Driving around Niles Pond noticed the swan through the reeds swimming and eating.
Driving around Niles Pond noticed the swan through the reeds swimming and eating.
Often asked this question, I thought it would be helpful to post the answer again, especially as at this time of year when we see numerous numbers foraging in our marshes and along the shore. Both species of birds breed on Cape Ann and the coast of Massachusetts.
The first clue is size. Snowy Egrets are small, about the size of the Mallard Duck. Remember the letter S for small and snowy. Great Egrets are much larger, nearly identical in size to that of the Great Blue Heron.
Great Egrets have black feet and yellow bills. Snowy Egrets have reverse coloring, yellow feet and black bills.
Truly, one of the most beautiful sounds heard the world over is the sound that the wings of Mute Swans make when airborne. I call it vibrant throbbing wing beats. The highly audible sound of the wind through the wings is mesmerizing and it is the reason, or one of several reasons, why I became so interested in swans and why I decided to make a film about the swans of Cape Ann. No other species of swan’s wings make this sound, only Mute Swans.
As I am usually trying to capture the swans flying on film, I didn’t have any photographs of them in flight. Sunday afternoon I arrived at Niles just as Mr. Swan was chasing the new couple off his turf. I did not have time to get out my movie camera but did manage some snapshots. In the photo below you can see Mr. Swan is “busking;” his feathers are fluffed to their fullest to make himself look as large and threatening as possible to what he considers intruders upon his territory. This photo was taken moments after he chased the new couple to the harbor, returning to Niles to do a victory lap around the pond.
A pair of swans was spotted at Niles Pond this morning by my friend Lyn. I stopped by the Pond at 8:15 to have a look. They were on the far side of Niles, getting ready to take off and was only able to take a few quick photos. The pair flew overhead in the direction of Henry’s Pond. After doing the podcast with Joey and the wonderful Gloucester Stage Company cast, I raced over to Henry’s. In the meantime, the two had returned to Niles, but were chased away by our Mr. Swan. As I arrived at Henry’s they flew in!
The pair appear to be in their third year. This is evident by the patches of brown feathers and dullish pink bills, although the bill of the larger of the two is gaining a more coral-orange hue. Note both have black eyes, unlike our rare and beautiful blue-eyed swan. I am hopeful that Mr. Swan will find a new mate and if we are fortunate, this newly arrived on the scene pair will decide to make Cape Ann their home too!If you catch sight of swans at any of our area ponds or in the harbor, please write in and let me know. Thank you so much!
A true story, the following is a modern day fanciful beast encounter. I have been reluctant to write about this adventure for fear it would draw sight-seers to regions of Cape Ann off the beaten path, as happened with the white pelican sighting. Now that the mystery of its identity may perhaps be solved, I think it safe.
One morning at daybreak as I was unloading my gear at Brace Cove, I paused to scan the edges and then the whole of Niles Pond. I do this often when out filming and photographing at our local ponds and marshes, looking for swans and other wild birds that may be seeking shelter along these idyllic shores. In the middle of the pond was a float of ice with a great many seagulls just beginning to awaken with the rising sun. Nothing unusual about that. What caught my attention was a very large brown shape there on the ice amongst the gulls. Harumph! I said to no one but myself, what a view spoiler and how utterly trashy that a large brown paper lawn and leaf bag should blow out to the middle of the pond and become stuck there. And then the brown shape slithered into the pond. I not only saw it, but heard the very distinct sound of a creature sliding expertly into water. I tried in vain to catch another glimpse and spent the remainder of the morning half spooked and half kicking myself for not more hurriedly making the effort to film and photograph the “garbage bag.” If only I’d known it was alive!
Shortly after the creature encounter, I read about the Ten Pound Island sea monster sightings and concluded, that yes, a mysterious sea creature could easily swim around Eastern Point Lighthouse, haul up at Brace Cove, cross the causeway, and have himself a swim at Niles Pond, if he were so inclined.
I thought about this beast encounter for weeks and at one point, somewhat embarrassedly, asked my husband to come with me to photograph a moonlit evening at Niles Pond as I wasn’t sure I wanted to come face to face with such a great creature at night. By myself. Being the good sport that he is, he came, if just to prove that it was perfectly safe to photograph in the moonlight.
As mentioned, I’ve been hesitant to write this until very recently when at Henry’s Pond, on a rainy and chilly early spring morning I spied for only a few moments what appeared to be a very mini version of the Niles Pond creature. It was swimming at top speed with a long sinuous streamlined shape beneath the surface of the water and only a bit of its head visible above the water. I took a blurry snapshot and raced home to search books and internet for any clues. The creature was too big to be a muskrat and its tail too slender to be a beaver. I am almost certain that what I saw at Henry’s was a North American River Otter. Two weeks passed when while filming Mr. Swan, again on an overcast morning at Henry’s, the little creature energetically appeared near the marshy shore on the opposite side of the pond, looked all around, dove, re-emerged, again looked all about, and then disappeared. This time I was able to capture a few seconds of video of this inquisitive little otter.
