CINNAMON GIRL – HOODED MERGANSER IN THE HOOD!

A spunky female Hooded Merganser was seen for a day, skittering about Eastern Point. Don’t you love her cinnamon-colored feather-do? Her crest looked especially beautiful when she swam into sunlit areas.

Sightings of Hooded Mergansers nesting in Massachusetts are on the rise. Like Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers nest in tree cavities. The natural reforestation of Massachusetts over the past one hundred years has increased nesting habitat. And too, Hooded Mergansers have benefitted from nesting box programs designed  to encourage Wood Duck nesting.

Hoodies eat crustaceans, fish, and insects. As water quality in Massachusetts has improved so too has the prey population increased. Additionally, the statewide recovery of North American Beavers has increased nesting habitat for many species of birds, including Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks.

I looked for the little Hoodie on subsequent days, but only saw her that one afternoon. The photos included here, of a singular male, were taken in Rockport in 2016.

Male Hooded Merganser (and Mallard), Rockport Harbor

Watch as the one-day old Hooded Merganser ducklings skydive to the forest floor, from a nest cavity five stories high up a tree.

 

Hooded Mergansers, like Cowbirds, often lay their eggs in other bird’s nests, including other Hooded Mergansers. Although a female Hoodie can lay up to 13 eggs, in one nest 44 Hooded Merganser ducklings hatched!

Hooded Merganser Range Map

GRAND HERON OF THE GREAT MARSH: CAPE ANN’S GREAT BLUE HERONS

Mostly elegant, though sometimes appearing comically Pterodactylus-like, the Great Blue Heron is found in nearly every region of the United States, Mexico, and Central America, as well as the southern provinces of Canada.


Its light weight, a mere five pounds, belies the fact that the Great Blue Heron is North America’s largest heron, with a wingspan of up to six and a half feet and a height of four and a half feet. I write elegant because it truly has a grace unsurpassed when in repose or waiting to strike a fish. Images of Pterodactylus come to mind when you see the bird battling for territory with other herons or flapping about in a tree top; the Heron loses all its sophisticated exquisiteness, transformed into what looks like a great winged beast.

Pterodactylus images courtesy wiki commons media

This summer past was a tremendous year for observing herons and egrets on Cape Ann. Our marshes, ponds, and waterways were rife with Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Green Herons, American Bitterns, and especially Great Blue Herons.

Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets, Cape Ann

At nearly every location Great Blue Herons were seen foraging either with a flock of mixed herons and egrets, or in a solitary manner. Great Blue Herons hunt day and night and I would often find them at daybreak. They will stand quietly for hours, repeatedly striking the water with lightning bolt swiftness, almost always resurfacing with fish or frog. Great Blue Herons are survivalists and their diet is wide ranging, including large and small fish, frogs, insects, small mammals, and even other birds. Because of its highly varied diet, the Great Blue Heron is able to spend winters further north than most other species of herons and egrets. Even when after waters freeze, we still see them on our shores well into December.

Great Blue Herons are sometimes mistakenly referred to as cranes, which they are not. Cranes are entirely different species. Bas relief at Crane Estate, Ipswich.

Don’t you think it amazing how perfectly these largest of North America’s herons meld with the surrounding landscape?

Here are some moments from this past summer and autumn observing the elusively elegant (mostly), and sometimes comical, Great Blue Heron.

Fishing – Great Blue Herons capture small fish and amphibians by plunging into water and then swallowing whole the prey. They also use their powerful bills like a dagger to spear larger fish.


Great Blue Heron Range Map

MIGRATION RIBBON OVER TWIN LIGHTS

Late afternoon after last week’s nor-easter, I drove along the backshore to check out the waves. The breakers were only mildly dramatic but what caught my attention were the ribbons and ribbons of migrating birds flying over Twin Lights, heading toward the backshore. They just kept coming and coming and I think they may have been waiting out the storm before setting out on their night time journey. I followed them along the shore and past Eastern Point Lighthouse before losing sight of the travelers as they were crossing Massachusetts Bay and heading towards Boston.

