LAUGHING FOX!

Good morning beautiful Red Fox of the marsh!

Driving along the Great Marsh at dawn, off in the distance a Red Fox caught my eye. I quickly reversed direction and was able to take a few snapshots. The Fox was vigorously digging in the snow and when he looked up, a small furry creature was clenched between its jaws.

He trotted closer to the edge of the scrubby shrubs with his breakfast held firmly. A brief pause and several chomps later, the unlucky one was devoured.

The Fox gave a toss of his head and while glancing around appeared to be laughing with delight, before then slipping into the wooded margins of the field.

As you can see from the map, the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) is widely distributed across the Northern Hemisphere. Additionally, Red Fox thrive in Australia too, where they are not native and considered an invasive species.

The Red Fox’s success is due largely to its ability to adapt to human habitats and to its extraordinary sense of hearing. A Red Fox can hear a mouse in snow from 42 feet away!

Because the Coyote has expanded its range so greatly, competing with Red Fox for food and habitat, the Fox are reportedly denning closer to homes. Most likely because human habitats are a safer choice for their kits than Coyote territory.

Oh how I wish a Foxy mama would call our yard home!

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY AND THANK YOU SO MUCH MONARCH FRIENDS!

Thank you so much dear butterfly friends for sharing Beauty on the Wing trailer. As I am writing this post, the new trailer just hit 600 views. That is quite wonderful as it has only been three days since we first shared the trailer and because unlike YouTube where if you watch only a few moments of a video it counts as a hit, with Vimeo, you have to watch it all the way through to be counted. By sharing the trailer and generating many views, you are truly helping when festival judges are viewing our submission.

So thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing!!! 

I couldn’t resist sharing the above photo from Alisa Marie, a member of the terrific group “The Beautiful Monarch,” administered by the very knowledgeable Holli Hearn.

Monarch Heart

MONARCH BUTTERFLY FILM UPDATE!

Dear Friends,

You are receiving this note because you donated generously or because you have been a friend and supporter in one manner or another to my documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.

I am beyond excited to share that we will be picking up the masters this week from the color and sound editing studio, Modulus, which I have been working with these many months. The film has come together beautifully. I think you will love the soundtrack by Jesse Cook and the new mix and voiceover recording. Because of several delays over the course of editing, I was able to include footage from the butterfly’s spectacular late winter exodus at Cerro Pelon, Mexico, and from the exquisite Monarch migration that took place along the shores of Cape Ann this past fall.

Currently I am submitting Beauty on the Wing to film festivals. Over the weekend I sent in no less than 18 submissions. Some festivals we’ll hear back from within a few weeks, others it may take several months. In the meantime, I am learning about film distribution and am working on scheduling a sneak peek preview screening for all my donors and will keep you posted about that.

Here is a link to the new short trailer. Beauty on the Wing Trailer

I hope you will have two minutes to view and also, if you could, please share. The old trailer has thousands of views and believe it or not, number of views is important to festival organizers and film distributors So please share. Also, I am creating a longer, more detailed trailer and will send that along later this week.

A most heartfelt thank you for your generosity and your kind support. I am so grateful.

Sincerely,

Kim

P.S. See below very rough draft of a poster because I needed one quickly for the festival applications- I am looking for a graphic designer who can help with some ideas I have for posters, postcards, and other promotional materials. Please let me know if you have someone you love to work with. Thank you!

MONARCH BUTTERFLY PROTECTORS MURDERED

Many friends have written with questions about the death of Homero Gómez González, and now a second Monarch Butterfly environmentalist, Raúl Hernández Romero, has also been found murdered. The deaths have been widely reported by the BBC, NYTimes, Washington Post, and many other news media. These are tragic events taking place in the desperately poor state of Michoacán, where the people who commit these crimes have nothing much to lose. The problems in these districts are many-layered and complex.

Homero Gómez González

I can only speak to our own experience traveling to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserves in Michoacán and the State of Mexico. On our trip last March, Tom and I stayed at the beautiful inn, JM Monarch Butterfly Bed and Breakfast, located in sleepy Macheros. JM Butterfly is owned and operated by husband and wife team Joel Rojas Moreno and Ellen Sharp. Macheros is a rural hamlet, called a ‘ranchita,’ with a population of more horses to people. Macheros is sited at the base of an old volcanic mountain, Cerro Pelon, which is located in the State of Mexico.

Cerro Pelon is the mountain where the butterflies were first located by outsiders. The villagers knew of the Monarchs annual return, but it was a mystery to the rest of the world where the Monarchs wintered over.

