Amico…take two!

Tuesday was my last day off from my job’s spring break, so of course I used my free time to go birding. I went to Amico Island for the second time in a week, this time with Dave’s mother (Dave and I went Friday and saw all sorts of large birds). It was a lovely afternoon; sunny and around 60 degrees.

The area near the parking lot is part of Dredge Harbor, so there’s an area of water right when you walk into the park. It was low tide so the mudflats were exposed. When the tide is higher we usually see Great Blue Herons, gulls, or Mallards in this area. We had a surprise this time.

A flock of Green-winged Teals! There were around 30 of them waddling through the mudflats. They were busily looking for food and leaving trails in the mud. It was unexpected, but a nice start to the walk.

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Male Green-winged Teal feeding in the mudflats (Image by BirdNation)

Our first route was the blue trail, which passes by the Great Blue Heron rookery. On the way we saw Downy Woodpeckers, American Robins, and Carolina Chickadees. There were about 7 Great Blue Herons at the rookery. One was bringing a large stick to its nest, while another made low croaking noises. At the rookery observation area we spotted some Yellow-rumped Warblers (my ‘first of year’) hopping between branches.We were so busy watching the warblers that we didn’t notice a Great Blue Heron standing directly below us on the rocks. Its plumage was gorgeous up close and were able to see its striped crown really well (it looked better in person than in the picture I got).

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Great Blue Heron (Image by BirdNation)

After we left the rookery observation area, I was talking about how I haven’t see any deer my last few visits. Last year Dave and I would frequently see deer when visiting Amico and would almost always see a specific doe and her fawn. The deer must have known I was talking about them: suddenly 10 deer showed up! They noticed us, but quickly relaxed and continued feeding like we weren’t there. It was cool, because I don’t usually see that many deer in a group at one time. It was a nice transition to the second part of the walk.

We continued onto the red and yellow trails, which loop around the pond and lead to the beach entrance. Here we saw Red-winged Blackbirds, Grackles, Crows, and more robins (of course!). It was too windy to walk on the beach, but we did spot some Ring-billed Gulls, Canada Geese, and Mallards. At the pond there was an American Coot preening near a log. It was my first coot sighting at Amico Island.

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American Coot (Image by BirdNation)

One thing that was especially exciting for me about this trip was the fact that a new spring migrant arrived: swallows!  These little aerial acrobats were fluttering everywhere! Seeing swallows is another spring milestone that I look forward to every year. We mainly saw Tree Swallows, but there may have been some Northern Rough-winged Swallows mixed in. I’m thinking this swallow we watched resting on a branch is a Northern Rough-winged. I’m not 100% on id yet (I will let you know when I figure it out). If it is, then its a new “life bird” for me. It was awfully cute.

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Swallow resting on a branch (Image by BirdNation)

Our walk took about 2 hours. When we returned to the parking lot the flock of Green-winged Teals was still feeding, bringing our walk around full circle. It was a nice way to end my spring break.

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And the Chirpion Is…

We have a winner for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s March Migration Madness! And the 2016 Chirpion is…(cue drum roll)

 

 

The Belted Kingfisher! Hooray! 😀

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(Image by David Magers via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

It was a tough competition. The Belted Kingfisher was against the Cedar Waxwing in the “Chirpionship Game”. The Cedar Waxwing was a previous winner for Migration Madness and again fought its way through to the final round, beating out the competition. (I still can’t believe it beat the Pileated Woodpecker!) The kingfisher was considered the “underbird”, but the votes don’t lie: people love the Belted Kingfisher. I love the Belted Kingfisher as well. I seem them pretty frequently at many of my birding hotspots.

They may only be the size of a dove, but these little birds have personality! In honor of the 2016 “Chirpion”, here are 5 reasons why Belted Kingfishers are one of the coolest little birds around.

Belted Kingfishers are one of the few birds where the female is more colorful than the male.

There are around 90 species of kingfishers around the world. In many of these species it is hard to tell whether you are looking at a male or female because they look very similar. However, you can tell if you are looking at a male or female Belted Kingfisher. Males have a single blue band across their white chest; females have a blue band and a chestnut band across their white breast.

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Female (left) and Male (right) (Images by Steve Ellwood and Ian Stuart Forsyth, National Geographic your Shot)

Belted Kingfishers are not afraid to defend their territories.

