Wildlife on Cape Ann by Adrian Hewitt
Day three of the October nor’easter so rather than post more photos of dreary gray skies and wind and waves, here’s a sunny yellow photo to lift your spirits. The photo was taken during this year’s historic Monarch migration. Loving this weather because it’s providing an opportunity to sort through the multitude of butterfly photos shot in September and October 🙂
I spent the weekend chasing butterflies and will post more about the historical migration we are currently experiencing, along with the fantastic Monarch celebration at The Stevens Coolidge Place in Andover, when I have more than a few moments to write a post.
And I discovered several more of the magical butterfly trees that the migrating Monarchs roost in on cooler nights, and figured out how to find them!!! More about that in a future post, too 🙂
Monarch nectaring at Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia)
These magical creatures never cease to amaze and surprise. Early one morning I went looking in the butterfly trees for an overnight roost. Instead I found them sleeping like a dream in a golden field.
I’ve seen a small cluster of sleeping Monarchs on a wildflower branch before, but never a field full. The wind was strong; perhaps they felt safer roosting closer to the ground.
It was funny to watch them awaken. Some flew off, but most stayed in place and began drinking nectar. Bees do this, they sleep in flowers, but it was a first to see Monarchs sleeping in their breakfast.
Come join me Saturday morning at The Stevens Coolidge Place in Andover for all things Monarch. I will be giving my Monarch conservation program at 10:30. For more information go here.
This pair of Monarchs did not get the 411 that they are supposed to wait until next spring to mate!
Beginning in early spring, Monarchs depart Mexico. They lay eggs of the next generation and then perish. This next generation moves northward depositing their eggs on emerging milkweed. It takes four to five generations to reach the Monarch’s northern breeding grounds, of which Cape Ann is a part. The Monarchs that we see in the early summer only live for about four weeks.
The Monarchs that eclose at the end of the summer are a super generation of Monarchs. Another way to think about them is that they are also referred to as the ‘Methuselah’ Monarchs. This last brood of the summer lives for a very long time for a Monarch, about seven to eight months. The Methuselah Monarchs that we see migrating today will travel south all the way to the trans-volcanic forested mountains of central Mexico. They sleep through the winter in butterfly trees in a state of sexually immaturity known as diapause, then awaken in spring to move northward and deposit eggs of the next generation, thus completing the circle of the Monarch’s life.
So that brings us back to this atypical pair mating in the marshy meadow in September. Every year during the annual southward migration I see at least one pair of Monarchs mating. I wonder, will the pair survive and continue to migrate? Will their offspring survive and travel further south?
Please join me Saturday, October 5th, at 10:30 at The Stevens Coolidge Reservation in Andover for a Monarch Migration Celebration and for my conservation talk about the Monarchs. For more information, see here.
Multitudes of silently beautiful brilliant orange flakes swirl overhead. Ontario, Chicago, the Great Lakes, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Texas–the list goes on and on–reports of record numbers of Eastern Monarchs are being shared throughout the country.
Monarchs are building their fat reserves by drinking nectar from wildflowers and garden flowers all along their migratory route. These migration pathways occur in urban areas such as Toronto, Chicago, Atlanta, and Kansas City; the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia and Virginia; the fields and prairies of Minnesota, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska; and along the coastlines of the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Great Lakes.
The Atlantic Coast travelers are typically a week or two behind the Monarchs that migrate through the central part of the U.S. There are still large numbers of Monarchs in the Northeast waiting for the right conditions to journey on.
Here on Cape Ann I have been following the migration and checking hotspots several times daily. Beginning September 8th, the migration along our shores really began to pick up steam. We have had a steady stream with many overnight roosts. The last wave that came through migrated during the morning hours, but rather than staying overnight, continued on their journey, helped by a strong northeasterly wind.
Many thousands of photos were taken this past month and I will share them in upcoming posts, along with helpful answers to some Monarch questions that I am frequently asked. In addition to the photos, I have of course been filming. While my Monarch documentary, Beauty on the Wing, is in the final stages of post production, some of the footage from this year’s historic migration will make it into the film.
Please join me this coming Saturday, October 5th, at 10:30am at The Stevens Coolidge Place in Andover where I will be giving a talk and slide presentation on Monarch Butterfly conservation. A whole wonderful day of activities is planned for the kids and adults.
MONARCH MIGRATION CELEBRATION
You spent the summer watching them flit about your gardens, now it’s time to wish them well on their trip down to Mexico – it’s the Monarch Migration Celebration at Stevens-Coolidge Place!
This celebration will kick off with a children’s pollinator parade around the property (costumes encouraged!) bringing all visitors to an afternoon of demos, crafts & stories, seed bomb making and gardening tips to bring these orange friends to your yard in the spring. Want to join in the butterfly tagging? Bring your flying friends with you and we’ll be happy to show you how! Butterfly release at 2:30PM
Trustees Member: $3
Trustees Member Child: $5
Trustees Family: $15
Nonmember Child: $10
Nonmember Family: $25
Please help us plan for the day. Pre-registration is encouraged.
