CAPE ANN WILDLIFE: A YEAR IN PICTURES 2017

CAPE ANN WILDLIFE: A YEAR IN PICTURES 2017

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.

WINTER

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.

SPRING

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.

Piping Plover Courtship Dance

Piping Plover Nest

SUMMER

OctoPop

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.

An orphaned swan was introduced to Niles Pond, much to the dismay of Mr. Swan. Eastern Point residents Skip and Lyn kept watch over the two while they reluctantly became acquainted.

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.

FALL

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.

 

Heart Wings Monarch Butterfly

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!

Snowy Owl “Hedwig” January 2018 Backshore Gloucester

EYE TO EYE WITH A BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON

I so love chance encounters with wild creatures and this young Black-crowned Night heron did not disappoint. He stayed close to the rocky embankment, stealthily foraging for small shrimp in the dark crevices at mid-tide. The youngster did not seem to mind my presence; after a bit of time passed I walked away and when I returned he continued to steadily fish.

Scratching, preening, wing-stretches, and standing on one leg.

Eventually stopping to preen, stand on one leg, and then, walking aways from where he was feeding–how do I say this politely–took a huge enormous poop. Off he then flew to the marsh with a signature quark.

Black-crowned Nigh Herons are making a comeback in our region for several reasons, most notably because the pesticide DDT was banned and because the quality of our water has improved. During the 1950s, folks who did not care for midnight quarks coming from Black-crowned Night Heron nests either shot them dead out of trees or dynamited the rookeries.

This past spring there were the most Black-crowned Night Herons I have ever seen in one tree at Niles Pond. If I recall correctly, there were nine in all! 

Mature Black-crowned Night Heron, Niles Pond

The Black-crowned Night Herons proper name (Nycticorax nycticorax) translated from Ancient Greek is Night Raven, suggesting its nocturnal feeding habits. I like to refer to them as the onomatopoeic Quarky birds and unknown to me, until I began writing this post, in the Falkland Islands, the bird is called Quark.

Off to the marsh.

CAPE ANN WINGED CREATURE UPDATE

Featured: Brant Geese, Black-capped Chickadees, Black-crowned Night Heron, Blue Jays, Cardinals, American Robins, Mockingbirds, Savannah Sparrows, House Finches, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Common Grackle.  

Beautiful iridescent feathers of the Common Grackle.

Spring is a fantastic time of year in Massachusetts to see wildlife, whether that be whale or winged creature. Marine species are migrating to the abundant feeding grounds of the North Atlantic as avian species are traveling along the Atlantic Flyway to summer breeding regions in the boreal forests and Arctic tundra. And, too, the bare limbs of tree branches and naked shrubs make for easy viewing of birds that breed and nest in our region. Verdant foliage that will soon spring open, although much longed for, also obscures nesting activity. Get out today and you’ll be richly rewarded by what you see along shoreline and pond bank.

Male Red-winged Blackbird singing to his lady love.

Once the trees leaf, we’ll still hear the songsters but see them less.

Nests will be hidden.

Five migrating Brant Geese were foraging on seaweed at Loblolly Cove this morning.

Red-breasted Merganser Bath Time

OF ROCK AND REED, AND SEA AND SUN – MORNING SCENES FROM CAPE ANN’S BEAUTIFUL BACKSHORE

Beautiful, beautiful Cape Ann spring awakening. Photos from today’s fine April morning.

Sing, sing sing Red-winged Blackbird! 

Almost daybreak at Good Harbor Beach

Backshore Sunrise. The sun was rising on the way to Brace Cove

Niles Pond

Painted Turtles and a female Red-breasted Merganser were basking on the warm rocks while a flock of Quarky Pants were roosting in the trees. Happy Spring!

I’ve never seen so many Black-crowned Night Herons–TEN all together in the trees and at the water’s edge.
Salt Island and Thacher Island Daybreak

THEY’RE BACK – OSPREYS, HERONS, EGRETS, AND MORE – SPRING HAS SPRUNG ON THE MARSHES!

Great Egret Flying Over Perched Osprey

There is much to chortle about in this latest Cape Ann Winged Creature Update. Early April marked the arrival of both Snowy and Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons and Great Blue Herons. Osprey pairs and evidence of Osprey nest building can be seen wherever Essex Greenbelt platforms have been installed. Northern Pintail and American Wigeon Ducks are stopping over at our local ponds on their northward migrations while scrub and shrub are alive with the vibrant song of love birds singing their mating calls. Oh Happy Spring!

Ospreys Nest Building

Northern Mockingbirds Singing 

Blackbird Tree

Female American Wigeon

Gadwall (center), Male Pintail, Mallards, Male and Female American Wigeons 

Quarky Pants Junior!

Juvenile Black Crowned Night heron ©Kim Smith 2015Allowing me to get a little closer, perhaps one of these days (before he/she’s all grown up), I’ll catch a side-by-side of Black-crowned Night Heron parent and juvenile. Here he is standing on one leg, just as do mom and dad!Great Blue Heron ©Kim Smith 2015

A little ways off was a Great Blue Heron also hunting amongst the reeds. I captured him in fight with my movie camera as he flew to the other side of the pond. Thanks to E.J., who was on a morning walk and pointed out the general vicinity to where he had landed, I was able to get another clip of the heron flying.

I am searching for quiet places to record harbor and shore sounds, away from the roar of the surf, as well as where boat and machine engines don’t muffle or drown out every other sound. Its harder than you may imagine especially because there can be little to no wind. If you know of a quiet place where you especially love to listen to the music of Cape Ann, please answer in the comments section or email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you! 

