Terrific Trees

Happy Arbor Day! Arbor Day is an observance that usually occurs the last Friday in April in the United States that encourages people to learn about and plant trees. This holiday was founded by J. Sterling Morton, a Nebraskan pioneer and journalist who would educate his readers about trees and agriculture. The first Arbor Day took place in Nebraska City, Nebraska on April 10, 1872. It’s estimated that around one million trees were planted throughout Nebraska on that first Arbor Day. Arbor Day became a national holiday in the United States in 1885. Holidays similar to Arbor Day occur all over the world.

I’ve decided to start a new hobby in addition to birding: tree watching. “Tree watching?” you may ask. Yes, tree watching. I have also decided that trees are really cool. Many people seem to think of trees as just objects that are part of the landscape, but they seem to sometimes forget that trees are alive. They reproduce, they take in nutrients to survive, they “breathe” (photosynthesis),  they even defend themselves. Since I spend a lot of of time studying birds, who depend on trees in many ways, I thought it would be well worth my time to learn more about trees. I’ve been taking out books from the library about trees and its fascinating. So in honor of Arbor Day here are some terrific facts about trees.

  • Trees have been around for more than 370 million years.
  • The tallest known living tree is named Hyperion. It’s a Coast Redwood in Northern California that is 379.3 ft (115.61 m) tall.
  • Trees can be some of the oldest living organisms on the plant. The oldest known Giant Sequoia is over 3,500 years old. Scientists determine the age of a tree by using growth rings.
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Giant Sequoia (Image by Bradluke22 via wikimedia commons)
  • A large tree can absorb 100 gallons of water out of the ground per day and discharge it into the air.
  • Many trees depend on birds and other animals to help disperse their seeds. For example, Clark’s Nutcrackers and Whitebark Pines are mutually dependent on each other. Whitebark Pine is a crucial food source for Clark’s Nutcrackers, while the Pines depend on the Nutcracker’s to help disperse the seeds.
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Clark’s Nutcracker and Whitebark Pine (Image by Benjamin Schwartz via surfbirds.com
  • A study by Thomas Crowther and his team from Yale University estimates that there are over 3 trillion trees on Earth. (Yes-trillion with a ‘t’!)
  • Acorns from oak trees are one of the Blue Jay’s favorite foods. Blue Jays have helped the oak’s range extension by caching acorns in damp, soft soils. They will usually go back to where they cached acorns, but sometimes the Jays forget and the seeds germinate in new oak trees.
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A Blue Jay with an acorn (Image by Marie Read via birdsandblooms.com)
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Shore Adventures

Hi everyone! Exciting news: Dave and I finally purchased our first DSLR camera. We picked it up Friday night and naturally we were super excited to use it, so we went birding 3 times last weekend. We are still learning all about the cool features, but we had fun testing it.

Saturday night we went to Boundary Creek. It was a peaceful night and we saw many of the residents. I was happy to run into one of my favorite residents, the Northern Mockingbird. These little guys are in the mimic family (other in this family include Gray Catbirds and Brown Thrashers). Mockingbirds are masters at imitating other birds in the area and surrounding sounds. Their songs are a jumble of many different bird calls and sometimes the real species may respond. I usually see this guy on top of the trees near the parking lot singing, but today he was spending time in the grass.

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Northern Mockingbird (Image by BirdNation)

We also saw a lovely White-throated Sparrow. There are 2 plumage variations: tan-striped and white. We get the white variation in my area. I love the male’s yellow patch above the eye. Honestly, I’m surprised I’m still seeing White-throated Sparrows right now. They are a winter bird in my area, but still see them on a daily basis. I wonder how much longer they will stick around. I’m just as happy seeing them now as I was when the arrived in the fall.

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Male White-throated Sparrow (Image by David Horowitz)

We spotted the Wood Duck pair out in the creek. As usual, they were really far away so even with our new lens we managed a mediocre picture. But at least we finally have one picture of them in the creek.

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Wood Duck pair (Image by David Horowitz)

On Sunday Dave and I went birding at the shore. I wanted to go to Manasquan Inlet and we found a nice park called Fisherman’s Cove Conservation Area in Manasquan. There were a few trails that lead you along the small beach/dunes and a meadow. The first thing we spotted were Brants: over 120 of them all floating around the inlet.

