Here’s my Superb Owl Sunday photo, which I forgot to post yesterday. Since it was actually taken on Super Bowl Sunday yesterday morning, I thought better late than never.
Jeff Denoncour, the Trustees of Reservations Eastern Region Ecologist, gave an outstanding and informative presentation to a packed audience Saturday afternoon. Subjects included the formation and history of Crane Beach, marsh, and dunes; the seven uniquely different ecological zones; the many species of flora and fauna that comprise the rich biodiversity at Castle Island; and the Trustees protective measures managing rare and endangered species.
Since 2010, Jeff has managed the Trustees Shorebird Protection Program at Crane Beach. Because of the very excellent shorebird management at Crane Beach, 2018 was a banner year, with 42 pairs of nesting Piping Plovers and approximately one hundred PiPl chicks fledged. Our community can learn a great deal from the success at Crane Beach in how to better manage shorebirds migrating and nesting at Cape Ann beaches.
We learned from Jeff that Crane Beach is part of a string of barrier beaches formed from sediment deposited by the outflow of the Merricmack River. Salisbury Beach is at the northern end, then Plum Island, then Crane, with Coffins and Wingaersheek at the southern end. The sand that was deposited at Salisbury Beach is the coarsest; the sand at Wingaersheek the lightest and finest as it would have more easily flowed furthest away from the mouth of the river.
Excerpt from a previous post OUTSTANDING COASTAL WATERBIRD CONSERVATION COOPERATORS MEETING! talking about Jeff and the success of the Crane Beach Trustees Piping Plover
“Readers will be interested to know that our region’s Crane Beach continues to have one of their best year’s ever. Trustees of Reservations Jeff Denoncour shared information on the latest census data from 2018 and Crane Beach has a whopping 76 fledglings, with 25 more chicks still yet to fledge. Because of the huge success at Crane Beach, the northeast region, of which we are a part, has fledged a total 136 of chicks in 2018, compared to 108 in 2017, and as I said, with more fledglings still to come! The northeast region encompasses Salisbury Beach to the Boston Harbor Islands.
Jeff noted that this year they had less predation by Great Horned Owls. Because of owl predation, several years ago the Trustees gave up on the wire exclosures and now use electric fencing extensively. The Great Horned Owls learned that the Piping Plover adults were going in an out of the exclosures and began perching on the edge of the wire, picking off the adults as they were entering and exiting the exclosure.
Crane has an excellent crew of Trustees staff monitoring the Least Terns and Piping Plovers, as well as excellent enforcement by highly trained police officers. No dogs are allowed on Crane Beach during nesting season and dogs are prevented from entering at the guarded gate. As we saw from one of the graphics presented about nesting Double-crested Cormorants, when a dog runs through a nesting area, the adults leave the nest, temporarily leaving the eggs and chicks vulnerable to predation by crows, gulls, raptors, and owls.”
Part Two: Spring
By Kim Smith
The return of Mama and Papa Piping Plover to Good Harbor Beach filled our hearts with hope and heartache. Although not tagged with a definitive id, we can be fairly certain they are the same because the pair attempt to build their nest each year within feet of the previous year’s nest. Not only did our returning pair try to nest on Good Harbor Beach, there were two additional pairs of Piping Plovers, and several free-wheeling bachelors.
The PiPls are forced off the beach by dogs running through the nesting area. They begin building a second nest in the Good Harbor Beach parking lot.
Each spring the Good Harbor PiPl have returned earlier than the previous, which show us that the pair is gaining in maturity, and in familiarity with the area. Tragically, at the time of their arrival in April, dogs are permitted on the beach. Dog traffic running through the Piping Plover nesting area was unrelenting, despite signs and roping. The Plover family never caught a break, and were soon making overtures at nesting in the parking lot.
Even with desperate calls for help and repeated warnings from the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, owners continued to allow off leash and on leash dogs to run freely through the PiPl’s nesting area, daily forcing the PiPl off the beach. They were at first torn between maintaining the territory they had established on the beach or establishing a new territory on the white lines in the parking lot. After one particularly warm sunny Sunday in April, they gave up completely on their beach nest scrape.
