Amico Island

It has been a busy few days here at BirdNation. To begin with, the second owlet has hatched on the Savannah Landings Great-horned Owl cam! Momma was seen eating the eggshell in the wee hours of the morning and we saw two little fluffy heads by the afternoon. Congratulations Momma and Dad owl!

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Little owlet heads 🙂 (Image by SavannahOwls via Twitter)

I was able to get out birding twice this weekend. The weather was very different both times (we are in New Jersey so that’s not surprising), but we did see a lot of nice things.

On Saturday morning my mom, sister, and I went to Smithville Park. I was hoping the Common Mergansers from the other day were still there and they were (although not as many).  Others birds included two Cooper’s Hawks, the Belted Kingfisher, Canada Geese, and some Carolina Chickadees. Not as busy as last time, but I finally remembered my camera and took some pictures of the mergansers. They were still pretty far away so this was the best I could get.

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Three pretty female Common Mergansers
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A drake (male) and 2 hen Mergansers
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Got all my ducks in a row 😉

When we were at Smithville on Saturday it was 38 degrees. When Dave and I went birding at Amico Island Park today it was almost 60 degrees! (Pick a temperature NJ!) It was a beautiful Sunday.

Amico Island is not actual an island. It is a peninsula that is surrounded by the Delaware River, Rancocas Creek, and Dredge Harbor. The park is 55 acres with 4 trails that feature forests, ponds, and river shoreline. It’s one of our birding hotspots. The last time we were there was around November so we didn’t see as much then. Today we started seeing glimpses of spring during our walk. Our count was:

  • 11 Mallards
  • 2 Buffleheads
  • 9 Common Mergansers
  • 9 Great Blue Herons
  • 250+ Ring-billed Gulls
  • 4 Mourning Doves
  • 2 Belted Kingfishers
  • 3 Downy Woodpeckers (2 males, 1 female)
  • 3 Carolina Chickadees
  • 1 Tufted Titmouse
  • 12 American Robins
  • 1 Song Sparrow
  • 1 Northern Cardinal
  • 10 Common Grackles

My favorite part of the day was the Great Blue Herons. When Dave and I were there in the fall we noticed an island that had some trees with large nests. We weren’t sure what the nests were at the time. Turns out it’s a Great Blue Heron rookery! If you remember my second blog post about Wetlands I featured the Great Blue Heron and mentioned rookeries. A rookery is a nesting colony. It looks like there’s about 20 nests in this colony and there were about 8 Herons there today! I am super excited! We plan on going back to Amico in a few weeks to see if we can spot any chicks.

Later while walking on the shoreline we found this nest. I wonder who used to live there.

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Mystery Nest

All this nice weather is giving me spring fever! It’s supposed to be around 60 the next two days then get a little colder again, but as I said previously change is in the air. I’m looking forward to the return of Gray Catbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, Orioles, and all sorts of warblers. I will miss our winter visitors though, so I will enjoy them in the meantime.

Hatch Day!

I don’t have TV. Well technically I own a TV, and I have Netflix but no cable. Sometimes the topic comes up in conversation and people get confused and act like I’m missing out on something. But they don’t realize: I have something better than TV. I have bird cams.

My love affair with bird cams began a little over a year ago. I was on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s web page (as I frequently am) and discovered a whole page of them. Eventually I ended up watching most of them (as you know Laysan Albatross cam changed my life for the better), but at that time I was enthralled by the Great-horned Owl cam.

I love owls. Especially Great-horned Owls. They are in my top 5 of all-time favorite birds. So as you can probably guess, I have spent many many hours since then watching owl cam (I’m watching right now!)

The cam I watch is the Savannah Owls Landings Cam from Skidaway Island
Audubon in Georgia. The nest being filmed was originally a bald eagle nest but in December 2014 Great-Horned Owls (GHO) showed up instead. Momma owl (that’s my nickname for her, she obviously doesn’t have a name) laid her first egg on January 1, 2015 and her second egg a few days later. On February 3 and February 6 the 2 chicks hatched and the real fun began. It was amazing to watch the owlets grow up and fledge successfully.

