MORE SNAPSHOTS OF THE BEAUTIFUL SHORT-EARED OWL, SNOWY OWL, TENDERCROP FARM, AND IPSWICH CLAMBAKE

Charlotte and I had a wonderful adventure morning checking on the owls at Plum Island. We observed several Harrier Hawks flying low over the marsh grass hunting for prey, a Short-eared Owl perched on a craggy tree, and a Snowy parked for the morning far out in the dunes. We played on the beach and she had a blast zooming up and down the boardwalk at lot no.2.

Tiny white wedge in the distance

We next stopped at the refuge headquarters to play in the marsh boat that is part of the exhibit about the Great Salt Marsh. She brought along her own stuffed Snowy to join on the boat ride.

Next destination was a visit to see the farm friends at Tendercrop Farm. Currently in residence are a turkey, ginormous steer, pony, chickens, ducks, llama, and the sweetest miniature goat who is just wonderful with toddlers.

I purchased the best steaks we have ever had, Tendercrop’s own grass fed rib-eye, made even more magnificent cooked to perfection by Alex, with a beautiful red wine demi-glace.

Everything at Tendercrop Farm is always amazingly delicious. They have the freshest and best selection of fruits and vegetables during the winter months, bar none.

Great bunches of freshly cut pussy willows are for sale at Tendercrop

Last stop was lunch at the Ipswich Clambake. The owners and staff are just the most friendly. The clam chowder at the Clambake is perfection. Charlotte and I shared a mini super fresh fried clam appetizer and that, along with the chowder, made the best sort of lunch to top off our fun adventure morning.

Tendercrop Farm is located at 108 High Road, 1A, in Newbury.

Ipswich Clambake is located at 196 High Street, 1A, in Ipswich.

 

BEAUTIFUL SHORT-EARED OWLS IN OUR MIDST!

Melded to the grass as he was, in monochromatic winter pasture shades of taupe, buff, and gray, it was nearly impossible to spot the impostor posing in the dry stalks and twigs. But there he was, a small mound resting along the thicket edge. You can just barely see him in the photo below.

He sat up for a brief moment and even from a great distance his wide-eyed, and only seconds long, golden-eyed look was unmissable.

I’ve read the Short-eared Owl flight described as erratic, but I would call it anything but that. They swoop gracefully over fields in multi-directions, with great intention, listening for the sound of voles, moles, mice and other small mammals scurrying through the tall winter grass and phragmites. Flying low while hunting, their wingbeats are smooth and steady.

The Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)  is called as such because of the little tufts of display feathers atop its head, which aren’t really ears at all. The Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) is a cousin of the Short-eared and it has longer feather tufts. Owls have a highly developed hearing system and their ears are actually located at the sides of their heads, behind the eyes, and are covered by the feathers of the facial disc.

Unlike many species of owls, which prefer forest and woodland, the Short-eared Owls is a bird of open country. They require fields, grasslands, marshes, bogs, heaths, and dunes. Shorties are crepuscular, which means they mostly feed at dawn and dusk.

Short-eared Owls are found the world over on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Sadly, in Massachusetts, breeding pairs have been driven to the brink of extirpation. There may still be one or two pairs that breed at Nantucket’s Tuckernuck Island but, because of loss of habitat, the Short-eared Owl was listed as endangered in Massachusetts in 1985.

Listen for the Short-eared Owls wing “clapping” in the video below, and some adorable chicks, too 🙂

From Cornell: “Hawaii’s only native owl, the Pueo (Asio flammeus sandwichensis), is a Short-eared Owl subspecies found on all the chain’s major islands. Pueos may have descended from Alaska forebears, taking hold in the islands after the first arriving Polynesians brought owl food in the form of the Pacific rat.”
Short-eared Owl Range Map

OWL FEVER!

This past weekend’s glorious and record breaking mid-January 70-degree-plus weather encouraged everyone to get out doors and it was wonderful to see. On both Saturday and Sunday there was a line to get into Parker River Wildlife Refuge. Many were enjoying the beaches and hiking the trails while quite a few were there to see the Snowy Owls and Short-eared Owls.

There are currently two Snowy Owls and several Short-eared Owls at Parker River. Folks are asking where the owls can be found specifically. I can only share where I have seen them and that covers almost the entire refuge, from parking lot no.1 (where the gates are) all the way down to parking lot no. 6. The photographers and birders out shooting at the refuge are super helpful and if you see a bunch, park  your car (intelligently please, so that you are not blocking traffic) and ask. Many of the birders will also share a look through their scopes.

SNOWY OWL ALERT! AND BALD EAGLES, TOO!

