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.

SNOWY OWL SIGHTING!

Will the winter of 2018-2019 bring another Snowy Owl Snowstorm similar to the irruption of 2017-2018? It is too soon in the season to know. They have been trickling in, but Snowy Owls typically begin to move southward in greater numbers in mid- to late-November.

The Snowy spotted today is a male, with a beautiful nearly pure white face and neck. Although off in the distance, he appeared to be in good health, with plushy full set of feathers, big furry feet, and tell-tale pinkish hue smudged around his beak (hopefully from a recent catch). He was quietly nodding off until suddenly disturbed by someone approaching too closely. He swooped across the landscape and away from the onlooker to a more remote location, and was hopefully left undisturbed for the remainder of the day.

Grooming and dozing off amongst the tall grasses and dried wildflowers

On high alert and then flushing after sudden disturbance.

SNOWY OWLS IN MASSACHUSETTS IN AUGUST!?!

The Snowy Owl Project shares that not one, not two, not three, but four Snowy Owls remain in our area! This is highly unusual for August because most Snowies have left Massachusetts by May.

They are finding finding plenty to eat. The owls are being closely monitored and thus far have no health issues. This is the time of year that Snowy Owls molt, so if you see one, it may be brown and missing some feathers.

Hedwig in the moonlight

Tragically, a Snowy Owl was recently rescued at Logan Airport and was taken to Tufts, where it died of rodenticide poison. That brings this year’s total to eight that have been killed by rat poison. Imagine if in every region, this many were killed annually by rat poison. It’s no wonder the species is struggling, despite occasional irruptive years.TOXIC LUNCH!

Photo Dan Vickers

Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge shares the following:

Do you have unwanted mice and rats around your home? Do you also have birds of prey and beloved pets using that same area? If you do, consider the potential deadly consequences of using toxic rodenticides on more than just the rodents.

Dan Vickers snapped this photograph of a Red-tailed Hawk eating a poisoned rat. The blue color you see in the gut of the rat is a fat-soluble dye used in anticoagulant rodenticides. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for rat poisons to accumulate in the food web. Once this hawk consumes the poison, it too can die.

Please help minimize wildlife exposure to pesticides and consider the collateral damage and danger for other mammals, birds of prey, domestic pets, and humans.

Follow this link for more information and safer rodenticide alternatives:

Poisons Used to Kill Rodents Have Safer Alternatives

A second generation of ultra-potent rodenticides creates a first-class crisis for people, pets, and wildlife.

 

 

OUTSTANDING COASTAL WATERBIRD CONSERVATION COOPERATORS MEETING!

Piping Plover Chick Lift-off! – Not quite ready to fly yet, but testing his wings and airborne for a few seconds.

On Tuesday this past week my friend Deborah and I attended the Coastal Waterbird Conservation Cooperators meeting, which took place at Cape Cod Community College in Barnstable. The meeting is held annually to bring together people and organizations that are involved with population monitoring and conservation efforts on behalf of coastal waterbirds. Threatened and endangered species such as Least Terns, Piping Plovers, and American Oystercatchers are given the greatest attention, while the meeting also encompasses efforts on behalf of heron, cormorant, and egret species.

American Oystercatchers

Conservationists from all seven Massachusetts coastal regions participated, as well as conservationists from nearby states, including representatives from New Jersey, Maine, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. To name just some of the organizations presenting at the meeting-Mass Wildlife, Trustees of Reservations, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), and US Fish and Wildlife. Gloucester was well represented. In addition to Deborah and myself, two members of the Animal Advisory Committee also attended; chairperson Alicia Pensarosa and former animal control officer Diane Corliss. Many of you may remember our Mass Wildlife Piping Plover intern Jasmine. She was there to give a presentation on habitat vegetation utilized by nesting Piping Plovers. Her aunt, Gloucester’s Terry Weber, was there to support Jasmine. This was Jasmine’s first time speaking in public and she did an excellent job!

