Category Archives: Cape Ann Wildlife


Abbie Lundberg, Tony’s wife, writes: “Tony brought home a bunch of sand fleas yesterday and the seahorse was excited – hunting and catching some, but he then spit them back out. The aquarium never called back, so Tony decided to release him today, back in the same area he found him. (Of course the aquarium called after that happened ūüėě) Hopefully he’ll find his way back to warmer waters.”

Thank you to Abbie and Tony for sharing their seahorse capture and release story. Readers may have noticed in the comment section of the previous update that lobsterman Gary also came home with a seahorse, which he found off Plum Cove Beach. I never would have imagined that we have seahorses, even occasional ones, living in the cold waters of Cape Ann, but it is truly exciting to know they are there.

Here’s a short video of a Lined Seahorse that I shot at the aquarium in Cincinnati while visiting relatives about five years ago. Although the same species, note the two wildly different colors. Lined Seahorses change color to blend with their environment, which aids in capturing prey.

This funny video came up  on my video feed, of male seahorses giving birth. FASCINATING!!!


Love the fins!

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

Thank you to Tony and Abbie for allowing me to come by and get some footage of the spunky little seahorse. This is the fourth seahorse Tony has found, the second this week. He finds them feeding on tiny crustaceans in¬†his lobster bait traps. I think this is a female. If you look closely in the above Instagram and compare with¬†the diagram below, she does not have the male’s¬†brood pouch.

Lined Seahorses are not strong swimmers; they ambush their prey by camouflaging themselves, changing color to blend with their environment. They are found in shades ranging from deep brownish black to gray to green, red, and oranges. Lined Seahorses feed on small crustaceans, fish larvae, and plankton. Their mouths are without teeth and instead of biting, use a sucking action to draw in food. Because a seahorse has no stomach, it must eat constantly.

Seahorses live in habitats where there is an abundance of vegetation to hold onto, for example,¬†eel¬†grass and seaweed in southern New England. On¬†temperate shorelines they may curl their tail around mangrove roots and corals. It seems logical¬†that Tony’s bait traps make a convenient feeding station, providing both food and a place¬†on which to latch.¬†Although rare, sightings¬†as far north as Nova¬†Scotia have been reported. Cape Cod is the tippy end of the¬†Lined Seahorse’s¬†northern breeding range.

Fun fact about Lined Seahorses: Scientists report that the males dance for their mate every morning as a way to bond.

The Lined Seahorse population is in decline; their species status is listed as “vulnerable.” The reason for the decline is not only habitat destruction, but sadly and preventably, because they are a popular commodity¬†in¬†the trinket trade.

A reporter from NECN and NBC contacted Tony and the story may be airing on NECN. ¬†Let us know if you see the episode. Here’s a video Tony’s wife Abbie made, posted on GMG in 2010. ¬†The seahorse in this video was caught in December, in Ipswich Bay, in 40 degree waters.

Anatomy of a seahorse from Google image search

Lisa Smith Shares Snapping Turtle Photos

Lisa Smith writes,
“Hi Kim,
I know you like pictures of nature. Here is a couple of pictures I took of a giant snapping turtle at Niles Pond yesterday. I stopped to take a picture of the pond and heard something moving in the brush,stepped in to see what it was and it was this turtle. I took a photo of it with my bike helmet so you could so how big it is in relation to the helmet.
The turtle turned around and went back to the water.  Which was a good thing because it was headed for the road. I was covered in burrs, when I got out of the brush.
I know you spend a lot of time at the pond, have you seen this turtle?”
Hi ¬†Lisa, I don’t know if this is the same snapper that I have seen, but I think there are more than one at Niles Pond. I can guess where you found it because there is a little stream that runs along the road, on the opposite side.¬†They like to burrow in the muddy banks of the stream, both the snappers and Painted Turtles. Thank you for sharing!
20161019_134610 20161019_134632_resized_1


Lobsterman and School Committee Member Tony Gross came home from lobstering with a pint-sized creature, a seahorse measuring just about four inches. I don’t know much about seahorses, but this looks like a Lined Seahorse. Lined Seahorses are found from Nova Scotia to Venezuela, but I also read that most generally live¬†only as far north as Cape Cod. It probably wouldn’t survive our current cold water temperatures. Tony and his wife Abbie are giving it fresh seawater and sand fleas.¬†According to¬†Abbie, this little Hippocampus likes hanging out in the water bubbles.

Photos provided by Abbie and Tony Gross, graphic from Nat Geo.