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Momma is beautiful! (Image via SavannahOwls Twitter)

This year us cam viewers were lucky because the owls showed up again. We can’t tell if it’s the same pair but it is possible. This year Momma laid her first egg on January 23 and the second egg on January 26. GHO eggs take 30-37 days to incubate, so right now we are in the hatching window. Yesterday (2/24) the first egg started pipping. Pipping is when a chick uses their egg tooth (a small bump on the  top of their beak) to break open the egg. The resulting crack is the “pip”. The chick will fully emerge from the egg within a 24-hour period.

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Pip in progress (Image by Landings Bird Cam via their Twitter page)

When I put GHO cam on this morning there was fantastic news: the first chick hatched over night! Momma left the nest briefly around 4:45am when the chick was spotted. GHO chicks have a layer of white down feathers that are wet upon emergence. They are limp and can’t raise their heads on the first day. They will start to raise their heads by day 3 and open their eyes after 9-11 days. Momma has been feeding the chick. Withing a few days its sibling should be hatching too. We were also lucky enough to see Dad owl stop by to deliver food. The male owl doesn’t spend much time at the nest, but he does roost in a nearby tree. He will deliver food directly to the nest occasionally, but he usually leaves prey in a separate spot and calls to Momma.

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Momma keeps owlet #1 warm (Image by SavannahOwls via their Twitter page)
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Dad owl (left) brings Momma and owlet some prey (Image by BeccaJane via Twitter)

I’m so happy that the egg finally hatched. I’m looking forward to the second egg hatching which will hopefully be by the end of the weekend. If you never watching Great-horned Owl camyou check it out (you will probably fall in love with it too!). Watching wild animals being born and develop is a fascinating and life-changing experience that you normally wouldn’t be able to see without bird cams. Here’s the link:

Landings Savannah Great-horned Owl Cam

You can also watch a variety of other bird cams at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website:

Cornell Lab Bird Cams homepage

Now that’s reality TV that’s worth watching!

Tundra Swan: Waterfowl Wednesday

Happy Waterfowl Wednesday, y’all! Today’s waterfowl species is the Tundra Swan. The Tundra Swan is one of New Jersey’s winter visitors. Dave and I were lucky enough to see 79 Tundra Swans on Day 3 of the Great Backyard Bird Count at Forsythe NWR.

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Tundra Swans at Forsythe NWR (Image by David Horowitz)

Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus)

Description:

Tundras are large (53″) and adults have entirely white plumage (feathers). They have long necks, black feet/legs, and black bills. Their bills usually have yellow at the base. Immature Tundras have gray feathers on their heads, necks, and wings.

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Adult Tundra Swans (Image by Becky Cairns)
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(Image by Dan Mitchell)

Range:

Breeds in Northern Canada and Alaska in the summers. Winters in Southern Alaska through Baja, California extending towards Nevada and in the Mid-Atlantic states in the East

Habitat:

Tundras breed in the arctic tundra and winter in coastal waters and lakes.

Food:

They mainly eat plant matter. Tundras may also eat tubers, mollusks, aquatic vegetation, and anthropods. They may also sometimes graze in fields of rice or corn. In the Chesapeake Bay area, wintering swans will almost exclusively eat clams that they dig out from the mud.

Breeding/Nesting:

Tundras will have 1 brood (family) a year, with a clutch (number of eggs) of 3-6 eggs.To created a pair-bond, the birds will face each other, call out loudly, and quickly quiver their wings. Both pair members will aid in constructing a nest out of grasses, moss, and other plants. The nest will be placed to water. The same nest will usually be used the following year. After about 30 days, the creamy white eggs will hatch and nestlings will fledge (leave the nest) around 2-3 months. Cygnets (young swans) will usually stay with their parents throughout the first winter.

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(Image via animalspot.net)

Sounds:

High-pitched whistle-like whoo-oo, similar to an elephant

Fun Facts:

  • One way to tell the difference between a Tundra Swan and the similar looking Mute Swans is to look at the necks. Tundras will hold their necks straight up white Mutes will hold their neck in an S-shape.
  • Meriwether Lewis nicknames them “whistling swans”, due to their whistling calls.
  • Tundras can migrate in groups of over 100. They larger flock is made up of small family groups.
  • In the winter, Tundras will usually sleep while afloat in the water, but while breeding they will sleep on land.
  • The Tundra Swans is the smallest of the 3 North American swans (the other two are Trumpeter and Mute)

