CAPE ANN EARLY SPRING WILDLIFE UPDATE

Hello Friends,

I hope you are all doing well, or as well as can be expected during this heartbreaking pandemic event. The following kind words were spoken by Pope Francis today and I think they could not be truer.

“We are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed,” he said.

“All of us called to row together, each of us in need of each other.”

In the world of wildlife spring migration is well underway and gratefully, nothing has changed for creatures small and large. That may change though in the coming days as resources for threatened and endangered species may become scarce.

A friend posted on Facebook that “we are all going to become birders, whether we like it or not.” I love seeing so many people out walking in the fresh air and think it is really the best medicine for our souls.

Several times I was at Good Harbor Beach over the weekend and people were being awesome practicing physical distancing. Both Salt Island Road and Nautilus Road were filled with cars, but none dangerously so, no more than we would see at a grocery store parking lot. I’m just getting over pneumonia and think I will get my old bike out, which sad to say hasn’t been ridden in several years. Cycling is a great thing to do with a friend while still practicing distancing and I am excited to get back on my bike.

An early spring wildlife scene update

The Niles Pond juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron made it through the winter!! He was seen this past week in his usual reedy location. Isn’t it amazing that he/she survived so much further north than what is typical winter range for BCHN.

Many of the winter resident ducks are departing. There are fewer and fewer Buffleheads, Scaups, and Ring-necked Ducks seen at our local waterways and ponds.

Male and Female Scaups

No sign lately of the American Pipits. For several days there were three! Snow Buntings at the berm at Brace Cove.

I haven’t seen the Northern Pintail in a over a week. Sometimes the Mallards play nice and on other days, not so much.

Male Northern Pintail and Mallards

As some of the beautiful creatures that have been residing on our shores depart new arrivals are seen daily. Our morning walks are made sweeter with the songs of passerines courting and mating.

Black-capped Chickadee collecting nesting fibers and foraging

Song Sparrows, Mockingbirds, Robins, Cardinals, Chicadees, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice, and Carolina Wrens are just a few of the love songs filling backyard, fields, dunes, and woodland.

Newly arrived Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets have been spotted at local ponds and marshes.

Cape Ann’s Kildeers appeared about a week or so ago, and wonderful of wonderful news, a Piping Plover pair has been courting at Good Harbor Beach since they arrived on March 22, a full three days earlier than last year.

Kildeers

Why do I think it is our PiPls returned? Because Piping Plovers show great fidelity to nesting sites and this pair is no exception. They are building nest scrapes in almost exactly the same location as was last year’s nest.

Piping Plover Nest Scrape Good Harbor Beach 2020

I’m not sure if the Red Fox photographed here is molting or is the early stages of mange. It does seem a bit early to be molting, but he was catching prey.

We should be seeing Fox kits and Coyote pups any day now, along with baby Beavers, Otters, and Muskrats 🙂

It’s been an off year for Snowy Owls in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic with relatively many fewer owls than that wonderful irruptive winter of 2017-2018 when Hedwig was living on the back shore. 2019 was a poor summer for nesting however, reports of high numbers of Lemmings at their eastern breeding grounds are coming in, which could mean a good nesting season for Snowies in 2020, which could lead to many more Snowies migrating south in the winter of 2020-2021.

Take care Friends and be well ❤

Mini-nature lover ❤

MUSKRATS MATING!!

Walking along the edge of the pond I heard a new-to-my-ears sound, an odd sort of mewing, repeated over and over again. What could that be? I snuck along as quiet as could be following the sound. To my amazement, it was a pair of Muskrats cavorting in the reeds, and they were courting and mating!!! You can just barely make out two together in the photo with the dense reeds, too dense to get a good photo, but not too dense to see what they were up to.

 

A female Muskrat is ready to breed at only one year of age. The breeding season lasts from March through August. A pair will mate while partially submerged, or on water-logged debris above the surface (where our little pair was mating). She may have 2-3 litters per year, with an average of 6 to 8 kits per litter.

Lest folks worry the pond will become overrun with Muskrats, they are a relatively short-lived mammal and have many, many predators including Snapping Turtles, large fish, Eastern Coyotes, Red and Gray Foxes, Weasels, River Otters, Bobcats, Great Horned Owls, and Northern Harriers. But their chief enemy are Minks and Raccoons.

For our reader’s general information, Muskrats are easy to distinguish from Beavers. They are about a tenth the size; Muskrats weigh 1 to 4 pounds whereas Beavers weighs 30 pounds or more. The muskrat’s tail is not large large and flat, but slender and elongated.

Muskrat

Big fat Beaver Tail

Slender Muskrat tail – above Muskrat image courtesy wiki commons media

SWAN ALERT!

A young Mute Swan arrived at Niles Pond this morning. He /she seems a bit travel weary and spent most of the day sleeping. As a matter of fact, I didn’t see him eat once. This is very unusual behavior for Mute Swans who spend their days alternating between foraging, preening, resting briefly, and then resuming eating.

He at first was closer to shore, but a Coyote was skittering around the edge of the pond this morning and perhaps that is why the young visitor moved to the center of the pond.

