Category Archives: Cape Ann Wildlife


In case you were wondering, where do turtles go in winter?

The Eastern Painted Turtle is our most common turtle and this beauty was found at Niles Pond, crossing the road heading towards one of several little babbling brooks that flow towards the pond. Perhaps it was planning to hibernate there as it was the last day of October.

Turtles are an ectotherm, which means that their body temperature mirrors the temperature of the surrounding environment, whether pond water or sunlit rock. During the fall they find a comfy spot in the mud at either a pond or stream and burrow in. The Painted Turtle’s metabolism slows dramatically and it won’t usually come up for air until spring, although even during hibernation they require some slight bit of oxygen, which they take in through their skin. Painted Turtles do move around a bit in the mud during the winter but do not travel far and do not move very swiftly.

Painted Turtle Niles Pond ©Kim Smith 2015



Harbor Seals spotted coat Atlantic ©kim Smith 2015Providing excellent camouflage, Harbor Seals have evolved with coats that blend perfectly with the surrounding rocks and sandy shores on which they “haul out.”  Each individual Harbor Seal’s pattern of spots is unique, with two basic variations, either a light coat with dark spots or a dark coat with light spots. Their bellies are generally lighter colored.

Harbor Seals are easily disturbed by human activity, which is the reason why they are all looking in my direction. I climbed way out on the rocks to get a closer look that they found disturbing enough, when a loud crash in the distance made them all jump simultaneously.

Harobr Seal white Atlantic ©Kim Smith 2015JPGFellow friends of Niles Pond and I have all noticed that the seal in the above photo is noticeably whiter. He has a big gash on his neck as you can see in the close-up photo, which I didn’t notice until looking through the pictures. I wonder if that is why he has been spending so much time on the rocks. Perhaps he is recovering.

Injured harbor seal ©Kim Smith 2015

Interesting fact: Although Harbor Seals have been seen as far south as the Carolinas, Massachusetts is the most southern region in which they breed.


Jamy Sessleman, WCVB reporter, saw the post on GMG and wrote requesting photo permission. Here is the link to the WCVB website:

Thanks to Paul Morrison for letting us know the story was also picked up by the Globe:

White pelican Massachusetts gloucester ©Kim Smith 11-16-15


Imagine the excitement when after filming Mr. Swan this morning, I spotted across the pond a very swan-like large white bird. The first thought that came to mind was a new Mrs. Swan had magically appeared on the scene. But no–not as wonderful–but equally as exciting, with its large orange pouched bill, the bird was unmistakably a pelican!

It was swimming toward the berm so I raced back to the other side of the pond and was able to get somewhat nearer, close enough so that the footage is passable. Without warning, the pelican suddenly took to the air with elegant, graceful wingbeats and I was lucky to have movie camera in hand. The light was murky this morning and all would have been more beautiful if the sun were out a bit more. Nonetheless, it’s great to have a record of this very unusual occurrence.

The American White Pelican is a rare sight in Massachusetts and I wonder if any of our readers have ever seen one on our shores. Please write if you have. 

With wings spanning nine feet, the American White Pelican is one of our largest native birds, only the Trumpeter Swan and California Condor are larger, reportedly having up to ten-foot wingspans. Comparatively, the wings of a Mute Swan span approximately seven to eight feet. Please note that Mr. Swan is a Mute Swan, not a Trumpeter Swan, and is not indigenous.

The Niles Pond pelican was far off course. Pelicans east of the Rocky Mountains typically migrate through the Mississippi Valley, from breeding grounds in northernmost North America to the Gulf of Mexico Texas and Florida coasts. Unlike Brown Pelicans, which dive and plunge for food, white pelicans catch prey while swimming.

As with the Brown Pelican, during the mid-twentieth century, the American White Pelican was severely adversely affected by spraying DDT in fields and wetlands. Habitat destruction, shoreline erosion, and mass poisonings when pesticides are used near breeding grounds continue to threaten the American White Pelican.

White pelican Massachusetts gloucester ©Kim Smith 11-16-15Far off course, a white pelican migrates through Gloucester

american_white_pelican_map_bigMap provided by South Dakota Birds, via Peter Houlihan, who is Anna from Cape Ann Giclee’s brother. Peter teaches biology at UMass Amherst, has a PhD in biology/animal behavior, and is an ornithologist. Thank you Peter!


