Category Archives: Birds

Are North Shore bird sightings published in the Boston Globe? If so Gloucester horseshoe crab, plover sandpiper somethings, red knots

I saw the BIRD SIGHTINGS call out in the Sunday Boston Globe and noted the Plum Island list. (Under ‘Miscellaneous’ there is one bird listed from Gloucester.) I have no idea if that is the MassAudubon customary geographic selection, randomly culled, or all that’s available at the time of publication. I suppose I was looking for a  ‘Gloucester’, ‘North Shore’,  or ‘Cape Ann’ heading. I am confident the region is represented because folks like Chris Leahy, Dave Rimmer, Essex Greenbelt, other experts, citizen scientists, and fans report from our communities.

*This just in update: Dave Rimmer reports that the piping plover fencing at Good Harbor came down today.

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GMG features many bird photographs, from FOBs and contributors especially Kim Smith and Donna Ardizzoni.  Here’s an unofficial appreciator’s list with a few Gloucester sightings: ‘sandpipers’ on Long Beach last week. Piping plover (heard/saw),’plovers’ and ‘sandpipers’ on Good Harbor beach on July 25. One (dead) horseshoe crab and 1 sand dollar (alive) off Wingaersheek on July 26. Piping Plover (heard/saw) on Good Harbor this morning. What have you seen?

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THE BABY HUEY OF FLEDGLINGS: THE COMMON TERN

Common Tern Fledgling feeding -1 copyright Kim SmithAfter spending the past eight weeks filming the sparrow-sized Piping Plovers, it was fun to unexpectedly encounter these tubby Common Tern fledglings. Although able to fly, they stood at the water’s edge, unrelentingly demanding to be fed. The adults willingly obliged.

Common Tern Fledgling feeding -6 copyright Kim SmithUnlike plovers, which can feed themselves within hours after hatching (the term is precocial), tern fledglings are altricial, meaning “requiring nourishment.” Examples of other altricial creatures are humans, dogs, and cats.

Common Tern Fledgling feeding copyright Kim SmithThe fledglings appear larger than the adults and are very well fed. Both parents feed their young. The terns are building fat reserves for the long migration to the South American tropical coasts, some traveling as far as Peru and Argentina.

Common Tern feeding copyright Kim SmithCommon Tern attacking gull copyright Kim SmithCommon Tern dive bombing gull

Although unperturbed by my presence, they sure did not like the seagulls. Any that ventured near the fledglings feeding were told in the most cheekiest of terms to buzz off–dive bombing, nipping, and nonstop loudly squawking–the intruder did not stick around for very long.

Common Tern populations are in decline, most probably because of pesticide poisoning and habitat loss.

Wingaersheek sunrise #gloucesterma ❤️

A photo posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVER UPDATE WITH TIPS ON OBSERVING THE BIRDS

Piping Plover male and chicks copyright Kim SmithWith sadness, but not entirely unexpected, I am sorry to report that only one baby Piping Plover chick remains at Good Harbor. The good news is that the one surviving chick is doing fantastically as of this writing. Don’t worry when I write too that the Mom has left the family. She has begun to migrate southward. This is somewhat normal and I don’t think she would have left had not the chick been doing so well. Dad is minding the baby full time and he is doing a tremendous job.

A week since the Plovers hatched and it sure has been a joy to film, and wonderfully educational. I am very inspired to work on this short film and hope to have it ready for our community this summer.

Piping Plover chick copyright Kim SmithNotice the growing wing buds!

Piping Plover tiny chick copyright Kim SmithThe tiniest

A heartfelt reminder to please, please, please let’s all work together to keep the dogs off the beach. I had a terrible encounter, really frustrating and the owner and his friends very cruel. Ninety nine point nine percent of dog owners are wonderful and respectful and are rooting for the Plovers as much as are non-dog owners. The Plovers are all over the sandy beach, at the water’s edge, and down the creek. Although growing beautifully, the chick is still about the size of a cotton ball, maybe a cotton ball and a half. Up until fourteen days old, they are at their most vulnerable.

As with before, please fee free to share the photos and information on social media. The more people know about the garbage and dog owner trouble (certain dog owners that is), the more likely the chick’s chance of survival. Thank you!

Piping Plover garbage and chick copyright Kim SmithGarbage left on the beach late in the day and overnight continues to be an issue. Bring a bag with you and we can help the DPW by cleaning up after the the folks who don’t know any better. Garbage strewn on the beach attracts gulls, and they, especially Great Black-backed Gulls, eat baby Plovers. 

Piping Plover male and chick copyright Kim Smith

Piping Plovers, like many shore birds, are precocial. That means that within hours after hatching, they are ready to leave the nest and can feed themselves. They cannot however immediately regulate their body temperature and rely on Mom and Dad to warm them under their wings. Although the chick is six days old in the above photo, it still looks to Dad for warmth and protection. Examples of other precocial birds are ducks, geese, and chickens.

If you spot the baby and want to observe, I recommend staying fifteen to twenty feet away at least. Any closer and Dad has to spend a great deal of energy trying to distract you. We don’t want him to get tired out and unable to care for the baby. Also, you’ll appear less threatening if you sit or kneel while observing the chick. No sudden movements and talk quietly and the baby may come right up to you!

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A sweet dog with a very unkind owner.

Around 6pm Saturday evening, this playful dog came bounding down the water’s edge, within inches of the baby. I stood between the owner, dog, and Plovers, with cameras in hand, and cell phone unfortunately back in my bag. After a good twenty minutes of arguing he and his equally unkind friends departed. In the mean time, the Plovers were able to get away from the dog and further down the shore line.

Piping Plover male and chick -2 copyright Kim SmithDad and chick this morning Monday, the 18th, exactly one week old!

THREE ACTIONS WE CAN ALL TAKE TO HELP THE PIPING PLOVER CHICKS SURVIVE

Piping Plover chicks nestlings -2 copyright Kim Smith 6-13-16ACTION NO. 1) HELP NEGATE THE LITTER PROBLEM

The number one threat to the Plover’s survival is the trash left on the beach. If you see someone littering, please remind them to clean up after themselves. Explain that we have a threatened species nesting on the beach and that the trash left behind attracts gulls and crows, which will undoubtedly eat the baby Plovers. Additionally, if you are so inclined and can lend a hand, please bring a trash bag and fill it on your way out. I know tons of friends already do this and it is a huge help. If more of us did it, and folks saw us doing it, they might be inspired not to leave theirs behind. If you see me on the beach filming, I now carry trash bags in my gear bag and would be happy to give you one. Getting rid of the trash on the beach doesn’t just help the Plovers, but all marine and wildlife.

ACTION NO. 2) HELP NEGATE THE THOUGHTLESS DOG OWNER PROBLEM

Inform the dog owner about the law. Explain to them that their dog, leashed or unleashed, can easily squish cotton-ball sized chicks. The babies are all over the beach now, not just in the roped off area. If the dog owner still disregards and if you can, take down their license plate number. I did it today for the first time and Diane, who is the animal control officer, just happened to be at the beach shortly after it happened. She asked for the information and studied the photo that I took to determine what type of dog.

ACTION NO. 3) HELP INFORM BEACH GOERS ABOUT THE CHICKS

The baby Plovers are at their most vulnerable in the first 10 to 14 days. As of this writing, all three chicks have survived the first three days, and that is nothing short of a miracle. The Plovers chicks are now running to the water’s edge. Please walk carefully on the beach and along the shoreline as they are not yet quick enough to get out of the way. Upload a photo of a Piping Plover chick to your phone and show it to folks on the beach. Explain that they aren’t much larger than a cotton ball. Additionally, David Rimmer, Director of Land Stewardship at Essex County Greenbelt, who was checking on the Plovers this morning, is concerned that a child may see a Plover chick and try to catch it. This has happened! In case of any kind of emergency situation such as this, David urges that the the Plover be place in the cordoned off area.

Thank you for you help, and the Piping Plovers thank you, too!

Piping Plover chicks nestlings copyright Kim Smith 6-14-16In the above photo you can see how tiny the Plover chick is in relation to the sunbather.

DSCF2770This woman claims she brings her dog every evening after five and states she has for fifteen years.

CAPE ANN’S WINGED CREATURE UPDATE

As you’ll hear in Sunday night’s podcast (our 191st!!), the Piping Plover’s nesting continues. The Plovers are defending their territory against predators, using the “injured wing” trick. Learn more about this defensive behavior in the podcast.

