Category Archives: Cape Ann Wildlife

NEW SHORT: HELLO HUNGRY BEAVER!

Beaver Pond, also known as Langsford Pond, is located on the outskirts of Cape Ann’s Dogtown. Exquisitely beautiful and peaceful, the pond is teeming with life, habitat largely created by the relatively new presence of the North American Beaver (Castor canadensis).

Beavers were absent from the Massachusetts landscape from 1750 to the early 1900s due to deforestation from agriculture and unregulated hunting and fur trapping. In the early 1900s forests began to recover as farmers abandoned their fields to work in cities. By 1928, a Beaver was found in Stockbridge. The public’s enthusiasm for the return of the beavers abounded and in 1932 three additional beavers from New York were introduced and released in Lennox. Today, Beavers have rebounded to the extent that some controlled hunting is permitted.

Beavers are ecosystem engineers and the ponds they create become wildlife magnets. Think about just this one example of the ecology of a beaver pond: woodpeckers make holes in the dead trees engineered by Beaver activity, Wood Ducks nest in the holes created by the woodpeckers, and raptors hunt the smaller birds.

More examples of how Beavers benefit other species of wildlife include favored nesting sites of both the Great Blue Herons and Osprey are the dead treetops of older trees in beaver swamps. Local species of turtles, the Snapping Turtle and the Eastern Painted Turtle, benefit from abundant vegetation created by beaver tree felling, which causes the forest to regenerate. Snapping and Eastern Painted Turtles prefer standing and slow moving water and hibernate under logs and lodges of Beavers. Painted Turtles also use floating logs to bask upon.

Like Niles Pond and Henry’s Pond, Langsford Pond is another superb example of a body of fresh water close to a saltwater cove where the combination of the two ecosystems provides shelter, nesting sites, and an abundance of food. While at Langsford Pond, I often see Great Blue Herons, swooping overhead, coming and going, between feeding grounds at the head of Lobster Cove and the shelter found in the vegetation surrounding the pond. Today, December 8th, a juvenile was seen on the far side of the pond, as were numerous Wood Ducks.

Since 1999, Langsford Pond has been protected by the Essex County Greenbelt Association. When I was filming there in October and November it was wonderfully overgrown and somewhat difficult to access. Recently, vegetation has been cut back, which makes walking to the pond’s edge much easier. Disease bearing ticks are present.

Some favorite Beaver food, ferns and American White Birch (Betula papyrifera).

beaver-pond-langsford-pond-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithSimilar scenes as several in the film, only a month later without the vibrant fall foliage –“stick” season

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Beaver Lodge

GOOD MORNING GLOUCESTER, BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE SENSATIONAL MR. SWAN!

mute-swan-mr-swan-niles-pond-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithGlorious swan’s wings! In these photos you can see Mr. Swan’s magnificent new set of feathers.

Mr. Swan has resumed his habit of traveling from body of water to body of water within his territory. Why does he not travel during the summer months, primarily dwelling at Niles Pond? Swans molt each summer and during the molting period, they cannot fly.

Mute Swans molt when their cygnets cannot fly. The female (pen) begins to molt almost immediately after the young hatch. The male, or cob, waits until the female’s flight feathers have grown back completely. The reason for this staggered molting period is because swans use their wings in battle and to defend their young. The swan family will never be left defenseless with at least one of the pair’s set of wings fully functional. The molting period lasts anywhere from four to seven weeks.

mute-swan-stretching-wings-niles-pond-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithGood morning Gloucester! Mr. Swan’s big morning stretch before he sets off to patrol his territory

WELL HELLO THERE BIG FOOT! RED-NECKED GREBE SPOTTED AT NILES POND

red-necked-grebe-niles-pond-gloucester-ma-1-copyright-kim-smithForaging around the perimeter of Niles Pond this morning was a charming Red-necked Grebe. I write charming because his feet are exquisitely enormous! As it dove for food, they were put to good use as a sort of paddling propellor. The bird spent much of the morning with its head half submerged and feet furiously working, vigorously hunting small fish and vegetation.red-necked-grebe-niles-pond-gloucester-ma-4-copyright-kim-smith

