The past week Eastern Point has seen a wonderful influx of wildlife, in addition to the beautiful creatures already wintering over and migrating through.
On Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a great raft of Ring-necked Ducks joined the flock of Buffleheads and Mallards at Niles Pond. Five chunky American Coots have been there for over a week, and two female Ruddy Ducks have been spotted.
Fifteen Harbor Seals were sunning and basking on the rocks at Brace Cove on Wednesday, along with several Bonaparte’s Gulls that were diving and foraging in the waves. The increasingly less timid Lark Sparrow is still here, too.
Great Blue Heron agitating the Ring-necked Ducks
The most enigmatic of Great Blue Herons criss crosses the pond a dozen times a day but, unlike last year’s fall migrating GBH, who allowed for a closer glimpse, this heron is super people shy. He has been here for about a week and was present again today.
This morning I watched the four beautiful Mute Swans depart over Brace Rock, in a southerly direction. Will they return? Mute Swans migrate from body of water to body of water within a region. Perhaps they will return, or they could possibly have flown to a nearby location–further exploring our Island.
The four had not returned to Niles Pond by day’s end. If any of our readers sees a group of four Mute Swans, please write and let us know. Thank you so much!
Leaving Niles Pond this morning and flying over Brace Cove.
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The avian northward migration is heating up! The following are just three of the fascinating species of wild birds readily seen at this time of year, found all around Cape Ann. Look for Brants, Scaups, and Ring-necked Ducks at coves, bays, ponds, quarries, and marshes.
Currently migrating along Cape Ann’s shoreline is a beautiful brigade of Brant Geese. They usually turn up at about this time of year, late winter through early spring, and I have been looking for them in all the usual places. Brants thrive in Cape Ann coves, devouring sea lettuce while riding the incoming and outgoing waves. I see them eating and pecking for food atop barnacle-crusted rocks and am not sure if they are eating seaweed caught on the rocks or tiny crustaceans.
Brants eating bright green sea lettuce.
In the 1930s a terrible disease devastated eel grass and the Brant population plummeted. Surviving Brants adapted to sea lettuce and as the eel grass recovered, so too is the population of Brants recovering.
Brants are wonderfully vocal, making a funny “cronk” sound. I was walking past a flock of geese off in the distance and wasn’t paying much attention. Thinking they were Canada Geese, I ignored them until hearing their vigorous cronking.
They fight with each too, over rocks and food. Tomorrow if I can find the time I will try to post photos that I took of a Brant scuffle.
Brants feeding on the rocks are knocked off by the incoming tide, but then quickly get right back up again.
Brants migrate the furthest north of any species of goose, as far north as Hedwig territory.
Two Males and a Female Scaup
The Greater Scaup breeds as far north as Snowy Owls and Brant Geese, and Ring-necked Ducks are also passing through, not traveling quite as far, but on their way to the Alaskan and Canadian boreal forests. Greater Scaups travel in flocks, sometimes forming rafts of thousands. You can see why in the photos Greater Scaups are colloquially called Bluebills.
Three male Scaups and a Red-breasted Merganser
The most significant threat to Greater Scaups is habitat loss, oil, and sewage pollution. Nearly eighty percent winter over in the Atlantic Flyway where they are subjected to heavy metals in foods and habitat.
Too many suitors! Lone female Ring-necked Duck with potential mates.
The two species are closely related (Aythya collaris and Atythya marila); both are small diving ducks and both are vulnerable to becoming poisoned by lead from diving for food and incidentally eating the lead shot and lures that continues to cause problems in our wetlands.
Under the weather with a two-boxes-of-tissues-a-day head cold, I haven’t been out walking as much as usual. This afternoon I popped over to Niles to take our Rosie out for a very short walk, just in time to see off in the distance a male and female Ring-necked Duck resting at the icy water’s edge, along with freshly opened branches of pussy willows. Spring is surely on her way!
Ring-necked Ducks for the most part breed further north. I imagine the little flock that is at Niles is only here for a brief period of time.
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As our local ponds begin to freeze, look for diving ducks along the sea’s edge. They are hunting for mollusks, crustaceans, snails, shrimp, and other small creatures.
Niles Pond Canvasback Duck with Male and Female Ring-necked Ducks
I haven’t seen the Canvasback or Ring-necked Ducks since Niles Pond started to freeze on Monday. Only partially frozen in some areas and with the warmer weekend temperatures predicted, I hope they’ll return soon!
When I was a child, my siblings and I oftentimes called one another nonsensical names– “old coot” and “silly old coot” are two insults we frequently relied upon. I am not sure from where we picked up these idioms, but I am positive we did not know a coot is a charming water bird.
As I was leaving Eastern Point Saturday afternoon, I nearly ran over two coots that were in the road adjacent to Niles Pond. There was a crowd of birders positioned along the water’s edge with binoculars and cameras equipped with stupendously enormous telephoto lenses. Quickly parking, I grabbed the video camera, with no time to set-up the tripod. For the most part the birds stayed in the middle of the pond, however several times the coots swam closer to shore, with cover provided by the tall grasses. Coots have a sprightly way of paddling, sort of a bobbing swim, and I thought the jaunty melody of this Beethoven symphony mirrored their movements. Featuring, in order of appearance, Ruddy Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, American Coot, female Ring-necked Duck, and female Mallard.