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

POST FOR GMG FOB DAVE IN RESPONSE TO HIS QUESTION ABOUT WHY THERE WERE NO WILD TURKEYS ON CAPE ANN IN HIS YOUTH

eastern-wild-turkey-male-gloucester-ma-1-copyright-kim-smithGMG Reader Dave wrote recently saying that he did not recall seeing turkeys on Cape Ann when he was growing up. Although the Eastern Wild Turkey is native to Massachusetts, it was rarely seen after 1800 and was completely extirpated by 1851.

The Wild Turkey reintroduction to Massachusetts is a fantastic conservation success story and a tremendous example of why departments of conservation and protection are so vital to our quality of life.

Massachusetts was recently ranked the number one state by U.S. News and World Report and conservation stories like the following are shining examples of just one of the many zillion reasons why (healthcare and education are the top reasons, but conservation IMO is equally as important).

Reposted from the Wild Turkey FAQ page of the office of the Energy and Environmental Affairs website.

“At the time of Colonial settlement, wild turkeys were found nearly throughout Massachusetts. They were probably absent from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and perhaps the higher mountain areas in the northwest part of the state. As settlement progressed and land was cleared for buildings and agriculture, turkey populations diminished. By 1800, turkeys were quite rare in Massachusetts, and by 1851 they had disappeared.

Between 1911 and 1967 at least 9 attempts in 5 counties were undertaken to restore turkeys to Massachusetts. Eight failed (probably because of the use of pen-raised stock; and one established a very marginal population which persisted only with supplemental feeding.

In 1972-73, with the cooperation of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, MassWildlife personnel live-trapped 37 turkeys in southwestern New York and released them in Beartown State Forest in southern Berkshire County. By 1976, these birds had successfully established themselves and by 1978 this restoration effort was declared a success.

Beginning in 1978, MassWildlife began live-trapping turkeys from the Berkshires and releasing them in other suitable habitat statewide. Between 1979 and 1996, a total of 26 releases involving 561 turkeys (192 males, 369 females) were made in 10 counties (see the following Table and the accompanying map).

turkey-trans-map

Turkey Transplants within Massachusetts
1979-1996
Location Town County Year Number (Sex)
Hubbardston State Forest Hubbardston Worcester 1979, 1981 22 (10M, 12F)
D.A.R. State Forest Goshen Hampshire 1981-82 14 (6M, 8F)
Mt. Toby State Forest Sunderland Franklin 1982 22 (7M, 15F)
Holyoke Range Granby Hampshire 1982 24 (8M, 16F)
West Brookfield State Forest West Brookfield Worcester 1982-83 24 (12M, 12F)
Miller’s River Wildlife Management Area Athol Worcester 1982-83 24 (11M, 13F)
Koebke Road Dudley Worcester 1983 25 (7M, 18F)
Groton Fire Tower Groton Middlesex 1984 21 (10M, 11F)
Rocky Gutter Wildlife Management Area Middleborough Plymouth 1985-86 25 (12M, 13F)
Bolton Flats Wildlife Management Area Bolton Worcester 1986-87 24 (8M, 16F)
Naushon Island Gosnold Dukes 1987 22 (6M, 16F)
John C. Phillips Wildlife Sanctuary Boxford Essex 1988 21 (9M, 12F)
Fall River-Freetown State Forest Fall River Bristol 1988 24 (11M, 13F)
Baralock Hill Groton Middlesex 1988 16 (5M, 11F)
Camp Edwards Army Base Bourne/Sandwich Barnstable 1989 18 (6M, 12F)
Jones Hill Ashby Middlesex 1990 20 (7M, 13F)
Whittier Hill Sutton Worcester 1990 22 (9M, 13F)
Conant Brook Reservoir Monson Hampden 1991 27 (3M, 24F)
Bradley Palmer State Park Topsfield Essex 1991 18 (1M, 17F)
Hockomock Swamp and Erwin Wilder WMA West Bridgewater Plymouth 1992-93 24 (5M, 19F)
Slade’s Corner Dartmouth Bristol 1993 23 (10M, 13F)
Wendell State Forest Wendell Franklin 1993 19 (4M, 15F)
Facing Rock Wildlife Management Area Ludlow Hampden 1994 8 (1M, 7F)
Peterson Swamp Wildlife Management Area Halifax Plymouth . 1994 26 (11M, 15F)
Cape Cod National Seashore Wellfleet Barnstable 1995-96 28 (5M, 23F)
Terrybrooke Farm Rehoboth Bristol 1996 20 (8M, 12F)
Totals 561; (192M, 369F)

