Saturday afternoon a captivating young Bald Eagle swooped onto the scene with a fresh catch held tightly in its talons. He was fairly far off in the distance and I couldn’t quite capture what exactly he was eating.
It didn’t take long for the eagle to devour the little creature and after dining, he circled around the pond several times before landing in a nearby tree. I’ve never been so close to an eagle and it was a gift to see, really just gorgeous. It’s feathers were richly mottled in shades of chocolate brown, with contrasting white tips. Despite its youth, you could see the majesty and strength in its wings when soaring overhead.
The eagle perched in the branches for a few moments, completely ignoring the squwacky crows that were gathering, before heading out towards sea.
There have been numerous reports of Bald Eagles in the area. Earlier in the day, a passerby told me she had seen a juvenile Bald Eagle with a crow in its clutches. Although I don’t have a side-by-side comparison, the young Bald Eagle’s talons appeared enormous, even larger than a Snowy or Great Horned Owl’s talons.
Bald Eagles have repopulated the 48 contiguous states, Alaska, Canada, and northern Mexico. Their recovery over the past several decades is largely due to the ban on DDT (yet another deadly dangerous poisonous insecticide manufactured by Monsanto). Bald Eagles mate for life and they are breeding in the area. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to see a nest on Cape Ann!
I believe this to be a second or third hatch year juvenile Bald Eagle. You can tell by the broad brown band on its face, the iris is transitioning from amber to yellow, and because the beak is beginning to turn yellow.
Click on any of the photos in the gallery above to see a full-sized slideshow.
Fourth hatch year Bald Eagle -note the remaining brown feathers around the face.
A beautiful trio of young Mute Swans spent the day at Niles Pond foraging on pond vegetation and enjoying fresh water. When the fresh water ponds thaw, we see our local swans take a break from their salty harbor refuges. The Three Graces spent the entire day eating nearly nonstop, which suggests they are very hungry.
I believe the three young swans are not quite one year old. Their bills are pale, and brown first-molt feathers mix with incoming white feathers. It’s their first winter so if you see the young swans, please be kind.
Mr. Swan, too, has been enjoying the fresh water at Henry’s Pond. He’s so territorial that I hope he stays over in Rockport for a bit so the Three Graces can fortify at Niles.
On Valentine’s Day rick and I went to Parker River Wildlife. It was a pretty day but very cold and windy. Did not see any owls but saw friends, Jim and Pat Dalpiaz.
Monday afternoon at Good Harbor Beach I found the little Razorbill washed ashore, up between the ice sheets at the high tide line. Thanks so much to Mike for sharing his story about the Razorbills he saw at the Dogbar Breakwater last week. I could identify it immediately because of Mike’s sighting. I hope so much the other Razorbill is surviving 🙂
Not one, but two, Snowy boys were well camouflaged amidst the rocks. They were far apart from one another when one flew toward the other. The stationary fellow didn’t move an inch and barely opened his eyes, while the flying fellow hid himself expertly behind a clump of dry wildflowers. The two sleepily hung out together, positioned not twenty feet apart.
I wished I could have stayed to see if they would behave territorially, but frozen fingers chided me off the beach.
I see you little Snowy Boy!
A flock of Snow Buntings foraged in between the rocks and they too were well-camouflaged.
On Saturday March 30, 2019 Dr. Katharine Parsons, Director, Coastal Waterbird Program for Mass Audubon will be giving a presentation on Piping Plovers. The talk will be held at the Library, downstairs in the Friend room.
Dr. Katharine Parsons received her Bachelor’s degree from Smith College and Ph.D. in Ecology from Rutgers University. She has 35 years of experience in coastal waterbird research, management and policy in the northeast. Since 2011, Dr. Parsons has directed Mass Audubon’s Coastal Waterbird Program which works with coastal communities throughout Massachusetts to protect rare birds and their habitats. In addition, she has taught courses in coastal ecology and natural systems at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design since 2008. Her presentation at the Gloucester Public Library will cover Piping Plover ecology, management and conservation.
