Lessons from an Oystercatcher

There’s someone in my life who’s been missing lately.

It all started a few years ago. I was at Barnegat Light and saw him on the beach. I thought he was cute, so I took his picture.

I went back about a month later. And he was there again. Then the next year, and the next. He was dependable; always there.

Last summer was even more special. He was there again, this time with his family. It was such a lovely sight.

But now it’s the next year and he’s nowhere to be found.

His name was T2 and he was an American Oystercatcher. And I can’t help but feel a little sad that he didn’t show up this year at Barnegat Light. Yes, he’s just one bird out millions. But to me he was special, because I knew him.

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T2 with a snack (Image by BirdNation)

Last year I reported a T2 sighting to the American Oystercatcher Working Group. They sent me his profile, where I had the opportunity to learn more about him. He was captured and banded on September 19, 2007 at Island Beach State Park. He would spend his summers right across the inlet at Barnegat Light State Park where I would see him each time I visited. Every fall he would head down to Cedar Key, Florida for the winter.

I recently learned from another birding blog (Exit 63,who wrote a lovely tribute to T2) that last year was the first time him and his mate successfully raised chicks. If you google “T2 American Oystercatcher”, tons of pictures come up of him, including artwork. So T2 was a bit of a local bird celebrity. And to me he wasn’t just another bird, he was one who’s life history I knew about. That’s not something that happens everyday.

I believe things happen for a reason. Certain things…people, animals, etc…come into your life and impact you in ways you could have never anticipated. You might not know why they are there, but they’re supposed to be. Only time will tell. But T2 was one of the first individual birds that opened my eyes to the avian world and inspired me.

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T2, possibly with his mate (Image by BirdNation)

The more I study birds, the more I realize that birds are really not that much different from us. Yes, in fundamental ways, they are different. But if you start to pay attention to little details, you start to discover a whole new world.

That bird you see has a life story just like you. It has daily routines. It wakes with the sun and retires to its roost in the evening. It has to take care of itself and endure the daily struggles of survival. That bird, like T2, may have certain places it spends its days. Or like Old Man Plover, the Piping Plover, arrive each year on the same exact date at the same exact place. They show their mates affection to maintain their bond, raise families, and defend themselves and their brood. It’s really amazing, and even more so that we can even get to know certain birds like T2 personally. Once you start to discover the world of creatures that are smaller than yourself, or even of other people,  it shifts your whole perception of the world.

My experiences seeing T2 multiple times over the years has brought me much joy and the appreciation of the little things in life. His disappearance also reminds me that all good things must come to an end. Of course T2 wasn’t going to live forever, and neither will we. There’s a fear in letting go of things that have brought us joy and a sense of stability, but life goes on. There will  be more Oystercatchers, and birds, and other wonderful things in life that will bring joy.

I’ll miss seeing T2 at the beach. But I feel blessed that I had the chance to get to know him. T2 is a bird I’ll never forget. Thanks for the memories buddy.

American oystercatcher 3

Mission: Red Knots

Hi friends! Sorry for the disappearance…hectic few weeks. Of course we squeezed in some birding amidst the chaos. And now back your regularly scheduled blog posts 🙂

In October 2016, I wrote a post about Deborah Cramer’s book, The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, An Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey. (You can read that post here). Throughout The Narrow Edge, Cramer explores conservation issues by documenting the journey of the Red Knot.

Red Knots are fascinating little shorebirds. They make one of the longest yearly migrations of any bird. The Calidris Canutus rufa, one of the Red Knot subspecies, travels up the Atlantic Flyway from Tierra del Fuego, Argentina to their Arctic breeding grounds. The round-trip of a Rufa migration comes out to around 19,000 miles in a single year. One of the stopover sites on their journey happens to be Delaware Bay, less than an hour from where we live. So our mission this Memorial Day weekend: to find Red Knots.

