Posts Tagged ‘Buzzards Bay’

Red Fox: Wildlife on the Edge

Monday, October 20th, 2008

As humans expand development and invade the few remaining slices of natural habitat in coastal New England, wild creatures are increasingly forced to survive on the edge of civilization, spilling over into once wild, now “domesticated” lands.  For smaller, secretive and non-aggressive animals such as turtles and rabbits and squirrels and chipmunks, we tolerate their presence so long as they don’t get in the way of our cars or lawn movers, or dare to scavenge in our gardens and garbage.  For the larger, more predatory critters, their very existence in our midst poses a threat to our manicured and domesticated lives.  “Coyotes and foxes and snakes, oh my.  Hide your pets, guard your children; the wilderness is coming to a backyard near you!”

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) on West Island Sun Deck

We must admit that Turtle Journal loves foxes like prodigal children.  Back fifteen years or so, a wily female fox “learned” how to hunt diamondback terrapins in Wellfleet Bay and developed quite a taste for them.  She killed over a hundred of these threatened turtles and fed them to her kits.  We worried that she might pass along this skill to her offspring, but luckily, the skill passed with her.  So, now we can love foxes without reservation.

As the Turtle Journal team drove to West Island on Saturday, hugging the shoreline along Balsam Street heading for the south point, we spotted a beautiful red fox lazing on the side of the road, relaxing like a puppy dog and savoring the long rays of late afternoon sunshine.  We slowed to a crawl to get cameras ready, but impatient weekenders in the car behind us seemed oblivious to the fox, swerved around us and tore down the street to get to the beach for sightseeing.  Go figure. 

Greater New Bedford Area with West Island on the Lower Right

West Island lies on the western coast of Buzzards Bay in Fairhaven and within the Great New Bedford area.  The middle of the island is largely pristine woodlands with dense cottage development along the western shore.  The north, south and east coasts of West Island are covered with sometimes sandy, often rocky beaches with a scattering of salt marshes throughout.  Terrapins were documented on West Island a couple of decades ago, but no sign of their presence has been observed for the last five years of intense search.

The fox bolted across the street toward cottages along the beach.  Sue jumped out with the camera, while Don ran interference with an upset resident.  “You’re not going to do anything to it, are you?  That’s MY fox; I’m taking care of it.  You’re not going to take it, are you?  It lives in my yard and I’m taking care of it.”  While Sue shot footage, Don spoke to the woman about the dangers to the animal and to her family, too, of trying to domesticate a wild fox in such a highly trafficked and developed location. 

Red Fox Relaxing on Sun Deck of Closed Summer Cottage

Sue noted that the fox approached her repeatedly as she photographed it.  At first she thought it might be rabid, but on reflection, it may simply have lost its instinctive fear of humans from being “cared for.”  Not a useful survival trait for a wild fox.  You can see how the animal has made itself at home on the sun-drenched decking of a seaside cottage closed for the season.

Red Fox Returning to Her Litter with a Mouthful (Two Chipmunks)

We had a similar experience in South Wellfleet this spring.  A couple of female foxes raised their kits on the decks of closed cottages abutting the salt marsh of Lieutenant Island.  Not always looking in the best of condition, one of the females learned the skill of hunting chipmunks, an extremely plentiful food supply among the cottages of the Outer Cape.  Once summer residents return in June, though, life becomes more problematic for these wild foxes reared so close to human development.

Sippican Harbor Red Fox Foraging in Salt Marsh at Sunset

In 2005 we observed red fox in Marion Village along Sippican Harbor.  The one pictured above was hunting at twilight along the salt marsh surrounding Tabor Academy’s marine science center.  We spotted fox that summer and early fall romping through the Tabor campus, but haven’t seen any since then.

Monet School of Menhaden

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

Island Wharf (Center); Long Wharf and Beverly Yacht Club (Right)

Last evening about an hour before sunset, the Turtle Journal team strolled to the Marion town docks at Island Wharf in Sippican Harbor.  Located just north of the Beverly Yacht Club, the docks lie close to Ram Island and the outlet to Buzzards Bay.  So many yachts are moored in the protected inner harbor that one might literally hopscotch from deck to deck across the broad waterway.  This busy location translates into fewer sightings of shy estuarine critters seeking safety from predators and dangerous encounters with humankind.