Check out the size of the Red-necked Grebe’s foot 🙂red-necked-grebe-niles-pond-gloucester-ma-3-copyright-kim-smith

Elusive

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Niles Pond is a special place that provides habitat for myriad species of wildlife, birds especially. Its close proximity to the ocean, abundance of food, and clear fresh, gentle water draws beautiful creatures to our shores all year round.

red-necked-grebe-niles-pond-gloucester-ma-6-copyright-kim-smithAlthough considered a large member of the grebe family, the Red-necked Grebe is comparatively quite a bit smaller than the Mallards. The Red-necked Grebe is on the far right.

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rgrebe_leeRed-necked Grebe in Breeding Plumage, photo courtesy Cornell All About Birds

RARE TICKBORNE DISEASES ARRIVE ON CAPE ANN

Did you know that ticks carry a number of diseases beside Lyme disease? Two that in recent years have reared their ugly heads on Cape Ann are anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Both are transmitted by the black-legged tick (deer tick) in the northeastern U.S. and both have similar symptoms. When symptoms are exhibited, blood is drawn to determine which pathogen is present.

Recently I was bitten by a black-legged tick. The tick was only on my person for several hours. I brushed it off before realizing that it was a tick. The tick was completely flat and not in the least bit engorged. It left a slightly red raised bump that was itchy for a week or so. At my doctor’s office the staff insisted that because the tick was not engorged and because it was attached for less than twenty four hours I was safe from disease. This information was also reinforced by reading about Lyme disease on countless websites.

deer_tick_typesTicks of all sizes and at all stages of life can harbor diseases

That you cannot get sick from a tick attached for less than twenty four hours is 100 percent false. Several weeks ago I staggered home from a very busy day planting a client’s garden. I thought perhaps I had just overdone it and went straight to bed. The next day I could barely move. For the next two weeks I would make an effort to get to work but wind up back in bed a few short hours later. I at first thought it was the flu, but instead of running its course and getting better, things went from bad to worse until I ended up in the hospital with pneumonia. That’s one of the things with anaplasmosis, it also effects your respiratory system.

Kelly Ries, Gloucester’s public health nurse shares that less than five cases of anaplasmosis and babesiosis have been reported in Gloucester. Symptoms of anaplasmosis include fever, headache, muscle pain, malaise, chills, nausea, abdominal pain, cough, confusion, and loss of appetite, of which I had all.

I am writing to help create an awareness with our readers that Lyme disease is not the only pathogen carried by the black-legged tick. Each year, more and more cases of anaplasmosis and babesiosis are being diagnosed in the northeast. Nurse Kelly also reports that black-legged ticks are still active at this time of year and can continue to transmit disease even after the first snowfall of the season. If any of our readers have contracted anaplasmosis (which I sincerely hope not) please write and let us know your experience. Thank you so much.

Doxycycline is the first line of defense for adults and children of all ages and should be initiated immediately whenever anaplasmosis is suspected however, the CDC website provides a warning regarding prophylaxis (preventative treatment): Antibiotic treatment following a tick bite is not recommended as a means to prevent anaplasmosis. There is no evidence this practice is effective, and this may simply delay onset of disease. Instead, persons who experience a tick bite should be alert for symptoms suggestive of tickborne illness and consult a physician if fever, rash, or other symptoms of concern develop.

For more information about about anaplasmosis see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here.