Pat Morss writes,
In response to Mike’s sighting of Razorbills at the Dog Breakwater – exciting, Anne-Lise and I and family were in Norway last June to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 100th birthday and our 50th wedding anniversary. We took a side trip north of the Arctic Circle to the Lofoten Islands. On the island of Ross, we took a zodiak trip out to the “bird mountain” rookeries including Razorbills and Black-legged Kitttiwakes.
Over the weekend, many new of sightings of Hector, Gloucester and Rockport’s visiting Black Vulture, were reported. He was seen at residences all along East Main Street, back at the Rockport dump, and even in Rockport Harbor! Many thanks to reader Lauren T for sharing her photo.
Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee has submitted outstandingly well-researched recommendations to the Mayor’s office and to our City Councilors in regard to the upcoming Piping Plover season. Please see recommendations at the end of the post below.
In thinking ahead to April, which is the month when Piping Plovers usually arrive to Massachusetts beaches to begin courting and nesting, I am reminded of the beautiful story of Old Man Plover. The locals in his region originally called him BO:X,g (pronounced box gee) after the combination of letters on the bands of his legs, which are used to identify and track PiPl through their migration cycle. But as he lived longer and longer, the storied PiPl became known as Old Man Plover.
Not only was Old Man Plover legendary because he returned to the same nesting site and wintering grounds for fifteen straight years, but because he was crippled. In 2013 he lost most of the toes on his left foot. A stick became lodged in one of the leg bands, which could have caused an abrasion, a lesion, or possibly constricted blood flow to his toes. After losing his toes, wherever he hobbled, Old Man Plover left a distinct peg mark in the sand.
Old Man Plover was part of the endangered Great Lakes Piping Plover population, where numbers are even lower than the Atlantic region of PiPl. He hatched at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan, and wintered over at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, South Carolina. Not merely did he return for fifteen summers to nest at his birthplace, he was also extremely punctual. In 2015, 2016, and 2017, he arrived on the exact same day, April 13th.
The last decade of Old Man Plover’s life was not easy. In addition to losing his toes, he lost his childhood sweetheart in 2011 and a second mate in 2013. Plants took over his original nesting spot and his beach grew narrower due to rising lake water levels.
Piping Plovers famously show fidelity to the same nesting site. We have seen that with our own Papa Plover, who has created nest scrapes in nearly exactly the same spot for the past three years. My nickname for our Papa is Big Papi because David Ortiz retired from the Red Sox the same year our Papa arrived, and because our Papa has the same fighting spirit as Big Papi.
Old Man Plover is not the oldest known PiPl on record. That title goes to an Atlantic Coast PiPl that was photographed in Cuba last year, after being tagged 17 years ago at the same location biologists had first banded the bird!
Migrating between Michigan and South Carolina over a fifteen year period, Old Man Plover traveled tens of thousands of miles in his lifetime. He was an amazing Dad. The average PiPl pair raise 1.5 chicks. Old Man Plover raised a whopping 36 chicks, averaging 3-4 chicks per clutch! Read more about Old Man Plover’s offspring here: Old Man Plover’s Legacy Lives On
Animal Advisory Committee Recommendations
On September 12, 2018, the Animal Advisory Committee voted unanimously on the following proposed ordinances for protections to piping plovers and other wildlife species.
Section 4-2: Feeding or disturbing wildlife No person shall disturb, harass, harbor or feed directly or indirectly gulls, pigeons, waterfowl, coastal shorebirds, or crows on any streets, beach, or other public property or anywhere in the downtown area unless properly permitted by the appropriate state and federal wildlife authorities. Violation results in a $300 fine per incident/violation. No person shall feed either directly or indirectly any coyotes on any public or private property. Violation results in a $300 fine per incident/violation.
