World Penguin Day

Today, April 25, is World Penguin Day! With their tuxedo plumage, penguins are probably one of the most recognizable birds in the world. As popular as they are, many penguin population are on the decline, especially the species that frequent or live on Antarctica. Climate change, habitat disturbance, human interaction, oil pollution, and non-native species are some of the reasons for their decline. It’s not too late to help penguins though! Check out these links to find out ways you can help penguins:

One Green Planet Website

Greenpeace Arctic Sanctuaries petition

Just in time for Wold Penguin Day, the group Oceanites released the first ever “State of Antarctic Penguins” (SOAP) report. All 5 species of penguins that utilize Antarctica were included in the study by Oceanites founder Ron Naveen (who describes his job as “I count penguins.” haha :-)). According to the report there are around 12 million penguins in Antarctica. You can read the “State of Antarctic Penguins” report at this link.

So in honor of penguins worldwide, here are some fun facts about these cute black-and-white birds.

  • When you think of penguins, you probably imagine them walking around in the snow in Antarctica. However, only 2 of the approximately 17 penguin species live in Antarctica (there’s some debate over how many species there actually are, some say up to 19). They are the Emperor Penguin and the Adelie Penguin. The remaining penguin species live in more tropical climates.
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Penguin Id Chart (Image via Pinterest)
  • Almost all penguins live exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere…except one. The Galapagos Penguin is the only species to live north of the equator.
  • The largest living penguin species in the world is the Emperor Penguin. They stand about 3-1/2 feet tall and can weight 77 pounds or more. The smallest living penguin species is the Little Blue, who stands about 16 inches tall and weighs only 2 pounds.
  • Penguins are flightless birds. Over time, their wings evolved into flippers used for agile swimming. While swimming, a layer of air in their smooth plumage aids with buoyancy and insulates them in the frigid waters. Some species can reach up to 22 miles per hour while swimming.
  • Most penguin species are highly social and live in colonies. They form monogamous breeding pairs. Smaller species lay 2 eggs per clutch, while the Emperor and King Penguin species lay only 1.
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A Gentoo and 2 King Penguins walk on the beach

Image by By Liam Quinn from Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

  • All penguins have countershaded plumage. Their black and white plumage helps them to become camouflaged. A predator below, such as an orca, would have trouble distinguish a penguin’s white belly from the water’s reflection.
  • Most birds molt a few feathers at a time, but penguins molt all their feathers at the same time, called catastrophic molting. Penguins are land bound for 2-3 weeks since they are not waterproof during molting.
  •  Some species create loose nest out of pebbles and feathers. Emperor Penguin males actual incubate their single egg on their feet. The egg sits underneath their brood pouch (which is a featherless area with a concentration of blood vessels) to stay warm. After a female lays the egg she transfers it to the male. The female will go out the sea for about 2 months while the male balances the egg on his feet for 64 days throughout the harsh winter.
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Emperor Penguins with chick (Image by Robyn Mundy via antarctica.gov.au)

What’s your favorite species of penguin? Tell me in the comments below.

Strawbridge Surprise

Last Tuesday Dave and I went to Strawbridge Lake to destress after a long work day. The evening started out normal enough. We saw Canada Geese, American Robins, American Crows, Turkey Vultures, Red-winged Blackbirds, a Northern Mockingbird, and House Finches to name a few. You know, the usual cast of characters.

As we approached the end of the lake, something small was swimming in the distance. It was a Pied-billed Grebe! We’ve seen Pied-billed Grebes in the past, mainly at Palmyra and Amico Island. They are usually really far out though, making it hard to see their details.

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Pied-billed Grebe (Image by BirdNation)
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Pied-billed Grebe resting (Image by BirdNation)

This was our first Pied-billed Grebe at Strawbridge Lake. The best part was that instead of swimming away, the Grebe swam towards us! What a cutie it was :-). I couldn’t believe how close it got to us as it preened and splashed in the water. I think it knew we were there, but didn’t seem to mind putting on a show for us. This Pied-billed Grebe was a fantastic surprise to an otherwise seemingly normal night.

Here are some fun facts about Pied-billed Grebes:

  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s entry about the Pied-billed Grebe call them “part bird, part submarine”, which is an apt description of these expert divers. These grebes dive to catch crustaceans, fish, and other invertebrates with their chunky silver and black bills. They can trap water in the feathers to control their buoyancy and reducing drag as they chase after prey. Sometimes they submerge themselves in the water with only their eyes and nostrils on the water’s surface, similar to a crocodile, to avoid danger. If they do run into danger, they’ll “crash-dive”, plunging head first to make a splash.
  • Like other grebes, Pied-bill ingest a decent amount of their own feathers. Sometimes these feathers make up half their stomach contents. The purpose  of these feathers is to create a sieve-like plug to prevent hard parts of their prey from entering the intestines. They later regurgitate pellets of indigestible materials.
  • Pied-billed Grebes have lobed feet that help propel them through the water. Their feet are very close to their rears. This makes them excellent swimmers, but makes walking on land awkward. They are also poor fliers, so they try to stay on water as much as possible.