We felt safe every moment of our time at Cerro Pelon and JM Butterfly B and B. So safe that I went for long walks through the town filming and taking photos, on my own, and often left my handbag unattended  when socializing with fellow guests at dinner and in the common areas of the Inn .

Later this month I am posting a video interview with Ellen and Joel where we discuss safety issues, but it is well worth noting the following at this point in time when so much attention has been drawn to the region. Some states, cities, and towns in Mexico are more  prone to violence than other areas, just as we find in different regions of the US. Basing a decision to travel to Cerro Pelon on what happens in Michoacán is like saying I am not going to travel to Beverly Hills because of the gang violence that takes place in Emeryville.

I absolutely love Cerro Pelon and JM Butterfly B and B and hope to return very soon. We also can’t wait until our granddaughter is just a wee bit older so we can take a family trip there. I write older only for the reason that she will remember how memorable an experience.

Conversely, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve at El Rosario is located in the state of Michoacán, where gang violence poses a greater threat. Homero Gómez González was a manager at El Rosario,  a former logger himself, and champion of the Monarchs and Reserve. Raúl Hernández Romero was also an environmentalist and tour guide. It is tragic that the defense of the exquisite and productive forest habitats of the Monarch Biosphere Reserves turns activists into victims of threats and persecution and that Monarch protectors González and Romero have paid the ultimate price for their bravery.

I traveled to El Rosario, in 2014, and again in March of 2019. This last trip we were with a small group sponsored by JM Butterfly and both trips, the one taken in 2014 and the one in 2019, we were perfectly safe and well looked after by our guides. The majority of the visitors to El Rosario are international tourists and Mexican families, respectively, making first time visits and annual pilgrimages. You will see the very youngest babies being strolled along the paths to the very oldest grannies hobbling along with walking sticks, and everyone in between.

El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Biosphere

Rural communities throughout Mexico are developing, some more rapidly than others.  We can do a great deal to help the local economy by continuing to visit these beautiful but impoverished areas and the wonderful people you will meet there, to treasure the unspoiled habitats and wildlife you will find there, and to spend our tourist dollars generously.  We live in a time with growing environmental awareness, but also a time with increasing anti-environment animus, largely generated by the current US federal government’s devastating anti-environment policies.

González was missing for two weeks before his body was recovered at the bottom of a holding pond in an agricultural area. Prosecutors in Michoacán say an autopsy found that the cause of death was “mechanical asphyxiation by drowning of a person with head trauma.”

Raúl Hernández Romero, who had worked as a tour guide in the preserve went missing last Monday. His body was found bruised, his head showing trauma from a sharp object.

Mourners lower the coffin of community activist Homero Gómez González into a grave at a hillside cemetery in Ocampo, Mexico, on Friday. PHOTO: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

WELCOMING BACK GLOUCESTER’S PIPING PLOVERS AND WHY BANDING OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH NESTING PAIR IS NOT A GOOD IDEA

Hello dear Piping Plover Friends and Partners,

As are you, I am looking forward to the return of our Gloucester Plovers. With the relatively mild winter we are experiencing, and the fact they have been arriving earlier and earlier each spring, we could be seeing our tiny shorebird friends in little over a month.

About this time of year I imagine well wishers and monitors are becoming anxious, wondering if our PiPls survived all the challenges winter brings to migrating birds.

Gloucester’s Mated Piping Plover Pair, Mama in the background, Dad in the fore.

Last August at the Coastal Waterbird Conservation Cooperators meeting, I met Professor Paton. He is involved with a program that bands and nanotags birds at Southern New England beaches, mostly Rhode Island beaches. He provided some terrific maps based on the data collected from the banding program.

After departing Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the majority of the program’s tagged PiPls are soon found foraging on the shores of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Cape Lookout National Seashore, and Cumberland Island National Seashore, GA. Data suggests that the Outer Banks are a priority stopover site for Piping Plovers well into the late summer. After leaving our shores, southern New England Piping Plovers spend on average 45 days at NC barrier beaches before then heading to the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.

Although our Good Harbor Beach Piping plovers are not tagged, there is no reason to believe that they too are not traveling this route.

As you can see in the map above, it’s easy to understand why the majority of Southern New England PiPls stage in North Carolina.

Why wouldn’t we want to tag out GHB family? Not often publicized is the down side of tagging. Some species of birds adapt well to tagging and some, like Piping Plovers, develop life threatening problems like leg movement disorder. But most troubling of all is that small sticks and other debris can become lodged between the skin and the tag, which causes the area to become infected, which has lead to loss of leg. Tiny shorebirds like Piping Plovers use their legs to propel them all over the beach, to both forage and escape danger. Left crippled by the loss of a leg, the birds will barely survive another year. At one point several years back there was even a moratorium placed on banding plovers.

