Great Backyard Bird Count 2020!

This weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count! Are you ready to count some birds?

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a citizen science project run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. This 4-day event occurs in February every year and people all over the world participate. The 2020 GBBC goes from February 14-17. Participating is fun and easy!

  1. Create an eBird account if you don’t already have one (it’s free!).
  2. Go outside for at least 15 minutes and count every bird you can identify. You can go birding anywhere you want!
  3. Submit your checklists on eBird.

Go birding as many times as you want within the 4 days to participate. All the data you contribute is used by scientists to track bird populations.

This year will be our first time doing the GBBC in New Hampshire. We are in for some pretty cold temperatures the first half of this weekend (or as some of my students would probably say: wicked cold! lol)., so it’ll be interesting to see how many birds we’ll find. Sunday will warm up a little, so I plan on heading out to the Seacoast. I’ll keep you updated!

I hope you are able to participate in the count! Have fun!

Decade's End

Hello friends! I’m here writing you at 8:50 pm on 12/31/19, the end of the year and the decade. I can’t believe 2020 is already upon us. 2019 was a very exciting birding year for us and 2020 is going to be just as, if not more, amazing! My New Year’s Resolution is to get back to blogging frequently again because to be honest, 2019 was a little rough to stay on task. At the end of June Dave and I moved from New Jersey to New Hampshire and its been quite an adventure. Here are BirdNation’s 2019 highlights.

Life List Birds (19 for me, 17 for Dave)

Pacific Loon (Image by David Horowitz)
  • Pine Siskin: 2/10 at Cloverdale Farm County Park, Barnegat, NJ (Dave was not here for this lifer, it was a lifer for my mom and sister though)
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch: 2/17 at Cloverdale Farm County Park, Barnegat, NJ
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Image by BirdNation)
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl: 3/1 at undisclosed location
Northern Saw-whet Owl (Image by David Horowitz)
  • Winter Wren: 3/1 at Palmyra Cove Nature Park, NJ
  • American Woodcock: 3/13 at Rancocas Nature Center, Westampton, NJ
  • Yellow-throated Warbler: 4/26 at Flag Ponds Nature Park, Lusby, MD
  • Red-headed Woodpecker: 4/27 at Calvert Cliffs SP, Lusby, MD
  • Prothonotary Warbler: 4/27 at Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, Prince Frederick, MD
Prothonotary Warbler (Image by David Horowitz)
  • Scarlet Tanager: 5/8 at Maria B. Greenwald Park, Cherry Hill, NJ
  • Eastern Meadowlark: 6/19 at Chincoteague NWR, VA
Eastern Meadowlark (Image by David Horowitz)
  • Bobolink: 7/28 at Parker River NWR, Newbury, MA
  • Common Nighthawk: 8/30 at Moores Crossing Railroad Bridge, Manchester, NH
  • Nashville Warbler: 9/1 at Miller SP-Pack Monadnock, Peterborough, NH
  • Black Guillemot: 11/10 at Odiorne SP, Rye, NH
  • American Tree Sparrow: 12/15 at Concord, NH (Dave wasn’t there for this one either, I saw this in the Concord Christmas Bird Count)
  • Virginia Rail: 12/26 at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR

My current life list total is 227.

Year List 2019

This is the 2nd year I kept a Year List. 2019’s total was 189, 14 more birds than 2018 (175). The Year List will continue into 2020.

Bird Counts

We participated in many bird counts this year:

  • Great Backyard Bird Count: We counted at Amico Island , Haddon Lake Park, Palmyra Cove, Barnegat Lighthouse SP, Cloverdale Farm, and then Haddon Lake again (lol) to find 52 different species and over 1,500 individual birds
  • Global Big Day (May 4): 55 species (11 of them warblers) between Rancocas Nature Center and Palmyra Cove
  • 2019 Great American Arctic Birding Challenge (March 15-June 1): It was Team BirdNation’s 2nd year participating and we saw 56 species
  • October Big Day (October 19): 20 species in Cape Cod, MA
  • Concord Christmas Bird Count (December 15): I participated in the Concord CBC. Last year I did the Moorestown, NJ count with my friends from Rancocas, but I wanted to start getting involved in the New Hampshire birding community. I had a blast being on the team and we totaled 51 species at the time (not including a count we were waiting on from 1 person and count week birds).

Birding States

We went birding in 2 new states in 2019: New Hampshire (where we moved to) and Maine, bringing our total to 11 birding states. Other states we visited this year were Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Onward to 2020…

I’m so excited to start our birding adventures in 2020! There are some pretty cool opportunities coming up, so I will keep you posted on all our new expeditions (and I will catch you up on some of the events of the past few months.) Happy New Year! See you in 2020!