(New Ordinance- Endangered/Threatened Wildlife Buffer zone: ) Buffer zone of 50 feet around an area will be established around any area designated as protected for wildlife. Prohibited activities in the buffer zone include whiffle ball, frisbee, soccer, volleyball, paddle ball, kites, inflatable balls and any other activities that involve objects that can fly or roll into the restricted area. Violation results in a $300 fine per incident/violation.
Sec. 9-8. – Littering prohibited. (update to a): No person shall throw, drop, release or otherwise dispose of directly or indirectly into any harbor, river, or pond or on to any beach, or any public property garbage, refuse, rubbish, bottles, cans, containers, paper, cigarette butts, balloons, wrapping material, glass, filth or any noxious or dangerous liquid or solid. Violation results in a $300 fine per incident/violation.
Sec. 4-16a. – Dogs allowed on public beaches at certain times. Adhere to ordinances for specific beaches below.
Good Harbor and Wingaersheek Beaches: Dogs shall be prohibited from Good Harbor Beach and Wingaersheek Beach from April 1st -Sept 30th annually. In addition, unleashed dogs shall be allowed on Good Harbor Beach and Wingaersheek Beach, from: October 1st to March 30th annually, subject to the following conditions: Off leash on even-numbered days of the month at Good Harbor Beach and odd numbered days of the month at Wingaersheek Beach.
Plum Cove and Cressy Beaches: Unleashed dogs shall be allowed on Plum Cove Beach and Cressy Beach in the off season from October 1st to April 30th annually. Crab Beach: Dogs shall be allowed on “Crab Beach” off leash at all times subject to the enumerated conditions contained in section 4-16a.
All other public beaches: Dogs shall be prohibited from public beaches from May 1 to September 30 annually. Dogs shall be allowed on public beaches from October 1 to April 30 annually and shall be under the control of the owner or keeper.
(1) Owners must remain with and monitor their dogs. Owners, per the below conditions, define person with direct care, custody, and control of a dog while in a designated off-leash area.
(2) Dogs must be licensed and vaccinated as required by applicable law and ordinance.
(3) Dogs must wear their tags and have no contagious conditions, diseases or parasites.
(4) Dogs must be leashed when entering and exiting a designated off-leash area.
(5) Dogs and humans are not allowed in the dunes.
(6) Dogs with a history of dangerous or aggressive behavior as determined by the animal control officer are prohibited.
(7) Dogs younger than four months are not allowed.
(8) Unaltered male dogs or female dogs in heat are not allowed.
(9) Owners must immediately remove dogs who are exhibiting aggressive behavior.
(10) Owners must carry a leash; one leash per dog is required.
(11) Maximum of two unleashed dogs per owner.
12) Owners must fill in any holes dug by their dog(s).
(13) Any violations of conditions (1)—(12) above shall be subject to a fine of $50.00 for each offense.
(14) Unless renewed or made permanent by the city council and signed by the mayor, the provisions of this section shall expire on December 31, 2017.
Fine of $300 per violation. Fines for violations will be double in season for beaches and other off-leash areas as determined.
Beach Ordinances: Beach, litter, dog violation fines should be increased to $300 from $25 per the proposed ordinances and approved ordinance language should be carried over to the beach ordinances. Sec. 9-8 Litter, Sec. 4-2 Feeding and Disturbing wildlife, Buffer Zone (new sec), Sec. 4-16a. – Dogs allowed on public beaches at certain times.
Many, many thanks to reader Mike for sharing his amazing sighting of two Razorbills. He writes the following,
“Hi Kim. I was out on the Dogbar Breakwater yesterday afternoon. I didn’t see any Snowy Owls, but I did spot 2 Razorbills. I’d never seen one before, so it was quite exciting. There was a flurry of activity in the water as 2 loons harassed one of the Razorbills. They wore him down and then a large sea gull attacked and tried to kill the Razorbill pecking at his head. He dove and swam far enough away the gull lost track of him in the small chop.
