Category Archives: Cape Ann Wildlife
After 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.
Unlike 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.
The 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.
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.
With 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.
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!
Garbage 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 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!
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.
Thank you Elizabeth and Morgan for sharing!!
I enjoy your posts on GMG! I am sending along a monarch I just saw on a buddleia at Wolf Hill this afternoon. The first I’ve seen this season.
I now have the good fortune to ‘live’ with one of your gardens as I joined the staff of Pathways in November. The garden here is spectacular! And much appreciated by staff, children and families.
Thank you to my friends Dawn Sarrouf and Michelle Barton Anderson for sharing their Monarch sighting. Dawn snapped the photo at Michelle’s home. The butterfly is drinking nectar from a milkweed plant in Michelle’s garden from our milkweed plant sale several springs ago. So very excited to see!
The butterfly summer season is getting off to a slow start this summer. Please send in your Monarch sightings and photos. We would love to share them. Thank you!
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!
Last evening filming Plovers at GHB and someone hooks their bag of trash on the endangered species sign. I couldn't carry it off the beach because I had all my film gear plus a bag of garbage collected from the Plover area. When I leave at sunset the beach is littered with trash. This morning at dawn the gulls are in the bag, you can see all their tracks, and the Plovers are having a meltdown because the gulls circling the area eating trash may also potentially eat the babies. I found a plastic bag in the dunes (easy, there are tons of them) and cleaned it up, including three dirty diapers. Our beautiful beach with some not so very beautiful guests
There was plenty of excitement at Cape Pond Ice this morning when a swarm of honey bees was discovered on the brick wall at the Ice House alley. Scott called honey bee remover Marty Jessel. Marty is a wealth of information about honey bees, which he shared generously with the crowd that soon gathered to watch him carefully vacuum the bees with a special bee removing technique (do not try this on your own).
City Councilor Scott Memhard and Marty Jessel, honey bee remover
Watch in action and listen as Marty describes one aspect of bee communication, the waggle dance.
Saving One Bee Hive One Bee at a Time ~ Marty Jessel may be reached at email@example.com
Cape Pond Ice is open for tours seven days a week during the summer. For hours visit the Cape Pond Ice website here. While there check out the Ice House Art House. ART@the IceHouse Gallery is thrilled to be exhibiting wonderful original marine and working waterfront paintings by Gloucester artists Peter F. Vincent ASMA (1946-2012),http://peterfvincent.com, and Capt. Phil Cusumano, http://www.philcusumanoart.com, as well as photography by Eoin Vincent.
ART@the IceHouse Gallery on the Fort is open 7-days a week, Monday – Friday 9-4, Saturday 9-3 and Sunday 9-Noon.
Please leave a comment in the comment section if you are interested in removing the bee swarm.
From the Essex Count Beekeepers Association website:
Honeybee Swarm Information
If you have a swarm, you may call us, however please read below and make sure they are HONEY BEES first and not something else. We are not exterminators!
If you have a swarm, please call one of the contacts below right away, an email through ‘ecba contact’ will result in a delayed response.
Swarming is part of the natural reproductive life cycle of honey bees. The swarming season in Massachusetts usually begins in June and can last through August. Warmer weather, combined with an abundance of nectar and pollen stimulate the colony to increase in population. This causes over-crowding which prompts some bees to swarm so they can reproduce. Swarms usually emerge from the colonies between 10:00am and 2:00pm on warm sunny days. The old queen together with about half of the bees from the colony, leave the hive and cluster on a nearby object such as a fence or a small shrub. The swarm may remain for a few hours or one to two days while scout bees search for a permanent nesting site. Once found, the swarm will move to this site and establish a new colony. Bee swarms are NOT normally aggressive because they are gorged full of honey and homeless, which reduces their defensive behavior. A swarm will become increasingly defensive, if provoked, the longer it remains in a given location. In the original colony, a new queen emerges and continues to maintain the parent colony.
