A Day Out

Please consider all images to be copyrighted and ask permission to copy or use.  Thank you. DEClapp

At first I thought I’d do posts about my wildlife travels from days past. And, I will do more of that I’m sure. I then thought I’d make a sort of page by page presentation with a theme and sense of progression to it. Neither of those is working out; quite frankly I am too lazy and too busy to plan out more than one step at a time — and I have no idea where the next post will come from or what it will be about. With that in mind I will continue to do posts as they come to me, day after day, random topic after random topic. I think that means that I will do more but will have repetition and predictability that I hope to avoid – but I’d rather do more posts than wait for that special moment.

The Covid situation has limited travel so I am kind of stuck with ignoring the blog or doing something sort of bland more often. So I choose to do more bland stuff, perhaps with repeats of species and more of a transitional (seasonally) series that just offers some highlights. Maybe I’ll stick in a lion or leopard or marine iguana every now and then but more likely it will be a collection of fall migration images from the northeastern part of the US; mostly out on Cape Cod.

These cormorants are not specific to the roost but I mention the breeding colony in Provincetown harbor and just though I’d stick in an image taken from a Dolphin Whale Watch boat. The large Gray Seal population and the Double-crested Cormorant population point to the fish-rich waters of Cape Cod.

One of our favorite late summer evening haunts is the boat landing called Hemenway Landing. Looking north there is the big old Coast Guard Station and to the northeast and east there are expanses of salt marsh that eventually reach the edge of the Atlantic. We can grab our fried clam take-out at Sir Cricket and hang out in the usually vacant parking lot watching birds. This spot has had a summer time Night-Heron roost adjacent to it for thirty years. Most people arrive at sunset and are happy enough to watch the Black-crowned Night-herons depart in the gloom, but about 90 minutes before sunset is when the real action occurs. The Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, not a usual New England bird, leave first and well before sunset. They will fly out into the salt marsh going to join Great Blue Herons, Snowy and Great Egrets, as well as Eastern Willet and lots of Greater Yellowlegs. There are rather extensive oyster farms in the area and the Double-crested Cormorants and the yellowlegs are often in that area.

An adult Black-crowned Night-Heron (BCNH) is about two feet tall with a three-and-a-half foot wing span; solid and large but not huge. They are coastal nesting birds all over the USA. The roost at Hemenway has been in the same place for at least fifty years. I think that many of the birds that arrive at this roost in mid-summer are post-breeding birds from further south. There are nesting BCNH in Massachusetts but the roost has more birds than one expects from the local population. They nest in colonies and feed after dusk in the salt marshes or along the edges of ponds.
Young Black-crowned Night-Herons are brown, striped, with a yellowish bill. In many late summer roosts the young birds predominate. But as they tend to fly later than the Yellow-crowns it is often too dark to be sure of the plumage and hence the age of the BCNH that you see heading out into the salt marsh.
The Yellow-crowned Night-Herons (YCNH) are actually a bit smaller that the BCNHs, but as their posture is usually more elongate and not as hunched as the Black-crowns, they seem to be larger or at least taller. The YCNHs are crab eaters and they appear in Massachusetts when the crabs are flush. We have been seeing more of the usually southern Green Crabs recently and we are certainly seeing more Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.
Another bird we see in the late summer in numbers that probably exceed the breeding population is the Great Egret. This tall white heron/egret is about 40 inches tall and has a wingspan that exceeds four feet. The other night at Hemenway Landing I saw no GREGs as I watched the whole show from YCNHs through the last BCNH departure. That is, I saw none in the marsh but a few minutes after sunset almost 90 birds flew over me coming from the north.
The Great Egrets passed after sunset in surprising numbers. There are a few places where they might be headed to roost overnight, but this was not a repeated action – I have no idea where they were going or where they came from. But it was nice.
These Double-crested Cormorants are hanging out on rocks, while at Hemenway they tend to stand on the aquaculture racks that hold a crop of oysters. There is a large nesting colony of DCCO up in Provincetown Harbor, just off the long breakwater near the main piers. Whale watch boats steam past hundreds of them both coming and going to the whales. We will get some Great Cormorants in the winter but they are in the Canadian Maritimes for the most part at this time of year.,
Willet are a rather common nesting bird in the dunes and humps adjacent to the Cape’s salt marshes. This is a rather recent situation as there were very few Willet in Massachusetts, and none nesting, until the mid-1970s. This was about 100 years after they had last nested in the Commonwealth – egg collecting and shooting had eliminated them as nesting birds for a century. They are very noisy during the breeding season and it quite nice too hear the salt marshes ringing with their calls.
The Hemenway marshes harbor large numbers of Greater Yellowlegs (GRYL) as the summer fades away. The herring and alewives that hatched during the summer have now entered the salt and brackish waters by the millions and the GRYLs chase after them (they are all lumped together as “minnows”) in the low tide shallows. There is also a Lesser Yellowlegs but they are more of a placid water, surface feeder and not usually found in the actively tidal waters where the Greater seem so comfortable. The GRYL is about 14″ tall and the Willet (same Genus) is a bit taller at 15″. The Greater Yellowlegs are breeding birds of the taiga spruce forests and tundra edges well into Canada and Alaska.

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