Category Archives: eastern point
The smallest, and I think most would agree, among the cutest North American sea ducks, every autumn Buffleheads arrive on the shores of Cape Ann after having journeyed many thousands of miles from their summer breeding grounds in the Canadian boreal forests. They are seen in twos or in small groups and unlike most ducks, are monogamous. Some males begin courting very early in the season as demonstrated in the flock currently residing on Cape Ann however, the birds will not pair until spring.
When out for a walk along shore and pond, you may notice a great deal of bufflehead kerfuffling taking place. The male’s courtship displays are wonderfully exuberant, with much head pumping, chest thrusting, and aggressive flying. The male goes so far as to exaggerate the size of his head by puffing out his bushy crest. Occasionally, the males chase females, but most of the chasing is directed towards other males in territorial displays, which are accomplished by both flying and skidding across the water as well as via underwater chasing. The female encourages her suitor vocally and with a less animated head pumping motion.
Female Bufflehead, left and male Bufflehead, right
Buffleheads are diving ducks, finding nourishment on Cape Ann on small sea creatures and pond grasses, as well as seed heads at the shoreline’s edge.
By the early twentieth century Buffleheads were nearing extinction due to over hunting. Their numbers have increased although now their greatest threat is loss of habitat stemming from deforestation in the boreal forests and aspen parklands of Canada.
The word bufflehead is a corruption of buffalo-head, called as such because of their disproportionately large and bulbous head. Buffleheads are a joy to watch and are seen all around Cape Ann throughout the fall, winter, and early spring. Their old-fashioned name, “Butterball,” aptly describes these handsome and welcome winter migrants!
Listen for the Buffleheads mating vocalizations. The Bufflehead courtship scenes were filmed on Niles Pond. The end clip is of a flock of Buffleheads in flight and was shot at Pebble Beach, Rockport.
I hope to see you at my talk at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck tonight!
Perhaps I am just imagining, but the seals that were at Brace Cove several mornings ago appear to have a much different pattern of spots on their coats than the Harbor Seals we typically see hauled out on the rocks. I know that Harp Seals are also seen in our area at this time of year and read that the juveniles molt in interesting patterns. The two pinnipeds on the far right have very large irregular patches and the seal on the left seemed half the size of the other three with an almost pointed snout. Is it a different species or a young seal I wonder? Looking at several sources to id and I am still puzzled. Would love to hear from our readers. Thank you so much!
After this weekend’s stormy weather, the Atlantic’s thunderous rollers were exploding all along the backshore this morning.
Evidence of a second coyote lair, found at Brace Cove. There were 5 piles of fresh coyote scat along with neat piles of bones scattered throughout the rocky clearing. Coyotes mostly sleep above ground in an open clearing, unless it is pup season.
Reminder also about Monday night’s informational meeting about living with wildlife, City Hall, at 7pm. More information here.
East Gloucester Coyote Lair #1
This first weekend of 2016 was an exciting one for our lovers of all things avian. Niles Pond especially was teeming with beautiful diving ducks, most notably the Canvasback Duck. Several Ring-necked Ducks were spotted as were a trio of the elegantly understated dabbling Gadwalls. American Coots and Buffleheads have been at Niles now for more than a month; the Buffleheads are especially abundant.
Ring-necked Duck and Canvasback Duck
Canvasback Range Map
I only had my cell phone with and wish so much my movie camera was back from the repair center. He/she was fairly high up in the tree so it’s really not that bad for a cell phone camera. The hawk did not at all seem to mind my interest and stayed for a while before flying towards the Lighthouse.
Record warm temperatures all along the East Coast allowed for luxuriously warm Christmas Day beach fun. Matt, Liv, and Tom took a hike to the the Lighthouse and back and here are some pics. If you spent Christmas Day at a Cape Ann beach, send us your photos and we would love to post! Email image to email@example.com
Providing 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.
Fellow 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.
Interesting fact: Although Harbor Seals have been seen as far south as the Carolinas, Massachusetts is the most southern region in which they breed.
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.
Map 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!
Daybreak from around Niles Pond, Brace Cove, and Henry’s Pond in Rockport.
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
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 Anderson and Monarch Caterpillar
Gulls departing Brace Cove after the storm
Great Blue Heron, seals, and gull
See More Photos Here
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!