Glorious autumn color–everywhere you turn, Cape Ann foliage is beginning to peak! Snapshots from a walk along Lobster Cove this morning.

great-blue-heron-lobster-cove-copyright-kim-smithGreat Blue Heron feeding in the flatsfall-foliage-maple-leaves-2-copyright-kim-smith

Brilliantly colored maple leaves, although looking a bit dog-eared from Winter Moth damagefall-foliage-maple-leaves-copyright-kim-smith



img_0956I am simply crazy about this beautiful alpaca scarf given to me by Angela Marshall and have been wearing it nonstop for the three days (although with temperatures predicted in the seventies this week, I may have to take a brief break). I love stopping by to visit Angela and the gift was wholly unexpected, taking me quite off guard.

These super soft and warm scarves come in an assortment of lovely colors and are the perfect size–not too big that they are cumbersome, and not too small to be ineffective. Stop by to visit Angie’s Alpacas and see for yourself her wonderful selection of alpaca yarn (shorn from Cape Ann’s very own alpacas) along with a collection of alpaca hats, mittens, socks, and many more treasures.

frankie-at-angelas-alpacas-copyright-kim-smithFrankie posing for her glamour shot during magic hour

Presently, Angie‚Äôs Alpacas is open by appointment. Call 978-729-7180 or email Angela at As the shop becomes established, so too will the hours. A website and Facebook page, created by Angela‚Äôs daughter Jenn, are underway. Angie‚Äôs Alpacas is located at Marshall‚Äôs Farm, 148 Concord Street, Gloucester.

angies-alpacas-copyright-kim-smithNew grazing area for the alpacas, and they love it!

See previous post about the Angela Marshall’s alpaca yarn here.

Welcome to Angie’s Alpacas

Sneak Peak and Super Exciting news for Cape Ann Knitters and Crafters



poison-ivy-vine-in-fall-toxicodendron-radicans-copyright-kim-smithPoison Ivy Run Amok

Oh how pretty! Doesn’t this bucolic scene look interesting? I had to stop and take a photo. And then began to walk toward, wanting a closer look, before catching myself. If poison ivy even looks at me, or I look at it, that most unpleasant of itchy rashes finds¬†a home on my person.

Poison ivy is in full glorious color right now, dissipating in shades of golden yellow, tangerine, and crimson scarlet. The oils found in the foliage and stems are just as potent at this time of year as they are during the summer months.

poison-ivy-in-autumn-toxicodendron-radicans-copyright-kim-smithLeaves of three, let it be, 

Berries white, run in fright,

Red hairy vine, no friend of mine!

Cape Ann shores and meadows are rife with poison ivy and the best defense is to recognize the leaves and wear protective clothing. Not a plant one desires for the home garden, it is an important bee and bird food. The flowers provide nectar for pollinators in the spring and the small white berries are a winter staple for our some of our most beloved songbirds, including American Robins, Northern Cardinals, and Mockingbirds.


great-blue-heron-sunset-2-copyright-kim-smithWell before I could get close enough to take a crisp photo of the Great Blue heron feeding at the water’s edge, he flew up and¬†away towards the opposite side of the river.¬†I didn’t mind too much as it was so beautiful to see this magnificent bird soaring¬†into the sunset.great-blue-heron-sunset-copyright-kim-smith



painted-turtles-niles-pond-gloucester-copyright-kim-smithI laughed out loud when looking through photos from several days ago, not realizing that at the time when taking snapshots of these beautiful Painted Turtles at Niles Pond they were not only basking, but also rubbernecking, and mostly all in the same direction. The turtles were on a rock adjacent to the Snapping Turtle (below), which at first glance looked like two rocks, a smaller stone (its head) and a large stone (body).

snapping-turtle-niles-pond-gloucester-copyright-kim-smithThe Snapping Turtle was about a foot long, unlike the Snapping Turtle furtively gliding through the murky water several weeks ago at Henry’s Pond. The stealthy one¬†in the last photo was huge and appeared to be just shy of two feet!!snapping-turtle-henrys-pond-copyright-kim-smith

Turtles are ectotherms, relying on sunlight to warm and regulate their body temperature.


On Tuesday morning, October 4th, I’ll be at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Marblehead to give my lecture on¬†“The¬†Pollinator Garden,” at 9:30am. I hope to see you there!


No, That is Not a Monarch Caterpillar on Your Carrot Plant

By far the most popular post on my Kim Smith Designs website is titled “No, That is Not a Monarch Caterpillar on Your Parsley Plant.”¬†It has been the most trafficked¬†post for several years, if you can believe it, and here is why.