We learned that during the month of April, dogs at Massachusetts barrier beaches, such as Good Harbor Beach, not only endangers the lives of threatened Piping Plovers, but many species of migrating and nesting shorebirds.
On May 5th, the first egg was laid in the parking lot. Thanks to Gloucester’s amazing DPW crew, a barricade around the nest was installed within hours of the first egg laid. Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer soon followed to install a wire exclosure around the parking lot nest.
Garbage left on the beach brings predatory gulls and crows and they, too, became a serious threat to our Piping Plover family after the chicks hatched. The lack of a common sense ordinance to keep dogs off Good Harbor Beach during the month of April, the unaware dog owners, the garbage scavenging gulls and crows, and the vicious vandals are absolutely our responsibility to better manage and to control. For these reasons, and despite the kindness and care of dozens of PiPl volunteer monitors, as well as good people from around the community (and beyond), the Piping Plovers face terrible odds nesting at Good Harbor.
Scroll down to the end of the post to find links to some of the dozens of stories that I have written about the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers. Many communities throughout Massachusetts and coastal New England have in place common sense management rules and are successfully fledging chicks. I wrote about that extensively during the summer months and you will find a list of the posts regarding that topic in Part Three: Summer.
Most of the Snowies from the great Snowy Owl irruption of 2017-2018 had departed for their Arctic breeding grounds by the time the Piping Plovers arrived to Cape Ann beaches. This was a relief as I imagined that the Piping Plovers might make a tasty meal in the mind of a Snowy Owl. Thinking we’d seen the last of Hedwig and all Snowies, Bob Ryan called to let us know there was a Snowy Owl hanging around the distillery. I jumped in my car and raced right over. She appeared in good health and stayed for a day.
We did learn weeks later that during July and August there were still a few Snowies remaining on Massachusetts beaches and, from examining their pellets, it was clear they had been eating Piping Plover adults.
A fabulous Green Heron was photographed and filmed on an area pond–signs of a great summer season for all species of herons, yet to come.
For the past several years, at least, Killdeers, which is another species of plover (although not endangered) have been nesting in the dunes at Good Harbor Beach. This year we had, at a minimum, two successful nests!
All four chicks hatched and, at only one-day-old, made the epic journey to the beach. Miraculously, four teeny tiny mini marshmallow-sized baby birds, led by Papa and Mama, zig zagged across the parking lot, trekked through the dunes, and landed within feet of the parent’s original nest scrape.
Only one chic, the one PiPl volunteer monitor Heather names Little Pip, survives into summer.
Part One: Winter
By Kim Smith
Cape Ann provides welcome habitat for a menagerie of creatures beautiful, from the tiniest winged wonder to our region’s top predator, the Eastern Coyote. Last year and the previous year I posted Cape Ann Wildlife: A Year in Pictures 2016 and Cape Ann Wildlife: A Year in Pictures 2017. This year I changed the title to A Year in Pictures and Stories and have provided a partial list of some of the stories. You can find links to the posts at the end of each season. I hope you have found the wildlife stories of 2018 equally as interesting and beautiful. Click on the image to find the name of each species.
* * *
The first days of January began with the dramatic rescue of our blue-eyed swan by Mr. Swan’s Niles Pond caretakers, Skip, Lyn, and Dan. He flew onto the ice and could not maneuver off. The most amazing thing is that two black-eyed “angel swans” magically appeared at just the right time they were needed and, in a swan sort of way, helped release Mr. Swan from the ice.
“The” story of the winter of 2018 though is the story of Hedwig, the female Snowy Owl that made Gloucester’s Back Shore her home for several months.
She arrived sometime in December and stayed until mid-March. Hedwig staked out a territory that covered a great part of East Gloucester, from Captain Joes Lobster Company on the inner harbor, up over the Bass Rocks Golf Club hill, and all along Atlantic Road, even battling a young male we called Bubo to maintain her dominance over this rich feeding ground. Late in the afternoon we would see her departing for her nightly hunt and she was seen eating a wide variety of small animals, including rabbits, mice, and Buffleheads.
