Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Black Crowns of August


July began with a cruise out of Portsmouth to Star Island of the Isles of Shoals.  Photographer Kim Nagy and I were particularly interested in going there at that time in July because of the nesting Great Black-backed Gulls.  On our last trip in 2014 to Star Island we went later in July so the gull chicks were older. This time the chicks were young and more fun to photograph.from KIM chicks facing right

Black-backed Gull Chicks, Star Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM chick stretching wings
Black-backed Gull Chicks, Star Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM single chick
Black-backed Gull chick, Star Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy. 
from KIM black backed gull pair
Black-backed Gulls, Star Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Kim Nagy photographing the Black-backed Gulls on the cliffs of Star Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
Of course getting stuck in a thunderstorm while on the cliffs watching the gulls interrupted our photo expedition (our own fault…the sky darkened and we knew that the storm was imminent but we watched the gulls a little too long). 
from KIM Church
The thunderstorm is imminent, Star Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
from KIM dark clouds
The thunderstorm, Star Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
By the time we walked back to one of the buildings on the island for shelter from the storm, we were soaking wet.  But it was worth the soaking to see the gulls. Here is the Thomas Laighton approaching Star Island to pick us up for the trip back to Portsmouth Harbor.  
The Thomas Laighton arriving at Star Island for the return trip to Portsmouth Harbor.  Photo by John Harrison.
Our cruise out of Portsmouth Harbor to Star Island was on the boat Challenger.   One of the sites we passed as we cruised out out of Portsmouth Harbor was the old Portsmouth Naval Prison. 
from KIM Lighthouse 
Lighthouse from the cliffs of Star Island as the thunderstorm begins.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
As we were waiting to board the Thomas Laighton for the trip back to Portsmouth Harbor, we had a nice, close encounter with an Eider Duck hunting for crabs off of the pier.
Eider Duck with crab, Star Island.  Photo by John Harrison.  
from KIM dropped crab
Eider Duck with crab, Star Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
We had the rare good fortune to watch a Hummingbird nest at Great Meadows in Concord for more than a week in July.  We witnessed the female Hummingbird going back and forth to the nest bringing food to the two chicks.
Mother Hummingbird feeding chicks, Great Meadows, Concord, MA.  Photo by John Harrison.
from KIM hummingbird chicks looking left wings out
Hummingbird chick, Great Meadows, Concord, MA.   Photo by Kim Nagy.  
This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  In fact I would never have thought that I would get to witness this.  There was a Hummingbird nest at Mount Auburn Cemetery last year but it failed so we didn’t have the opportunity to see what we saw at Great Meadows.  In our pursuit of wildlife there are always surprises along the way.