Each region gave the 2018 population census report for nesting birds as well as providing information about problems and solutions. We all share similar challenges with predation from crows and gulls, uncontrolled dogs, enforcement, and habitat loss and it was very interesting to learn about how neighboring communities are managing problems and issues.

Just one highlight of a day filled with helpful insights and useful information is that we can be very proud of our state—Massachusetts is at the leading edge of the Piping Plover recovery effort. The representative from New Jersey was there specifically to learn from Massachusetts conservationists on how they could possibly improve their recovery program as the New Jersey PiPl population is not growing, with fewer and fewer each year retuning to nest. As you can see from the graph provided at the meeting, the Canadian recovery is going very poorly as well.

Readers will be interested to know that our region’s Crane Beach continues to have one of their best year’s ever. Trustees of Reservations Jeff Denoncour shared information on the latest census data from 2018 and Crane’s has a whopping 76 fledglings, with 25 more chicks still yet to fledge. Because of the huge success at Cranes Beach, the northeast region, of which we are a part, has fledged a total 136 of chicks in 2018, compared to 108 in 2017, and as I said, with more fledglings still to come! The northeast region encompasses Salisbury Beach to the Boston Harbor Islands.

Jeff noted that this year they had less predation by Great Horned Owls. Because of owl predation, several years ago Crane Beach gave up on the wire exclosures and now use electric fencing extensively. The Great Horned Owls learned that the Piping Plover adults were going in an out of the exclosures and began perching on the edge of the wire, picking off the adults as they were entering and exiting the exclosure.

Crane has an excellent crew of Trustees staff monitoring the Least Terns and Piping Plovers, as well as excellent enforcement by highly trained police officers. No dogs are allowed on Crane Beach during nesting season and dogs are prevented from entering at the guarded gate. As we saw from one of the graphics presented about nesting Double-crested Cormorants, when a dog runs through a nesting area, the adults leave the nest, temporarily leaving the eggs and chicks vulnerable to predation by crows, gulls, raptors, and owls.

Crane Beach Least Tern fledgling.

Compare the Least Tern to Common Tern in the above photo. It’s easy to see why the birds are called Least Terns; they are North America’s smallest member of the tern and gull family (Crane Beach).

Another interesting bit of information shared–if you listen to our podcasts, back in April, we talked about the potential dilemma of what would happen if Snowy Owls remained on the beaches as the Piping Plovers returned from their winter grounds. Knowing that Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus) and Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) are close cousins and that the Great Horned Owl eats Piping Plover chicks and adults, I was concerned that a Snowy might eat our PiPl. At one particular beach on Cape Cod, a Snowy stayed through mid-July. An adult Piping Plover skull was found in the owl’s pellet.

Snowy Owls remained in Massachusetts this year through July.

After attending the cooperators meeting, I am more hopeful than ever that our community can come together and solve the problems that are preventing our PiPl from successfully nesting and fledging chicks. What we have going in our favor is the sheer number of amazing super volunteers along with strong community-wide support.  

Piping Plover fully fledged and flying up and down the beach – we”ll have these next year!

ANOTHER SNOWY OWL SPOTTED IN GLOUCESTER!

Reader Beth Grahm writes the following, “Hi Kim.  Unbelievable!  There is a Snowy perched on the rocks outside our condo at Old Nugent Farm.  Right now.  Hedgwig?”

Hi Beth, Thank you for sharing your Snowy Owl sighting!! Your owl spotted is definitely a female although, I don’t think it’s Hedwig based on the shape of the feather patterning around her forehead. Anyway, it’s wonderful to see and share so many Snowy Owls this year, thank you!

Dear Readers, please write and let us know if you are still seeing Snowy Owls. Thank you!

THE RETURN OF OUR SNOWY OWL HEDWIG!!!

At least, I think she is our Hedwig–Betty G. and Dave Fernandez, what do you think? Comparing photos from last winter, the feather patterning around her face looks to me identical. 

