Sandy Hook

January 6th is a special day for me. On 1/6/17 I saw my first rare bird, the American White Pelican, with my mom and sister in Tuckerton, NJ. 1/6/18, Dave and I got married!

January 6th continues to be as special day because in 2019, it’s the day of the Razorbills!

Dave and I decided that we wanted to spend our 1st wedding anniversary birding at a new location. Sandy Hook is an area that I’ve wanted to explore for a while, so we decided that it would be the perfect time. Sandy Hook is a barrier island peninsula and the northern tip of the New Jersey Shore. You can see the Manhattan Skyline across the ocean. Sandy Hook is part of Gateway National Recreation Area, run by the National Park Service.

I heard through my NJ birders groups that there were some Razorbill sightings, so I was hoping we would spot a few. However, whether or not we found Razorbills, Sandy Hook always has interesting sightings.

We started our adventure at Lot A and B Beaches. Black Scoters, Surf Scoters, and Long-tailed Ducks surfed the waves. A few Northern Gannets flew by. We spent about 10 minutes watching the flocks fly by when we spotted our first Razorbills. Razorbills look like little black-and-white jet planes in flight. They fly low to the water in lines and individuals usually rock side-to-side out of sync with their flockmates. The Razorbills were our first life list birds of the year.

Lot C Beach brought us some more Razorbills, Red-breasted Mergansers, Long-tailed Ducks, Black Scoters, a variety of gulls, Northern Gannets, and Common Loons (as well as a nice view of the Manhattan Skyline).

Common Loon (Image by BirdNation)

The other side of the peninsula runs along Sandy Hook Bay and Spermaceti Cove. You get a pretty view of the Atlantic Highlands as you walk across the beach. According to Sandy Hook’s website, the Highlands are the highest point on the eastern seaboard. We observed a group of adult and juvenile Mute Swans, American Black Ducks, Brant, Canada Geese, and many gulls.

Mute Swan Goslings (Image by BirdNation)

We also had the opportunity to see a colony of Atlantic Harbor Seals relaxing on a sandbar. It was fun watching them frolic in the water and spend some time sunning. (Speaking of seals, we had a cool seal experience in Cape Cod, MA last summer!)

Sandy Hook Seals (Image by David Horowitz)

Before leaving, we spent time exploring some of the historical sites and the lighthouse. I definitely plan on birding again at Sandy Hook.

Surf Scoter: Waterfowl Wednesday

We are almost a month into winter, so I thought it would a great time for a Waterfowl Wednesday post. If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know that I love waterfowl, and winter is the best time to look for different species. For new readers, waterfowl is any bird that is a duck, goose, or swan. So without further ado, today’s featured species is Surf Scoter.

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)

Description:

  • Black-and white, medium-sized sea duck
  • Has no white on wings
  • Wedge shaped heads
  • Males: distinct swollen bill of orange, white, red, yellow, and a dark black spot. Yellowish-white or blue-gray eyes. Red-orange feet with dusky webs. White patches on nape of neck and forehead.
  • Females: Dark crown on head and neck. White patches below and behind eyes. Plain, sloping greenish-black bill. Pale gray, yellow, or brown eyes. Brown to yellow-colored feet with black webs.
  • Juvenile: Similar to female, but has brown eyes, white belly and whiter face patches
Male Surf Scoter (Image by BirdNation)
Female Surf Scoter (Image by BirdNation)

Range

  • Breeding: exclusively breeds in North America, specifically Alaska and Northern Canada
  • Winter: Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, sometimes Gulf Coast
  • Migration: Migrates in flocks over coastal waters, sometimes using lakes for stop-over sites. Migrates through parts of Canada, the Great Lakes, and some New England and Mid-Atlantic States.

Habitat

In winter, oceans and salt bays. In summer, tundra, lakes, and semi-open terrains.

Diet

Mainly mollusks, aquatic invertebrates, crustaceans, aquatic insects, some plant material. Surf Scoters are diving ducks. 

Breeding/Nesting

  • Courtship: Many males will try to impress a female using display flights, swimming back and forth with neck up, or exaggerated bows. Pair bonds form on wintering grounds.
  • Nesting: Shallow depression on the ground away from water, usually well hidden.
  • Young: Female incubates 5-9 eggs and tends to the chicks after hatching. Chicks are precocial, meaning they leave the nest shortly after hatching and can feed themselves.
Female and male Surf Scoters at Barnegat Light, NJ (Image by BirdNation)

Vocalizations

Usually silent, but sometimes guttural croaking. Wings in flight make a whistling sound.