Have you seen a Pied-billed Grebe? Tell me about it in the comments.

Orange-crowned Warbler Sunday

Hi, friends! Our warbler of the week is the Orange-crowned Warbler. It’s one of the few North American warblers that is more abundant in the Western US than the East.

Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothypis celata)

Descriptions:

Orange-crowned Warblers are one of the plainest New World warblers. Their plumage varies, but they tend to be yellowish or olive. Western Orange-crowns are yellower while Eastern birds are grayer, especially around the head. The orange crown described by their name is very rarely seen in the field. It’s usually only seen when the warbler raises its crest in agitation or excitement. Orange-crowned Warblers have small, sharp pointy bills, short square tails, and short wings. These features help distinguish them from other similar-looking warblers, such as Tennessee, Yellow, and Nashville Warblers. They are also slim and the brightest part of their plumage is usually the yellow under their tails. Orange-crowns also have a split eyering and thin dark eyelines.

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Orange-crowned Warbler in Texas (Image by Dan Pancamo via wikimedia commons)

Range:

Summer (breeding): Alaska and Canada, parts of the Western United States. Migrates throughout most of the Eastern and Midwestern United States. They migrate early in the spring and leave later in the fall. Winters further north than most other warblers. Instead of wintering in Central/South America like most wood warblers, Orange-crowns stay in the southern United States, Mexico, and some parts of California.

Habitat:

Shrubby vegetation, brushy deciduous undergrowth near or in forests.

Diet:

Mainly insects, some berries, nectar, and sap from woodpecker sapwells. They flutter around from branch to branch catching insects and will feed at flowers for nectar. In the winter Orange-crowned Warblers sometimes visits feeders looking for peanut butter and suet. They’ve even been spotted drinking from hummingbird feeders.

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Orange-crowned Warblers (Image by Easton Parkhurst via utahbirds.org)

Breeding/Nesting:

Orange-crowned Warblers tend to return to the same breeding spot each year. Males return first and sing to defend the territory. The female builds the nest low to the ground and covers it with vegetation. It takes her about 4 days to build an open nest cup out of a variety of grasses/twigs and lined with animal hair/grasses. The male does not assist with building the nest but will keep a close watch over the female.

3-6 white and reddish brown-speckled eggs are laid and incubated for about 11-13 days by the female. Both parents will feed the young, who will fledge 10-13 days after hatching. The parents will feed the young for a few days after they leave the nest.

Sounds:

A trilling song that may rise up then fall at the end: chee chee chee chew chew! The songs vary geographically. Males form “song neighborhoods” where males who live in adjacent territories will mimic each others songs.

Conservation:

Populations have declined slightly since the late 60s, but are generally stable. These warblers don’t face many of the same issues that other warblers do, such as deforestation in tropical areas, since their wintering grounds are farther north.

Fun Facts: 

  • There are 4 subspecies of Orange-crowned Warblers: the Pacific Coast lutescens, who are brighter yellow; the celatathe grayest and dullest form in Canada and Alaska; orestera found in the Rocky Mountains/Great Basin who are intermediate in color; and the sordida,  he darkest green form found only on the Channel Islands and small parts of California and Baja, California.
  • Orange-crowned Warblers breed in more forest types than any other warbler. They like open woodland and can be found in oak, laurel, fir-aspen, maple, willow, alder, and chaparral (to name a few).

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

On Sunday Dave and I took a day trip to Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope, Pennsylvania. We visited Bowman’s Hill in fall of 2015 with Dave’s parents, but this is the first time we went to go birding.

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve is a botanical garden and sanctuary for Pennsylvania’s native plants. In 1934, the Washington Crossing State Commission set aside 100 acres of land near Bowman’s Tower as a memorial to the famous crossing of the Delaware River during the American Revolution (you can read more about this and our trip to the NJ Washington Crossing trip here). This land later became the Wildflower Preserve (which is now 134 acres).

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A View from a Bridge (Image by BirdNation)

The Preserve has a variety of habitats including a meadow, a pond, woodlands, and Pidcock Creek. There’s a lot to see: lots of flowers (of course!), log cabins, and a three-arched stone bridge from the Great Depression. It’s also a birding hotspot; around 110 bird species can be found throughout the year, including up to 31 warblers during peak migration. One of the highlights is the Platt Collection located in the Visitor’s Center. In 1972, ornithologist Charles Platt donated a collection of over 200 nests, 600 eggs, and nearly 100 taxidermy birds. It’s quite an exhibit!