FLOCK OF WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS MIGRATING ALONG OUR SHORES

Notice the sparrow’s pointy-shaped head, but where is the white crown on these White-crowned Sparrows you may be wondering? The flock currently migrating on Eastern Point is comprised mostly of sparrows in their first-hatch year. They won’t develop white crowns until next year. White-crowned Sparrows are a relatively large sparrow, with long tails, and a cute little hop they do while foraging.

White-crowned Sparrows are passing through, having departed from their breeding grounds in Alaska and Canada and heading to parts further south of Cape Ann, in the US and Mexico.

White-crowned Sparrow adult, photographed in Gloucester in May of 2017

 

The song of the White-crowned Sparrow is one of the most widely studied sounds in all of animal behavior.The beautiful whistling notes of the male can be heard far an wide, especially during the spring and summer months. The female rarely sings.  
Range map of the White-crowned Sparrow

HAPPY AUTUMN DAYS!

Spring Peeper out and about before hibernating for the winter.

Relishing the last of these golden days, we took advantage of Sunday’s delightfully beautiful weather with a hike around Eastern Point. Several female Yellow-rumped Warblers were spotted feeding on seed heads, a lone turtle was basking on a sun-warmed rock, the Harbor Seals were lolling about, and a tiny Spring Peeper was spied in the fallen leaves.

You can see why these sweet birds are called Yellow-rumped Warblers. Note the little flash of yellow on the rump of the warbler flying in the background.

Eastern Painted Turtle

Who me?

Harbor Seals warming in the sun.

MONARCHS AND LADIES – LAST OF THE SEASON’S BUTTERFLIES

While releasing the last Monarchs of the season with Charlotte, one landed on her hair and stayed for few moments, just long enough to catch a minute of footage and to take a photo.

Thank you to Patti Papows for our little straggler. Patti’s chrysalis was attached to a plant in her garden, an aster, which had lost all its leaves. She was worried a predator might eat it, so we scooped up the chrysalis and placed it in a terrarium at my home, where the butterfly emerged on October 17.

Will these last of the season’s Monarchs that are migrating along the Atlantic Coast make it to Mexico? Some will follow a path along the coastline, where when they reach the Delaware Bay, winds will begin to funnel them towards Mexico, between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. Some will continue on down the coast all the way to Florida. Some of these Atlantic Coast Monarchs will live their days out in Florida, and some will cross the Gulf of Mexico on their journey to Mexico.

Please join me on Wednesday, November 7th, from 1:00 to 5:00pm where I am one of three presenters for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society at Elm Bank. I hope to see you there!

Discover new ways to garden, and new plants to select to make your home more sustainable in three presentations that address methods and plantings that you can adopt to improve your local environment and welcome more wildlife to your gardens. Presentations will review methods of ecological landscaping, introduce you to native shrubs, and share what you can plant to support pollinators.

Register Now!

October Monarchs
American Ladies on the wing during the month of October

A (RARELY SEEN) FOX SQUIRREL IN GLOUCESTER MASSACHUSETTS??

Rare for Massachusetts that is. This afternoon a very unusual colored squirrel briefly stopped by our garden. He sat atop the fence post, had a quick snack from our neighbor’s black privet berries, then departed as quickly as he arrived. At first glance I thought he was a Red Squirrel, but he was much, much too big. Next thought, perhaps a melanistic Gray Squirrel. Or perhaps a Gray and an American Red (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) had interbred, but that isn’t possible. However, I did learn a Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) and a Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) can interbreed. But possibly what we have here is an actual Fox Squirrel, which would be quite uncommon for Massachusetts. I am still researching this. If any of our readers has seen a Fox Squirrel in Massachusetts, please write and let us know. Thank you in advance.

Eating privet berries

Fox Squirrels are diurnal, which means they feed during the day. This little guy stopped by for a snack at about 1:30 in the afternoon. Conversely, Eastern Gray Squirrels are crepuscular, which means they are more active during the early and late hours of the day.

In this year of tree squirrel super abundance, I wonder, too if that could possibly be an explanation for an appearance by a Fox Squirrel; perhaps expanding its territory in search of food.

The coat of a Fox Squirrel comes in many colors, from nearly all black to rust, tawny gold, and gray combinations–like a fox. Gray Squirrels are mostly gray with white bellies. The average size of a Gray Squirrel is 9.1 – 12 inches; the average size of a Fox Squirrel is 10 to 15 inches.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Mystery visitor

GREAT BLUE HERON TIMES FOUR!