Belted Kingfishers live along most waterside habits. Once a kingfisher established its territory it has many strategies to defend its area. If an intruder enters, the kingfisher will fly up and down the water, making its piercing rattling call. It may also extend its crest and heave its body up and down to scare off an intruder. Another tactic is to scream, spread its wings, and raise the white patches of feathers near its eyes. I definitely wouldn’t want to mess with a Belted Kingfisher!

They are expert fishermen.

The “king” in kingfisher is an apt description, because they are experts at fishing. Belted Kingfishers hunt in clear water where they can see the fish below the water’s surface. They will sit on a perch or hover over the water while hunting. Once they spot their prey, the kingfisher will dive into the water head first with their eyes closed. The kingfisher will pound its prey against its perch before swallowing it head first.

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A diving Belted Kingfisher (Image by Tom Sanders via birdnote.org)

Both parents help with raising chicks.

Kingfishers don’t make a nest in a tree, they dig a burrow to deposit the eggs. Parents will take turn digging out the burrow in the dirt by the water. The tunnel can be anywhere from 1 to 8 feet in length. The female will mainly incubate the eggs, but the male may take over in the mornings. Once the chicks are hatched, the male and female will feed the chicks. The male may actually make more feeding visits than the female does.

They are adaptable and well-traveled.

Belted Kingfishers are found all across North America either as residents or migrants. They can live in most water habitats and can even spend breeding season in elevations up to 9,000 feet! In some areas, human activity such as gravel pits and road construction has actually help Belted Kingfishers by creating banks that can be used for nesting. Belted Kingfishers have also been found in some pretty far away places, such as Hawaii, The Netherlands, Galapagos Island, and Greenland.

You have to admit, Belted Kingfishers are pretty awesome! Have you ever seen a Belted Kingfisher?

Double-crested Cormorant:Migration Monday

Happy Migration Monday! For this week I chose to write about the Double-crested Cormorant. Seeing them at my local lakes is one of the things I look forward to at the beginning of Spring. In yesterday’s post I wrote about them finally arriving at Haddon Lake, but they were not the first Cormorants I saw this Spring. My “first-of year” (or FOY in birder terms) was actually at Strawbridge Lake on Saturday. It was exactly where I though it would be: on the branch that sticks out of the water at the end of the park. What a comforting sight to see a familiar friend :-).

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Double-crested Cormorant enjoys its favorite perch at Strawbridge Lake (Image by BirdNation)

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

Description:

Double-crested Cormorants are the most common of the six species of North American Cormorants. These large waterbirds have heavy brownish-black bodies, long necks, and small heads. Their gray bills are long and hooked at the end. Breeding adults have a yellowish-orange throat patch. Breeding adults will develop the double crest, which they are named for, in either black or white stringy feathers. The crests are located on the bare skin above the eyes. Immature Cormorants lack the crests, are browner, are paler around the neck/breast, and the skin on their faces is more yellow than orange.

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Breeding Double-crested Cormorant (Image by Joe Furhman/VIREO via audubon.org)

Range:

Medium-distance migrant. Breeds in Northern United States and Alaska to Manitoba, Migrates throughout the Midwest and Northeast, Winters along the coasts and Southeast, Permanent resident in Florida and Pacific Coast

Habitat:

You can find Double-crested Cormorants in almost any aquatic habitat: coasts, lakes, rivers, swamps, and bays

Food:

Mainly fish, but also crustaceans, amphibians, and insects. They dive and use their strong webbed feet to propel themselves underwater to catch food.

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Feeding on fish (Image via birdinginformation.com)

Breeding/Nesting:

Double-crested Cormorants will start breeding around the age of 3 and may have 1-2 broods per year. Males courtship displays include swimming in a zig-zag, splashing, crouching/calling while vibrating wings, and diving to retrieve weeds. They breed in colonies. Females will construct the nest with materials that the males brings to her. Males choose the nest site, which may be in trees or on rocky ground. The nest is made of small sticks, flotsam, seaweed, and lined with grass. The female will lay between 1-7 (usually 3-4) eggs and incubate them for 25-33 days. Chicks will leave the nest to wander around the colony at 3-4 weeks but will return to the nest to be fed by both parents. The chicks will congregate in small groups call creches. They will start to fly at around 5-6 weeks and be independent after 9-10 weeks.