It was a beautiful morning at Parker River despite mostly overcast skies and a strong wind. This first day of our “January thaw” was made even more beautiful by the presence of the Snowy Owl.

I believe she’s a female, although the lightest females can look like the darkest males. She appeared largely unperturbed by the gaggle of photographers that came and went. The Snowy flew across the dune for a few moments, but then flew back to roughly the same spot; in both locations she was somewhat protected from the blustery wind.

I have it on good authority that there are currently SIX Bald Eagles at Parker River, two hatch-years, two that are roughly three years old, and two adults. I have only seen one youngster this week, in a battle with a crow, and I couldn’t tell who was chasing who 🙂

RED-TAILED HAWK: THE URBAN-SUBURBAN-EXURBAN RAPTOR KING

Chances are that if you see a hawk, it is most likely a Red-tailed. Unlike so very many bird species, the Red-tailed Hawk population has increased over the past one hundred years. The global population hovers around 2 million and its success is due largely to its ability to adapt to a wide range of habitats, including urban, suburban, and exurban developments. As long as their is some open space, trees or tree-like structures for perching, and small mammals, you will find Red-tailed Hawks.

The Red-tailed Hawk in the photos was photographed at Parker River on the luxuriously warm Saturday afternoon last weekend. There were loads of people out walking and enjoying the sunny skies. It was difficult to tell if the Hawk was simply extremely tolerant of people or if he were struggling with an injury or illness. He stayed for a very long time in a small area, over an hour, but flew periodically to hunt in the thicket below (unsuccessfully), and then flew easily back up to the phone lines and trees. At one point, he almost flew into a car driving into the refuge, missing the windshield by inches. I hope that after the gates closed at sundown the Red-tailed was able to right himself and find a tasty dinner.

FIRST SNOWY OWL SIGHTING OF THE 2019-2020 WINTER

Far, far down the ridge a little white wedge-shaped dot sat. We were all wishing he would fly our way, but alas, he was content to stay in place while washing his face and preening his flying feathers, with the crowd standing comfortably behind the rope set up by the refuge.

There are two Snowy Owls currently at Parker River and one has been spotted at Salisbury Beach. Hopefully, more will call the North Shore home this winter. The photo below was taken with a 400mm lens and very closely cropped.

ENCHANTING ENCOUNTER WITH THE BEAUTIFUL AMERICAN BITTERN

Taking advantage of whatever sunshine can be had at this time of year, I took Charlotte to Plum Island for the day this past Thursday. We began at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and were immediately enchanted with an American Bittern stealth hunting in the marsh, a regal buck, Pintail Ducks, and hawks. Next we made sand castles at Sandy Point and then spent a great deal of time exploring a seemingly abandoned bulldozer in the parking lot there.

View this post on Instagram

Our little sponge ❤️

A post shared by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

Lunch was a shared lobster roll from Bob’s Lobster Shack, which is located on the causeway heading out to Plum Island. We then stopped at the refuge headquarters to see the Snowy Owl, Piping Plover, and Monarch displays.

Charlotte’s day was made perfect when we learned that homemade cupcakes could be found at the Buttermilk Baking Company.

Last stop was one of my favorite shops for wonderfully unique and vintage home decor, The Barn at Todd Farm. The shop is decorated beautifully for the holidays and is bursting with Christmas gifts and treasures.

The American Bittern hunting in the marsh at Parker River was not at first easy to locate. Not only do the brown and buff colors of their feathers meld perfectly with the surrounding vegetation, but this heron has adapted an additional, highly effective method of camouflage. The Bittern stands motionless with its neck tilted upward, mirroring the tall reeds where the bird forages for fish, crustaceans, amphibians, insects, reptiles, and even small mammals. 

The Bittern was beautiful to watch, perfectly poised in striking mode and waiting for the exact moment to attack. He wasted not an ounce of energy and did not miss a single strike.

Swallowing fish whole and head first

American Bitterns breed in our region however, they generally migrate further south for the winter to regions where the water does not freeze. Managed wetlands such as those found within Parker River Wildlife Refuge play an important role in the survival of the American Bittern, especially during migration and the winter months.

HANDSOME BUCK OF THE MARSH

Charlotte and I spent the morning at Parker River Wildlife Refuge this past Thursday. We saw some beautiful wildlife and I am especially excited to share about one special bird, which I will post tomorrow when I have time to write.

This handsome White-tailed Deer buck briefly appeared at the marsh edge before bounding back under cover of brush.

HELLCAT REOPENS!

Lovers of Parker River Hellcat trail will be happy to know the marsh loop has reopened! See the video below for more information.

Barred Owl at Hellcat. One of the best places to find owls is on the marsh loop.

