Friday, February 26, 2010

The Eagle has Landed!

If you live on Cape Cod you probably know that sighting an adult bald eagle is not very common, even in winter when we do get a few eagle sightings.This winter there have actually been a fair number of eagles about, including this adult that has been hanging around in Mashpee. This photo is by Mary Noonan Keleher of Mashpee for although I did get to see the eagle I have no pictures to share. Let's just say the eagle is a dark speck with a white head in my photos.

Bald eagles nest a bit to our north and also to our south and west but so far not on the Cape itself. As you probably know, eagles are birds of prey and eat just about anything from ducks to mice to fish. They are also scavengers and will eat the prey of other animals as well as hang out at the dump.

Have you ever seen a bald eagle?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Mallards are so common that we often take them for granted so it's always nice to take a kid along to remind you to really appreciate these lovely ducks.The female is not as showy as the male but still quite beautiful in her subtle way.
The drakes are in fine dress all through the year with that bright yellow bill and shiny green head.
Mallards are easily recognizable to most families thanks to the famous story about the ducks at Boston's Public Garden, "Make Way for Ducklings" by Robert McKloskey

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ruddy Turnstones

One of the first shorebirds I could identify for sure as a kid was a ruddy turnstone. They have very distinctive markings, are not very shy and if you watch them long enough they do exactly what their name suggests. They turn over stones to look for food.These guys were found at Dowse's Beach in Osterville this week. There were about a dozen mixed in with the local winter sanderlings. Turnstones don't generally winter here though they are seen sporadically. I don't know if these have been here all winter or if they are early arrivals on their way north. They are in winter plumage that is turning.
They have the most wonderful markings.
Here is one getting behind a stone or shell to turn it over.
What did it find? Mostly they are looking for invertebrates to eat such as worms, small crabs, etc.
In this picture above you can see the orange on the legs. Have you ever seen one of these birds?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Winter Sanderlings

I love sanderlings and sandpipers. They accompany me on many a beach walk, especially in the fall and winter....
For many folks all the little birds running around on the beach are sandpipers and although that is not always technically correct it is often close enough. Even good birders refer to the whole group as "peeps" or "pipers" and sometimes indentifying them, especially in winter can be tricky.
I took this photo at quite a distance but I believe these are sanderlings in the top picture. The area I took the photos in has had both dunlins and western sandpipers over the last few weeks as well as sanderlings and winter shorebird plumages can be a tough call. You need to look at the overall shape, size, behavior, etc.
I believe the bird in the second photo is also a sanderling. I thought it might be a dulin, which are a bit chunkier and have a longer bill that curves down a bit but another birder I spoke with is pretty sure it is a sanderling. I am happy to be corrected so please feel free to chime in.
These two shots are definitely of sanderlings. Jaunty little guys, don't you think?
They are often on our beaches all winter and will soon be molting and getting their summer plumages. The dunlins will, too. Then they will all be off to the north where they will mate and nest. They will return here in the fall.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Eider Ducks

If you walk along the Cape Cod Canal or along the Sandwich beaches you will find huge rafts of common eider ducks. These northern ducks gather here by the thousands late in the fall and stay here all winter. Although smaller groups may be found all along the coast of the Cape each winter these mussel loving birds really congregate in this area due to the huge concentration of mussels, sea urchins and other favorite foods.The beautiful males or drakes are marked with lovely and distinct black and white patterns.
The females are also lovely but a more muted brown. Eiders nest much farther north than the Cape (though it is thought some are nesting here now) and are colonial nesters, meaning they like to nest in large groups. The color of the females helps them blend into the sand or dirt they scrape a nest in.
In any flock of eiders you may see what look like oddly marked birds that are neither marked like males or females. These are the immature or young ducks that haven't got their full plumages yet.
At one point eiders were hunted almost to extinction for their beautiful feathers. If you've heard of eider down, that referred to the soft down from the eider duck's breast. Coats and jackets were also made from their skins. Today these birds are safe from this sort of hunting and their populations have made a good come back.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Visiting the National Marine Life Center in Bourne

We are very lucky to have this wonderful organization on the Cape. The National Marine Life Center began as a dream about 15 or so years ago and although it is far from complete plans are in motion to make this a top notch place for research and rehabilitation for marine life such as sea turtles, seals, porpoises, dolphins and even pilot whale.The outside may not seem auspicious at first...
but inside there are many exhibits in the discovery center, most of which are hands on.
All visitors can peek into one of the "hospital" rooms and see the animals that are being rehabilitated there. Because today was a special open house we got to go on a tour of the whole facility.
This volunteer is putting together the skeleton of a porpoise.....
Inside the hospital room we were shown an X-ray of the shell of the diamond back terrapin that is a patient there. She has been there for quite a while and is actually losing her shell. She will grow a sort of replacement shell but it will take a while longer. She may be there another 2 years.
The picture is sort of distorted since she is under water but this is Patty, named because she was found on St. Patrick's Day last year. Turtles brumate, or hibernate, and this little lady woke up too soon and was not in good shape when she was found.
In a different part of the building we got to see the tank full of the Plymouth Red-bellied cooters that the center is "head-starting." I will do a separate post about them later.
This little baby is a hatchling diamond back terrapin that hatched late last fall, too late to winter over safely. It and 7 of its brothers and sisters are getting the royal treatment and each has its own small aquarium.
Next the director, Kathy Zagzebski took us into the room where the big turtle and seal tanks are being installed. This area is not finished yet but she explained what would need to be done before they would be ready to be used.
This last shot is of the area where the really big pools will be for the dolphins and even pilot whales. At this point the center needs to raise more money to complete their project but it's pretty amazing all that has been done so far. If you didn't make it to the open house today there will be another one in April. Check it out!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Robins at High Head

