A beautiful Snowy Egret at Gloucester Harbor
Autumn migration is full underway and wildlife is on the move through Cape Ann. With gorgeous weather, blue skies and a sprightly breeze, Sunday was a spectacular day for observing dozens of species on the wing — A juvenile Red-tailed Hawk and Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Cormorants symbiotically feeding with the herons, thousands of Tree Swallows, Mockingbirds chasing Red-tailed Hawk, Painted Ladies, Yellow Sulphurs, Buckeyes, and beautiful, beautiful freshly emerged Monarchs.
Lots of photo bombing on Sunday–a Great Blue Heron appeared unexpectedly from the marsh edge, flying over a flock of Snowy Egrets.
Later in the day, a second Great Blue Heron flew over a flock of Starlings that were trying to keep one step ahead of the Red-tailed Hawk.
A juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron flew on the scene for a brief moment.
Red-tailed Hawk hunting in the marsh – he gave up on songbirds and decided to go for a member of the rodent family.
Tree Swallows are continuing to mass and migrate along our shores.
Beautiful Monarchs on the move (more about the Monarchs tomorrow when I hopefully have time to go through the butterfly photos from Sunday) 🙂
amateur video from the pedestrian bridge: Look down! Snowy egret moved into place for maximum minnow opportunity. My husband thought it averaged spearing about one every 15 seconds. Anyone know what the minnows are there?
Snowy Egret in the creek this morning, and Coyote, too.
Snowy Egrets are the most animated of hunting herons and this one did not disappoint, tossing his minnows in the air, flapping his wings while leaping from rock to rock, stirring the sand with his bright cadmium yellow feet, dip diving, and shimmy shaking his feathers.
Our Good Harbor Beach PiPl Family is thriving. Here’s another morsel that didn’t get away. More on the PiPls on Friday 🙂
Seventeen-day old Piping Plover Chicks
Go here to read Part One: Winter
Go here to read Part Two: Spring
PART THREE: SUMMER
The most joyous story about Cape Ann wildlife during the summer months of 2018 is the story of the high number of Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in gardens and meadows, seen not only in strong numbers along the Massachusetts coastline, but throughout the butterfly’s breeding range–all around New England, the Great Lakes region, Midwest, and Southern Canada.
Three days after celebrating the two week milestone of our one remaining Piping Plover chick, Little Pip, he disappeared from Good Harbor Beach. It was clear there had been a bonfire in the Plover’s nesting area, and the area was overrun with dog and human tracks. The chick’s death was heartbreaking to all who had cared so tenderly, and so vigilantly, for all those many weeks.
Our Mama and Papa were driven off the beach and forced to build a nest in the parking lot because of dogs running through the nesting area. Despite these terrible odds, the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair hatched four adorable, healthy chicks, in the parking lot. Without the help of Gloucester’s DPW, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, Ken Whittaker, Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, and the AAC, the parking lot nest would have been destroyed.
These brave little birds are incredibly resilient, but as we have learned over the past three years, they need our help to survive. It has been shown time and time again throughout the Commonwealth (and wherever chicks are fledging), that when communities come together to monitor the Piping Plovers, educate beach goers, put in place common sense pet ordinances, and reduce trash, the PiPl have at least a fighting chance to survive.
Little Pip at twelve- through seventeen-days-old
All four chicks were killed either by crows, gulls, dogs, or uneducated beach goers, and in each instance, these human-created issues can be remedied. Ignoring, disregarding, dismissing, or diminishing the following Piping Plover volunteer monitor recommendations for the upcoming 2019 shorebird season at Good Harbor Beach will most assuredly result in the deaths of more Piping Plover chicks.
FOUR WAYS IN WHICH WE CAN HELP THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS SUCCESSFULLY FLEDGE CHICKS: OUR RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE MAYOR
Piping Plover chick testing its wings.
Not one, but at least two, healthy and very hungry North American River Otters families are dwelling at local ponds, with a total of seven kits spotted. We can thank the fact that our waterways are much cleaner, which has led to the re-establishment of Beavers, and they in turn have created ideal habitat in which these beautiful, social mammals can thrive.
Several species of herons are breeding on our fresh water ponds and the smaller islands off the Cape Ann coastline. By midsummer, the adults and juveniles are seen wading and feeding heartily at nearly every body of water of the main island.