What I have learned about North American River Otters is that they can grow very large, up to five and half feet and weigh thirty pounds. There is the Great River Otter of South America, which can grow over six feet, but the creature I saw at Niles was about four and half to five feet long.
Well there you go, a modern day fanciful beast encounter. After seeing my beast, I think it quite easy to understand how sea monster stories from days gone by could so easily capture people’s imaginations.
Please write if you think you have seen a River Otter in your neighborhood. Thank you!
Look toward the marsh in the first clip, with Mr. Swan in the foreground. You can see the bobbing head of the otter in the background. I was hoping to see the otter again and try to capture better footage but it has been several weeks and no further sightings.
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.
Mr. Swan’s morning grooming session, keeping his feathers well oiled and in excellent flying condition.
I hope to see you at my talk at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck tonight!
Today at 9:30am while out doing errands, I stopped by Niles Pond to see if I could find my brand new glove, which was lost the morning previously. That Monday, the day after the weekend storm, the mergansers had moved overnight to Niles Pond to escape the wind and waves on the harbor and I had captured footage of Mr. Swan with the Red-breasted Mergansers. Last I saw him, he was alone and circling the pond, plaintively calling.
Just as I got to the spot where filming yesterday I looked up and flying overhead were not one, but two swans! They were flying towards Brace Cove. I hurried back to my car to get cameras, checking all the while to see if the pair would stay at Niles or continue up the coast. They circled back around Niles before landing on the far side of the pond. The large pure white male looks like Mr. Swan and his girlfriend appears to be much younger as she is comparatively smaller and still has some brownish-gray cygnet feathers.
I immediately called my friend Lyn to let her know about the swan pair swimming at her end of the pond. There was a large patch of ice that prevented the swans from coming closer to where she was calling them from shore but we did have a good long look and we both agree it could very well be Mr. Swan (Lyn calls him Poppa Swan and in Rockport he’s known as Buddy).
The pair of swans stayed, feeding on pond vegetation and moving slowly through the icy waters. Swans use their powerful breast muscles in a lifting and lurching movement to break up ice. It takes a great amount of effort to cut a path through the ice and Mr. Swan is much more adept at ice breaking than is his new girlfriend.
By a swan’s second summer (in other words two years of age) it will have lost all the characteristics of an immature. The brown feathers are gradually replaced with the white feathers. The last thing to visibly change is the color of the swan’s bill. A cygnet’s bill is blue/grey changing over the two year period to pinkish and then orange. Swans can breed as early as two years of age although most don’t begin until three years.
I can’t saw with 100 percent certainty that this is Mr. Swan because I didn’t get a close look at the distinguishing marks on his bill however, all signs point in this direction.
Note the young swan’s brownish feathers and greyish-pink bill (left). This tells us that she is not quite two years of age.
While driving around trying to find the beautiful Snowy Owl went by Niles Pond and the ducks were having a great time.
Love these Mallards
Is there a Canvas Back Duck playing on Niles Pond?
Coyotes typically sleep above ground in the open or under cover of shrubbery and wooded patches. Pup season is the only time coyotes use a den, which is usually a rocky outcrop, hollowed out stump, or a burrow made by fox, raccoon, skunk, or other medium-sized mammal. Coyotes will also make a den by digging a hole.
The color and shape of coyote poop (scat) varies, depending on what food is available. Purportedly at this time of year the scat is oftentimes reddish-orange because their diet is rich in apples.
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.
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
Gulls departing Brace Cove after the storm
Great Blue Heron, seals, and gull
See More Photos Here
A friendly sort, this little guy was found in the middle of Niles Pond Road headed towards the brook. He posed patiently while I filmed him for the swan film, took his photo, and tested out my new phone 4K video feature. I placed him near the brook but he started to cross the road again and then just plopped there in the middle! I was late getting back to work so I marched him down an overgrown path and positioned him near a rock at the water’s edge. We can only hope. Perhaps he was confused by the gorgeous warm weather this morning.
An exciting turtle instagram 🙂
Eastern Painted Turtles live in fresh water such as Niles Pond, and hibernate in the mud during the winter months. Painted Turtles are the most widespread turtle species of North America.
Mr. Swan is traveling between Niles and Henry’s Pond. I hope a new Mrs. Swan joins the scene before long!