Some of the birds we saw included: Red-winged Blackbirds, Northern Cardinals, Ring-billed Gulls, a Common Loon, and numerous Song Sparrows. Across the inlet on another beach were 4 American Oystercatchers. We also watched a Red-tailed Hawk get mobbed by crows. At our car a large flock of Double-crested Cormorants flew by in a V-shape. There were at least 60 of them! (of course the camera was already away so I have no proof!) I have never experienced something quite like that. It was a pretty park that I would definitely visit again.

You have to cross a small bridge when entering this particular section of Manasquan and we got stuck waiting for it to let boats pass through going and coming from the park. However, we got a little treat while waiting the second time around. Two medium-small shore birds quickly flew into the water and waded around. I am still not 100% on our id, but I believe we saw a Greater Yellowlegs. Our other guess was Willet, and we spent a lot of time comparing pictures. So I’m sticking with Yellowlegs for the moment, but either way, at least we had something enjoyable to see while sitting in traffic.

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Greater Yellowlegs? (Image by David Horowitz)

The last stop of our shore adventure was Manasquan Reservoir. I visited there last weekend with Casey, so I was excited to bring Dave to check it out. We saw many American Coots, Double-crested Cormorants, Canada Geese, Ruddy Ducks, Tree Swallows, White-throated Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, a Great Blue Heron, and even one of the resident Bald Eagles to name a few.

New Jersey has been getting a lot of rain this week, so I haven’t been out much on the weekdays. However, I’ve been hearing that many migrants have been flooding in, including a lot of warblers. So I’m hoping to see some warblers on my trips this weekend. In the meantime, check back for more cool posts!

Palm Warbler: Migration Monday

Warblers are on the way! Yippee! I went on E-bird today to record some data from my weekend birding trips (I’ll tell you about those soon!) and noticed that there were 18 possible birds listed in the Wood Warbler category. I haven’t spotted any of them yet this spring, but I’m excited because they’re on the the way. I chose the Palm Warbler as my subject today because this was one of the first warblers I was able to check off on my life list.

Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum)

Description:

The Palm Warbler is a streaky songbird that is only 5 inches. It has a brownish back, yellow underparts, and is streaky on its sides and chest. When breeding, Palm Warblers have distinctive chestnut-colored caps. These birds have a habit of almost constantly pumping its tail to reveal its bright yellow underside.

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Palm Warbler in breeding plumage (Image by Julia Flanagan via pwconverse.org)

Range:

Palm Warblers migrate in the early spring and late in the fall. Summer (Breeding): West-Central Canada all the way east and the extreme Northern parts of the United States. Winters: Southeastern United States and the Caribbean. A very small population may winter along the Pacific Coast. Migration: Midwest to Eastern United States

Habitat:

Bogs and open coniferous forests in the summer, open spaces such as the edge of marshes and in fields during migration

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(Image by Wolfgang Wander via wikimedia commons)

Food:

Mainly insects, different kinds of berries, and seeds. In the winter they will usually forage on the ground. In the summer they are mainly foliage gleaners, meaning they will eat insects of the leaves in bushes and thickets. They may also catch insects in the air.

Nesting/Breeding:

Palm Warbler males may be polygamous  and have more than one mate. The female will construct the nest on the ground near the trunk of a spruce tree. They usually build the nest on top of moss and will cover the nest cup with grasses. They may have two broods per year, with 4-5 eggs in a clutch. Both parents will help incubate the eggs for around 12 days and feed the chicks. 12 days after hatching the chicks will fledge and be able to take short flights 1-2 days after fledging.

Sounds:

A small, weak trill. They sound similar to Chipping Sparrows but their song is slower.

Fun Facts:

  • People may think that Palm Warblers spend time in palms treed because of their names. However when they are in the Southeastern United States for winter you are more likely to see them hanging around palm groves but not actually in the trees. These warbler spend more time walking around on the ground than in trees.
  • They live farther North than most other wood warblers.
  • Palm Warblers who live in the easternmost part of their range tend to be a brighter yellow than in other areas. The westernmost Palms are duller and drabber, with white bellies.
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Western variety in non-breeding plumage (Image by Tomfriedel via wikimedia commons)

Happy Earth Day!

Today, April 22, 2016, marks the 46th year of Earth Day. Earth Day began in 1970 when the founder, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, had an idea to have a national day that focuses on environmental issues and awareness. He announced the event to the media and promoted it across the country. The event was scheduled for April 22. More than 20 million Americans assembled in various locations across the United States to demonstrate and demand a focus on the environment. Since the first Earth Day many environmental laws and acts have been created and April 22 is now observed worldwide. Many organizations hold events on and around Earth Day to educate the public, as well as events like tree-planting and clean-ups of natural areas.