In order to better understand and learn how and why other Massachusetts coastal communities are so much more successful at fledging chicks than is Gloucester, I spent many hours studying and following Piping Plover families with chicks at several north of Boston beaches.
In my travels, I watched Least Terns (also a threatened species) mating and courting, then a week later, discovered a singular nest with two Least Tern eggs and began following this little family, too.
Least Tern Family Life Cycle
Maine had a banner year fledging chicks, as did Cranes Beach, locally. Most exciting of all, we learned at the Massachusetts Coastal Waterbird meeting that Massachusetts is at the fore of Piping Plover recovery, and our state has had the greatest success of all in fledging chicks! This is a wonderful testament to Massachusetts Piping Plover conservation programs and the partnerships between volunteers, DCR, Mass Wildlife, the Trustees, Greenbelt, Audubon, and US Fish and Wildlife.
Friends Jan Crandall and Patti Papows allowed me to raid their gardens for caterpillars for our Cape Ann Museum Kids Saturday. The Museum staff was tremendously helpful and we had a wonderfully interested audience of both kids and adults!
In August I was contacted by the BBC and asked to help write the story about Monarchs in New England for the TV show “Autumnwatch: New England,. Through the course of writing, the producers asked if I would like to be interviewed and if footage from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing, could be borrowed for the show. We filmed the episode at my friend Patti’s beautiful habitat garden in East Gloucester on the drizzliest of days, which was also the last day of summer.
Happy Two-week Birthday to Our Little Pip
Common Eider Ducklings at Captain Joes
Little Pip Zing Zanging Around the Beach
Piping Plover Update – Where Are They Now?
FOUR WAYS IN WHICH WE CAN HELP THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS SUCCESSFULLY FLEDGE CHICKS: OUR RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE MAYOR
42 Pairs of Piping Plovers Nesting at Cranes Beach!
Welcome to Good Harbor Beach Mama Hummingbird!
Least Tern One Day Old Chicks!
Welcome to the Mary Prentiss Inn Pollinator Paradise
Piping Plover Symbolic Fencing Recomendations
Good Morning! Brought to You By Great Blue Herons Strolling on the Beach
OUTSTANDING COASTAL WATERBIRD CONSERVATION COOPERATORS MEETING!
Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Grow Native Buttonbush for the Pollinators
A Fine Froggy Lunch for a Little Blue Heron
Snowy Owls in Massachusetts in August!?!
Monarch Butterfly Eggs and Caterpillars Alert
Snapshots from Patti Papows Magical Butterfly Garden
Keep Those Monarch Babies Coming!
A Chittering, Chattering, Chetamnon Chipmunk Good Morning to You, Too!
Butterflies and Bird Pooh, Say What?
Thank You To Courtney Richardson and the Cape Ann Museum Kids
A Banner Year for Maine’s Piping Plovers
Snowy Egret Synchronized Bathing
Good Harbor Beach Super High Tide
Otter Kit Steals Frog From Mom
Monarch Butterfly Ovipositing Egg on Marsh Milkweed: NINETEEN SIBLINGS READYING TO EMERGE
Have you seen the Little Blue “Calico” Heron? I had not, until this summer. I thought at first we have yet another species to add to the wonderful world of wildlife found on Cape Ann. The calico heron is not at all a different species but is the in-between stage of the Little Blue Heron as it loses its first hatch-year white plumage and gains its adult blue plumage.
In the bird’s first summer after hatching the Little Blue Heron is pure white, with just a wee bit of grey at the wing tips. In its second hatch-year, you’ll find the Little Blue Heron in a range of white and blue-gray combinations. By the third summer, the Little Blue Heron’s body feathers are a tableau of rich blue-grey-green with lovely violet maroon neck and head feathers.
During the breeding months, Little Blue Herons are occasionally seen at Cape Ann marshes, freshwater ponds, and along the shoreline. By late summer and autumn they can be found in mixed flocks of Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Green Herons, and Great Blue Herons, feasting on fish and frogs to build a reserve of fat for the southward migration.
The above photo and top photo shows the contrast between the Little Blue Heron first hatch-year, which is flying by a calico second hatch-year Little Blue.
