Yesterday, my fiancé Dave and I went birding at Palmyra Cove Nature Park. The park consists of woodlands, a cove, ponds, wetlands, meadows, and a shoreline along the Delaware River. There weren’t many visitors due to all the snow around, so it was nice and quiet. We added two new birds to our life list.
At the beginning of our walk we saw two woodpeckers pecking around some trees. I am a big fan of woodpeckers, so I am always excited when they are around. There are 10 species of woodpeckers in New Jersey. Dave and I most commonly see Downy, Hairy, Red-Bellied, and Northern Flickers, although I did see a Pileated once (more on that another time!). So when we saw two medium-sized woodpeckers we assumed that we were seeing two Hairy woodpeckers. One of them was a female Hairy because she did not have the red spot on the back of her head.
On closer investigation we realized the other looked a little different. It didn’t have a white belly like a hairy would, but mottled with more of a yellow hue. It had a red crown on its head. It was a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker! Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are called this because they create sapwells into the inner bark, and suck up the sap from the tree with their tongues. Like other woodpeckers they will also eat insects that get stuck to the sticky sap. They breed in Canada down through New England to North Dakota and will winter throughout the East Coast and the Midwest. The male Yellow-Bellied has a red crown and throat, while the female only has a red crown. We were able to see our female Yellow-Bellied check the small holes in the trees that she made. If you look close to the image below (it’s cropped) you can see the holes she made. Every once in awhile the female Hairy and Yellow-Bellied would fight and chase each other from tree to tree. The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is a new “Life bird” for us, meaning it’s the first time we’ve seen it, so we added it to our “Life List”.
Other birds on our walk included: a Cooper’s Hawk soaring over a meadow, a Double-Crested Cormorant, Downy Woodpeckers, numerous Ring-Billed Gulls, male and female Buffleheads, a male Northern Cardinal, a Mockingbird eating bread found in the parking lot, and our other new life list addition, the Greater Scaup.
The Greater Scaup and its relative the Lesser Scaup are diving ducks that are almost identical. The term “Greater” means it’s the largest of a species, “Lesser” is the smallest of the species. Male Scaups of both species have black heads/chests/rears, white sides, gray feathers on top, and a bluish bill with a black tip. Females are brown with a white patch at the bill. The different between Scaups is not only size, but Greaters have rounder heads, while Lessers have a bump/peak at the back of the head. Greater males can have a greenish iridescence on their heads while Lessers may should purplish or greenish heads. We decided the male we saw was a Greater Scaup since his head looked rounder.
We did have one bonus animal that was not a bird: an American Mink! Minks are pretty elusive so we were surprised to see it out and about. It was running across the path so unfortunately we didn’t get a picture of it. I included a picture of one from Wikipedia just in case you’ve never seen one. Another great birding day.