GMG reader asks: Where have all the foghorns gone?

Annisquam Light_20190502_Gloucester MA_ © c ryan.jpg

Question

“I’ve been living in Gloucester now since 2013 (and love it of course!). When we first moved to the city, we could hear the foghorns during inclement weather. However, about a year ago, I noticed that I no longer hear them. I loved this soothing sound on a gray day and am wondering what happened? Have the foghorns been turned off? Thanks!” –Patricia

Answer

Sort of. The foghorn sound has not changed but their frequency has dropped significantly because the systems are no longer automated in situ on light house grounds. Instead, foghorns are on demand now, manually kicked in by vessel operators. They are VHF automated to frequency 83 Alpha.  Five or more consecutive clicks sets the foghorn off for 30, 45 and 60 minutes depending upon the lighthouse.

The USCG in Gloucester explained that the USCGNortheast out of Boston tends the Cape Ann Lighthouses, albeit Thacher Island North Light which is private. The USCG  division responsible for all technology elements is called the “Aids to Navigation Team”, aka the USCGNortheast ANT unit.

Since 2010, slowly but surely the USCG has been replacing the automated VM-100 fog detector systems with  “Marine Radio Activated Sound Signal” or MRASS systems. VM-100 were problematic as parts were no longer fabricated and the systems were deemed less reliable and obsolete. Boaters rely on common knowledge. Many access USCG light list, GPS on their cellphones, chartplotters, and radar. When the weather hedges to the odds of even one boater being confused by fog, evidence suggests crowdsourcing engages the signal. Expect frequency to increase in summer when more boats are on the water.

The change was not without controversy. See the history of transition in Maine. Locally, a 2013 Gloucester Daily Times editorial expressed support of the Rockport Harbormasters’ opposition. Because of broad push back, the roll out was slowed down for better outreach and acceptance.  The “drop date” requiring all foghorns nationwide to be in compliance was May 1, 2019.

“The upkeep of the MRASS foghorns is so much easier,” explains Petty Officer ONeal of the USCG ANT in Boston. “All the foghorns from Plymouth to Newburyport have been converted. Eastern Point was switched over yesterday.”

I sympathize with this lament for the foghorn. And I appreciate the challenge of maintenance and adaptation. Understandably safety, navigation, cost and care were essential topics of discussion, less so audible texture, mood, sense of place & culture. (Never mind the challenge of mastering dead reckoning when vision fails.) The allure of the sound from shores, often traveling great distance, is in the ear of the listener. Beguiling. Haunting. Soothing. Despondent. Scary. Annoying [see bestselling author Elizabeth Stuart Phelps LTE complaints ca.1880 about the whistling buoy off Mother Ann and that’s no foghorn] What do you think, GMG readers, and vessel experts?

Like train engineers blowing the whistle obliging ogling toddlers, maybe a few boaters will queue the sound in dreary weather for pining landlubbers. Technology changes that’s certain. Perhaps the poetic qualities will be baked into future foghorn design despite obsolescence.

The MRASS system is robust and here now. Thanks to USCG Gloucester and Petty Officer ONeal USCGNortheast ANT unit Boston for confirming details and to GMG reader Patricia for a great inquiry!

 

 

 

 

A MAGICAL MIRAGE CALLED AN ‘OMEGA’ MOONRISE

February’s Super Snow Moon was magical in more ways than simply beautiful. The unusual mirage captured during the Moon’s rise was seen by other Cape Ann photographers as well as myself. Lisa Freed from Rockport photographed the omega shape, rising adjacent to Motif No.1.

The effect has several names including Omega Moonrise, Etruscan Vase Moonrise, and Inferior Mirage Moonrise. The omega shape is seen more often during a sunrise, so it is quite exciting that we were witness to an Omega Moonrise on Cape Ann!

From my reading, this is how I understand why it occurs:

During cold weather, when the seawater is warmer than the air, the lowermost air layer is warmed up by the water and produces a temperature difference.

This omega shape is a type of inferior mirage. The refracted (inverted) image is actually below the object’s true position. When the Moon protrudes above the horizon at Moonrise, its inferior mirage can sometimes be seen below it, where it joins the true Moon, creating an omega shape. For this mirage to occur, a layer of very warm air must lie just above the sea surface.


Omega Moonrise (above)

A few minutes later

RECENT SIGHTINGS OF HECTOR, CAPE ANN’S VISITING BLACK VULTURE!

