Category Archives: Cape Ann Wildlife

SPINNING A WINTER HOME

The first of our Cecropia Moth caterpillars, nicknamed Mothra, is in the process of spinning her winter home, a fine silken enclosure. With the gossamer threads, she has woven several branches together, forming a V-shaped structure to secure the cocoon.

Cecropia Moth Cocoon detail 2 copyright Kim Smith

Surrounding leaves, like a blanket, are arranged around the cocoon and also secured with silk threads. The house is quite large, about four inches long and an inch and a half in diameter. As you can see from the Instagram, she has room enough to easily move within the cocoon. When completed, she will pupate within the case. Come next spring, Mothra will emerge from her winter home ready to mate and deposit eggs of the next generation. The circle of life continues.Cecropia Moth Cocoon detail copyright Kim Smith

Mothra spinning her winter home, from the inside out 🌻

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

Cecropia Moth Cocoon copyright Kim SmithCecropia Moth caterpillar copyright Kim Smith
cecropia-moth-male-copyright-kim-smithMothra’s Dad

TRACKING THE PIPING PLOVER

Piping Plover fledgling standing on one leg copyright Kim SmithPiping Plover Fledgling warming on a chilly morning. Birds stand on one leg to conserve energy.

Love everything about this bird–even its tracks in the sand are sweet. The PiPl are with us still, although getting increasingly difficult to discern as their breeding plumage fades to non breeding plumage. You often feel as though you are trying to locate sand upon sand but their fleur delis tracks and gentle melodious piping bird song will lead you to them.

Piping Plover tracks copyright Kim Smith

 

HOW DO YOU SAY PLOVER?

Piping Plover Fledglings copyright Kim Smith .Sweetly beautiful birds and full of personality, whether called ploh-ver or pluh-ver. This pair of fledgling siblings was photographed at Wingaersheek Beach.

How do you pronounce plover? Do you say ploh-ver, like clover, or do you say pluh-ver, like lover? I was convinced the clover pronunciation was correct until having dinner with friends recently who were equally as convinced that the lover pronunciation was accurate. The conversation reminded me of that old film, Shall We Dance and the potato song, or “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” A quick Google search offers both pronunciations!

GLOUCESTER’S LITTLEST OSPREY ON THE ANNISQUAM PERISHES

With regrets, I am sorry to report that the Osprey fledgling has died. Don, whose property the nest is located upon, shares that he observed the Osprey Dad toss the nestling out of the nest. Don went to investigate and found the baby’s lifeless body lying on the ground. He placed it in a box and brought it to Greenbelt. Judging by the condition of the body, it was determined that the young Osprey was most likely killed by an owl.

On a positive note, Don and Eleanor’s Osprey pair will more than likely return to the same nest site next year. They are also thought to be a young couple. Hopefully the pair will hone their parenting skills and, quite possibly, have more than one fledgling on their next attempt. The growing recovery of Osprey to our region means that many things are going right; the improving health of our coastal environment, for example. 

Many thanks again to Paul Morrison and sister Kathy, and to Don and Eleanor, for providing this brief window to see the Annisquam River Osprey family. I am looking forward to learning and sharing more next year. 

Osprey and fledgling Annisquam Essex County copyright Kim SmithRIP Little Osprey

 

 

 

THANK YOU LAUREN FROM MANCHESTER!

Cecropia Moth caterpillar copyright Kim SmithCecropia Moth Caterpillar

So many thanks to my new friend Lauren, who generously shared cuttings from her American Birch Tree growing in her fantastic habitat garden. Her garden paradise is a pollinator’s dream, filled with gorgeous flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs, native wildflowers, and non-invasive well-behaved ornamental plants. While we were chatting, a Monarch flew on the scene, pausing to nectar at her butterfly bush! Mothra and her siblings thank Lauren, too.

 

SUNLIGHT THROUGH GULL’S WINGS

Catch sight if you can of the graceful Bonaparte’s Gulls, migrating along the Atlantic Flyway and through our region. A few will spend the winter here but most are taking pause to rest and refuel at the least disturbed of our beautiful shores.
Bonaparte's Gull Larus philadelphia Cape Ann copyright Kim Smith

Bonaparte’s Gull taking flightbonapartes_gull_map_big

MOTHRA!

Cecropia Moth caterpillar copyright Kim SmithNoticeably growing larger day by day, the biggest caterpillar of our batch of Cecropia Moth caterpillars (nicknamed Mothra) still has a ways to go before he/she pupates and becomes a cocoon for the winter.

Comparing the size of Mothra and my hand – she is still growing 🌻

A photo posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

The colorful protuberances with black spikes are thought to mimic either a poisonous plant or animal and are a defense against predators. Like most caterpillars, the Cecropia moth caterpillar has five pairs of prolegs. The green prolegs are blue at the base with a row of microscopic hooks, or crochets, that enable walking and clinging.

Cecropia Moth caterpillar close up feet copyright Kim Smith

Although the Cecropia Moth has the largest wingspan of any moth found in North America, its caterpillar is not the largest caterpillar. That honor goes to the caterpillar of the Royal Walnut Moth, also called Regal Moth, which in its caterpillar stage is called the Hickory Horned Devil.

cecropia-moth-male-copyright-kim-smithAdult Male Cecropia Moth

Thank you again to friend Christine for the Cecropia Moth eggs. They are the offspring of the male Cecropia Moth that she is holding in the photo above.

HELP NEEDED PLEASE!

Do any of our dear readers have a Paper Birch tree with some low hanging branches that I could cut? The branches need to be low enough for me to reach with a pair of pruners. Don’t worry, it won’t harm the tree. The foliage is needed for our ginormous and still growing Cecropia Moth caterpillars. Please leave a comment in the comment section or feel free to email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you!

Birch tree Niles Pond moonlight copyright Kim Smith

Paper Birch in the moonlight Niles Pond

MORE ABOUT GLOUCESTER’S SPLENDID OSPREYS ON THE ANNISQUAM!

Male female Osprey copyright Kim SmithThis morning I had the joy to meet Don and Eleanor. Don built the fantastic Osprey platform that you see in the photos. Several years ago, Don noticed that an Osprey pair were trying to construct a nest on a post by the train tracks; the post that houses the all important train signals. Understandably, railroad workers had to destroy the nest as it was interfering with train operations. After watching the Osprey pair attempt to build a nest two years in a row, Don decided to build and install an Osprey platform in the marsh adjacent to his home. With some advice from Greenbelt, Don installed the platform early this spring. Wonder of wonders, his plan worked! The young pair built a perfect nest and one egg hatched.Male female Osprey -3 copyright Kim Smith

If the mated pair survives the winter migration, upon their return, they will repair and add to their existing nest. And if the young fledgling also survives it too will most likely return to the region. Thanks to citizen scientists like Don and Eleanor and the Essex County Greenbelt’s amazing Osprey program, the north of Boston region is rapidly being repopulated with Opsrey. Don is already building a second platform with hopes of installing it in the spring of 2017.Male Female Osprey -4 copyright Kim Smith

Don reports that since the Osprey have been on the scene, they are no longer bothered by pesky crows. He witnessed a pair of crows trying to rob the Osprey nest of its egg. The Osprey swooped in, snatched both crows, and beat them down into the marsh. The crows have yet to return!

Many thanks to Don and Eleanor for their warm hospitality and efforts to help the Osprey.Osprey and fledgling Annisquam Essex County -1 copyright Kim Smith

Osprey nesting platform built by Don

To take some truly terrific closeups, a longer zoom lens than my own 400mm is required, but we can at least get a glimpse of the Osprey family with these photos.

Male Osprey copyright Kim Smith

GLOUCESTER’S BABY OSPREY!

So many thanks to GMG’s Paul Morrison for the excursion out to photograph the Osprey nest on the Annisquam. And thank you to Paul’s sister Kathy for the suggestion. We were there for only a short time when we began to see movement beneath the adult perched on the nest’s edge. After a few moments, the nestling’s shape became visible, but only for seconds, before it settled back deeper into the nest.

Osprey and fledgling Annisquam Essex County copyright Kim Smith

Some interesting facts about Ospreys:

Their population has rebounded following the ban on the pesticide DDT.

This hawk is easy to identify when flying over head as it has a whiter belly than other raptors.

The male gathers the nesting material while the female builds the nest. Osprey return to the same nesting sight and nest, building and rebuilding the nest up over a period of many generations. The man made nesting platforms that we see in Essex County are relatively new nests. Osprey nests that are built up over decades can reach 10 to 13 feet deep and 3-6 feet in diameter, large enough for an adult to sit in.

The osprey’s diet consists almost exclusively of fish, nearly 80 different species of fish are eaten by osprey. Sounds like a Gloucester sort of raptor!

Follow this link for more information about the Essex County Greenbelt’s exciting and highly successful osprey program.

1024px-Ospreys_with_a_huge_nest

Osprey nest made over multiple generations

osprOsprey are found on every continent except Antarctica

 

BONNIE BONAPARTE’S GULLS IN THE HOOD!

Bonaparte's Gulls Gloucester Massachusetts -2 copyright Kim SmithBonaparte’s Gulls

Recently, several Laughing Gulls were spotted all around Cape Ann. Laughing Gulls are easy to confuse with Bonaparte’s Gulls, which at this time of year, also have black heads. As the breeding season winds to an end, the Bonaparte’s black head feathers give way to white, where only a smudge of an earmuff will remain. Bonaparte’s Gulls breed in the Arctic; we see them on both their northward and southward journeys and some make Massachusetts their winter home. Small flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls can be seen at area beaches including Good Harbor Beach, Lighthouse Beach, and Wingaersheek Beach.

Bonaparte's Gulls Gloucester Massachusetts -5 copyright Kim Smith

While foraging, Bonaparte’s Gulls vigorously churn the sandy bottom with their feet to stir up tiny marine creatures. Note the transitioning head feathers in the above gull.

They are feeding intently, fortifying for the migration, and often get into disagreements over feeding turf.

Bonaparte's Gulls Gloucester massachusetts copyright Kim SmithBonaparte’s in a territory tussle

Bonaparte's Gulls Gloucester Massachusetts -4 copyright Kim SmithBonaparte’s Gulls are smaller than Laughing, Ring-billed, and Herring Gulls, about 11 to 15 inches in length

The easiest and quickest way to distinguish Laughing Gull from Bonaparte’s Gull is to look at the legs and feet. Bonaparte’s Gulls are a vivid orange, more pink later in the season. The Laughing Gull’s legs and feet are blackish-reddish.

Laughing Gull Gloucester Massachusetts cooyright Kim SmithLaughing Gull, with dark feet and legs.

Bonaparte's Gulls Gloucester Massachusetts -6 copyright Kim Smith

Bonaparte’s Gulls have bright orange legs and feet

bonapartes-gulls-gloucester-2-copyright kim-smith-2015Photograph from last September; Bonaparte’s with only a hint of black head feathers remaining.

THE EARLY BIRD CATCHES THE WORM

Sanderling eating insect copyright kim Smith

My grandmother was fond of saying “the early bird catches the worm.” I assumed she said that because I adored getting up early to eat breakfast with my grandfather before he left for work. In a large family with siblings and cousins, I had him all to myself in those day break hours. Having developed a passion and love for wild creatures and wild places, I understand better what she meant. She and my grandfather built a summer home for their family in a beautiful, natural seashore setting and both she and my parents packed our home with books and magazines about nature. Now I see her design…

Wednesday morning at day break, beautiful scene, beautiful creatures by the sea’s edge

God Harbor Beach Sunrise August 3, 2016 -2 copyright Kim Smith

Song Sparrow copyright Kim SmithSong Sparrow breakfast

American Robin fledgling copyright Kim SmithAmerican Robin fledgling, note its speckled breast feathers

Mockingbird copyright Kim SmithMockingbird feeding its fledgling

Song Sparrow Virginia creeper copyright Kim SmithSong Sparrow and Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) flowers and fruit

Sanderling copyright Kim SmithSanderling

Gull eating crab copyright kim Smith

God Harbor Beach Sunrise August 3, 2016 copyright Kim Smith

AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH – PLOVERS HERE THERE AND EVERYWHERE! – TIPS ON HOW TO ID PIPING PLOVERS, SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS, AND KILLDEERS

Female Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach Gloucester copyright Kim SmithFor the past ten weeks, each morning very early before work I have been filming the Good Harbor Beach shorebirds and their habitat, and when not too tired from work, would go back again at the end of the day. For the most part, it has been a tremendously educational and rewarding experience, and I love Good Harbor and its wild creatures even more than when I began the Piping Plover project. We are so fortunate to have this incredibly beautiful and beloved treasure of a beach in our midst, and so easily accessed. As much as I have enjoyed filming the wildlife, it has been equally as fun to observe the myriad wonderful ways in which people enjoy the beach recreationally and that too is part of the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover story.

Male Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach Gloucester copyright Kim Smith

Take a closer look at the shorebirds next time you are at Good Harbor Beach. Small and swift, they can look similar, but once you begin to study their behaviors, each species becomes easier to identify.

Female Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts -2 copyright Kim SmithNew female Piping Plover on the scene with very pale coloring

Good Harbor Beach is currently home to three different species of plovers. We all know about our beautiful Piping Plover family. The lone surviving chick and Dad were last seen heading deep, deep, deep into the salt marsh. Since that time, several new Piping Plovers have joined the scene, two females and a male. We can tell they are different from our original mated pair by their feather pattern and bill color.Killdeer Chicks Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts copyright Kim Smith

Earlier in the summer, four Killdeer chicks hatched at the edge of the GHB salt marsh. It was pretty scary filming the Killdeer family because all six were running willy nilly every which way throughout the beach parking lot on a very busy weekend morning. In the next photo, taken several days ago, you can see that the family has grown quickly.Killdeer Family Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts copyright Kim Smith

Killdeers are the largest of the the three species of plovers seen in Massachusetts, nearly twice as large as the pocket-sized Piping Plover. That fact didn’t stop the male Piping Plover from defending its nesting territory. Notice the two dark bands around the neck and chest of the Killdeer.

Piping Plove Chasing Killdeer Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts copyright Kim Smith

Half the size of his foe, our male Piping Plover is vigorously chasing the intruding Killdeer from his nesting territory

Killdeer Good Harbor Beach Gloucester copyright Kim Smith

The Killdeer has a dark band encircling its neck and a second band across its chest

The third species of plovers at GHB is the Semipalmated Plover. Although only slightly larger than the Piping Plover, the difference is easy to spot by the darker brown wings. Compare the single neck ring of the Semipalmated Plover to that of the Killdeer’s double set of rings. Unlike Piping Plovers and Killdeers, Semipalmated Plovers do not breed in Massachusetts but in northern Canada and Alaska. At this time of year we are observing their southward migration to the southern United States, Caribbean, and South America.Semipalmated Plover Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts -2 copyright Kim Smith

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plovers are often seen in mixed flocks with Semipalmated Sandpipers and Least Sandpipers. Semipalmated Sandpipers have black legs. Least Sandpipers have distinctly colored yellowish legs.
Semipalmated Plover Semipalmated Sandpiper Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts copyright Kim Smith

Semipalmated Plover and Semipalmated Sandpipers

Least Sandpiper Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts copyright Kim Smith

Least Sandpiper

Note that all of the shorebirds mentioned here are also currently at Wingaersheek Beach.

 

 

TEE-HEE TEE-HEE – LAUGHING GULL AT GOOD HAROBR BEACH!

Laughing Gull Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts copyright Kim SmithLook for this unmistakeable gull at Good Harbor Beach. It has been here for several days. You can’t miss his distinguished black head and deepest slate gray wings. If lucky, he may even laugh his funny laugh for you. This is a first for me, seeing a Laughing Gull at Good Harbor Beach. When I was a child we would see them often at my Grandparent’s beach on Cape Cod. If you have seen Laughing Gulls on Cape Ann please write and let us know.

