On a cold and rainy Monday, the light on the Annisquam facing Wingaersheek Beach look so quiet.
Without doubt, the spectacular summer/autumn migration that takes place each year along the shores of Cape Ann has begun. Everywhere we turn, there are magnificent creatures foraging along our shoreline. In one day alone on an early morning walk this past week were Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, Spotted Sandpipers, and great flocks of Semi-palmated Plovers and Sanderlings. I think I’ll write a little series with a paragraph or two devoted to each species for the upcoming week.
For today though, I wanted to share photos of a flock of Tree Swallows that were gathering at Good Harbor Beach. A friend wrote wanting to know more about the beautiful birds we see massing at both Good Harbor and Wingaersheek Beaches at this time of year.
From 2018 – Over the course of the summer while filming the Piping Plover Family at Wingaersheek Beach, Tree Swallows began flocking in ever increasing numbers. They became part of the Piping Plover story not only because they occasionally dive bomb the Piping Plovers, for whatever reason I am not entirely sure, but also because they are beautiful to observe, and occasionally, seemingly playful, too.
Songbirds that they are, Tree Swallows make a cheery chirping chatter. They have long narrow forked tails, all the better for gliding and for their signature aerial acrobatics. The male’s upper parts are a brilliant iridescent blue-green, the female’s somewhat duller, and both female and male have white underparts. The migrating juveniles are almost entirely brown with either white or pale grayish underparts.
Tree Swallows breed in the wetlands and fields of Cape Ann. Their name comes from the species habit of nesting in tree cavities. Tree Swallows have benefited tremendously from efforts to help save the Eastern Bluebird because they also nest in the nest boxes built specifically for the Bluebirds.
Acrobatic aerialists, they twist and turn mid-flight to capture a wide variety of insects including butterflies, dragonflies, greenheads, bees, beetles, and wasps.
Utilizing both fresh and saltwater to bathe, Tree Swallows have a unique habit of quickly dipping and then shaking off the excess water while flying straight upwards.
Tree Swallows begin migrating southward in July and August. The flocks that we see gathering on Cape Ann migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. They overwinter in the southern states of the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Unlike migrating species of butterflies, several generations of Tree Swallows migrate together, the older birds showing the younger birds the way.
Music composed by Jules Massenet: “Méditation” from Thaïs
Took a walk over at Wingaersheek Beach on Thursday. The sun was out and the feel of summer was in the air.
We Piping Plover volunteer monitors are grateful for the time and effort Ken has put forth in helping to protect our threatened Piping Plovers. We’re especially appreciative of the time he spent coordinating the volunteer monitors–not an easy task! We wish Ken all the best in his retirement.
Ken and Jim Destino introduced Adrienne Lennon, Gloucester’s new conservation agent. We had a few minutes after the introduction to speak with Adrienne. Her experience includes working for seven years at Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center, located in Ipswich on the Plum Island causeway, adjacent to the infamous Pink House. While there, Adrienne gained extensive knowledge in Piping Plover conservation. She is especially interested in preserving and protecting our beach dunes. Adrienne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best of success to Adrienne in her new position as Gloucester’s Conservation Agent!
Photos of Ken and Adrienne at City Hall courtesy of City Council Vice President Steve LeBlanc
During Piping Plover nesting season, I have visited the public beach at the northern end of Plum Island, Newbury Beach. I believe the PiPl nesting areas at Newbury Beach are monitored by Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center. Newbury Beach is similar in several ways to Good Harbor Beach in that it is a popular town beach in a residential area with many access points and nearby hotels. Last year the beach and dunes were extremely hard hit by late winter storms, just as was Good Harbor Beach.
About Joppa Flats Education Center: Overlooking the Merrimack River and near the entrance to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, the Joppa Flats Education Center offers unique educational opportunities for people of all ages. Here, you can explore the region’s wildlife-rich habitats (salt marshes, mudflats, rivers, bays, and coastal waters) through guided tours, marine touch tanks, art exhibits, drop-in programs, and interpretive displays.
Scenes from behind the Joppa Flats Education Center and Plum Island causeway.
Councilors Steve LeBlanc and Melissa Cox wearing Piping Plover monitor hats provided by Ken Whittaker.
Coffins Beach and Wingaersheek Beach are going to be more closely monitored this year for Piping Plovers. The above photo is from 2016 when NINE chicks fledged at Coffins Beach!
Three-day-old Piping Plover Chick, Good Harbor Beach
My daughter Ericka and her cute dog Freddy came up on Sunday afternoon. We went to Wingaersheek Beach. It was really pretty and lots of people walking around. Love the golden retrievers taking a swim.
On Monday the wind died down and so I decided to take a walk on Wingaersheek Beach. Again never disappoints. The tide was very low.
Early Saturday morning, you could already see it was going to be an amazing beach day.
The 2018 winter storms exposed an expansive and blindingly obvious glacial outcropping by the footbridge side of Good Harbor Beach near the piping plover enclosure. In 2017 the feature was something more than a rock and I don’t mean scale. After two severe thunderstorms on July 8, 2017, one chick remained and the family acted strange. One of the parent plovers perched atop that rock for my entire shift, seemingly in mourning. The rock was a sheltering spot and helpful monitor landmark which it still is this year. This summer the rock revealed itself like a tip of an iceberg, and made Good Harbor Beach resemble a bit of Wingaersheek.