Red Knots touch down in Delaware Bay mid-May. They only stay in the region long to refuel by feasting on Horseshoe Crab eggs for about 2-3 weeks. Red Knots are considered endangered in New Jersey and are declining in many areas throughout their range. Last year, 17,000 Red Knots were counted along Delaware Bay, with around 10,000 on the New Jersey side (and the rest being in Delaware). This year numbers are up: around 34,500 birds with about 26,000 in New Jersey.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Red Knot numbers in general are up, but it is a good sign. The Red Knots are staying longer and with a better Horseshoe Crab spawning season, gaining more weight. These factors allow the Red Knots to leave the area in better condition to make it to the Arctic and breed.

Today we decided to look for Red Knots at Fortescue Beach in Cumberland County. It ended up raining while we were there, but we were in no way disappointed. The goal was Red Knots, and well…mission accomplished!

We didn’t find the Red Knots right away. First there were the Laughing Gulls. Hundreds of obnoxiously loud Laughing Gulls. The video below (which was shot on my Iphone 7 at a far distance, so please excuse the bad quality!), barely captures the volume of the bird sounds, but it gives you a little idea of how loud they were. You can also see the Greenhead flies, which are unfortunately out in full force already.

The amount of shorebirds was amazing, even considering peak numbers were about a week ago. There were over 1,000 Semipalmated Sandpipers, and hundreds each of Red Knots, Dunlins, and Ruddy Turnstones. We even saw the occasional Willet and Herring Gull. I’ve never seen so many shorebirds and Laughing Gulls in one place. Behind us were the sounds of Yellow Warblers, Marsh Wrens, and Red-winged Blackbirds. On the way to and from the beach we saw at least 8 Ospreys.

Our last top of the day was Stone Harbor Point in Cape May County. We only saw a handful of Red Knots, but more variety of species. Species included American Oystercatchers, a Little Blue Heron, Dunlins, Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderlings, Barn Swallows, Least Terns, Willets, and a Boat-tailed Grackle.

Stone Harbor Beach (Image by BirdNation)
Stone Harbor Point (Image by BirdNation)

I wanted to see Red Knots ever since I read The Narrow Edge. I feel so fortunate that Dave and I were able to experience these birds on their epic journey north. The Red Knot also marks my 198th life list entry. Only 2 more until 200!

If you want to learn more about the Red Knots in Delaware Bay this year, check out this article from the Press of Atlantic City: http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/press/science_nature/red-knots-numbers-weight-up-this-year/article_24bef445-6669-5371-85e8-630ba79bee5a.html

The Waders: Black-crowned Night-Heron

This week’s featured Wader is the Black-crowned Night-Heron. (You can check out last week’s featured Wader, the Roseate Spoonbill, here.)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Description:

Adult:

  • Medium-sized, stocky heron
  • Large head, rarely extends neck
  • Whitish to pale gray belly
  • Gray wings
  • Black cap/back/bill
  • Red eyes
  • Short yellow legs
  • Long white plumes from head during breeding seasons
  • South American subspecies Dusky in plumage
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Black-crowned Night-Heron Breeding Adult (Image by David Horowitz)

Juvenile/Immature:

  • Brown overall and heavily streaked
  • Thick neck and yellow and black bill
  • Large white spots on wing coverts
  • Immature/1st Summer a mix of Juvenile and Adult features

Range: 

  • Year-Round: Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast, parts of Pacific Coast, Florida
  • Summer: Most of the United States, parts of Canada
  • Winter: Mexico

Habitat:

Marshes, wetlands, swamps, wooded streams, lakes

Black-crowned Night-heron juvenile
Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron (Image by David Horowitz)

Diet:

Amphibians, fish, small mammals, insects, crustaceans. Black-crowned Night-Herons forage most actively at night and early morning. They will stand in one spot and wait for prey before striking. Night-Herons will also slowly forage along the shoreline or from a perch. These birds have been known to steal chicks from the nests of other herons.

