Tag Archives: birds of New England

Exciting News! (Edited)

GORGEOUS JUVENILE SNOW GOOSE IN GLOUCESTER!
Snow Goose Juvenile Gloucester Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015Many thanks to Michelle Barton for alerting us about the Snow Goose at Good Harbor Beach. Michelle and Chris Anderson’s son, Atticus, has a superb eye for identifying rare and unusual birds that are migrating through our region. It was the Barton-Anderson Family who first alerted us to the Snowy Owl in our neighborhood this past January.*Snow Goose Juvenile Gloucester Massachusetts Cnadian Geese ©Kim Smith 2015

Snow Goose Juvenile Canadina Geese Gloucester Massachusetts Essex County  ©Kim Smith 2015The juvenile Snow Goose and flock of Canadian Geese are foraging for grasses along the water’s edge. They yank and tug vigorously at the sea grass roots until dislodging.

Snow Goose Juvenile Gloucester Massachusetts -3 ©Kim Smith 2015Snow Goose Gloucester Massachusetts Essex County Teeth Tomia ©Kim Smith 2015 copySnow Geese mate for life, breeding during the summer months in the Arctic Tundra. Their annual journey  from summer breeding grounds to winter home is a roundtrip of more than 5,000 miles, and they are oftentimes traveling at speeds of up to 50mph! There are four migratory corridors, or flyways, in North America. From west to east, they are the Pacific, Central, Mississippi, and Atlantic. Gloucester is a special place where we are centrally located in the Atlantic flyway.

Snow Goose Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015Thanks so much again Michelle and Atticus for the Snow Goose alert!* See comment below from Chris Anderson

See More Snow Goose Photos Here Read more

Did You Know That ANYONE Can Become A Member of the Audubon Society?

In case you were unaware, The Audubon Society is not a restricted organization. It is comprised entirely of people like you and me. Massachusetts alone has over 100,000 member citizens that belong to the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Here is a link to get you started: Get Involved.

Particularly for Massachusetts residents, the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s website is especially helpful in identifying birds observed locally; see the Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas Find a Bird Page. The Common Eider seen on Rogers Street, and guided to safety by Thomas Donahue, is on the Mass Audubon Find A Bird page and you can read more about this interesting bird here: Common Eider.The atlas isn’t always helpful, for example, GMG contributor Donna recently spotted a Horned Grebe. That particular species is not included on the page however, it was easily identified by looking at other sources, including books and websites such as Cornell’s All About Birds website.

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Reminder: Cape Ann Winter Birding Weekend, a program sponsored by the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Massachusetts Audubon Society was rescheduled for the weekend of February 27 through the 29th. Click here for details.

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Robert Chem Sanderlings painting currently on view at the Trident Gallery

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Robert Chem Northern Shrike 

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Additional information about Mass Audubon membership:

Members of the Massachusetts Audubon Society enjoy the following benefits:

Free Places to Explore, a full-color guide to Mass Audubon’s wildlife sanctuaries, nature centers, and museums.

Free one-year subscriptions to Connections, our member newsletter, and our new annual publication (first issue will be sent in February).

Member-only discounts on hundreds of exciting programs, camps, courses, and most special events.

Savings on purchases and access to member-only sales at our gift shops.

Member-only access to:

Savings on green auto insurance (10%) with the Environmental Insurance Agency (EIA).

Migrate to Explorer level or higher for even more benefits. Learn about our different membership levels.

Check out our Frequently Asked Questions or contact us.

Carolina Wren

For the past several years a pair of the sweetest Carolina Wrens have made our garden their home. The wrens are at the very edge of their northern range and because of that, they are much more at risk than many of the species of birds that we see at our feeders. Knowing this is one of the reasons why we are so vigilant in keeping the bird feeders well-stocked. The Carolina Wrens are easy to please; safflower seeds and suet are amongst their favorites. The following I wrote awhile back but because they are so vulnerable in this snowiest of winters, I think the information is worthwhile to repost.

Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianusCarolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

Come-to-me, come-to-me, come-to-me, repeated from sun up to sundown. Mellow and sweet—though loud enough to attract my attention—what was this new-to-my-ears birdsong coming from the thicket of shrubs? Occasionally we would catch a quicksilver glimpse of a petite sparrow-sized songbird singing energetically atop the fence wall or rapidly pecking at the chinks of bark on our aged pear tree. But this was definitely not a sparrow. His is a rounded little body with tail held upward. He has pale orangey-buff underparts and rich russet plumage, with white and black barred accents on the wings, and long white eye-stripes. Because his coloring is so similar to, my husband took to calling it “that chipmunk bird.”