In this batch of photos you can see how to tell the difference between the male and female.

Female Piping Plover copyright Kim SmithThe female’s neck collar, or band, is broken in the front and is paler in color.
Male Piping Plover copyright Kim Smith

The male’s neck collar is darker and goes nearly all the way around. Note too the black bar across his forehead.

Male and Female Piping Plover copyright Kim SmithGenerally speaking, the male is a bit larger and the bill a bit brighter orange (male left, female right). After the breeding season, the plumage of both male and female will become paler.

Mr. Swan is doing well and looking very healthy, but with no signs of a new Mrs. on the horizon. Here he is enjoying a stretch in the sun.Mr. Swan outstretched wings Niles Pond coyright Kim Smith

Our caterpillars of the beautiful Cecropia Moth, given by friend Christine, are in their second instar and growing rapidly on a steady diet of birch leaves. The Cecropia Moth is just one of the many reasons why we would never spray trees with pesticides and herbicides.

A HUGE SHOUT OUT to Gloucester’s drinking water chief engineer Larry Durkin and to Senator Bruce Tarr for working hard to keep glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup) out of our water supply. Glyphosate is a known carcinogen and extremely bad news for bees, butterflies, and all pollinators. Durkin is pressing Keolis, the company that operates the MBTA commuter rail track service, to cut its use of glyphosate along the track adjacent to the Babson Reservoir and to manually cut back the growth.  Read the full story here in the Gloucester Times.

Cecropia Moth caterpillars copyright Kim SmithCecropia Moth Caterpillars

HOW TO QUICKLY TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SNOWY EGRET AND A GREAT EGRET

Often asked this question, I thought it would be helpful to post the answer again, especially as at this time of year when we see numerous numbers foraging in our marshes and along the shore. Both species of birds breed on Cape Ann and the coast of Massachusetts.

Snowy Egret Egretta thula -2 copyright Kim SmithThe first clue is size. Snowy Egrets are small, about the size of the Mallard Duck. Remember the letter S for small and snowy. Great Egrets are much larger, nearly identical in size to that of the Great Blue Heron.

Great Egret Ardea alba copyright Kim SmithGreat Egret (Ardea alba)

Great Egrets have  black feet and yellow bills. Snowy Egrets have reverse coloring, yellow feet and black bills.

Great Egrets stand very still while fishing. Snowy Egrets are wonderfully animated when foraging; they run quickly, walk determinedly, fly, and swish their feet around to stir up fish.Snowy Egret Egretta thula copyright Kim Smith

DOG OWNER AND TRASH TROUBLE AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH PART TWO

Crow battle copyright Kim SmithDear Friends,

A reminder that no dogs are allowed on Good Harbor Beach during the summer and particularly while the Piping Plovers are nesting. It truly is a matter of life and death for these rare and endangered tender shorebirds. The past several mornings there have been dogs on GHB, off leash. Although the Plovers nest is at the edge of the dune, once they have hatched, the tiny nestlings will soon be going to the water’s edge to feed. They will most assuredly be squished by an exuberant pooch if owners do not keep their dogs off the beach. Please let your house guests, friends, neighbors, and family know about these rare creatures calling Good Harbor Beach home for the summer, and why it is so vitally important to keep dogs off the beach.

Yes, I took photos of the scofflaws, but do not want to post another batch. I’d rather we spend the time helping people understand why, and trying to prevent further incidences.

Piping Plover with garbage plastic bottle pollution copyright Kim SmithOf far greater concern is the fact that last night some persons were picnicking in the Plover’s cordoned off area. The thoughtless ones buried their trash in the sand, but left some remaining on top. At daybreak several crows, I am sure drawn by the brightly colored Doritos bag, began digging in the sand. They were soon joined by a dozen or so crow family members, where a great noisy battle ensued over the bones and garbage. The combat took place in the Plover’s plot, causing the nesting Plover extreme distress. She left the nest, trying all her tricks to distract the crows from the eggs, and was really quite brave in fending them off, all the while calling frantically to her mate. The battle lines were coming closer and closer to the Plover nest.

