This juvenile Red-tailed hawk was perched in a tree on the roadside running along the Great Salt Marsh. She was hunting a squirrel that was half hidden in the leaf litter below. This is the second time in the past several weeks that we’ve seen a Red-tailed Hawk hunting and eating a squirrel. The first was in our neighbor’s yard, perched on the stone wall, eating a Gray Squirrel. The Red-tailed flew overhead with the squirrel in its beak and landed on the lattice of our outdoor shower enclosure. My husband stood beneath the shower ceiling and watched for a bit as the hawk finished off his meal.
The Red-tailed Hawk’s diet is highly variable, consisting of small mammals including voles, mice, rats, rabbits, and squirrels; other birds including bobwhite, starlings, blackbirds, ducks, and pheasant; reptiles such as snakes and frogs; fish; insects; bats; and carrion. They are colloquially called “chickenhawks” however, they rarely take a standard-sized chicken.
The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common bird of prey found in North America. We saw several in Mexico on our trip to Cerro Pelon in early March. They are found from the interior of Alaska and northern Canada to as far south as the West Indies and Panama.
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Last evening at the City Council meeting, former Gloucester conservation agent Ken Whittaker reviewed the City’s 3PPlan (Piping Plover Plan) with the Councilors.
We Piping Plover volunteer monitors are grateful for the time and effort Ken has put forth in helping to protect our threatened Piping Plovers. We’re especially appreciative of the time he spent coordinating the volunteer monitors–not an easy task! We wish Ken all the best in his retirement.
Ken and PiPl Volunteer Monitors, Good Harbor Beach
Ken and Jim Destino introduced Adrienne Lennon, Gloucester’s new conservation agent. We had a few minutes after the introduction to speak with Adrienne. Her experience includes working for seven years at Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center, located in Ipswich on the Plum Island causeway, adjacent to the infamous Pink House. While there, Adrienne gained extensive knowledge in Piping Plover conservation. She is especially interested in preserving and protecting our beach dunes. Adrienne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best of success to Adrienne in her new position as Gloucester’s Conservation Agent!
Photos of Ken and Adrienne at City Hall courtesy of City Council Vice President Steve LeBlanc
During Piping Plover nesting season, I have visited the public beach at the northern end of Plum Island, Newbury Beach. I believe the PiPl nesting areas at Newbury Beach are monitored by Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center. Newbury Beach is similar in several ways to Good Harbor Beach in that it is a popular town beach in a residential area with many access points and nearby hotels. Last year the beach and dunes were extremely hard hit by late winter storms, just as was Good Harbor Beach.
About Joppa Flats Education Center: Overlooking the Merrimack River and near the entrance to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, the Joppa Flats Education Center offers unique educational opportunities for people of all ages. Here, you can explore the region’s wildlife-rich habitats (salt marshes, mudflats, rivers, bays, and coastal waters) through guided tours, marine touch tanks, art exhibits, drop-in programs, and interpretive displays.
Scenes from behind the Joppa Flats Education Center and Plum Island causeway.
Councilors Steve LeBlanc and Melissa Cox wearing Piping Plover monitor hats provided by Ken Whittaker.
Coffins Beach and Wingaersheek Beach are going to be more closely monitored this year for Piping Plovers. The above photo is from 2016 when NINE chicks fledged at Coffins Beach!
Three-day-old Piping Plover Chick, Good Harbor Beach
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Recently we shared a story from the Snowy Owl Project that this year Snowy Owls have remained in Massachusetts throughout the summer. We also posted about eight cases of Snowy Owl deaths by rat poison, in Massachusetts, which has been documented during the present Snowy Owl irruption of 2017-2018. Buried in the post was a link to an article from Audubon, “Poisons Used to Kill Rodents Have Safer Alternatives,” which is about alternatives to the new second-generation rodenticide that is killing our native predator population. These are the very birds and animals that we want to support because they eat rats and mice. This is not an abstract problem; Cape Ann Wildlife rehabbers Jodi Swenson and Erin Hutchings are caring for almost daily dying wildlife that has been poisoned to death by second-generation rodenticide, and the problem is mushrooming. Second-generation rodenticides also kill pet dogs and cats!
Jodi and Erin recently shared the above photo of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk they had been treating for rodenticide poisoning, which tragically did not make it. These birds are victims of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides used by exterminators, businesses, farmers, and homeowners.
The brand names are Havoc, Talon, Generation, d-Con, and Hot Shot. Do not buy these products because they contain the deadly indgredients brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difethialone, and difenacoum.
“Both first- and second-generation rodenticides prevent blood from clotting by inhibiting vitamin K, though the second-generation products build to higher concentrations in rodents and are therefore more lethal to anything that eats them.
What makes second-generation rodenticides so non-selective is that they kill slowly, so rodents keep eating them long after they’ve ingested a lethal dose. By the time they expire, or are about to, they contain many times the lethal dose and are therefore deadly to predators, scavengers, and pets.