Perhaps if we had dozens of pairs of Piping Plovers nesting all over around Cape Ann it would be worth the risk of banding a bird or two. But with only one nesting pair, coupled with the typical survival rate of Piping Plovers at less than five years, why not let our one pair nest in peace? Plovers at popular city beaches need all the help they can get from their human stewards. I for one am happy to simply imagine where our GHB PiPls spend the winter.

If you have ever been to a New Jersey beach, you might be sickened as was I to see birds with no less than eight tags, four on each leg. It doesn’t make sense to me in this day and age why one band wouldn’t suffice. Each time the bird was spotted the one set of data  provided by one tag could be recorded in a national database.

According to coastal ecologist with The Trustees of Reservations, Jeff Denoncour, this past year (2019), 49 pairs of plovers raised 96 chicks at Crane Beach. They do not band birds at Crane Beach, nor are birds banded at other beaches where the PiPl has been successfully increasing in population, including Winthrop Shore Reservations and Revere Beach.

The species existence is precarious. In 2000 at Crane Beach just 12 fledglings survived 49 pairs and that was because of a major storm. Considering all that a Piping Plover pair has to face at the city’s most popular beach, we don’t need to decrease their chances of survival.

It’s wonderful and reassuring to see updated reports of banded birds we have observed at Good Harbor Beach however, because of data collected in the past, we can fairly accurately imagine where our little family resides during the winter. Banding a single pair will only serve to satisfy our own curiosity, and will do nothing to increase the bird’s chance of survival.

ETM, spotted last year by PiPl monitor Heather Hall at Good Harbor Beach, is currently spending the winter on Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Seven too many bands on this bird!!! Bands are placed both above and below the tibiotarsal joint on plovers (terns are given bands below the tibiotarsal joint only). There are eight possible band locations on a bird’s leg according to banding schemes: The Upper Left Upper, Upper Left Lower (left leg, above the tibiotarsal joint), Lower Left Upper, Lower Left Lower (left leg, below the tibiotarsal joint), Upper Right Upper, Upper Right Lower (right leg, above the tibiotarsal joint), Lower Right Upper, and Lower Right Lower (right leg below the tibiotarsal joint).


Looking forward to the upcoming Piping Plover season!

MUSKRAT LOVE!

This little guy gave me a start while out for a walk this afternoon. I was expecting to see a few cute ducks, not an adorable member of the rodent order.

Muskrats do not hibernate in winter. In a year with the more usual colder temperatures, when waterways are frozen over, the muskrat’s activity typically happens underwater and in their shacks, dens, and ice houses, where we are less likely to catch a glimpse.

Muskrats don’t store food in their lodges like Beavers do; they must forage everyday. A Muskrat dives for aquatic plants and can hold its breath for fifteen minutes underwater. Its feet work like paddles and its long tail propels and steers. They also eat fish, frogs, clams, and snails. Muskrats are eaten by minks, weasels, foxes, and hawks.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND A DOVEKIE OR MURRE STRANDED ON THE BEACH

In recent weeks, there have been more than a few reports of Dovekies and other seabirds found on our local beaches, both alive and dead. Friend Jeff Papows has found several dead birds and has returned one live Dovekie and one Common Murre.

Jeff knew just what to do with the stranded birds, which is to return them to the water. Jodi Swenson, from Cape Ann Wildlife, recommends this is best. She shares that seabirds do not do well in rehab. If on the other hand the bird appears sick or emaciated, then please call Tufts at (508) 839-7918.

Dovekies, like many seabirds, are clumsy on land, however they do nest on land, so we know they are able to walk. Then why are they stranding? It most commonly happens to young, inexperienced birds. But stranding can also happen in great numbers to exhausted adults after large storms. This influx is known as a wreck. One of the most tragic and dramatic wrecks occurred along the East Coast in 1932, when thousands of Dovekies literally “rained” from the sky.

Photos Jeff Papows

We’d like to get an understanding of how many seabirds are washing ashore. If you have seen a Dovekie, or other species of seabird, dead or alive on the beach this winter, please write and let us know when and where. Thank you so much.

Common Murres are more crow-sized whereas Dovekies are more similar in size to an American Robin

Dovekie front view

Dovekie side view


Common Murre, winter plumage. Photo courtesy wikicommons media

SIMPLY AMAZED- HERON ICE FISHING

Could it be that our winter resident juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron is surviving by ice fishing??

I was concerned and did not not think the young heron could possibly find enough food after Niles Pond froze solidly over. The pond was thick with a heavy layer of ice, so thick people had been skating.

