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Peregrines, Skimmers and Cottontails Come Home

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Learn more about Trustees work protecting sepcies around the state.

Across the state, our staff and volunteers are working to protect natural places and the animals that call them home. Here's an update on some of our feathered and furry friends on the Cape and Islands.

Black Skimmers Arrive on Martha’s Vineyard

Black Skimmers (pictured above) are unique among North American birds, with their distinctive feeding method of skimming the water’s surface while dragging their lower bill through the water to catch small fish. The only American representative of the skimmer family, they are one of 233 North American birds on the North American Bird Conservation Initiative’s Watch List, as species most in need of conservation action. Black Skimmers began nesting at The Trustee’s Norton Point Beach (on Martha’s Vineyard) in 2012. “It’s exciting to have them here as they are on the edge of their range,” says Caitlin Borck, Ecology Assistant for the Southeast Region.

Primarily found along coasts, rivers and waterways of the southern U.S., as well as parts of the Caribbean and South America, Black Skimmers never nested as far north as Massachusetts prior to 2012. Borck reports, “Last season we only had one nest on Norton Point, but the others moved to nearby Little Beach in Edgartown (which is monitored by Biodiversity Works). This year, we started with no nesting pairs, but after the birds at Little Beach hatched and fledged chicks, we had five pairs arrive. Four of those pairs nested and fledged a remarkable seven chicks this year.”

Here Comes (Back) the New England Cottontail

The Trustees have teamed up with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service for the last several years to improve habitat for the New England cottontail at Mashpee River Reservation on Cape Cod. Often confused with the introduced, non-native Eastern cottontail, the New England cottontail is the only rabbit native to the Northeast. The cottontail’s range has decreased a disheartening 86% in the last half-century, and the Mashpee project is improving habitat by reducing tree cover to encourage the dense regeneration of shrubs, saplings, and vines—the kind of cozy environment preferred by cottontails.

In 2006, the New England cottontail was identified as a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection. But we’re happy to report that – through the efforts of many conservation partners in New England and New York, including the Trustees’ Habitat Restoration Project at Mashpee – the USFWS has recently announced that the New England cottontail is on the path to recovery and will not need to be listed under the federal Endangered Species Act!

Monument Mountain’s Peregrines Return

One of only 14 historical rocky cliff nesting sites for the Peregrine Falcon in Massachusetts, Monument Mountain in Great Barrington was, in 1955, the last known nesting site in the state. Now, 60 years later, we have confirmation that the falcons are nesting and successfully raising chicks on Monument Mountain again. Although most nesting peregrines in MA are now on man-made structures, Monument is a natural cliff that supported peregrines likely long before there were skyscrapers!