  Our Lynn Osprey nest became more active in mid July.  We only saw the occasional heads of the two chicks pop up a bit in early July.
Osprey mother and two chicks, Lynn, MA.  Photo by John Harrison.
Osprey father landing at nest with fish.  Photo by John Harrison.
But by the middle of the month the chicks were standing up and flapping their wings and helicoptering as they built their strength for their fledge flight.   One of the chicks fledged on either July July 26th (which I witnessed) or maybe the day before.  I was there on July 26th and after two hours one of the chicks suddenly leaped out of the nest and flew around the area in circles a couple of times, hovered over the nest to try to land but decided it was too risky and flew to a nearby telephone pole. 
Osprey fledgling just after its fledge flight, Lynn, MA.  Photo by John Harrison.
It seemed like a fledge flight to me.  The second chick hadn’t yet fledged but certainly did within a couple of days of the first one.  They come back to the nest for a while to be fed and then by late August or early September they will begin their migration south.  As David Gessner discovered when writing his book Soaring With Fidel, Cuba is one of the main Osprey migration destination countries.  Maybe this Lynn pair, that have been occupying this nest for several years, winter over in Havana.  I wonder……
  We usually find an uptick in Black-crowned Night Heron activity at the Charles River waterfalls in Watertown Center in August.  And this occurs mostly in the afternoon.  For whatever reason, they begin filtering in after 1pm, both adults and juveniles.  I’ve been watching them day after day and usually stay as late as 4 or 5pm.  On some afternoons I have left the area with six or seven Black-crowns still perched on rocks or tree limbs that are near the waterfalls.  For all of the hours they spend there trying for fish, they are successful infrequently.  One adult has a favorite perch on a tree limb in front of the waterfalls where it sits still as a statue for sometimes hours, looking into the water for fish.
from KIM first shot with fish
Black-crowned Night Heron with fish, Watertown.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
Black-crowned Night Heron with fish, Watertown.  Photo by John Harrison.
I watched it for five days in a row hoping it would catch a fish because it was close and would be a fantastic opportunity.  On the fifth day, finally, it caught a big fish.  It tried to swallow that fish for about ten minutes.  It was fascinating to witness.  It tipped its head up several times attempting to swallow that fish but just couldn’t do it.  It flew a few feet  to the top of the waterfall with the fish and tried from there to swallow it.  No luck.  Finally, it dropped the fish.
Black-crowned Night Heron with fish, Watertown.  Photo by John Harrison.
Black-crowned Night Heron trying to swallow fish, Watertown.  It eventually gave up and let the fish go.  Photo by John Harrison.
Black-crowned Night Heron juvenile with fish, Watertown.  Photo by John Harrison.
Black-crowned Night Heron with fish, Watertown.  Photo by John Harrison.
It’s more likely that it realized it wasn’t going to be able to swallow it than it was an accident.  For me, it was a bonanza. Ten minutes of watching this drama.  Very exciting.

On another afternoon one of the juveniles caught a fish and a few of the other Black-crowns near it chased it around trying to take the fish from it.  But the juvenile held on and finally swallowed the fish.   While watching the Black-crowns a Great Blue Heron usually showed up and moved around amidst them.  It caught a fish about twenty feet from me on July 30th. 
Great Blue Heron with fish, Watertown.  Photo by John Harrison.
Great Blue Heron with fish, Watertown.  Photo by John Harrison.  
  Photographer Jim Renault has had some interesting moments at Belle Isle Marsh in East Boston and Moswetuset Hummock in Quincy.
Moswetuset Hummock, Quincy, MA.  Photo by John Harrison.
There’s an Osprey nest in the marsh at this location with two chicks.  And there are Egrets and Great Blue Herons in the tidal pools.  Jim has also seen a Glossy Ibis along the shore here.  It’s only a few minutes from Marina Bay in Quincy and worth checking out now and then.
from JIM Barn Swallow Fledglings fx Belle Isle Feeding Time
Mother Barn Swallow feeding fledglings.  Belle Isle Marsh, East Boston.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
from JIM Barn Swallow Fledglings fx  Belle Isle
Barn Swallow fledglings, Belle Isle Marsh, East Boston.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
from JIM fx Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets
Egrets in tidal pool, Moswetuset Hummock, Quincy, MA.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
from JIM fx Black-headed Gull Quincy 7_30_2017
Black-headed Gull, Moswetuset Hummock, Quincy, MA.  Photo by Jim Renault. 
While driving in Concord on the morning of Wednesday, August 09 I spotted a doe and three fawns in a field on Rt. 2A.  I was able to watch them for about five minutes until they disappeared into the woods behind the field. 
Doe and Fawns, Concord, MA.  Photo by John Harrison.  
Fawn, Concord, MA.  Photo by John Harrison.  
It will be time to get back to Plum Island in the next couple of weeks.  Shore birds will be filtering in and tree swallows, by the thousands, can be seen there every mid to late August.  It’s breathtaking to witness thousands of these swallows flying overhead.  They cover the sky.  That will be a fitting end to the summer………
Tree Swallows, Plum Island, Aug. 14, 2016.  Photo by John Harrison.