Sounds:

Usually nonvocal except when breeding. During breeding they will make deep, guttural calls that sound similar to an oinking pig.

Fun Facts:

  • Although Double-crested Cormorants hunt underwater for food, their feathers are not waterproof. They don’t have as much preen oil as other birds, so as a result they need to spend a lot of time resting to dry their feathers. To do this they will find a perch that is exposed to the sun and spread their wings to dry. Although a diver having non-waterproof feathers seems like a problem, wet feathers actually help them be more agile underwater.
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A Cormorant drying its feathers after swimming (Image by Peter Wallack via wikimedia commons)
  • Double-crested Cormorants sit very low in the water. While swimming, you will usually only see the bill and the head pointing upwards.
  • They can fly up to 40 miles away from their nesting grounds to find food.
  • If you find a cormorant on an inland body of water then it is most likely a Double-crested Cormorant. The other five North American cormorant species (Great, Pelagic, Neotropic, Brandt’s, and Red-faced) are usually only found on coastlines.

Easter Birds

Happy Easter! I spent the day birding at multiple locations with my family. Our first bird experience today was while we were eating breakfast at a diner. Outside our window we observed two Canada Geese sitting at the clothing store Kohl’s. We believe this pair has a nest here. One was sitting in planter that’s attached to the building and the other sat below being the lookout. After our meal we parked in the closest spot and the goose on the ground started to bob its head in defense. When we turned the car off they both relaxed and went back to napping. It’s not a spot I would expect for a nest, but it was interesting to see.

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Canada Geese resting outside of Kohl’s (Image by BirdNation)

Our next stop was Haddon Lake Park. I was hoping we would see Double-crested Cormorants because this is the time of year they usually arrive. I’m happy to report that they were there! Every year I see them resting in the same group of trees at the beginning of spring and without fail they were back again. I look forward to seeing them every spring.

We also spotted an American Coot. I’m not sure if its the same one that we usual see at Haddon Lake. It was the first time I’ve seen a coot out of the water so I was able to get a glimpse at those big feet 🙂 (Of course when I tried to get a picture of its feet the coot sat!). The coot preened for a bit before sitting down to rest.

As usual, the lake was filled with Canada Geese and Mallards. There are always people walking around the lake, so the waterfowl are not afraid of humans and sometimes will come right up to you. A mallard pair spotted us watching them and swam across the lake to come up and greet us. Once they realized we didn’t have food for them they walked away.

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“Got any food?” (Image by BirdNation)

When we went to Haddon Lake two weeks ago we spotted an egg by itself. This week we found out who the mom was. I’m glad that the egg wasn’t abandoned.

It was a lovely morning at Haddon Lake. In the afternoon Dave and I went to Boundary Creek for a quick stroll. It was chillier at that point but we did see a decent amount. We saw robins, a Tufted Titmouse, Red-winged Blackbirds, Canada Geese, Dark-eyed Juncos, Ring-billed Gulls, Mallards, a Great Blue Heron, and a Bald Eagle. The Bald Eagle crossed paths with a smaller hawk, but we were not able to id the hawk before it flew away.

The Bald Eagle was the second one we saw this weekend. I’m so glad that Bald Eagle populations have been increasing. When I was a child I don’t remember seeing any Bald Eagles in the wild. I experienced my first one as an adult a few years ago. It’s always an amazing experience seeing them.

A “Big” Day

In the world of birding, the term “Big Day” is used to describe an event where birders try to count as many birds possible in one day. Dave and I didn’t attempt this kind of event, but we had a “big day” in a difference sense: we saw multiple species of large birds.

Rain was a constant threat, but did that deter us from going bird watching? Of course not! Many birders don’t like going out on overcast days, but I love it. The sun isn’t drowning out all the bird’s details as you try to see them in your binoculars and there are less people out so it’s quieter. We decided it would be a nice day to go to Amico Island.

On the way to Amico Island we spotted a large group of Wild Turkeys in a field. There were at least 20 of them. All the males were strutting around doing courtship displays to try to impress the hens.  When a male Wild Turkey  displays he droops his wings, fans his tail feathers, and struts around in a sort of “dance”. They may gobble to warn off other suitors and attract females to watch them. Male Wild Turkeys are polygamous, meaning one male may mate with multiple females. Dave was able to get a video of one of the males mating. Seeing this large flock was a fantastic sight. In the first video you can see the mating pair and in the second video one particular male is trying to woo a hen with his dance.

