The past week Eastern Point has seen a wonderful influx of wildlife, in addition to the beautiful creatures already wintering over and migrating through.
On Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a great raft of Ring-necked Ducks joined the flock of Buffleheads and Mallards at Niles Pond. Five chunky American Coots have been there for over a week, and two female Ruddy Ducks have been spotted.
Fifteen Harbor Seals were sunning and basking on the rocks at Brace Cove on Wednesday, along with several Bonaparte’s Gulls that were diving and foraging in the waves. The increasingly less timid Lark Sparrow is still here, too.
The most enigmatic of Great Blue Herons criss crosses the pond a dozen times a day but, unlike last year’s fall migrating GBH, who allowed for a closer glimpse, this heron is super people shy. He has been here for about a week and was present again today.
This morning I watched the four beautiful Mute Swans depart over Brace Rock, in a southerly direction. Will they return? Mute Swans migrate from body of water to body of water within a region. Perhaps they will return, or they could possibly have flown to a nearby location–further exploring our Island.
The four had not returned to Niles Pond by day’s end. If any of our readers sees a group of four Mute Swans, please write and let us know. Thank you so much!
Leaving Niles Pond this morning and flying over Brace Cove.
Juno, mom Mary Ellen, and friend Julie were out on the Niles Pond berm Sunday, admiring the Harbor Seals basking. We counted thirteen seals that afternoon.
I didn’t realize one seal had its mouth wide open until looking at the photos the following day. Seal’s use their strong teeth and powerful jaws to rip apart prey and are yet another reason not to get too close to a seal hauled out on land.
The last morning of 2018 began with a gorgeously hued sunrise, and then, as so often happens on the wild and wonderful shores of Cape Ann, there were several chance and up close encounters with our local creatures. Nearly everyday I am reminded of the astonishing beauty that surrounds, from my East Gloucester neighborhood, to the natural habitats all around Cape Ann and Massachusetts. What a magnificent Planet we share!
Happy New Year and wishing you much love, joy, and beauty in the coming year.
Buffy gold juvenile Harbor Seal in the golden light of sunrise -an amazingly relaxed, young Harbor Seal was close to shore this morning, sleeping, stretching, yawning, and scratching. More photos tomorrow when I have time to sort through all.
And a duo of American Wigeons (both male) were foraging on the sea lettuce floating around the rocky coast. More about them, too. 🙂 Notice their electric green eye patches and baby blue bills.
November’s nearly full Frost Moon was rising over Brace Cove, while the sun was setting over the harbor. Violet sunset clouds swirled around the rising moon when moments later the moon shone brightly through the pine trees.
November’s full moon is also called the Beaver Moon-both the early colonists and Algonquin tribes named it so because November was the designated time of year to set Beaver traps before ponds and swamps froze.
November Frost Moon rising over Niles Pond
Harbor Seals in the setting sun and rising moonlight–a seal-a-rock 🙂
Relishing the last of these golden days, we took advantage of Sunday’s delightfully beautiful weather with a hike around Eastern Point. Several female Yellow-rumped Warblers were spotted feeding on seed heads, a lone turtle was basking on a sun-warmed rock, the Harbor Seals were lolling about, and a tiny Spring Peeper was spied in the fallen leaves.
You can see why these sweet birds are called Yellow-rumped Warblers. Note the little flash of yellow on the rump of the warbler flying in the background.
Harbor Seals warming in the sun.
The answer is yes, both are Atlantic Harbor Seals! By far the most commonly seen seals found along the Cape Ann coastline are Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina), also called Common Seals, and with multiple sightings, they have certainly been making their presence known this past week. The coloring and spotted patterning of the Harbor Seal’s coat is highly variable, as you can see in the above photo, ranging from chocolate brown-black to palest silvery gray.
In recent years, Gray Seals have made an incredible comeback and are seen with much greater regularity in Cape Ann waters. And with their increasing numbers, the Great White Shark is also increasing in number, as Gray Seals are their preferred food. I don’t have a photo of Gray Seals, but found several on wiki commons media for the sake of comparing.
