SNOWY OWL GOLDEN-EYED GOLDEN GIRL

We startled each other! 

Happy Birthday to PROJECT SNOWSTORM

By Scott Weidensaul

On this day five years ago, my phone rang not long after breakfast. It was my friend and colleague Dave Brinker, a biologist with Maryland’s Natural Heritage program. He was calling because of something we’d both been watching with growing interest and amazement — the almost unprecedented invasion of snowy owls coming south into eastern North America, which was playing out across birding listserves, eBird and other information outlets.

The numbers were incredible. Just a week earlier, a birder in Newfoundland had reported counting nearly 300 snowies in one small area at Cape Race — 75 of them visible in a single sweep of his binoculars. White owls were showing up as far south as Jacksonville, Florida, and on the island of Bermuda.

“None of us are going to live long enough to see something like this again,” Dave said. He’d been talking with another mutual friend, owl bander Steve Huy, and they had some ideas — recruiting other banders to try to trap and band snowy owls to help track their movements, or maybe soliciting photographs from the public, which would allow us to age and sex many of the owls to get a sense of where the different age- and sex-classes were wintering.

That was plenty to think about, but not long after I hung up, the phone rang again. This time it was Andy McGann, who in 2007 was an intern on my saw-whet owl banding project, and in 2012 had worked for me again as a research technician while Dave and I tested a new type of automated telemetry system for small owls.

Andy was now working for Cellular Tracking Technologies, a company founded by golden eagle biologist Mike Lanzone to build next-generation GPS transmitters. Andy asked me if I’d been following the news about the snowy owl invasion. “Because, um, we have a transmitter here that was built for another project — but Mike said if you can find some funds, just enough to cover our costs, we’d love to put it on a snowy owl instead,” he said.

That was the beginning of Project SNOWstorm — and it snowballed (no pun intended) was stunning speed. By the evening of Dec. 7, 2013, I had spoken with a longtime supporter of our saw-whet work, the late Jim Macaleer of West Chester, Pa., who had agreed to underwrite not one but five transmitters. The next day, anonymous friends and fellow researchers had matched that gift with one of their own. We’d reached out to our good friend Norman Smith in Massachusetts, who has been studying snowy owls since 1981, who enthusiastically joined the effort. Along with Steve, another former research tech of mine, Drew Weber, brought web savvy and know-how. Jean-François Therrien, a French-Canadian researcher who did his Ph.D. on snowy owls in the Arctic and who now works here in Pennsylvania at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, jumped in with both feet. The proposal we submitted to the U.S. Bird Banding Lab for authorization to tag and track snowy owls was approved in record time, since the BBL was already looking for someone to do just that kind of project.

Less than two weeks later Dave, JF, Mike and I gathered along the  Maryland coast, where we trapped “Assateague,” a juvenile male and our first tagged owl. It’s been a wild five years ever since, as this project has grown in ways we never could have expected. For instance, we had a research project but no budget, so Dave suggested we try crowd-funding. I was frankly skeptical, but many of you quickly proved that it’s possible to launch and maintain an ambitious scientific project with small donations from the general public and birding/ornithological organizations. (Our institutional home, the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art in central Pennsylvania, has been a huge supporter from the start, not least because all donations to SNOWstorm are thus tax-deductible in the U.S.)

READ MORE HERE

ARE WE GOING TO HAVE A SUPER SNOWY WINTER??

Emma, Ben, and Lily – note that the snow is nearly as high as is the Duckworth’s sign – Snowmageddon 2015

On Sunday’s podcast we asked our guest, Chris Spittle, the Cape Ann weatherman to predict whether 2018-2019 would be a snowy winter, or not. Judging by the snowstorms of the past that have brought the greatest amounts of snowfall, it is likely that we may very well have a snowy winter and here’s why Chris suggests yes.

Historically, the greatest amounts of snowfall occur when North America’s trade winds are transitioning (Neutral state) from La Niña to El Niño. During the transition, and at the beginning (weakest) state of the transition to El Niño we are most likely to experience the greatest amounts of snowfall. Currently, La Niña (east to west trade winds) is oscillating to El Niño (west to east).

Chris shared the graphic below classifying the ten worst snowstorms of the past two centuries.

 

On the plus side, El Niño summers are generally warmer 🙂

NOAA website: What are El Niño and La Niña?

El Niño and La Niña are opposite phases of a natural climate pattern across the tropical Pacific Ocean that swings back and forth every 3-7 years on average. Together, they are called ENSO (pronounced “en-so”), which is short for El Niño-Southern Oscillation.