So what does Earth Day have to do with birds? If you are reading this blog, you obviously think birds are important. Birds do matter, and everyone who loves them have their different reasons for doing so. Of course, learning about and watching birds fills us with joy and makes the world a more beautiful and exciting place. But many people don’t realize that birds are very important environmental indicators.

In a world where we are dealing with climate change there is a lot of uncertainty. But one thing people who study birds know is this: birds are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment. Their behaviors give scientist clues to what is happening in their ecosystem. Birds are great indicators of the quality of a habitat, biodiversity, and pollution. Thousands of bird species have populations that are declining, especially species that are dependent on very specific environmental factors.

I thought Earth Day would be the perfect opportunity to list some ways we can help with bird conservation. The best part about conserving birds is that by helping them, we are helping the rest of the environment and all the world’s creatures, including ourselves. Here are some thing that you can do to help:

  • Reduce, reuse, recycle!
  • Become a citizen scientist: There are many ways to do this: report data of the birds you see on sites such as Ebird (run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology), participating in local/national bird counts such as Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count and The Great Backyard Bird Count, reporting data about nests and banded birds that you watch.
  • Be a responsible pet owner. Please do not let your cat live outside. According to an article by National Geographic (“North American Birds Declining as Threats Mount”) between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds are killed by cats annually in the United States.
  • Don’t forget to clean your feeders! Keeping your feeding stations clean can help reduce avian diseases.
  • Support conservation efforts of both local and national environment/bird groups
  • Reduce your energy usage and make an effort to waste less water
  • Plant native flowers and plants in your backyard
  • Educate your friends and family (or anyone really!) about these issues. Knowledge is power my friends!

This is just a small sample of things we can do to help our birds and our environment. I hope this post helped inspire you, my fellow bird lovers, to think about how you can help our environment.

If you want to learn more you can check out some of the links I used to write this blog:

 

Something Old, Something New

Last weekend I went birding in three locations; one a regular hot spot and two brand new places. They were Maria B. Greenwald Park, Allaire State Park, and Manasquan Reservoir.

Dave and I went to Maria B. Greenwald for our usual Friday night hike. The week prior we had an evening to remember and saw a Great Horned Owl. We were hoping to see something else cool the following week, and we certainly did.

Towards the end of our walk we spotted a pair of wood ducks. It was no easy task; these small ducks blend in perfectly with their surroundings. Even the handsome drake, with his iridescent green crest, face stripes, red eyes, and white chin patch, is concealed extremely well. They were across the river and we watched them relax for a few minutes before moving on. Wood Ducks are one of our favorite kinds, so we are always happy to see them.

As we continued our way back to the car we heard a Belted Kingfisher. Since I recently learned how to tell the difference between males and females I was eager to find it. We saw it fly by but spotted something we didn’t expect: another male Wood Duck! Then we realized there were a few more Wood Ducks with him by the river. There were 4 drakes and 1 hen. Dave was able to sneak a little closer to get a picture before they caught on and flew away. Wood Ducks are very skittish, so we were lucky to get that close.  Overall we saw 7 Wood Ducks that evening, 5 drakes and 2 hens. Maria B. Greewald has been giving us a lot of great surprises lately!

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A handsome drake Wood Duck (Image by David Horowitz)

The following day I drove out to the Jersey Shore to visit my friend Casey. Birding was not our primary focus, but of course I had my binoculars and camera just in case we saw something cool. Our plan was to walk around Allaire State Park in Farmingdale. This 3,205 acre State Park features a historic village, a railroad, numerous trails, and other outdoor activities. The village was originally called Howell Works, which was an industrial community that produced pig and cast iron. The Manasquan River flows through the State Park.

We walked around the village and some of the trails. My favorite trail was the Flood Plain Trail. It is actually a retired trail, meaning the park does not maintain it anymore. This is due to the fact that it flooded so many times that they found it too difficult to maintain. You can still make our parts of the trail, and it was a beautiful walk right next to the river. I felt like I was far away from civilization, even though I probably only 0.4 miles away. There wasn’t much at Allaire in the way of birds, but it was really pretty and a relaxing place to walk around.