Interesting to see the White Line across it’s backside and the white under the wings. I witnessed one of the Razorbills swimming underwater from the height of the rocks at the end of the breakwater, the bird appeared to be “flying” underwater and I thought it had tiny wings as I could only see the white portion of the wings in the darkness of the water. It swam similar to a Penguin underwater. Another couple also saw the Razorbill swim underwater and the three of us were surprised at distance the bird covered in such a short time.
On my way to the breakwater, I asked a young couple returning to the parking lot, if they had seen any cool critters. They said they saw an injured bird that was something like a Puffin or Penguin just inside the breakwater, at the edge of the shore. They said the bird made it’s way into the water as they approached. They had a frontal top view of the bird with their smartphone, but it was unclear as to what it was. I’m guessing that’s the same Razorbill I saw being attacked by the sea gull. Nature has a way of weeding out the weak and injured, but he escaped to live another day !!
I also saw around a dozen Common Eiders, 2 Surf Scoters, couple mergansers, 6 Buffleheads and 4 light brown ducks I would guess to be Gadwalls by the elegant patterns of breast feathers swimming along the shore inside the breakwater. Great sightings on a wonderful warm day!!”
I just read on the Audubon website that the Razorbill is probably the closest living relative of the extinct Great Auk. How interesting is that! I’ve never seen a Razorbill but will most certainly be on the lookout. Thanks so much again to Mike.
All images courtesy wikicommonsmedia.
Over the winter, a Black Vulture has been calling Cape Ann home. My friend Lois first alerted me to this back in December where he has been seen quite often in Rockport. I have been trying to capture some footage of him/her but only ever saw him soaring high above. The Black Vulture in flight is stunning and you can recognize the bird by its distinctive white wing tips.
As luck would have it, East Gloucester resident Larry shared a photo recently and his friend Frank generously allowed me to stop by and take some photos and footage!
Being found mostly in South America, Central America, and the southern US, the Black Vulture’s range does not historically include Cape Ann (nor anywhere in Massachusetts). The bird’s range has been expanding northward since the early decades of the previous century and it is safe to say there may even be a few pairs breeding in the furthest most western regions of Massachusetts!
Black Vultures feed primarily on carrion. They fly high above on thermal winds looking for dead creatures, and also follow Turkey Vultures, which reportedly have a better sense of smell and can more easily locate carcasses. Black Vultures also kill skunks, possums, Night Herons, turtle hatchlings, chickens, young livestock, and sickly small pets. And, too, they pick through dumps and dumpsters, and even wade into water for small fish and floating carrion. It’s no wonder their range is expanding!
The Black Vulture visiting Frank’s yard appeared to be communicating with Frank. Black Vultures lack a voice box; instead of singing, one of the sounds they make is a low ruff sort of bark. Frank can imitate the bark perfectly, and the bird barks back!
Black Vulture Historic Status in Massachusetts, from Mass Audubon:
The first Black Vulture identified in Massachusetts was shot in Swampscott in November of 1850. The second appeared in Gloucester on September 28, 1863, where it, too, was killed (Howe & Allen 1901). Throughout the next century, the bird was considered an accidental straggler in Massachusetts; and, by the middle of the nineteenth century, the species was on the move from its deep Southern roots, breeding in southern Maryland for the first time in 1922 (Court 1924) and in Pennsylvania by 1952 (Brauning 1992).
Since I get very nervous on game day, went over to Parker River and saw this beautiful eagle. Thought about last year’s Superbowl game and there was this eagle, another omen that our PATS were going to win.
Pats logo at sunset
Came across a photo for your gardens and thoughts of summer.
Their shadows in flight crisscrossing the light through my office window, I look up to see one feather-fluffed fellow sitting on a crabapple branch, gazing right back at me. I wonder, if I silently and cautiously open the window, will he fly in?
It is so very cold out doors. The flock seems more weary than in past years. One sits on the ground outside the window, barely moving aside when I walk down the garden path; another is half asleep in the holly limb overhead. There are fewer, too, perhaps only eight to ten when often we see several dozen. On this coldest of January days, it must be difficult to keep warm, especially as there are no little fish to catch along the frozen sea’s edge to warm their bellies.
