Category Archives: Birds

MINNOW HULLABALOO

What is happening here? A hungry swim of cormorants have pushed a stream of bait fish towards the shallow shore waters. The minnows are met by equally as hungry Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets waiting on the rocks. I’ve watched many egrets eat prey and they often toss it about in the air for half a minute before swallowing whole, I think to line it up so the fish or frog goes straight down its gullet. At that very moment when the egrets are adjusting their catch, the gulls swoop in and try to snatch the minnows from the egrets. This scene was filmed at Niles Beach. My friend Nancy shares that she has observed the egret  and cormorant symbiotic feeding partnership many mornings over by where she lives on the Annisquam River.

HUMMINGBIRDS CONNECTING ROCKPORT MASSACHUSETTS TO ROCKPORT TEXAS

Rockport, Texas resident Rhonda Cantu shares her Ruby-throated Hummingbird video with Good Morning Gloucester readers. The clip was taken one month after Hurricane Harvey devastated her community. Hurricane Harvey wiped out all of their trees and plants. Robin received donations of sugar, water, and feeder poles from Wildbirds Unlimited to help keep the hummers fed.

We wish Rhonda, Rockport Texas residents, and all the victims of the three horrendous hurricanes of 2017 best wishes in their continued recovery.

 

EYE TO EYE WITH A BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON

I so love chance encounters with wild creatures and this young Black-crowned Night heron did not disappoint. He stayed close to the rocky embankment, stealthily foraging for small shrimp in the dark crevices at mid-tide. The youngster did not seem to mind my presence; after a bit of time passed I walked away and when I returned he continued to steadily fish.

Scratching, preening, wing-stretches, and standing on one leg.

Eventually stopping to preen, stand on one leg, and then, walking aways from where he was feeding–how do I say this politely–took a huge enormous poop. Off he then flew to the marsh with a signature quark.

Black-crowned Nigh Herons are making a comeback in our region for several reasons, most notably because the pesticide DDT was banned and because the quality of our water has improved. During the 1950s, folks who did not care for midnight quarks coming from Black-crowned Night Heron nests either shot them dead out of trees or dynamited the rookeries.

This past spring there were the most Black-crowned Night Herons I have ever seen in one tree at Niles Pond. If I recall correctly, there were nine in all! 

Mature Black-crowned Night Heron, Niles Pond

The Black-crowned Night Herons proper name (Nycticorax nycticorax) translated from Ancient Greek is Night Raven, suggesting its nocturnal feeding habits. I like to refer to them as the onomatopoeic Quarky birds and unknown to me, until I began writing this post, in the Falkland Islands, the bird is called Quark.

Off to the marsh.

COYOTE CLAN

Stopping on my way home from a job site in Boston late this afternoon, I met up with a beautiful immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron. While photographing and filming, out from the woods appeared a pack of coyotes, two youngsters and two adults, I think. Then the heron that I was filming flew low and toward the coyotes; please don’t do that I said to nobody but myself. Up he then flew into the trees above and you can see one of the adult coyotes looking up toward the heron.

The canids took a few sips of water from the pond’s edge before stealing back into the brush. A few seconds later there was a series of loud growling and yelping. I was tired and shaky from a long day with no lunch, a little spooked that the coyotes were so close and didn’t wait to see what would happen next.  With both cameras in hand, I did manage to film the scene (and record audio of the ferocious growling!) and here are a few snapshots.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Immature

YIKES! HOMIE SWALLOWS A WHOLE LOBSTER

Photographing shorebirds early today and this Homie arrives on the scene, loudly announcing his catch. Before I could turn on my movie camera, he swallowed the whole lobster, in one big gulp! You could see the sharp edges of the lobster as it went down his gullet. I predict a Homie with a tummy ache.

The tremendous variety of seaweed currently covering Pebble Beach captures a wealth of sustenance for migrating shorebirds (and Homies).

Sanderlings, Sandpipers, Semiplamated Plovers, and one Snowy Egret at Pebble Beach today, September 12, 2017.

HOW DO HURRICANES AFFECT MIGRATING SHOREBIRDS LIKE LITTLE CHICK?

We can hope our Little Chick is taking his time migrating southward. Perhaps he has traveled only as far as Cape May, New Jersey, or maybe he has already migrated as far as Cape Lookout, North Carolina. Migrating shorebirds often travel shortly after a low pressure system and hurricanes are a part of the environment to which wildlife like Piping Plovers have adapted. However, no wildlife has in the recorded history of the world had to cope with a storm the magnitude of Hurricane Irma.