As you can see from the map below, prior to 2010, there were zero cases of anaplasmosis reported in Massachusetts.ana_incidslide_18

THEY’RE BACK! BEAUTIFUL CAPE ANN WINTER SHOREBIRDS

Hello winter friends! As the herons, egrets, and plovers have departed for parts warmer, Cape Ann welcomes mergansers, buffleheads, grebes, and so many more. Overcast morning walk along the shores of Niles Pond –

male-female-red-breasted-mergansers-copyright-kim-smithMale and Female Red-breasted Mergansers

pied-billed-grebe-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithJuvenile Pied-billed Grebe

male-bufflehead-female-red-breasted-merganser-copyright-kim-smithMale Buffleheads and Female Red-breasted Merganser

brace-cove-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithBrace Rock

YET ANOTHER BAD BREAK FOR THE MONARCHS

monarch-butterfly-gloucester-ma-2-copyright-kim-smithAmerica’s growing demand for avocados is fueling the deforestation of central Mexico’s forests. Avocado trees grow at the same altitude as do the sacred oyamel fir forests in the mountains of Michoacán, the only state in Mexico permitted to grow the fruit.

The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, the Monarch’s unique winter habitat, is located in Michoacán and the state of Mexico. The area of deforestation is beginning to encroach on the butterfly’s sanctuary. Unfortunately the region is one of desperate poverty and avocado farming is extremely lucrative. Additionally, the avocado trees and chemicals used to maintain the farms are putting a tremendous strain on the crystalline mountain waters on which people, the butterflies, and myriad species of wildlife depend.

For more information, see links below:

http://www.fronterasdesk.org/content/9945/avocado-orchards-mexico-compete-forest-land

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/9176bc7479e048508203f10a68da6fa7/mexico-high-avocado-prices-fueling-deforestation

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SCENES FROM AN EARLY MORNING WALK ALONG THE BRACE COVE NILES POND CAUSEWAY

Sleepy Mr. Swan waking up on this coldest and most blustery morning of the season #scenesofnewengland

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

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Mixed flock of gulls and ducks feeding in the surf Brace Cove #scenesofnewengland #gloucesterma

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

brace-cove-daybreak-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithBrace Cove daybreak

HOLY CANNOLI–A PENGUIN IN GLOUCESTER–AT NILES POND–NOW I’VE SEEN EVERYTHING!

great-cormorant-juvenile-niles-pond-gloucester-massachustts-2-copyright-kim-smithThose were my initial thoughts upon catching a glimpse of a large black-feathered and white-breasted mystery creature from across the pond. I entered the narrow opening through the shrubby growth that surrounds Niles Pond and inched my way closer to the sleeping bird, when up popped its head. Naturally not a penguin, it looked like some sort of cormorant, just not the ones we see on a daily basis on the shores of Cape Ann.

I later learned it was a Great Cormorant. As you can see from the photo below, in the early morning light and from a distance, its not hard to imagine a penguin.great-cormorant-juvenile-niles-pond-gloucester-massachustts-copyright-kim-smith

I wrote the title of the post thinking that possibly we could all use a beautiful creature to learn a bit about and a touch of humor, too. It has been a very difficult and divisive election and a very tough day for slightly more than half of the American electorate. Let’s keep our chins up, and realize going forward that it is preferable to build bridges together than to construct walls that divide.great-cormorant-juvenile-niles-pond-gloucester-massachustts-3-copyright-kim-smith

Back to Great Cormorants. With its white-feathered breast, this one is a juvenile. Great Cormorants, although widespread in much of the Old World, are generally only found in North America along the Atlantic Coast. Great Cormorants are described as heavy-bodied seabirds and larger than the usually seen Double-crested Cormorant. I watched him depart, his take-off was heavy and clumsy, but perhaps that was because he had awoken only moments earlier.

double-crested-cormorant-niles-pond-gloucester-massachustts-copyright-kim-smithCompare the Double-crested Cormorant (above photo). Massing in great numbers as they fly along the Annisquam and Essex Rivers at this time of year, the Double-crested Cormorants are ubiquitous. They are a true North American species and breed, winter over, and migrate along the shores of Cape Ann. great-cormorant-juvenile-niles-pond-gloucester-massachustts-1-copyright-kim-smith

Great Cormorant — notice the white throat pouch of the Great Cormorant, versus the orange pouch of the Double-crested Cormorant.

great_cormorant_map_largeRange Map Great Cormorant in North America

double_crested_cormorant_map_bigRange Map Double-crested Cormorant

UPDATE FROM BEAVER POND: A WONDERFUL WORLD OF WOODPECKERS!

hairy-woodpecker-cape-ann-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithHairy Woodpecker

Rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat resonating through the trees tops. The little wild wood encircling Beaver Pond was alive with a veritable rhythm band. I must have arrived on the ideal day, for there were seemingly dozens of woodpecker excavations taking place. Not one, not two, but three different species of woodpeckers were drumming the forest canopy!

