Monday afternoon at Good Harbor Beach I found the little Razorbill washed ashore, up between the ice sheets at the high tide line. Thanks so much to Mike for sharing his story about the Razorbills he saw at the Dogbar Breakwater last week. I could identify it immediately because of Mike’s sighting. I hope so much the other Razorbill is surviving 🙂
Many, many thanks to reader Mike for sharing his amazing sighting of two Razorbills. He writes the following,
“Hi Kim. I was out on the Dogbar Breakwater yesterday afternoon. I didn’t see any Snowy Owls, but I did spot 2 Razorbills. I’d never seen one before, so it was quite exciting. There was a flurry of activity in the water as 2 loons harassed one of the Razorbills. They wore him down and then a large sea gull attacked and tried to kill the Razorbill pecking at his head. He dove and swam far enough away the gull lost track of him in the small chop.
Interesting to see the White Line across it’s backside and the white under the wings. I witnessed one of the Razorbills swimming underwater from the height of the rocks at the end of the breakwater, the bird appeared to be “flying” underwater and I thought it had tiny wings as I could only see the white portion of the wings in the darkness of the water. It swam similar to a Penguin underwater. Another couple also saw the Razorbill swim underwater and the three of us were surprised at distance the bird covered in such a short time.
On my way to the breakwater, I asked a young couple returning to the parking lot, if they had seen any cool critters. They said they saw an injured bird that was something like a Puffin or Penguin just inside the breakwater, at the edge of the shore. They said the bird made it’s way into the water as they approached. They had a frontal top view of the bird with their smartphone, but it was unclear as to what it was. I’m guessing that’s the same Razorbill I saw being attacked by the sea gull. Nature has a way of weeding out the weak and injured, but he escaped to live another day !!
I also saw around a dozen Common Eiders, 2 Surf Scoters, couple mergansers, 6 Buffleheads and 4 light brown ducks I would guess to be Gadwalls by the elegant patterns of breast feathers swimming along the shore inside the breakwater. Great sightings on a wonderful warm day!!”
I just read on the Audubon website that the Razorbill is probably the closest living relative of the extinct Great Auk. How interesting is that! I’ve never seen a Razorbill but will most certainly be on the lookout. Thanks so much again to Mike.
All images courtesy wikicommonsmedia.
A change of pace from thoughts of blizzards and nor’easters. Today while organizing photos for my upcoming lecture programs, I came across this funny random photo never posted. Read more about Nathan Wilson’s Great Auk sculpture and the extinct bird that inspired the installation at the Paint Factory this past summer here.
Heading out to photograph wild creatures, instead I found fog. Beginning in the afternoon and lasting into sunset, waves and ribbons of fog enveloped the east end of Gloucester until only shapes and silhouettes were visible.
A wedding reception was underway at the Yacht Club, lots of folks were out watching the setting sun, and a photo shoot was taking place on the Dogbar. Returning home, Niles Beach and Ten Pound Island were even more shrouded in fog. Final stop was the Paint Factory to catch the last glimmer of light. Looking towards Ten Pound Island from the Paint Factory, in the last Instagram you can see the sliver of a crescent moon.
The Great Auk was an extraordinary seabird that was driven to extinction in the mid- 19th century. What made it so extraordinary was its ability to dive great depths and swim as fast as the fish it caught. The Auk’s amazing abilities were also its downfall. The same wings and webbed feet that propelled it through water with tremendous speed and agility evolved so that over time, the wings shrank. The bird became flightless and its feet unable to navigate well on land. Ten months out of the year when the Auk lived entirely on the sea this was not a problem but during the breeding season, the Great Auk would return to the rocky shore of its birth to find its life mate and deposit a single egg. Both male and female took turns incubating the egg with their large feet. During the two month period on land, the birds were slaughtered by the tens of thousands. The oily skin of the Great Auk that allowed it to float on the surface of the water and live on the sea was used for oil lamps, the warm downy feathers for quilts and pillows, and its meat eaten by hungry settlers and fishermen.
The Great Auk and very tragic story of its long, painful extinction has captured the imagination of Nathan Thomas Wilson, the first Goetemann Artist Residency Fellowship award recipient. Working on the grounds of the Paint Factory and in partnership with Ocean Alliance, Nathan is creating a twice-life size interpretation of the Great Auk (the Great Auk ranged in height from approximately 27 to 35 inches). Nathan’s Auk is made from plastic pollution and debris scavenged along the shore, created with the goal of highlighting the devastating effect pollution is having on all living creatures.