Outstanding Ospreys

I read an article from Conserve Wildlife New Jersey that had fantastic news. There are around 600 nesting pairs of Ospreys here in New Jersey. In the 1970s there were 50 nesting pairs. That’s a significant difference! The 2015 New Jersey Osprey Report was released today, so if you would like to see the article and the full 2015 Report click here:

Conserve Wildlife NJ Blog

So in celebration, here are 5 reasons why Ospreys are outstanding:

1.Ospreys are the only hawks in the country to have a diet that’s almost exclusively fish (up to 99% of their diet!). They have the ability to dive underwater from the air in order to catch fish swimming in shallow areas. Other hawks are only able to retrieve fish from the surface. When Ospreys dive their nictitating membranes (3rd eyelids) act as goggles. They can also close their nostrils while diving.

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An osprey brings fish to its nest (Photo by George DeCamp)

2. Ospreys are one of the few raptors that have a reversible outer toe. That means they can grasp with  two front and two rear toes. To grip fish they use the barbed pads on their feet.

3. Osprey pairs use the same nests each year. Nests are usually placed up high and can be made of a variety of materials. The nest will start with large sticks as a foundation.The sticks can be lined with materials such as bark, sod, flotsam and jetsam, leaves, sod, and sometimes man-made materials (such as fishing nets). The male will retrieve the materials and the female with arrange them. Ospreys will add new material each year. After many years of reuse, a nest could be up to 10-13 ft long and 3-6 feet in diameter!

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Osprey pair on their nest (Photo by Jim White)

4. You can find Ospreys on 6 continents (not on Antarctica). Ospreys that live in temperate areas (like here in New Jersey) will migrate to the tropics and return  in the summer to breed. Species who live in the tropics year-round will breed at the same nest site annually.

5. Ospreys will usually mate for life, unless a bird in the pair dies. Males will start breeding around the age of 3. To attract females, males will hold nesting material or fish in his talons and fly around the nest site. He will alternate between slow swoops high above the nest and hovering while a female watches. If a female approves she will go the nest and eat the fish the male offers her.

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Male on the right, female on the left

Bonus Fact:

If you see an osprey how will you know if it’s a male or female? An easy way is to look at the bird’s upper chest. Both sexes are brown on their back and white on the chest, but females have brown speckles on her upper chest. People sometimes refer to this as her “necklace”.

I’m looking forward to the Ospreys returning to New Jersey in the spring. It’s always a joy to see these incredible hawks.

A Taste of Spring

Gorgeous.

That’s the word I would use to describe the weather this weekend here in Southern New Jersey. After snow and really frigid temperatures the last few weeks we finally got a little taste of spring with weather hovering near the 60’s. I’m at the point where I am definitely craving spring weather. It was a perfect weekend to bird watch both days: once in a new place and once in a familiar place.

On Saturday Dave and I ventured to Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area in Atlantic County with some friends. Tuckahoe WMA has a variety of habitats including salt marshes, impoundments, woodlands, and rivers. It’s definitely off the beaten path and very quiet and serene. And my favorite part…waterfowl galore!!

We saw 8 species of waterfowl:

  • Northern Pintails
  • Mallards
  • Buffleheads
  • Common Mergansers
  • Hooded Mergansers
  • American Black Ducks
  • Canada Geese
  • Swans (too far away to tell if they were Mute or Tundra)

There were hundreds of them! They were mainly Northern Pintails and were making a high pitched sound. Unfortunately we didn’t get any good pictures because everything was really far away. Even with our binoculars it was a difficult to see them well. We also saw 3 Great Blue Herons, a small flock of Song Sparrows, and 3 shorebirds (all the same species) that we haven’t been able to identify yet. It was exciting to visit someplace new and I was thrilled by all the waterfowl we were seeing. I would like to visit again in the spring to see what migrants arrive.

Today I went with my mom and sister to Historic Smithville Park. We went there a week ago for Day 4 of the Great Backyard Bird Count. It was in the mid-20’s and snowing when we were there last, so today was a big difference. The lake was thawed and filled with Common Mergansers! There were about 30 of them, both males and females, floating around the lake. It was the first time I saw a female Mergansers (we saw a male last week at Forsythe) and the first time we’ve seem them at Smithville. There were also 2 Canada geese (who didn’t seem to happy when the mergansers would get close), 3 Scaups (most likely Greaters) and a Ring-billed Gull. The resident Belted Kingfisher was also hanging around. As we walked through the woods next to the lake we spotted a Tufted Titmouse and a Cooper’s Hawk.