Dave and I ended up walking through most of the Preserve. We started at the feeders near the Visitor’s Center, where we saw Tufted Titmice, chickadees (not sure if they were Carolina or Black-capped), Downy Woodpeckers, and American Goldfinches. Once on the trails we saw Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Eastern Phoebes, Turkey Vultures, Wood Ducks, a Belted Kingfisher, and a Brown Creeper (to name a few).

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Brown Creeper (Image by BirdNation) (Sorry it’s a little blurry!)

The highlight of our trip though was seeing our first warblers of the 2017 spring season: Palm Warblers! We were near the Medicinal Trail when we saw a flash of yellow fly into one of the trees. It was a lone Palm Warbler pumping it’s tail and swiftly moving from branch to branch. It was the first Palm Warbler we’ve seen since our first ones at Palmyra Cove in 2015! I was overjoyed to finally see one again! We saw a few more along the Evergreen Trail. It’s always an exciting moment to see your first warbler of the spring :-).

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Palm Warbler (Image by BirdNation)
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Palm Warbler (Image by BirdNation)

We had a wonderful afternoon visiting Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve. There weren’t a ton of flower out yet, but we did see some pretty ones along the trails. I’d be interested in returning to the Preserve closer to the summer to see more flowers and warblers.

If you are ever in Buck Country, Pennsylvania, I highly recommend spending some time at Bowman’s Hill. It’s a great place to hike any time of the year. If you’d like to learn more information about the Preserve, check out the link below.

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve website

 

 

Common Yellowthroat Sunday

Today’s featured warbler is the Common Yellowthroat, which can be found throughout most of the United States during the breeding season.

Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)

Description:

Common Yellowthroats are small warblers with a round head and medium-length rounded tail. Males have olive upperparts and yellow throats/chests. Their most unique and distinctive feature is a broad black face mask. They have a thin white line across their forehead that contrasts the black mask. Females are a dull olive-gray color with a faint yellow throat.

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Male Common Yellowthroat (Image by the USFWS via wikimedia commons)

Range:

Summer (breeding): Canada and most of the United States, with the Southwest being less common. Migrates through parts of California and Texas. Winters in Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Found Year-Round in the Southeastern United States to the Gulf Coast, and parts of California, Meixco, and Baja, California

Habitat:

Common Yellowthroats are the only wood warbler that nests in open marshes. Found in reed beds, swamps, briars, streams, overgrown fields, pine forests, and brushy thick areas. They tend to avoid dry habitats.

Diet:

Mainly insects and sometimes seeds. They tend to forage low in the trees, bushes, and other low vegetation growth. They glean insects off the foliage or forage on the ground, and sometimes will catch an insect in mid-air.

Breeding/Nesting:

Males may court females by doing a flight display where he flies up then lands on a perch to sing. They will also follow the female or flick their tails. Males arrive to defend their breeding grounds earlier than the females and fight more intensely after the females arrive. A female will signal that she’s ready to mate with her partner by fluttering her wings and chipping rapidly. This behavior attracts more males than her mate however, so it’s possibly that the female with also mate with a male who’s not her partner.

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Common Yellowthroat Felmale (Image by Tom Grey via birdnote.org)

The female will spend between 4-5 days constructing a nest close to or on the ground. She starts by building a platform of leaves and grasses then weaves together the cup with sedge and grasses. She lays between 3-5 eggs that are white with black or brown spots. The female incubates the eggs for about 12 days while being fed by the male. Common Yellowthroat nests are frequently parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds (I experienced a Yellowthroat adult feeding a cowbird chick once, you can read about it here). Both parents will feed the young, who fledge between 8-12 days after hatching. Common Yellowthroat chicks stay dependent on their parents after fledging for longer than most other warbler chicks do.

Sounds:

witchity-witchity-witchity! or which-is-it, which-is-it

Conservation:

Although still pretty widespread, populations have declined due to the draining of salt marshes.

Fun Facts:

  • There are 13 races of Common Yellowthroats, which differ slightly based off their face mask patterns and the brightness of their yellow. The brightest Yellowthroats live in the Southwestern United States.
  • Common Yellowthroats mainly migrate at night.

Saturday in the Park

It was a lovely afternoon so my mom, sister, and I went to Haddon Lake Park to enjoy the company of the ducks. We saw a plethora of ducks, geese, some tree swallows, robins, crows,  and three female Bufflehead. The highlight of the walk was seeing 11 Double-crested Cormorants. I always go to Haddon Lake Park at the beginning of April to see the cormorants return, and 11 is the highest number that I’ve seen at one time. I wanted to share some of the pictures from our walk.