Conservation

Population trends are not well known, but are mostly stable.

Fun Facts

  • Egg hatching is synchronous among eggs, meaning they will all hatched around the same time.
  • Similar species to the Surf Scoter are Black Scoters and White-winged Scoters. However, Surf Scoters can be distinguish from other scoter species by their unique bills, white patches on the head, and completely black wings.
  • Flocks can vary in size from 2 to 500 individuals, but can be larger during migration. Surf Scoters frequently flock with Black Scoters, but most other species of ducks can be found among Surf Scoters. They tend to fly in disorganized lines that are constantly fluctuating.

Avalon and Stone Harbor: First Hike ’19

New year, new birding location!

Dave and I spent New Years Day morning at the 8th St. Jetty in Avalon, New Jersey. The 8th St. Jetty is the location of the Avalon Sea Watch, run by New Jersey Audubon.

Avalon Sea Watch is a migratory bird count that occurs from September 22 to December 22 each year. The 8th St. Jetty in Avalon was chosen as the bird count site because it extends a mile farther out into the ocean than the northern coastline. Therefore, many seabirds pass close to the beach. Fall is the best time to visit the Sea Watch, because any seabird that migrates across the Atlantic Coast can be a possibility. Winter brings rafts of seaducks, wintering loons, gulls, alcids, and grebes. New Jersey Audubon’s Sea Watch page states that around 800,000 birds are counted annually at this location.

January 1st was our first time birding at the 8th St. Jetty, but we did have a motivation to check it out: Razorbills. Razorbills are seabirds that are members of the alcid family (the auks). These black-and-white birds are well adapted for ocean life and only come ashore to breed. They are residents of the North Atlantic, and sometimes in the winter can be seen offshore as far south as North Carolina (rarely to Florida).

We’ve been having a record winter this year for Razorbills in New Jersey. Since late December, Razorbills have been spotted at a few Jersey Shore locations in the hundreds to thousands on some days. They mainly fly by in the mornings around sunrise (from 7:00am-10:00 generally). It’s been quite an event, and has been widely discussed in Jersey Birder circles.

Razorbill (Image via bbc.co.uk)

So Dave and I figured that we should check it out. Who knows, maybe we would see some Razorbills? Well, we ended up not seeing any that morning, but did see Long-tailed Ducks, Common Eiders, Black Scoters, Common Loons, a Brant, and some Herring Gulls. It’s definitely a great birding location and I would like to visit the Sea Watch again.

If you want to learn more about Avalon Sea Watch check out their website: https://njaudubon.org/places-to-visit/avalon-seawatch/

Long-tailed Duck male (Image by BirdNation)

After the Sea Watch site, we went to Stone Harbor Point. At Stone Harbor we saw some more Long-tailed Ducks, Common Loons Herring Gulls, and Brant. We also observed Purple Sandpiper, Sanderlings, and a Northern Gannet.

Our first hike of the year is usually at Palmyra Cove, so it was nice to head out the Jersey Shore for some New Year birding.

By the way, my first bird of 2019 was a Ring-billed Gull at the local Wawa (a good convenience store/food market for those not lucky enough to live near one lol).

What was your first bird of 2019? Tell me in the comments!

Wisdom the Albatross

Exciting news! Wisdom, a Laysan Albatross who is at least 68-years-old, has laid another egg in December on Midway Atoll. This amazing Albatross is the world’s oldest wild bird.

Wisdom and her mate Akeakamai (Image by Kiah Walker via friendsofmidwayatoll.org)

Wisdom was banded on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in 1956 by biologist Chandler Robbins. Wisdom was already around 5 or 6-years-old at the time of banding. 46 years later, in 2002, Robbins was back on Midway Atoll to study albatrosses and re-sighted Wisdom.

Scientists who have track Wisdom believe that she’s laid over 40 eggs in her over 6 decades. She had successfully raised at least 35 chicks.

Laysan Albatrosses are large seabirds with a 6-foot-wingspan and weigh between 5-9 pounds. They lay one egg per breeding season and spend 5 1/2 months raising their chick. Laysans mate with the same partner for life, usually at the same nesting location. These albatrosses typically take a year off after rearing a chick. However, Wisdom and her current mate, Akeakamai (whose name actually means “lover of wisdom” 😊), have raised an egg every year since 2006.