Why was she so alarmed? Because crows (and gulls) eat Piping Plover eggs!

As a filmmaker I try very hard not to intervene in wildlife behaviors while filming, I stand as still as a stone and the creatures soon forget about me and go about their normal business. However, in this case, the garbage strewn about in the Plover’s plot was human created and needed human intervention. I chased the crows out of the area and within a few moments, the Plovers had resumed their morning routine.Crow battle -2copyright Kim Smith

Some folks are under the misguided notion that it is a good thing to bury trash, even burying glass bottles. Tony and Murray, our awesome GHB DPW crew, told me that burying bottles is the worst thing people do because as the clean up tractor unwittingly is driven over the hidden garbage, bottles break, and then there is broken glass everywhere. Burying food and bones and plastic is nearly as bad. The seagulls and crows inevitably find the trash, drag it all across the beach, and then the plastic ends up in the ocean. If there weren’t so much nightly trash left on the beach, we wouldn’t have nearly as many crows, and the shorebirds would be far safer.

Please, no dogs and no trash on our beautiful beach. Thank you. The Piping Plovers thank you too.Crow feeding copyright Kim Smith

DOG OWNER TROUBLE AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH AND WHY IT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA TO IGNORE FEDERAL LAWS

Piping Plover overexposed copyright Kim SmithFor the sake of the Piping Plovers folks really and truly need to keep their dogs off Good Harbor Beach. It is a matter of life and death for these beautiful creatures and their soon-to-be-arriving offspring. Additionally, the following article was brought to our attention by friend Pauline Bresnahan. The town of Scarborough, Maine, was threatened with a $12,000.00 fine for not enforcing their leash laws. A dog off leash killed a Piping Plover. If one of Gloucester’s Piping Plovers are killed by a dog, we taxpayers could very well be held responsible for the maximum fine. Read the story here.Good Harbor Beach No Dogs cooyright Kim Smith

Good harbor Beach ScofflawThis morning I arrived at GHB a little later than usual, around 6:30am. Within the first three minutes, there were three dogs on the beach, and all off leash. The man in the above photo had two dogs, and one of the dogs made a beeline for the Piping Plover nesting site. The guy did absolutely nothing to prevent his dog from running into the restricted area. I called out to him to let him know. He made a rude remark and called his dog back, but only after it was halfway in. The dog owner then walked the length of the beach with his dogs still off leash. When he returned his dogs chased the gulls as well as the Plover feeding at the shoreline. Now if it was a fledgling Plover, the baby bird wouldn’t have stood a chance in heck in the face of the exuberant dog. So after the dog ran into the restricted area, chased one Plover at the water’s edge, he then put his dogs on leash as he was leaving the beach. He was joined by another fellow at the footbridge, whose dog was off leash.Good harbor Beach no dogs copyright Kim Smith

It is in some dog’s nature to chase birds. Why oh why would a dog owner bring a dog like that to the beach with a known endangered bird species? The rule is no dogs during the summer months. We have a sweet Scottish Terrier and I sure would love to bring her with me when I am filming and photographing early in the morning. But even she, with her calm, gentle disposition, I know would terrify the Plovers and could easily accidentally squish a nestling.Good Harbor Beach Dog copyright Kim Smith

The Culprit. Is this a bad dog? No, of course not. I think it looks quite cute. Are there any bad dogs, or just thoughtless owners?

Piping Plover retruning to nest copyright Kim Smith

Plover returning to its nest this morning

With merely only a few thousand pairs of nesting Piping Plovers remaining nationwide, it’s super important that we all work together as a community to insure the successful nesting of the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers. There are so many unavoidable, natural mishaps for the birds and their nestlings; let’s prevent the avoidable disasters. Please, let all your friends and family know to keep dogs off the beach. If you see a dog, please ask the owner to remove the dog.

Piping Plover comparative photo with seagull copyright Kim SmithIn the above photo, you can compare the size of the adult Plover to the size of the immature gull and get an idea of just how tiny they are. And the nestlings are teeny tiny!