Cape Cod October Big Day

Team BirdNation spent a majority of October Big Day in Provincetown, Massachusetts. We visited 3 Provincetown locations: Race Point Beach, Herring Cove Beach, and MacMillan Pier. In the evening we went to Skaket Beach in Orleans. Overall we observed 20 different species and over 2,000 individual birds.

Race Point Beach, Provincetown, MA (14 species, 1068 individuals)

  • Large flocks of White-winged Scoters
  • 5 Gull species: Bonaparte’s, Laughing, Great Black-backed, Ring-billed, and Herring
  • Other bird species: Double-crested Cormorants, Common Eiders, Northern Gannets, Sanderlings, Rock Pigeons, Tree Swallows, European Starlings, a Common Loon
  • 2 Harbor Seals
Male and Female White-winged Scoters (Image by BirdNation)
A variety of gulls: Black-backed, Bonaparte’s Laughing, and Herring (Image by BirdNation)
Northern Gannets (Image by BirdNation)

Herring Cove Beach, Provincetown, MA (9 species, 212 individuals)

  • Rafts of Common Eiders and White-winged Scoters
  • Large flocks of Double-crested Cormorants and mixed Gulls
White-winged Scoters (Image by BirdNation)

MacMillan Pier, Provincetown, MA (3 species, 48 individuals)

We didn’t do much birding at MacMillan Pier because we were on our way to lunch but we did see some Common Eiders, Herring Gulls, and Rock Pigeons. The Pier is a cool little area of town and has great views of Provincetown Harbor. You can also see the Pilgrim Monument in the center of town, a tower that commemorates when the Pilgrims landed the Mayflower in Provincetown in 1620.

Skaket Beach, Orleans, MA (10 species, 701 individuals)

We went to Skaket Beach around sunset. I didn’t have the camera while we were there, but we saw hundreds of Common Eiders and White-winged Scoters flying over the bay.

We had an amazing day birding in Provincetown and Orleans. Did you go birding on October Big Day? If you did tell us about it in the comments.

To read about our October Big Day trip in Cape May last year click here.

Time for October Big Day!

October 19, 2019 is the 2nd annual October Big Day. October Big Day was created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The goal of the event is to count as many birds as possible in one day. The data contributed by citizen scientists around the world is used to track bird migration. Last year, 6,331 species were counted in one day!

There are a number a ways that you can participate in October Big Day. You can count birds in your backyard, go to a favorite birding hotspot, or even participate in a Big Sit event where you spend the day birding in one location. Whichever way you choose to participate, Big Day is not only fun but a great way to help ornithologists study migration trends. Here’s how to participate:

  • Choose a birding location (or multiple locations)
  • Observe/hear as many birds as you can.
  • Record your findings on eBird. The easiest way to do this in the field is using the mobile app, but you can enter data through the website on ebird.org. If you don’t have an eBird account signing up is free and easy.
  • Enjoy watching the birds!

Last year, Team BirdNation participated in the first October Big Day at Cape May, New Jersey . This year, we are spending the day in Cape Cod, Massachusetts; primarily at Race Point Beach.

Are you participating in October Big Day? Tell us where you plan on birding in the comments!

International Vulture Awareness Day

The first Saturday of September is International Vulture Awareness Day. There are 23 species of vultures in the world, and many of them are considered threatened or endangered, with a few classified as critically endangered. Without effective conservation initiatives, some vulture species can become extinct within our lifetime.

Unfortunately, vultures are very misunderstood. Vultures eat carrion (dead animals), so many people associate them with death or think they are dirty animals. However, vultures are critically important to healthy ecosystems. They clean carcasses bare before diseases can spread. Vultures can be separated into two main groups: Old World (Africa, Europe, and Asia) and New World (South America and North America). All vultures are facing threats, but the crisis is especially bad in Africa.

Threats facing vultures including:

  • Poisoning due to lead ammunition left by hunters, agricultural pesticides, and poachers trying to get vultures for illegal trade
  • Electrocution due to power lines
  • Vehicle collisions and wind farm collisions
  • Starvation when carcasses are removed before vultures are able to find them
  • Persecution. Many people think that vultures are a sign of death and that they harm healthy livestock. Both of these beliefs are untrue.
  • Habitation fragmentation

Things you can do to help vultures include:

  • Supporting conservation organizations who are working to help save vultures
  • Avoiding lead ammunition if you hunt and retrieving spent ammunition so birds are not able to consume it
  • Driving carefully, especially around roadkill, to avoid accidentally colliding with vultures
  • Spreading the word about how important vulture are and celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day

Our health and the health of ecosystems all over the world depend on vultures. Vultures are amazing birds who need our help, so please spread the word!

If you want to learn some reasons why vultures are awesome, check out my post from May 2016 called Nature’s Sanitation Crew.(It’s one of my favorite posts that I’ve written lol!)