Last week we posted a photo of a group of Great Blue Herons, Cormorants, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, and Great Egrets all foraging together on a rainy morning. The Great Blue Herons are so perfectly camouflaged when perched on the rocky shoreline and we asked how many GBH folks could see. Reader Julie W. saw the most and she even sent the photo back with the Great Blues circled. Thank you Julie for taking the time to do that!!

SHORT BIT OF FOOTAGE OF THE ENDANGERED RUSTY BLACKBIRD FORAGING

As I was filming a Great Blue Heron, and standing as still as a tree, the beautiful Rusty Blackbird flew on the scene, not four feet away! My heart skipped a beat and I quickly turned my camera on the little blackbird. It’s foraging habit of flipping leaves to uncover insects and plant matter was fascinating and my only wish was that he stayed longer than a brief minute.

Scientists only relatively recently became aware of the dramatic decline of the Rusty Blackbird. Reports show that the population of the RB has plummeted between 80 and 99 percent.

As is the case with so many creatures the whole earth wide, two of the greatest threats facing the Rusty Blackbird are loss of habitat and climate change. The birds are elusive, nesting in remote areas of the great northern boreal forest and wintering over in the wet woodlands of the southeastern United States. Over 80 percent of their winter habitat in the southeast has been lost to development. Changes in the ecosystem of the boreal forests has affected nesting and foraging.

Without doubt, global climate change is the greatest challenge of our day. All living life as we know is in danger. Millions of human lives have been directly impacted by the Earth’s warming temperature. We are at risk of losing thousands of species of flora and wild creatures.

Read more here.

Non-breeding Male Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)

FRIENDS! STUNNING SPECIES OF WILDLIFE MIGRATING ALONG THE SHORES OF CAPE ANN RIGHT NOW -Today’s Feature: the Rusty Blackbird!

I often think of May as the magical month of migration through Massachusetts, but am beginning to think of October in the same light. At this time of year I don’t have much spare time but when you go out for even the briefest walk, you will encounter beautiful creatures not usually seen. Several days ago it was a Rusty Blackbird! I was only able to capture a single photo, but did catch half a minute of footage. He was pecking vigorously at the water’s edge, lifting and flipping leaves as he darted about looking for insects and plant matter.

Not only do they eat plants and insects, but they have also been documented attacking and eating other birds including sparrows and Robins.

Rusty Blackbirds are migrating through Cape Ann. They breed in the boggy boreal forests of the far north. During winter Rusty Blackbirds can be found at pond edges, swamps, and wet woodlands.

Rusty Blackbirds are mysteriously in sharp decline and sadly, their population has plummeted an estimated 80-99 percent.

Non-breeding Male Rusty Blackbird

GLOUCESTER TO BOSTON EXPRESS

Both kinds 🙂

Click the photos to make larger and you can see the fine ribbon of migrating birds. Many, many species of birds migrate at night. You can often see them very late in the day as they are beginning their night time journey, traveling along the shores of Cape Ann before crossing Massachusetts Bay on their southward migration.

I WANT WHAT YOU HAVE!

What do Great Blue Herons, North America’s largest species of herons, eat? Because they feed in a variety of both freshwater and saltwater habitats, their diet is richly varied. Great Blue Herons dine on small fish, crabs, shrimp, mice, rats, voles, frogs, salamanders, turtles, gophers, snakes, many species of small waterbirds including ducks and ducklings, and insects.

How many Great Blue Herons do you see in the photo above? I thought there was only one in the shot, until returning to my office and had a good look at the scene.

TWO TERRIFIC WILDLIFE PRESENTATIONS UPCOMING AT SALEM STATE UNIRVERSITY

JENNIFER JACKMAN SHARES THE FOLLOWING:

NOTE CHANGE OF DATE AND PLACE: On December 3, from 2:30-3:50pm at Veteran’s Hall B, Ellison Campus Center (place to be determined) Salem State University, Dr. Andrea Bogomoloni, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Chair of the Northwest Atlantic Seal Research Consortium will speak on “Seals & Society: Biology, Ecology and Interactions in New England.” Her talk will review the history of seals in New England, examine their roles in the ecosystem and as ocean health sentinels, and discuss seal-fishery interactions.