Hedwig was photographed battling, bathing, grooming, and eating.
Mostly though, Hedwig was observed while sleeping and resting on her various perches; not only the beautiful rocks along the shoreline, but Atlantic Road homeowner’s chimneys, as well as the rooftop railings of the Ocean House Hotel and Atlantis Oceanfront Inn.
This remarkably people-tolerant owl drew crowds from all over (including a Canadian visitor), providing a wonderful window into the secret world of these most magnificent of Arctic wanderers.
Resident Eastern Coyotes and beautiful migrating ducks were photographed and filmed. And then came the terribly destructive power of the four’easters of March, reeking havoc on wildlife habitats all along the coastline.
Hedwig was last seen during the early evening on March 12th, departing the rooftop of the Ocean House Hotel. This was also the night before the third nor’easter. She was perched on the railing of the Ocean House Inn facing towards the sea. The wind was blowing fiercely. After making several attempts, she successfully flew in a southerly direction out over the water.
Mr. Swan Rescue Update and a Pair of Mysterious Swans Arrive at Niles Pond!
Mr. Swan Update Rescue #2
Not One, But Two Snowy Owls on the Back Shore
Snowy Owl Aerial Fight
Close Encounter of the Coyote Kind
Snowy Owl Hedwig Takes a Bath
My What Big Feet You Have Hedwig
Hello Hedwig! What Are You Eating
How Can the Wings of a Snowy Owl Be Quieter Than a Butterfly’s Wings?
Good Morning Sleepyhead
Snowy Owl Feathers in the Moonlight
Beautiful Brants, Scaups, and Ring-necked Ducks Migrating Right Now On Our Shores
Gloucester March Nor’easters Storm Coverage 2018
Clear Evidence of the Destructive Forces of Global Warming on the Coastline and How this Negatively Impacts Local Wildlife
Chance encounter, of the majestic Snowy Owl kind-
Snowy Owl perching in a pine tree after sunset.
I wasn’t expecting to see a Snowy Owl overhead in a pine tree, although its not entirely uncommon. Because Snowy Owlets hatch in the summertime in the treeless Arctic tundra, they may never even see a tree until they migrate southward.
Generally, Snowies prefer wide open spaces such as dunes, sandy beaches, fields, and airports, because this habitat looks most similar to the tundra.
For the same reason (their home territory is above the Arctic Circle), Snowy Owls hunt during the day in their summer range. Their eyes have evolved to hunt in the continuous daylight of the far north. When migrating to the lower 48 states, Snowies adapt to the shifting light. Unlike other species of owls, the Snowy Owl hunts during the day (this behavior is called diurnal), and the night (nocturnal), and at twilight (crepuscular).
From observing Snowy Owls in our region, they mostly feed very early in the morning, before daybreak, rest during the day in dunes and fields, then at day’s end, fly up and perch on an open rooftop or phone pole (less occasionally to treetops), to begin hunting again. The elevated perches provide better visibility for triangulating prey.
We saw a sweet Snowy Owl on the dunes. The Snowy was far away and the sun was going down but did get a photo. She looked so pretty sitting there. There was also a pretty woodpecker doing what they do.
While chatting with Cape Ann artist Deb Schradieck and her husband Peter last night at the Good Morning Gloucester holiday bash and amazing bbq, held at Cape Ann Giclee, Deb mentioned she had done a painting of our Snowy Owl Hedwig. The painting is of Hedwig dozing off, nestled under a rocky alcove on Atlantic Road. We would often see her resting, especially during the middle of the day, in between meals. Beautiful capture Deb!
Hedwig has not yet come back to the hotels on Atlantic Road. Folks ask me about this often, whether or not she will return to the same location. Snowy Owls wander widely in their generally north-south migrations. Even if she did return, I think it safe to say, she would look different after another year molting. We would possibly be able to recognize her by habit, but then again she would be a year older, and may have developed different habits. Hedwig is mighty strong, and appears healthy, and as female Snowies are dominant over the males in staking out territory, perhaps as a more mature owl she is spending the winter closer to her breeding grounds. That is my hope for her at least, and that she has many years ahead of making many little Snowy Owlets!
