Category Archives: Cape Ann Wildlife

Beautiful Fish: Shad -By Al Bezanson

 

A typical member of the herring tribe. Largest of the herrings that visit our gulf, growing to a length of 2 ½ feet.  One tagged in Chesapeake Bay was recaught 39 days later at Race Point.  The shad, like the alewife, spends most of its life at sea, and makes most of its growth there, but runs up into fresh rivers to spawn, the spent fish soon returning to salt water, and its fry running down also.

From Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder, 1953

In the spring of 1778, the shad run in the Schuylkill River saved George Washington’s army from starvation at Valley Forge. Thus one could claim that this country owes its victory over the British to shad and, hence, the title of John McPhee’s book, The Founding Fish.

https://us.macmillan.com/thefoundingfish/johnmcphee/9780374528836/

Al Bezanson

Beautiful Fish: Common Mummichog

Killifish; Salt-water minnow; Chub; Mummy… So closely do they hug the shore that a line drawn 100 yards from land would probably enclose all the mummichogs in the Gulf of Maine… Seldom more than 4 inches long. Abound in the tidal creeks that cut our salt marshes, in muddy pools, in ditches. Shoals of “mummies” may often be seen moving in with the flood tide.  Often trapped in little pools until the next tide arrives.

From Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder, 1953

-Al Bezanson

 

HELLO HEDWIG! WHAT ARE YOU EATING? SNOWY OWL WEEKEND UPDATE -By Kim Smith

Hedwig has been seen daily along the backshore, mostly laying low during the day. She has become quite expert in fooling the crows as to her whereabouts.

Fog, snow, rain, or sunshine, she isn’t deterred much from her routine of sleeping, resting, and grooming during the day, in preparation for an evening of hunting.

Early this week I watched in amazement as Hedwig swooped down from her perch and flew hundreds of feet directly to the rocks and in between crevasses. She resurfaced with a small mammal in her mouth and ate it very quickly–from the time she flew off her perch until she gave a satisfied lick of her beak could not have taken more than three minutes. I felt very fortunate to have witnessed a glimpse of her hunting prowess, albeit all too brief.

Perhaps the tail is too long for a mouse or rat and too short for a vole, but perhaps not. Small mammal caretaker Erin Whitmore wrote with her suggestion. What do you think Hedwig is eating?Hedwig eating a black and white sea duck.

Again, tonight she flew off her perch, this time heading out to sea. In mere minutes she returned with a sea duck of some sort and proceeded to eviscerate, much to the thrill of her Sunday evening fan club. The lighting was low and I was mostly filming, but did manage a few stills. The duck was black and white and as she mostly sat on her catch while eating, it was difficult to determine which species. Without a crow in sight (as they had surely settled for the night), Hedwig ate well into the early evening.

The feathers were flying! Hedwig with feathers on her face but it’s almost too dark to see.

She’s finding the eating here in Gloucester excellent, but with the warm weather predicted for the upcoming week, I wonder if Hedwig will stay or that will be a cue to depart for the Arctic.

Please don’t get electrocuted Hedwig, as happened recently to a Snowy in southern Massachusetts!

BEAUTIFUL FISH: FLYING FISH -By Al Bezanson

Their most distinctive feature is that their pectorals are so long and so stiff that their owners can plane through the air on them, several feet above the water, which they do mostly in attempts to escape their enemies … this so-called “flight” (really not flight at all, for the flyingfish does not flap its wings)

Voyagers in tropical seas are perhaps more familiar with flyingfishes than any other fishes.

From Fishes of the the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder, 1953

Personal account … For close encounters of the flyingfish kind let me recommend a long voyage in a small, slow sailboat. In the Tongue of the Ocean, an immense blue marlin soaring by with mouth agape in a flock of flyingfish, at my eye level, about 25 feet abeam. That was in 1961 and still vivid. Or becalmed far at sea, dozing at the tiller at night, a flyingfish glancing off my ear. When we picked up a cat (named Scurvy) for the return voyage to Boston, her duty at first light was to gather flyingfish who had gone aground on our deck during the night. (Al Bezanson)

BEAUTIFUL FISH: SEAHORSE – By Al Bezanson

“The sea horse grotesquely resembles the “knight” in an ordinary set of wooden chessmen in its sidewise flattened body, in its deep convex belly, in its curved neck and in its curious horselike head carried at right angles to the general axis of the body. The head is surmounted by a pentagonal star-shaped “coronet,” and the snout is tubular with the small oblique mouth at its tip, like that of its relative the pipefish.”