THE HOUSE BUILT OF SPITE

Pink house, pink cloud squiggles, pink marsh sea – 

The lonely pink house of Plum Island’s Great Marsh is today only visited by hawks and Snowy Owls perching to scan the surrounding vista for their next meal.

Local lore has it that the house was built in 1922 by a couple who were in the process of divorcing and sorting their affairs. The wife asked that the husband build a replica of their Newburyport family home. She did not say where the house was to be sited. Out of spite, he built the house atop the isolated salt marsh, with only saltwater plumbing.

The Pink House has not been occupied since the early 2000s and looks worse with each passing year. Last winter I was at the refuge for a program held at the PRNWR headquarters. After the event I tried to drive towards Plum Island but with sea water gushing in from the marsh, the road in front of the house was flooded and much too dangerous to travel.

The house is FREE, if only you will either take it off the marsh or give Parker River National Wildlife Refuge a few acres of comparable land. The second option allows for the house to stay in its current location. Read more here: Free Pink House of Newbury: Take Me I’m Yours

TWO OWL SPECIES IN ONE DAY!

Saturday my daughter Liv and I took a break from all things Christmas and visited Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and Sandy Point Reservation. Hiking around the refuge is one of our favorite things to do and I was thrilled that she got to see not one, but two owls, a Barred Owl, and a Snowy Owl. The Barred was very nearly completely obscured in a dense thicket, nonetheless exciting to see, and the Snowy was spectacular, causing quite a hullabaloo with the onlookers as he perched in a tree by the road leading into the refuge.

To see an owl in the wild is a gift, and I am counting my blessings, for my beautiful, kind-hearted daughter, and wonderful wild creature encounters.

PIPING PLOVERS AND SANDY POINT BEACH NEEDS HELP! -By Kim Smith

The storm devastation at Sandy Point Beach on Plum Island is alarming. The thing is, exactly where the debris pile-up is the densest, is precisely where the Piping Plovers nest. These photos were taken several weeks ago, and the mass of garbage has only grown greater with two subsequent storms. 

From PRNWR, “Although the refuge isn’t hosting a spring beach cleanup this year, Sandy Point State Reservation is! Join DCR on April 7th to clean up the southern tip of the island. Parking is limited, so carpooling from the refuge Visitor Center is encouraged.”

CATS AND DOGS AND BIRDS ON THE BEACH: A DEADLY COMBINATION

Thank you to Good Morning Gloucester reader Dave Moore, who is stationed in Korea and sent this brochure published by the USFWS. Dogs are not allowed at USFWS sanctuaries such as Parker River National Wildlife Refuge all year round, leashed or unleashed and this brochure explains just one of the reasons why. Thanks to Dave for sharing the following PDF.

Cats and Dogs and Birds on the Beach: A Deadly Combination

A tale of cat or dog versus bird may make an enjoyable cartoon, but the real-life version is deadly serious. When birds encounter cats and dogs, the birds rarely win. Many people believe that cats and dogs should be allowed to roam free. People introduced domesticated cats and dogs to this country, and however much we may appreciate them as part of our lives, those animals are not native wildlife or part of a naturally functioning ecosystem. Along the Atlantic coast, cats and dogs pose a serious threat to the continued survival of beach-nesting birds such as piping plovers, least terns and American oystercatchers.

Two months of living on the edge Piping plovers are vulnerable to wild and domestic animals as well as human interference while they guard their nests on sandy beaches for a month before eggs hatch. Plovers blend with their surroundings, so it can be difficult for you to see them. Adult plovers will stagger and feign a broken wing to distract predators from their nests and chicks. Unfortunately, the plover ploy backfires when they face predators more nimble than predators in their native environment. The plover may be caught and killed or injured.

After plover eggs hatch, the tiny chicks spend most of the next month foraging for the food needed to gain weight and develop flight feathers. The flightless chicks face myriad challenges and are simply no match for an agile cat or dog that instinctively sees the chick as something to hunt or chase. With the plovers’ low population numbers, each tiny chick embodies a precious hope for future recovery of the species.

An unfair fight Cats are natural hunters, and even wellfed cats chase and kill birds. Beach-dwelling birds are not adapted to co-exist with cats. Each year in this country, hundreds of millions of birds meet death in the claws of cats. Cats kill roughly 39 million birds annually in Wisconsin alone, according to a 1996 study. Many dogs are naturally inclined to hunt birds after generations of breeding for that purpose. Unleashed dogs chase birds, destroy nests and kill chicks. Plovers are so difficult to see on beaches that it is extremely easy to miss seeing a bird that your dog is chasing. Even when they are on leashes, dogs can frighten and kill birds. In a 1993 study, researchers found that the mere presence of pets disturbs piping plovers far more than human presence. While we cannot tell birds where we want them to nest, we can control cats and dogs.