Great Auk in progress. Head to arrive soon–Nathan is casting the head off site as it will have a lighting component.
Nathan is giving a talk on the 25th of July. Go to his facebook page for details about the talk and for more about Nathan.
Day 28: Little Chick is growing beautifully, developing and honing a range of defensive skills. With each passing day, he can feed longer, run faster, and stay in a position of perfect stillness for greater and greater periods of time. Still though, only very short little five- to six-foot run-hop-airbore flutters have been observed by the PiPl monitors.
Twenty-eight-day old Piping Plover shown with a small sample of the plastic pollution found daily on Good harbor Beach. The plastic debris litters GHB every morning before Gloucester’s hard working DPW and trash-piker-uppers arrive to clean up the mess left by beach goers the day before.
Deborah Cramer update related to the Narrow Edge GMG post:
“Piping plovers are also on Coffin’s Beach, an oyster catcher has come into Essex Bay, and in a few weeks, and right now the red knots are up in the Arctic nesting. They’ll be heading back later this summer, and some will pause to refuel in Essex Bay.”
David Eliot Gould’s 1895 entry on piping plovers reads like the summer of 2016:
“From many of its resorts along the Atlantic Coast, where in former days it was most abundant, it has been driven by the advance of fashion and the influx of the summer’s passing population, until it is now found chiefly on the more retired parts of the coast where it is most free from molestation.”
I’ve added the illustration. The artist, “Ernest” Sheppard, illustrated scientific and natural history, primarily birds, including History of North American Birds in 1874. He was on the staff of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia; in 1969 he was one member of the 3 man ornithological committee of the Academy that pleaded for more funding and care in their department. So, what did they ask for “to ensure the preservation of the best collection of birds on the continent, and, with one exception, the largest in the world” ?
First they recounted recent acquisitions such as a rare egg of the Great Auk. Then they explained that the repository required more funding, space, display, inventory systems, and conservation (a tricky endeavor with these specimens.) Insects were on the warpath! Poison was effective.
The 2016 restoration of the Civil War coat and display options may resonate.
From the ornithological committee’s submission to the annual report, excerpted from Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Volume 21, 1869
Deborah Cramer thanks Good Morning Gloucester for mentioning her book and asks for photographs and stories about horseshoe crabs, otherwise known as the nearly scene stealing co-stars from her inspiring book on red knots (sandpiper shorebirds), The Narrow Edge.
“I’m in the midst of a project right now trying to uncover the almost forgotten history of the whereabouts of horseshoe crabs in Gloucester. I’ve heard some fantastic stories, like one from a man who used to go down to Lobster Cove after school and find horseshoe crabs so plentiful he could fill a dory. Do you think there’s a value to putting up a few pictures on GMG and asking people to send in their recollections of beaches, coves where they used to see them in abundance?”
We do. Please send in photos or stories if you have them about horseshoe crabs in Gloucester or the North Shore for Deborah Cramer’s project. Write in comments below and/or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s one data point. Look closely at this 1869 Winslow Homer painting. Can you spot the horseshoe crabs? Can you identify the rocks and beach?
While reading The Narrow Edge, and looking at Kim Smith’s Piping Plover photographs, I thought about Raid on a Sand Swallow Colony (How Many Eggs?) 1873 by Homer and how some things change while much remains the same.When my sons were little, they were thrilled with the first 1/3 or so of Swiss Family Robinson. As taken as they were with the family’s ingenuity, adventure, and tree house–they recoiled as page after page described a gorgeous new bird, promptly shot. They wouldn’t go for disturbing eggs in a wild habitat. The title ascribed to this Homer, perhaps the eager query from the clambering youngest boy, feels timeless. Was the boys’ precarious gathering sport, study, or food? What was common practice with swallows’ eggs in the 1860s and 70s? Homer’s birds are diminutive and active, but imprecise. Homer sometimes combined place, figures, subject and themes. One thing is clear: the composition, line and shadow are primed and effective for an engraving.
Harper’s Weekly published the image on June 13, 1875. Artists often drew directly on the edge grain of boxwood and a master engraver (Lagrade in this case) removed the wood from pencil and wash lines.
2016. Wingaersheek dunes and nests 140+ years later.