You can also check out these resources:

The Vulture Crisis from BirdLife International

The Vulture Conservation Foundation

African Wildlife Foundation

Book Review: Baby Birds

Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into the Nest by Julie Zickefoose is a fantastic account on how baby birds develop in the nest, as well as a beautiful work of art. From 2002-2015, nature artist Julie Zickefoose set out to learn how baby birds develop and depict the amazing process through watercolors. In 13 years she painted 17 different songbird species. Many of the nests she found in her own backyard, an 80-acre sanctuary called Indigo Hill in Ohio. Some species were sent to her in pictures by friends who found interesting bird species in their yards.

Baby Birds: An Artist Looks in the Nest by Julie Zickefoose

From the day the young hatched, Zickefoose would select a chick (usually the oldest) and bring it into her art studio to paint. She would repeat the process each day of the nestling’s life until it seemed like it was ready to fledge. In certain instances Julie was able to continue to observe the birds after they fledged. Each species she encountered offered a unique and many times surprising experience. Zickefoose’s journey was not without its challenges though. She was not opposed to interfering when she felt it was needed. She rehabilitated some chicks, dealt with nest parasites, and warded off predators in order to help with their survival (although a few times these efforts did not pay off).

There are two types of baby birds: precocial and altricial. Precocial birds are born more developed, usually with down feathers and the ability to walk on their own. They are able to leave the nest within hours of hatching and can find food for themselves. Waterfowl, galliformes, and shorebirds are precocial. Altricial birds are underdeveloped upon hatching and require care from the parents for an extended period of time in order to survive. Examples of altricial birds include raptors, pigeons, and passerines (perching/songbirds). Julia focuses strictly on altricial birds in order to closely track their development.

The tone of Baby Birds is very casual; much of the book reads as if you are reading directly out of Zickefoose’s journal (which is some cases you are). Each species account begins with a spread of Julie’s painting with her fields notes. In a glance you can see what the bird looked like as it developed. As you dive into the chapters, Zickefoose breaks down what occurred each day and what milestones the chick reached. Next to each day is a larger version of the painting you see on the beginning spread.

I really enjoyed Julie’s style. The illustrations/paintings are very detailed and beautiful. She really captures the essence of each chick and the paintings look life-like. Peppered throughout her personal experiences are interesting facts about the species that she learned from research. Some species that Zickefoose painted include Eastern Bluebird, Carolina Wren, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Indigo Bunting, and the only cavity-nesting warbler, the Prothonotary Warbler. My favorite was the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

I found it interesting that Julie included 3 species that many people consider pests: the House Sparrow, European Starling, and House Wren. Although she was originally against letting these birds nest and would remove any nests of these species she could find, sometimes the birds had other plans. She did ended up appreciating the experience to learn about these birds that people usually shun. In her chapter about House Sparrows, Julie notes that in some of their natural range of Eurasia, these sparrows are rapidly declining. It’s interesting that people in the sparrow’s natural range are scrambling to try to save their beloved bird, while people in the United States want them eradicated for stealing nesting spaces from native birds. In regards to this idea Zickefoose remarks, “Take no bird for granted, no matter how abundant.” It’s a sentiment that I agree with. Each individual bird is important, especially today in the midst of climate change and a rapidly changing world.

I would recommend Baby Birds to anyone with a love for nature, birds and/or art. Julie Zickefoose cleverly mixes art, science, and her personal experiences to captivate her audience and leads us on a fascinating journey into the life of baby birds.

Back to NJ

Hi everyone! I took a little break from blogging since the move to New Hampshire. The transition has been a little rough, but it’ll get easier over time. Since I last wrote we went back to Chincoteague, VA, added Maine to our birding map, and added a few lifers to our list. I’ll catch you up on all of that soon, but this past weekend we visited family back in New Jersey and of course made some time for birding. I was able to visit some of my old stomping grounds: Palmyra Cove Nature Park and Haddon Lake Park.

Palmyra Cove Nature Park, Palmyra, NJ

I really missed Palmyra. Even in the heat of the day, we still observed 34 species. Highlights included a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, American Redstarts, Chimney Swifts, 2 Ospreys, and Wild Turkeys. We also saw a nice variety of butterflies and dragonflies, some turtles, and a groundhog.

Haddon lake park, audubon, nj

The ducks at Haddon Lake are now in eclipse plumage. Waterfowl undergo a simultaneous wing molt, meaning they are rendered flightless for about 20-40 days. Therefore, males, who are usually much more colorful than the females, molt their head plumage in order to blend in. I also learned (thanks to a helpful person on Instagram) that there was an American Black Duck amid the Mallards. We also saw a Red-winged Blackbird fledgling being fed by its parent.

Green Heron (Image by BirdNation)
Red-winged Blackbird juvenile