Inner Harbor and Island Wharf Left of Ram Island; Buzzards Bay Right

So, rather than “on assignment,” we were merely enjoying a pre-sunset, postprandial walk from Turtle Journal Central along the south bank of Sippican Harbor.  As we climbed down the ramp, we were surpised to see a group of menhaden circling within feet of the empty floating dock.  This late on an October evening, the sun had dipped so low in the southwestern sky that it bathed the harbor in long waves of light and transformed the scene into a blurry impressionist reflection of reality as the rays ricocheted in the thick, plankton rich top layer of harbor water .  Ghostly fish cruised through the water with silver scales casting off flashes of reds, blues, violets and eerie grays.

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Monet School of Menhaden

The effect was stunning; an impressionist’s canvas painted in light and life.  As we walked back with the image echoing in our memory, we thought had Monet kept fish in his Giverny water garden, he would surely have imported menhaden for such an autumnal moment.

Breakfast Kippers! Sunrise Over Buzzards Bay

Monday, October 6th, 2008

Thousands and thousands of menhaden swirled around Sippican Harbor this morning as sun rose in pink and purple hues over Buzzards Bay.  They even beat the fishermen who didn’t arrive until after pink had faded to gray.  So. for the sole amusement of the Turtle Journal crew and our audience, these critters spun with the perfect synchrony of a jeweled clock, ticking and tocking to the rhythm of the deep blue seas.

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Menhaden Circle under Buzzards Bay Sunrise

Menhaden Arrive in Sippican Harbor on Buzzards Bay

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

As skies cleared this morning, we spotted menhaden schools flooding into Sippican Harbor and circling in relative safety between docks and piers by the town landing and Burr Brothers.  Almost before we could snap our first pictures, fishermen arrive; not with fishing poles this time, but in boats with cast nets.  Others aboard those boats try to foul-hook menhaden with bare hooks.  Throughout the day, more and more boats arrived to harvest menhaden for bait and by early evening, fishermen were sprawled on the floating docks waiting for schools to get within casting range.

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Fishermen in Boats Harvest Menhaden for Bait

Menhaden Seek Safe Harbor in Wellfleet; Still Absent in Sippican Harbor

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Atlantic menhaden, known locally as pogies, alwifes, and bunker, often school in estuaries during September and October, swimming in very large balls as herd protection from ferocious bluefish attacks.  As Hurricane Kyle blew by Cape Cod on Sunday, topping off a long three day weekend of pouring rain, a menhaden school flooded into the inner harbor of Wellfleet at high tide, followed by blues that were followed by local fishermen.  The word must have spread by ethernet (among bluefish and humans) because soon fishing poles outnumbered pogies.

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Menhaden Flood into Wellfleet Inner Harbor

Over the last few years, locals have perceived a significant decline in menhaden.  They have petitioned state and federal legislators for action to control the reduction fishery in which menhaden are harvested for the extraction of omega-3 oils for human consumption with the remainder used for aquaculture and livestock feed.  Menhaden are also harvested as bait for both commercial and recreational fisheries.  Whatever the cause of perceived overfishing, menhaden form a critical link in the coastal ecosystem and their absence would have a significant effect in degrading the coastal enviroment.

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Large Concentration of Menhaden in Sippican Harbor (2006)

In Sippican Harbor off Buzzards Bay, we have been awaiting the arrival of pogies this year.  We found no significant concentration of menhaden in the fall of 2007.  The last time we documented a major massing of menhaden schools in Marion’s Sippican Harbor was September and October 2006.  We are waiting to see if they return in any substantial numbers in 2008.

Sippican Menhaden Beset with Parasitic Copepods

As you can detect in the close-up shots from the video clip, a large percentage of 2006 menhaden were adorned with parasitic copepods.

Don Lewis Holds Menhaden Netted in Chipman’s Cove

During early October 2005 we documented many large schools of menhaden in Wellfleet’s Chipman’s Cove, south of the harbor pier.

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Menhaden Massing in Chipman’s Cove (2005)