Beautiful but fleeting surprise spring sighting at Bass Rocks this weekend- a male Red-winged Blackbird collecting cattail fluff for nest building, and two species of herons foraging, a Great Egret and Black-crowned Night Heron. Oh Joyous Spring!
Wild sea and atmospheric light made for some dramatic scenes this morning.
For sale at Sotheby’s November 2018
Last spring a Homer image of Gloucester boys in a dory fetched $400,000. Relatable, though not Gloucester: Life Brigade is expected to fetch 4x that amount at Sotheby’s; another classic motif , Gathering Wild Blackberries, is estimated to sell for $150,000-$200,000. There is a smashing Marsden Hartley of Dogtown.
For sale at Christie’s November 2018
Besides Stuart Davis, artists featured include Jane Peterson, Martha Walters, Hayley Lever, and George Bellows. There’s a classic Nahant work by William Stanley Haseltine and a marine themed WPA mural study by Lyonel Feininger.
Click on thumbnails to enlarge the photo and see descriptions. I’ll post results after the sales.
For the next two weeks, I am offering a limited edition of the photo “We Love You Too Snowy Owl.” The 8 x 12 photo will be printed on fine art hot press paper and signed. At the end of two weeks, after orders are in and checks received, I will place the order with the printer. The $95.00 price includes shipping and tax. If you would like to purchase a photo of Hedwig, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you!
Our beautiful Snowy Owl Hedwig was last seen on Monday night, March 12th. This was also the night before the third nor’easter. She was perched on the railing of the Ocean House Inn facing towards the sea. The wind was blowing fiercely. Well after dark, and after making several attempts, she successfully flew in a southerly direction out over the water.
It has been two weeks since that last sighting and perhaps we will see her again, but I imagine her to be safe and undertaking her return journey to the Arctic tundra, well-fed from her stay on Cape Ann. Whether she was well-rested is another story. The great majority of people who came to see this most approachable of owls were respectful and considerate of her quiet space. The crows however, were nothing short of brutal. After learning about why crows attack owls, and the degree of aggression possible, I am surprised she lasted as long as she did, and without great injury.
Crows and owls are natural enemies because a murder of crows may mob an owl to death (or any raptor by which it feels threatened) and owls occasionally eat crows. Crows are diurnal, which means they feed during the day. The majority of North American owl species that they encounter are nocturnal (night feeding). In the case of Snowy Owls, which feed both day and night, their paths may occasionally cross, as happened when Hedwig moved into the crow’s territory along Gloucester’s Atlantic Road.
American Crows harassing Snowy Owl Hedwig
A flock of American Crows can run circles around most owls, pecking, dive bombing, chasing, and in some instances killing. Snowy Owls are the exception; they are larger, stronger, and faster flyers than other North American owl species. And too, Snowy Owls are closely related to Great Horned Owls, a species known to eat crows when they are roosting overnight. So even though a crow in our area may never before have encountered a Snowy Owl, they instinctively know danger is present.
With their incredible ability for recollection, crows are considered the brainiacs of the bird world. Daily, Hedwig outsmarted this smartest of bird species. She learned to stay well-hidden during the daylight hours, laying low atop the hotel roofs. Her salt and pepper coloring blended perfectly with the black, white, and gray colors of industrial roof venting equipment. She adapted to hunting strictly at night, after the crows had settled in for the evening, returning to her hideouts before the day began.
On one hand it would be fascinating if Hedwig had been outfitted with a tracking device. On the other, if she had been trapped for tagging, she may not return to this area. There is some evidence that Snowies occasionally return to an overwintering location. Next winter I’ll be taking more than a few peeks in the location of the Atlantis and Ocean House Inn Hotels to see if Hedwig has returned.
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The sale of the “Super Blue Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse Over Gloucester Harbor” photo went very well. Thank you so very much to all who purchased a print! Many readers have asked about photos of Hedwig. For the next two weeks, I am offering a limited edition of the photo “We Love You Too Snowy Owl.” The 8 x 12 photo will be printed on fine art hot press paper and signed. At the end of two weeks, after orders are in and checks received, I will place the order with the printer. The $95.00 price includes shipping and tax. If you would like to purchase a photo of Hedwig, please email me at email@example.com Thank you!
Power line repair crew replacing a downed phone pole behind the Elks at Bass Rocks.
Last night’s fourth super high tide in two days again brought an incredible surge of seawater. Gloucester’s DPW Marco Numerosi was working last night at 2am and reports it was the worst of all. DPW crews and GDP Officers were on the job bright and early this Sunday morning, cleaning the roads of hurled rocks, popples, seaweed, and seagrass.
Officer Al D’Angelo and Marco Numerosi
Eastern Point Road, by Bemo Street, still littered with debris at 8am, is closed, and virtually impassable. One driver tried, and then quickly changed his mind.