Last¬†fall, almost exactly to the day, through my office window I heard the sound of sweet voices on our front¬†porch, well after dark, and wondered what our neighborhood dog walkers were doing out so late. It wasn’t dog walkers, but our neighbor Sharon and her son Treely, wondering what to do with what they thought was a Monarch caterpillar they had found in their garden. I sent them on their way with¬†one of our¬†terrariums and instructions on how to care for their little Black Swallowtail caterpillar.

Treely’s¬†Black Swallowtail caterpillar turned into a chrysalis¬†(in other words, pupated), spent the winter in the terrarium in a sheltered¬†spot outdoors, and then emerged right on schedule this past¬†spring. The Dowds¬†returned the terrarium¬†as¬†it was¬†needed later in the summer for our¬†Cecropia Moth caterpillars.

Imagine how sweetly funny to get a call from my friend Michelle, wondering what to do with their newly discovered Monarch caterpillar. My first question to Michelle was did she¬†find the caterpillar on her¬†milkweed. No, she reported, it was found on carrot foliage. Michelle and her children, Meadow and Atticus, along with friend Sabine, stopped by this afternoon to¬†learn about how to take care of their tiny little Black Swallowtail caterpillar and I sent¬†them on their way with the ‘traveling terrarium.’

If you find a caterpillar in your garden, the first clue to identifying is to see on what food plant they are munching. Caterpillars that are actively feeding are usually only found on their larval host plant(s), the plant they have developed a distinctive coevolutionary relationship with over millennia. For example,¬†female Monarch butterfly caterpillars deposit their eggs only on members of the milkweed family. Black Swallowtail caterpillars eat the foliage only from plants in the¬†carrot family, which includes¬†carrots, parsley, dill, fennel, parsnips, and Queen Anne’s lace. You may have noticed if ever weeding Queen Anne’s lace that the root looks identical in shape to a carrot, only it is white.

Chances are, you will never find a Black Swallowtail caterpillar on you milkweed plants and conversely, you will never find a Monarch caterpillar on your carrot plant (or parsley, dill, or fennel).

I am excited to hear from Michelle and the kids how their little caterpillar is developing over the next few weeks!



ruddy-turnstone-rockport-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithHere’s another sweet little migrating feathered friend observed¬†recently on our shores.¬†A bit bigger than the Sanderlings, and not quite as large as the Black-bellied Plovers with which it was feeding, the solitary Ruddy Turnstone’s bright orange short, stocky legs and big feet are what caught my attention. Although its behavior is anything but,¬†the Ruddy Turnstone is anther one of the birds whose¬†plumage appears almost boring compared to its beautiful harlequin patterned summer coat.


Ruddy Turnstone, left, Black-bellied Plover, right

As are¬†Black-bellied Plovers¬†and¬†Red Knots, the¬†Ruddy Turnstone is highly migratory, breeding on the rocky coasts and tundra of the Arctic¬†and spending winters in coastal areas throughout the world.¬†And like¬†members of the plover family, the male’s nest-like scrapes are part of the courtship ritual. I was excited to learn Ruddy Turnstones’s are a member of the plover family (Charadriidae) and thought it would be a great addition to our¬†Piping Plover documentary however, as scientists are want to¬†do, they have reclassified the RT and it is now considered a member of the sandpiper family (Scolopacidae). Oh well.ruddyturnstone

During the non-breeding season, look for the Ruddy Turnstone on rocky shorelines where it energetically feeds by probing and pecking, seeking¬†aquatic invertebrates and insects¬†at¬†the surface of rocks. I believe Ruddy Turnstones are seen with regularity on the “other” Cape.¬†I wonder how many of our readers see Ruddy Turnstones on Cape Ann, and if so so where, and what time of year? Please share, if you do, the information is wonderfully helpful. Thank you!ruddy_turnstone_map_big



Don’t mess with these bad boys!great-egret-battle-ardea-alba-5-copyright-kim-smith-copy

great-egret-battle-ardea-alba-6-copyright-kim-smith-copyThe Interloper arrives

great-egret-battle-ardea-alba-copyright-kim-smith-copyThe face-off

great-egret-battle-ardea-alba-1-copyright-kim-smith-copyBeat it

In no uncertain terms


The Victor

Tussles over turf pop up regularly between the egrets and herons feeding in the marsh. They often conglomerate in one small area to fish for minnows, occasionally steeling a catch from one another, and there is always one who appears to be the big kahuna of the marsh.


monarch-new-england-aster-coneflower-copyright-kim-smithThe New England Asters and Quilled Coneflowers blooming in our garden during the months of September and October were planted to provide sustenance for migrating Monarchs. Although both are native wildflowers, the bees and butterflies visiting gardens at this time of year are much more interested in nectaring at the New England Asters.

