CAPE ANN EARLY SPRING WILDLIFE UPDATE

Hello Friends,

I hope you are all doing well, or as well as can be expected during this heartbreaking pandemic event. The following kind words were spoken by Pope Francis today and I think they could not be truer.

“We are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed,” he said.

“All of us called to row together, each of us in need of each other.”

In the world of wildlife spring migration is well underway and gratefully, nothing has changed for creatures small and large. That may change though in the coming days as resources for threatened and endangered species may become scarce.

A friend posted on Facebook that “we are all going to become birders, whether we like it or not.” I love seeing so many people out walking in the fresh air and think it is really the best medicine for our souls.

Several times I was at Good Harbor Beach over the weekend and people were being awesome practicing physical distancing. Both Salt Island Road and Nautilus Road were filled with cars, but none dangerously so, no more than we would see at a grocery store parking lot. I’m just getting over pneumonia and think I will get my old bike out, which sad to say hasn’t been ridden in several years. Cycling is a great thing to do with a friend while still practicing distancing and I am excited to get back on my bike.

An early spring wildlife scene update

The Niles Pond juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron made it through the winter!! He was seen this past week in his usual reedy location. Isn’t it amazing that he/she survived so much further north than what is typical winter range for BCHN.

Many of the winter resident ducks are departing. There are fewer and fewer Buffleheads, Scaups, and Ring-necked Ducks seen at our local waterways and ponds.

Male and Female Scaups

No sign lately of the American Pipits. For several days there were three! Snow Buntings at the berm at Brace Cove.

I haven’t seen the Northern Pintail in a over a week. Sometimes the Mallards play nice and on other days, not so much.

Male Northern Pintail and Mallards

As some of the beautiful creatures that have been residing on our shores depart new arrivals are seen daily. Our morning walks are made sweeter with the songs of passerines courting and mating.

Black-capped Chickadee collecting nesting fibers and foraging

Song Sparrows, Mockingbirds, Robins, Cardinals, Chicadees, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice, and Carolina Wrens are just a few of the love songs filling backyard, fields, dunes, and woodland.

Newly arrived Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets have been spotted at local ponds and marshes.

Cape Ann’s Kildeers appeared about a week or so ago, and wonderful of wonderful news, a Piping Plover pair has been courting at Good Harbor Beach since they arrived on March 22, a full three days earlier than last year.

Kildeers

Why do I think it is our PiPls returned? Because Piping Plovers show great fidelity to nesting sites and this pair is no exception. They are building nest scrapes in almost exactly the same location as was last year’s nest.

Piping Plover Nest Scrape Good Harbor Beach 2020

I’m not sure if the Red Fox photographed here is molting or is the early stages of mange. It does seem a bit early to be molting, but he was catching prey.

We should be seeing Fox kits and Coyote pups any day now, along with baby Beavers, Otters, and Muskrats 🙂

It’s been an off year for Snowy Owls in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic with relatively many fewer owls than that wonderful irruptive winter of 2017-2018 when Hedwig was living on the back shore. 2019 was a poor summer for nesting however, reports of high numbers of Lemmings at their eastern breeding grounds are coming in, which could mean a good nesting season for Snowies in 2020, which could lead to many more Snowies migrating south in the winter of 2020-2021.

Take care Friends and be well ❤

Mini-nature lover ❤

LATE WINTER WILDLIFE UPDATE -AND LOVE IS IN THE AIR!

Beautiful bird songs fill the air as songbirds are pairing up.

Carolina Wren

Red-winged Blackbird

American Robin

 

Winter resident ducks are seen in pairs, too.

Buffleheads, Ring-necked Ducks, and Scaups

A beautiful male Northern Pintail has been on our shores for several months.

 

Our young Black-crowned Night Heron has made it through the winter!

And a pair of American Pipits has been here all winter, too.

Many Short-eared Owls and Snowy Owls have not yet departed for their summer breeding grounds.

Red-tailed and Marsh Hawks are here year round and this is a wonderful time of year to observe their behaviors, before sparse vegetation turns lush with summer growth.

Fox and Coyotes have been busy mating; their kits and pups are born from mid-March-through May.

Bald Eagles in our area may begin laying eggs as early as February.

The Harbor Seal posse is seen nearly everyday. The highest count so far was 27!

A pair of sweet Snow Buntings has been here for several days, eating tiny seeds found on the ground.

Brant Geese are seen in small to large flocks before heading to the high Arctic tundra to breed.
Happy Spring-is-just-around-the corner!

BACKSHORE BIRDERS

Diana Peck reports that today along the backshore, the birders were finding Buffleheads, Goldeneyes, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Eiders, Black Ducks & Mallards, and I overheard someone say when stopping to take a photo, Black Scoters.

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Backshore Birders đź•Š#gloucesterma #backshore

A post shared by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

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

NEW SHORT FILM: BUFFLEHEAD KERFUFFLE

Male female bufflehead courtship kimsmithdesigns.com 2016Bufflehead Kerfuffle

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.

Male female bufflehead Massachusetts kimsmithdesigns.com 2016

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!

https://vimeo.com/157176701

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.

 

 

Wild and Woolly Waves at Brace Cove After Friday’s Storm

Brace Cove Brace rock ©Kim Smith 2014 Brace Rock on the left with ginormous waves crashing onto the path behind the retreat. I estimate the trees on the right to be about 20-25  feet in height. ~ Click  photos to view larger.

Brace Cove seagulls buffleheads ©Kim Smith 2014Seagulls and Buffleheads

Brace Cove surfers ©Kim Smith 2014Brace Cove Surfers ~ more than only seagulls and buffleheads being tossed around in the surf!

Brace Cove big wave -2 ©Kim Smith 2014View standing on the flooded path, looking towards the Atlantic
Continue reading “Wild and Woolly Waves at Brace Cove After Friday’s Storm”

A Badelynge of Buffleheads

badelynge of buffleheads

OK technically it is a raft or paddling of buffleheads since they are in the water, but I just couldn’t pass up using badelynge (pronounced bad-ling), which refers a group of ducks on land.  Buffleheads are my favorite little sea duck, and I have the pleasure of regularly seeing this group on Smiths Cove from my window.

Buffleheads have evolved their small size in order to fit into the nesting cavity of their “metabiotic” host, the Northern Flicker.  Due to their small size, they are highly active, diving almost continuously.  They do not tend to collect in large flocks; but are usually limited to small rafts.  One duck will serve as a sentry, watching for predators as the others in the group dive in search of food.  Buffleheads are among the last waterfowl to leave their breeding grounds and one of the world’s most punctual migrants, arriving on their wintering grounds within a narrow margin of time each year.  Buffleheads are monogamous, and the females return to the same breeding site, year after year.  (adapted from Wikipedia)

E.J. Lefavour

Brace of Baffled Buffleheads

photo of buffleheads
Photo by E.J. Lefavour

Did you know that the Bufflehead, (a small diving duck, mostly white with glossy green-black to purple-black head and back), was first described in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus, Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist. They nest almost exclusively in holes excavated by Northern Flickers and, on occasion, by Pileated Woodpeckers. Unlike many ducks, it is mostly monogamous, often remaining with the same mate for several years. A group of ducks has many collective nouns, including a “brace”, “flush”, “paddling”, “raft”, and “team” of ducks. Buffleheads are one of my favorite shorebirds and I watch for their arrival in late fall. They are little, very cute and have the coolest name. I don’t know if these are actually baffled, although they did look a little confused in the snow trying to find each other.