Old Man Plover

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“Old Man Plover” (Image by Alice Van Zoeren via audubon.org)

Meet BO:X,g (pronounced box gee). He’s 15 years old, making him the oldest Piping Plover in the Great Lakes population. But BO:X,g is better known for his endearing nickname, “Old Man Plover”.

There are 3 populations of the Piping Plover in the United States: the Great Plains, the Atlantic Coast, and the Great Lakes. Plovers on the Atlantic Coast and Great Plains regions are considered federally threaten, while the Great Plains population is considered federally endangered. A strategy used to help keep track of threatened bird populations in banding. Each bird in the population has a unique combination of colored bands that researchers can use to identify individuals. Old Man Plover’s real “name”, BO:X,g, are the letters that are found on his leg bands.

Old Man Plover has lead a long and interesting life so far. Many Piping Plovers don’t live much longer than 5-years-old, so the fact that Old Man Plover is 15 an amazing feat. He was born in 2002 in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore in Michigan. Old Man Plover is not the oldest current living Piping Plover (the oldest is 17 and lives in the Atlantic Coast population), but he has played a large role in the revival of his population.

Like many other Piping Plovers, Old Man Plover is loyal to not only his birthplace breeding grounds, but also his wintering grounds in Cape Romaine National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina (where our American Oystercatcher friend, M3, from Cape May winters too). He is also very punctual; every year he’s arrives at Sleeping Bear Dunes on exactly April 13 to rendezvous with his current mate. His current mate is actually his 3rd. His first mate (referred to as his childhood sweetheart in the article I read haha!) died in 2002 and his second mate died in 2013.

Over the years, Old Man Plover has successfully fledged 36 chicks, averaging around 3 or 4 chicks per breeding season (as compared to the normal rate of 1.5). The biologists who study him believe he is well represented in his population. The Great Lakes population has been slowly increasing, but there is still a long way to go to get to the goal of 150 breeding pairs. As of last spring (2016), there were 75 breeding pairs in the region and 28 of them nested in Old Man Plover’s Sleeping Bear Dunes area.

There’s been some more great news recently about the Great Lakes Piping Plover population. Last year, Piping Plovers nested in Lower Green Bay, Wisconsin, for the first time in 75 years. It was also announced as of July 24, 2017, that two Piping Plover nests have been found along Lake Erie in Pennsylvania. This is the first time Piping Plovers have nested in Pennsylvania in 60 years.

Old Man Plover is an inspiration, not just to me, but to the people who want to help conserve vulnerable species. This cute little plover doesn’t even know it, but he has made such a positive impact on his population and is a symbol of hope. I firmly believe one of the keys of conservation is to educate yourself and others, so I wanted to share his story with you.

If you’d like to learn more about Old Man Plover, about the Piping Plover populations, or about what you can do to help check out the links below:

Meet Old Man Plover, the Pride of the Great Lakes by Meaghan Lee Callaghan on Audubon.org

Success! Piping Plovers Nested in Pennsylvania for the First Time in 60 Years by Andy McGlashen via Audubon.org

Piping Plover Fact Sheet, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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The Daily Mockingbird

Summer is a special time of year to many people. People love the beach, having some time off, and spending time doing outdoor activities. There are certainly things that I appreciate about summer too, but it’s gone from being my favorite season as a kid to my least favorite. It’s my least favorite season to go birding because like many of us, birds would rather stay out of the heat as best they can and are less active during the day.

But there is something that’s really special to me about the summer since I’ve been into birding: the daily Mockingbird. It seems like once the end of May hits, I end up seeing Mockingbirds on a daily basis, usually multiple times throughout the day. Northern Mockingbirds happen to already be in my top 10 of favorite birds, but seeing the flash of their white wing patches in the middle of a summer’s day gives me a kind of joy I can’t describe. Here are some interesting facts about these vocal virtuosos.

  • Throughout the year Northern Mockingbirds, who can be found all across the United States, tend to be alone or in pairs. Whether they are alone or not, they are always conspicuous. Mockingbirds love being up high on trees, fences, or other platforms to proudly sing their songs, but you could also find them running around on the ground or grass.
  • The Northern Mockingbird’s scientific name, Mimus polyglottos, roughly translates to “mimics many harmonies”. If you’ve ever heard a bunch of different bird songs/calls in a row, but they are only coming from one bird, then you are listening to a Mockingbird performance. They are part of what is called the “Mimics” (which also includes Brown Thrashers and Gray Catbirds), meaning their songs are made up of songs fragments they learned from other species, as well as mockingbird-specific songs.
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Northern Mockingbird at Strawbridge Lake (Image by BirdNation)
  • The number of songs a Mockingbird can sing varies based on its range, but many male Mockingbirds can sing up to 200 songs! Females sing also, but not as loudly or as often. Males tend to have two sets of repertoire: songs for summer and songs for fall. The songs themselves are a mix of long musical phrases that are repeated usually 2-6 times before a new phrase starts. A Mockingbird song can range anywhere from 20 seconds to a few hours! Singing is used as a way to defend their territory as well as sexual selection for mating. New songs can be learned throughout life.
  • A frequent movement done by Northern Mockingbirds is what’s called the “wing flash display”. In the display, they will partially or fully open their wings showing their large white patches while taking jerky steps forward. Some scientist thing this display may help startle insects and make them easier to catch. The odd this is though that other mockingbirds throughout the world that don’t have wing patches use this movement too…so we’re still not quite certain what the purpose of this display is.
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    Mockingbird Wing Display (Image via wikipedia commons by By Manjithkaini (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia CommonsManjith Kainickara)

    Singing is a large part of a Mockingbird’s life, and they can sing both during the day and at night. Unmated males are probably the most insistent though; they make up most of the nocturnal singers. It’s more common for an unmated male to nocturnally sing during a full moon.

  • Northern Mockingbirds are popular in United States culture and are the state birds of 5 states: Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas (formerly in South Carolina).
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Mockingbird eating crumbs at Palmyra Cove parking lot (Image by David Horowitz)
  • Northern Mockingbirds don’t just imitate other birds. They can also imitate dogs, cats, frogs, and even artificial sounds like car alarms! They may tend to fool us humans into thinking there’s another bird around, but other birds are not normally fooled by the Mockingbird’s mimicking ways.

Over the years, I’ve found many different Mockingbird territories in parks I frequent as well as other places in my area. My favorite is the Mockingbird who lives towards the front section of Boundary Creek. Dave and I took a walk on Sunday at Boundary, and my Mockingbird friend was running around the lawn grabbing bugs. He frequently flicked his long tail and hopped around to expose the bugs, then quickly snatched them up. He was quite amusing to watch. I love going to Boundary and finding him either running around or upon his treetop sings his little heart out (his picture is below).

Do you have an Mockingbirds that live nearby? Tell me your mockingbird story in the comments.

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Boundary Creek Mockingbird (Image by BirdNation)

Double Day Trip

Sunday tends to be our normal birding day. This week we were having trouble deciding where we wanted to go. The options were: Palmyra Cove or Barnegat Light. Which park did we choose? We actually went to both!

We started our day at Palmyra Cove Nature Park. The weather was lovely. We had a bright blue summer sky punctuated by white puffy clouds. Our main goal for the trip was to explore the Cove Trail. On the way to the cove we listened to the song of an Indigo Bunting, saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker, watched some Carolina Chickadees chase each other, and got a rare glimpse of a Warbling Vireo (I say rare because they are usually always at the top of the tree, so I tend to hear them frequently instead of see them).

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Red-bellied Woodpecker (Image by BirdNation)

The Cove Trail runs along the Delaware River. Sometimes you can walk on the beach along the river, but it was around high tide so that wasn’t an option. We did see some Double-crested Cormorants, as well as a flock of at least 70 Canada Geese float by.

There’s a wooden platform that extends out into the marshland of the cove. We were pretty close to it when we almost ran right into a Black Rat Snake! It was having a sun-bathing section right in the middle of the trail.

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Black Rat Snake (Image by BirdNation)

There were a lot of birds around once we reached the platform. There were 2 Bald Eagles in a nest, 6 or 7 Great Blue Herons, Mallards, small flocks of Semipalmated Sandpipers, swallows, Eastern Phoebes, Red-winged Blackbirds, a Cedar Waxwing, Orchard Orioles, and juvenile Starlings to name a few. My favorite visitor though was an adorable Spotted Sandpiper. It landed on the platform railing and pumped his little tail. With all their teetering motions, no wonder why people have nicknames these little guys the “teeter-peep” or the “tip-tail”.

After Palmyra we made our way across the state to the Jersey Shore to go back to Long Beach Island. We went to Barnegat Light SP about a month ago, but wanted to spend some time at the ocean. We arrived at the park in the late afternoon. This time we saw 3 Piping Plovers running around the beach. I think one of them was a juvenile, because it lacked the black neck and forehead bands that the breeding adult Piping Plovers exhibit.

 

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Piping Plover (Image by BirdNation)

We also saw American Oystercatcher T2 and its family again. The 2 chicks are still in what is called their prejuvenal (first prebasic) molt. This means that they have some down on the tips of some of their feathers. They are in this stage from June-August and have their full juvenal plumage by week 6. They also still have a larger black tip on their orange bills than the adults do. I was happy to see the T2 family again. The 2 juveniles were banded. We weren’t able to read their bands from the distance we were at, but maybe if they return in the future we’ll get a better glimpse of them. The picture on the left is one of the chicks a month ago in June, and the picture on the right are what they look like now in July. They grow up so fast, don’t they?

Double birding days are certainly a special treat! 🙂

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Barnegat Light Beach (Image by BirdNation)

My New Avian Journey

So yesterday, I teased that I would be starting a new bird-related journey soon. Well, without further ado:

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I will be taking the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Comprehensive course in Bird Biology!

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, I’m sure you know that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is one of my favorite places. It’s one of my main sources of avian information and we even took our 2016 vacation to Ithaca, NY specifically to go birding at the Lab (you can read about that here and here). As a Lab member, I’ve spent countless hours on their website reading articles, watching videos, taking webinars, and watching bird cams.

So when I learned about their Bird Biology class, I knew I had to take it. My dream is to be a Conservation Biologist/Environmental Scientist/Ornithologist, which is why when I’m not at my non-science related full-time job, I’m taking night/summer classes as a biology major. But when I found out about the Lab’s course, I knew it would exactly what I needed to start moving forward with my goals.

The Lab’s Bird Biology course is a university-level self-study course that anyone interesting in birds can take. The course was developed was by one of my favorite ornithologists, Dr. Kevin McGowan, as well as Dr. Sarah Wagner. (Side note: I took a webinar with Kevin McGowan a few winters ago: Odd Ducks and Wandering Waterfowl. If you’re interested in identification courses I recommend checking out his classes/webinars). The course consists of using the textbook (pictured above) and online resources, as well as multiple tests and quizzes for each chapter.

Pretty much anything you would want to know about birds can be found in this course. Topics covered throughout the 700-page book include anatomy, evolution, migration, vocal behavior, social behavior, ecology of populations, and flight to name a few topics. I’m so excited to dive even further into the avian world and share some of the information I learn with you!

If your interesting in learning about the Cornell Lab’s Bird Biology course check out their website.

 

Bringing Back the Bobwhite (and the blog!)

Hi, friends! Long time, no see! Sorry I’ve been m.i.a. for the past few weeks. To be honest, I’ve had a bit of writer’s block since my summer break from work has started. A lot of my time lately has been taken up by my Biology I lecture/lab class. I’ve also completed my Picture Life List (to be continued…), which was a goal of mine for awhile now. And I have another exciting bird-related journey that I’ll be starting on, but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to learn about that one!

My blog is not the only thing returning though. The Bobwhites are starting to return too!

The Northern Bobwhite (a.k.a. the Virginia Quail), is a small quail that lives in the Eastern United States. They are found in weedy meadows, fields, open woods with dense native grasses, and clear cuts. Grasses are important to Bobwhites because they spend their lives on the ground. Over the past 40 years, Northern Bobwhites, and other species that depend on the same habitat, have been declining.

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Northern Bobwhite (Image by BirdNation)

Although Bobwhites were commonly hunted, the reason for the decline is mainly habitat degradation. America’s grasslands are rapidly disappearing, and changes in agricultural policies and cattle grazing have all had an impact on the Bobwhite. Young forest is also important to Bobwhites, which could be managed with prescribed fires. Over the years, prescribed burns have become less accepted, therefore not rejuvenating the young forests that Bobwhites and other related species need to thrive. Northern Bobwhites do very poorly in urban habitats and dense forest. Bobwhites are not the only species on the decline due to habitat degradation. Pollinators, native plants, and a variety of grassland birds (such as the Grasshopper Sparrow, Dickcissels, and Eastern Meadowlark to name a few) have been suffering along with the Northern Bobwhite.

There are many conservation groups working together to help the Bobwhites and other grassland creatures. One of these groups is the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, which consists of 25 states coming together to form an action plan to save the Bobwhite.

Another group involved with the NBCI is New Jersey Audubon (I mention them specifically because I’m from NJ and an NJ Audubon member). The Northern Bobwhite population nationally has decreased 82% between 1966 and 2010, and the bird was considered functionally extinct in New Jersey. The tide is slowly starting to turn however. In April 2015, NJ Audubon translocated Northern Bobwhites from Georgia (which has a viable Bobwhite population) to the Pinelands area. 3 months later they found the first Bobwhite nest, which was the first one in the NJ Pinelands since the 1980s. 66 eggs were found during the first release, as well as more nests from the second 2016 release, and the 2017 release. The first 2017 nest was found at the Pine Island Cranberry Study sight in June, as well as 3 more active nests. This is great news for the Northern Bobwhite!

When it comes to conservation, birds are considered an indicator species. If there’s a problem with the local bird population, chances are very high there are other major issues affecting other members of the ecosystem. Maintain healthy grasslands and open forests are not only going to help the Northern Bobwhites, but the other species that depend on these habitats for their survival too.

I started actively birding over 3 years ago now, and this year was the first time that Dave and I have seen/experienced Bobwhites. I hope that as conservation efforts continue, the Bobwhite can return to New Jersey and other Eastern states so that future generations can enjoy hearing and seeing these adorable little quails.

If you’d like to read our most recent Northern Bobwhite experience at Cape May, click here.

If you’d like to learn how you can help Northern Bobwhites and conservation efforts, check out the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative website here.

To read the New Jersey Audubon bobwhite article, click here.