Harbor Seal Gloucester

On Monday, November 19, from 2:30-3:50pm in Veteran’s Hall B, Ellison Campus Center, Salem State University, there will be a panel on “Wildlife in Peril.” Panelists include Andrea Zeren (Psychology) who will highlight the plight of elephants globally; Jack Clarke (Director of Public Policy and Government Relations, Mass Audubon) who will describe current threats to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act; and Mendy Garron (NOAA) who will discuss the plight of large whale species (particularly right whales). All three speakers also will discuss efforts to protect wildlife.

Snowy Egrets are just one of myriad species of birds that have been saved from the brink of extinction by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act.

These events are sponsored by the Salem State University Human Dimensions of Wildlife Unit at the Bates Center for Public Affairs and the Political Science Department and are open to the public. For more information contact, Jennifer Jackman at jjackman@salemstate.edu .

WATCH CAPE ANN’S MONARCH BUTTERFLIES ON BBC AUTUMNWATCH NEW ENGLAND TODAY!

Dear Friends of Beauty on the Wing,

Unlike the UK’s BBC, where Autumnwatch New England aired four consecutive evenings, the series is only running three nights in the U.S., and the Monarch episode is not included in tonight’s PBS version of the show.

The good news though is that the Monarch episode aired last night on the BBC, the final night of the UK series, and you can watch it right now, on youtube!

The series is not yet available on the BBC’s website but it has been posted here [https://youtu.be/RB5FkrvuVzU].

A friend shared an email from her sister last night. Her sister lives in the UK and here is what she wrote about Gloucester-

So exciting!
We were idly watching a programme called Autumn watch which this year has been filmed in New England. It has been based in New Hampshire (Lake Squam). They began to talk about the migration of the monarch butterflies when suddenly they are in Gloucester! We had very good pictures of Gloucester which looked beautiful! Lovely pictures of good harbour beach etc…..
They’ve now gone to Boston and are talking about wild turkeys!
What a programme!
Love M.

PIPING PLOVERS ON THE AGENDA AT TONIGHT’S AAC MEETING

ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE

OCTOBER MEETING TODAY AT 6:30

CITY HALL, 3RD FLOOR

1. Approval of meeting minutes from 9/12/2018
2. Education/Outreach Plans
3. Piping plover awareness and education
4. Off leash beach days
5. Rodenticides
6. Dogs in Cemetery
7. Materials
8. Shirts/Sweatshirts/Hats
9. Brochures
10. Public comment
11. New Business

BBC and PBS AUTUMN WATCH: NEW ENGLAND CAPE ANN MONARCH EPISODE AIRS FRIDAY NIGHT

Dear Friends of Beauty on the Wing,

My friend Patti Papows shares that she heard a promo on PBS for the Autumnwatch Cape Ann Monarch migration episode, which we believe airs Friday night at 8pm. The BBC team is still editing the segment so if anything changes, we will let you know.

The Monarch migration interview was filmed at Patti’s beautiful garden in Gloucester, at Good Harbor Beach, and the episode includes footage from my forthcoming film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.

Patti is a fantastic hostess and the producer Sophie, cameraman Bobby, and his wife Gina were thrilled with her warm hospitality and the refreshments she provided. It was cold and damp and drizzly, yet despite that, half a dozen Monarchs emerged from the chrysalises I had brought to the interview. Everyone was excited to see this and I think it was all meant to be.

The three night series airs Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at 8pm (October 17th-19th).

Photos from an October passel of Monarchs migrating along our shores and nectaring at the late blooming asters.

PORCUPINE ON CAPE ANN!

Good Morning Gloucester reader DB took a snapshot and reports that she saw this little Porcupine moseying along the side of the road in Essex on Friday.

The North American Porcupine is more commonly seen in central and western Massachusetts, less so in the eastern regions of our state. Porcupines are nocturnal, preferring to hide away during the day in dens and treetops, which is another reason we don’t often see them in these parts.

So wonderful that DB saw this and was able to get a photo. Thank you for sharing DB!!!


Additional North American Porcupine photo courtesy wikicommons media