This morning photographing and filming at 6:30 you would not believe it was dead low tide. There is so much water and I am afraid the next tide will bring with it another round of destruction. The waves are towering; a large ship, the Oldendorff appeared to head straight out and then steered closer to shore. Stay safe and warm friends.
Popples and debris are littering Atlantic Road, the footbridge sustained damage to the last half, fences and trees are down throughout the neighborhood, and the seas are gaining in ferocity, with the third of the super high tides expected at noon. Please be safe, the wind is mighty powerful this morning and their are potential projectiles everywhere.
Extensive damage to the railings at the Ocean House Inn, our Snowy Owl Hedwig’s current favorite perch. No sign of her the past few days, but Hedwig is so resourceful, we are hoping for the best.
Hedwig has been seen daily along the backshore, mostly laying low during the day. She has become quite expert in fooling the crows as to her whereabouts.
Early this week I watched in amazement as Hedwig swooped down from her perch and flew hundreds of feet directly to the rocks and in between crevasses. She resurfaced with a small mammal in her mouth and ate it very quickly–from the time she flew off her perch until she gave a satisfied lick of her beak could not have taken more than three minutes. I felt very fortunate to have witnessed a glimpse of her hunting prowess, albeit all too brief.
Perhaps the tail is too long for a mouse or rat and too short for a vole, but perhaps not. Small mammal caretaker Erin Whitmore wrote with her suggestion. What do you think Hedwig is eating?Hedwig eating a black and white sea duck.
Again, tonight she flew off her perch, this time heading out to sea. In mere minutes she returned with a sea duck of some sort and proceeded to eviscerate, much to the thrill of her Sunday evening fan club. The lighting was low and I was mostly filming, but did manage a few stills. The duck was black and white and as she mostly sat on her catch while eating, it was difficult to determine which species. Without a crow in sight (as they had surely settled for the night), Hedwig ate well into the early evening.
The feathers were flying! Hedwig with feathers on her face but it’s almost too dark to see.
She’s finding the eating here in Gloucester excellent, but with the warm weather predicted for the upcoming week, I wonder if Hedwig will stay or that will be a cue to depart for the Arctic.
In our Rats, Rats, and More Rats: Snowy Owl Hedwig Weekend Update #2, we shared that an Atlantic Puffin may have been seen over the weekend. Karen Piscke adds the following information and photo:
A Puffin was possibly seen at Bass Rocks. “There was a Snowy Owl on the roof of the hotel at the same time, but these birders only had eyes for the Puffin. The Puffin was hard to see, even when you knew it was there. The birder with the keen eye that spotted it said – “if it looks like as aclid, but sits differently in the water, it might be a puffin. Then the orange on the beak confirms it.” — Karen
Atlantic Puffins are not often seen so close to our shores. They spend the summer at breeding colonies on Rocky Islands in the North Atlantic and winter out at sea (see range map).
If you see a Puffin and get a good photo, please let us know and we will post it on GMG. Thank you!
Atlantic Puffins images courtesy wiki commons media
Hedwig was observed Saturday morning, when repeated harassment by a flock of crows sent her hiding. She reappeared Saturday afternoon, and was again seen Sunday morning in the drizzle, not too far from where she was perched Saturday evening. Later Sunday afternoon she slept and rested in the pouring rain.
Hedwig sleeping in the rain (thank you to Arly Pett for letting me know she was out in the rain!)
That she stays in a highly localized winter territory seems in keeping with known Snowy Owl behavior traits. I read that during the summer season in the Arctic, male Snowies hunt over hundreds of miles, whereas female Snowies typically hunt within a much smaller range. She has been observed eating sea ducks and rabbits and there are plenty of rat holes along the backshore rocks.
Both rats and lemmings (the Snowies super food in the Arctic) belong to the order Rodentia. From wiki, “A lemming is a small rodent usually found in or near the Arctic in tundra biomes. Lemmings are subnivean animals. They make up the subfamily Arcicolinae together with voles and muskrats which forms part of the superfamily Muroidea which also includes rats, mice, hamsters, and gerbils.”
Often Hedwig has been seen flying straight out over the water towards Twin Lights. I wondered, if she is hunting there, does Thacher Island have a rat population. Thacher Island Association president Paul St. Germain answers that question for our readers,
“Hi Kim, there are lots of rats on Thacher mostly in the shore line rocks. We don’t see them often but know they are there. I discovered a bunch in the cellar of the keeper house making their nest in an old tarp. I would love to see Hedwig out there but we don’t go out in the winter. Have never seen snowy owls in the summer.”