Piping Plover foraging, building fat reserves for the southward migration. The above PiPl was one of four of a small flock traveling in Gloucester, spotted on August 24, 2017.

Extraordinary weather events can push endangered species over the brink. High winds, storm surges, and wave action destroys coastal habitats and flooding decreases water salinity. Songbirds and shorebirds are blown far off course away from their home habitats, especially young birds. A great deal of energy is expended battling the winds and trying to return to course. Songbirds have it a little easier because their toes will automatically tighten around a perch but seabirds and shorebirds are the most exposed.

Shorebirds like Piping Plovers feet have evolved to run over sand easily and do not grip well with their toes.

Numerous Piping Plovers winter over in the low-lying Joulter Cays, a group of sandy islands in the Bahamas, and one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Irma. Perhaps migrating PiPl sensed the pending hurricane and held off before crossing the Atlantic to reach the Bahamas and other Caribbean Islands. The flock of nine PiPl in the above photo were seen last year at the end of August in Gloucester (August 29, 2016.)

One famous shorebird, a Whimbrel named Machi, who was wearing a tracking device, became caught up in the eye of a powerful storm but made it through to the other side of the storm. Tragically, he was subsequently shot dead in Guadeloupe. Many migrating birds like Whimbrels know to avoid places like Guadeloupe where unbridled shorebird hunting is allowed, but Machi had no power over where he made landfall. Sea turtles too are severely affected by the loss of barrier beaches. Staggering loss of life has been recorded after recent powerful hurricanes–fish, dolphins, whales, manatees, baby crab and lobster estuaries, insects, small mammals, all manner of birds–the list is nearly as long as there are species, and nothing is spared.

A pair of Whimbrels at Brace Cove in July 2015

If you see rare or an unusual bird after a storm or hurricane, please let us know and we can contact the appropriate wildlife official.

THANKS TO KEN WHITTAKER AND GLOUCESTER’S PIPING PLOVER VOLUNTEER TEAM

A huge thank you once again to our city’s conservation agent Ken Whittaker and the amazing team of Piping Plover volunteers who, with their kind dedication, helped one little chick survive Gloucester’s busiest of beaches.

Ken met recently with some of the volunteers, to review ideas and suggestions for next year, and to give volunteers thanks, as well as the fun caps pictured above. Left to right; Chris,  Ken, Carol, and Hazel.

Little Piping Plover Chick Three Days Old

FLEDGLING STEALS PAPA’S BREAKFAST

Papa Cardinal enjoying his breakfast in peace.

“Rats, is that Pesky Pants I hear coming?”

Junior swoops in and swipes Dad’s blueberry.

“That was delish! You snooze, you lose Pops.”

Papa Cardinal first on the scene #songbird #cardinals #gloucesterma

A post shared by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

MR. SWAN AND THE “NEW GIRL” UPDATE

First off, I have to say, we don’t know if the new swan is a male or female. We are all hoping she is a female, for obvious reasons, and too because as the swan gets older, if a male, Mr. Swan will most likely chase a “him” off the pond.

The young swan paddles back and forth on the far side of the pond, along the reeded edge.

Lyn Fonzo, Niles Pond resident, shares that the young swan is becoming increasingly tolerant of Mr. Swan, although she is still extremely shy and skittish. When Lyn feeds the swans in the morning, they are feeding adjacent to each other, which is a huge improvement from only a few days ago when she refused to come out from amongst the reeds.

Mr. Swan and His Coterie of Quakers

DAY TWO FOR THE RESCUE SWAN

Our Niles Pond rescue swan has survived her second night! She is still not venturing far from the reeds. Mr. Swan is definitely aware of her presence but is playing coy and for the most part, ignoring her. The good news, or great news I should say, is that he is not chasing and threatening her.

New Swan is continuing to feed on pond vegetation. I didn’t get a glimpse of her until around 11am when the light was very harsh, but here she is at the pond’s edge, photo bombed by a stealthy Green Heron.

BREAKING: A NEW COMPANION FOR MR. SWAN (HOPEFULLY!)

Cape Ann’s wildlife rehabilitation expert Jodi Swenson released a Mute Swan fledgling Saturday at Niles Pond. Jodi worked with Eastern Point resident Lyn Fonzo, where they set the young swan free from Lyn’s beach access to the pond’s edge. Lyn reports that the fledgling immediately headed to the reeds. Niles Pond is dense in vegetation, most notably at this time of year, and almost immediately, it was difficult to see her hiding, although easy to hear, as she moved through the phragmites and cattails.