The STEVENS COOLIDGE PLACE
137 ANDOVER STREET
Monarchs were on the move over the weekend, not only on Cape Ann, but all over northern and northeastern regions of the country* very solid numbers of migrating Monarchs are being shared, from Ontario, to upstate New York, Michigan, and Maine.
Lets keep our hopes up for good weather for the Monarchs on the next leg of their journey southward!
*Ninety percent of the Monarch Butterfly migration takes place east of the Rocky Mountains.
If you would like to help support the Monarchs, think about creating a milkweed patch in your garden. The best and most highly productive milkweed for Monarch caterpillars is Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), the milkweed we see growing in our local marshes and dunes. The seed heads are ripe for plucking when they have split open and you can see the brown seeds and beautiful floss.
For several of my readers who have expressed difficulty in germinating milkweed seeds, the following is a foolproof method from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
MILKWEEDS (ASCLEPIAS SPP.) ARE NOTORIOUSLY DIFFICULT TO GERMINATE. But don’t despair. The Wildflower Center has developed and tested a protocol that results in good germination rates for a number of our native milkweed species. Follow this process and you’ll soon be on your way to supporting monarchs, bumblebees and tons of other insects that depend on milkweed plants. READ the complete article here.
On our shores today you may find the charming teetering tip-tailed Spotted Sandpiper. They are a medium sized-shorebird, larger than the Semipalmated Sandpiper you see in the photos, but not as large as the Ruddy Turnstones they are currently migrating alongside. Spotted Sandpipers have a characteristic bobbing-teetering movement when foraging, which has earned the bird its many common names including including Tip-tail, Teeter-bob, Teeter-peep,and Perk Bird.
Fun fact: During breeding season the females may be monogamous, or they may also lay up to four different clutches of eggs, with a different male assigned to each nest. Remarkable!
Although considered common, I don’t often see the Tip-tail on our locaL beaches so it was a joy to spot several this past week, in vary stages of fading breeding plumage.
Reposting this from 2017 as another Northern Gannet is struggling on the Backshore.
Heartbreaking to see, the usually majestic Northern Gannet is struggling to survive.
This beautiful Northern Gannet appears to have the same neurological symptoms of the mysterious disease that has caused over one hundred Gannets to wash ashore on Cape Cod beaches. Veterinarians are sending samples of the dead and dying birds to the USDA to see if federal experts can find the cause. A harmful algae bloom (often referred to as Red Tide) is suspect.
The Gannet tried and tried to take flight, but to no avail, wobbling instead and repeatedly tipping over.
The first dying Northern Gannet seen on a Cape Ann beach was shared by Ann Rittenburg. On July 12th, she discovered the bird struggling at Good Harbor Beach. Dianne Corliss, Gloucester’s Animal Control Officer, rescued the seabird. Dianne tried to help, but the Gannet was eventually put to sleep. She warns that the bills of Northern Gannets are extremely powerful. If you come across a Gannet on the beach, do not go near it as they are known to go for the eyes and necks of people.
What makes the deaths even more troubling is that Northern Gannets are winter migrants through our area, and most months are spent at sea. 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.
My husband Tom and I saw these magnificent seabirds from the shores of Provincetown last spring. They were feeding along with the Right Whales. The Northern Gannets soared high above the whales and then plunged straight down with a powerful ferocity. It was dramatic and gorgeous to see. I hope the same illness or Red Tide that is killing the Gannets will not affect whales.
Great programming at Lanesville Community Center like this special event next week with a visiting scholar. You can help with research! Check your family libraries:
Cape Ann Finns: A Literary History
Tuesday, July 23rd, 3-5:00 p.m.
Prof. Kirsti Salmi-Niklander of the University of Helsinki will lecture on newly-discovered materials in the rich Finnish-American literary history of Lanesville and Rockport, where Finn Halls and families shared books, newspapers, political broadsheets, poems, and songbooks in Finnish. Salmi-Niklander’s research has uncovered the 1903-1925 issues of the hand-written newspaper Walotar, which would have been read aloud at meetings of the Salon Leimu Temperance Society in Rockport. Also found are an 1899 children’s primary reader and other books reflecting both the immigrants’s strong ties to Finland and their evolving assimilation in America, including the development of “Finglish”, a unique blend of Finnish and English languages. Prof. Salmi-Niklander would also be delighted to see other Finnish-American literature from Cape Ann, so if you have inherited some old books or newspapers and can find them in your attic or on your bookshelf, please bring these along to the lecture. All to be enjoyed with the traditional afternoon coffee and Nisu.
“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
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!
upcoming North shore/Cape ann race season – see yukanrun.com here
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.
A few minutes later
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.
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!
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 email@example.com. Thank you so much!
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
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.