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Belted Kingfisher (Image by Kevin Cole via Wikipedia)

As we walked along the floating bridge through the lake I had a realization: we only have a few more weeks to enjoy our visiting winter waterfowl. Pretty soon Smithville Lake will say goodbye to the Mergansers and Scaups, and welcome swallows, red-winged blackbirds, and green herons again. It seems like winter just began, but in reality it’s almost over. The weather will get colder again for a bit but spring will be here before we know it. I can already sense change in the air. This weekend was definitely a nice little preview of things to come.

Trouble in Paradise

Yesterday we talked about how magnificent and amazing Laysan Albatrosses are.  I’ve learned so many cool things about them, but I also learned that they have some big problems to face. They are not problems that are exclusive to Laysans, but effect many other ocean/shore birds and marine animals. One major issue is plastics. I’m mainly going to talk about the effect on Laysan Albatrosses since they are the seabird I’m the most knowledgeable about.

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(Image by Jay Holcomb)

Laysan Albatrosses are ingesting plastics that are floating in the ocean when they are hunting for food. One source of food is fish eggs and sometimes egg strands will attach to debris. Laysans will eat these strands and the plastic it is attached to it. According to a study by Barbara Mayer of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Management, plastics can make up to 50% of indigestible material in a Laysan’s digestive tract. Laysan parents will return to their chicks and feed them these materials without knowing what’s happening. A chick who has never flown or seen the ocean will in turn have a stomach full of plastic. Decomposing bodies of Laysan chicks are being found filled with plastic that they’ve accidentally been fed. Many albatross stomachs are filled with plastic cigarette lighters.  The plastics in the chick’s stomach can make them feel full. Laysan parents can regurgiate food; chicks can’t. So the plastic just sits in their stomach. As a result the chick may not eat as much food as it needs, leading to starvation.

Last year on Albatross cam one of the chicks, Niaulani, casted a bolus. A bolus is a mass of swallowed food and in albatrosses will include materials that were not digested. At a certain point a bird can “throw up” the bolus. Scientists should be finding materials like squid beaks in a bolus, but are finding much more than that. Some scientists dissected Niaulani’s bolus on camera and discovered fishing lines and plastic pieces.

Learning about this issue made me sick to my stomach. I’ve spent countless hours watching sweet, innocent Albatross chicks grow on bird cam and knowing their stomachs are filled with plastics is horrifying.

So the question is: what can we do about it? Unfortunately it’s extremely hard to avoid plastics these days. However, there are some steps we can take to help reduce the problem.

  • Reduce, reuse, recycle!!!
  • Make sure you are recycling properly. It’s no use if you are not following recycling guidelines for your area. Plastics are labeled 1-7 and certain plastics need to be recycled in certain ways. Learn about the different plastic numbers here.
  • Avoid and/or reduce your use of one-use water bottles and plastic bags. Use reusable bags when you shop. If you do have plastic bags many store offer recycle programs.
  • Make sure to throw away trash in the proper bins. Follow “carry in, carry out” rules whenever you visit natural areas.
  • Spread the word about these kinds of issues. Knowledge is power. If people learn about the negative impacts plastics have on the environment then people can come up with solutions to help. We can make positive changes, but people need to be aware of how their actions affect others (both humans and other creatures) in order to make these changes.

If you want to learn more about Laysan Albatross threats and ways you can help the oceans check out these links:

Ocean Portal: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Friends of Midway Atoll: Laysan Albatross Facts

International Bird Rescue

Marine Debris

On a related note, Audubon has a petition regarding the Albatross and Petrel Conservation Act (HR4480). If you are interested in learning more about this petition you can find it here:

Audubon ACAP petition

Albie Love

About a year ago, I fell in love at first sight…with a bird. I just discovered the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s bird cams page, and was spending a lot of time scrolling through looking at various cams. I never heard of a Laysan Albatross before, so I clicked the link. That’s when it happened.