First hatch-year Little Blue HeronAdult Little Blue Heron
Calico (second hatch-year) Little Blue practicing nest building skills
Left to right, Snowy Egret, calico Little Blue Heron, Great Egret, and adult Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron range map – Cape Ann is at the northern edge of their breeding range
A Snowy Egret at Clark Pond, the Egret looked at me thinking, I flew up here for this? Snow
What is happening here? A hungry swim of cormorants have pushed a stream of bait fish towards the shallow shore waters. The minnows are met by equally as hungry Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets waiting on the rocks. I’ve watched many egrets eat prey and they often toss it about in the air for half a minute before swallowing whole, I think to line it up so the fish or frog goes straight down its gullet. At that very moment when the egrets are adjusting their catch, the gulls swoop in and try to snatch the minnows from the egrets. This scene was filmed at Niles Beach. My friend Nancy shares that she has observed the egret and cormorant symbiotic feeding partnership many mornings over by where she lives on the Annisquam River.
Photographing shorebirds early today and this Homie arrives on the scene, loudly announcing his catch. Before I could turn on my movie camera, he swallowed the whole lobster, in one big gulp! You could see the sharp edges of the lobster as it went down his gullet. I predict a Homie with a tummy ache.
The tremendous variety of seaweed currently covering Pebble Beach captures a wealth of sustenance for migrating shorebirds (and Homies).
Sanderlings, Sandpipers, Semiplamated Plovers, and one Snowy Egret at Pebble Beach today, September 12, 2017.
Great Egret Flying Over Perched Osprey
There is much to chortle about in this latest Cape Ann Winged Creature Update. Early April marked the arrival of both Snowy and Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons and Great Blue Herons. Osprey pairs and evidence of Osprey nest building can be seen wherever Essex Greenbelt platforms have been installed. Northern Pintail and American Wigeon Ducks are stopping over at our local ponds on their northward migrations while scrub and shrub are alive with the vibrant song of love birds singing their mating calls. Oh Happy Spring!
Ospreys Nest Building
Northern Mockingbirds Singing
Gadwall (center), Male Pintail, Mallards, Male and Female American Wigeons
My husband Tom suggested that I write a year-end post about the wildlife that I had photographed around Cape Ann. Super idea I thought, that will be fun and easy. Many hours later (not realizing how daunting) the following is a collection of some favorite images from this past year, beginning with the male Snowy Owl photographed at Captain Joe’s last winter, to December’s Red-tailed Hawk huntress.
Living along the great Atlantic Flyway, we have been graced with a bevy of birds. Perhaps the most exciting arrival of all occurred when early summer brought several pairs of nesting Piping Plovers to Gloucester’s most beloved (and most highly trafficked) of beaches, Good Harbor Beach. Their story is being documented on film.
Work on Mr. Swan’s film will also resume this January—the winters are simply not long enough for all I have planned!
While photographing and filming Red-winged Blackbirds this past spring, there was a face-to-face encounter with a hungry coyote, as well as several River Otter sightings.
The summer’s drought brought Muskrats out from the reeds and into full view at a very dry Henry’s Pond, and a short film about a North American Beaver encounter at Langsford Pond. Numerous stories were heard from folks who have lived on Cape Ann far longer than I about the extraordinary number of egrets, both Snowy and Great, dwelling on our shores.
There were few Monarch sightings, but the ones seen thankfully deposited eggs in our garden. Thank you to my new friend Christine who shared her Cecropia Silkmoth eggs with me and thank you to the countless readers who have extended an invitation to come by and photograph an exciting creature in their yard.
Pristine beaches, bodies of fresh water, and great swathes of protected marsh and woodland make for ideal wildlife habitat, and Cape Ann has it all. With global climate change pushing species further away from the Equator, I imagine we’ll be seeing even more creatures along our shores. Butterfly and bee populations are overall in decline, not only because of climate change and the use of pesticides, but also because of loss of habitat. As Massachusetts has become less agrarian and more greatly forested, fields of wildflowers are becoming increasingly rare. And too fields often make the best house lots. Farmers and property owners developing an awareness of the insects’ life cycle and planting and maintaining fields and gardens accordingly will truly help the butterflies and bees.
Thank you to all our readers for your kind comments of appreciation throughout the year for the beautiful wild creatures with which we share this gorgeous peninsula called Cape Ann.
The images are not arranged in any particular order. If you would like to read more about a particular animal, type the name of the animal in the search box and the original post should come up.
I wonder what 2017 will bring?
