In case you were wondering, where do turtles go in winter?

The Eastern Painted Turtle is our most common turtle and this beauty was found at Niles Pond, crossing the road heading towards one of several little babbling brooks that flow towards the pond. Perhaps it was planning to hibernate there as it was the last day of October.

Turtles are an ectotherm, which means that their body temperature mirrors the temperature of the surrounding environment, whether pond water or sunlit rock. During the fall they find a comfy spot in the mud at either a pond or stream and burrow in. The Painted Turtle’s metabolism slows dramatically and it won’t usually come up for air until spring, although even during hibernation they require some slight bit of oxygen, which they take in through their skin. Painted Turtles do move around a bit in the mud during the winter but do not travel far and do not move very swiftly.

Painted Turtle Niles Pond ©Kim Smith 2015


Harbor Seals spotted coat Atlantic ©kim Smith 2015Providing excellent camouflage, Harbor Seals have evolved with coats that blend perfectly with the surrounding rocks and sandy shores on which they “haul out.”  Each individual Harbor Seal’s pattern of spots is unique, with two basic variations, either a light coat with dark spots or a dark coat with light spots. Their bellies are generally lighter colored.

Harbor Seals are easily disturbed by human activity, which is the reason why they are all looking in my direction. I climbed way out on the rocks to get a closer look that they found disturbing enough, when a loud crash in the distance made them all jump simultaneously.

Harobr Seal white Atlantic ©Kim Smith 2015JPGFellow friends of Niles Pond and I have all noticed that the seal in the above photo is noticeably whiter. He has a big gash on his neck as you can see in the close-up photo, which I didn’t notice until looking through the pictures. I wonder if that is why he has been spending so much time on the rocks. Perhaps he is recovering.

Injured harbor seal ©Kim Smith 2015Interesting fact: Although Harbor Seals have been seen as far south as the Carolinas, Massachusetts is the most southern region in which they breed.


Jamy Sessleman, WCVB reporter, saw the post on Good Morning Gloucester and wrote requesting photo permission. Here is the link to the WCVB website:


Thanks to Paul Morrison for letting us know the story was also picked up by the Globe:



White pelican Massachusetts gloucester ©Kim Smith 11-16-15


Imagine the excitement when after filming Mr. Swan this morning, I spotted across the pond a very swan-like large white bird. The first thought that came to mind was a new Mrs. Swan had magically appeared on the scene. But no–not as wonderful–but equally as exciting, with its large orange pouched bill, the bird was unmistakably a pelican!

It was swimming toward the berm so I raced back to the other side of the pond and was able to get somewhat nearer, close enough so that the footage is passable. Without warning, the pelican suddenly took to the air with elegant, graceful wingbeats and I was lucky to have movie camera in hand. The light was murky this morning and all would have been more beautiful if the sun were out a bit more. Nonetheless, it’s great to have a record of this very unusual occurrence.

The American White Pelican is a rare sight in Massachusetts and I wonder if any of our readers have ever seen one on our shores. Please write if you have. 

With wings spanning nine feet, the American White Pelican is one of our largest native birds, only the Trumpeter Swan and California Condor are larger, reportedly having up to ten-foot wingspans. Comparatively, the wings of a Mute Swan span approximately seven to eight feet. Please note that Mr. Swan is a Mute Swan, not a Trumpeter Swan, and is not indigenous.

The Niles Pond pelican was far off course. Pelicans east of the Rocky Mountains typically migrate through the Mississippi Valley, from breeding grounds in northernmost North America to the Gulf of Mexico Texas and Florida coasts. Unlike Brown Pelicans, which dive and plunge for food, white pelicans catch prey while swimming.

As with the Brown Pelican, during the mid-twentieth century, the American White Pelican was severely adversely affected by spraying DDT in fields and wetlands. Habitat destruction, shoreline erosion, and mass poisonings when pesticides are used near breeding grounds continue to threaten the American White Pelican.

White pelican Massachusetts gloucester ©Kim Smith 11-16-15
Map provided by South Dakota Birds, via Peter Houlihan, who is Anna from Cape Ann Giclee’s brother. Peter teaches biology at UMass Amherst, has a PhD in biology/animal behavior, and is an ornithologist. Thank you Peter!


Monarch Butterfly Exposion -2 ©Kim Smith 2014 300dpi copyMonarch Butterfly Explosion

What is a Monarch Butterfly explosion? The butterflies migrate to Mexico to keep from freezing to death in northern climates. The air is cool and moist in the trans-Mexican volcanic mountains, cool enough to keep them inactive and in a state of sexual immaturity, called diapause, but not so cold that they will freeze. As spring approaches and the Earth’s temperature begins to rise, the butterflies sleeping in the oyamel fir forests need to get out of the hot sun. Millions explode from the trees, drink water from nearby mountain streams, and move to a cooler, shadier spot on the mountain.

I hope you’ll come join our program Thursday night at 7pm at the Sawyer Free Library. We’ll be talking all things Monarchs including the current status of the butterfly’s migration, habitat destruction here in our own community, and most importantly, ways in which we can all help the Monarch possibly survive the warming of the earth.

We will be premiering the trailer for my forthcoming film about the Monarchs, too (also titled Beauty on the Wing). I hope to see you there!

For more information, visit the Programs page of my website and the Sawyer Free Library Facebook page.Monarch Butterfly Explosion -1 ©Kim Smith 2014 300dpi copy


Monarch Caterpillars Common Milkweed ©Kim Smith 2012Milkweed Munching Monarchs

Although scientists have long known that the toxic sap that flows through milkweed veins, called cardenolides, can make a bird very sick if it attempts to eat a Monarch caterpillar, it was unclear whether the butterfly’s acquired adaption to the toxicity was a side effect that allowed the caterpillar to eat the milkweed or had developed separately as a defensive mechanism against predators. A Cornell University study recently published in Proceedings B of The Royal Society Publishing reveals that they have indeed evolved to weaponize milkweed toxins! Thank you so much to Maggie Rosa for sharing “The Scientist” article and you can read more about it here. 

“Monarch butterfly caterpillars have evolved the ability to store toxins known as cardenolides, obtained from their milkweed diet, specifically to make themselves poisonous to birds, as has at least one other species of milkweed-munching caterpillar, according to a study published Wednesday (November 4) in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“This finding is fascinating and novel,” Stephen Malcolm, a professor at Western Michigan University who studies cardenolides but was not involved in the new research, wrote in an email to The Scientist. “It is exciting to have evidence for the importance of top-down influences from predators.” Continue Reading

Please join me Thursday evening, November 12th, at 7pm at the Sawyer Free Library for my illustrated talk, Beauty on the Wing ~ Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Meadow monarch caterpillar ©Kim Smith 2015Meadow Anderson and Milkweed Caterpillar

Beautiful Indian Summer Light

Scenes from around Niles Pond and Brace Cove October

Painted Turtle Niles Pond ©Kim Smith 2015Painted Turtle

Cattails in the wind ©Kim Smith ©2015Catinninetails in the wind

Brace Cove ©Kim Smith 2015Gulls departing Brace Cove after the storm

Great Blue heron Gull Seals Brace cove ©Kim Smith 2015Great Blue Heron, seals, and gull

Mr. Swan seems lonely still. The past few days he swims around and around the pond and continues to call plaintively.

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

See More Photos Here

Song Sparrow and Finch ©Kim Smith 2015Song Sparrow and FinchCattails in the wind -2 ©Kim Smith 2015