Palm Warbler Sunday

Hi everyone! Now that it’s spring it’s time to start a new weekly feature. We are a week into spring and I’ve already seen many spring migrants in my neck of the wood. Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, American Oystercatchers, Killdeer, Eastern Phoebes, and Osprey are just a few of the migrants arriving in New Jersey. Over the next 2 months, many more bird species will be arriving in North America after their winter breaks, including one of my favorite groups: the warblers.

Warblers tend to be some of the later spring migrants, with many arriving in late April/early May. I thought now would be the perfect time for us to starting learning about warblers so we’ll be ready to identify them when they arrive. Our first warbler will be one of the early migrants: the Palm Warbler.

Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum)

Description:

Palm Warblers have prominent rusty caps that they show off while constantly pumping their tails. Their upperparts are brown with tan wing bars and underparts are yellow with faint brownish stripes. They have a very noticable supercilium (“eyebrow”) above their eyes. Their tails are long and square, block black base and white tips. Males and females have similar plumage.

 

Range:

Winters in Florida, the Gulf Coast, the southern Atlantic Coast, the Caribbean, and some parts of Central America. Migrates through the Eastern part of the United States. Summer (breeding) in Canada.

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Palm Warbler (Image by Corinne Errico via njaudubon.org)

Habitat:

During migration, Palm Warblers can be found in woodlands, near ponds and streams, and open pastures. At their breeding grounds, they live in open boreal coniferous forests and bogs that contain tamaracks, spruce, cedar, and pine trees. They tend to stay in the lower parts of the tree, in bushes/thickets, or on the ground.

Diet:

Insects, berries, and seeds. They may glean insects off of leaves or catch them in mid air. During the winter they will usually forage on the ground.

Breeding/Nesting:

Palm Warblers arrive on their breeding grounds in April and the female will start building her nest by early May. Males may have more than one mate. Females build a small open cup nest in low trees near the trunk or on the ground. She weaves a variety of grasses and other plant materials together on top of sphagnum moss. She will usually conceal the nest with a clump of grass and line the inside with feathers.

The female lays 4-5 creamy white eggs with brown spots. The eggs are incubated for around 12 days. Sometimes Palms deal with brood parasitism by Brown Cowbirds.However, they will usually discover the intruding egg and cover it to add an extra layer to the bottom of the nest. Both parents will feed the chicks and within 12 days the young are taking their first short flights. Palms can possibly have 2 broods per year.

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Palm Warbler (Image via pintrest/fineartamerica.com)

Sounds:

A weak trill song, a chip or tsip call

Conservation:

There are currently no major threats against Palm Warblers in their winter or summer habitats, and their population is considered stable.

Fun Facts: 

  • Being called “Palm” these birds sound more tropical, but they actually live farther north than many other warblers.
  • There are 2 subspecies of Palm Warblers. Western Palms have white bellies and paler breasts, while Eastern Palms are yellower and patchier.
  • In their winter grounds of Florida you may see a Palm Warbler near palm groves, but you won’t find them in the palm trees themselves.

 

I’ve only ever seen one Palm Warbler so far. It was at Palmyra Nature Cove and was my first warbler I learned to identify. Have you seen a Palm Warbler? Tell me in the comments below.

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World Water Day 2017

(We interrupt your regularly-scheduled bird post for an important conservation message)

It’s World Water Day! World Water Day takes place on March 22 every year. This international event was created by the United Nations and has been observed since 1993. The goal of World Water Day is inform people about water-related issues and inspire them to take action.

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(Image via wildernesscommittee.org)

We are in the midst of a global water crisis. Water pollution, scarcity (especially in undeveloped countries), inadequate water supplies , and sanitation are all huge issues that need to be addressed and should be a concern for everybody. People need to realize that water is a finite resource, and a humongous amount of water is wasted all the time.

The theme for 2017 is “Why Wastewater?” Many people don’t realize that 80% of wastewater is untreated/unused and leads to pollution. The Sustainable Development Goals from the United Nation includes reducing pollution, minimizing hazardous chemicals from being released, treating water, reusing water, and eliminating dumping.