This one appeared so worn out, he sat in the snow beneath the holly tree, eating what the other Robins dropped on the ground.
The winter Robins arrive to our garden every year in January, nearly to the day (today, January 21st). Our garden is a postage stamp but we have planted it richly for the songbirds. The pair of ‘Dragon Lady’ holly trees hold their berries for the Robins, the crabapples have yet to be sampled, the winterberry is still ripe with fruit, and the tiny rosehips of the climbing white rose are beckoning.
We’re fortunate that on Cape Ann many American Robins nest and migrate along our shores. Some Robins live here all the year round; some arrive in springtime, having spent the winter further south in parts warmer; and some–the ones I like to call winter Robins–arrive in January, from parts further north. We are like their Bermuda, and they are here to feed on wild fruits and berries, as well as small fish fry and fingerlings, and mollusks.
Last night we spoke during open comments at the January City Council meeting. Many, many thanks to Councilor Steven LeBlanc for the advice on how to address the councilors, and to all the councilors present for taking the time to listen, including Scott Memhard, Sean Nolan, Paul Lundberg, Melissa Cox, Valerie Gilman, James O’Hara, and Jen Holmgren.
We are working toward the goal to see the recommendations in place by April 1st of 2019, before the Piping Plovers arrive at Good Harbor Beach. These recommendations were first given in writing on July 9, 2018 to Mayor Sefatia and the City Council.
The following are the concerns and recommendations presented to the councilors on behalf of the Piping Plover volunteer monitors.
January 22, 2019
Piping Plover Recommendations
On behalf of the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, we are submitting our short list of recommendations regarding the Piping Plovers nesting at Good Harbor Beach. Our goal is to have in place by April 1, 2019, measures and ordinances that will greatly increase the likelihood that the hatchlings of this tiny threatened shorebird will have a fighting chance at surviving life on Good Harbor Beach.
Piping Plovers began nesting at Good Harbor Beach in 2016. Each year, the PiPl are coming earlier and earlier. In 2016, they arrived mid-May, in 2017 they arrived at the beginning of May, and this past year, they arrived on April 3. It would appear that the same pair is returning to Good Harbor Beach, as the male marks his territory and attempts to build a nest scrape only several feet from the previous year’s nest (at Boardwalk #3 nesting area).
More Plovers than ever were seen at Good Harbor Beach this spring, and if not for constant disturbances by dogs in the Boardwalk #1 nesting area, we would have had two pairs nesting on the beach.
Why are the birds arriving earlier and earlier? We can presume that the pair are more experienced travelers and parents and that Good Harbor Beach is their “territory.” Does this mean we will eventually have dozens of pairs nesting on Good Harbor Beach? No, because the PiPl are very territorial and they will defend a fairly large area, preventing other PiPl from nesting in their site.
This past year the PiPl pair hatched four chicks. All four chicks were killed by either crows, gulls, or dogs. All three are human-created issues, and all three can be remedied. The following are the four recommendations and actions we wish to see take place.
1) Change the dog ordinance to not allow dogs on the beach after March 31.
Currently, dogs are allowed on the beach from October 1 to May 1. The Piping Plover volunteer monitor core group, Dave Rimmer from Greenbelt, Mass Wildlife’s John Regosin, and Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee all recommend that dogs should not be allowed on Good Harbor Beach beginning April 1st.
This new suggested time frame will allow birds to nest on the beach (as opposed to in the parking lot), with far less interruption, shorebirds will nest earlier in the season, which will help with the chicks survival rate, and the chicks will be stronger by the time Good Harbor fills with summer crowds.
This is a very logical and simple solution. Disallowing dogs on Massachusetts coastal beaches where shorebirds are nesting, beginning April 1, is the norm. Allowing them to return after September 30 is also very common. For Piping Plovers and other nesting shorebirds, protecting their habitat and sharing the shore is a matter of life and death.
2) Rope off the nesting area by April 1.
Poles, with threatened species signs, and a triple row of roping of nesting sites, to be in place no later than April 1. Essex County Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer will assist with this measure.
3) Enforce the existing ordinances regarding dogs (and littering) at all times throughout the year.
Only enforcing dog ordinances at Good Harbor Beach during nesting season is creating hostility toward the Piping Plovers.
Additionally, we do not recommend extremely high fines as we feel that may become an impediment to issuing and collecting the fines.
We know of at least one example where the magistrate dismissed the tickets issued to a woman who claimed to have a service dog. This woman was running rampant on the beach and throughout dunes with her service dog off leash throughout the entire time the PiPl were nesting, from April through May. Despite the fact that former dog officer Diane Corliss caught the woman on camera with her dog off leash on the beach, and in the dunes, all the tickets that were issued by the animal control officer were dismissed. This is neither fair to the officers who are working hard to keep the dogs off the beach or to the plover volunteers who are spending inordinate amounts of time trying to keep the PiPl safe.
4) Increase trash collection.
When no barrels are placed at the entrances to the beach, people dump bags of trash there anyway. When barrels are in place, people put trash in the barrels however, when the barrels become full, they again resort to leaving bags of trash behind, only next to the barrels. In either scenario, gulls and crows are attracted to the trash. Both gulls and crows rip open the bags and the trash is blown throughout the parking lot and marsh, soon finding its way onto the beach and into the ocean.
Hungry gulls and crows waiting for people to leave their trash behind eat tiny shorebirds.
Thank you for taking the time to consider our recommendations.
Can these recommendations be actionable for the spring of 2019?
I dream about Snowies sometimes, especially in wintertime. I wonder if Snowies dream–probably, if they do, its all about tasty morsels 🙂
Sleepy Snowy Boy in the wildflower patch.
Do Snowy Owls, like other owl species, feed at night?
Snowy Owls are crepuscular (active and feed at dawn and dusk), diurnal (hunt during the day time), and nocturnal (hunt during darkness). Mostly, while wintering in our region, they rest during the daylight hours. When you see a Snowy sleeping, whether on the beach, a fence post, rooftop, or tree, please give him/her lots of space and let him rest quietly and undisturbed.
In the summer months, Snowies feed in the continuous daylight hours of the Arctic. Their main source of food is lemmings. In years when lemmings are super abundant, female Snowies will actually lay more eggs! Both the male and female hunt and bring food to the growing owlets. Feeding a hungry brood of baby owls is nonstop during the long days of the Arctic summer, and the owls also cache food.
What do Snowy Owls eat when wintering over in New England? I’ll share what we saw Hedwig eat because I am reading tons of misinformation posted online. We saw her eating rabbits, shrews, rats, mice, and yes, sea ducks. At day’s end, she would leave her hotel perch, sometimes heading over the golf course for a rabbit, or swooping down to the rocky shoreline for a shrew, or out to sea for a Common Eider or Bufflehead.
A cache of lemmings circling a Snowy Owl nest–and btw, aren’t they just the cutest!
A Snowy Owl irruption occurs when there is an abundance of lemmings, which leads to an abundance of Snowy Owl hatchlings (more lemmings equals fewer hungry owlets), which leads to more fledglings. Easier-to-catch food is available for the less experienced young hunters further south in the lower 48 states. The adults typically keep north, the first- and second-hatch-year owls often head south. This is another reason to keep a respectful distance, many of the owls are still developing and growing.
Our Hedwig appeared especially adept at catching rodents that were scurrying between the rocks at Bass Rocks. In summer, Arctic Lemmings shelter in shallow underground burrows, or under rocks, just as do Cape Ann members of the rodent family.
Interestingly, some Snowy Owls move further north for the winter. They spend these darkest and most frigid of months at sea, ice hunting for Arctic birds at open patches of water.
Please Do Not Disturb