Harbor Seal vs. Gray Seal
- Harbor Seals have a head that looks a bit too small for its body, with a concave shape, whereas the Gary Seal’s head is more proportionate, with a long straight snout–no distinguishable brow.
- Harbor Seals nose nostrils are V-shaped; Gray Seals are shaped like a W.
- Gray Seals are much larger at maturity: A full grown male Gray Seal weighs about 770 pounds, a full grown male Harbor Seal about 350 pounds, less than half the size of the Gray Seal.
- When hauled-out Harbor Seals adopt a funny banana shape- ‘head up, tail up’ posture.
Harbor Seals are relatively small (1.5 meters, or 5 feet long), with a coat that varies somewhat with age, wetness and between individuals. Some pups are born with a light colored, lanugo coat (fetal fur that most mammals shed before birth). The lanugo coat is shed within a few weeks of birth. Most seals, though, are born with an adult coat that darkens with age.
Females in this area usually give birth in late spring and early summer. It is thought that females from Massachusetts migrate to quiet islands in New Hampshire and southern Maine to pup. Historically, harbor seals pupped in Massachusetts, and there are increasing sightings of very small pups here in May and June. Pups are able to swim within minutes after birth and can travel with the female while she hunts. On Stellwagen, small pups are often found treading water while waiting for mom to return from a dive.
Adults of both sexes are similar in appearance, with lighter undersides, brown to gray topsides and differing amounts of irregular spots throughout. Harbor seals’ front flippers have relatively small claws, and the claws of their hind flippers are tiny. At sea, they can be hard to spot. Only their heads are visible as they come up for air, their snouts are small and pointed, and they have a small but definite brow. If you have binoculars, you can spot ear openings just behind the eyes.
Gray Seals, Halichoerus gypus, are the largest seal found in the area, with males growing to 8 feet and weighing over 900 pounds (2.3 m. and 300-350 kg.). Females are somewhat smaller, measuring 7 feet and weighing less than 600 pounds (2 m. and 150-200 kg.). Besides size, the sexes differ in a number of ways: males tend to be darker with few light spots, while females tend to be light with dark, irregular blotches. Young can be easily confused with harbor seals. With a head-on view, gray seals have wide-set nostrils that form a W, while harbor seals have close-set nostrils that form a small V. Sometimes called horseheads, gray seals of both sexes have broad, long snouts that become more pronounced, especially in males.
Gray seals are endemic to the North Atlantic, ranging from the Baltic,western Europe to Canada and Northeastern United States. In recent years, the number of gray seals in New England seems to have grown. It is not yet clear if the Canadian population is simply growing and moving south, or if there are other, environmental factors at work.
Highly gregarious, gray seals are often found in large groups hauled out on quiet sand or rock beaches for rest and breeding. Females in this area, such as Monomoy Island in Nantucket Sound, give birth to one, white-coated pup from late December to mid February. The pup is nursed intensively for about 15 to 20 days on an increasingly fatty milk. Females come into estrus about 2 weeks after weaning their pups. Males are highly competitive over access to groups of females on shore. After fertilization, the embryo stops development and “rests” for 3 to 4 months before development resumes (delayed implantation).
Harbor Seals Brace Cove Gloucester
“Seal Rock” is without a doubt, the Harbor Seals favorite rock. There is usually a “king (or queen) for the morning,” and they determine who is allowed on the rock and who is not. Typically, the queen is the largest and she lets the visitor know, with lots of loud grunting and growling, if they are not welcome.
Harbor Seals are site faithful, meaning they will spend their lives along the same stretch of coastline where they were born, fish, and haul out.
Even though seals look like they are basking in the sun, they are actually hauled out to thermoregulate. Seals do not like to touch each other. Observe closely next time you see a raft on the rocks and you will notice that they go to great lengths not to physically come in contact with one another.
I am reposting the Harbor Seal psa because of a recent incident. What would be your initial reaction if you saw a seal hauled out on the beach? Most likely, to get up close to the seal to see if it was injured. That is human nature but it is actually the worst action you could take. The Harbor Seal in this video struggled to survive the world of curious humans. By approaching too closely, you could very well force the seal back into the water. Harbor Seals, especially juveniles, haul out for a variety of reasons, mostly to rest, less likely because of injury or illness, and oftentimes to escape a shark.