Protecting our environment We not only have an obligation to protect birds as an important part of our environment, it is the law. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed Atlantic coast piping plovers on the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in 1986 with a “threatened” designation, meaning that without care the species could face extinction. The plover future is so tenuous that for more than 20 years, people from local, state and federal agencies along with dozens of private organizations have provided intensive protection for the birds. They have spent countless hours managing predators and posting nesting areas to protect birds from pedestrians and off-road vehicles. By 2005, the piping plover population had grown to more than 1,400 pairs. However, protection is neccesary for the species’ survival because threats, including those from cats and dogs, remain.

Monitoring nests and protecting habitat are only part of the piping plover protection story. Plovers need everyone’s help, and vigilant pet owners play an essential role. We need to take advantage of every means to prevent plover deaths if we are to ensure the survival of this bird.

PIPING PLOVERS HAVE RETURNED TO CAPE ANN BEACHES!

Male Piping Plover

The sweetest and tiniest of shorebirds has been spotted at several of our local beaches, including Wingaersheek and Good Harbor Beach. They have also been seen at Plum Island, as well as other Massachusetts barrier beaches, for several weeks. The Plovers have traveled many thousands of miles to reach our shores and are both weary from traveling and eager to establish nesting sites.

What can you do to help the Piping Plovers? Here are four simple things we can all do to protect the Plovers.

  1. Don’t leave behind or bury trash or food on the beach. All garbage attracts predators such as crows, seagulls, foxes, and coyotes, and all four of these creatures EAT plover eggs and chicks.
  2. Do not linger near the Piping Plovers or their nests. Activity around the Plovers also attracts gulls and crows.
  3. Respect the fenced off areas that are created to protect the Plovers.
  4. If pets are permitted, keep dogs leashed.

 

The last is the most difficult for folks to understand. Dogs threaten Piping Plovers in many ways and at every stage of their life cycle during breeding season, even the most adorable and well-behaved of pooches.

Dogs love to chase Piping Plovers (and other shorebirds) at the water’s edge. After traveling all those thousand of miles, the birds need sustenance. They are at the shoreline to feed to regain their strength.

Dogs love to chase piping Plovers at the wrack line. Here the birds are establishing where to nest. Plovers are skittish at this stage of breeding and will depart the area when disturbed.

Dogs love to chase Piping Plover chicks, which not only terrifies the adult Plovers and distracts them from minding the babies, but the chicks are easily squished by a dog on the run.

Please keep dogs leashed when at the beach. Thank you!

Female Piping Plover

*   *   *

Dave Rimmer, Greenbelt’s director of land stewardship, is giving a lecture about the Piping Plovers at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Thursday, April 27th, from 2:00 to 4pm. Preregister by email at: Andrew@ecga.org.

 

GLOUCESTER FROM PLUM ISLAND

I think these are Gloucester’s wind turbines, looking across Ipswich Bay. The photo was taken at Sandy Point. Please write if you believe otherwise. Thank you!

Super windy and chilly Saturday afternoon but nonetheless beautiful. I renewed our annual Parker River National Wildlife Refuge pass, which is good for one year, and think it is the best twenty dollars spent. Kudos for being the cutest pass, too!

View this post on Instagram

Windswept! #scenesofnewengland #plumisland

A post shared by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

Plum Island Canada Geese

NEW SHORT FILM: THE UNCOMMON COMMON TERN

What fun to encounter a small flock of terns teaching its young to fish. Nearly as large as the adults, the tubby terns cheekily squawk and demand food (shrimp I think in this case). Watch as the fledglings try to master fishing skills while the adults tirelessly guide the young on how to feed themselves.

With thanks to Paul St. Germain, president of the Thacher Island Association, for information about the ongoing restoration of shorebirds on Thacher Island.

common-tern-fledgling-feeding-copyright-kim-smith

Continue reading “NEW SHORT FILM: THE UNCOMMON COMMON TERN”

HELP FROM READER REGARDING BARRED OWL IN OAK TREE

Recently a reader wrote the following about her Barred Owl:

-There is one in my yard-Have heard him at dusk and my husband has seen him twice in the stand of oak trees near my front door around 6:30AM-Same place I have heard him-You are welcome to come try and get a picture-Patti

Please contact me Patti. Unfortunately your email address is coming up anonymous in the comment section. I can be reached at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. I would really love to come and record audio of your Barred Owl. So very much appreciate your kind offer. Thank you!barred-owl-sleeping-copyright-kim-smith-copy