Plant the following four native beauties and I guarantee, the pollinators will come!

New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae)

Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens)

Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

monarch-butterfly-depositing-egg-milkweed-copyright-kim-smithFemale Monarch curling her abdomen to the underside and depositing eggs on Marsh Milkweed foliage.


little-blue-heron-egretta-caerulea-cape-ann-copyright-kim-smithThe Little Blue heron is common in the Southeast and¬†only the second time I have spied this migrant¬†on Cape Ann.¬†I am curious to know¬†if any of our readers have seen this pretty heron–how often, where, and at what time of year, if so. The Little Blue Heron in the photo was fishing in the shallow pond water with the Snowy Egrets. Whereas the Snowies have an energetic method of foraging, stirring up the bottom with¬†their feet, dashing and diving, the Little Blue¬†stood stock still observing the minnow’s movement in the water. The moment it caught a glimpse of me, off it flew, and did not return.little-blue-heron-massachusetts-egretta-caerulea-copyright-kim-smithlittle_bliue_heron_map_bigLittle Blue Heron range map


Sometimes they just don't want to leave homeūüĆĽ#monarchbutterfly

A photo posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

I couldn’t resist taking a¬†selfie with this newly emerged Monarch after¬†she at first fluttered¬†onto my shoulder, flew to my hat, and then decided to stay for a bit on my neck.

Butterflies have sharp crochet-like hooks at the bottom of their tarsi (butterfly name for feet) and it feels a bit pokey when they land on your skin. The hooks enable the butterfly to grip securely to surfaces. During a strong wind, the hooked tarsi are all that is keeping the butterfly grounded.

Thank you Nicole Duckworth for the photo captionūüôā


img_4947img_4937Thank you to Dawn and John Sarrouf for sharing their milkweed planting photos. They are visiting their friend Camilla at her family home in Small Point Maine, which sounds like, from Dawn’s description, a gorgeously beautiful location, and ideal Monarch habitat. There are fields of wildflowers, and Seaside Goldenrod grows just as easily in¬†the¬†rocky outcroppings there as it does on Eastern Point.¬†After looking at maps, it appears as if¬†you could draw a virtual straight line from Small Point to Eastern Point. Dawn and friends spotted about ten butterflies yesterday. Perhaps we’ll be the next stop (after the predicted rainfall).

img_4946Camilla collected milkweed seed pods and enlisted the Sarroufs to help plant.



Thank you Cheryl Allen, Wingaersheek Anonymous, Shaina, Pat, and Ellen for sharing your Monarch sightings. I am so appreciative of your time and comments.

Cheryl Allen writes:¬†I am not sure you want this information because I live in Northern Virginia, but I am seeing at least a dozen if not more on my tropical milkweed plants this week ‚Äď this is after the Monarch‚Äôs laying eggs back in July and those developed Monarch‚Äôs flying off. They are coming from the North I expect, but am gratified by seeing so many this year ‚Äď more than I have ever seen in my garden over the last thirty years.

I want to thank you for alerting me to the Monarch crisis three years ago, I started planting Milkweed and spread the word to all my gardener friends, until I read your post regarding this crisis, I had no idea! I always enjoy your posts so much, I just missed seeing the baby Plovers by one week and was pretty crestfallen when I arrived a week after they were born, and no baby Plovers ‚Äď Thanks for being such a friend to our wildlife and letting us know how we can help, it is much appreciated!

Thank you Cheryl for sharing your photos!



Shaina writes: So far we’ve only see two beautiful monarchs. One was over the wild flower field at Appleton farm in Hamilton this past weekend. The other was yesterday fluttering over the water at lighthouse beach in annisquam. Our 3 year old daughter is in awe of the Monarchs it is so exciting to watch her admire them. Will keep you posted on our monarch sightings!

Anonymous writes: I live at 8 Bungalow Road in Gloucester. It is at Wingaersheek Beach. My wife has a wonderful garden and I have seen three this year. I am not sure how many she has seen. My last sighting was about 2 weeks ago. None since.

Ellen writes: Hi Kim! Love the your beautiful photos. I spotted one lonely Monarch fluttering over the sand at Long Beach. In years past we used to watch a few of them on the beach, but this year only one so far.

Pat writes:¬†Kim‚ÄďI don‚Äôt know what happened to the comment I left earlier today reporting monarch sightings in the Binghamton NY area ‚ÄĒ a few‚Äďmaybe once a day for the last week or 10 days. But I wondered how we know they aren‚Äôt the viceroy butterfly?