Monarch Butterfly Exposion -2 ©Kim Smith 2014 300dpi copy

What is a Monarch Butterfly explosion? The butterflies migrate to Mexico to keep from freezing to death in northern climates. The air is cool and moist in the trans-Mexican volcanic mountains, cool enough to keep them inactive and in a state of sexual immaturity, called diapause, but not so cold that they will freeze. As spring approaches and the Earth’s temperature begins to rise, the butterflies sleeping in the oyamel fir forests need to get out of the hot sun. Millions explode from the trees, drink water from nearby mountain streams, and move to a cooler, shadier spot on the mountain.

I hope you’ll come join our program Thursday night at 7pm at the Sawyer Free Library. We’ll be talking all things Monarchs including the current status of the butterfly’s migration, habitat destruction here in our own community, and most importantly, ways in which we can all help the Monarch possibly survive the warming of the earth.

We will be premiering the trailer for my forthcoming film about the Monarchs, too (also titled Beauty on the Wing). I hope to see you there!

For more information, visit the Programs page of my website and the Sawyer Free Library Facebook page.

Monarch Butterfly Explosion -1 ©Kim Smith 2014 300dpi copy


Daybreak from around Niles Pond, Brace Cove, and Henry’s Pond in Rockport.

Niles Pond Sunrise ©Kim Smith 2015

Niles Pond 

Brace Cove Rock Sunrise Gloucester ©Kim Smith 2015Brace Rock Daybreak

Good morning from Brace's Rock!

A photo posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

Brace Cove Sunrise ©Kim Smith 2015

Brace Cove

Mr. Swan ©Kim Smith 2015Mr. Swan Morning Preening

Mr. Swan left Niles Pond yesterday morning and although he flew in his usual direction towards Henry’s Pond, he did NOT fly to Henry’s, which had become his habit. I did not see him at Henry’s, Niles, or the harbor this morning either. Perhaps he has flown to another region in search of a new Mrs. Swan. We can only hope!

See additional photos here of Mr. Swan, dead skunk, and more ~ Read more

Everyone is Invited to a FREE Screening of My Film “Life Story of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly”

Please join us Tuesday evening, November 10th, at 7pm at the Manchester Community Center for a screening and Q and A, sponsored by the Seaside Garden Club. This event is free and open to the public. I hope to see you there!

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Zinnia Male ©Kim Smith 2013.


Monarch Caterpillars Common Milkweed ©Kim Smith 2012Milkweed Munching Monarchs

Although scientists have long known that the toxic sap that flows through milkweed veins, called cardenolides, can make a bird very sick if it attempts to eat a Monarch caterpillar, it was unclear whether the butterfly’s acquired adaption to the toxicity was a side effect that allowed the caterpillar to eat the milkweed or had developed separately as a defensive mechanism against predators. A Cornell University study recently published in Proceedings B of The Royal Society Publishing reveals that they have indeed evolved to weaponize milkweed toxins! Thank you so much to Maggie Rosa for sharing “The Scientist” article and you can read more about it here. 

“Monarch butterfly caterpillars have evolved the ability to store toxins known as cardenolides, obtained from their milkweed diet, specifically to make themselves poisonous to birds, as has at least one other species of milkweed-munching caterpillar, according to a study published Wednesday (November 4) in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“This finding is fascinating and novel,” Stephen Malcolm, a professor at Western Michigan University who studies cardenolides but was not involved in the new research, wrote in an email to The Scientist. “It is exciting to have evidence for the importance of top-down influences from predators.” Continue Reading

Please join me Thursday evening, November 12th, at 7pm at the Sawyer Free Library for my illustrated talk, Beauty on the Wing ~ Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Meadow monarch caterpillar ©Kim Smith 2015

Meadow Anderson and Monarch Caterpillar

Kim Smith Black Swallowtail Film Program at the Seaside Garden Club

Kate Willwerth writes:

The Seaside Garden Club invites everyone to see the beautiful film by Kim Smith: “The Life Story of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly” on November 10th at the Manchester Community Center. Social time begins at 7:00 and the program begins promptly at 7:30.  Light refreshments will be served.