There was a small, gray, downy chick on the screen. It was sitting in its nest looking around curiously, while a parent preened it. My heart melted immediately. My first thoughts:that chick was adorable and how sweet it was that the adult was so tender and affectionate. I’ve been hooked on Laysan Albatrosses ever since (or “albies” as some people call them). The more I watch and learn the more I fall in love with them.

So here are 11 cools facts about Laysan Albatrosses a.k.a. reasons why you should love them too 🙂 :

  • Laysan Albatrosses are large seabirds that live mainly breed in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. There is also a colony on Midway Island.

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(Image via The San Pedro Coast)

  • When not breeding, Laysans spend their time out soaring across the Pacific Ocean. They can soar extremely long distances to look for food. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Laysan Albatross page, one albatross traveled 4,120 miles from Midway Island to the Philippines!
  • Once they fledge (leave the nest to take their first flight) at around 6 1/2-7 months of age, young albatrosses with spend the next 3 or 4 years out at sea bef0re returning to land.

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A cute Albatross chick from the Cornell cam.

  • Laysans typically form long lasting bonds. If a pair breeds successfully they will mostly likely continue to breed together. They usually returned to the same breeding spot each year. Most albatrosses won’t breed successfully until they are about 8 or 9 years old.

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(Image via montereybayaquarium.org)

  • Albatrosses are very social and curious birds. When they return to land after they are 3 or 4 they will form groups of 2 or more and do courtship dances. Sometimes a dance that starts as a pair will turn into a whole group displaying (us cam viewers refer to these as dance parties hah!). It’s good practice for when they actually choose a mate.
  • Laysan courtship displays are elaborate and made up of a variety of moves. Sometimes the pair will try to synchronize their movements. Albatross “dance moves” include: beak clacking, standing on their toes, wild whinnying sounds, head bobs, placing their bill under a wing, and pointing their bills to the sky while making a “mooing” type sound (refered to as “sky moos” by viewers). Pairs have their own unique combinations of moves, and will usually greet each other with a courtship display to strengthen their pair-bond. (If you’ve never seen a Laysan courtship display you should open a new tab in your browser right now and Youtube that immediately. You will not be disappointed.)

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Sky moo!

  • Laysan Albatrosses can have 1 egg a year. Parents take turns incubating the egg. Once the egg hatches the parents will continue to take turns brooding (keeping their chick warm) until the chick is about 2-3 week old. After that they will leave the chick by itself to go hunt but return every so often to feed it and spend time with the chick.

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Another day in paradise…

  • Laysans can journey up to 1,600 miles away to find food for their chicks. A parents can be gone for up to 17 days while searching for food!
  • Albatross chicks go through 2 layers of down feathers before they start getting their adult flight feathers. The best part: they start to lose their 2nd coat of down in little chunks so they look like they have little “feather boas” around their necks and “silly hairdos”. (You should Google that right now too, it’s very cute)

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Check out this guy’s haircut…(Image by Paulo Maurin)

  • When full grown, albatrosses can  have wingspans of up to 7 feet! Each Laysan has a unique feather pattern on the underside of their wings, just like we each have unique fingerprints.

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Albatross wingspan (Image via http://pvs.kcc.hawaii.edu)

  • Laysans have long life spans. The oldest know individual is Wisdom, who breeds on Midway Island. She just had her 36th chick and she is 64 years old! You can learn more about her at this Audubon article.

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Wisdom and her chick Kukini (Image by Kiah Walker/USFWS)

Laysan Albatrosses are amazing birds. I recommend you check out the Cornell Lab’s Albatross cam to see these beautiful birds in action. Warning: you may become addicted to albatross cam (but that’s not necessarily a bad thing :-P). . Maybe you’ll feel some “Albie love”  too.

Common Merganser: Waterfowl Wednesday

Last week I enjoyed writing about the Wintertime Waterfowl in my area so much that I decided to do another Waterfowl Wednesday! (I am a waterfowl enthusiast after all! :-p).Today we’re going to learn about a species that is a newer bird for me: the Common Merganser. I saw my first Common Merganser on Sunday for Day 3 of the Great Backyard Bird Count. I thought it would be a great chance to learn about this interesting bird.