With thanks and gratitude to Bob and Doug Ryan from Ryan and Wood Distilleries. Bob emailed yesterday afternoon that a Snowy Owl was being dive bombed by crows and gulls. I raced over and she had tucked in under the rocks at the base of a tree.

I took several photos and footage, and just as I had packed up to go, she flew to a large boulder. Immediately, within thirty seconds, a noisy flock of gulls were harassing her from overhead once again, and a few crows dove at her. She then flew to the nearest building. The crows and gulls pestered her for another fifteen minutes, while she quietly perched.

To write “return” is not entirely accurate. She was probably here all along. As soon as work began on the Atlantic Road hotel roofs, we no longer saw her at the back shore. I thought Hedwig might still be here last month, but wasn’t positive, and then Alicia wrote to say she had seen a Snowy and thought it could possibly be Hedwig. It was difficult to confirm without looking at closeups from a long lens. I searched around Alicia’s location for several days but could not find.

Considering most Snowies have left Massachusetts by April, it’s wonderful to have a record of her here in Gloucester in early May. I am elated, and grateful, to Bob and Doug for the call, because now we have footage of her in a rocky woodland Cape Ann setting! Thank you, thank you!

The reason crows mob owls is because some owl species, like the Great Horned Owl, eat crows. Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus) and Great Horned Owls (Bubo virgianus) are closely related.

“WE LOVE YOU TOO SNOWY OWL” LIMITED EDITION PHOTO LAST CHANCE TO ORDER

I am taking orders for the limited edition “We Love YOu Too Snowy Owl” photo through Tuesday, April 16th. If you have not yet mailed your check, please email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you!

GREAT HORNED OWL ATTACK -By Kim Smith

City Councilor Scott Memhard shared the following article about a Great Horned Owl attack from Sunday’s Boston Globe Magazine. Although an extremely, extremely rare occurrence, we thought our readers would be interested. The article about the attack begins after the Snowy Owl photo.

A photographer friend shares a story about a Great Horned Owl landing on his friend’s camera, and I, along with many fellow owl observers, have seen Snowy Owls fly directly toward a group of onlookers. Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus) and Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) are close cousins, with many similar traits. Both will ferociously defend their nests. We’ll never see a Snowy Owl nest in Massachusetts because Snowies breed in the Arctic. Great Horned Owls on the other hand begin nesting early in the year in our region, usually laying eggs between mid-February up through the end of March. A Great Horned Owl will attack perceived threats to its nest and nesting territory.

The Great Horned Owl, also commonly called the Hoot Owl and the Tiger Owl, is found throughout North America and is common in Massachusetts. We most often hear the owl’s varied calls, screeches, and hoots during winter and up to the beginning of the nesting period. Great Horned Owls have the most diverse diet of all North American raptors, and like Snowy Owls, their extremely powerful impact upon striking typically kills prey instantly. I can imagine why the young boy in the article was concussed after being struck in the head by a Great Horned Owl.

Great Horned Owl perched n a stand of trees, its preferred habitat. Image courtesy wiki commons media

Snowy Owl hunting for dinner in the marsh.

Something attacked my son while he was sledding in the woods. But what?

By Mark Shanahan

My child went sledding alone and emerged from the trees bloody and dazed. He still can’t remember what happened.

THROUGH THE LIVING ROOM window, I see my son standing in the street in front of our house. He’s wearing a black ski parka and snow pants. A woman I don’t recognize has pulled her car over and is standing a few feet away, holding his hat. I open the front door.

“Beckett?” I call.

“I think something’s wrong,” the woman stammers.

As if in slow motion, my 12-year-old son turns his head and looks up at me.

“Jesus,” I cry.

Half of Beckett’s face is bloody and swollen. I race down the steps and crouch in front of him, my nose touching his. He stares at me blankly.

“What happened?” I ask.

“A bird,” he says softly. “It took Mommy and Julia away.”