Snowy Egrets in the morning fog
“Dance of the Snowy Egret” sounds poetic but in actuality, they were arguing over the best spot to fish.
Tropical storm Hermine’s rain has breathed new life into Cape Ann’s drought depleted freshwater ponds and brackish marshes. Perhaps it was her winds that delivered a surprise visit from the Yellow-crowned Night Heron, a rarity for Massachusetts as we are at the tippy northern end of their breeding range. Towering waves accompanied by a tumbling undertow tossed from the deep sea gifts of nutrient rich seaweeds, mollusks, and tiny crustaceans, providing a feast for our feathered friends. See all that she brought!
Yellow Crowned Night Heron, juvenile
Muskrat! Eating tender shoots and going to and from his burrow, via refreshed canals along the wetland banks.
Wind and weather worn Red Admiral Butterfly, drinking salty rain water from the sand and warming its wings in the sun.
Immature Great Blue Heron, Two Snowy Egrets, and Great Egret (far right)
A multidue of minnows for the herons and egrets
The Wingaersheek Piping Plover family has not yet begun their southward migration. Here they are foraging in the bits of shells, tiny clams, and seaweed brought to the shoreline by Hermine and not usually found in this location.
Injured Cormorant and Gull finding refuge and food at the pond bank.
Snowy Egret coming in for a landing
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.
Great Egrets stand very still while fishing. Snowy Egrets are wonderfully animated when foraging; they run quickly, walk determinedly, fly, and swish their feet around to stir up fish.
An approximately six foot in diameter protective barrier has been installed around the plover’s nest. This is a huge relief as many of us have noticed dog tracks in the cordoned off area. The plover’s don’t seem to mind the wire construct and go about their morning routine, running through the spaces between the wire grid as if the barrier had always been in place. In the above photo, you can see a plover sitting on its nest between the two clumps of grass within the enclosure.
Every morning the plover’s switch places several times, with both parents taking turns sitting on the nest, while the other leaves the restricted area to feed at the shoreline and bath in the tide pools. The above photo was taken on the 13th of June, before the barrier was put in place. There are minimal tacks around the nest site, so it would be logical to assume the nest was very recently established. The photo below, taken on the 15th, show many more tracks and it looks like there are three eggs.
Nest on the 16th, I only see two eggs however I think the plovers move the eggs around in the nest. And too, my camera lens is zoomed all the way, and the image is cropped.
This morning the plovers were easily slipping through the wires.
Snowy Egrets fishing at the GHB tidal river this morning.
It’s not often that a wild bird permits such a close encounter. The Snowy Egret was drinking, feeding, and bathing at the pond edge. At one point a noisy family appeared and began throwing stones into the water. All the Mallards swam toward the far end of the pond and the egret retreated up into the trees. As soon as the family departed, the ducks and Snowy returned to the beach, resuming business as usual.
Snowy Egrets forage on mostly aquatic animals including frogs, fish, crustaceans, worms, and insects. The vivid yellow feet are often used to probe in the mud for prey.
Running back and forth along the shoreline while hunting, several times plunging in and becoming completely submerged.
During breeding season the Snowy Egret develops beautiful wispy curving plumes on its head and back. A great deal of time was spent smoothing and arranging its feathers.
Slender and elegant, the Snowy appeared smaller than a duck when its neck was tucked in.
Spiraling to dry its feathers.
Andrea writes, “OK , because of where I work — Gloucester — and amazing bird photos posted by friends — that would be you Kimberley Caruso and Kim Smith — I find myself stopping to shoot shorebirds with a camera. Spotted Thursday morning at Grant Circle, a glossy ibis and two snowy egrets. Not great photos but I had never seen a glossy ibis before!”
Thank you so much Andrea for sharing your photos of the stunning Glossy Ibis. It’s breeding range in the Western Hemisphere is quite narrow and I would love, love to capture this species on film. Keeping my eyes peeled thanks to you!
From the Mass Audubon website, “In Ancient Egypt, ibises were venerated as sacred birds. They were believed to have a connection to the deity Thoth, the wise scribe and lorekeeper of the Egyptian pantheon. While Glossy Ibises are not literate, they are marvelous travelers. The Western Hemisphere population of this species represents a fairly recent arrival to the New World, believed to be descendants of birds who flew from Africa to South America in the early nineteenth century (Davis & Kricher 2000). Read More Here