It is no mystery as to why the pond shore is a sanctuary for woodpeckers, surrounded as it is with trees in a wonder of varying stages of decay. Woodpeckers excavate dead and dying trees and limbs not only to create nest cavities and to forage for insect prey, but to also enlarge cavities used for winter shelter. During the fall, a woodpecker will spend about a week excavating winter roosting holes.

Winter roosts created by woodpeckers may later provide shelter or nest sites for many other species of animals including owls, flying squirrels, bluebirds, nuthatches, and chickadees.

red-bellied-woodpecker-cape-ann-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithRed-bellied Woodpecker

Woodpeckers mostly eat insects, in all stages, from egg to larvae to pupae to adult. During the winter their diet is comprised of seeds, nuts, fruits, and berries. The woodpecker’s tongue is quite extraordinary, being long and extendable, and also coated with bristly hairs. Woodpeckers use their tongues to spear and extract wood-boring insects, as a sticky trap for catching ants, and as a brush for licking up sap.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers look similar. Hairy Woodpeckers are about the size of an American Robin. Downies are smaller and their bills are more delicate in appearance. The outer edge of their tail feathers are white, barred with black, lending a spotted appearance. The outer edge of the tail feathers of Hairy Woodpeckers is pure white (see top photo above to compare).
beaver-pond-gloucester-copyright-kim-smithI’ve returned to Beaver Pond several time since the day the bonanza of woodpeckers was photographed but haven’t been treated to the rhythm band since. A few woodpeckers have been sighted, their calls noted, and only an occasional distant drumming heard. Perhaps they are tending other tasks in preparation for winter, collecting and caching food in their newly excavated holes.

There are a few moments after sunset when the light is still bright enough to photograph and to film. The Beaver Family makes their appearance just about then but none have ventured to the side of the pond where I am stationed since that one evening when a solitary beaver swam within arm’s reach. But I am patient!

 

BEAVER CENTRAL!!

pond-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithLast winter Liv and Matt showed me a place on the outskirts of Dogtown where they go rock climbing. I filed it away under places to visit during warmer weather. With all things Piping Plovers and filming shorebirds I didn’t have a chance to revisit until this fall. The pond is somewhat difficult to explore, with no trails, lots of viney runners to trip you up, rocky uneven surfaces for falling flat on your face, and loaded with ticks but nonetheless, is exquisitely beautiful. Until its name is learned and for the time being, I’m calling it Beaver Pond because so far, I’ve counted FIVE beavers there!beaver-lodge-2-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

beaver-lodge-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithThe beavers appear to have one large lodge with multiple mini-dens strategically built around the perimeter of the pond.

log-chewed-by-beaver-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

Evidence of an active beaver pond with gnawed log

The Beaver Family is nocturnal and conducting most of its business on the far side of the pond. I have only been able to shoot a photo outside my camera’s range of quality photo.

beaver-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithThere’s the beaver, on the far side of the pond, blending with the lily pads and fallen leaves

I did manage to take some fun footage, which I will be hopefully uploading in the next few days. One early evening, I sat as still as a stone, for at least half an hour, when one swam nearly right up to my feet!! I am usually filming and photographing simultaneously, but was afraid to make a move to switch to my still camera for fear that the slightest bit of motion would send the creature diving. Also on the furthest side of the pond were a family of the unbelievably beautiful Wood Ducks. That photo is also too far outside my camera’s quality photo range, but at least you can get an idea of their striking feather patterning. More information from Beaver Central to come!wood-duck-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith Male and female Wood Ducks – notice the female’s large white eye patch and the way she blends perfectly with her surroundings.