Below you will find a list of Essex County Beekeepers Association members that are willing to assist in the removal of swarms, answer bee related questions or point you in a direction to help resolve any bee related issue you may have. Beekeepers are listed by town for the general geographical area they are willing to respond to.
Please be aware that in some instances the physical location of the swarm may present challenges. For example, if a swarm is too high in a tree, retrieval may not be a reasonable or safe option. Swarms located in structures or otherwise concealed may require the skills of qualified craftsmen to dismantle and rebuild portions of that structure. The manpower and equipment necessary to complete this type of retrieval is an expense that the property owner is expected to bear.
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.
The male’s neck collar is darker and goes nearly all the way around. Note too the black bar across his forehead.
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.
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.
The 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 Egrets have black feet and yellow bills. Snowy Egrets have reverse coloring, yellow feet and black bills.
Love visiting these beautiful animals.
Polyphmeus Moth update ~ The evening of the day that Jane’s female Polyphemus Moth emerged, she found two males outside the net enclosure eager to get in and meet the female. Amazingly, the wild males had found the captive female by the pheromones that she began to release soon after emerging from her cocoon. The purpose of the male’s large and feathery antennae is to detect the females pheromones. This is the natural biological world functioning as it should, but I still find it so interesting and extraordinary!
Jane opened the door for the males and in the morning, discovered the female and one of the males mating. They stay coupled together for about a day. The female will begin to oviposit eggs almost immediately.
Polyphemus Moth cocoon. The hole at the end is from where the moth emerged. The cocoon is constructed of leaves wrapped around a cushion of spun silk. In the photo you can see the leaf structure and silk.
The Piping Plovers thank you!
For 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.
This 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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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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!
An 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.
Every 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.
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.
Christine holding male Cecropia Moth
This newly emerged Cercropia Moth, the largest species of Lepidoptera found in North America, was photographed at the home of my new friend Christine. She lives on the backshore of Gloucester and, with her friend Jane, who lives on the opposite side of Gloucester in the Lanesville area, are trying to repopulate Cape Ann with several species of the stunning and charismatic moths of the Saturn Family. These include the Cecropia Moth (commonly called Robin Moth), Luna Moth, and Polyphemus Moth.
Where formerly abundant, these most beautiful members of the native Giant Silkworm Moth group of Lepidoptera are at extreme risk of becoming extirpated (extinct from a region). Christine recalls a time when she could easily find the cocoons in her neighborhood. Now she finds none. The reasons for their decline are severalfold; loss of habitat, the poison in the pesticides sprayed on trees is highly toxic to all insects, and because they are suffering from a parasitism by a tachinid fly (Compsilura concinnata) that was introduced to control the Gypsy Moth. Each and every person on Cape Ann can help these moths make a comeback by making a commitment to not use pesticides and herbicides, for any reason, ever.
Cecropia Moth cocoon
Christine and Jane purchase the cocoons at Magic Wings in Deerfield, MA. They place the cocoons in the screened butterfly house where they have also placed branches of the caterpillar’s food plant (in this case, birch branches). Cecropia Moth caterpillar food plants include the foliage of maple, birch, ash, apple, cherry, and lilac.
If both male and female are present, they will mate almost immediately, within the first day or two, and the female will begin depositing eggs soon after. She releases the eggs on nearly every surface within the enclosure, dozens and dozens of eggs, up to 100!
Cecropia Moth eggs
If the eggs are viable, within several weeks, the caterpillars will chew their way out of the egg casing and begin to eat the caterpillar food plants provided.
Perhaps like Christine and Jane who, moth by moth, are trying to save our native Giant Silkworm Moths, you’ll be inspired to raise these North American beauties, too!
More photos to come if a batch of caterpillars emerges.
The ducklings appear so small and vulnerable when crossing the road
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.
Mama Mallard with ducklings tucked under her breast and well camouflaged
Stopped 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.
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 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.
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!