First Hike 2017

Happy New Year, everyone! Did you observe a “first bird” of 2017? A lot of people in bird internet groups I’m on like to share what the first bird they saw of the year was. Mine was a Blue Jay. I think that’s a fun was to start a new year of birding :-). On New Years Day, Dave and I took our first hike of the year at Palmyra Cove Nature Park.

If I had to choose one word to describe January 1, 2017 I would have to say: peaceful. It was a lovely morning. It was sunny and cool but not too cold. Our usual route when we go to Palmyra is the forest, the beaver ponds, then the cove. On this trip we worked backwards and headed to the cove trail first.

The trail to get to the cove was pretty quiet, while flocks of gulls flying high overhead. At one point there was a trilling sound coming from the understory. It was hard to track where the sound was coming from because it seemed to be moving around. Then suddenly one of the nearby bushes shook; and there was a Carolina Wren.

Male Carolina Wrens can have 30-40 songs in their repertoire, but females have a “chatter”. Her chatter sounds insect-like, so sometimes it’s easy to overlook her chatter for something else. Even though the female doesn’t “sing” per se, the male and female will duet, where the male with sing a song and the female will respond with different degrees and intensity of chatter. (Fun fact: female Carolina Wrens are the only wrens of the genus Thryothorus that don’t sing melodious songs like the males). I recently learned this from the book The Singing Life of Birds by Donald Kroodsma, so I was excited to recognize the female chatter in the field. Another bird quickly showed up after she did, so I’m guess that’s her mate since pairs stay together year-round. It ended up being the “Day of the wrens” because we ended up seeing a few more pairs of wrens throughout the hike in different territories.

carolina-wren
Carolina Wren (Image by David Horowitz)

We also saw a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos. I’m always excited to see my first Junco every winter; these little birds are fun to watch. They zip around the forest, hopping on the ground, trees, and everything in between. I love the flash of their black and white tail as they rise into flight. To me, Dark-eyed Juncos are like the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers of the winter.

dark-eyed-junco
Dark-eyed Junco (Image by BirdNation)

If you’re at the cove at high tide, you usually see different kinds of waterfowl. It was low tide though, so the only waterfowl around were the American Black Ducks. We did get a good view of a beaver dwelling that the ducks like to sit near and found some tracks in the mud. The area were were standing in also had a lot of gnawed beaver trees, which were cool to see. Upon standing in that are for a few minutes, other birds started to appear. Crows flew by and a juvenile Bald Eagle soared above us.

That’s when I spotted an unexpected visitor: a male Red-winged Blackbird.  To me there are 2 possibilities of why he’s still here: 1. He didn’t leave with the rest of the flock for the winter or 2. he’s back 2 months too early. I certainly didn’t expect him in the area. It started getting windy at the cove so we made our way to the beaver ponds.

The beaver ponds were fairly quiet as well. A small group of Wild Turkeys strutted by, possibly the same female/juvenile group we saw on our last trip to the Cove (remember when we did the turkey trot?). We saw a Northern Cardinal pair, some Mallards, Canada Geese, Downy Woodpeckers, and…a Sharp-shinned Hawk taking a bath?

a-pretty-pair
A pretty pair (Image by BirdNation)

He was at the far side of the lake and really difficult to see. All we could see was a tiny bird, with a white belly that seemed to be stripey. What was it?? Every once in awhile it would splash but it was just slightly too far to identify. We could tell it was some sort of a raptor, maybe a juvenile? After a few minutes it flew up onto a tree to reveal a dark back and a square tail. Mystery solved: Sharp-shinned. But it’s definitely not every day you see a hawk bathing in a pond, now is it?

Instead of walking through the forest we took the Perimeter Trail back to the entrance. The perimeter was pretty uneventful, but that’s ok. Like I said earlier, it was a peaceful morning that ended up staying peaceful throughout the rest of the day. I hope that mood is a sign for what’s to come in 2017. I thought visiting Palmyra Cove was a refreshing was to start the new year.

Did you take a “first hike” this year? If you did let me know in the comments.

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Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily birdwatch throughout New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.

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