Lovers of Parker River Hellcat trail will be happy to know the marsh loop has reopened! See the video below for more information.
Barred Owl at Hellcat. One of the best places to find owls is on the marsh loop.
Saturday my daughter Liv and I took a break from all things Christmas and visited Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and Sandy Point Reservation. Hiking around the refuge is one of our favorite things to do and I was thrilled that she got to see not one, but two owls, a Barred Owl, and a Snowy Owl. The Barred was very nearly completely obscured in a dense thicket, nonetheless exciting to see, and the Snowy was spectacular, causing quite a hullabaloo with the onlookers as he perched in a tree by the road leading into the refuge.
To see an owl in the wild is a gift, and I am counting my blessings, for my beautiful, kind-hearted daughter, and wonderful wild creature encounters.
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.
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:
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.
By Kim Smith
Cape Ann provides welcome habitat for a menagerie of creatures beautiful, from the tiniest winged wonder to our region’s top predator, the Eastern Coyote. Last year I posted a Cape Ann Wildlife Year in Pictures 2016 and I hope you will find the wildlife stories of 2017 equally as beautiful. Click on the image to find the name of each species.
The only partially frozen ponds at the start of winter allowed for dabblers and divers such as Mallards, Mergansers, and Buffleheads to forage at the freshwater. Mr. Swan had his usual entourage of quwackers and daily heads to the other side of the pond to get away for his morning stretches. Sightings of Red-tailed Hawks and other raptors abounded. Although photographed in Newburyport, the owl photos are included because these species are found readily on Cape Ann. An Eastern Screech Owl (red-morph) was seen daily perched above a playground and Barred Owl sightings too were reported throughout the winter. Raptors live on Cape Ann all year round but are much easier to see in winter when the trees are bare of foliage.
The beautiful aqua green eyes of the juvenile Double-crested Cormorants were seen wintering at both Niles Pond and Rockport Harbor. And during a warm February day on a snowless marsh a turkey bromance shindig commenced.
In early spring, a male and female American Wigeon arrived on the scene making local ponds their home for several weeks. In the right light the male’s electric green feathers at the top of his head shine brightly and both the male and female have baby blue bills.
Meadow and marsh, dune and treetop were graced with the heralding harbingers of spring with photos of a Red-winged Blackbird, a pair of Cedar Waxwings, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Kingbird, Tree Swallow, and Grackle included here.
The Great Swan Escape story made headlines in Boston as Mr. Swan eluded captors for hours. He had re-injured his foot and someone took it upon themselves to call the animal rescuers, which would have surely meant death for our beloved 27-year old swan if he had been wrangled into captivity.
M is clearly for Migration through Massachusetts and the month-long arrivals and departures did not abate. Short-billed Dowitchers, winsome Willets, Yellow Legs, Brandt Geese, and Ruddy Turnstones are just some of the migrating birds spied on Cape Ann beaches and marshes. The best news in May was the return of the Piping Plovers. Of the five or six that camped at Good Harbor Beach to investigate potential nesting sites, one pair bonded and built their nest mere yards from the nesting pair of last year. Could it be the same pair? The nesting Piping Plover story took up much of the spring and by early summer four little Piping Plover chicks hatched over Fiesta weekend. Hundreds of photos and hours of film footage are in the process of being organized with a children’s book and documentary in progress.
The survival of one Piping Plover chick was made possible by a wholesale community effort, with volunteers covering all hours of daylight, along with Mayor Sefatia and her team, Ken Whittaker from the conservation office, Chief McCarthy, and animal control officer Diane Corliss all lending a hand.
Sadly, several Northern Gannets came ashore to die on our Cape Ann beaches, struck by the same mysterious and deadly disease that is afflicting Northern Gannets in other coastal regions. During the summer season they are typically at their North American breeding grounds, which are six well-established colonies, three in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec, and three in the North Atlantic, off the coast of Newfoundland.
By mid-July many of us were seeing Monarchs in much greater numbers than recent years. Nearly every region within the continental United States experienced a fantastic Painted Lady irruption and butterflies of every stripe and polka dot were seen flitting about our meadows, fields, and gardens.
The tadpoles and froglets of American Bullfrogs and Green Frogs made for good eating for several families of resident otters, who are making their homes in abandoned beaver lodges. Little Blue Herons too, find plentiful frogs at our local ponds.
Tree Swallows Massing
In early August we see the Tree Swallows begin to mass for their return migration. They find an abundance of fruits and insects in the dunes, headlands, and beaches. The Cedar Waxwings and Ruddy Trunstones were observed back again foraging on their southward journey, along with myriad species of songbirds, shorebirds, divers, and dabblers.
The Late Great Monarch Migration continued into fall as we were treated to a wonderfully warm autumn. Waves and waves of Monarchs came ashore and more butterflies arrived on the scene including new batches of Painted Ladies, Clouded Sulphurs and Common Buckeyes (nothing common about these beauties!).
A pair of Northern Pintails called Cape Ann ponds and coves home for nearly a month while we seem to be seeing more and more raptors such as Red-tailed Hawks, Osprey, Bald Eagles, and Peregrine Falcons. Juvenile herons of every species that breeds on Cape Ann lingered long into the fall—Black-crowned Night Herons, Yellow-crowned Herons, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, and Green Herons.
Just as Mr. Swan and the Young Swan appeared to be warming to each other, the Young Swan, who has yet to learn to fly, became trapped in the ice at Niles Pond. He was rescued by caretakers Lyn and Dan and is now spending the winter at a cozy sanctuary built by Lyn and friends.