While out for an early evening walk with our pooch tonight I was unexpectedly delighted to catch the full Wolf Moon rising over the back shore. I wonder whose house that is on Niles and if they knew the moon was rising so picture perfect above their home.Brace Cove Harbor Seals lolling about under the moonlight on this unseasonably warm evening
My husband Tom suggested that I write a year-end post about the wildlife that I had photographed around Cape Ann. Super idea I thought, that will be fun and easy. Many hours later (not realizing how daunting) the following is a collection of some favorite images from this past year, beginning with the male Snowy Owl photographed at Captain Joe’s last winter, to December’s Red-tailed Hawk huntress.
Living along the great Atlantic Flyway, we have been graced with a bevy of birds. Perhaps the most exciting arrival of all occurred when early summer brought several pairs of nesting Piping Plovers to Gloucester’s most beloved (and most highly trafficked) of beaches, Good Harbor Beach. Their story is being documented on film.
Work on Mr. Swan’s film will also resume this January—the winters are simply not long enough for all I have planned!
While photographing and filming Red-winged Blackbirds this past spring, there was a face-to-face encounter with a hungry coyote, as well as several River Otter sightings.
The summer’s drought brought Muskrats out from the reeds and into full view at a very dry Henry’s Pond, and a short film about a North American Beaver encounter at Langsford Pond. Numerous stories were heard from folks who have lived on Cape Ann far longer than I about the extraordinary number of egrets, both Snowy and Great, dwelling on our shores.
There were few Monarch sightings, but the ones seen thankfully deposited eggs in our garden. Thank you to my new friend Christine who shared her Cecropia Silkmoth eggs with me and thank you to the countless readers who have extended an invitation to come by and photograph an exciting creature in their yard.
Pristine beaches, bodies of fresh water, and great swathes of protected marsh and woodland make for ideal wildlife habitat, and Cape Ann has it all. With global climate change pushing species further away from the Equator, I imagine we’ll be seeing even more creatures along our shores. Butterfly and bee populations are overall in decline, not only because of climate change and the use of pesticides, but also because of loss of habitat. As Massachusetts has become less agrarian and more greatly forested, fields of wildflowers are becoming increasingly rare. And too fields often make the best house lots. Farmers and property owners developing an awareness of the insects’ life cycle and planting and maintaining fields and gardens accordingly will truly help the butterflies and bees.
The images are not arranged in any particular order. If you would 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.
Basking Harbor Seals dotting the rocks all around Brace Cove during sunrises this past week. The funny thing is watching them battle for top dog spot. When standing on the Niles Pond/Brace Cove causeway you are close enough to hear their quite audible grunting and snorting. Click photos to enlarge to get a closer look.
Providing excellent camouflage, Harbor Seals have evolved with coats that blend perfectly with the surrounding rocks and sandy shores on which they “haul out.” Each individual Harbor Seal’s pattern of spots is unique, with two basic variations, either a light coat with dark spots or a dark coat with light spots. Their bellies are generally lighter colored.
Harbor Seals are easily disturbed by human activity, which is the reason why they are all looking in my direction. I climbed way out on the rocks to get a closer look that they found disturbing enough, when a loud crash in the distance made them all jump simultaneously.
Fellow friends of Niles Pond and I have all noticed that the seal in the above photo is noticeably whiter. He has a big gash on his neck as you can see in the close-up photo, which I didn’t notice until looking through the pictures. I wonder if that is why he has been spending so much time on the rocks. Perhaps he is recovering.
Interesting fact: Although Harbor Seals have been seen as far south as the Carolinas, Massachusetts is the most southern region in which they breed.
Male Red-winged Blackbird Love Song (turn up your volume)
SEE MORE PHOTOS HERE
The giant twelve-foot log tossed by the sea, up and over onto the Niles Pond side of the causeway, is seemingly supported by nothing but frozen snow. And Niles Pond is still thawing, with only a small cluster of mallards huddled together in the center of the ice. I hope the swans return soon!