It's a beautiful morning here on Cape Cod and I thought I'd share these pictures of robins sitting in the sun that I took up in the dunes at High Head in Truro earlier this week. As you probably know by now, these robins are visiting from up north and are eating berries from our cedars, privets, hollies, etc.They seem a little larger than the robins that nest here but don't forget that birds puff themselves up to stay warm.
Soon they will moult and grown new, fresh feathers and their colors will be more vibrant.
By the time spring arrives they will be full of rich, beautiful color.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Waiting for the snow....

These photos were taken a few days ago when it was sunny but very cold. We are waiting for snow to fall here on Cape Cod so I thought I'd just post these for fun. The first gull is a greater black backed gull.These gulls look black against the light but that's just because the sun is behind them, making them look like silhouettes.

These gulls were in the parking lot sitting out of the wind, at least the wind off the water. Most of these are ring billed gulls.Stay warm!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Horned Larks

Do you see the little birds in this photo? It was taken at the edge of the marsh next to some low dunes and you can see how well camouflaged they are, if you can see them at all....They moved into the sand area so you should be able to see them better now. There is one standing in the sand and one still in the grass.

These lovely little birds are horned larks. You can almost see the yellow on the face/chin area in the top picture but it really shows up in the picture below.
These birds are about the size of a sparrow and they have black feathers that stick up on the sides of their heads that look like horns, hence their names. Pretty cool, huh? You can often find horned larks in our sandy dune areas such as Sandy Neck and Coast Guard Beach. These birds were photographed at First Encounter Beach in Eastham where I almost always see them in fall and winter.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Winter Scenes

I drove to Provincetown today and these are some of the photos I took along the way. Cape Cod Bay has lots of ice. This shot is from First Encounter Beach in Eastham.Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown had a very brisk wind and these gulls were hunkered down in the sand to stay warm and out of the wind.
This view is overlooking Nauset Marsh from the Coast Guard station in Eastham.
Another view of Nauset Marsh showing the ice.
On the other end of Nauset Marsh, the view from Fort Hill in Eastham...
It was a cold and windy day but still beautiful here on Cape Cod. We saw very few other people out and about but lots of other cool things. I will post some of them as the week goes on.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Winter Seals on the Beach

We were out in Chatham the other day and decided to take a walk on South Beach. The air was clear, it was relatively windless and warm, for winter anyway. We saw something shiny in the distance. From the shape and position I suspected it was a seal....and it was!
Seals often haul out onto a beach in the winter. Most are perfectly healthy and all should be left alone, according to the Marine Mammal Protection Act. These pictures were taken with a zoom lens and although there are what appear to be close ups I was well within the distance of 150 yards mandated by the law.
Seals look cute but they are wild animals and will give a nasty bite if approached by humans or dogs. Most seals you will see on the winter beaches are perfectly healthy and fine and need no intervention by humans. If you see a seal that is obviously in distress or injured you should contact the Cape Cod Stranding Network. Do not try to help the animal yourself. You may reach the stranding network by calling 508-743-9548. This number is manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
I believe this seal was a harbor seal. It had the heart shaped nose, was the right size and color and looks like a snub nosed cocker spaniel from the side, all visual indicators of harbor seals. In the summer our predominant seals are the gray seals but in the winter we get quite a few harbor seals as well as other rarer visitors such as harp seals.
I love this shot because it looks like the seal is smiling and enjoying its day in the sun. Do seals smile? Scientists would probably frown upon the idea but for the rest of us....maybe they do. I know this seal made me smile....

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Looking for Otters

Saturday morning was clear and sunny and very, very cold. A group of us met over at the Skunknett River conservation area where Ian Ives from Audubon was having a program about otters and owls.The pond was very quiet and mostly iced over. A few raggedy cattails were still standing and chickadees called from the bushes nearby but no otters....
We stopped at various spots along the river but no otters....
Though we did see lots of otter scat (droppings) at several "pull out" spots along the way...
Otter scat has a lot of fish scales in it so it is easy to identify. You can see it here as the gray stuff against the brown leaves. Who knew you'd be looking at a picture of scat instead of an ottter?

Oh well! That's the way it is a lot when you go out looking for animals in the wild. You find signs of where they've been and what they leave behind them but often they themselves are in hiding. I often like to think of them watching me from behind a bush, laughing at me. Who knows? Maybe they are.

It was so cold on this day I think the otters were home snug in their dens.