Thanks again to Deb Schradieck for sharing her lovely painting of Hedwig. To see more of Deb’s work, visit her gallery on Rocky Neck and check out her website here: Deb’s Art Gallery.
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
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.
Stirring up the leaf litter with their feet.
A great gang of Wild Turkeys (approximately three dozen!), of mixed age, were foraging amongst the leaf litter, using their big feet to kick up the leaves. The first-hatch year poults stayed more to the center of the flock, while the older hens were foraging at the perimeter.
Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee recently sponsored an informative presentation by Gary Menin, director of the Massachusetts chapter of the organization R.A.T.S. (Raptors Are The Solution). Gary presented a talk with accompanying slides on the catastrophic effects of rodenticides on owls, hawks, falcons, eagles, and other birds of prey.
Gloucester is a waterfront community and as such, we will most assuredly always have a rat population. As has been pointed out dozens of times at the AAC meetings, improper handling of garbage is one of our number one problems. Garbage bags not contained in cans that are placed on city streets the night before trash collection attracts and provides food for coyotes, gulls, crows, and rats. Dumpsters not properly closed and maintained also support rats, gulls, crows, and coyotes, as do overflowing beach barrels.
Although second generation rodenticides are banned, exterminators are still allowed to use them. Gary reminded us however that YOU are the client. If all else fails and an exterminator must be hired, tell them not to use rodenticide under any circumstance.
Firstly, if we better manage our trash, we can greatly shrink the nuisance critter population. Additionally, Gary provided an excellent list of alternatives to rodenticides.
1). Snap traps
2). Ultrasonic waves
3). Electrocuting traps
4). Live trap and relocate
5). Dry ice pellets placed at hole entryways
6). Moth balls and peppermint oil as a repellent
Under no circumstances are glue traps recommended as they are an unusually cruel method of extermination.
As we have talked about many times on Good Morning Gloucester, the White-footed Mouse and the Chipmunk are the greatest vectors of Lyme disease. Raptors play a vital rope in controlling mice, chipmunks, and other small rodent populations and have proven to be an important link in the fight against Lyme disease.
Gary also mentioned that the city of Revere recently purchased rat-proof garbage cans that every member of the community is mandated to use. The local governing body was fed up with the proliferation of rats because of flimsy trash bags, overflowing barrels, and careless disposal of garbage. You can read more about Revere’s new barrels here: Revere Looks to Put Lid on Rat Problem.
* * *
We can also purchase or build our own owl nest box. With a quick google search you can find tons of DIY videos, plans, and directions online such as this one for a Screech Owl house.
Every year we hear Screech Owls in our neighborhood, close-by, and I’m inspired to build an owl house after hearing Gary’s presentation!
Last winter Hedwig was seen with almost clock-work regularity departing nightly for her evening hunt. An adult Snowy Owl feeds on average three to five times per day.
Will the winter of 2018-2019 bring another Snowy Owl Snowstorm similar to the irruption of 2017-2018? It is too soon in the season to know. They have been trickling in, but Snowy Owls typically begin to move southward in greater numbers in mid- to late-November.
The Snowy spotted today is a male, with a beautiful nearly pure white face and neck. Although off in the distance, he appeared to be in good health, with plushy full set of feathers, big furry feet, and tell-tale pinkish hue smudged around his beak (hopefully from a recent catch). He was quietly nodding off until suddenly disturbed by someone approaching too closely. He swooped across the landscape and away from the onlooker to a more remote location, and was hopefully left undisturbed for the remainder of the day.
Grooming and dozing off amongst the tall grasses and dried wildflowers
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.