Here are some alarming stats about wastewater:

  • 1.8 billion people are exposed to water supplies that are contaminated by faeces. This puts people at risk for a number of deadly diseases.
  • The average person uses 100 gallons of water per day, with 95% of it being wasted. This means between 76-95 gallons of water per day are wasted per person. 
  • 75% of the Earth is covered with water, but less than 3% is drinkable. Therefore the water supply we can drink is limited and needs to be managed carefully.

Scary, right? Water is not only important for humans, but all life. The animals and plants that we love need access to clean water sources as well.

So what can be done about this global crisis? There are plenty of things you can do help conserve water. The fact of the matter is that every single person wastes water in some way, so if everyone makes changes (even small ones!) we can work together to create solutions and bring along change.

Here are some things you can do to help conserve and reuse water.

  • Make sure your home is leak-free. A leaking tap can waste 5,550 liters (or 1466 gallons) of water per year according to a British study.
  • Reuse water whenever you can. For example, instead of dumping it you can use it to water plants.
  • Take shorter showers (I know that this one is hard! lol). 
  • Don’t over-water your lawn.
  • Don’t let water run when you are not using it. Example of this include turning it off while you shave, brush your teeth, or wash your face.
  • Use your dishwasher and washing machines with full loads.
  • Choose appliances that are efficient to save not only water but money on your water bill.
  • Minimize use of your garbage disposal, which needs a large amount of water to operate. Create a compost pile for food waste if possible.
  • As I’ve said in past conservation posts, knowledge is power! One of the best things you can do about conservation issues is to spread the word to your children, family, friends, neighbors, and community.The more people know about it, the more they can find ways to be part of the solution.

Remember, just making a small change every day can make a significant difference over time. Every drop counts my friends!

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Cape Cod (Image by BirdNation)

Here are the sources I used to find information about World Water Day 2017 and water conservation. I just scratched the surface in this post, but you can find out more information below.

World Water Day Official Website

World Water Day Factsheet

Global Development Research Center

International Business Times article

Time Magazine article

 

 

 

 

Goodbye Winter

This weekend Dave and I went to Barnegat Lighthouse State Park on Long Beach Island for our final birding trip of the winter. Barnegat Light is at least an hour away from us, so we usual go there in the mid-morning, but for this trip we went in the late afternoon/early evening. It was quiet as far as people go, but busy with birds, which is just how I like it.

We started our trip on the paved walkway near the lighthouse, where we spotted a group of 6 Red-breasted Mergansers. It was our second time seeing this kind of merganser (first was at our last Forsythe trip) , but our first time seeing them at Barnegat Light. Red-breasted Mergansers look similar to Common Mergansers, but there are a few key differences. Red-breasted have long slender bills, are smaller, and both male and female have crests. Red-breasted Merganser are also more likely to be found in saltwater habitats than Common and Hooded Mergansers. The ones we saw were busy preening while floating along in the ocean. I love seeing their cute feather “hair-dos” :-).

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Male Red-breasted Merganser (Image by BirdNation)

We spent awhile walking on the jetty. There were hundreds of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls along the rocks. They were resting, standing, preening, pulling muscles from the rocks, and calling to each other. They didn’t seem phased that we were so close to them and continued with their normal routines. Out in the ocean Black Scoters flew by, Red-breasted Mergansers swam, and Long-tailed Ducks dove in small groups. The best part of walking on the jetty was seeing all the loons. There were about 25 Common Loons all spread out along the jetty. We always see Common Loons at Barnegat Light in the winter, but we don’t usually see that many (no more than 4 or 5 in past trips). It felt lucky to see such a high number of loons in one day.

The strangest bird of the day was a lone Black Skimmer. It flew by low to the water, and had the distinctive longer lower mandible/black and orange bill. It was quite a bit early to be back on LBI, but it was an interesting surprise. I wonder where it was headed.