After much running to the window and out the back door at his first few notes I was able to identify our resident Carolina Wren. All summer long and through the fall we were treated to his beautiful and sundry melodies. Here it is late winter and he is again calling me to the window. We can have a longer look through bare trees and shrubs. Much to our joy there is not one wren, but a pair!

The Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) is common throughout the southeast; so populous it is the state bird of South Carolina. When found on Cape Ann it is at its most northern edge of its territory. Gradually, as the climate has warmed over the past century, its range has expanded. They are sensitive to cold and will perish during severe weather. The Carolina Wren is a highly adaptable creature, dwelling in swamps, forests, farms, and tree-filled urban and suburban communities. They hop around leaf litter and dense brush, using their elongated bills to forage for food close to the ground. A pair may bond any time of the year and will stay together for life. It is the ardent male who sings the loud song and he is apt to anytime and anywhere. Carolina Wrens work together to construct their nests and feed their young. Their nesting sites are varied, built in both man-made and natural nooks and crannies; tree holes and stumps, and just as frequently, windowsills, mailboxes, tin cans, garage shelves, and holes found in porches, fence posts, and barns.

What to Feed the Robins

American Robin in the Snow ©Kim Smith 2014The robins in our community have several different habits for surviving winter. There are year round resident robins that breed throughout Cape Ann during warmer months and also spend the winter here.  A second group only breeds in our region, then migrates further south during the winter months. A third group, the robins that we see flocking to our shores beginning round about January 28th, are migrating from parts further north. They are very hungrand are looking for berries, fruit, and small fish.

In early spring, robins begin to disperse from flocks. The ground thaws and worms, insects, and snails once again become part of the robin’s diet. Spring, too, is when we begin to hear the beautiful liquid notes of the male robin. He is singing to attract a mate. The robin’s song is one of the of most beloved and it is his music with which we associate the coming of spring.

With several edits and updates since I first wrote the following article, I think you’ll find the information helpful in knowing what to feed and to plant for the robins.

American Robin Sumac ©Kim Smith 2014Flock of American Robins Eating Sumac, Halibut Point Rockport

Food for the American Robin

During the winter months Cape Ann often becomes home to large flocks of robins, and we have had the joy of hosting numerous numbers in our garden. I can’t help but notice their arrival. Their shadows descend, crisscrossing the window light, followed by a wild rumpus in the ‘Dragon Lady’ hollies. This pair of hollies is planted on opposing sides of the garden path, alongside my home office. I have learned to stealthily sneak up to a window, as any sudden activity inside startles birds that are investigating our garden, and they quickly disperse. Dining not only on berries of the ‘Dragon Ladies’, but also the ‘Blue Princess’ Meserve holly and winterberry bushes, I find dozens of noisy, hungry robins.

These winter nomads flock to trees and shrubs that hold their fruit through January and February, feasting on red cedar, American holly, Meserve hollies, chokecherries, crabapples, sumac, and juniper. Robins traveling along the shores of Cape Ann also comb the shoreline for mollusks, and go belly-deep for fish fry. Depleting their food supply, they move onto the next location. Gardens rife with fruiting shrubs and trees make an ideal destination for our migrating friends.

Year round resident robins will call your garden home when provided with trays of chopped fruit and raisins, supplemented with meal worms.

What to Plant for Robins

The garden designed to attract nesting pairs of summer resident robins, as well as flocks of winter travelers, would be comprised of trees and shrubs for nest building, plants that bear fruit and berries that are edible during the summer and fall, and plants that bear fruits that persist through the winter months. Suburban gardens and agricultural areas provide the ideal habitat, with open fields and lawns for foraging insects as well as trees and hedgerows in which to build their nests.

The following plants, suggested with robins in mind, will also attract legions of songbirds and Lepidoptera. The list is comprised primarily of indigenous species with a few non-native, but not invasive, plants included.

Trees for nesting ~ American Holly (Ilex opaca), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).

Summer and autumn fruit bearing trees, shrubs and vines for robins ~ Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Blackberry (Rubus spp.), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Gray Dogwood (C. racemosa), Red-osier Dogwood (C. sericea), Silky Dogwood (C. amomum), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Apple (Malus pumila), Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana), Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Wild Grape (Vitis spp.).