Several days ago when out for a walk, I heard a krickly sound coming from the reeds along the pond’s edge. A beautiful Red Squirrel ran across my path. A few moments later, the same krickly krickly sound, only this time when I peered in, there was the juvenile BCNH, sleepy-eyed and shifting on the cold ice.

Off he flew into the trees to warm in the sun.

Sleeping in the morning sun

I walked out onto the ice adjacent to where he had been standing and there, very clearly, was a trail of his perfectly delineated tracks. Not only that, but there was a hole in the ice, surrounded by several sets of his tracks. Having observed BCNH during the summer months standing stock still in one place for hours on end, I can just imagine that he must have stood over that hole for hours waiting for his dinner to swim by. Simply amazed!

If you are having difficulty viewing the photos large, double click and you should be able to see full size.

My camera lens was too long to get a close up of the tracks. I was only able to take these cell phone pics, but you can still see very clearly the heron’s tracks in the snowy ice, and the ice hole.

Cape Ann is located at the tippy northern end of their year round Atlantic coastal range.

BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON IN JANUARY??

It’s been a remarkable month for beautiful winter wild creatures in our midst. The photos of a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron were taken in mid-January,

He mostly stays well-hidden in the dense thickets at water’s edge. I’ve read that Night Herons occasionally spend the entire winter in northern regions. Cape Ann is at the tippy edge of their year round coastal range. Let’s hope this youngster will survive the next several months.

Black-crowned Night Herons, adults, Gloucester, in early spring and summer

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron, January 2020

GIANT SEALS SCARED THE BEEJEEZUS OUT OF ME!

While filming the tiny Dovekie as he was blithely bopping along in the inner Harbor, dip diving for breakfast and seeming to find plenty to eat, suddenly from directly beneath the Dovekie, two ginromous chocolate brown heads popped up. Almost sea serpent-like and so completely unexpected! I leapt up and totally ruined the shot, and the little Dovekie was even more startled. He didn’t fly away but ran pell mell across the water about fifteen feet before giving a furtive look back, and then submerging himself.

So there we were face to face, only about twenty feet apart. We spent a good deal of time eyeing each other, several minutes at least, both trying to figure out the other’s next move. Their eyes are so large and expressively beautiful. Down they dove and search as I might, could not spot them again.

There have been plenty of Harbor Seals seen in Gloucester Harbor, but I have never been so close to a Grey Seal, and so delighted to see not one, but two!

The following are a number of ways to tell the difference between a Harbor Seal and a Grey Seal.

Harbor Seals are smaller (5 to 6 feet) than average Grey Seals (6 feet 9 inches long to 8 feet 10 inches long). Bull Grey Seals have been recorded measuring 10 feet 10 inches long!

Harbor Seals have a concave shaped forehead, with a dog-like snout. The head of a Grey Seal is elongated, with a flatter forehead and nose.

Harbor Seal head shape left, Grey Seal head right

Harbor Seals have a heart or V-shaped nostrils. The nostrils of Grey Seals do not meet at the bottom and create more of a W-shape.

Harbor Seal heart, or V-shaped, nostrils

Grey Seal W-shaped nostrils

Grey Seals are not necessarily gray. They are also black and brown. Their spots are more irregular than the spots of a Harbor Seal.

Grey Seals and Harbor Seals are true “earless seals,” which does not mean that they cannot hear but are without external ear flaps.

Dovekie Gloucester Harbor

BEAUTIFUL AND FUNNY RARE BIRD IN GLOUCESTER THE “LITTLE AUK” OR DOVEKIE

The tiny “Little Auk” has been on our shores for several days and this morning I was finally able to take a few good snapshots. It dips and bobs in a funny manner, weaving back and forth, up and down the channel, before using its wings to deeply dive for small fish and crustaceans.

The Dovekie is the smallest member of the auk (puffin) family. A bird of the open Atlantic Ocean that breeds on Islands in the high Arctic, Dovekies are only seen during winter months in New England.

RULER OF THE MARSH – FEATURING RABBIT, HAWK, OWLS, AND EAGLE

Life on the marsh –

The Marsh Hawk (Northern Harrier) sitting in the grass off in the distance, was holding captive a bunny.

The bunny was staying still and the hawk was, surprisingly, not attempting to capture the rabbit. Perhaps because avian predators, like hawks, hunt by swooping in, and in a short distance stand-off, the hawk would have to sort of hop over to the bunny. Rabbits can hop to escape a great deal quicker than can hawks-on-foot give chase.

The Short-eared Owl arrives and the Marsh Hawk takes cover.

The Snowy Owl appears on the scene…

and the Short-eared Owls are nowhere to be seen.