 

By 1996, turkeys were found in Massachusetts about everywhere from Worcester County westward, except in the immediate vicinity of Springfield and Worcester. Good populations are also now found in suitable, but more fragmented, habitats in Bristol, Essex, Middlesex, and Plymouth Counties. On Cape Cod, Barnstable County, turkeys may be found on and near the Massachusetts Military Reservation and the Cape Cod National Seashore. These birds have also moved northward from releases in Plymouth County into southern Norfolk County. On Martha’s Vineyard, wild-strain birds are absent; however, feral pen-raised birds may be found over much of the island. Turkeys are absent from Nantucket and Suffolk Counties. The average statewide fall turkey population is about 18,000-20,000 birds.

Land-use changes have historically influenced the population and distribution of the wild turkey and other wildlife. Such changes will continue to affect the natural environment. For a historical perspective, see the references by Cardoza (1976) and Cronon (1983).”eastern-wild-turkey-males-8-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smith

TURKEY BROMANCE

eastern-wild-turkey-males-gloucester-ma-6-copyright-kim-smithConferring

From far across the marsh, large brown moving shapes were spotted. I just had to pull over to investigate and was happily surprised to see a flock of perhaps a dozen male turkeys all puffed up and struttin’ their stuff. I headed over to the opposite side of the marsh in hopes of getting a closer look at what was going on.

eastern-wild-turkey-female-foraging-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smith

Turkey hen foraging 

Found along the edge, where the marsh met the woodlands, were the objects of desire. A flock of approximately an equal number of hens were foraging for insects and vegetation in the sun-warmed moist earth.

eastern-wild-turkey-males-3-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smith

Males begin exhibiting mating behavior as early as late February and courtship was full underway on this unusually warm February morning. The funny thing was, the toms were not fighting over the hens, as you might imagine. Instead the males seemed to be paired off, bonded to each other and working together, strategically placing themselves in close proximity to the females. A series of gobbles and calls from the males closest to the females set off a chain reaction of calls to the toms less close. The last to respond were the toms furthest away from the females, the ones still in the marsh. It was utterly fascinating to watch and I tried to get as much footage as possible while standing as stone still for as long as is humanly possible.eastern-wild-turkey-males-gloucester-marsh-copyright-kim-smith

With much curiosity, and as soon as a spare moment was found, I read several interesting articles on the complex social behavior of Wild Turkeys and it is true, the males were bromancing, as much as they were romancing.

Ninety percent of all birds form some sort of male-female bond. From my reading I learned that Wild Turkeys do not. The females nest and care for the poults entirely on her own. The dominant male in a pair, and the less dominant of the two, will mate with the same female. Wild Turkey male bonding had been observed for some time however, the female can hold sperm for up to fifty days, so without DNA testing it was difficult to know who was the parent of her offspring. DNA tests show that the eggs are often fertilized by more than one male. This behavior insures greater genetic diversity. And it has been shown that bromancing males produce a proportionately greater number of offspring than males that court on their own. Poult mortality is extremely high. The Wild Turkey bromance mating strategy produces a greater number of young and is nature’s way of insuring future generations.

The snood is the cone shaped bump on the crown of the tom’s head (see below).eastern-wild-turkey-male-snood-caruncles-gloucester-ma-2-copyright-kim-smith

The wattle (or dewlap) is the flap of skin under the beak. Caruncles are the wart-like bumps covering the tom’s head. What are referred to as the “major” caruncles are the large growths that lie beneath the wattle. When passions are aroused, the caruncles become engorged, turning brilliant red, and the snood is extended. The snood can grow twelve inches in a matter of moments. In the first photo below you can see the snood draped over the beak and in the second, a tom with an even longer snood.

eastern-wild-turkey-male-close-up-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithIt’s all in the snood, the longer the snood, the more attractive the female finds the male.

eastern-wild-turkey-male-snood-extended-carnuckle-gloucester-ma-10-copyright-kim-smith

eastern-wild-turkey-male-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smitheastern-wild-turkey-male-gloucester-ma-9-copyright-kim-smithMale Turkey not puffed up and snood retracted.