Over the weekend, many new of sightings of Hector, Gloucester and Rockport’s visiting Black Vulture, were reported. He was seen at residences all along East Main Street, back at the Rockport dump, and even in Rockport Harbor! Many thanks to reader Lauren T for sharing her photo.

Black Vulture “Hector” at Rockport Harbor

RARELY SEEN ON CAPE ANN – A BLACK VULTURE!

Over the winter, a Black Vulture has been calling Cape Ann home. My friend Lois first alerted me to this back in December where he has been seen quite often in Rockport. I have been trying to capture some footage of him/her but only ever saw him soaring high above. The Black Vulture in flight is stunning and you can recognize the bird by its distinctive white wing tips.

As luck would have it, East Gloucester resident Larry shared a photo recently and his friend Frank generously allowed me to stop by and take some photos and footage!

White wing tips of the Black Vulture

Being found mostly in South America, Central America, and the southern US, the Black Vulture’s range does not historically include Cape Ann (nor anywhere in Massachusetts). The bird’s range has been expanding northward since the early decades of the previous century and it is safe to say there may even be a few pairs breeding in the furthest most western regions of Massachusetts!

Black Vultures feed primarily on carrion. They fly high above on thermal winds looking for dead creatures, and also follow Turkey Vultures, which reportedly have a better sense of smell and can more easily locate carcasses. Black Vultures also kill skunks, possums, Night Herons, turtle hatchlings, chickens, young livestock, and sickly small pets. And, too, they pick through dumps and dumpsters, and even wade into water for small fish and floating carrion. It’s no wonder their range is expanding!

The Black Vulture visiting Frank’s yard appeared to be communicating with Frank. Black Vultures lack a voice box; instead of singing, one of the sounds they make is a low ruff sort of bark. Frank can imitate the bark perfectly, and the bird barks back!

Black Vulture Historic Status in Massachusetts, from Mass Audubon:

The first Black Vulture identified in Massachusetts was shot in Swampscott in November of 1850. The second appeared in Gloucester on September 28, 1863, where it, too, was killed (Howe & Allen 1901). Throughout the next century, the bird was considered an accidental straggler in Massachusetts; and, by the middle of the nineteenth century, the species was on the move from its deep Southern roots, breeding in southern Maryland for the first time in 1922 (Court 1924) and in Pennsylvania by 1952 (Brauning 1992).

If you see Cape Ann’s Black Vulture hanging around your property, please let me know at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you so much!

Comparing Black Vulture to Turkey Vulture

Black Vulture Range Map

FANTASTIC DAY!

With hurrying home from Boston after a full day of editing on the Monarch film project, I didn’t have time to write a longer post. It was a tremendously productive day. My film doesn’t just show Gloucester’s wildlife in a beautiful light, but highlights the natural beauty found all around Cape Ann.

Without jinxing the project I feel hopeful we will have a documentary by spring. No dates have been decided as of yet, but I am getting pretty excited to premiere the final cut!

Stephanie Buck: Shadowed Lives presentation at Sawyer Free

stephanie buck talk at gloucester lyceum and sawyer free public library january 2019 gloucester ma

Stephanie Buck: Shadowed Lives

Saturday January 12, 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM

In conjunction with the African-Americans and Maritime History Exhibit from the Massachusetts Commonwealth Museum, From Slavery to Freedom, on view in the Matz Gallery, Stephanie Buck, a local expert on Gloucester History, will share information regarding the effects of slavery on Cape Ann.

THREE VIEWS GLOUCESTER CITY HALL-SKYLINE- HARBOR

A view that never disappoints-

Choppy harbor waters

Storm clouds clearing

Later that same afternoon

AFTER THE STORM SUNSET AND WAVES AT EASTERN POINT LIGHHOUSE

Beautiful breakers and sunset light slipping through the clouds after the storm.


Mother Ann’s silhouette through the waves

FUNNY LITTLE RUDDY DUCKS MIGRATING ALONG OUR SHORES!

Hey wait for me! – Doesn’t she look like she is running to catch a train 🙂

A flock of a dozen male and female Ruddy Ducks were recently spotted on Cape Ann, foraging at fresh water ponds and the marsh. They are really quite funny to watch as they dive for insects, other invertebrates, and aquatic plants and seeds. The males are especially fun and show-offy, animatedly puffing out their chest and fanning their feathers.