You can see that he is very young because he has so much brown in his feathers.

SIMPLY AMAZED- HERON ICE FISHING

Could it be that our winter resident juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron is surviving by ice fishing??

I was concerned and did not not think the young heron could possibly find enough food after Niles Pond froze solidly over. The pond was thick with a heavy layer of ice, so thick people had been skating.

Several days ago when out for a walk, I heard a krickly sound coming from the reeds along the pond’s edge. A beautiful Red Squirrel ran across my path. A few moments later, the same krickly krickly sound, only this time when I peered in, there was the juvenile BCNH, sleepy-eyed and shifting on the cold ice.

Off he flew into the trees to warm in the sun.

Sleeping in the morning sun

I walked out onto the ice adjacent to where he had been standing and there, very clearly, was a trail of his perfectly delineated tracks. Not only that, but there was a hole in the ice, surrounded by several sets of his tracks. Having observed BCNH during the summer months standing stock still in one place for hours on end, I can just imagine that he must have stood over that hole for hours waiting for his dinner to swim by. Simply amazed!

If you are having difficulty viewing the photos large, double click and you should be able to see full size.

My camera lens was too long to get a close up of the tracks. I was only able to take these cell phone pics, but you can still see very clearly the heron’s tracks in the snowy ice, and the ice hole.

Cape Ann is located at the tippy northern end of their year round Atlantic coastal range.

BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON IN JANUARY??

It’s been a remarkable month for beautiful winter wild creatures in our midst. The photos of a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron were taken in mid-January,

He mostly stays well-hidden in the dense thickets at water’s edge. I’ve read that Night Herons occasionally spend the entire winter in northern regions. Cape Ann is at the tippy edge of their year round coastal range. Let’s hope this youngster will survive the next several months.

Black-crowned Night Herons, adults, Gloucester, in early spring and summer

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron, January 2020

BEAUTIFUL CAPE ANN WINTER WILDLIFE UPDATE

Our shores abound with wonderful wild creatures we more often see in wintertime, and species we can view better because the trees are bare. The duo of male American Wigeons are still here, as are the pair of Pipits. I watched yesterday afternoon as the Pipits flew away from the beach in unison, and then returned together about twenty minutes later to continue to forage in the seaweed and sand.

American Wigeons

American Pipits

It’s easier to catch a glimpse of a Downy Woodpecker pecking and a wasp nest in the tangle of thickets when viewed through naked limbs and branches.

The Harbor Seals are seen almost daily. One day last week 24 were present!

A sleepy-eyed female Common Eider was peacefully resting on the beach. I know she was okay because on our way back she slipped back into the surf.

Song Sparrow
Red-breasted Merganser

And that’s our Charlotte, my favorite wild one, and ever at the ready to go exploring. After we get dressed in the morning she chortles, “Now I’m ready for action Mimi.”

THE WINDING ROAD – WITH BEAUTIFUL SOLAR HALO PHENOMENON

This morning’s sunrise walk was made more beautiful by the phenomenon known as a Solar Halo or Sun Halo.

“Halos around the sun or moon are caused by high, thin cirrus clouds drifting high above your head. Tiny ice crystals in Earth’s atmosphere create the halos. They do it by refracting and reflecting the light. Lunar halos are signs that storms are nearby.”

What makes a halo around the sun or moon?

A large ring or circle of light around the sun or moon is called a 22-degree halo by scientists.
We get many messages throughout each year from people who’ve just spotted a large ring or circle of light around the sun or moon. Scientists call them 22-degree halos. Why? Because the ring has a radius of approximately 22 degrees around the sun or moon.

People always ask, what causes these gigantic rings?

There’s an old weather saying: ring around the moon means rain soon. There’s truth to this saying, because high cirrus clouds often come before a storm. Notice in these photos that the sky looks fairly clear. After all, you can see the sun or moon. And yet halos are a sign of high, thin cirrus clouds drifting 20,000 feet or more above our heads.

These clouds contain millions of tiny ice crystals. The halos you see are caused by both refraction, or splitting of light, and also by reflection, or glints of light from these ice crystals. The crystals have to be oriented and positioned just so with respect to your eye, in order for the halo to appear.

That’s why, like rainbows, halos around the sun – or moon – are personal. Everyone sees their own particular halo, made by their own particular ice crystals, which are different from the ice crystals making the halo of the person standing next to you.

That’s a good question that is not easy to answer accurately because no halo frequency statistics are collected except in one or two mid latitude European countries.

We need to distinguish between (a) halos formed by low level diamond dust during very cold weather and (b) halos formed by ice crystals in high cirrus cloud.

Obviously (a) halos only occur in Polar regions or countries with very cold winters (Canada for example is not high latitude).

(b) Halos can occur anywhere on the planet during winter or summer. Their frequency depends on the frequency of cirrus coverage and whether it has had a history such that it contains halo forming crystals. The latter is hard to predict. For example, there are major differences in halo frequencies and types of halos across even 200 miles [300 km] in the UK.

