s Good Harbor Beach sunrise.

Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Sunrise Kim Smith

Pink and violet hues when I arrived at 5:15 quickly gave way to reds and yellow, and then the looming gray mass of clouds overtook the sky.

Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Sunrise -2 Kim SmithGood Harbor Beach Gloucester Sunrise -3 Kim SmithBeauty abounds–from the grandest skies to the smallest creatures–that’s life at the edge of the sea.

Sparrow Gloucester Massachusetts Kim SmithThis fearless little Song Sparrow ate breakfast at my feet

Red-winged Blackbird Gloucester Massachusetts Kim SmithMorning songster

Kildeer Gloucester Massachusetts Kim SmithKildeer trying her hardest to distract me from her nest

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