The ENSO pattern in the tropical Pacific can be in one of three states: El Niño, Neutral, or La Niña. El Niño (the warm phase) and La Niña (the cool phase) lead to significant differences from the average ocean temperatures, winds, surface pressure, and rainfall across parts of the tropical Pacific. Neutral indicates that conditions are near their long-term average.

 

Our front dooryard, in 2015, between blizzards.

Pirate’s Lane East Gloucester 2015

Plum Street 2015

We even had visit from a Snow Goose during the winter of 2015! He mixed with a flock of Canada Geese, staying for about a week, foraging on sea grass at Good Harbor Beach. 


Eastern Point Lighthouse Snowy Day

RED-TAILED HAWK SOARING THROUGH THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Walking with Charlotte and out from the trees there suddenly appeared a shadowy bird, swooping very low and closely over our heads. A Red-tailed Hawk!

He perched for a moment on a nearby limb, turning his head in all directions, hungrily triangulating the landscape for a tasty meal. Next he flew to a nearby telephone pole, and then over the houses towards the Harbor.

A few minutes later the Red-tailed reappeared, followed by several crows noisily haranguing and giving him the business, in no uncertain terms!

 

BARRED OWL EATING A RAT

Reader gcmeninsr shared the following story about a Barred Owl eating a rat in an urban neighborhood, illustrating why rat poison is completely antithetical to controlling unwanted rodents. Rat poison kills raptors.

BARRED OWL EATING A RAT IN DOWNTOWN PROVIDENCE

By Peter Green

Barred Owls are usually found in woodlands and suburbs, but have been moving into cities now too. Why hunt a songbird through the dense trees when there are hundreds of pigeons and rats to eat in the city? (Barred owl makes successful kill in downtown Vancouver). But intruders do have to watch out for the resident Peregrine Falcons. I did once find the entire tail section of a Barred Owl below the nest box of the falcons.

Please never use rat poison – Raptors Are The Solution (RATS). If a raptor eats a poisoned rat, the bird will die too. Here are some alternatives to poison:
https://www.raptorsarethesolution.org/preferred-pest-control-products/

FANTASTIC PETER GREEN PHOTOS AND READ MORE HERE

ABOUT PROVIDENCE RAPTORS

Peter Green is a photographer and graphic designer living and working in downtown Providence. He walks the city, documenting Peregrine Falcons and more urban wildlife from Red-Tailed Hawks nesting on rooftops to American Kestrels hunting in graffiti-covered alleys. These regal, powerful raptors seem perfectly at home among the landscape of bricks and concrete.

GOOD MORNING! BROUGHT TO YOU BY MISS SNOWY OWL (AND SNOW BUNTINGS, AND TURKEYS, TOO)

A fresh-faced and sleepy-eyed Miss Snowy Owl, a flock of Snow Buntings, and a gang of turkeys made for a beautiful morning

The Snow Buntings were too far away to get a good snapshot, but it is wonderful to see their return to Massachusetts from summer nesting grounds in the high Arctic.

Stirring up the leaf litter with their feet.

A great gang of Wild Turkeys (approximately three dozen!), of mixed age, were foraging amongst the leaf litter, using their big feet to kick up the leaves. The first-hatch year poults stayed more to the center of the flock, while the older hens were foraging at the perimeter.

Exquisite iridescence in Wild Turkey feathers.

RATS!

Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee recently sponsored an informative presentation by Gary Menin, director of the Massachusetts chapter of the organization R.A.T.S. (Raptors Are The Solution). Gary presented a talk with accompanying slides on the catastrophic effects of rodenticides on owls, hawks, falcons, eagles, and other birds of prey.

Gloucester is a waterfront community and as such, we will most assuredly always have a rat population.  As has been pointed out dozens of times at the AAC meetings, improper handling of garbage is one of our number one problems. Garbage bags not contained in cans that are placed on city streets the night before trash collection attracts and provides food for coyotes, gulls, crows, and rats. Dumpsters not properly closed and maintained also support rats, gulls, crows, and coyotes, as do overflowing beach barrels.

Although second generation rodenticides are banned, exterminators are still allowed to use them. Gary reminded us however that YOU are the client. If all else fails and an exterminator must be hired, tell them not to use rodenticide under any circumstance.

Firstly, if we better manage our trash, we can greatly shrink the nuisance critter population. Additionally, Gary provided an excellent list of alternatives to rodenticides.

1). Snap traps

2). Ultrasonic waves

3). Electrocuting traps

4). Live trap and relocate

5). Dry ice pellets placed at hole entryways

6). Moth balls and peppermint oil as a repellent

7). Goodnature A24 Rat Trap

Under no circumstances are glue traps recommended as they are an unusually cruel method of extermination.

As we have talked about many times on Good Morning Gloucester, the White-footed Mouse and the Chipmunk are the greatest vectors of Lyme disease. Raptors play a vital rope in controlling mice, chipmunks, and other small rodent populations and have proven to be an important link in the fight against Lyme disease.

Gary also mentioned that the city of Revere recently purchased rat-proof garbage cans that every member of the community is mandated to use. The local governing body was fed up with the proliferation of rats because of flimsy trash bags, overflowing barrels, and careless disposal of garbage. You can read more about Revere’s new barrels here: Revere Looks to Put Lid on Rat Problem.

  *   *   *

We can also purchase or build our own owl nest box. With a quick google search you can find tons of DIY videos, plans, and directions online such as this one for a Screech Owl house.

Screech Owl House Plans

Every year we hear Screech Owls in our neighborhood, close-by, and I’m inspired to build an owl house after hearing Gary’s presentation!

 

Last winter Hedwig was seen with almost clock-work regularity departing nightly for her evening hunt. An adult Snowy Owl feeds on average three to five times per day.

The food web graphics provided by R.A.T.S. are terrific and are free and downloadable for anyone’s use.

SNAPSHOTS OF WBZ CARL STEVENS AND POSSIBLE HUMAN REMAINS FOUND

As part of my Piping Plover project, I often stop by Revere and Winthrop beaches when heading to and from job sites in Boston and Cambridge. While at Revere Beach yesterday, several TV news trucks pulled up in front of the police station and cameramen set up their cameras. I imagined perhaps another whale had washed ashore but bones of what are believed to be human have been collected by police.

I briefly met WBZ’s Carl Stevens and cameraman (both super nice). So sorry I didn’t get the cameraman’s name for the photo caption. If anyone knows, please write.

I didn’t have time to stick around and learn more although not much else is know at this time. 

WBZ’s Carl Stevens and cameraman on the scene

Point of Pines loster boat heading in

GREAT BLUE HERON TAKING FLIGHT

Contemplating taking flight, the perching juvenile Great Blue Heron moved its feet slowly, while turning to face the shore, then gracefully lifted its wings and departed, with a very loud and un-elegant QWOCK. 

No sign of Cape Ann’s Great Blue Herons since the big Thanksgiving Day freeze. Two days into the frigid temperatures, the last one observed appeared very unhappy. The unfrozen bits of water were too cold to forage. He seemed so cold, wasn’t fishing at all, and was only standing on the shore, in the glummest manner. I urged him onward, worried his frozen self might look tempting to a coyote, and hope perhaps he departed under the brilliant light of the full November Frost Moon.

“MOM, I’M TURNING INTO A BUTTERFLY!”

Nicole Duckworth shares a moment from her wonderfully fun household–never a dull moment with four kids– two teenagers and two toddlers!

Her son Jude this morning, “Mom, I’m turning into a butterfly.”  

Jude this summer when he and his brother George stopped by to visit and see the caterpillars and butterflies from our garden.

SEA TURTLE TRAGEDY AND WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND A SEA TURTLE ON THE BEACH

Readers may have seen the tragic story about frozen and cold-stunned sea turtles found on Cape Cod beaches over Thanksgiving week. The gale force winds and record breaking freezing temperatures trapped and killed over 200 sea turtles. I wanted to learn why this was happening and what to do if we find a cold-stunned or frozen turtle on a Cape Ann beach.

Sea turtles are tropical and ectothermic. They do not nest north of the Carolinas however, the juveniles of the species of sea turtles that are seen in Massachusetts are carried north by the Gulf Stream during the summer months. The turtles are mostly feeding on crabs, jellyfish, and algae in northern waters. At the onset of winter, juveniles return to warmer waters.

The five species of turtles that may be seen in Massachusetts are Kemp’s Ridley, Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green Turtle, and Hawksbill. But some of the juveniles don’t return quickly enough, and as the water temperature in Cape Cod Bay decreases, the turtles may become disoriented by the hook-shape of the Cape. When the temperature reaches fifty degrees, the turtles become immobilized, or cold-stunned, and are too frozen to eat or to swim. When they are too cold to swim, the turtles are tossed about by wind, waves, and currents. When the wind blows from the north or from the west, the sea turtles may be washed ashore and then stranded by the receding tide.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND A COLD-STUNNED SEA TURTLE

POSTED FROM MASS AUDUBON

It is very important to recover these stranded turtles as quickly as possible. Do not assume a turtle is dead—turtles that appear lifeless are often still alive. If you come across a stranded sea turtle on the beach, please follow these simple steps:

  1. Move the turtle above the high tide line. Never grab or hold the turtle by the head or flippers.
  2. Cover it with dry seaweed or wrack.
  3. Mark it with an obvious piece of debris—buoys, driftwood, or branches.
  4. Call the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary hotline at 508-349-2615 x6104. [Editor’s note: Northeast Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding and Entanglement Hotline: 866-755-NOAA (866-755-6622)]

Sea turtles are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act; as such, it is illegal to harass sea turtles or transport them without a permit.

Kemp’s Ridley

Leatherback

Loggerhead

Green Turtle

Hawksbill

All photos courtesy wiki commons media and World Wildlife

Read More Here

Dozens of dead turtles wash ashore on Cape

Wellfleet sanctuary busy as turtles continue to wash ashore in cold

INVASION OF THE LITTLE BLACK SCOTERS!

The best kind of invasion–an usual bird invasion! The flock of male and female Black Scoters was fairly far offshore at daybreak. Later in the day I checked back on the scoters and they were continuing their southerly directed swim along the shoreline, but a little closer to the rocky coastline. Oh how I wish we could see them really close-up!

Male Black Scoters sport a distinctive orange-knobbed bill

I call them little because they are the smallest of the three scoters we would see in our area, the other two being Surf Scoters and White-winged Scoters. Even from far off shore I could hear their soft whistling calls.

The little Black Scoter breeds in the northern tundra, wintering along both the East and West coasts, as well as the Gulf of Mexico. This beautiful little duck is a species thought to be in decline, namely because of its susceptibility to oil spills and pollution.

NOVEMBER FROST MOON RISING OVER BRACE COVE AND NILES POND

November’s nearly full Frost Moon was rising over Brace Cove, while the sun was setting over the harbor. Violet sunset clouds swirled around the rising moon when moments later the moon shone brightly through the pine trees.

November’s full moon is also called the Beaver Moon-both the early colonists and Algonquin tribes named it so because November was the designated time of year to set Beaver traps before ponds and swamps froze.


November Frost Moon rising over Niles Pond

Harbor Seals in the setting sun and rising moonlight–a seal-a-rock 🙂

THRILLING TO SEE SWANS FLYING OVER THE TWIN LIGHTHOUSES!

Friday afternoon, after the nor’easter, the sun came out just barely before the skies again darkened with a brief snow squall. I was driving along Atlantic Road during those fleeting in between moments when way off in the distance I spied a flock of birds, with the distinct shape of swans in flight. Swans fly with their long necks extended, unlike herons and egrets, which fly with their necks tucked in. What is Mr. Swan doing out in this wildly windy weather I thought. But it wasn’t Mr. Swan, it was an entire family of Swans! There were two adults and four cygnets. Stunning to see and very uplifting. They flew over the Twin Lights and then further and further until I could not see them any longer. 

 

The first and third swans are the adults, the second, fourth, fifth and sixth are the cygnets, or first-hatch year juveniles.The young swans will retain their grayish brown feathers until their second summer.

Please write and let me know if you saw the Mute Swan family on Friday afternoon. They were flying along the backshore at about 2:15. Or, if you live on the Northshore and know of any swan family with two adults and four youngsters, I would love to learn more about them. My email address is kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you so much for any leads!

Swans and wave crashing

A few more of the Mute Swan family flying toward and over Thacher Island

GREAT BLUE HERONS SOARING

INJURED COYOTE EAST GLOUCESTER

Saturday morning at 8:30 am, an injured Eastern Coyote was spotted In East Gloucester. The coyote was not bearing weight on its right back leg. He trotted gimpily up Plum Street, before heading down a driveway halfway up the street.

Note in all the photos the Coyote is holding up his right side back paw.

Sick and injured coyotes can be unpredictable although, this one appeared nonchalant. I at first thought it was a large dog and was headed towards him to possibly help him find his way home. Despite its inability to put weight on its paw, his coat looks healthy and and he was almost jaunty, leg injury and all.

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