Beckett had been sledding alone in the Middlesex Fells Reservation near our home in Medford. Had he hit a tree? The wound is terrifying. His cheek is ruptured, grotesquely inflamed, and there’s a lot of blood.

His mother and sister are fine, I tell him. What happened?

“I don’t know,” he murmurs, his lips so swollen he has trouble forming the words.

As we drive to the hospital, I watch Beckett in the rearview mirror. He’s clearly in shock. He doesn’t speak as he gazes at the falling snow. LINK TO FULL ARTICLE HERE.

 

 

 

 

NORMAN SMITH, THE MAN WHO SAVES SNOWY OWLS!

Norman Smith from Mass Audubon has done more to save Snowy Owls and bring awareness to this beautiful and at risk species than any other person nationwide. Since 1981 he has been at the forefront of Snowy Owl conservation and his Project SNOWstorm has become a model for saving and studying Snowy Owls around the country.

Several weeks ago I was up north for my short film about Hedwig and came upon a Snowy Owl in the marsh. With very similar feather patterning around the face, I think she is the same Snowy that was released in the video!

“We Love You Too Snowy Owl” Prints for Sale

“We Love You Too Snowy Owl” prints for sale.

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 kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com Thank you!

SNOWY OWL HEDWIG WEEKLY UPDATE AND THE REASON WHY CROWS ATTACK OWLS -By Kim Smith

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.

American Crow harassing a Peregrine Falcon, Atlantic Road

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.

American Crow

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.

Where’s Hedwig?

From Hedwig’s perch atop the Atlantic Road hotels, she had a crystal clear view of the golf course and Bass Rocks, places prime for nightly hunting.

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.

 *   *   *

“We Love You Too Snowy Owl” prints for sale

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 kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com Thank you!

 

 

DAGGERS! SNOWY OWL HEDWIG WEEKLY UPDATE

Our beautiful Snowy Hedwig’s routine hasn’t much changed since she discovered the safety zone provided by hotel rooftops (safe from crows, that is). Hunting during the night, returning at dawn to the roof to various well-hidden niches, and then making her “entrance” at around sunset, she has adapted well to New England coastal living. After preening, pooping, and occassionally passing a pellet, she then scans the neighborhood. Hedwig bobs her head in an up and down motion a half dozen times, then flies east over the sea or west over the Arctic tundra-like golf course.

Snowy Owl Hedwig lifts her head in a bobbing motion to track prey.

Owls cannot move their eyes in the eye sockets. Instead, they employ several techniques to increase their range of sight. An owl can swivel its head a full 270 degrees. Additionally, owls bob their head up and down, a movement that aids in triangulating potential prey.

Dagger Sharp Talons.

Because the forceful impact of the Snowy Owl hitting its prey is so powerful, combined with the vise-like grip of its talons, the animal usually dies instantly.

Hedwig has so far survived three tremendously fierce storms during her stay in Gloucester. Last night, on the eve of the blizzard, she tried to take off several times towards the water. The wind current was strong, but she eventually flew successfully, heading in the direction of Thacher Island. Heres hoping she is waiting out the blizzard in one of her hideaways.

Folks are wondering how long will Hedwig stay. Most Snowies leave Massachusetts by April, although one was recorded at Logan Airport as late as July.

 

 

SNOWY OWL HEDWIG MESSY-FACED GIRL -By Kim Smith

Our winter resident Snowy Owl Hedwig finds plenty to eat along the backshore. Prior to taking off to hunt in the early evening we see her swivel her head and look out to sea, and then swivel around to scan the golf course. We wonder, is she thinking “Shall I have duck for dinner, or shall I have rabbit?” Here she is yesterday morning, face covered in schmutz, a happy sign to see.

SNOWY OWL HEDWIG SURVIES MARCH NOR’EASTER RILEY! -By Kim Smith

Our beautiful Snowy Owl Hedwig survived, and looks none the worse for wear. She spent the afternoon of March 5th resting in a sunny, but wholly unphotogenic location (and extremely windy corridor, too, I might add). Perhaps a New England Nor’easter is nothing to her, when compared to an Arctic tundra storm. She’s clearly a genius 🙂 And has some mighty good survival skills.