On Tuesday this past week my friend Deborah and I attended the Coastal Waterbird Conservation Cooperators meeting, which took place at Cape Cod Community College in Barnstable. The meeting is held annually to bring together people and organizations that are involved with population monitoring and conservation efforts on behalf of coastal waterbirds. Threatened and endangered species such as Least Terns, Piping Plovers, and American Oystercatchers are given the greatest attention, while the meeting also encompasses efforts on behalf of heron, cormorant, and egret species.
Conservationists from all seven Massachusetts coastal regions participated, as well as conservationists from nearby states, including representatives from New Jersey, Maine, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. To name just some of the organizations presenting at the meeting-Mass Wildlife, Trustees of Reservations, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), and US Fish and Wildlife. Gloucester was well represented. In addition to Deborah and myself, two members of the Animal Advisory Committee also attended; chairperson Alicia Pensarosa and former animal control officer Diane Corliss. Many of you may remember our Mass Wildlife Piping Plover intern Jasmine. She was there to give a presentation on habitat vegetation utilized by nesting Piping Plovers. Her aunt, Gloucester’s Terry Weber, was there to support Jasmine. This was Jasmine’s first time speaking in public and she did an excellent job!
Each region gave the 2018 population census report for nesting birds as well as providing information about problems and solutions. We all share similar challenges with predation from crows and gulls, uncontrolled dogs, enforcement, and habitat loss and it was very interesting to learn about how neighboring communities are managing problems and issues.
Just one highlight of a day filled with helpful insights and useful information is that we can be very proud of our state—Massachusetts is at the leading edge of the Piping Plover recovery effort. The representative from New Jersey was there specifically to learn from Massachusetts conservationists on how they could possibly improve their recovery program as the New Jersey PiPl population is not growing, with fewer and fewer each year retuning to nest. As you can see from the graph provided at the meeting, the Canadian recovery is going very poorly as well.
Readers will be interested to know that our region’s Crane Beach continues to have one of their best year’s ever. Trustees of Reservations Jeff Denoncour shared information on the latest census data from 2018 and Crane’s has a whopping 76 fledglings, with 25 more chicks still yet to fledge. Because of the huge success at Cranes Beach, the northeast region, of which we are a part, has fledged a total 136 of chicks in 2018, compared to 108 in 2017, and as I said, with more fledglings still to come! The northeast region encompasses Salisbury Beach to the Boston Harbor Islands.
Jeff noted that this year they had less predation by Great Horned Owls. Because of owl predation, several years ago Crane Beach gave up on the wire exclosures and now use electric fencing extensively. The Great Horned Owls learned that the Piping Plover adults were going in an out of the exclosures and began perching on the edge of the wire, picking off the adults as they were entering and exiting the exclosure.
Crane has an excellent crew of Trustees staff monitoring the Least Terns and Piping Plovers, as well as excellent enforcement by highly trained police officers. No dogs are allowed on Crane Beach during nesting season and dogs are prevented from entering at the guarded gate. As we saw from one of the graphics presented about nesting Double-crested Cormorants, when a dog runs through a nesting area, the adults leave the nest, temporarily leaving the eggs and chicks vulnerable to predation by crows, gulls, raptors, and owls.
Another interesting bit of information shared–if you listen to our podcasts, back in April, we talked about the potential dilemma of what would happen if Snowy Owls remained on the beaches as the Piping Plovers returned from their winter grounds. Knowing that Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus) and Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) are close cousins and that the Great Horned Owl eats Piping Plover chicks and adults, I was concerned that a Snowy might eat our PiPl. At one particular beach on Cape Cod, a Snowy stayed through mid-July. An adult Piping Plover skull was found in the owl’s pellet.
After attending the cooperators meeting, I am more hopeful than ever that our community can come together and solve the problems that are preventing our PiPl from successfully nesting and fledging chicks. What we have going in our favor is the sheer number of amazing super volunteers along with strong community-wide support.
Hi Beth, Thank you for sharing your Snowy Owl sighting!! Your owl spotted is definitely a female although, I don’t think it’s Hedwig based on the shape of the feather patterning around her forehead. Anyway, it’s wonderful to see and share so many Snowy Owls this year, thank you!