MR. AND MRS. QUARKY PANTS HAD A BABY!

Black-crowned Night Heron Gloucester -1 ©Kim Smith 2015For the past several months on my filming forays around Niles Pond I have encountered a pair of Black-crowned Night Herons. With a loud quark, at least one flies up into the trees as soon as my presence is detected and I can never get a closeup photo with both in the same shot.Black-crowned Night Heron Gloucester -4 ©Kim Smith 2015

I was wondering if they were a nesting pair or even husband and wife; I mean they could be siblings. Today before daybreak I saw their fledgling, but only for the briefest second.

Black-crowned Night Heron fledgling Gloucester -5 ©Kim Smith 2015Hoping to take a better shot of the fledgling (above) before it gains its adult feathers.

Black-crowned Night Heron Gloucester -2 ©Kim Smith 2015It flew off, along with one of the parents, but one did stay while I was recording daybreak foley.

Black-crowned Night Heron Gloucester -3 ©Kim Smith 2015

Black-crowned Night Heron standing on one leg, a characteristic many birds share, which they do primarily to conserve energy and body heat.

Black-crowned Night Heron Gloucester ©Kim Smith 2015A Face Only a Mother Could Love

Sunrise Niles Pond ©Kim Smith 2015

Today’s Niles Pond Sunrise

EASTERN POINT SUNRISE SCENES

Harbor Seals Brace Cove Sunrise ©Kim Smith 2015Photos from around Eastern Point early morning walks. Happy Earth Day!

Male Red-breasted Mergansers ©kim Smith 2015Two Male Red-Breasted Mergansers Sunning on a Rock

Black-crowned Night Heron -2 ©Kim Smith 2015Black-crowned Night Heron ~ One of a nesting pair possibly?

Male Red-winged Blackbird Love Song (turn up your volume)

SEE MORE PHOTOS HERE

Black-crowned Night Heron ©Kim Smith 2015The other half of night herons often spotted near each other

Needle in a Haysack Heron ©Kim Smith 2015JPGNeedle in a Haystack! ~ Looking for Black-crowned Night Herons

Brown-headed Cowbirds ©Kim Smith 2015Brown-headed Cowbirds

Northern Rough-winged Swallows ©kim Smith 2015Northern Rough-winged Swallows (I think)

 

Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron Down The Dock

The pictures under the top one are all crops from the camera with the lens fully extended.

DSC06235

DSC06233DSC06222

DSC06234

Last year I spotted a juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron With It’s Momma On June 17th-

Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron and Momma At The Dock

Posted on June 17, 2011 by Joey C

Here are some of the other photos of Black Crowned Night Heron’s I’ve Taken here at the dock over the years

Click below to listen to the sounds they make at www.allaboutbirds.com

image

Black Crowned Night Heron At The Dock

DSC04364

I guess these guys reside in Taiwan as well-

From The Website Birding In Taiwan

The Black-crowned Night Heron is a medium-sized (60 cm), stocky heron with black crown and back, creamy white undersides and gray wings.  In breeding plumage it has two long, thin white plumes on its nape.  Its legs and feet are yellow, its bill black and its iris red.  Juvenile birds are brown overall, with white spotting on the back, a buffy breast with heavy brown streaking and a yellow iris.

The Black-crowned Night Heron uses a wide variety of wet habitats including fresh, brackish or salt water, particularly areas with aquatic vegetation on shallow rivers, lagoons, ponds, lakes, swamps and marshes. It also frequents human habitats such as pastures, rice fields, canals and fish ponds.  Its food is extremely varied, and it will use whatever is available, including fish, frogs, tadpoles, turtles, snakes, lizards, insects, crustaceans, molluscs, small rodents, eggs and chicks of other bird species.  It feeds mainly at dusk and at night, but is often seen in the daytime flying between locations or roosting in trees.  The Black-crowned Night Heron breeds in colonies and may reuse its nest of sticks, rushes and reeds in successive years.  Its nest is usually placed in trees or bushes, but may also be in reedbeds or on cliff edges.  The female usually lays 3-5 eggs, and does most of the incubating.

The Black-crowned Night Heron is a common resident of Taiwan at low elevations.

DSC04367

DSC04280

DSC04283

Black Crowned Night Heron

This Black Crowned Night Heron was poking around outside the dock.  It’s one of the more unusaul birds that has been showing up more and more in the past few years.  I have no idea why we’ve suddenly gotten this influx of herons and egrets but it is interesting. 

Steve Borichevsky and Jim Barber are two local guys who go crazy for birds and take incredible pictures of them.  I wonder what it is about bird watching that gets those guys so riled up.  I’ll have to ask them if it’s the sighting of a rare bird, the challenge of photographing it or something else that fascinates them so.

Black Crowned Night Heron, originally uploaded by captjoe06.


Black Crowned Night Heron

Over the past ten years or so we’ve seen a big time increase in the number of strange birds like this down and around the harbor.  I don’t know what to attribute it to but between the egrets, and herons and snowy owl, it’s becoming a bird lover’s paradise.  With my average camera I just didn’t have enough lens to capture this guy from the distance I was shooting with great clarity.  If you are a bird lover or wildlife lover you owe it to yourself to check out Steve Borichevsky’s Shooting My Universe and Jim Barber’s Jim B Media

These guys are pros with great equipment and steady hands to capture some incredible birding shots.

Black Crowned Night Heron, originally uploaded by captjoe06.