A young male turkey is called a jake and its beard is usually not longer than a few inches. The longer the beard, generally speaking, the older the turkey.eastern-wild-turkey-male-beard-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithMale Wild Turkey, with beard and leg spurs.eastern-wild-turkey-males-snood-extended-retracted-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smith

Male Wild Turkeys with snood extended (foreground) and snood retracted (background).

eastern-wild-turkey-male-tail-feathers-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smithWhen the butt end is prettier than the face

8643866_orig

 

In case you are unsure on how to tell the difference between male (called tom or gobbler) and female (hen), compare the top two photos. The tom has a snood, large caruncles, carunculate (bumpy) skin around the face, and a pronounced beard. The hen does not. Gobblers also have sharp spurs on the back of their legs and hens do not.

 

turkeycharacteristics

Read more here:

http://www.alankrakauer.org/?p=1108

http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2005/03/02_turkeys.shtml

http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dfw/fish-wildlife-plants/wild-turkey-faq.html

EPHEMERAL FOGGY GLOUCESTER MORNING

Beauty abounds even on the foggiest of mornings

baby-pinecones-copyright-kim-smithBaby Pinecones

hoary-branched-cherry-tree-raymonds-beach-gloucester-copyright-kim-smithHoary branches of the Raymond’s Beach old cherry tree

foggy-marsh-wild-turkeys-copyright-kim-smithMarsh turkeys on the run

cattail-marsh-foggy-morning-copyright-kim-smithFoggy morning marsh cattails

GOOD MORNING GLOUCESTER BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE COLOR BLUE

gloucester-harbor-panorma-copyright-kim-smithEverywhere my walk took me this morning, the color blue dominated–cerulean sky and ultramarine sea, wedgwood house trim paint, marine blue-green of every hue, even the turkey encountered had a face in shades of lapis lazuli!ten-pound-island-lighthouse-copyright-kim-smithTen Pound Island

eastern-wild-yurkey-copyright-kim-smithEastern Wild Turkey

male-and-female-red-breasted-mergansers-copyright-kim-smithFemale Red-breasted Merganser (left), Male Red-breasted Merganser (right)

gloucester-harbor-panorama-2-copyright-kim-smithGloucester Harbor panoroama

TURKEY ON THE RUN!

What a delightful surprise to see this young turkey in our hood. I imagine they are ubiquitous, but it’s only the second time that I know of that they have been seen perusing Plum Street. My husband thinks she slept in our garden the previous night. Wild turkey Gloucester Massachusetts Meleagris gallopavo c Kim Smith

Hungry, fearful, and on the run, she didn’t stay very long.

Wild turkey Gloucester Massachusetts Meleagris gallopavo -2 c Kim Smith

STRUTTIN’ HIS STUFF!

A face only a Mother could love ~Wild Turkey male close up wattle, caruncle, snood Kim Smith 2016

Male turkey’s faces are brilliantly colored red, white, and blue and change color depending on what mood. A solid white head indicates the most excited.

Wild Turkey male Courtship display Kim Smith 2016

There were three males courting in this group, with one being the dominant Tom. To attract the females, the males were spreading their tail feathers (called strutting) and spitting. Group courtship like this usually takes place after the winter months in March and April, when they are still flocked together.

Wild Turkey male female Tom pea Courtship display Kim Smith 2016Tom and Hen Eastern Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey male female Tom pea Courtship display -2 Kim Smith 2016

Anatomy_of_turkey_headAnatomy of a Turkey Head

1) Caruncles

2) Snood

3) Wattle (dewlap)

4) Major caruncle

5) Beard

Notice the small light tan colored holes to the right of the eye in both the above photo and the top photo. That is the Tom’s ears with which he can hear quite well.

The photo below is not tack sharp so I almost didn’t post however, it demonstrates that this turkey is comparatively more excited as his face is more white and blue than the turkey in the first photo. And you can see the ear quite clearly in this photo, too.

Wild Turkey male close up wattle, ear, snood, caruncle Kim Smith 2016

Domestic turkey photo courtesy wiki.

Two Sisters

Two turkey hens ©Kim Smith 2013

Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris)

Benjamin Franklin writes a letter to his daughter Sarah Beche  in 1784, criticizing the appearance and choice of the Bald Eagle as the national bird of the United States, presumably preferring the Wild Turkey, “…I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For in truth the Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a Red Coat on.”

Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris)