SIMPLY AN AMAZING DAY OF WILDLIFE OUT ON THE FIELDS, MARSHES, AND WATERWAYS OF CAPE ANN – Hawks, Egrets, Herons, Butterflies, and More!

Autumn migration is full underway and wildlife is on the move through Cape Ann. With gorgeous weather, blue skies and a sprightly breeze, Sunday was a spectacular day for observing dozens of species on the wing — A juvenile Red-tailed Hawk and Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Cormorants symbiotically feeding with the herons, thousands of Tree Swallows, Mockingbirds chasing Red-tailed Hawk, Painted Ladies, Yellow Sulphurs, Buckeyes, and beautiful, beautiful freshly emerged Monarchs.

Lots of photo bombing on Sunday–a Great Blue Heron appeared unexpectedly from the marsh edge, flying over a flock of Snowy Egrets.

Later in the day, a second Great Blue Heron flew over a flock of Starlings that were trying to keep one step ahead of the Red-tailed Hawk.

A juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron flew on the scene for a brief moment.

Red-tailed Hawk hunting in the marsh – he gave up on songbirds and decided to go for a member of the rodent family.

Tree Swallows are continuing to mass and migrate along our shores.

Snowy Egret and Great Egret 

Beautiful Monarchs on the move (more about the Monarchs tomorrow when I hopefully have time to go through the butterfly photos from Sunday) 🙂

 

DANCE OF THE SWALLOWS

Without doubt, the spectacular summer/autumn migration that takes place each year along the shores of Cape Ann has begun. Everywhere we turn, there are magnificent creatures foraging along our shoreline. In one day alone on an early morning walk this past week were Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, Spotted Sandpipers, and great flocks of Semi-palmated Plovers and Sanderlings. I think I’ll write a little series with a paragraph or two devoted to each species for the upcoming week.

For today though, I wanted to share photos of a flock of Tree Swallows that were gathering at Good Harbor Beach. A friend wrote wanting to know more about the beautiful birds we see massing at both Good Harbor and Wingaersheek Beaches at this time of year.

From 2018 – Over the course of the summer while filming the Piping Plover Family at Wingaersheek Beach, Tree Swallows began flocking in ever increasing numbers. They became part of the Piping Plover story not only because they occasionally dive bomb the Piping Plovers, for whatever reason I am not entirely sure, but also because they are beautiful to observe, and occasionally, seemingly playful, too.

Songbirds that they are, Tree Swallows make a cheery chirping chatter. They have long narrow forked tails, all the better for gliding and for their signature aerial acrobatics. The male’s upper parts are a brilliant iridescent blue-green, the female’s somewhat duller, and both female and male have white underparts. The migrating juveniles are almost entirely brown with either white or pale grayish underparts.

Tree Swallows breed in the wetlands and fields of Cape Ann. Their name comes from the species habit of nesting in tree cavities. Tree Swallows have benefited tremendously from efforts to help save the Eastern Bluebird because they also nest in the nest boxes built specifically for the Bluebirds.

Acrobatic aerialists, they twist and turn mid-flight to capture a wide variety of insects including butterflies, dragonflies, greenheads, bees, beetles, and wasps.

Utilizing both fresh and saltwater to bathe, Tree Swallows have a unique habit of quickly dipping and then shaking off the excess water while flying straight upwards.

Tree Swallows begin migrating southward in July and August. The flocks that we see gathering on Cape Ann migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. They overwinter in the southern states of the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Unlike migrating species of butterflies, several generations of Tree Swallows migrate together, the older birds showing the younger birds the way.

Music composed by Jules Massenet: “Méditation” from Thaïs

FRIENDS OF LITTLE CHICK UPDATE

Piping Plover Flight Dance

Eclipse Day was a dream day filming wildlife on Cape Ann. I did the usual early morning stops at my “migrations stations,” but because I had taken the afternoon off to see the eclipse, I got to film in the afternoon, too, which I don’t often get a chance to do. First stop was Good Harbor Beach to see a beautiful subdued and rosy-hued sunrise.

The Tree Swallows were everywhere, in dunes, on the beaches, lined up on telephone lines, in meadows, and marsh. I filmed and photographed that hullabaloo for a bit, along with a dozen other species of migrating shorebirds and songbirds; there are simply too many images for one post. I’ll share these migration photos in the upcoming days.

Tree Swallows Biting and Fighting

The most wonderful of all was coming upon a tiny flock of Piping Plovers. Initially I thought only two, then a third joined the scene, and then a fourth!