Rat and Lemming photos courtesy wiki commons media
This brings up the topic, what to do if you have a rat problem. The absolute worst way to control rats is with rat poison, namely for the sake of beautiful predatory birds such as Snowy Owls, falcons, hawks, and eagles. Birds that ingest rats that have been poisoned with rat poison will generally become gravely ill and die. Secondly, it is a cruel, slow death for the rat. They will usually go back to their nest to die. If that nest is located behind a wall in your home, you will smell that unmistakeable horrendous smell for many months. Thirdly, rat poison is only 60 percent effective. I wonder if the rats that survive rat poison will go on to breed super rats.
The best way to avoid having to kill a rat is to make sure they cannot gain access to your home or business by regularly inspecting soffits and woodwork for holes. Old-fashioned snap traps and live trapping continue to be the most effective way to rid your home or business of rats.
Saturday I stopped to say hello to a group of birders flocked together along the backshore who had traveled all the way from western Mass. They were observing Grebes, Buffleheads, and a Common Murre. And a Puffin had been spotted! I asked if they were planning to go to any of our local restaurants for lunch, but they had packed lunches. One Mom shared that an expert from Audubon told the group that there were at least a “dozen Snowy Owls” on Bass Rocks. Bananas! I have to say that it makes me hoppin’ mad when folks spread misinformation about our local wildlife. I gently told her that no, there were not a dozen owls, but that if she and her group waited until late afternoon, they might catch sight of Hedwig.
Last weekend was a busy one for Hedwig. She is attracting crowds from all around the Boston area. I checked in on her Monday afternoon on my return from Brooklyn and according to a photographer friend she had a very rough day with the crows. One actually hit her hard in the head. She left Bass Rocks Monday evening and I didn’t see her the rest of the week until this morning.
Found this morning with messy face and talons, tidying up from a morning hunt.
A single crow came by to harass her and unlike previous incidents, where I have seen here hold her ground, she left her post immediately and flew to a very cool super secret hiding place. I have never seen her do this before but am so impressed with her ingenuity. She is safe from both crows and crowds in this locale.
Hedwig returned to the railings at the end of the day. After first fluffing and poohing she took off over the water and headed straight toward Twin Lights. I imagine there is good hunting on Thacher Island 🙂
Not all Snowy Owls migrate south, but the ones that do leave the Arctic tundra to winter over in North America arrive at their wintering grounds (areas such as the Massachusetts coastline) usually beginning in mid-to late-November. Some don’t arrive until December and some as late as January. They migrate along coastlines, prairies, river valleys, and even mountain ridgelines are thought to help guide the Snowies.
By mid-April, most Snowies have left Massachusetts, although one study that I read recorded a Snowy that did not leave Logan Airport until July 7th! Another study reported that in most cases, the Snowy Owls that did not leave until summer were non-breeding birds in their first year of life.
How long will Hedwig stay? She appears to be getting plenty to eat and is quite well adapted to backshore living, despite her throngs of weekend fans. Let’s hope her stay is a good one and that she returns to the Arctic this summer to make lots of little Hedwigs and Bubos!
SNOWY OWL WATCHING TIPS: The following are some helpful tips for watching Snowy Owls.
- Watch from a comfortable distance–comfortable for the bird that is. Nothing makes the Owls more stressed than people getting too close.
- Please keep children from throwing rocks towards the Snowy or anywhere within the vicinity of the Owl.
- Please don’t allow dogs to play near the Snowies.
- There have been reports of Snowies flying into cars. They often fly low when flushed and it is easy to understand why this may happen, especially as the Snowies are drawing so much traffic. Please be on the look out when you are in known Snowy Owl territory.
- Slamming doors, radios blasting, barking dogs, and loud mufflers all stress the Snowies.
Thank you Everyone for being good caretakers of Hedwig, Bubo, and all the Snowies during their stay in Gloucester!
Filming and photographing Cape Ann wildlife I have experienced extraordinary beauty and fascinating behaviors at nearly every encounter but filming a Snowy Owl take a bath has to be one of my favorite captures. I think there are a number of reasons why we are so captivated by these beautiful creatures. Most owls are nocturnal, which doesn’t allow much viewing of their day to day life. On the other hand, the diurnal Snowy Owl gives us a wonderful window into their world. Culturally, owls symbolize wisdom and intelligence and the characters they are assigned in literature strengthen our associations. Mostly though we are drawn to these creatures because they do not appear to be afraid of us, unlike most wild animals. Snowies will become irritated and depart an area when startled, or are being pestered, but I don’t sense fear in these Arctic visitors. I wonder if most have ever even seen a human being prior to migrating south.
She gingerly at first hopped over to the largest pool, paused, and then jumped in. Repeatedly Hedwig dipped her face into the water to drink. After quenching her thirst, she plunged her entire face into the pool of water. She cleaned her face feathers by rubbing them against her breast feathers. Immersing, rubbing, immersing, rubbing, her face was clean in no time.