We also added a new addition to our life list while standing on the jetty. A sparrow landed on a small rock on the beach. At first I thought it could be a Song Sparrow; I just heard one and this little guy was pretty streaky. Upon closer examination we noticed that his breast was whiter and he had a yellow streak before his eye. We found a Savannah Sparrow! It’s possible that this bird is an “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow, a subspecies that breeds on Sable Island, Nova Scotia. They spend the winters on the mid-Atlantic coast and can be found along the Jersey Shore.

At the end of the jetty there was a large sandbar covered with gulls and a group of Dunlins. A lone Red-throated Loon dove close to the shoreline. We could tell it was a Red-throated and not a Common Loon because it was a pale gray and white, had a smaller, sharper bill, and lacked the white “neck collar” that a Common would have.

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Red-throated Loon (Image by BirdNation)

The tide was pretty low at the end of the beach, so Dave and I were able to walked farther out than usual. Because of the low tide, a lot of seaweed, shells, and other interesting objects washed onto the beach. We took a little break from bird watching to do some shell collecting! We collected some moon shells, a small conch-looking shell, small pieces of coral, and some sort of marine vertebrae (maybe? I’m not sure it was just cool-looking!). In the picture below Dave’s shell collection is the left side and mine is the right. We also stumbled upon a starfish! I’ve never seen one on the beach before. As usual, we had another successful Barnegat Light trip.

Well friends, in less than 12 hours here on the East Coast of the United States it will finally be spring! The Vernal Equinox starts at 6:28am, so winter is almost over! It was another great winter birding season, but I’m also looking forward to the Spring migration. What was your favorite winter birding moment? Tell me about it in the comments 🙂

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Herring Gull (Image by BirdNation)

Wood Duck Wednesday!

For the final Waterfowl Wednesday of the winter, I wanted to feature one of my favorite ducks; the Wood Duck. I am always on the lookout for Wood Ducks when I go birding, especially at Boundary Creek. Dave and I know a mating pair live there, so we always try to find them. The last time we visited Boundary, the Wood Duck pair was hanging out with the Mallards. We were able to get our best picture of them to date, and even that is still blurry because they are always slightly to far out of range.

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Boundary Creek Wood Duck pair (Image by David Horowitz)

Anyway, I think Wood Ducks are beautiful birds and always wonderful to see. Here are 7 fun facts about these stunning ducks.

  • Both male and female Wood Ducks have distinctive plumage. Males have buffy flanks, a chestnut breast, a round head with a purplish-green hooded crest, and a white “bridle”. Their eyes and bill are bright red-orange. Females are a pale gray with spotted flanks. She has an eyering and white patches that encircle the eyes. Even though their plumage is so distinctive, they are masters of camouflage in their habitat (especially the female, who can seem to disappear by simply moving over a few steps). They are smaller than Mallards, at about 19 inches in length.
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Male and Female Wood Ducks (Image by BS Thurner Hof via wikimedia commons)
  •  Unlike most ducks, Wood Ducks nest in tree cavities. As a result, they have strong claws that help them climb trees. The tree is usually close to water, but can be as far away as 1.2 miles.
  • Of all the North American ducks, Wood Ducks are the only species that regularly produce 2 broods per year. There can be up to 15 eggs in a nest cavity. When the young hatch they are precocial, so they have their down feathers and leave the nest within a few hours. Remember, they hatched up high in a tree, so Wood Duck chicks need to jump out of the tree to make their way towards the water! It’s quite a sight to watch a parachuting Wood Duck chick. (I suggest you google some videos of jumping wood duck chicks, it’s a lot of fun!)
  • Wood Ducks live year-round in the Southeastern and Pacific Coast of the United States. They can breed throughout the Midwest, New England, and Northwestern United States. They are rarely found throughout most of the Interior West/Southwest, except for small pockets of year-round populations. They prefer wooded habitats near rivers, ponds, streams, and swamps.
  • It’s common for Wood Ducks to demonstrate intraspecific brood parasitism, meaning females will lay their eggs in each other’s nests. It’s possibly that a nest cavity that has been parasitized can have up to 40 eggs in it!
  • They are strong fliers, and can fly up to speeds of 30 miles per hour.
  • Ducklings can jump from a tree up to 300 ft high without injury!
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Female and chicks (Image via Pinterest, liberatingwings.typepad.com)

Have you ever seen a Wood Duck? Tell me your Wood Duck experience in the comments.