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Sweet Mallard Pair (Image by BirdNation)
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Double-crested Cormorants (Image by BirdNation)
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Hybrid Duck (Image by BirdNation)
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American Crow (Image by BirdNation)
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Resting Hybrid Duck (Image by BirdNation)

Remember the Tale of the Three Amigos? (If not check out that link to read it :-)) It looks like we have a new trio of hybrid ducks who like to hang out together. My mom, sister, and I call the 2 ducks on the left “the twins” since they are always together. These 3 spent the afternoon swimming together in a little pod.

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“The Twins” and “Black and White Duck” (Image by BirdNation)

Tomorrow is supposed to be in the mid-60s, so I’m hoping to take a day trip. I’ll let you know if/where I end up birding. Also, get ready for another Warbler Sunday!

 

Titmouse Crossing

Over the weekend Dave and I went birding in a new location: Washington Crossing State Park, which has important historical significance. During the American Revolutionary War, on December 25, 1776, General George Washington and his troops left Pennsylvania and crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey. This was a pivotal event in the War for Independence, especially since Washington was rapidly losing troops. The Continental Army touched down at Johnson’s Landing, which is now the site of Washington Crossing State Park, and marched to Trenton, NJ to mount a surprise attack on the Hessians. The attack was successful and lead to two more battles in the area. There is also a Washington Crossing State Park on the Pennsylvania side as well. We stood in New Jersey on our visit.

Besides having museums and other historical places to visit, Washington Crossing State Park is also a nice place to hike. At 3,575 acres, there are 15 miles of trails that go through mixed forests and is home to a number of mammals/birds.

As far as birding goes, we didn’t see too many birds while hiking through the forest. We’ve found that we see the most variety whenever we are near a water source. The trails we took were strictly forest, but it was very peaceful and fun to explore. We did see some species though: a variety of woodpeckers, chickadees,  Brown Creepers, Eastern Phoebes, and White-breasted Nuthatches to name a few. We even saw discovered a raccoon that was high up in a tree sleeping in a ball. There were numerous Pileated Woodpecker holes, though we weren’t lucky enough to see one. But the most abundant bird species from our walk was the Tufted Titmouse.

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Singing Tufted Titmouse (Image by Basar via wikimedia commons)

Tufted Titmice call Eastern deciduous and evergreen forests their year-round homes, so it wasn’t too surprising that we were seeing them. What did surprise us that the variety of songs and calls we heard from them. The most common Titmouse song is peter-peter-peter!, which can be repeated up 11 times in a row. Of course we heard this song, but we kept hearing other calls and songs that we didn’t recognize. After searching the trees, it almost always turned out that these “new songs” were by Titmice.

According to Donald Kroodsma, author of The Singing Life of Birds, Tufted Titmice have about 9-10 songs, but will commonly use 5-6. They will repeat the same song over and over before switching to a new one. Males will participate in “matched-countersinging” , where they will answer each other with the same song. At one point we were in a stretch of forest where there were multiple Titmouse singing to each other, so it was cool to experience this firsthand. Sometimes females will sing to, which is uncommon compared to other songbirds.

A study in 1983 by Donna J. Schroeder and R. Haven Wiley about Titmouse repertoires found that Tufted Titmouse songs can be broken down into 3 themes. “Class 1 themes” are the most common and used for advertisement. They are used in their territories and often early in the day/breeding season.  “Class 2 Themes” are generally used by the female away from her mate or by males trying to escalate an encounter. “Class 3 Themes” are used less frequently and used to indicate aggressive or to terminate an encounter. The Class 3 themes are usually used by males in countersinging. (If you’d like to read the study, check out the links at the end of this post).

I think the reason we didn’t realize at first that we were hearing different Titmice sounds was the fact that we kept hearing different tones. Many people are used to the clear peter sound, but Titmice can also sound nasally, harsh, mechanical, and scratchy (like their close cousins, the chickadee).

Even though we didn’t see too many birds on our trip, it was exciting to discover so many Tufted Titmice Songs. Next time you hear an unfamiliar song while in the forest, it’s possible you might be hearing a Titmouse. I’m not sure yet if I would use Washington Crossing State Park as a birding spot again, but it might be interesting to try the Pennsylvania side. If you’re looking for a nice place to hike or for the historical events/locations I would recommend Washington Crossing State Park.

If you’d like to see some of the sources I used to learn about Tufted Titmouse songs you can check out the following links.

The Singing Life of Birds, Donald Kroodsma. 

Schroeder and Wiley 1983 Titmouse Study

Sibley Guides article

Listening in Nature blog