Thank you to Betty G. Grizz for sharing her Hedwig sighting this afternoon ❤

SNOWY OWL FEATHERS IN THE MOONLIGHT -By Kim Smith AND REQUEST FOR HELP

Hedwig is the gift that keeps on giving! What a joy to see her awakening in the rising full moon last night. She preened and fluffed, then flew through the moonlight to a nearby phone pole.

The wind was whipping up and ruffling Hedwig’s feathers, making her look extra fine in the glow of the Snow Moon rising.

Dear Friends,

While I am sorting through the challenges of one of the hard drives for my Monarch film crashing, I have been organizing the Snowy footage. Captured in photos and on film, we have her bathing, passing a pellet, pooping, eating, flying, and much more, and is going to make a terrific short film. It’s a mystery to me exactly where she goes when she disappears for several days and I am hoping to document every aspect of her stay in Gloucester. She has been spotted at several locales in East Gloucester, Salt Island, and Twin Lights but, if by chance, she is a regular visitor to your yard, please write and let me know. The best way to keep the information from becoming public knowledge is to email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. I am also looking for a few minutes of footage of a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) as they are closely related to Snowies (Bubo scandiacus), so please write and let me know if you have a resident Great Horned Owl. Thank you so much for any leads given 🙂Full Snow Moon Rising

GOOD MORNING SLEEPYHEAD! SNOWY OWL HEDWIG WEEKEND UPDATE -By Kim Smith

Good Morning Sleepyhead! Actually, afternoon, for you and I. Snowies hunt during the long day light hours of the Arctic summer, but here on Cape Ann, Hedwig awakens every afternoon to begin a night of hunting, returning to her roost at daybreak.

She spends a good deal of time grooming before take off–cleaning her feet, pulling her front feathers through her beak, washing overall, and fluffing out her feathers. Oftentimes she’ll spit up one, two, and even three pellets. Moments before take off she poops, and then off she goes.

A Snowy Owl’s beak and mouth look small, covered in feathers as they are, until you see it wide open. The size of a pellet that is regurgitated from her mouth can be as large as a rat. The beak is covered in small bristles to help detect nearby objects. Snowy Owls have tiny ears and owl’s ears are often asymmetrically set on their head, all the better to hear sound from different angles.

Hedwig was observed everyday this past week in rain, fog, snow, and sun. She’s feasting well on Cape Ann fare!

HOW CAN THE BEATING WINGS OF A SNOWY OWL BE QUIETER THAN A BUTTERFLY’S WING BEATS? – By Kim Smith

Snowy Owl Hedwig Preparing for Take-off

Several times Hedwig has flown so close that I can feel the swooshing wind around her, but I wondered, why her wingbeats are virtually soundless. I have audio recordings of comparatively tiny Monarchs, whose wingbeats are a thousand times louder than that of Hedwig’s wingbeats.

Snowy Owls, like all owls, have evolved with specially designed wings that enable them to fly soundlessly, a necessary feature for stealth hunting of small mammals such as mice, lemmings, voles, shrews, and rats. Their wings are disproportionately large to their body mass, which allows for slow flying, as slowly as two miles per hour, a sort of glide-flying, with very little flapping needed.

Additionally, comb-like serrations on the leading edge of an owl’s wingtips break up the air that typically makes a swooshing sound, creating a silencer effect. And, too, the streams of air are softened by a velvety texture unique to owl’s wings and because of the feathery combs of the wing’s trailing edge (see illustration below).Close-up images of a Great Horned Owl’s wing. On the left, you can see the leading-edge comb; it’s this width that Le Piane measured for her study. On the right, the trailing-edge fringe. Diagram: Krista Le Piane.

Image of a Great Horned Owl’s wings from Mass Audbon. READ MORE HERE.