Next week is Spring, so we will start a new feature. I hope you enjoyed another winter of Waterfowl Wednesday!

 

Bermuda Cahow

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile now, you know that I love bird cams. I discovered the Cornell Lab Bird cams about 2 years ago. It all began with the Great Horned Owl cam and quickly turned into an obsession where I was pretty much keeping track of all the cams. I’ve spent countless hours watching Red-tailed Hawks, Laysan Albatrosses, Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, and Barn Owls successfully (and sometimes unsuccessfully) raise their young. There are also a variety of feeder cams to watch, such as the one at the Lab’s Sapsucker Woods, the Ontario feeder, and the West Texas Hummingbirds.

Over the past year, the Lab has created new partnerships with other wildlife organizations to add more cams to their website. Their newest cam is the Bermuda Cahow (my latest obsession :-)). The Cahow cam is hosted by Nonsuch Expeditions from Nonsuch, Bermuda.

The Bermuda Petrel (or Cahow as its called in Bermuda) is the second rarest seabird in the world and has an interesting history. The arrival of humans, rats, cats, and other mammals to Bermuda in the early 1600s had a terrible impact on the Cahow population, which was said to have been around a half a million birds at the time. Twenty years later, people believed that the Cahow went extinct. This belief lasted for about 330 years (from 1620-1951), until a team of scientists discovered 18 breeding pairs on offshore inlets. Many people refer to the Cahow as a “Lazarus species”.

Since it’s re-discovery, the Cahow has been the focus of intensive conservation management. One of the people to re-discover the Cahow in 1951 was David B. Wingate, a Bermuda native. This event inspired him to study zoology at Cornell University so he could help the Cahows recover. Starting in 1960, Wingate and other conservationists have been running the Cahow Recovery Program to help reduce threats that the Cahow face. David Wingate also wanted to help other species in the process and restore Nonsuch Island to it’s pre-colonial ecology through the Nonsuch Island Living Museum Project.

Many strategies have been employed to conserve the Cahows. In 2001, David Wingate’s successor, Jeremy Madeiros started a translocation project to move the birds to a more suitable environment and protect them from harsh weather conditions.In 2004, 14 Cahow chicks were translocated to a new breeding colony on Nonsuch Island. Volunteers and scientists monitored, banded, and fed the chicks, and they all successfully fledged. The colony on Nonsuch Island now has 15 breeding pairs, and the total number of breeding pairs in Bermuda increased to 120 in 2016. Other conservation strategies include using geolocators and banding.

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Jeremy Madeiros holds the Cahow chick (Image tweeted by Nonsuch Expeditions)

The chick that we watch on Bermuda Cahow came hatched on March 2, so as of today it is 12 days old. It’s parents are E0212 (male) and E0197 (female), who have been breeding together at the same burrow site since 2009.  Cahow pairs stay together for life, which may sometimes last for around 30 years. After a few years of failure, they started successfully fledging chicks since 2014, so hopefully our little chick this year will fledge as well.

Similar to the Laysan Albatross on their cam, Cahow parents leave the chick to forage for squid, and its not unusual for a chick to be left alone for up to a week without a visit. It takes so long because the adults will travel north to the cold Gulf Stream waters, sometimes up to 4,500 or more miles away! The chick was just visited today by the mother, who spent some time feeding, preening, and resting with her chick.

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Mom and chick rest together (Image tweeted by Nonsuch Expeditions Twitter)

 

So if you haven’t seen Bermuda Cahow cam, you should check it out! The chick is absolutely adorable and it’s exciting to observe the life of these fascinating seabirds. I’ll include the link to the cam below in addition to some cool Cahow facts. And while you’re there, check out some of the Cornell bird cams (link is up in the first paragraph).

Bermuda Cahow cam

Amazing Cahow Facts

2017 Season Cahow Blog

 

 

Long-tailed Duck Waterfowl Wednesday

Hi friends! Sorry that I disappeared for a bit. It’s been quite a hectic few weeks to say the least. I’m hoping to get back to a more regular writing schedule again. I feel bad about missing the last two Waterfowl Wednesdays, but we still have 3 more until the spring. Once spring starts, the new weekly feature will be Warbler Sunday. You know I like to use alliteration (lol), but Wednesdays are a little rough these days because of my Calculus class, so I’m switching to Sundays for a bit. But in the meantime, we’re going to feature the distinctive Long-tailed Duck.

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)

Description:

Long-tailed Ducks are small and stocky sea ducks. They have round heads/bodies and short bills. Although their plumage changes seasonally, Long-tails always have dark breasts/wings, white bellies, and some patches of white on their heads.

During the summer, males have black heads/chests/wing, a gray patch on their faces and buffy upper back feathers. The female’s summer plumage is mainly dark with a white eye patch that extends down towards the ear, and brown eyes.

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Male Long-tailed Duck in winter breeding plumage (Image by Eric Reuter via ducks.org)

In the winter males have white heads/necks, black cheeks/lower back/chest, and gray upper back feathers. They also have a gray face and yellow-brown eyes. As their name suggests, in both seasons males have a long, black, central tail feather that noticeably sticks out. Winter females have grayish-brown breasts/back/crowns, white heads/necks/bellies, and dark brown cheek patches. Juveniles are mainly brownish gray with white bellies.

Range:

Summer (breeding): the high Arctic: Northern Alaska and Canada. Migration: Canada and the Northeastern United States. Winter: off the coast of Alaska and south down the Pacific Coast, Atlantic Coast. Rarely found in the mainland USA.

Habitat:

Summer breeding grounds are open tundra, lakes, and edges of northern forests near water. In winter, they are found at large lakes,the ocean, and sometimes freshwater areas.

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Female Long-tailed Duck in winter plumage (Image by Kevin Law via wikimedia commons)

Diet:

Crustaceans, mollusks, aquatic insects, small fish, and some plan material. They are diving ducks who forage by swimming underwater. They mostly diving up to 30 feet from the surface, but have supposedly said to go as deep as 200 feet. They diving deeper than any other duck.

Breeding/Nesting:

Long-tailed Ducks start breeding around the age of 2. Courtship behavior begins in the later winter/early spring and includes tail-raising and head tossing/shaking. They nest on the ground offshore, usually near rocks or hidden under low growth. The nest is a depression in the ground lines with some plant materials and down feathers.

The female will lay between 6-8 eggs that she incubates for 24-29 days. The young are precocial, so they leave the nest shortly after hatching. They are tended to by the female, but can feed themselves and dive fairly well. First flight occurs around 35-40 days.

Sounds:

Most vocal between February and June. Males give a clear yodeling upup OW OweLEP! Females give a quack urk urk or kak kak kak and soft grunts.

(If you want to hear the interesting sound of the male, check out this Audubon article that features a podcast by BirdNote: Listen to the Quirky Call of the Long-tailed Duck)

Conservation:

Not much is known about currently population trends, by the IUCN lists them as vulnerable.

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Long-tailed male and female in summer plumage (Image by the USFWS via nhptv.org)

Fun Facts:

  • Long-tailed Ducks used to be known as Oldsquaws. The name was changed due to political correctness.
  • They tends to fly low to the water with quick, shallow wingbeats.
  • Long-tailed Ducks tend to wear their breeding plumage at the opposite times then other ducks. Most ducks have their “basic plumage” in the winter and “breeding plumage” for a short time in the late summer. Long-tailed Ducks wear their breeding plumage only in the winter.
  • They are usually found in small groups and don’t mix with other duck species often.