Dear Readers, please write and let us know if you are still seeing Snowy Owls. Thank you!
With thanks and gratitude to Bob and Doug Ryan from Ryan and Wood Distilleries. Bob emailed yesterday afternoon that a Snowy Owl was being dive bombed by crows and gulls. I raced over and she had tucked in under the rocks at the base of a tree.
I took several photos and footage, and just as I had packed up to go, she flew to a large boulder. Immediately, within thirty seconds, a noisy flock of gulls were harassing her from overhead once again, and a few crows dove at her. She then flew to the nearest building. The crows and gulls pestered her for another fifteen minutes, while she quietly perched.
To write “return” is not entirely accurate. She was probably here all along. As soon as work began on the Atlantic Road hotel roofs, we no longer saw her at the back shore. I thought Hedwig might still be here last month, but wasn’t positive, and then Alicia wrote to say she had seen a Snowy and thought it could possibly be Hedwig. It was difficult to confirm without looking at closeups from a long lens. I searched around Alicia’s location for several days but could not find.
Considering most Snowies have left Massachusetts by April, it’s wonderful to have a record of her here in Gloucester in early May. I am elated, and grateful, to Bob and Doug for the call, because now we have footage of her in a rocky woodland Cape Ann setting! Thank you, thank you!
The reason crows mob owls is because some owl species, like the Great Horned Owl, eat crows. Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus) and Great Horned Owls (Bubo virgianus) are closely related.
City Councilor Scott Memhard shared the following article about a Great Horned Owl attack from Sunday’s Boston Globe Magazine. Although an extremely, extremely rare occurrence, we thought our readers would be interested. The article about the attack begins after the Snowy Owl photo.
A photographer friend shares a story about a Great Horned Owl landing on his friend’s camera, and I, along with many fellow owl observers, have seen Snowy Owls fly directly toward a group of onlookers. Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus) and Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) are close cousins, with many similar traits. Both will ferociously defend their nests. We’ll never see a Snowy Owl nest in Massachusetts because Snowies breed in the Arctic. Great Horned Owls on the other hand begin nesting early in the year in our region, usually laying eggs between mid-February up through the end of March. A Great Horned Owl will attack perceived threats to its nest and nesting territory.
The Great Horned Owl, also commonly called the Hoot Owl and the Tiger Owl, is found throughout North America and is common in Massachusetts. We most often hear the owl’s varied calls, screeches, and hoots during winter and up to the beginning of the nesting period. Great Horned Owls have the most diverse diet of all North American raptors, and like Snowy Owls, their extremely powerful impact upon striking typically kills prey instantly. I can imagine why the young boy in the article was concussed after being struck in the head by a Great Horned Owl.
By Mark Shanahan
My child went sledding alone and emerged from the trees bloody and dazed. He still can’t remember what happened.
THROUGH THE LIVING ROOM window, I see my son standing in the street in front of our house. He’s wearing a black ski parka and snow pants. A woman I don’t recognize has pulled her car over and is standing a few feet away, holding his hat. I open the front door.
“Beckett?” I call.
“I think something’s wrong,” the woman stammers.
As if in slow motion, my 12-year-old son turns his head and looks up at me.
“Jesus,” I cry.
Half of Beckett’s face is bloody and swollen. I race down the steps and crouch in front of him, my nose touching his. He stares at me blankly.
“What happened?” I ask.
“A bird,” he says softly. “It took Mommy and Julia away.”
Beckett had been sledding alone in the Middlesex Fells Reservation near our home in Medford. Had he hit a tree? The wound is terrifying. His cheek is ruptured, grotesquely inflamed, and there’s a lot of blood.
His mother and sister are fine, I tell him. What happened?
“I don’t know,” he murmurs, his lips so swollen he has trouble forming the words.
As we drive to the hospital, I watch Beckett in the rearview mirror. He’s clearly in shock. He doesn’t speak as he gazes at the falling snow. LINK TO FULL ARTICLE HERE.
Thank you to my friend Georgia Gibbons for sharing this fantastic video!!