Bottom line: Halos around the sun or moon are caused by high, thin cirrus clouds drifting high above your head. Tiny ice crystals in Earth’s atmosphere create the halos. They do it by refracting and reflecting the light. Lunar halos are signs that storms are nearby.

READ MORE HERE

THE WONDERFULLY WHACKY FEET OF THE AMERICAN COOT!

Positively pre-historic looking, I was amazed when watching an American Coot lift its foot out of the water. What on earth!

Have you ever seen such wildly wonderful feet?

The Coot’s whacky-looking feet only adds to the charm of this adorable waterbird, with its chicken-shaped silhouette, white pointed beak that ends in a sploge of maroon, and garnet, bead-like eyes. Oh, and when the light hits just right, you can see the Coot’s feet are colored in shades of blue, green, and yellow.

The American Coot’s foot is an all-purpose foot so to speak. The lobes serve the bird well for both walking on dry land and for swimming. Most ducks have webbed feet, which are great for propelling through water, but which don’t work very well on land. The Coot’s lobes fall back when lifting its foot, which aids in walking on a variety of surfaces including grass, ice, and mud.

The Coot’s oversized feet also help in becoming airborne; the bird must run across the surface of the water and flap its wings vigorously in order to take off. Its palmate toe helps it swim, and lastly, the Coot uses its strong feet for battling other Coots.

Before the current cold snap, there was a small flock of Coots at Niles Pond, foraging on pond vegetation alongside the flock of four Swans. They all departed shortly before the snowstorm.

The American Coot chicks are equally as whacky looking as are the adult birds. Image courtesy wikicommonsmedia.

American Coot range map.

BEAUTIFUL WILDLIFE CURRENTLY AT EASTERN POINT, BRACE COVE, AND NILES POND – GREAT BLUE HERON, HARBOR SEALS, AMERICAN COOTS, BONAPARTE’S GULLS, RUDDY DUCKS, RING-NECKED DUCKS, LARK SPARROW AND WILL THE RECENTLY DEPARTED SWANS RETURN?

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.

American Coot

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.

Lark Sparrow

Great Blue Heron agitating the Ring-necked Ducks

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.

 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU!

Happy Thanksgiving to all our Friends of the Blog!

Each and every day we are thankful for your interest, kind comments, and suggestions. I hope your Thanksgiving  is filled with family, friends, and joy. 

Today’s Brace Cove sunrise – My heart is filled with gratitude for this beautiful, beautiful island we call home and for the amazing and fascinating wild creatures that call our shores home.

I think I speak for many in the community in that we are so especially grateful for the return of Swans!

NOT ONE, BUT TWO, SUPER RARE BIRDS SPOTTED AT EASTERN POINT TODAY – A LARK SPARROW AND A WESTERN KINGBIRD

A very rare-for-these parts Lark Sparrow was spotted by numerous birders today and yesterday at Niles Pond. The beautiful little songster kept either close to the ground foraging on tiny seeds or well camouflaged in the crisscrossing branches of trees and shrubs.

Lark Sparrow Niles Pond Gloucester Massachusetts

Song Sparrows Gloucester and Ipswich

We mostly see Song Sparrows around Niles at this time of year. Compare in the above photos how plain the breast of the Lark Sparrow is to that of the heavily streaked Song Sparrow’s underparts. I write rare-for-these-parts because the Lark Sparrow is entirely out of its range as you can see in the first attached map below.

A second rare bird has been spotted on Eastern Point, a Western Kingbird. It was a rough day for photographing, too overcast, so here is a photo from wikicommons media so that if you are around the Point, you will know what to look for. The Western Kingbird is also far outside its range.

THE SMALL FLOCK OF FOUR BEAUTIFUL SWANS IS SETTLING IN

The flock of Mute Swans that arrived just about two weeks ago at Niles Pond is settling in. They are finding plenty to eat and spend their days foraging at pond vegetation, preening, napping, and occasionally stretching their wings for a flight around the pond.

Mute Swans migrate from body of water to body of water within a region. Will they stay in our area or is Niles Pond only a temporary home? When Niles Pond, and all other freshwater ponds and waterways freeze this winter, they will have to move to saltwater coves and harbors. 

The absence of Mr. Swan has allowed this small flock to live peaceably at Niles Pond. Mr. Swan and his previous mates spent the winters at Rockport and Gloucester Harbors. Perhaps our Niles Pond flock will do the same. We can tell by the lack of gray in their feathers that they are at least two years old, which means they have managed to survive at least one winter in our region. That is no small feat!

Romance is in the air with these two!

NILES POND SONGSTER

The melodious notes of the Song Sparrow are heard from sunup ’til sundown, spring, summer, and fall. Their beautiful song is most welcome, especially at this time of year when there are fewer songbirds on our shores and many that remain through the winter months don’t sing during the non-breeding season.

Song Sparrows have adapted to a wide variety of habitats. Despite the narrowness of the strip of land that separates freshwater Niles Pond from salty Brace Cove, Song Sparrows find plenty to forage on and excellent cover in the shrubby undergrowth found there.

Follow this link to hear the Song Sparrow’s song