Sunday, May 23, 2010

Piping Plovers

Piping plovers are little shorebirds that are among the few that actually breed and nest here on Cape Cod. Although we have many shorebirds at area beaches and marshes in the spring and fall most are just moving through and stop to feed here and rest before heading farther north where they breed.If you live anywhere near a beach on the east coast you are probably well aware that piping plovers are endangered, mostly because they happen to like the same sandy beaches we humans like. As you can see in these photos piping plovers are very well camouflaged and many people probably walk right by them on the beach without seeing them.
Their good camouflage protects them from predators but it also causes problems for them and their little ones. Their nests get stepped on, the little ones get separated from the parents and animals, including dogs, chase them or scare them. Many beach dog walkers insist that their dog would never harm a bird and that may be true. What they don't realize is that the very presence of a dog can scare these birds in a way that may result in nest abandonment and even death. A dog, after all, resembles natural predators such as foxes and coyotes which these birds are programmed to avoid and fear.
Other things that can threaten these nesting birds on the beach are kites, noise and vehicles. Kites themselves are not dangerous but many birds, including plovers, have an instinctual response to large flying shadows. They don't look to see if it is a kite or hawk or crow. They just respond to the potential of imminent danger and this can cause them so much stress that again, they may abandon their nests.

As you know, many parts of area beaches get closed at this time of year to protect these little guys. This makes some people very angry, especially those that can't drive on the beach for a few weeks. While I understand that people don't like to have their activities changed or suspended for a while I personally don't think waiting a few weeks hurts anyone as much as not waiting could hurt an entire species.

This week we should begin seeing baby plovers. They can be very difficult to see but are worth the effort. They resemble puffy little cotton balls on toothpick legs for the first week or so and run like the dickens. I don't know if I'll be able to get photos with my zoom lens but if I do I'll be sure to post them.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tis the Season....

For nesting! Bet you know whose eggs these are....They belong to someone who looks like this!
Special thanks to Vanessa LaVoie for sending me the photo of the nest ;-)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Spring Wildflowers

On a recent early morning walk in the Skunknett Conservation Area in Osterville we found these lovely spring wildflowers. Lady's Slippers are fairly abundant here but these are some of the early bloomers. Most were still in bud.Most of the Canada mayflower has gone by but these fuzzy blossoms were still pretty fresh looking.
Star flowers are everywhere....
These are hard to see but area woodlands are full of blooming sarsparilla plants. Can you see the puffy little ball shaped blossoms hiding under the leaves?
Fern flowers are different....and I'm not sure they technically count as flowers but here are their spokes anyway....
And here is Jack and his friends all hanging out in their pulpits....another wildflower that is hard to see and find unless you know where to look....hint....check out damp and soggy areas and look for a triplicate of large green leaves that are NOT poison ivy!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Red Admirals....

were everywhere this morning when we returned to the house after our morning dog walk around the neighborhood. Our house faces east and in the early morning sun our window sills and borders were filled with resting butterflies.I am not an expert so at first I thought they were painted ladies but they are indeed, red admirals. I use "Butterflies Across Cape Cod" written and photographed by Mark J. Mello and Tor Hansen and published by the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History and in the book they describe this butterfly as one that has to "recolonize" the Cape each year. They cannot survive our winters reliably enough to maintain their population. According to Tor Hansen, it is not unusual to see large groups of them "flocking" as they arrive but I have never seen anything like this here.
Butterflies, like all insects, are ectothermic which means they must collect heat and cool themselves from outside themselves. We, and all mammals and birds, are endothermic and self regulate our heat and coolness....Butterflies like it to be about 80 degrees Farenheit and in the early morning it was quite a bit cooler than that. I think the white windowsills were collecting heat as were our shingles and the front of our house had several dozen butterflies on it.
I especially liked the way this one posed among the fern shadows....
Can you see the butterflies on the shingles and window box? (and yes, we need to paint our trim ;-)
This side of my huge lilac patch also faces east and I soon found out why there were so many butterflies nearby--they were feasting on the nectar of the lilacs. They were everywhere! At one point I counted about 50....
I tied to capture them from the distance and if you click on this to enlarge it look at the blossoms and in the air as well as on the house....
Here are two feasting away....
It is around noon as I write this and the butterflies are still here...but on the other side of the house and lilac bush...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Catbird Singing....

Yesterday morning this catbird sang for hours just outside my window. You'll have to excuse the fogginess of the picture but I had to take it through the glass and screen in order to catch him without spooking him.Catbirds are great mimics and as they sing you will hear snatches of phrases and melodies of other bird songs as well. This one seemed to have a fondness for wren songs and buzzes and also did a pretty good imitation of a blue jay bugle. Catbirds belong to the mimidae family and are related to mockingbirds and thrashers.
The minute I moved in the window my little gray friend took off. He sang on and off for the rest of the day but never again got close enough or in a clear enough spot for me to take his picture.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Of Goslings, Ducklings and Cygnets

It's that time of year when baby waterbirds are hatching and filling our area waters with cuteness and new life. Each brood may have a dozen or even more little ones but unfortunately a high percentage of those may be lost to predation.Baby geese such as these Canada geese are called goslings. Baby ducks are ducklings and baby swans are cygnets. You will rarely find them all in the same area, especially with swans. Swans are extremely protective and territorial and chase other birds from the area. You may see geese and ducks nesting in the same area but usually not very close to each other. Both may nest close to water, fresh or salt, and both are also known to sometimes nest in odd places like people's backyards.
These two geese are lining up to watch from both sides to be sure I don't get any closer. These shots were taken with a zoom lens--I was really quite far away.
These little goslings are probably only a few days old. They are not fishing, by the way. They are eating plant material from the bottom of the pond. When they are in deeper water you may see the adults really stirring things up and bringing plant material to the surface for the little ones to graze on. Mallards and swans dot the same thing for they are also plant eaters, not fish eaters. These goslings were spotted last week in Provinctown.

Have you seen any baby birds yet?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Beach Plum in Bloom

Just about everywhere on Cape Cod right now, including along many parts of the middle strip of Rt. 6, you may be seeing rambling bushes full of fluffy white flowers. Not to be confused with the leggier, taller and much less compact shad bush, these bushes are usually quite compact and just jammed with flowers.They almost look like cotton balls got stuck on them when you see them from the distance.
Beach plum is a hardy plant that seems to thrive in poor, sandy soil. They grow along the sides of marshes, woodlands, in shore side fields and even along the roadside. After the flowers fade they will set fruit and by August they will have tons of little ripe purple plums that usually end up in one of Cape Cod's favorite trademark jellies. That is if the birds, foxes and other animals don't eat them first.

The beach plum is often confused with the rosa rugosa or beach rose because of the big orange red fruits that set after the roses bloom. Those, however, are rose hips and that's a whole other story.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Looking for Stars in the Woods

A lovely walk at Pilgrim Heights in Truro the other day revealed all sorts of spring flower activity. All these Canada mayflowers (also known as false lily of the valley) are getting ready to bloom.If you enlarge this photo you will see hundreds of little plants with a rosette pattern to the leaves which means only one thing....
Soon all the star flowers will be in bloom!
Here is one little early bird. Most weren't even in bud yet. These little woodland flowers bloom before the canopy leafs in and this year it is a bit of a race. If you're out this week look for both the Canada mayflower and the star flowers. Many other woodland plants are also in bloom and we'll look at some of them later in the week.