There’s no safe place or safe delivery system for second-generation rodenticides. After a rodent partakes, it stumbles around for three to four days, displaying itself as an especially tempting meal not just for raptors but for mammalian predators, including red foxes, gray foxes, endangered San Joaquin kit foxes, swift foxes, coyotes, wolves, raccoons, black bears, skunks, badgers, mountain lions, bobcats, fishers, dogs, and house cats—all of which suffer lethal and sublethal secondary poisoning from eating rodents. Deer, non-target rodents, waterfowl, waterbirds, shorebirds, songbirds, and children suffer lethal and sublethal poisoning from eating bait directly.”
Here in a nutshell are alternatives to second generation rat poison. Please read the complete article, which goes in to much greater detail to better understand why this is happening, which companies are responsible for creating the toxic poison, which companies are taking it upon themselves to ban second-generation rodenticides (Walgreens, yes, Home Depot, no), and how you can help.
Prevent a rodent infestation by keeping waste in tightly covered garbage pails and compost bins.
RATS! (Raptors are the Solution) – a national alliance of citizens, nonprofit groups, and local governments that educates consumers and municipalities about safe methods of rodent control and the dangers of second-generation poisons. MASS-RATS is the newly formed state chapter of RATS.
. Hungry Owl Project – delivers safe, effective rodenticide in the form of Barn Owls! This organization also advocate for other predators—coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, badgers, skunks, bobcats, raccoons, opossum.
When natural rodent control is not possible in urban areas: single- and multiple-entrance snap traps, electrocuting traps, glue traps (provided you use them only indoors and frequently dispatch stuck rodents), and even first-generation baits with these active ingredients: chlorophacinone, diphacinone, diphacinone sodium salt, war-farin, and warfarin sodium salt.
The “Better Mouse Trap” – Take a metal rod, run it through holes drilled in the center of both lids of an emptied tin soup can so the can becomes a spinning drum. Fasten both ends of the rod to the top of a plastic bucket via drilled holes. Coat the can with peanut butter, and fill the bucket with water and a shot of liquid soap (to break the surface tension and thus facilitate quicker, more humane drowning). Mice and rats jump onto the can, and it spins them into the water.
I am in the midst of doing research for the Piping Plover film project and have found the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to be a great resource. Recently I met a terrific warden there, Jean, and she gave me a copy of the historic brochure written in 1947 by Rachel Carson about the refuge. The brochure was reprinted and if you inquire, they may still have some copies in the back office. You can also download it at this link: Rachel Carson Parker River Wildlife Refuge brochure
The brochure provides an early history of the refuge and is a fascinating view of mid-century conservation. And, too, it is a tremendous example of Carson’s thoughtful and thought-provoking style of writing.
Barred Owl hunting – The refuge provides over 300 species of migratory and resident birds with vital habitat.
Some interesting facts about the refuge —
Located along the northeastern coast of Massachusetts, the Parker River National Refuge includes lands that lie within the three towns of Rowley, Ipswich, and Newbury. We think of Plum Island as the heart of the refuge. The wildlife refuge also consists of a range of diverse habitats and geographic features; over 3,000 acres of salt marsh, freshwater marsh, shrub lands, a drumlin, cranberry bog, salt pannes, beach and sand dunes, and maritime forest. The land is not conserved to revert back to a wild state, but is intensely managed in order to preserve and maintain the diversity of wildlife habitats.
The original warden’s headquarters
Unlike our national parks, which preserves parklands and historic buildings, and are designed for people, a national wildlife refuge is established first and foremost for wildlife and their habitats, not for people. The preservation of wildlife is the number one priority of all our national wildlife refuges.
Plum Island is a barrier island and especially noteworthy for providing critical habitat for Piping Plovers.
The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1942 to help species of waterfowl that migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. There were three sharp declines in waterfowl populations in the early half of the 20th century, notably the American Black Duck, and national wildlife refuges all along the Atlantic coast were created in response to the precipitously low numbers.
Salt Island Impoundment
As we can see with our local Niles Pond, Henry’s Pond, and Langsford Pond shorebirds, waterfowl, and myriad species of wildlife thrive where they have easy access to both fresh water and salt water. The three bodies of fresh water that you see in the refuge look like ponds but they are actually manmade impoundments, created by dams and are highly controlled by a series of dykes and pumps.
Salt Island Impoundment Pump
Parker River provides pristine habitats for a wide variety of mammals, insects, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. Hunting birds such as owls, hawks, osprey, eagles, herons, and egrets find an abundance of food at the wildlife refuge. Whenever at Parker River I never not see a raptor!
Red-tailed Hawk Preening
When the Hunter is Hunted
Transfixing Owl Eyes
Because owls mostly hunt at night their eyes are very efficient at collecting and processing light. To protect their extraordinary eyes, owls are equipped with three eye lids; an upper and a lower lid, and a third lid that diagonally closes across the eye. This action cleans and protects the eye.
More about Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to come.
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