Here are a few Before (2017) and After (2018) comparisons. The photographs illustrate how much dry sand disappeared and how the beach was basically scrubbed of any scrub.
he’s 6′ to give you idea of scale
Wingaersheek Beach January 2018
reposting as I had some trouble uploading photos (prior)
Went over to Wingaersheek Beach the other day. Another beautiful beach we are blessed to have in our beautiful city.
Right before the storm started on Tuesday afternoon, Wingaersheek Beach looks so beautiful.
The recent winter storms of 2018 have provided empirical evidence of how global climate change and the consequential rising sea level is impacting the Massachusetts coastline. Whether broken barriers between the ocean and small bodies of fresh water, the tremendous erosion along beaches, or the loss of plant life at the edge of the sea, these disturbances are profoundly impacting wildlife habitats.
The following photos were taken after the March nor’easter of 2018 along with photos of the same areas, before the storm, and identify several specific species of wildlife that are affected by the tremendous loss of habitat.
Barrier Beach Erosion
Nesting species of shorebirds such as Piping Plovers require flat or gently sloping areas above the wrack line for chick rearing. Notice how the March nor’easter created bluffs with steep sides, making safe areas for tiny chicks nonexistent.
You can see in the photos of Good Harbor Beach (top photo and photos 3 and 4 in the gallery) that the metal fence posts are completely exposed. In 2016, the posts were half buried and in 2017, the posts were nearly completely buried. After the recent storms, the posts are fully exposed and the dune has eroded half a dozen feet behind the posts.
Although scrubby growth shrubs and sea grass help prevent erosion, the plants have been ripped out by the roots and swept away due to the rise in sea level.
Plants draw tiny insects, which is food for tiny chicks, and also provide cover from predators, as well as shelter from weather conditions. If the Piping Plovers return, will they find suitable nesting areas, and will plant life recover in time for this year’s brood?Other species of shorebirds that nest on Massachusetts’s beaches include the Common Tern, Least Tern, Roseate Tern, American Oyster Catcher, Killdeer, and Black Skimmer.
Where Have All the Wildflowers Gone?
Wildflowers are the main source of food for myriad species of beneficial insects such as native bees and butterflies.
Monarch Butterflies arriving on our shores not only depend upon milkweed for the survival of the species, but the fall migrants rely heavily on wildflowers that bloom in late summer and early fall. Eastern Point is a major point of entry, and stopover, for the southward migrating butterflies. We have already lost much of the wildflower habitat that formerly graced the Lighthouse landscape.
Barriers that divide small bodies of fresh water from the open sea have been especially hard hit. The fresh bodies of water adjacent to the sea provide habitat, food, and drinking water for hundreds of species of wildlife and tens of thousands of migrating song and shorebirds that travel through our region.
The road that runs along Pebble Beach, separating the sea from Henry’s Pond has been washed out.
Mallards, North American Beavers, Muskrats, North American River Otters, and Painted Turtles are only a few examples of species that breed in Massachusetts fresh water ponds and wetlands. All the wildlife photos and videos were shot on Cape Ann.
Cape Ann is hardly alone in coping with the impact of our warming planet and of rising sea level. These photos are meant to show examples of what is happening locally. Regions like Plymouth County, which include Scituate and Hingham, have been equally as hard hit. Plum Island is famously heading for disaster and similar Massachusetts barrier beaches, like Cranes Beach, have all been dramatically altered by the cumulative effects of sea level rising, and recently accelerated by the devastating winter storms of 2018.
To be continued.
Impassable Road to Plum Island
and a frost weathered shell-cracked horseshoe crab. Sequential views and hues in response to requests for Wingaersheek Beach photographs.
I needed a flashlight at first, mostly for the ice, long stretches in the parking lot then frozen ice scoops in the dry sand. I waited for sunrise, returing to spots I’ve favored since I was a little girl, adding glances back in the direction of Wheeler’s Point, where my parents lived, and over picnic boulders and slide pools out to Annisquam Lighthouse. The light was simultaneously a ring of orange mauve fire and rosy pale violet gray. More photos:
After the rain on Sunday went over to Wingaersheek Beach and the light was beautiful.
Nice letter from Patti Amaral in today’s Gloucester Daily Times writing on behalf of the city’s Clean City Initiative. She thanked the city, donors and supporters while providing some background about the Carry In Carry Out art. In case you missed it: Nov 9 2017 Letter to the Editor
The murals were refurbished by Jason Burroughs in October 2017. They were designed and painted by Bob Viau from StudioVo 15 years ago. Here are a few photos documenting the refurbishing. The Wingaersheek wall needed more attention.
Carry In Carry Out mural at Good Harbor Beach BEFORE
Carry In Carry Out mural at Good Harbor Beach AFTER
Carry In Carry Out mural at Wingaersheek BEFORE
Carry In Carry Out mural at Wingaersheek AFTER
Anyone interested in sponsoring a possible update to these beach displays, please let her know!