Then Hedwig went all in, dipping and soaking all her feathers, but not all at once did she completely submerge herself. I think that would have left her vulnerable to predators if she were unable to fly. She dipped and soaked, then fluffed her feathers, then repeated all several times more. The total length of time was about 40 minutes; she was still fluffing when I had to leave. Watching a Snowy Owl take a winter bath was beautiful and fascinating, unexpected and funny and am overjoyed to have captured with photos and film.
A flock of Herring Gulls had the same idea.
My friend Nancy loves Snowies and especially Hedwig’s story. She drove over from Beverly this morning to see if she could see Hedwig and yes, there she was once again, perched on one of her favorite lookouts, the railing of the Ocean House Hotel at Bass Rocks.
I have along the way taken many photos of animals going pooh, quite incidentally, as it just happens. For some (childish) reason it always strikes me as mildly funny. One of the funniest is the Great Blue Heron–the bigger the bird, the greater the amount, and Great Blues are pretty big birds.
That Hedwig goes pooh seemingly so frequently means she is getting plenty to eat. This morning she arrived on the rocks a bloody mess (more signs of good eating) and took a luxuriously long bath in a puddle (posting those photos tomorrow when I have time too sort through). After bathing, she pooped several times before flying to higher ground.
By Deanne Lewis
Like other birds, Owls cannot chew their food – small prey items are swallowed whole, while larger prey are torn into smaller pieces before being swallowed. Some Owl species will partially pluck bird and larger mammal prey.
Unlike other birds, Owls have no Crop. A crop is a loose sac in the throat that serves as storage for food for later consumption. Since an Owl lacks this, food is passed directly into their digestive system.
Now, a bird’s stomach has two parts:
The first part is the glandular stomach or proventriculus, which produces enzymes, acids, and mucus that begin the process of digestion.
The second part is the muscular stomach, called the Ventriculus, or gizzard. There are no digestive glands in the gizzard, and in birds of prey, it serves as a filter, holding back insoluble items such as bones, fur, teeth and feathers (more about this below).
The winter of 2017-2018 has proven so far to be an irruptive year for Snowy Owls, as was predicted by scientists. In years when there is a lemming population boom, which is a staple of the Snowy’s diet, double, even triple, the amount of Snowy Owl hatchlings survive the summer breeding season. Arctic winter arrives and for whatever reason, either there is less food available or the first hatch year owls can’t hunt as well, a number of Snowies head south, both adults and juveniles, generally though, more juveniles than adults migrate.
Snowy Owls are white birds, with varying degrees of brown, black, and gray feather patterning. They are North America’s largest owl by weight. As with most bird of prey species, female Snowies are larger than the males, by about one pound. That is considerable, knowing that the average weight of a Snowy Owl is four pounds. A male may grow up to 25 inches, a female to 27 inches, and the wingspan of both is about equal. Because females are larger and more dominant, they usually don’t migrate as far south, staking out territory further north. Typically in our area we see first hatch year males, although currently there is thought to be an adult male at Salisbury Beach. The Snowy at Bass Rocks is presumably a female. When out in the field, the hardest to tell apart are the darkest males and the palest females.
In learning about Snowy Owls, I came across several very helpful photos of Snowy Owl specimens. And we have three examples, from Snowies found right here on the North Shore, from which to compare.
In the photo below, you are looking at eight Snowy Owl specimens from the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates. One through five on the left are males; six, seven, and eight are females. Notice how similar, yet different, are five and six (male #5, female #6).
- Snowy Owl males are generally whiter.
- Snowy Owl females tend to be larger.
- Snowy Owl male’s tails have up to three bars, the female’s have from three to six.
- Snowy Owl females have wider and darker marks and bars on the back, nape, and tail.
- Snowy Owl males have a larger white bib.
Closeup of the intermediary male (five) and female (six).
Comparing the above photos I think we can logically conclude that the Snowy Owl that was at Captain Joe and Sons in 2015 was a young male, with light markings and a large white bib.
The Snowy Owl currently at Bass Rocks, I think it is safe to say, is a female, and most likely a juvenile. She doesn’t have much bib showing and her overall markings are wide and dark.
We have our own example of an intermediate–is the Snowy Owl recently photographed at Cranes Beach a juvenile male or a female?
Evocative views looking through sea smoke along the shoreline this morning, from Ten Pound Island to Twin Lights, and at every vantage point along the way. On my very last stop photographing a buoy in the sea smoke, I spied a mystery bird far off shore. Bobbing in the water and with a bill not at all shaped liked a seagulls, it was a SNOW GOOSE! He was too far away to get a great photo, but wonderful to see nonetheless!