LEARNING ABOUT DAY OF THE DEAD TRADITIONS

There is a beautiful ofrenda at the Peabody Museum at Harvard, which is where I learned about the Mexican Purépecha indigenous people’s name for the Monarch butterfly, the “Harvester.” The altar is part of the Museum’s permanent collection and is on display year round.

dayofthedeadaltar1_webFrom the Peabody Museum at Harvard’s Dia de los Muertos exhibit.

The Peabody Museum’s exhibition of a Day of the Dead ofrenda or altar is located in the Encounters With the Americas gallery. The exhibit features pieces from the Alice P. Melvin Collection of Mexican Folk Art and represents the Aztec origins of the holiday and the Catholic symbols incorporated into the tradition, from skeletons to plush Jesus figures.

The altar is contained within a box covered with panels that were decorated by local students and regional and international artists. The altars were designed by the Peabody exhibitions staff and Mexican artists Mizael Sanchez and Monica Martinez.

Originating with the Aztecs, the Mexican Day of the Dead is a unique blend of Mesoamerican and Christian rituals. The holiday, which is celebrated on November 1, All Saints’ Day, is usually dedicated to children; November 2, All Souls’ Day, is dedicated to adults.

Traditions vary from region to region, but generally families gather at cemeteries to tend and decorate the graves of their departed loved ones and remember them by telling stories, eating their favorite foods, and dancing in their honor. Many families build altars at home, decorated with flowers and food, especially pan de muerto or “bread of the dead.” A festive and social occasion, the holiday welcomes the return of those who have died and recognizes the human cycle of life and death.

The Peabody’s permanent altar features items from the Alice P. Melvin collection of Mexican folk art. To see these items, click here.

Curated by Davíd Carrasco, Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America and Mexican artist Mizael Sanchez.

To watch a video interview with Mizael Sanchez, click here.

CELEBRATING DIA DE LOS MUERTOS

marigolds-flor-de-muerto-copyright-kim-smithThis morning when I stopped by to say hello to ELise and Tucker at Cedar Rock Gardens they were hard at work planting a humongous field of tulips, planned to bloom for next Mother’s Day. Elise generously shared pots of fresh marigolds dug from their fields, not in good enough shape to sell, but perfect for our first ever Day of the Dead altar, Ofrenda de Muertos.

The vibrant colors and fresh citrusy scent of marigolds lure the spirits–marigolds are strewn about and placed around the altar so the souls can find their way. There is a wild version of marigolds that blooms in October and the Spanish name for the flower is flor de muerto, or flower of death.

The altar, or “offering to the dead,” is a sacred Mexican tradition where those who have passed away are honored by the living. The celebration takes place on November 1st and 2nd, on the 1st to honor the souls of children and on the 2nd, to honor adults. I became fascinated with the tradition after learning that Monarchs arrive in Mexico about the same time as Dia de los Muertos is celebrated. In Mexican folklore, butterflies represent the returning souls of departed loved ones. In the native language of the Purépecha, the name for the Monarch is the “harvester” butterfly. The Purépecha are a group of indigenous people centered in the northwestern region of the Mexican state of Michoacán, the very region to where the Monarchs return every year! 

There is a beautiful ofrenda at the Peabody Museum, which is where I learned about the “Harvester” butterfly. The altar is part of the Museum’s permanent collection and is on display year round. Here is a link to the exhibit.

altarmarigolds

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 716cca8662eab19228a8cb0bd3060dc3Images courtesy google image search

GLOUCESTER’S LITTLE SEAHORSE FINAL UPDATE

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 😞) 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 here.

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 as Gloucester’s little seahorse, 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!!!

UPDATE ON GLOUCESTER’S LITTLE SEAHORSE

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.

seahorse-anatomy-male-female
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!
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SEAHORSE CAPTURE IN GLOUCESTER WATERS!!

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.

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

GOOD MORNING GLOUCESTER BROUGHT TO YOU BY LOBSTER COVE!

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

fall-foliage-lobster-cove-copyright-kim-smithgreat-blue-heron-in-the-marsh-copyright-kim-smith

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