Life Story of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly is a 45-minute narrated film that takes place in a garden and at the sea’s edge. Every stage of the butterfly’s life cycle is experienced in vibrant close-up, from conception to pupation to metamorphosis. The film is suitable for all ages so all can gain a deeper understanding of the symbiotic relationship between wildflowers and pollinators and the vital role they play in our ecosystem. From earliest recorded history the butterfly has represented life’s momentous transformations. None more so than black butterflies. In some cultures black butterflies are thought to foretell death, and in others the return of a spirit to the living world. Continuing today, butterflies are associated with spiritual rebirth and transformation. Their metamorphosis from caterpillar to adult, along with their graceful beauty and vibrant wing patterning, inspires poets and artists universally across time and cultures. The ephemeral grace of the butterfly not only inspires hope but also gives us courage to be active in the search for solutions. The all-too-fragile link of the butterfly to the health of the environment embodies the urgent need for positive change. Filmed in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Discussion and Q & A with the filmmaker to follow the film’s showing.
Black Swallowtail High Res
Kim Smith is a Gloucester based artist, filmmaker and landscape designer.  Kim Smith Designs is her landscape and interior design firm. Kim works in collaboration with clientele to create highly individualized, livable spaces, combining the classic and the modern, the elegant and the playful, and utilize eastern and western cultural influences to further develop and refine design projects. Her love of textiles, art, and furnishings drew her to interior design and passion for flowers and butterflies to garden design. She specialize in connecting the home to the home outside and in creating gardens for people and pollinators–butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, and bees–with a focus on native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and fragrant plants.monarch-in-flight-c2a9kim-smith-2014 (1)
 The Seaside Garden Club meets the 2nd Tuesday of the Month (September through June) and are always looking for new members.  Make sure to sign up for your 2015/2016 Seaside Garden Club Membership – still on $25 for the entire season! Invite your friends and neighbors, all are welcome.  Guests $5. Visit our blog or find us on Facebook!
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Scenes from around Niles Pond and Brace Cove OctoberCattails in the wind ©Kim Smith ©2015

Cattails in the windPainted Turtle Niles Pond ©Kim Smith 2015Painted Turtle

Brace Cove ©Kim Smith 2015

Gulls departing Brace Cove after the storm

Great Blue heron Gull Seals Brace cove ©Kim Smith 2015

Great Blue Heron, seals, and gull


Mr. Swan seems lonely still. The past few days he swims around and around the pond and continues to call plaintively.

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

See More Photos Here


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Semipalmated plover ©Kim Smith 2015Semipalmated Plover and Sanderling

Last week after presenting my Pollinator Garden program in Orleans and visiting the Nauset lighthouses, the next stopover was to my grandparent’s beach in Dennis, or I should say, the beach where my family summered as our grandparents are no longer living. It was close to sunset and I had the overwhelming wish to watch the sun go down from the same place where we perched atop the bluff and had watched the sunset thousands of times as children. It was more than a little dismaying upon arriving to see my Grandmother’s glorious seaside garden gone, replaced by grass, but even more so, to see that the great stairwell and wild rose-lined path to the beach, once enjoyed by all the neighbors, had been privatized. Despite all that and feeling very melancholy, I had a lovely walk along the shore, watched the spectacular sunset from the cliff’s edge, and came upon a gorgeous mixed flock of shore birds. They stayed awhile resting and feeding in the surf at the high tide line and none-too-shy, allowed for both filming and photographing in the fading rosy light.

 Black-bellied Plover ©Kim Smith 2015JPGI believe these are Black-bellied Plovers in their winter plumage. Not only were they standing on one leg, they also run, or hop, along the beach at top speed, on one leg!

Sanderling Dennis Cape Cod ©Kim Smith 2015Sanderling

Dennis MA Cape Cod sunset -2 ©Kim Smith 2015You can read an excerpt about my Grandmother’s Cape Cod garden in my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities in the chapter titled “My Grandmother’s Garden.”

Plover cape Cod ©kim Smith 2015,Camouflaged!

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Kim Smith Monarch Butterfly Program at the Sawyer Free Library

Dear Friends,

Please join us at the Sawyer Free Library on Thursday November 12th at 7:30 pm for my Monarch butterfly program. I am especially, especially excited to present to our community. I hope to see you there! Please note that this is my photo and lecture program, not the new film, which will be coming soon.

For more information visit my website Kim Smith Designs.

Special thanks to Valerie Marino at the Sawyer Free for creating the program flyer!



Brace Rock Gloucester MA ©Kim Smith 2015 JPGBrace Cove and Niles Pond in the lifting fog ~ When I first got to the causeway, Brace Rock was completely obscured. As the fog drifted away an army of cormorants began to appear, joining the gulls on the rocks and feeding from the surf.

More photos here Read more

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