One was definitely a juvenile, about the same age as would be our Little Chick. The PiPl were bathing, grooming, and foraging in the intertidal zone while also being dive-bombed by the Tree Swallows. This is behavior that I filmed last year as well. Tree swallows, although beautiful, are the fightenist little tuffies you’ll ever see. They’ll fly straight at other birds, biting one of their own kind, Barn Swallows, and plovers alike.

PiPl bath time

The PiPl that looked just like Little Chick also did the funny flight take-off dance that we all observed of LC. He flew around in a circle, backwards and forwards, spreading and unspreading his wings, and hopping up and down. It’s very comical and I can’t wait to share the film footage and storybook. Anyway, the little traveler I encountered on Eclipse Day was doing the PiPlover flight jig for an extended period of time.

Doing the Jig!

I stayed to watch the Plovers for a bit longer and then finished walking the length of the beach. On my return walk I was surprised from a quiet reverie to hear a flock of Plovers piping. I looked up and before I could turn my movie camera back on, a group of a dozen Piping Plovers flew past. Happy Day!

Tree Swallows Massing
Eclipse Day Sunrise Good Harbor Beach

 Backlogged with wildlife photos, more to come. Some wonderful surprises!

DANCE OF THE TREE SWALLOWS

Male Tree Swallow

You may have noticed the pretty swallows perching in clusters on telephone lines and flying low over the sand. Both Barn and Tree Swallows can be found at the beach throughout the warmer months, but the birds that are beginning to gather on Cape Ann en masse are the Tree Swallows. The following is a short film from last year’s migration that explains what is happening at this time of year with the Tree Swallows here on our beaches and dunes, and in our neighborhoods.

M is For Migration Through Massachusetts
Responding to Reader’s Questions About Tree Swallows
New Short Film: Tree Swallows Massing

TREE SWALLOW TANGO

Tree Swallows here, there and everywhere! Nesting has begun and these graceful aerialists can be seen at every Cape Ann beach, dune, and meadow–twisting, turning, dip, diving, and dashing while catching insects mid-air.
Tree Swallows dip-dive bathing at Henry’s Pond

More About Tree Swallows:

M is For Migration Through Massachusetts
Responding to Reader’s Questions About Tree Swallows
New Short Film: Tree Swallows Massing

RESPONDING TO READER’S QUESTIONS ABOUT TREE SWALLOWS

tree-swallows-gloucester-massachusetts-5-copyright-kim-smithTo answer several reader’s questions regarding Tree Swallows on Cape Ann –

The birds that we see flocking up and forming a murmation over Gloucester’s downtown skyline are typically European Starlings, a species that was introduced to the U.S. from Europe at the turn of the previous century. The birds that are in the film that I posted yesterday, Dance of the Swallows, are Tree Swallows. They prefer more remote areas such as sand dunes, where the swallows find a wealth of insects.tree-swallows-gloucester-massachusetts-4-copyright-kim-smith

Insects comprise the bulk of their diet. Tree Swallows perch on branches, telephone wires, and in our area, commonly on Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) and other dune shrubs. Most birds cannot digest the waxy coating on Bayberries, but Tree Swallows are one of the few species that can. Bayberry fruits do not ripen until September and I wonder if when migrating through Cape Ann in August, the Tree Swallows are eating the insects on and around the plants, not the unripened fruits.

NEW SHORT FILM: TREE SWALLOWS MASSING

This short film is dedicated a dear friend who recently lost a beloved family member. Along with the tender melody by Jules Massenet, especially the last bits of footage (before the credits) made me think of angels and of hope.

  *   *   *

Over the course of the summer while filming the Piping Plover Family at Wingaersheek Beach, Tree Swallows began flocking in ever increasing numbers. They became part of the Piping Plover story not only because a Tree Swallow will occasionally dive bomb a Piping Plover, for whatever reason I am not entirely sure, but also because they are beautiful to observe, and occasionally, seemingly playful, too.

Songbirds that they are, Tree Swallows make a cheery chirping chatter. They have long narrow forked tails, all the better for gliding and for their signature aerial acrobatics. The male’s upper parts are a brilliant iridescent blue-green, the female’s somewhat duller, and both female and male have white underparts. The migrating juveniles are almost entirely brown with either white or pale grayish underparts.tree-swallows-gloucester-massachusetts-11-copyright-kim-smith

Tree Swallows breed in the wetlands and fields of Cape Ann. Their name comes from the species habit of nesting in tree cavities. Tree Swallows have benefited tremendously from efforts to help save the Eastern Bluebird because they also nest in the nest boxes built specifically for the Bluebirds.