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Wild Turkeys strutting around (Image by David Horowitz)
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A displaying male Wild Turkey (Image by BirdNation)

Once at Amico Island our trend of large birds continued. When we visited Amico Island about a month ago there were about 10 Great Blue Herons preparing their rookery (a.k.a nesting colony). We did see them again, but this time they had a visitor hanging around: a Bald Eagle! The Herons were spending time  in their nests while the Bald Eagle stood on a neighboring branch. They looked out over the water together for a little while until the Bald Eagle finally flew away.

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Great Blue Herons and a Bald Eagle enjoying the view (Image by David Horowitz)

The Bald Eagle wasn’t the only raptor we saw. A pair of Ospreys flew overhead by the pond on the red trail. This was our first Osprey pair we observed for the season. The female flew away, but the male stood around the pond to collect branches for his nest. It was so cool watching him tear branches off the trees. He decided to take a rest on a branch for a bit when another Great Blue Heron showed up. I guess the heron thought the Osprey needed some company, because the heron chose to perch directly next him. The two were an unlikely pair, and it looked like they were having a showdown. (Or a staring contest? If that was the case the Osprey looked away first so the Heron won that haha :-P) They stood facing each other for at least 10 minutes before flying off to continue their duties. This is what I love about birding, you never know what you’ll see!

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The Odd Couple: a Great Blue Heron and an Osprey (Image by David Horowitz)

Of course, we didn’t see only  large birds. We saw many robins, sparrows, 4 Northern Flickers, Mourning Doves, Red-winged Blackbirds, Canada Geese, and this Downy Woodpecker. This lovely lady let us get very close to her and didn’t seem to mind us watching her climb up the tree (by the way, this image is not cropped).

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A lovely Downy Woodpecker posing for her portrait (Image by David Horowitz)

It was such a beautiful afternoon. Who needs the sun out when you have wonderful birds to make your day sunny?

The Amazing Acrobat

Will Rogers,an American entertainer and humorist in the earliest 20th century is famous for saying, ” I never met a man I didn’t like.” Well, I never met a bird I didn’t like. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile you probably noticed that I always end up referring to the bird I’m talking about as one of my “favorites”, but I just can’t help saying it. They are all amazing! I like to refer to my feeder visitors as “Feeder Friends” and today I wanted to talk about one of my “favorite” visitors: the White-breasted Nuthatch. I am always delighted when these little acrobats stop by to get some food. So here are 5 reasons why they should be your favorite too. 🙂

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White-breasted Nuthatches (Image via wilddelights.com)

1.White-breasted Nuthatches live up to their names.

Nuthatches like to take large acorns and nuts and jam them into tree barks. Then they use their sharp bills to crack the nuts open, or make them “hatch”, in order to get the food inside.

2. White-breasted Nuthatches are acrobatic tree-climbers.

If you’ve ever watched a woodpecker, you know they are masters at climbing up trees. Their feet are designed so that they can scale a tree trunk like an expert mountaineer. Unfortunately they are not so good at climbing down, so they will usually fly down instead.

However, our friend the White-breasted Nuthatch has the woodpecker beat: he can go up and down easily. And the Nuthatch is like an expert diver; he can climb down tree trunks head first with ease. They have a rear facing toe, which allow the Nuthatch to hang, tilt its head up, and scope out the landscape like a periscope. The White-breasted Nuthatch is very small (about 5-6″), so they can move from branch to branch at all different angles with speed and agility. Being able to go down head first helps Nuthatches look for insects between the tree bark. They also like to hang upside-down.

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The feeding sequence (Image by Yurko via wikicommons)

3. They are faithful to each other.

In the world of birds, especially smaller song bird types, monogamy is not common. However, White-breasted Nuthatches are will stay with their partners throughout the year and may mate for life. They are non-migratory, so pairs will typically use the same nest cavity each breeding season. A male will court his partner by feeding her.

4. They work hard when it comes to getting food.

Have you ever watched a Nuthatch come and go from your feeder? They will take one piece of food at a time and usually come back multiple times. This is because they are caching their food throughout their territory. They will use lichen, bark, or even snow, to hide their food.