Jodi, from Cape Ann Wildlife, shares that the Mute Swan baby has been in her care for several months. The cygnet came from Tufts and she/he appears to be about four months. Jodi raised the swan purposefully with minimal human contact so that the animal would remain wild. The now fledgling is very, very shy of humans, so please be respectful while the swan is becoming acclimated to her new environment. Cape Ann’s Mr. Swan is at least 27 years old and it is everyone’s greatest hope that he will “adopt” the new one, perhaps guiding her to maturity.

The above photo, although out of focus, is included here to show that the young one is foraging for food on her own. Look closely and you can see the pond vegetation dangling from her mouth. This is a great sign, that she can feed herself!!

Please visit Jodi’s website, Cape Ann Wildlife, Inc. I am sure we can all imagine how costly and time consuming it is to rehabilitate orphaned and injured wildlife. If so inclined, please think about making a tax deductible donation. Our deepest thanks and appreciation to Jodi for all the care and love she gives to Cape Ann’s most vulnerable animals. Until recently, Jodi was Cape Ann’s only wildlife rehabilitator. Jodi would like to give a shout out to Erinn Whitmore, who has been working with Jodi for many years, and who recently earned her state wildlife rehabilitator’s license. Erinn has founded GROWL: Gloucester Rehabilitation of Orphaned Wild Life, and will be specializing in caring for small mammals.

FRIENDS OF LITTLE CHICK UPDATE

Piping Plover Flight Dance

Eclipse Day was a dream day filming wildlife on Cape Ann. I did the usual early morning stops at my “migrations stations,” but because I had taken the afternoon off to see the eclipse, I got to film in the afternoon, too, which I don’t often get a chance to do. First stop was Good Harbor Beach to see a beautiful subdued and rosy-hued sunrise.

The Tree Swallows were everywhere, in dunes, on the beaches, lined up on telephone lines, in meadows, and marsh. I filmed and photographed that hullabaloo for a bit, along with a dozen other species of migrating shorebirds and songbirds; there are simply too many images for one post. I’ll share these migration photos in the upcoming days.

Tree Swallows Biting and Fighting

The most wonderful of all was coming upon a tiny flock of Piping Plovers. Initially I thought only two, then a third joined the scene, and then a fourth!

One was definitely a juvenile, about the same age as would be our Little Chick. The PiPl were bathing, grooming, and foraging in the intertidal zone while also being dive-bombed by the Tree Swallows. This is behavior that I filmed last year as well. Tree swallows, although beautiful, are the fightenist little tuffies you’ll ever see. They’ll fly straight at other birds, biting one of their own kind, Barn Swallows, and plovers alike.

PiPl bath time

The PiPl that looked just like Little Chick also did the funny flight take-off dance that we all observed of LC. He flew around in a circle, backwards and forwards, spreading and unspreading his wings, and hopping up and down. It’s very comical and I can’t wait to share the film footage and storybook. Anyway, the little traveler I encountered on Eclipse Day was doing the PiPlover flight jig for an extended period of time.

Doing the Jig!

I stayed to watch the Plovers for a bit longer and then finished walking the length of the beach. On my return walk I was surprised from a quiet reverie to hear a flock of Plovers piping. I looked up and before I could turn my movie camera back on, a group of a dozen Piping Plovers flew past. Happy Day!

Tree Swallows Massing
Eclipse Day Sunrise Good Harbor Beach

 Backlogged with wildlife photos, more to come. Some wonderful surprises!

MEET OUR RESIDENT CARDINAL FAMILY

Northern Cardinals have been extending their range for decades and are now a beautiful and beloved part  of the New England landscape, all the year long. Safflowers seeds are a favorite (and squirrels don’t care much for these seeds). At this time of year, we daily place a small handful of chopped peanuts in a bowl to help fatten the fledglings, and they also love the Catbird’s blueberries. Meet our resident Cardinal family!

Papa Cardinal is always first on the scene in the morning, scoping his territory for potential danger. His feathers are mottled because at this time of year, like many songbirds, Cardinals are molting.

Fledgling #1 – The fledglings are shyer than the adults, but also persistently vocal, nonstop actually, especially when hungry. Notice how its beak has not gained its red-orange color.

Splish Splash! Mama Cardinal taking a bath. Oh no, Junior shows up–“haven’t you had enough to eat?”

Hungry Fledgling #2

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.

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