Trees and shrubs with fruits persisting through winter ~ Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana), Crabapple (Malus spp.)Sargent’s Crabapple (Malus sargentii), American Holly (Ilex opaca), Meserve Hollies (Ilex meserveae), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra), Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina).

American Robin winter crabapple turdus migratorius, americanus ©kim Smith 2015American Robin Eating Crabapples

I Love Sumac

Worms!

The American Robin and Bird Food

Baby Turkey Mini Video and Happy Thanksgiving to All Our GMG FOBs!

What a beautiful (and entertaining) surprise I experienced this past summer when filming B-roll and the milkweed patch at Waring Field in Rockport. From a distance the elusive hen was observed and I was delighted to see, upon coming closer to film her, that she had four little babies in tow (turkey babies are called poults).

Happy Thanksgiving! 

“Turkey in the Straw” Recorded by Fiddle, Fiddle, Fiddle

See GMG post Baby Turkey Encounter here.

Endangered Pied-billed Grebe Encounter

In the dim light of daybreak at first glance I thought the diminutive duck was somehow related to the female mallard. Both were inconspicuous and camouflaged amongst the cattails. Mrs. Mallard was preening and standing on one leg, a thing birds do to regulate their body temperature, and Mystery Duck was actively diving all around her. As the light grew brighter with the rising sun it was easy to see that they weren’t at all akin; Mystery Duck’s bill was shorter and chunkier when compared to the Mallard’s bill, Mystery was half her size, and its perky cotton white tail feathers were unmissable. The Mallard flew off eventually and our Mystery then traveled away, deeply diving and then reemerging some distance further, staying close to the shoreline and always well hidden.

Pied-billed Grebe Massachusetts mallard ©kim Smith 2014

Side-by-side comparison: Pied-billed Grebe, left, female Mallard, right.

The Pied-billed Grebe is rarely seen breeding in Massachusetts any longer and is listed as endangered in nearly every New England state. Rhode Island considers the Pied-billed extirpated (locally extinct). The reason for their decline is low breeding numbers and wetland degradation. Their feathers are thick and soft and were used to make hats and earmuffs during the 19th century. Wantonly hunted to near extinction, Pied-billed Grebes never fully recovered in our region. As wetlands have given way to development, the Pied-billed Grebe’s numbers continue to decline dramatically. They are extremely sensitive to human disturbances, and, too, are less likely to be seen as it is a nocturnal bird, traveling mostly during the night.

Pied-billed Grebe Massachusetts -2 ©kim Smith 2014Fluffy Cottontail

A fun fact about the marsh-nesting Pie-billed is that both male and female contribute to building what at first appears to be a floating nest in vegetation, near open water. The nest is actually a platform anchored to plant stalks.

I wonder if this Pied-billed is a fall migrant or if on Niles Pond, Pied-billed Grebes were nesting this season. Has anyone else documented or seen a Pied-billed Grebe at Niles Pond during the past few months?

Niles Pond Gloucester ©Kim Smith 2014

Niles Pond is Ideal Pied-billed Grebe Habitat

See previous GMG post for more information about why birds stand on one leg.

See more photos and audio links here ~
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Birds of Cape Ann: Great Egret vs. Great Egret

Great Egret Gloucester - ©Kim Smith 2013Great Egret (Ardea alba)

On a gorgeous dawn this past season I filmed an epic battle between two, possibly three, Great Egrets at the Good Harbor Beach marsh. The battle lasted nearly ten minutes with the defending egret aggressively flying lower and beneath the intruder, preventing it from landing anywhere on the marsh.

Great Egret Gloucester ©Kim Smith 2013

Great Egrets have interesting breeding behavior in that the male selects the nesting site and builds a platform nest of sticks and twigs in a tree, shrub, or on the ground near a marsh,  prior to selecting a mate. Both parents incubate the eggs and feed the chicks, and both male and female vigorously defend the nesting territory. Perhaps that is what I had observed, a male and/or female defending their nesting site.

Great Egret Gloucester Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2013

The Good Harbor Beach victor first surveyed the marsh from his perch on the adjacent cottage and, after determining his foe was defeated, swooped to the tide pool below to feed peaceably alonsgide the Great Blue Heron.

Great Blue Heron Great Egret Gloucester ©Kim Smith 2013Great Blue Heron and Great Egret

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