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A White-breasted Nuthatch at my feeder (Image by BirdNation)

5. Both parents work together to raise their young.

In many bird species the female will be the sole provider for her chicks but Nuthatch pairs work together to raise their brood. Adults will use a crushed insect to “sweep” the outside of their nest cavities. This helps spread a chemical secretion that deters predators from entering the nest. Both parents will feed the young, and the male will feed the female while she is incubating.

Once you start to paying attention to White-breasted Nuthatches they will always brighten your day and make you smile. These little acrobats are super cool!

 

 

 

Killdeer: Migration Monday!

Hello everyone! Welcome to Migration Monday! In this new feature we will learn about birds who are migrating due to the spring season. Our first bird is the Killdeer.

Yesterday Dave and I were driving to the grocery store and were making a u-turn to get on a major highway. As I was approaching a stop sign I saw a little bird in the grass. I said,”Oh look, it’s a…killdeer??” It’s a killdeer! What is he doing here?”. He was running along the side of the highway and crossed the street (don’t worry, he made it across the street safely!). I was expecting maybe a robin, or cowbird, or sparrow, but not a Killdeer. I thought he was perfect for my first Migration Monday, since Killdeer are one of the earliest migrants.

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

Description:

Killdeer are medium-sized shorebirds (about 10 1/2″ inches tall). Both males and females have similar features. These lanky birds have large round heads with short bills and long legs/tails/wings. In flight, you can see the bright orange feathers underneath their tails. Their eyes are also large and have a red orbital ring that is visible in close range. Killdeer have brown upperparts, white underparts, and a black double-banded breast. The double-banded breast helps distinguish them from the similar-looking Wilson’s Plovers and Semipalmated Plovers who only have one breast band. Adult Killdeer are also larger and slimmer than other plovers. Juveniles only have one breast band, so they are usually confused with the Semipalmated or Wilson’s. Killdeer juveniles are downy, have pinkish legs, and all black bills.

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An adult Killdeer (Image by Claude Nadeau/VIREO via audubon.org)
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A juvenile Killdeer: note his single breast band (Image by Peter Massas via Wikipedia)

Range:

Killdeer may be either medium-distant migrants or residents depending on region. The northern population of Killdeer may migrate from Canada and the Northern United States to Central America and Peru for the winter. The population in the Southern United States and the Pacific Coast tend to be residents.

Habitat:

Although they are considered shorebirds, you are more likely to see them away from water. Killdeer like open grasslands such as pastures, plowed fields, and lawns. You can find them at water’s edge as well. You may also spot them at parking lots, mudflats, coastal estuaries, airports, golf courses, or trying to nest on gravel rooftops.

Food:

Mostly insects such as caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, earthworms, snails,and  larvae. Will also eat seeds. They forage on the ground.

Breeding/Nesting:

Males will fly above the nesting territory calling out to females. Killdeer will do a “nest-scraping” ritual, where the male will get close to the ground and scrape out a hole with his feet and then the female will take over. Mating usual occurs shortly after. They will add stones, sticks and other items (even human trash) to line their nests. Females lay between 3-5 eggs (usually 4) and incubate them for 24-28 days. Chicks are precocial, meaning they leave the nest soon after hatching and are tended to by their parents but can feed themselves. They will usually have their first flight at around 25-days-old. In warmer climates, Killdeer may have 2 broods (families) per season.

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A Killdeer family (Image by Lyn Topinka via northwestbirding.com)

Sounds:

A loud and shrill kill-deer, kill-dee, dee-dee-dee.  They are considered sentinel birds, meaning they are acutely aware of predators. Since they live in open grasslands they can spot predators from a far distance and make a loud alarm call to warn other Killdeer and nearby animals.

Fun Facts:

  • And the Academy Award for Best Actor goes to….the Killdeer! Killdeer are masters of the “broken-wing” display. The adult Killdeer will lure a predator away from the nest by pretending its wing is broken and flailing around while giving a distress call. Once the predator is far enough away from the nest the Killdeer will instantly “heal” and fly away.
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Broken Wing Display (Image by Phil Gilston via birdnote.org)
  • When a Killdeer spots an intruder it will bob its head up and down.
  • Nicknames include “The Noisy Plover” or “The Chattering Plover”
  • Killdeer migrate earlier than other birds, usual returning to their northern regions in February or March