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The male Common Merganser Dave and I saw at Forsythe NWR

Common Merganser
Mergus Merganser

Description:
Males have white bodies, black upper backs, round green heads, and red bills. Females have gray bodies, cinnamon-colored heads with a crest, red bills, and white throats. Common Mergansers are slightly larger than Mallards, but smaller than geese. They tend to sit lower in the water like a loon would.

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Male and female Common Mergansers (Image by Merv_J._Cormier via photoclub.canadiangeographic.ca)

Range:

Breeds throughout Canada and the Northern United States. Winters in mid- to Southwestern United States into Northern Mexico.

Habitat:
Ponds and rivers while breeding, freshwater and occasionally saltwater in winter

Food:
Mainly fish. Common Mergansers will also eat invertebrates, small mammals, plants, frogs, and other birds. They can dive up to 13 ft to retrieve food, and sometimes dive deeper in the winter.

Breeding and Nesting Behavior:
Common Mergansers will have 1 brood (family) a year, with 6-13 eggs per clutch (number of eggs produced at a single time). They nest in tree cavities or nest boxes. Females incubate their eggs for about a month. Sometimes females will lay eggs in another Merganser’s nest, including other species of Mergansers. Once the eggs hatch the chicks will leave the cavity within a day or two and join their mother in the water. Picture this: flightless little chicks skydiving from the nest cavity to the forest floor! The mother will protect them, but she doesn’t feed them like a robin or hawk would feed their chicks pieces of food. The chicks will feed themselves while practicing swimming and diving.

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A female (hen) Merganser giving her chicks a ride (Image by Dave Czaplak via marylandbiodiversity.com)

Sounds:

Common Mergansers are usually silent. Females with make a frog-like gruk calls to the male and high cro cro cro sounds to her chicks. Males may give bell-like sounds while courting females.

Fun Facts:

  • Common Mergansers are the largest of the 3 species of mergansers in North America (Hooded and Red-breasted are the 2 other species).
  •  Common Mergansers spend a lot of time floating around in open water on the surface. They sometimes sleep while floating around.
  • Nicknames for Commons include “sawbill” and “goosander”
  • Common Mergansers have teeth-like projections that help them hold onto slippery fish.
  • Sometimes gulls will hang around with Common Mergansers and wait until they emerge from diving to try to steal fish. (This would explain why there were gulls hanging out with the male Merganser I saw at Forsythe).
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See the gull watching our male Merganser? There were a few others hanging around as well.

Have you every seen a Common Merganser? We will have a new species of waterfowl next Wednesday. In the meantime, check back here at BirdNation for more bird info!

GBBC Day 4: Smithville Park

Today was the final day of the Great Backyard Bird Count. I wasn’t sure if I was actually going to get out today because the forecast called for snow. We were able to go to Historic Smithville Park for about a half hour this morning. It was just barely snowing at the time and wasn’t accumulating yet.

I go to Smithville Park a few times a week with my mom and sister, although our purpose is not usually for birding, but walking for exercise. It’s not as busy with birds as my usual birding spots, but we do occasionally see some different species. One of my favorite parts of Smithville is the lake, where up to 3 Great Blue Herons live. Smithville used to be a small village with a factory and has been abandoned for awhile, but is now a historical place to visit. You can take guided tours of the mansion/village, canoe/kayak, attend their special events, and/or walk along the many trails.

Day 4 official count (5 species, 23 individual birds):

  • 2 Mute Swans
  • 1 Great Blue Heron
  • 1 Belted Kingfisher
  • 1 American Robin
  • 18 White-throated Sparrows

For today, we stood by the lake and the old factory. It wasn’t too busy, but we were surprised for find what we saw. As we expected, the lake was completely frozen over.

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The first bird we saw was a Great Blue Heron. He must be one of the residents who lives here year-round. The Heron was resting on top of the factory, huddling up for warmth. It know we were there but didn’t seem to mind.

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Great Blue Heron (of course I forgot my camera!…iPhone image)

In the small patch of water directly below the Heron were two Mute Swans. They were napping, then decided to swim around for a bit.

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lovely Mute Swans

Nearby we heard a rustle in the twigs. My mom said she saw a medium sized bird land but didn’t see any other details. After a few minutes of waiting our mystery bird appeared: a Belted Kingfisher (another resident of the lake). It flew out of the brush swiftly and went towards the lake yelling its alarm call.