It’s no excuse for the behavior of today’s scofflaws, but I think we need bold signs at both ends of Good Harbor Beach, clearly explaining what a federally endangered species is, what a Piping Plover is, and why it is so important to keep all dogs off the beach. Also, perhaps if an officer were stationed at the footbridge end beginning at 5:30am, handing out tickets, folks would take the law more seriously. Or, if the officer were positioned in the middle of the beach, he would catch offenders in the act. I imagine it wouldn’t take more than a few days of ticketing for word to get out that the laws were being enforced. In just the short period of time that I was there this morning, the City could have earned well over a thousand dollars in dog fines alone!

      *   *   *

Male and Female Piping Plover’s take turns on the nest. Every morning they each spend time at the water’s edge feeding and bathing in the tide pools. Today this little fellow gave himself an extra vigorous washing! 

Piping plover bath copyright Kim Smith.Piping plover bath -2 copyright Kim Smith.Dunking from side to side

Piping plover drying wings copyright Kim Smith.Drying WingsPiping plover drying wings-2 copyright Kim Smith.

GOOD HARBOR BEACH SUNRISE SCENES AND PIPING PLOVER NEST!

Good Harbor Beach Sunrise -2 Gloucester MA copyright Kim SmithPiping Plovers nesting -4 Gloucester MA copyright Kim SmithAn approximately six foot in diameter protective barrier has been installed around the plover’s nest. This is a huge relief as many of us have noticed dog tracks in the cordoned off area. The plover’s don’t seem to mind the wire construct and go about their morning routine, running through the spaces between the wire grid as if the barrier had always been in place. In the above photo, you can see a plover sitting on its nest between the two clumps of grass within the enclosure.

Piping Plovers nesting Gloucester MA copyright Kim SmithEvery morning the plover’s switch places several times, with both parents taking turns sitting on the nest, while the other leaves the restricted area to feed at the shoreline and bath in the tide pools. The above photo was taken on the 13th of June, before the barrier was put in place. There are minimal tacks around the nest site, so it would be logical to assume the nest was very recently established. The photo below, taken on the 15th, show many more tracks and it looks like there are three eggs.

Piping Plovers Three eggs Gloucester MA copyright Kim Smith

Piping Plovers Two eggs Gloucester MA copyright Kim Smith

Nest on the 16th, I only see two eggs however I think the plovers move the eggs around in the nest. And too, my camera lens is zoomed all the way, and the image is cropped.

Piping Plovers nesting -3 Gloucester MA copyright Kim SmithThis morning the plovers were easily slipping through the wires.

Twin Light GHB Sunrise copyright Kim Smith

Snowy Egret Good Harbor Beach copyright Kim SmithSnowy Egret Good Harbor Beach -2 copyright Kim SmithSnowy Egrets fishing at the GHB tidal river this morning.

 

DUCK LOVE

Mallard duckling families from around Niles Pond, Henry’s Pond, and Loblolly CoveFemale mallard ducklings copyright Kim Smith

The ducklings appear so small and vulnerable when crossing the road

Ducklings foraging in seaweed copyright Kim Smith.JPG

Ducklings hungrily foraging in the seaweed at dusk. The duckling with the darker feathers on top of its head has a gimpy leg yet despite that, she keeps up with her sibling.
Female mallard ducklings -2 copyright Kim SmithMama Mallard with ducklings tucked under her breast and well camouflaged

Female mallard ducklings -1 copyright Kim SmithThere’s always one in every crowd

Male mallards copyright Kim SmithThe bachelors

GOOD HARBOR BEACH STORM SKY DRAMA AND PIPING PLOVER UPDATE

Good Harbor Beach storm sky copyright Kim SmithJPGStopped at Good Harbor to check on the Piping Plovers on my way into work this morning. No babies yet. I spotted three adults, feeding in the tidal flats, grooming, and giving every bird of another species besides their own the business, in no uncertain terms. Big raindrops began to fall, I don’t trust the manufacturer’s claim that my cameras are waterproof, and work was waiting. First light at Good Harbor is always different, depending on what is happening in the sky above, and it is always beautiful.