Mass Audubon’s historic status on the Laughing Gull reports that this smallest of our breeding gulls has had a difficult time reproducing in Massachusetts. In the mid 1800s, Laughing Gulls reigned over Muskeget Island, off the Nantucket coast, but within a 25-year period, commercial eggers reduced their population to but only a few nesting pairs. “By 1923, however, protective actions taken by the keeper of the island’s lifesaving station helped the Laughing Gull population rebound to the thousands. Further bolstered by the protection afforded by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, Laughing Gulls expanded their colony at Muskeget Island to 20,000 pairs by the 1940s. Unfortunately, a preponderance of Herring Gulls also benefited from the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as from the increase in food available to them at open landfills at that time.” The rise of the Herring Gull has ultimately led to the severe decline of breeding Laughing Gulls in Massachusetts and today there are thought to be only about 500 pairs. Imagine, from 20,000 pairs to only 500!

One interesting fact is that not only do they nest in Dune Grass, but also have a penchant for dense patches of Poison Ivy. The Good Harbor Beach Laughing Gull has been foraging on crustaceans and invertebrates at the tide pools.

CECROPIA MOTH CATS

Cecropia caterpillar on the move 🌻

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

Beautiful caterpillar of the beautiful Cecropia moth, North America's largest species of Lepidoptera

A photo posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

Don’t you love the colors of the third stage, or instar, of the Cecropia Moth caterpillar? Only about an inch and a half long in the photo, in the final fifth instar, before it pupates into a cocoon, the caterpillar will be as large as a large man’s thumb.

Cecropia moth Caterpilla mid instar. copyright Kim SmithIn its second instar in the above photo, the caterpillar resembles the developing birch flower catkins. This is an evolutionary form of mimicry against predation by birds. Cecropia Moth caterpillars eat not only the foliage of American White Birch trees, but also other species of birch trees, apple, ash, beech, elm, lilac, maple, poplar, Prunus and Ribes species, white oak, and willow.

Cecropia Moth caterpillar early instar copyright Kim SmithFirst instar Cecropia Moth Caterpillars

Thank you so much again to my friend Christine for the gift of the Cecropia moth eggs. 

HELLO MAMA MONARCH!

Plant and they will come!

Female Monarch depositing eggs -1 copyright Kim Smith

Alighting on the buds of our Marsh Milkweed plants, you can see in these photos that the female Monarch is curling her abdomen to the underside to deposit eggs. She will go from bud to bud and leaf to leaf ovipositing one egg at a time. A female, on average, deposits 700 eggs during her lifetime, fewer in hot, dry weather.Female Monarch depositing eggs copyright Kim Smith

Female Monarch Butterfly and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Butterflies do not “lay” eggs; we say oviposit or deposit. And you wouldn’t describe a caterpillar as hatched, but that it has emerged or eclosed.

Grow Marsh Milkweed and Common Milkweed and you most definitely will have female Monarchs calling your garden home!Female Monarch depositing eggs -2 copyright Kim SmithIn the above photo you can see how she is contorting her abdomen to correctly position the eggs

THE BABY HUEY OF FLEDGLINGS: THE COMMON TERN

Common Tern Fledgling feeding -1 copyright Kim SmithAfter 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.

Common Tern Fledgling feeding -6 copyright Kim SmithUnlike 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.

Common Tern Fledgling feeding copyright Kim SmithThe 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.

Common Tern feeding copyright Kim SmithCommon Tern attacking gull copyright Kim SmithCommon Tern dive bombing gull

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.

Wingaersheek sunrise #gloucesterma ❤️

A photo posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVER UPDATE WITH TIPS ON OBSERVING THE BIRDS

Piping Plover male and chicks copyright Kim SmithWith 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.

Piping Plover chick copyright Kim SmithNotice the growing wing buds!

Piping Plover tiny chick copyright Kim SmithThe tiniest

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!

Piping Plover garbage and chick copyright Kim SmithGarbage 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 Plover male and chick copyright Kim Smith

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!

DSCF3675

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.

Piping Plover male and chick -2 copyright Kim SmithDad and chick this morning Monday, the 18th, exactly one week old!

« Older Entries