Breeding/Nesting:

  • Courtship: Black-crowned Night-Herons start breeding around the age of 2. Males will choose a nest site to display from. To attract females, the male will raise his neck and ruffle his feathers. He may also bow while alternating lifting his feet.
  • Nesting Site: Night-Herons are colonial nesters who roost in trees. The female will build a nest of sticks with some assistance from the male.
  • Young: Both parents will incubate 3-5 greenish-blue eggs for 21-26 days. The young are fed by regurgitation. They begin to fly around 6 weeks of age, and will start to follow the parents for food shortly after flight.

Vocalization: 

A loud kwok!, mainly heard at night. In the breeding colony, a variety of barks and croaks

Conservation: 

Although quite inconspicuous, due to their nocturnal nature, Black-crowned Night-Herons are fairly common. They are a good indicator species for the quality of the environment in which they live since they feed at the top of the food chain.

Fun Facts: 

  • Black-crowned Night-Herons are the most widespread heron in the world. They are found on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica.
  • Young Night-Herons don’t reach adult plumage until around the age of 3.
  • They are one of the seven heron species known to use bait-fishing. They will toss an object in the water to attract prey within their striking range.
  • The Black-crowned Night-Heron’s scientific name Nycticorax nycticorax means “night raven”.
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Black-crowned Night-Heron (By Tom Grey via birdnote.org)

 

Sources:
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-crowned_Night-Heron/overview
https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/black-crowned-night-heron
http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/blackcrown.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black-crowned_night_heron

 

 

 

Global Big Day Update

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology/eBird released the results of last Saturday’s Global Big Day. This year’s big day set a record of 6,899 species in a single day. Over 28,000 people in 170 countries participated in the event.

Colombia reported the most bird species for the second year in a row, with 1,546 species in 24 hours. The top ten countries by species include:

  1. Colombia -1,546
  2. Peru – 1,491
  3. Ecuador- 1,156
  4. Brazil – 1,038
  5. Venezuela- 757
  6. Panama – 750
  7. Mexico – 746
  8. United States – 717
  9. Bolivia – 700
  10. Argentina – 695

If you want to read the full report from eBird, click this link . eBird website

We had a great day birding at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR for Global Big Day. You can read about our day at BirdNation’s Global Big Day.

eBird will be having another “big day” event on October 6, so mark your calendars! Meanwhile, this upcoming Saturday, May 12, has 2 birding events: International Migratory Bird Day and The World Series of Birding. Get you binoculars ready for another great birding weekend! 😀

BirdNation’s Global Big Day

For Global Big Day, we went birding at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. We observed a total of 60 species, including 1 life list bird.

Here’s our official checklist:

  • 173 Brant
  • 34 Canada Geese
  • 14 Mute Swans
  • 2 Wood Ducks
  • 10 Mallards
  • 7 American Black Ducks
  • 9 Green-winged Teals
  • 14 Double-crested Cormorants
  • 3 Great Blue Herons
  • 13 Great Egrets
  • 17 Snowy Egrets
  • 42 Glossy Ibis
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Glossy Ibis (Image by BirdNation)
  • 3 Turkey Vultures
  • 15 Osprey
  • 1 Bald Eagle
  • 1 American Coot
  • 5 American Oystercatchers
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American Oystercatcher (Image by BirdNation)
  • 57 Semipalmated Plovers
  • 33 Dunlin
  • 54 Semipalmated Sanpipers
  • 70 Short-billed Dowitchers
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Short-billed Dowitchers (Image by David Horowitz)
  • 1 Spotted Sandpiper
  • 36 Greater Yellowlegs
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Greater Yellowlegs (Image by David Horowitz)
  • 20 Willets
  • 2 Bonaparte’s Gulls
  • 12 Laughing Gulls
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Laughing Gull and Gull-billed Tern (Image by David Horowitz)
  • 32 Herring Gulls
  • 10 Great Black-backed Gulls
  • 5 Gull-billed Terns
  • 7 Caspian Terns (life list bird)
  • 60 Forster’s Terns
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Forster’s Terns (Image by BirdNation)
  • 2 Mourning Doves
  • 4 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
  • 2 Downy Woodpeckers
  • 1 Eastern Wood-Pewee
  • 1 Eastern Kingbird
  • 7 American Crows
  • 14 Purple Martins
  • 8 Tree Swallows
  • 2 Barn Swallows
  • 3  Carolina Chickadees
  • 4 Tufted Titmice
  • 5 Marsh Wrens
  • 2 Carolina Wrens
  • 5 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers
  • 5 American Robins
  • 11 Gray Catbirds
  • 2 European Starlings
  • 1 Black-and-white Warbler
  • 18 Common Yellowthroats
  • 10 Yellow Warblers
  • 2 Prairie Warblers
  • 3 Chipping Sparrows
  • 7 Savannah Sparrows
  • 3 Song Sparrows
  • 2 Northern Cardinals
  • 41 Red-winged Blackbirds
  • 2 Brown-headed Cowbirds
  • 5 American Goldfinches
  • 1 House Sparrow