Piping Plover good Harbor Beach Gloucester MA copyright Kim Smith

Bath time

Piping Plover good Harbor Beach Gloucester MA -2 copyright Kim Smith

Piping Plover good Harbor Beach Gloucester MA -1 copyright Kim Smith

SNOWY EGRET ENCOUNTER

Snowy Egret Egretta thula copyright Kim Smith

It’s not often that a wild bird permits such a close encounter. The Snowy Egret was drinking, feeding, and bathing at the pond edge. At one point a noisy family appeared and began throwing stones into the water. All the Mallards swam toward the far end of the pond and the egret retreated up into the trees. As soon as the family departed, the ducks and Snowy returned to the beach, resuming business as usual.

Snowy Egret Egretta thula -12 copyright Kim Smith

Snowy Egrets forage on mostly aquatic animals including frogs, fish, crustaceans, worms, and insects. The vivid yellow feet are often used to probe in the mud for prey.

Running back and forth along the shoreline while hunting, several times plunging in and becoming completely submerged.Snowy Egret Egretta thula -14copyright Kim Smith

Snowy Egret Egretta thula -15 copyright Kim SmithDuring breeding season the Snowy Egret develops beautiful wispy curving plumes on its head and back. A great deal of time was spent smoothing and arranging its feathers.

Snowy Egret Egretta thula -13 copyright Kim SmithSlender and elegant, the Snowy appeared smaller than a duck when its neck was tucked in.

Snowy Egret Egretta thula -21 copyright Kim SmithSnowy Egret Egretta thula -11 copyright Kim SmithSpiraling to dry its feathers.

Heron feet copyright Kim Smith

WHAT BIRD FOOT?

Unexpectedly I encountered a stunning bird that let me stand within only a few feet while photographing and filming, for quite a good long length of time. I hope to post tomorrow after I have time to look at the photos but in the mean time, love the feet! In one piece of literature that I read, the feet were described as golden slippers. With those corn on the cob toes and black claw-like toe-tips, I wouldn’t exactly describe them as such!

Heron feet copyright Kim SmithThe corncoblike serrations on the toes are used to remove mud and fish slime during grooming. Strong, unwebbed feet allow the bird to walk and run great distances while foraging. 

GROSS!

Not really gross, but actually quite beneficial!

Song Sparrow eating caterpillars copyright Kim Smith

Through my camera’s lens, I thought this sweet little Song Sparrow was hopping around with a breakfast of leaves until downloading the photos. Rather, his mouth is stuffed with what appears to be the larvae of the Winter Moth, those annoying little green caterpillars that dangle from trees, which pupate into the dreaded adult Winter Moths, which are destroying trees and shrubs throughout the region. So, thank you Song Sparrow!

The Song Sparrow was most likely bringing the caterpillars to its nestlings. Although adult Song Sparrows prefer seeds, to a newly hatched bird a plump juicy green caterpillar is easy to digest and rich in nutrients. As a matter of fact, most songbirds rear their young on insects. The Song Sparrow photo illustrates yet another reason why it is so important not to spray trees with pesticides and herbicides. When a landscape is pesticide free, a natural balance returns. Insects are bird food!

SWAN, DUCKLING, AND PLOVER UPDATE AND HUGE SHOUT OUT TO THE GLOUCESTER DPW UNDER THE DIRECTION OF JOE LUCIDO FOR DOING A TREMENDOUS JOB CLEANING OUR BEACHES

Piping Plover with garbage plastic bottle pollution copyright Kim SmithLandscape design work is keeping me away from beloved film projects (although I do love my work no doubts). I did mange this morning to go to Good Harbor Beach to check on the Piping Plovers, to Henry’s to see Mr. Swan, and to the marsh for the ducklings. There were two plovers awakening in the little GHB cordoned off sanctuary, feeding and chasing away intruders. Mr. Swan was chilling at Henry’s, and the three sweet duckling families I have been filming don’t appear to have lost any additional members.

Spending time at Good Harbor Beach filming the plovers before the beach has been cleaned has certainly been an eye opener. Although not even officially summer yet, every morning at daybreak I find the beach littered with an astonishing amount of plastic bottles, trash, food, and plastic bags. According to Rose Piccolo at the DPW, the cleanup crew arrives around 7am and typically has the beaches cleaned by 8:30am. They do a really truly phenomenal job of making our beaches look pristine and attractive before the 9am opening.

A most sincere thank you to Joe Lucido and the Gloucester DPW for a job well done.

Sleepy Mr. Swan- hard work defending his territory from the new swans on the scene.

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

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