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Allaire State Park (Image by BirdNation)

Casey and I like to go on adventures, so of course we couldn’t just go to one place. We wanted to go to a place that neither of us have ever visited, so we decided to go to Manasquan Reservoir in nearby Howell. It’s considered an Important Bird Area (IBA) so I was hoping we’d see something interesting there.

Manasquan Reservoir 1,204 acre park of water and land. The perimeter trail is 5.1 miles long and over 200 species of birds visit the reservoir throughout the year. We didn’t walk too long, but I finally saw something I’ve been wait to see a long time.

Every time I’ve seen an American Coot I’ve only ever seen one at a time. This always puzzles me, because everything I read about coots talks about how you usually see them in large flocks. I was delighted that the first thing I saw at the reservoir was an American Coot.

So I said, “Ooh look, a coot! No wait, there’s two.” Then I gasped as I scanned the water. “Oh my goodness, there’s 40 of them!”

Finally! My flock of coots! I’ve been waiting for years for that moment. I knew that I would have to return to the reservoir again. (Of course they were so far away and my camera is not meant for birding, so my pictures are super bad. But the camera in my mind got a good capture.)

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American Coots (Image by BirdNation)

Other highlights included Double-crested Cormorants, two Mute Swans, Tree Swallows, Carolina Chickadees, Red-wing Blackbirds, and a new lifer for me, female Ruddy Ducks. At the visitor center we even saw a groundhog hanging out near the feeders with the birds. I really enjoyed visiting Manasquan Reservoir and plan on bring Dave there as soon as possible to explore more in-depth.

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Groundhog (Image by BirdNation)
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A cute little Mourning Dove (Image by BirdNation)

Keep Calm…and Watch Herons.

Today I’m keeping it simple. April has been very hectic for me, so I’m working on trying to regroup and de-stress. So tonight  I’m taking a break from informational posts and sharing some lovely birds I saw. The following pictures were taken this evening while walking around Smithville Park with my mom and sister. There are at least 3 resident Great Blue Herons at the lake and they were all out enjoying the sunshine and beautiful weather. We also saw some pretty dogwood trees in bloom. These herons are a nice reminder for me to slow down, appreciate the beauty of nature, and focus on the simple things. If you are ever stressed I suggest you go find some herons and watch them be the amazing creatures they are. Works for me! Enjoy! 🙂

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GBH #1 (Image by BirdNation)
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GBH #2 (Image by BirdNation)
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GBH #3 (Image by BirdNation)
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White Dogwood (Image by BirdNation)
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Pink Dogwood (Image by BirdNation)

 

A Call in the Night

It was 11:45 p.m. Being a typical “night owl” I was wide awake. I was sitting at my desk preparing for Monday morning when I heard a sound.

Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo!

It was a soft sound. My first reaction was,”Is that…a mourning dove?? What? That makes no sense!” (Of course, that’s super silly, but the sound was so unexpected I was confused.)

So I froze and listened again. It sounded closer this time. “Hoo-hoo-hooo-hooo!”

I felt my adrenaline kick in and ran into the living room. “Dave, there’s a Great Horned Owl outside our window! I hear it! Put your shoes on.” I scrambled to find a sweatshirt and my sneakers. We quietly went outside to look for the owl.

We stood in the parking lot and looked around. Silence. It must have flown away. But there it was again! It was in the wooded area behind our apartment. As we walked the owl’s call guided us to it.

I was surprised. We live in a heavily populated area. Our apartment complex is big and next to a major highway and other busy roads. So it was the last place I expected an owl to be hanging out. The wooded area is small, but we quickly reached it and deliberately watched the trees.

Sometimes while walking at twilight Dave and I will mention how we need to get night vision goggles so we can bird watch at night. They would have been very helpful at this moment, because its very difficult to spot an owl at night. We knew we were close though, because every 20 seconds or so the owl would call out. Of course we weren’t going to see any details, but we searched for dark masses high in the tree tops.

And then it flew! It was a short flight; only from one branch to a nearby one. But we saw it! It was sitting where we thought it was before it flew. It was my first Great Horned Owl experience at night. We listened to it call for a few more minutes before going back to our apartment. What a thrilling experience!

This is the second Great Horned Owl experience we’ve had in the past week. Our first was at Maria B. Greenwald Park two Fridays ago. I feel so lucky to have been seeing my favorite bird recently. It makes me wonder if this owl will be sticking around or if it was just passing through. I’m not sure, but I do know one thing: I will certainly be listening carefully at night for any nearby owls!

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(Image by George W. Robinson via outdooralabama.com)