Albatrosses are master ocean travelers. They spend a majority of their lives out at sea. After fledging, young albatrosses will spend about 3-5 years exploring the oceans before returning to land to breed. It’s estimated that over her six decades so far, Wisdom may have flown over 3 million miles.

Seabirds are facing a number of challenges these days, including plastic pollution, warming oceans, and invasive predators at nest sites. To me, Wisdom is a symbol of resilience and hope in an ever-changing world. The fact that she has survived over six decades and is still raising chicks is a testament to how intelligent and adaptable seabirds can be in a world of increasing challenges.

I wish Wisdom and Akeakami the best of luck and safe journeys!

LaysanAlbatrosses are one of my favorite bird species. Check out some of my other posts about how amazing they are and what you can do to help them in the  face of plastic pollution.

Albie Love

Trouble in Paradise

2018 Review: Year of the Bird

Happy New Year’s Eve! 2018 was official the Year of the Bird, and it was quite a year! Here are some of the highlights from our birding year.

January

February

  • Great Backyard Bird Count: 33 species, 793 individual birds. Plus 2 Life Birds: Tufted Duck and Redheads
IMG_4930 (2)
Tufted Duck (Image by BirdNation)
  • 2 Snowy Owls at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.

March

  • Added 2 Life List Birds at Chincoteague: Brown-headed Nuthatch and Lesser Black-backed Gull
  • Snowy Owl at Forsythe (totaling to 3 Snowies this year)
Snowy Owl 3/18/18 (Image by David Horowitz)
  • Saw 81 species from January 1 to the first day of spring for Year List

April

  • My first dolphins!
  • Added Wilson’s Snipe to our life list at Taylor’s Wildlife Preserve

May

  • Global Big Day at Forsythe NWR: 60 species
  • Our first Red Knots at Delaware Bay
  • Participated in the 2018 Great American Arctic Birding Challenge with 62 species recorded between March 1 and June 1
  • Added 4 Life List Birds: Caspian Tern, Northern Parula, Canada Warbler, and Red Knots
  • Added 71 species to Year List, bring total to 152 by the first day of summer

June

Started working at Rancocas Nature Center

July

Roseate Spoonbill juvenile (Image by David Horowitz)
  • Also added to life list: Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Chimney Swift
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron pair with eggs (Image by BirdNation)

August

Cape Cod vacation! Added 3 new Life List birds: Roseate Tern, Black Tern, Great Shearwater. Also saw my first Grey Seals. Went birding on the way home in Connecticut.

September

  • Had my last birding trip of my 20s at Forsythe on 9/16 😂
  • Added 14 species to Year List for summer, making total 166

October

  • First October Global Big Day at Cape May: huge Tree Swallow flocks and Western Palm Warblers. 31 total species
  • Gave my first birding presentation at Rancocas Nature Center, “The Miracle of Avian Migration’, on October 13 (World Migratory Bird Day)

November

  • Added 9 more species to Year List for fall, making final total 175

December

  • Participated in my first Audubon Christmas Bird Count on 12/23 in Moorestown, NJ, with 35 total species for our count. Unsure of total count for other teams in the “Moorestown” circle. (Fun fact: Moorestown, NJ was one of the 25 towns to participate in very first Christmas Bird on December 25, 1900)
  • Close-up seaducks at Barnegat Light: Surf Scoters, Common Eiders, Black Scoters, Harlequin Ducks, and Long-tailed Ducks
  • Final hike 2018: Taylor’s Wildlife Preserve

Final 2018 Stats

  • Year List: 175 species
  • Life List: 16 new additions, current total 207.
  • Birding in 7 States: New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts

Looking forward to birding in 2019!

Duck-mas Eve

Last year we had a Snowy Christmas Eve….Snowy Owl that is.

Snowy Owl 12/24/17 (Image by David Horowitz)

We went back to Long Beach Island today…no Snowies. Instead we celebrated Duck-mas Eve! All the waterfowl attended…

Surf Scoters,

Harlequin Ducks,

Long-tailed Ducks,

Black Scoters,

Brants,

And Common Eiders of all plumage types. There were breeding males, females, and juveniles.

There was even a Common Eider parade.

A Snowy Owl Christmas Eve is great, but Duck-mas Eve is just as awesome! Merry Duck-mas!