Before we left we observed a small flock of White-throated Sparrows kicking leaves around in search for food and a robin flying by. I was happy with what we saw, especially since I didn’t expect to see much of anything today.

Overall, I thought the Great Backyard Bird Count here at BirdNation was a success! It was the first time I was able to count on all 4 days. We contributed 22 species to the overall list which accounted for 1,090 individual birds! Not too shabby for temperatures under 25 degrees each day (not including wind chill!) and snow. I can’t wait to hear the total number from the Cornell Lab. What a great weekend of birding!

GBBC Day 3: Edwin B. Forsythe NWR

We spent a lovely morning at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. The high for today is about 16 degrees here in Southern New Jersey, so lucky for us, Forsythe has an 8 mile wildlife drive. It’s one of New Jersey’s 5 wildlife refuges and comprised mainly of wetlands. Other habitats include swamps, forests, and fields.

It’s a bit of a drive, but I make my way to Forsythe at least 5 or 6 times a year. I try to go at least once a season to see the resident birds as well as visitors during migration. The experience is always different, and always worth the drive. I’ve added over 50 birds to my life list from visiting the refuge. Today was the first time I’ve been there where it was almost completely frozen over, except for a few areas where we saw a majority of our birds.

Day 3 official count (17 species, 679 individual birds):

  • 3 Snow Geese
  • 469 Canada Geese
  • 79 Tundra Swans
  • 28 American Black Ducks
  • 19 Mallards
  • 1 Bufflehead (male)
  • 3 Great Blue Heron
  • 1 Bald Eagle (juvenile)
  • 10 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 4 Herring Gulls
  • 3 American Crows
  • 1 Hermit Thrush
  • 54 American Robins
  • 1 Brown Thrasher
  • 2 Cardinals (male and female pair)
  • 1 Red-winged Blackbird

We first saw a group of about 250 Canada geese. This was the first area of moving water we encountered. There were some American Black Ducks in the distance. American Black Ducks are very similar to female Mallards, but Black ducks are more of a chocolate brown color with yellow-olive bills instead of orange-black bills.  On the other side we saw a single male Bufflehead frequently diving in the water. A juvenile bald eagle soared overhead.

As we continued along we thought we were seeing some sort of loon, because the bird was swimming lower in the water. It turned out to be a male Common Merganser. He had a white body, red bill, and a dark green head. He was busy swimming around with some herring gulls. We got a video of him swimming and cleaning off his feathers. We’ve seen Hooded Mergansers multiple time, but this was our first Common, making him a “life bird” for us.

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Male Common Merganser (Image by David Horowitz)

Then a lone Snow Goose appeared randomly. Maybe they were looking for their friends?

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Snow Goose wonders where everyone went…(Image by David Horowitz)

Towards the end of the wetlands section we saw 2 large groups in the distance. One looked to be American Black Ducks or Canada geese. The other had white birds with some darker ones, so we assumed they were Snow Geese with some blue morphs. As we got closer we learned the first group were Canada Geese, about another 200-something individuals. There was another singular Snow Goose relaxing on the grass.

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Snow Goose taking a rest (Image by David Horowitz)

We pulled up to the flock of Snow Geese we saw in the distance…except they weren’t Snow Geese. They were Tundra Swans! There were 79 of them, and the assumed “blue morphs” were Canada Geese and Mallards mixed in.  Remember on Waterfowl Wednesday I said that waterfowl were ducks, geese, and swans? Well this was the very definition of the word “waterfowl” because they were all represented here. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never seen so many swans in one place. They were pretty far away, so this was the best picture we could get with our camera that was not made for birding. You can see some swans sticking their long necks straight up. They also got pretty loud at one point. It was certainly a pleasant surprise.

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Swans, geese, and ducks hanging out (Image by David Horowitz)

Once you drive through the wetlands you enter the forest section. Here we saw some Robins, Crowns, a Hermit Thrush, and a Brown Thrasher. The Hermit Thrush was running around on the grass, while the Brown Thrasher hung out in a nearby bush. The Thrasher was our other “life bird” today.

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Brown Thrasher (Image by David Horowitz)

Although it wasn’t as busy with birds as it is other times of the year, it was very peaceful driving around seeing the frozen landscape. As usually we had a great time at the Refuge. Day 3 was a success.