Acrobatic aerialists, they twist and turn mid-flight to capture a wide variety of insects including butterflies, dragonflies, greenheads, bees, beetles, and wasps.tree-swallows-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

Tree Swallows eating insects on the beach and from the crevasses in the driftwood.

Utilizing both fresh and saltwater to bathe, Tree Swallows have a unique habit of quickly dipping and then shaking off the excess water while flying straight upwards.

Tree Swallows begin migrating southward in July and August. The flocks that we see gathering on Cape Ann migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. They overwinter in the southern states of the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Unlike migrating species of butterflies, several generations of Tree Swallows migrate together, the older birds showing the younger birds the way.

Music composed by Jules Massenet: “Méditation” from Thaïs

CAPE ANN WILDLIFE: A YEAR IN PICTURES

snowy-owl-gloucester-massachusetts-c2a9kim-smith-2015My 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.

red-tailed-hawk-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

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.

piping-plovers-chicks-nestlings-babies-kim-smith

Work on Mr. Swan’s film will also resume this January—the winters are simply not long enough for all I have planned!

swan-outstretched-wings-niles-pond-coyright-kim-smith

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.

female-red-winged-blackbird-copyright-kim-smitrhFemale Red-winged Blackbird

eastern-coyote-massachusetts-kim-smithThe 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.three-muskrat-family-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

Three Muskrateersfemale-monarch-depositing-eggs-1-copyright-kim-smithnewly-emerged-monarch-butterfly-copyright-kim-smith-jpg

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.

cecropia-moth-caterpillar-copyright-kim-smithPristine 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.

female-mallard-nine-ducklings-kim-smithThank you to all our readers for your kind comments of appreciation throughout the year for the beautiful wild creatures with which we share this gorgeous peninsula called Cape Ann.

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.

I wonder what 2017 will bring?nine-piping-plovers-napping-gloucester-copyright-kim-smith

sandpipers-copyright-kim-smith

RED KNOTS OR WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS?, PIPING PLOVERS, BLACK BELLIED PLOVERS, YELLOW LEGS, MONARCHS, AND MORE: CAPE ANN WINGED CREATURE UPDATE

Nine Piping Plovers napping Gloucester copyright Kim SmithNine Piping Plovers Napping 

WONDERFUL creatures are currently migrating through our shores. How blessed are we who live along the Atlantic Flyway. Whether traveling by shore or by sea, there is this great and continual movement of life happening always in our midst.

Many thanks to my friend Jeff Denoncour, Trustees of Reservations Ecologist for the Northeast Region, for assistance with identifying the birds. I met Jeff earlier this summer when he kindly took me out to the tippy far end of Cranes to film the Piping Plovers nesting there.

Additionally we have seven tiny Monarch caterpillars in terrariums. It’s so late in the season for these teeny ones. Last year at this time we were releasing adult butterflies and I worry that they are not going to pupate in time to successfully migrate to Mexico. The caterpillars are too small to handle, but if any of the kids in our community would like to come see, please comment in the comment section or email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. The last of the Cecropia Moth caterpillars has not yet pupated and he is fun to watch as well.

Here are some photos to help you identify our migrating feathered friends.

Black bellied Plover Semipalmated Plover Massachusetts copyright Kim Smith

Compare the larger size of the Black-bellied Plover in the foreground with the Semipalmated Plover and Semiplamated Sandpiper in the background

Yellow Legs

Red Knot non breeding plumage copyright Kim Smith

The above group of four photos are of either a pair of Red Knots or White-rumped Sandpipers in non breeding plumage. The White-rumped Sandpiper is thought to migrate an even greater distance than the Red Knot, from Canada’s Arctic Islands to the Southern tip of South America, and some further still to islands near the Antarctic Peninsula. These shy birds did not allow for human interest and the photos were taken at some distance.

Juvenile Laughing Gull copyright Kim Smith

Juvenile Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull copyright Kim SmithAdult Laughing Gull

READ MORE HERE

Continue reading “RED KNOTS OR WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS?, PIPING PLOVERS, BLACK BELLIED PLOVERS, YELLOW LEGS, MONARCHS, AND MORE: CAPE ANN WINGED CREATURE UPDATE”