There have been few Monarch sightings this summer but I have been hoping for a strong fall migration. The migration is peaking in Kansas and we are always a little bit behind. Please let me know if you see a Monarch, and where. Thank you very kindly!

Monarch stretching wide its wings in the morning sun #monarchbutterfly

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

Monarchs are emerging daily in my garden, from eggs collected at my friend’s field in Salem. This too would be an indication that we may be seeing them soon.

newly-emerged-monarch-butterfly-copyright-kim-smith-jpgThis newly eclosed Monarch is clinging to its chrysalis case. Within moments of emerging, the two-part Monarch proboscis must zip together to form a siphoning tube. If the two parts do not join, the butterfly will not be able to drink nectar. In this photo, you can see the proboscis is not yet fully zipped. Note its wet, crumpled wings.


Boring Birdsblack-bellied-plover-grey-plover-2-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

Especially that Black-belied Plover. Just look at his¬†washed out and mud spattered feathered coat in drab shades¬†of sand and dirt. He’ll never find a girlfriend attired¬†in that old thing. He is so undistinguished, it is often¬†difficult to discern the¬†difference between¬†him and his surrounds.


Really, hanging out in that smelly, bug and mollusk infested seaweed patch?

Migration routes of black-bellied plovers tagged on breeding grounds and a stopover location along the St. Lawrence River.

Migration routes of black-bellied plovers tagged on breeding grounds and a stopover location along the St. Lawrence River.

But wait, from where did you say he hails? I heard tell he summers in islands of Nunavet, Canada and winters in Brazil, stopping in Cuba or Honduras along the way. Known as the Grey Plover on the other side of the globe, his kin are world travelers, too, some leaving the Arctic circle breeding grounds and heading to fall stopovers in Great Britain and Norway, migrating all the way to South Africa, while other members of the family travel over Russia to winter in Japan, Australia, or perhaps even as far away as New Zealand. Black-bellies have  been tracked flying 3,400 miles nonstop from Brazil to NorthCarolina in five days. Tedious, I know.

While at his summer¬†tundra home he sports a handsome¬†black and white tuxedo, in reverse, sort of get up, like this –black-bellied-plover-b57-13-038_v

You mean that tired old coat molts to that dapper cutaway? Yes!

black-bellied-plover-grey-plover-in-flight-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithDespite his flashy tux, he’s genuinely¬†shy,¬†and will flush on a dime if danger is sensed¬†(i.e. this filmmaker¬†for instance). He knows all the tricks of the plover trade, feigning broken wing to distract the enemy from his territory, and scraping together a nest from nothing but mere sand and tiny bits of stone.

And just look at the¬†Black-bellied Plover’s spotted eggs painted in shapes and¬†shades of lichen covered stones. A clever disguise if ever there¬†was one.bbp-chick-and-egg-meagan

Perhaps the Black-bellied Plover isn’t so boring after all. We living within the continental flyways¬†encounter these Plain Janes and James¬†when at their plainest. Black-bellied Plovers¬†are seen along Atlantic coast beaches¬†at this time of year within¬†mixed groups¬†of Sanderlings,¬†Semipalmated Plovers, yellow legs, and sandpipers. Although similarly as drably¬†feathered as the other ‘boring’ birds¬†during the winter months,¬†at 11 inches,¬†Black-bellied Plovers¬†are easy to spot in these feeding flocks because they are almost¬†twice as large as the smallest¬†shorebirds. Next time you see a flock of birds feeding along the shoreline take a closer look for the world traveling Black-bellied

Each and every wonderful species of bird that I have been documenting¬†while working on film¬†projects over the¬†past several years has a fascinating life story. Living in the midst of the Atlantic Flyway, I¬†can’t imagine a¬†more interesting region, although when I was visiting our daughter and son-in-law in Santa Monica, the creatures flowing through the Pacific Flyway were¬†pretty exciting too. I hope to in the future spend time in the Central and Mississippi Flyways as well. I love thinking¬†about this¬†constant longitudinal¬†movement of life force flowing as it does, year in and year out, century¬†in and century out, millennium¬†in and millennium out. For the¬†most part, we go about our daily lives relatively unaware of this extraordinary undercurrent. Whether migrating¬†by land or by sea, we are surrounded by this¬†great movement of life, forms always in search of plentiful food on which to¬†rear the next generation.

black-bellied-plover-grey-plover-in-flight-2-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithIf having difficulty identifying, one of the clues to look for is the black feathers under the wings, visible when in flight as in the above

All photos not attributed to Kim Smith are courtesy of Google image searches.

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