Did you go birding for Global Big Day? Where did you go and how many birds did you see? Tell us about it in the comments!

The Waders: Roseate Spoonbill

This week’s featured Wading Bird is the gregarious and striking Roseate Spoonbill. (Last week’s wader, the Great Egret, can be found here). 

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Roseate Spoonbill adult  (Image by Purio via rio.wikia.com)

Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)

Description:

Adults:

  • Pale pink plumage with brighter pink on their rumps and shoulders
  • Distinct “spoon” at the end of a long bill
  • Long, partially-feathered, white neck that is an “S”-shape at rest
  • Small, yellowish-green heads with red eyes

Juveniles:

  • Even paler pink than the adults, almost white
  • Completely feathered head for 3 years until adult plumage

Range:

  • Resident: Florida, the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, coasts of Mexico, the Caribbean
  • Short-Distance Migrant depending on changes in food source/water levels

Habitat:

Coastal marshes, mudflats, tidal ponds, lagoons, shallow water, both salt and fresh water.

Diet: 

Crustaceans, fish, aquatic insects. They forage by sweeping their partially opened bill in water less than 5 inches deep. They swallow their prey whole.

792px-Juvenile_Roseate_Spoonbill_(_Ajaia_ajaja_)_at_Lake_Woodruff_National_Wildlife_Refuge_-_Flickr_-_Andrea_Westmoreland
Juvenile Roseate Spoonbill By Andrea Westmoreland from DeLand, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Breeding/Nesting:

  • Courtship: The males and females will begin their courtship with aggressive behavior, but later end up perching closely together. The pair will also clasp/cross their bills together and exchange sticks. Pairs last for one breeding season.
  • Nesting Site: Colonial, usually with other waders such as ibises, herons, and egrets. Nest on islands, mangroves, or over water in the shadiest part of the tree.
  • Young: 2-3 (sometimes 1-5) white eggs incubated by both parents for 22-24 days. 1 brood per year. Chicks are born with white natal down and fed by both parents. Young leave the nest around 5-6 weeks and flights occurs at 7-8 weeks.

Vocalization:

Silent except at breeding colony. Grunting huh-huh-huh-huh. A low raspy rrek-ek-ek-ek. 

Conservation: 

Uncommon, but population has slightly increased in recent years. Threats include habitat degradation, human disturbance due to boating, water quality, and salinity of the water.

Fun Facts: 

  • When a flock of Roseate Spoonbills flies over feeding spoonbills, the feeding birds will “Sky Gaze”, a posture where they lift their bills and point them towards the sky.’
  • They are pink in color due to their diet. The shrimp and other crustaceans they consume contain the carotenoind cantaxanthin. 
  • Roseate Spoonbills are the only spoonbill species (out of 6) to live in the Americas.