Thank you to all our readers for your kind comments of appreciation throughout the year for the beautiful wild creatures with which we share this gorgeous peninsula called Cape Ann. If you’d like to read more about a particular animal, type the name of the animal in the search box and the original post should come up
With its expansive marshes and dunes, bodies of fresh, clear water, saltwater coves and inlets, and geographic location within the Atlantic Flyway, 2017 has been a banner year for Cape Ann’s wild and wonderful creatures. I can’t wait to see what awaits in 2018!
An owl needed rescuing after flying down a chimney and getting stuck inside a Methuen home. The Animal Rescue League of Boston said the Barred Owl took Santa’s route into the home, then perched in the living room when it couldn’t find the way out again.
If I were a little creature, I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of these bad boys.
Interestingly, owls have a ratcheting mechanism in their foot, which keeps the toes locked around the prey or branch so the muscles don’t have to remain contracted.
Eyes on Owls is a terrific website for identifying owls commonly, and not so commonly, seen in New England. The owls are listed in descending order of how frequent their occurrence, from the most widespread to the rarest migrant. In our region, the Great Horned Owl is the most common, and the Barred Owl is a close second. Mass Audubon also provides a list of owls that breed in Massachusetts here.
Recently a reader wrote the following about her Barred Owl:
-There is one in my yard-Have heard him at dusk and my husband has seen him twice in the stand of oak trees near my front door around 6:30AM-Same place I have heard him-You are welcome to come try and get a picture-Patti
Please contact me Patti. Unfortunately your email address is coming up anonymous in the comment section. I can be reached at email@example.com. I would really love to come and record audio of your Barred Owl. So very much appreciate your kind offer. Thank you!
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Part One
Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk listening for prey
I am in the midst of doing research for the Piping Plover film project and have found the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to be a great resource. Recently I met a terrific warden there, Jean, and she gave me a copy of the historic brochure written in 1947 by Rachel Carson about the refuge. The brochure was reprinted and if you inquire, they may still have some copies in the back office. You can also download it at this link: Rachel Carson Parker River Wildlife Refuge brochure
The brochure provides an early history of the refuge and is a fascinating view of mid-century conservation. And, too, it is a tremendous example of Carson’s thoughtful and thought-provoking style of writing.
Barred Owl hunting – The refuge provides over 300 species of migratory and resident birds with vital habitat.
Some interesting facts about the refuge —
Located along the northeastern coast of Massachusetts, the Parker River National Refuge includes lands that lie within the three towns of Rowley, Ipswich, and Newbury. We think of Plum Island as the heart of the refuge. The wildlife refuge also consists of a range of diverse habitats and geographic features; over 3,000 acres of salt marsh, freshwater marsh, shrub lands, a drumlin, cranberry bog, salt pannes, beach and sand dunes, and maritime forest. The land is not conserved to revert back to a wild state, but is intensely managed in order to preserve and maintain the diversity of wildlife habitats.
The original warden’s headquarters
Unlike our national parks, which preserves parklands and historic buildings, and are designed for people, a national wildlife refuge is established first and foremost for wildlife and their habitats, not for people. The preservation of wildlife is the number one priority of all our national wildlife refuges.
The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1942 to help species of waterfowl that migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. There were three sharp declines in waterfowl populations in the early half of the 20th century, notably the American Black Duck, and national wildlife refuges all along the Atlantic coast were created in response to the precipitously low numbers.
As we can see with our local Niles Pond, Henry’s Pond, and Langsford Pond shorebirds, waterfowl, and myriad species of wildlife thrive where they have easy access to both fresh water and salt water. The three bodies of fresh water that you see in the refuge look like ponds but they are actually manmade impoundments, created by dams and are highly controlled by a series of dykes and pumps.
Salt Island Impoundment Pump
Parker River provides pristine habitats for a wide variety of mammals, insects, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. Hunting birds such as owls, hawks, osprey, eagles, herons, and egrets find an abundance of food at the wildlife refuge. Whenever at Parker River I never not see a raptor!
Red-tailed Hawk Preening
Transfixing Owl Eyes
Because owls mostly hunt at night their eyes are very efficient at collecting and processing light. To protect their extraordinary eyes, owls are equipped with three eye lids; an upper and a lower lid, and a third lid that diagonally closes across the eye. This action cleans and protects the eye.
More about Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to come.
Last Sunday I received a call from Ramona Latham at the Cape Ann Discovery Center (Ravenswood). She told me that a Barred Owl had set up a nest for her babies in one of the treetops. While I was snapping photos of the baby owls, the Mama* owl stopped by with lunch for her children. A nice plump snake! I have never seen an owl in real life, so this bit of luck was a special treat. Some quick facts about the barred owl:
· Commonly referred to as a “Hoot Owl.” Listen to its call here: http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/Song/h3680so.mp3
· A Barred Owl’s wingspan can reach 44 inches.
· They typically hunt at night or at dusk by sitting on a high perch, looking and listening for prey, which they catch with a short flight or drop to the ground.
· Adult Barred Owls swallow their prey whole. Their stomach acids digest the soft parts, and then they regurgitate a pellet containing the bones and hair.
· Barred Owls sometimes go fishing. They will wade knee-deep in water and catch fish with their feet.
· Barred Owls generally live alone except when mating or raising young, and are known to find the same mate every year.
Thanks to Ramona for her phone call. If you want to visit the Discovery Center or Ravenswood, click here for more info: http://www.thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/northeast-ma/ravenswood-park.html. Ramona runs a variety of fun and educational programs for children and adults throughout the year. Don’t miss out!
*This owl may have been the Papa owl too, no disrespect intended! J