Ruddy Ducks are about the same size as Buffleheads and you will often seem them together in mixed flocks during the winter months.

SHORT BIT OF FOOTAGE OF THE ENDANGERED RUSTY BLACKBIRD FORAGING

As I was filming a Great Blue Heron, and standing as still as a tree, the beautiful Rusty Blackbird flew on the scene, not four feet away! My heart skipped a beat and I quickly turned my camera on the little blackbird. It’s foraging habit of flipping leaves to uncover insects and plant matter was fascinating and my only wish was that he stayed longer than a brief minute.

Scientists only relatively recently became aware of the dramatic decline of the Rusty Blackbird. Reports show that the population of the RB has plummeted between 80 and 99 percent.

As is the case with so many creatures the whole earth wide, two of the greatest threats facing the Rusty Blackbird are loss of habitat and climate change. The birds are elusive, nesting in remote areas of the great northern boreal forest and wintering over in the wet woodlands of the southeastern United States. Over 80 percent of their winter habitat in the southeast has been lost to development. Changes in the ecosystem of the boreal forests has affected nesting and foraging.

Without doubt, global climate change is the greatest challenge of our day. All living life as we know is in danger. Millions of human lives have been directly impacted by the Earth’s warming temperature. We are at risk of losing thousands of species of flora and wild creatures.

Read more here.

Non-breeding Male Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)

FRIENDS! STUNNING SPECIES OF WILDLIFE MIGRATING ALONG THE SHORES OF CAPE ANN RIGHT NOW -Today’s Feature: the Rusty Blackbird!

I often think of May as the magical month of migration through Massachusetts, but am beginning to think of October in the same light. At this time of year I don’t have much spare time but when you go out for even the briefest walk, you will encounter beautiful creatures not usually seen. Several days ago it was a Rusty Blackbird! I was only able to capture a single photo, but did catch half a minute of footage. He was pecking vigorously at the water’s edge, lifting and flipping leaves as he darted about looking for insects and plant matter.

Not only do they eat plants and insects, but they have also been documented attacking and eating other birds including sparrows and Robins.

Rusty Blackbirds are migrating through Cape Ann. They breed in the boggy boreal forests of the far north. During winter Rusty Blackbirds can be found at pond edges, swamps, and wet woodlands.

Rusty Blackbirds are mysteriously in sharp decline and sadly, their population has plummeted an estimated 80-99 percent.

Non-breeding Male Rusty Blackbird

BBC and PBS AUTUMN WATCH: NEW ENGLAND CAPE ANN MONARCH EPISODE AIRS FRIDAY NIGHT

Dear Friends of Beauty on the Wing,

My friend Patti Papows shares that she heard a promo on PBS for the Autumnwatch Cape Ann Monarch migration episode, which we believe airs Friday night at 8pm. The BBC team is still editing the segment so if anything changes, we will let you know.

The Monarch migration interview was filmed at Patti’s beautiful garden in Gloucester, at Good Harbor Beach, and the episode includes footage from my forthcoming film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.

Patti is a fantastic hostess and the producer Sophie, cameraman Bobby, and his wife Gina were thrilled with her warm hospitality and the refreshments she provided. It was cold and damp and drizzly, yet despite that, half a dozen Monarchs emerged from the chrysalises I had brought to the interview. Everyone was excited to see this and I think it was all meant to be.

The three night series airs Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at 8pm (October 17th-19th).

Photos from an October passel of Monarchs migrating along our shores and nectaring at the late blooming asters.

PORCUPINE ON CAPE ANN!

Good Morning Gloucester reader DB took a snapshot and reports that she saw this little Porcupine moseying along the side of the road in Essex on Friday.

The North American Porcupine is more commonly seen in central and western Massachusetts, less so in the eastern regions of our state. Porcupines are nocturnal, preferring to hide away during the day in dens and treetops, which is another reason we don’t often see them in these parts.

So wonderful that DB saw this and was able to get a photo. Thank you for sharing DB!!!


Additional North American Porcupine photo courtesy wikicommons media

BLACK BEARS ON CAPE ANN

If you regularly listen to our GMG podcasts, we often talk about wildlife. As we have seen the great coyote migration, from west of the Rocky Mountains to every region of the American East and South so too are Black Bears migrating eastward and they have become relatively common in some parts of New England. We talked about this on a recent podcast and I predicted that they would be seen on Cape Ann within five years. After reading the story in the Globe about the Black Bear mama and cub in Amesbury, perhaps we will see them sooner.

