DANCE OF THE SWALLOWS

Without doubt, the spectacular summer/autumn migration that takes place each year along the shores of Cape Ann has begun. Everywhere we turn, there are magnificent creatures foraging along our shoreline. In one day alone on an early morning walk this past week were Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, Spotted Sandpipers, and great flocks of Semi-palmated Plovers and Sanderlings. I think I’ll write a little series with a paragraph or two devoted to each species for the upcoming week.

For today though, I wanted to share photos of a flock of Tree Swallows that were gathering at Good Harbor Beach. A friend wrote wanting to know more about the beautiful birds we see massing at both Good Harbor and Wingaersheek Beaches at this time of year.

From 2018 – Over the course of the summer while filming the Piping Plover Family at Wingaersheek Beach, Tree Swallows began flocking in ever increasing numbers. They became part of the Piping Plover story not only because they occasionally dive bomb the Piping Plovers, for whatever reason I am not entirely sure, but also because they are beautiful to observe, and occasionally, seemingly playful, too.

Songbirds that they are, Tree Swallows make a cheery chirping chatter. They have long narrow forked tails, all the better for gliding and for their signature aerial acrobatics. The male’s upper parts are a brilliant iridescent blue-green, the female’s somewhat duller, and both female and male have white underparts. The migrating juveniles are almost entirely brown with either white or pale grayish underparts.

Tree Swallows breed in the wetlands and fields of Cape Ann. Their name comes from the species habit of nesting in tree cavities. Tree Swallows have benefited tremendously from efforts to help save the Eastern Bluebird because they also nest in the nest boxes built specifically for the Bluebirds.

Acrobatic aerialists, they twist and turn mid-flight to capture a wide variety of insects including butterflies, dragonflies, greenheads, bees, beetles, and wasps.

Utilizing both fresh and saltwater to bathe, Tree Swallows have a unique habit of quickly dipping and then shaking off the excess water while flying straight upwards.

Tree Swallows begin migrating southward in July and August. The flocks that we see gathering on Cape Ann migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. They overwinter in the southern states of the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Unlike migrating species of butterflies, several generations of Tree Swallows migrate together, the older birds showing the younger birds the way.

Music composed by Jules Massenet: “Méditation” from Thaïs

WINGED WONDER OF THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH MARSH

When talking about wild creatures on the Good Morning Gloucester podcasts, we often comment about how there seems to be so many more herons and egrets foraging and nesting on our shores. I think it is a combination of factors, most notably because our waterways have never been cleaner and because of global climate change. Whatever the reason, to see such grand beauty on a daily basis, we on Cape Ann are most certainly the beneficiaries.

Great Egret Good Harbor Beach

BEAUTIFUL DOE AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH

Well hello there beautiful doe of the dunes.

This graceful, slender beauty leisurely strolled, and then pranced, up to me while I was filming PiPls. I stood very still as she came closer and closer, trying not to move a muscle. With great curiosity, she spent a few minutes looking at me. The doe came so close, I could have reached out my hand and touched her.

After the once over from her, and a magical moment for me, she then proceeded to walk a few feet away and take a very long pee in a tide pool. I was filming, not photographing at this point, and so it was captured on film. I don’t know why I think this was funny, I guess because while I was thinking, this is so beautiful, perhaps she was wondering if I was a tree and a suitable place to go pee.

Dancing along with the waves at the shoreline, she was heading back to the dunes when a photographer boxed her into a corner, forcing her to cross the creek and go up the rocky incline to Sherman’s Point, and then cross the road. I prayed she would not get hit by a car (FYI, the photographer had a huge telephoto lens!)

Half an hour later I was further down the beach and happily surprised as the doe came in from the road. She had circled all the way around, her tongue was hanging out and she was out of breath. After a few sips of water at the creek, the elegant White-tailed doe of the dunes crossed the marsh and made her way back home.

Beautiful sunrise yesterday morning, too.

Doe Tracks – I have been making a photographic record of all the different types of animal prints that we see at Good Harbor Beach in the morning. Usually, the deer tracks are in the softer sand and not as clearly defined.

WHEN A DEER COMES PRANCING ALONG THE BEACH!

Well hello there beautiful doe of the dunes.

This graceful, slender beauty leisurely strolled, and then pranced, up to me while I was filming PiPls. I stood very still as she came closer and closer, trying not to move a muscle. With great curiosity, she spent a few minutes looking at me. The doe came so close, I could have reached out my hand and touched her.

After the once over from her, and a magical moment for me, she then proceeded to walk a few feet away and take a very long pee in a tide pool. I was filming, not photographing at this point, and so it was captured on film. I don’t know why I think this was funny, I guess because while I was thinking, this is so beautiful, perhaps she was wondering if I was a tree and a suitable place to go pee.