The Bald Eagle, Ruler of Marsh and Meadow, swoops in. The Snowy departs.

 

 

MORE SNAPSHOTS OF THE BEAUTIFUL SHORT-EARED OWL, SNOWY OWL, TENDERCROP FARM, AND IPSWICH CLAMBAKE

Charlotte and I had a wonderful adventure morning checking on the owls at Plum Island. We observed several Harrier Hawks flying low over the marsh grass hunting for prey, a Short-eared Owl perched on a craggy tree, and a Snowy parked for the morning far out in the dunes. We played on the beach and she had a blast zooming up and down the boardwalk at lot no.2.

Tiny white wedge in the distance

We next stopped at the refuge headquarters to play in the marsh boat that is part of the exhibit about the Great Salt Marsh. She brought along her own stuffed Snowy to join on the boat ride.

Next destination was a visit to see the farm friends at Tendercrop Farm. Currently in residence are a turkey, ginormous steer, pony, chickens, ducks, llama, and the sweetest miniature goat who is just wonderful with toddlers.

I purchased the best steaks we have ever had, Tendercrop’s own grass fed rib-eye, made even more magnificent cooked to perfection by Alex, with a beautiful red wine demi-glace.

Everything at Tendercrop Farm is always amazingly delicious. They have the freshest and best selection of fruits and vegetables during the winter months, bar none.

Great bunches of freshly cut pussy willows are for sale at Tendercrop

Last stop was lunch at the Ipswich Clambake. The owners and staff are just the most friendly. The clam chowder at the Clambake is perfection. Charlotte and I shared a mini super fresh fried clam appetizer and that, along with the chowder, made the best sort of lunch to top off our fun adventure morning.

Tendercrop Farm is located at 108 High Road, 1A, in Newbury.

Ipswich Clambake is located at 196 High Street, 1A, in Ipswich.

 

BEAUTIFUL SHORT-EARED OWLS IN OUR MIDST!

Melded to the grass as he was, in monochromatic winter pasture shades of taupe, buff, and gray, it was nearly impossible to spot the impostor posing in the dry stalks and twigs. But there he was, a small mound resting along the thicket edge. You can just barely see him in the photo below.

He sat up for a brief moment and even from a great distance his wide-eyed, and only seconds long, golden-eyed look was unmissable.

I’ve read the Short-eared Owl flight described as erratic, but I would call it anything but that. They swoop gracefully over fields in multi-directions, with great intention, listening for the sound of voles, moles, mice and other small mammals scurrying through the tall winter grass and phragmites. Flying low while hunting, their wingbeats are smooth and steady.

The Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)  is called as such because of the little tufts of display feathers atop its head, which aren’t really ears at all. The Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) is a cousin of the Short-eared and it has longer feather tufts. Owls have a highly developed hearing system and their ears are actually located at the sides of their heads, behind the eyes, and are covered by the feathers of the facial disc.

Unlike many species of owls, which prefer forest and woodland, the Short-eared Owls is a bird of open country. They require fields, grasslands, marshes, bogs, heaths, and dunes. Shorties are crepuscular, which means they mostly feed at dawn and dusk.

Short-eared Owls are found the world over on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Sadly, in Massachusetts, breeding pairs have been driven to the brink of extirpation. There may still be one or two pairs that breed at Nantucket’s Tuckernuck Island but, because of loss of habitat, the Short-eared Owl was listed as endangered in Massachusetts in 1985.

Listen for the Short-eared Owls wing “clapping” in the video below, and some adorable chicks, too 🙂

From Cornell: “Hawaii’s only native owl, the Pueo (Asio flammeus sandwichensis), is a Short-eared Owl subspecies found on all the chain’s major islands. Pueos may have descended from Alaska forebears, taking hold in the islands after the first arriving Polynesians brought owl food in the form of the Pacific rat.”
Short-eared Owl Range Map

OWL FEVER!

This past weekend’s glorious and record breaking mid-January 70-degree-plus weather encouraged everyone to get out doors and it was wonderful to see. On both Saturday and Sunday there was a line to get into Parker River Wildlife Refuge. Many were enjoying the beaches and hiking the trails while quite a few were there to see the Snowy Owls and Short-eared Owls.

There are currently two Snowy Owls and several Short-eared Owls at Parker River. Folks are asking where the owls can be found specifically. I can only share where I have seen them and that covers almost the entire refuge, from parking lot no.1 (where the gates are) all the way down to parking lot no. 6. The photographers and birders out shooting at the refuge are super helpful and if you see a bunch, park  your car (intelligently please, so that you are not blocking traffic) and ask. Many of the birders will also share a look through their scopes.