Unlike coyotes, which are not native to the Eastern U.S., Black Bears are native to Massachusetts. Legend has it that Rockport’s Bearskin Neck is named for the bear skins drying on the shores of the small peninsula. Prior to 1952, Black Bears were nearly extirpated from Massachusetts because anyone could kill a Black Bear at anytime. Regulations passed in 1952 allowed killing only during hunting season. Because of these conservation efforts, the Bears are making a comeback at an estimated rate of 8 percent annually.

Don’t you think it doubly exciting that a female and her cub were tranquilized in Amesbury? This may tell us that males have established territories much further eastward. A male can cover up to 120 miles annually while a sow with cubs stays within a 12 mile range.

I imagine areas within Dogtown would make ideal Black Bear habitat, with plentiful food, rocky crevices and fallen trees for den-making, fresh water, and a wooded canopy with thick understory.  I am looking forward to hearing of the first Cape Ann Black Bear sightings!

Image of Black Bear cubs courtesy wiki commons media

Black bears tranquilized after sitting in Amesbury tree for hours

A mother bear and her cub were tranquilized in Amesbury after they spent much of Tuesday morning up a tree, much to the delight of locals who gathered to watch them.

“There were a few scary moments for the crowd,” said Michele Velleman, a Georgetown resident who happened to be in Amesbury. “Everybody was concerned about it.”

“With the assistance of Amesbury firefighters and police, Environmental Police and MassWildlife first immobilized the sow and relocated her to a wooded location, then immobilized the cub and relocated it to the same location,” said Katie Gronendyke, a spokeswoman for the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Read full story here

PBS and BBC Announce AUTUMNWATCH – NEW ENGLAND

Some press for the show that I have been working on with the BBC! The shows air October 17-19th, at 8pm. I don’t know yet which night the Cape Ann Monarch episode will play, but will let you know.

– Travel journalist Samantha Brown, wildlife cinematographer Bob Poole, and BBC presenter Chris Packham host the live nature show celebrating fall in New England –

PBS announced, as part of its co-production partnership with the BBC, that a new three-part live event, AUTUMNWATCH – NEW ENGLAND, will air Wednesday-Friday, October 17-19, 2018, at 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET (check local listings).

Travel journalist Samantha Brown, BBC presenter Chris Packham and wildlife cinematographer Bob Poole will host the multi-platform television experience from alongside Squam Lake, New Hampshire. Similar in format to PBS’ previous summer spectacles BIG BLUE LIVE and WILD ALASKA LIVE, the new series will include a mix of live feeds and pre-taped footage from across New England.

Unique to AUTUMNWATCH – NEW ENGLAND, the live event will focus on cultural traditions and historical sites in addition to local wildlife and the colorful gold and red landscapes in the region that’s best known for them.

To accomplish this, local experts in food, wildlife, music, literature, and history will join the trio of hosts each night to showcase characteristics special to New England.

“In AUTUMNWATCH – NEW ENGLAND, audiences will experience exquisite outdoor adventures while surrounded by nature’s most picturesque imagery,” said Bill Gardner, Vice President, Programming & Development, PBS. “We look forward to partnering with the BBC once again to present this ambitious live production and share this American experience with PBS and BBC viewers.”

AUTUMNWATCH – NEW ENGLAND cameras will be there to capture time-lapse changes of fall foliage; a quest for majestic moose in Maine; the Monarch butterfly migration through Cape Ann, key wildlife species like squirrels, chipmunks and turkey gangs as they invade backyards in preparation for the winter months; and the critters like owls, bats and bears that make the most of nighttime.

Audiences can expect to see segments that highlight Native American history and traditions, Halloween traditions, regional fairs and the many farms that provide the region with its rich varieties of apples, pumpkins, cranberries and maple syrups.

“I’m thrilled that AUTUMNWATCH is moving to New England for this very special week of live programming,” Tom McDonald, BBC Head of Commissioning, Natural History and Specialist Factual, said. “The teams are heading to one of the most iconic locations in the USA to experience the great American ‘fall’ for what promises to be an unforgettable chapter in the Watches’ history.”

Female (left) and male (right) Monarch Butterfly. These two beauties (resting on native wildflower New England Aster) eclosed (emerged) during the BBC filming of the Monarch migration through Cape Ann.