Dancing along with the waves at the shoreline, she was heading back to the the dunes when a photographer boxed her into a corner, forcing her to cross the creek and go up the rocky incline to Sherman’s Point, and then cross the road. I prayed she would not get hit by a car (FYI, the photographer had a huge telephoto lens!)

Half an hour later I was further down the beach and happily surprised as the doe came in from the road. She had circled all the way around, her tongue was hanging out and she was out of breath. After a few sips of water at the creek, the elegant White-tailed doe of the dunes crossed the marsh and made her way back home.

Beautiful sunrise yesterday morning, too.

Doe Tracks – I have been making a photographic record of all the different types of animal prints that we see at Good Harbor Beach in the morning. Usually, the deer tracks are in the softer sand and not as clearly defined.

WHAT IS THAT BUTTERFLY ON THE BEACH THAT LOOKS LIKE A SMALL MONARCH?

There are several butterflies that people often mistake for Monarchs. Among them are two members of the Vanessa genus and they are Painted Ladies and Red Admirals.

Monarchs are on the wing at the dunes at Good Harbor Beach, attracted to the Common Milkweed growing abundantly throughout. For the past several months, we have had an influx of Red Admirals. They aren’t seen in the dunes as much as are the Monarchs; you’ll find them right on the sand at the beach. They are drinking moisture found in the sand, especially at the wrack line, seeking minerals and salt. Red Admirals are commonly referred to as the ‘Friendly Red Admiral’ because they alight on people’s skin, drinking salty human perspiration.

When wings are folded Red Admirals are beautifully disguised against beach and bark textures; when their wings are open they flash bright red-orange bands across their upper and lower wings, which sometimes leads people to believe they are a ‘small’ Monarch.

Red Admiral

Monarch

THANK YOU PIPL VOLUNTEERS!

We PiPl volunteer monitors had a sweet get together last night to celebrate our three fledged Piping Plovers. Not everyone could attend and I didn’t take the photo until several had already departed. Despite the fact that the City prematurely dismantled the Piping Plover refuge, it didn’t dampen our spirits. It was super to talk to fellow volunteers and learn more about them while sharing a beautiful cake that Heather Hall had made, with some fantastic Sangria, made by Laurie Sawin.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to all our fantastic volunteers for your hours of dedication. It was a great year for PiPls at Good Harbor Beach. We hope our Mama and Papa return next year, and if they do, we will be even more prepared!

WHY IT IS A TERRIBLE AND POINTLESS IDEA TO DESTROY THE PIPING PLOVER HABITAT AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH

There are several reasons as to why it is vitally important to leave the Piping Plover refuge in place at GHB. PiPl chicks and fledglings are like human babies in that they eat and eat all day and evening, rest, and then resume eating. Their appetites are voracious. Not only are they growing but they are building their fat reserves for the journey south.

Our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers forage at the shoreline and also within the enclosure. Because this area is not raked or disturbed by human foot traffic, plants have a chance to grow. The plants attract insects, which in turn becomes food for the shorebirds.

On hot summer days, when the beach is jam packed, especially at high tide, the young birds and adults do not have access to the shoreline.They forage exclusively on the insects in the enclosed roped off area.

Each morning we find the family together within the enclosure, either foraging or sleeping, or at the shoreline in front of their refuge.

What will happen to the family now that the roping was removed prematurely? We don’t know. It’s been suggested that they will simply leave and try to find refuge at other beaches. Will they be able to maintain their family bond or will they become separated? If, for example, the fledglings find their way to Winthrop Beach where there are other PiPls nesting, the adults at that beach will surely attack them and chase the fledglings out of their territory. The nesting PiPl at Winthrop would be disrupted and the GHB fledglings won’t be eating and fattening up, but expending energy flying and fighting.

I am documenting PiPls at several other north shore beaches. Nowhere else are the PiPl refuges being dismantled. As a matter of fact, just this past week, the Department of Conservation and Recreation actually increased an area to create additional habitat for a new young family.

We monitors have spoken with and made friends with many of the local homeowners along Nautilus and Salt Island Roads. Every resident we have met is 100 percent for the PiPs and many have become valued monitors. Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer is for leaving the roping up as long as the Piping Plovers are at GHB.

We are having a difficult time trying to understand who or what is driving the rush to destroy the PiPls habitat.

Even on the slenderest blade of grass, insects are found.

Insects provide food for PiPls at all stages of their lives. Note this little guy is stretching for all he’s worth and his left foot is on tiptoes trying to reach a bug on the leaf.

Food is plentiful within the enclosure because of the vegetation that grows when this area of the beach is not raked. 
Morning wing stretches in the safety of the enclosure.
Resting behind the mounds of sand that form inside the enclosure.