This exquisite pen and ink drawing from 1883 by H. L. Todd is just one of many by this artist in Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder, 576 pp, 1953. The book is available free online courtesy of MBL/WHOI. http://www.gma.org/fogm/

 

 

 

BEAUTIFUL FISH: TOMCOD -By Al Bezanson

 

 

They search the bottom by dragging the chin barbel and the sensitive tips of the ventral fins as they swim to and fro, either for food, or to stir up shrimps and other food items. (Herrick)

The maximum size is about 15 inches and 1-1/4 pounds, but few of them are more than 9 to 12 inches long. Most common close to stream drainage.

A delicious little fish that you won’t find in markets.

From Fishes of the Gulf of Maine by Bigelow and Schroeder, 1953

 

 

SAVE THE DATE AND SUPER EXCITING NEWS!

Save the Date! On April 12th from 5 to 7pm I am going to be the guest speaker at Salem State University as part of their Earth Day celebration. I will be giving my Monarch Butterfly lecture program.

A series of interesting, thoughtful speakers and exciting events are scheduled and I will post the flyer and more information as soon as is available. This program is open to the public. I hope to see you there! Dandelions for the Pollinators! 

I think Dandelions growing in a lawn are lovely and they also provide nectar early in the season for bees and butterflies, as well as late in the season, especially for migrating Monarchs. It’s lamentable that the lawn care industry has convinced consumers that Dandelions are unwelcome in the lawn.

One morning in mid-fall I watched as hundreds of migrating Monarch poured in from over the water. They were tired and hungry but as it was late in the season, there were few wildflowers and garden flowers still blooming. Nearly every Monarch made a beeline for the Dandelions and even got into little tussles over who would drink first. The lawn was simply covered with bright yellow blossoms and orange and black flakes. Unfortunately, a maintenance crew arrived to mow the lawn. No matter how hard I tried to convince the guys that perhaps they could come back the next day, after the butterflies had departed our shores, they would have none of it. The lawn was mowed and the weary butterflies dispersed and did not return.

Next time you reach for a spray bottle of poisonous pesticide, such as Monsanto’s Round-up, think instead about the bees and butterflies. And, too, the strong taproots of Taraxacum officinale will aerate your soil and the tender, young greens are delicious in salads.

FISHES OF THE GULF OF MAINE -By Al Bezanson

Schooner Captain and super GMG FOB Al Bezanson writes, “While searching for something else on the NOAA website I discovered that this treasure of a book is available free online. I purchased a printed copy of the 1953 edition long ago from the Museum of Comparative Biology at Harvard University, and I open it randomly at times to read a page or two about the creatures that inhabit the sea off Cape Ann. You can work your way through fish by fish, enjoy the exquisite drawings, the habits and the anecdotes about common and exotic marine life. Here are couple photos from my copy and a link to the book.”

Link to the book: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine

Here’s more … MBLWHOI sponsored the copying of the 1953 edition to make it available online. There is a newer 2002 edition, not digitized, from Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC,  2002. 748 pp., illus. $75.00 (ISBN 1560989513 cloth). Review here…https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/53/8/772/269669

POSSIBLE PUFFIN SPOTTED AT BASS ROCKS

In our Rats, Rats, and More Rats: Snowy Owl Hedwig Weekend Update #2, we shared that an Atlantic Puffin may have been seen over the weekend. Karen Piscke adds the following information and photo:

A Puffin was possibly seen at Bass Rocks. “There was a Snowy Owl on the roof of the hotel at the same time, but these birders only had eyes for the Puffin. The Puffin was hard to see, even when you knew it was there. The birder with the keen eye that spotted it said – “if it looks like as aclid, but sits differently in the water, it might be a puffin. Then the orange on the beak confirms it.”   — Karen 

Atlantic Puffins are not often seen so close to our shores. They spend the summer at breeding colonies on Rocky Islands in the North Atlantic and winter out at sea (see range map).

If you see a Puffin and get a good photo, please let us know and we will post it on GMG. Thank you!

Atlantic Puffins images courtesy wiki commons media

Atlantic Puffin Range Map

 

RATS, RATS, AND MORE RATS! SNOWY OWL HEDWIG WEEKEND UPDATE #2 -By Kim Smith

Hedwig was observed Saturday morning, when repeated harassment by a flock of crows sent her hiding. She reappeared Saturday afternoon, and was again seen Sunday morning in the drizzle, not too far from where she was perched Saturday evening. Later Sunday afternoon she slept and rested in the pouring rain.

Hedwig sleeping in the rain (thank you to Arly Pett for letting me know she was out in the rain!)

That she stays in a highly localized winter territory seems in keeping with known Snowy Owl behavior traits. I read that during the summer season in the Arctic, male Snowies hunt over hundreds of miles, whereas female Snowies typically hunt within a much smaller range. She has been observed eating sea ducks and rabbits and there are plenty of rat holes along the backshore rocks.

Both rats and lemmings (the Snowies super food in the Arctic) belong to the order Rodentia. From wiki, “A lemming is a small rodent usually found in or near the Arctic in tundra biomes. Lemmings are subnivean animals. They make up the subfamily Arcicolinae together with voles and muskrats which forms part of the superfamily Muroidea which also includes rats, mice, hamsters, and gerbils.”

Lemming (Lemmini)

Often Hedwig has been seen flying straight out over the water towards Twin Lights. I wondered, if she is hunting there, does Thacher Island have a rat population. Thacher Island Association president Paul St. Germain answers that question for our readers, 

“Hi Kim, there are lots of rats on Thacher mostly in the shore line rocks. We don’t see them often but know they are there. I discovered a bunch in the cellar of the keeper house making their nest in an old tarp. I would love to see Hedwig out there but we don’t go out in the winter. Have never seen snowy owls in the summer.” 

Great info and thanks to Paul for sharing that! A Snowy Owl has been seen on the rocks in Rockport, across the strait, opposite Twin Lights, and wonder if it is our Hedwig.

Rat and Lemming photos courtesy wiki commons media

This brings up the topic, what to do if you have a rat problem. The absolute worst way to control rats is with rat poison, namely for the sake of beautiful predatory birds such as Snowy Owls, falcons, hawks, and eagles. Birds that ingest rats that have been poisoned with rat poison will generally become gravely ill and die. Secondly, it is a cruel, slow death for the rat. They will usually go back to their nest to die. If that nest is located behind a wall in your home, you will smell that unmistakeable horrendous smell for many months. Thirdly, rat poison is only 60 percent effective. I wonder if the rats that survive rat poison will go on to breed super rats.

The best way to avoid having to kill a rat is to make sure they cannot gain access to your home or business by regularly inspecting soffits and woodwork for holes. Old-fashioned snap traps and live trapping continue to be the most effective way to rid your home or business of rats.

Saturday I stopped to say hello to a group of birders flocked together along the backshore who had traveled all the way from western Mass. They were observing Grebes, Buffleheads, and a Common Murre. And a Puffin had been spotted! I asked if they were planning to go to any of our local restaurants for lunch, but they had packed lunches. One Mom shared that an expert from Audubon told the group that there were at least a “dozen Snowy Owls” on Bass Rocks. Bananas! I have to say that it makes me hoppin’ mad when folks spread misinformation about our local wildlife. I gently told her that no, there were not a dozen owls, but that if she and her group waited until late afternoon, they might catch sight of Hedwig.

Twin Lights from a Snowy Owl POV

 

 

 

 

 

SNOWY OWL HEDWIG UPDATE -BY KIM SMITH

Last weekend was a busy one for Hedwig. She is attracting crowds from all around the Boston area. I checked in on her Monday afternoon on my return from Brooklyn and according to a photographer friend she had a very rough day with the crows. One actually hit her hard in the head. She left Bass Rocks Monday evening and I didn’t see her the rest of the week until this morning.

Found this morning with messy face and talons, tidying up from a morning hunt.

A single crow came by to harass her and unlike previous incidents, where I have seen here hold her ground, she left her post immediately and flew to a very cool super secret hiding place. I have never seen her do this before but am so impressed with her ingenuity. She is safe from both crows and crowds in this locale.

Hedwig returned to the railings at the end of the day. After first fluffing and poohing she took off over the water and headed straight toward Twin Lights. I imagine there is good hunting on Thacher Island 🙂

Heading off to hunt late day 

Sleeping in the afternoon sun

KIM SMITH POLLINATOR GARDEN LECTURE AT THE IPSWICH TOWN AND COUNTRY GARDEN CLUB

Please join me Thursday, February 8th, for my Pollinator Garden program at Ebsco, 5 Peatfield Street, Ipswich. The program begins at 6:30pm and is sponsored by the Ipswich Town and Country Garden Club. I hope to see you there!

Common Buckeye Butterfly nectaring at Seaside Goldenrod

“Following the rhythm of the seasons, celebrated landscape designer Kim Smith presents a stunning slide show and lecture demonstrating how to create a welcoming haven for bees, birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Native plants and examples of organic and architectural features will be discussed based on their value to particular vertebrates and invertebrates.”

SOCIABLE SQUIRREL -By Kim Smith

On my way home from visiting my daughter Liv who lives in Brooklyn, I stopped at several locations along the Connecticut coast where Snowy Owls have recently been sighted. Although no owls materialized, it was super interesting to learn about the diverse range of habitats hosting Snowies during this fantastic Snowy Owl irruption of 2017-2018. Liv and I spent Saturday morning exploring Jamaica Bay wildlife refuge and other habitats along the Brooklyn coastline where Snowies are also spending the winter. Photos to come when I have time to sort through but in the meantime, this funny little squirrel followed me about the Connecticut Audubon Refuge, coming quite close and seemingly wanting to play hide and seek. I played along for a bit and wished I had a peanut in my pocket 🙂

MY WHAT BIG FEET YOU HAVE HEDWIG! -By Kim Smith

My what big feet you have Hedwig! A Snowy Owl’s feet are covered in feathers, providing insulation against Arctic temperatures–just like a pair of warm fluffy slippers.

Hedwig left her perch and walked over to a patch of snow, which she proceeded to eat. She also washes her face and feet in snow patches.

 

HOW LONG WILL THE SNOWY OWLS STAY IN GLOUCESTER? -By Kim Smith

Not all Snowy Owls migrate south, but the ones that do leave the Arctic tundra to winter over in North America arrive at their wintering grounds (areas such as the Massachusetts coastline) usually beginning in mid-to late-November. Some don’t arrive until December and some as late as January. They migrate along coastlines, prairies, river valleys, and even mountain ridgelines are thought to help guide the Snowies.

By mid-April, most Snowies have left Massachusetts, although one study that I read recorded a Snowy that did not leave Logan Airport until July 7th! Another study reported that in most cases, the Snowy Owls that did not leave until summer were non-breeding birds in their first year of life.

How long will Hedwig stay? She appears to be getting plenty to eat and is quite well adapted to backshore living, despite her throngs of weekend fans. Let’s hope her stay is a good one and that she returns to the Arctic this summer to make lots of little Hedwigs and Bubos!

SNOWY OWL WATCHING TIPS: The following are some helpful tips for watching Snowy Owls.

  1. Watch from a comfortable distance–comfortable for the bird that is. Nothing makes the Owls more stressed than people getting too close.
  2. Please keep children from throwing rocks towards the Snowy or anywhere within the vicinity of the Owl.
  3. Please don’t allow dogs to play near the Snowies.
  4. There have been reports of Snowies flying into cars. They often fly low when flushed and it is easy to understand why this may happen, especially as the Snowies are drawing so much traffic. Please be on the look out when you are in known Snowy Owl territory.
  5. Slamming doors, radios blasting, barking dogs, and loud mufflers all stress the Snowies.

Thank you Everyone for being good caretakers of Hedwig, Bubo, and all the Snowies during their stay in Gloucester!

Jennifer and her daughters Ellie and Isla are super Snowy stewards, keeping well beyond the 150 feet recommended for safe observation.

SNOWY OWL HEDWIG TAKES A BATH! -By Kim Smith

Filming and photographing Cape Ann wildlife I have experienced extraordinary beauty and fascinating behaviors at nearly every encounter but filming a Snowy Owl take a bath has to be one of my favorite captures. I think there are a number of reasons why we are so captivated by these beautiful creatures. Most owls are nocturnal, which doesn’t allow much viewing of their day to day life. On the other hand, the diurnal Snowy Owl gives us a wonderful window into their world. Culturally, owls symbolize wisdom and intelligence and the characters they are assigned in literature strengthen our associations. Mostly though we are drawn to these creatures because they do not appear to be afraid of us, unlike most wild animals. Snowies will become irritated and depart an area when startled, or are being pestered, but I don’t sense fear in these Arctic visitors. I wonder if most have ever even seen a human being prior to migrating south.

Hedwig was a contented mess, her feet and talons blood stained reddish pink from a fresh kill. It was the morning after a rain storm, and the crevices atop Bass Rocks held pools of icy fresh water.

She gingerly at first hopped over to the largest pool, paused, and then jumped in. Repeatedly Hedwig dipped her face into the water to drink. After quenching her thirst, she plunged her entire face into the pool of water. She cleaned her face feathers by rubbing them against her breast feathers. Immersing, rubbing, immersing, rubbing, her face was clean in no time.

Then Hedwig went all in, dipping and soaking all her feathers, but not all at once did she completely submerge herself. I think that would have left her vulnerable to predators if she were unable to fly. She dipped and soaked, then fluffed her feathers, then repeated all several times more. The total length of time was about 40 minutes; she was still fluffing when I had to leave. Watching a Snowy Owl take a winter bath was beautiful and fascinating, unexpected and funny and am overjoyed to have captured with photos and film.

Happiness is a long winter bath.

A flock of Herring Gulls had the same idea. 

CLOSE ENCOUNTER OF THE COYOTE KIND -BY KIM SMITH

East Gloucester Friends,

Please be on alert for a pair of very bold coyotes in the neighborhood. Over the weekend I was standing with a group of photographer friends and we were noticing the coyotes along the edge of a field. The coyotes ducked behind the shrubby growth and soon after, my friends left. I became distracted and forgot about the coyotes while photographing a chatty little Downy Woodpecker. Without warning, the coyotes were suddenly quite near, within twenty feet. I yelled and clapped loudly, which did not in the least intimidate one of the pair. The smaller trotted a few steps back toward the woodland edge while the larger one started to dig in the ground, similar to a bull marking his territory. It was more than a little eerie, and while yelling I began to walk backwards off the field.

When a gentleman came to the field to walk his dog, the coyotes headed back towards the shrubs. Reappearing a few minutes later, they had circled around in the shrubs and began to stalk the leashed dog. I walked towards the man to give the coyotes the idea that we were a group and they didn’t come any closer after that. This post is not meant to alarm anyone, but to let you know that we have some very hungry coyotes in our midst; I had the oddest sensation that they had an expectation of dinner. I sure do hope no one is feeding them.

The bolder coyote is on the left in the above photo. You can see in the middle photo in the first row that the bolder one’s coat is darker (also on the left).

SNOWY OWL HEDWIG GOING POOP -BY KIM SMITH

I have along the way taken many photos of animals going pooh, quite incidentally, as it just happens. For some (childish) reason it always strikes me as mildly funny. One of the funniest is the Great Blue Heron–the bigger the bird, the greater the amount, and Great Blues are pretty big birds.

That Hedwig goes pooh seemingly so frequently means she is getting plenty to eat. This morning she arrived on the rocks a bloody mess (more signs of good eating) and took a luxuriously long bath in a puddle (posting those photos tomorrow when I have time too sort through). After bathing, she pooped several times before flying to higher ground.

Digestion in Owls

By Deanne Lewis

Like other birds, Owls cannot chew their food – small prey items are swallowed whole, while larger prey are torn into smaller pieces before being swallowed. Some Owl species will partially pluck bird and larger mammal prey.

Unlike other birds, Owls have no Crop. A crop is a loose sac in the throat that serves as storage for food for later consumption. Since an Owl lacks this, food is passed directly into their digestive system.

Now, a bird’s stomach has two parts:

The first part is the glandular stomach or proventriculus, which produces enzymes, acids, and mucus that begin the process of digestion.

The second part is the muscular stomach, called the Ventriculus, or gizzard. There are no digestive glands in the gizzard, and in birds of prey, it serves as a filter, holding back insoluble items such as bones, fur, teeth and feathers (more about this below).

Read More Here

 

MY NEW FRIEND KIKI <3

Six-year-old Kiki from Essex came to Cape Ann Reads today with her Grandmom Susie to connect about Monarchs. Kiki successfully raised fifty Monarch butterflies this past summer, from eggs she collected herself in the wild. After they emerge from their chyrsalides, she brings the butterflies to places such as the Italian Garden at Crane Estate and gives them to people to release, along with a handout on how to raise Monarchs.Six-year old conservationist Kiki from Essex

SUPER FUN KID ACTIVITIES AT CAPE ANN READS TODAY AT CITY HALL!

From noon to four this afternoon City Hall will be abuzz with a special celebration exhibiting the work of Cape Ann children’s book authors and illustrators. Each author has a table with their projects. Come meet and talk to the authors about their original stories. The illustrators have created art coloring sheets taken from the pages of the books to give to guests. The award ceremony, hosted by Mayor Sefatia, takes place at 1:30. This is a unique and new book fair created by Cape Ann’s four library directors, Deborah Kelsey (Gloucester), Deborah French (Essex), Sara Collins (Manchester), Cindy Grove (Rockport), and art director Catherine Ryan.

I am looking forward to seeing all the artists coloring sheets. My Monarch Butterfly project and documentary film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly first incarnation was an illustrated book, then photo exhibit, and now film.

The illustration above is of a male and female Monarch mating. The Monarchs fly up into a tree and stay joined together, abdomen to abdomen, for about four hours. The blue butterflies are a cousin of the Monarchs, the Blue Tiger of India (Tirumala limniace), but you can color your butterflies anyway you see fit–I’d love to see a pair of rainbow Monarchs 🙂

Read more about the Cape Ann Reads celebration in a post by Catherine about Gail McCarthy’s Gloucester Times article here.

« Older Entries