Cape Cod Vacation: Race Point Beach

Hi friends! This past week, Dave and I went on an amazing vacation to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. We’ve vacationed at Cape Cod twice in the past with Dave’s family (Dave going many more times throughout his life), but these trips occurred before we were birders. Therefore, we were really excited to go back to see what we may have missed in the previous years.

During our recent visit to The Wetlands Institute, we purchased the Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight by Ken Behrens & Cameron Cox. According to the guide, Cape Cod is considered one of the top seawatching sites in North America. Many locations throughout the Cape are discussed in the seawatching book, including our first vacation spot, Provincetown.

Provincetown is located at the tip of Cape Cod, where Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic Ocean meet. We spent our first morning exploring Race Point Beach, on the Atlantic side. Race Point Beach is part of the National Park Service’s Cape Cod National Seashore. (Side note: interestingly, on Thursday there was a shark dangerously close to the shore attacking a seal, causing Race Point Beach to be closed. Other areas along the cape have reported sharks really close to shore over the past day) 

Highlights from our trip (26 species):

  • 1000s of terns (including 2 lifers)!  Large mixed-species flocks that included Common, Least, Forster’s, Roseate, and Black Terns. The terns were varying ages/plumage and would frequently take flight and land again on the beach.
  • Common and Red-throated Loons. In New Jersey, we usually don’t see loons until the winter. One cool thing about traveling 7 hours North of where we live was seeing some of our winter visitors in their summer spots. The Red-throated Loons were juveniles, and one of the Common Loons was sitting on the beach for a bit. Loons are designed to be expert divers, so their feet look like little wedges sticking out behind their tail. Therefore, they are pretty awkward moving on land. To get back in the water, this loon would slowly shuffle until the water helped it back in.
  • Our first Great Shearwater. We saw a few throughout our walk.
  • Hundreds of Double-crested Cormorants (and lots of gulls of course lol)
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The Crew (Image by BirdNation)
  • Small groups of seals close to shore. The first time I’ve ever seen seals in the wild!
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Grey Seal (Image by David Horowitz)

 

  • Lots of shorebirds/”peeps”. Including Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderlings, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Willets, Greater Yellowlegs, Black-bellied Plovers, and Piping Plovers. The Piping Plovers were juveniles. We watched a few Semipalmated Plovers do what looked like some sort of dance or pair bond display.

 

Race Point Beach was an amazing birding spot and a great way to start our vacation. Our trip was really action-packed, so instead of telling you about it based on each day, I’m going to split up the posts into specific places we went. There’s just too much for one post :-)! So this post was just about our Monday morning. Stay tuned to hear about our cool evening at Skaket Beach!

 

 

Stone Harbor

Sunday we took a trip down to Stone Harbor, NJ. Stone Harbor Point is considered an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Audubon Society and the surrounding area has many birding hotspots. We visited 3 areas on our Stone Harbor trip: the SH Bird Sanctuary, SH Point Beach, and The Wetlands Institute.

Our first stop was the 21-acre Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary. The sanctuary consists of maritime forests and meadows. The paths were relatively short and sometimes it was difficult to see what birds were around . We ended up seeing/hearing 15 species of birds in our short visit. There were a few Northern Mockingbirds, Gray Catbirds, some Osprey, and House Finches.

 

 

The second destination was Stone Harbor Point. This was actually our second trip to the Point. The last time we were at the Point was after seeing our first Red Knots at Fortescue Beach in May. At that point it was about to thunderstorm, so I was looking forward to seeing the Point in sunny weather. I definitely was not disappointed.

The beach was busy with a variety of shore and seabirds. Three Brown Pelicans and a few Ospreys soared above the waves. As with almost all beaches, there were many gulls, including Laughing, Herring, and Great Black-backed. Black Skimmers floated above a tide pool hunting for fish at a dizzying pace. There were also many terns in different stages of development. Least Terns (mainly adult but a few juvenile) dotted the sand near a tide pool. They looked like little wind-up toys as they shuffled along the beach with their tiny legs. There were a few Forster’s and Common Terns.  Two juvenile Common Terns squawked incessantly at a parent who seemed indifferent to their clamor. S/he eventually gave them some fish, but seemed to wonder when their annoying mainly-grown chicks would move out to a different patch of sand and start hunting for their own food 😂. I have to admit, all those terns really tested my identification skills. I’m not the best at terns, so it was challenging but definitely educational

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“FEED US!” (Image by BirdNation)

One of the most exciting parts of this trip was having the opportunity to observe a family of American Oystercatchers. (Last year we were lucky to see T2’s family on LBI, you can read about that here). This family had 5 oystercatchers and 4 out of 5 were banded. The adults were A58 and its unbanded mate; the chicks were A78, A79, and A80. I reported the banded birds to the American Oystercatcher Working Group, so I’m excited to learn their story. I’m assuming the chicks were hatched/tagged at Stone Harbor, but curious about A58.

Throughout our walk we kept seeing small groups of shorebirds zooming over the waves and beach. They all congregated at the end of the beach in a massive flock. It was a mixed flock of Sanderlings, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Red Knots, and Ruddy Turnstones with gulls interspersed. The shorebirds were also in various stages like the terns were, with many birds transitioning between breeding and nonbreeding plumage.

 

After our awesome walk at the Point, we visited The Wetlands Institute. The Wetlands Institute is an organization aiming to conserve coastal ecosystems as well as educate the public. You can view the beautiful marshland from their lecture hall as well as the observation tower and Salt Marsh trail. We saw at least 10 Ospreys, a Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egrets, and a Great Egret. “Terrapin Station” was all about terrapins and horseshoe crabs. “Secrets of the Salt Marsh” featured a small aquarium with the featured animal being a Common Octopus. Octopuses are fascinating and intelligent creatures. The octopus at the Institute was really cool; I could have watched it all day. The Wetlands Institute was a great way to end our birding excursion to Stone Harbor.

Life After 200

Hi friends! Hope you are all doing well.

I haven’t written since my 200th species post…but I have been outside everyday. I’m working at a nature camp this summer, so I’ve been doing plenty of hiking and learning an awful lot about nature that’s not bird-related. I’ve been having a blast (and am also exhausted  but in a good way, which is why I haven’t been writing lol). Shameless self promotion: I’ve also been posting on Instagram everyday @birdnation123, so if you haven’t followed us yet you should check it out! Sometimes I post pics there that are not featured on the blog, so don’t miss out on the fun 😉

Dave and I went birding twice this weekend to 3 different locations. Saturday we spent some time at Maria B. Greenwald Memorial Park for the first time in a few months. It was a fairly quiet evening: lots of cardinals, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, American Robins, and a family of Canada Geese out on a stroll.

The pace of the evening sped up when we made it back to the parking area. The sun was starting to set and many small birds started zooming through the air. They were flying like swallows but had the wrong shape. They were our first Chimney Swifts! And they don’t call them swifts for nothing! They were so fast as they tried to catch insects that it was hard to get a good look at them. I managed to get a silhouette of a swift’s distinct scimitar-shaped wings.

Chimney Swift
Chimney Swift silhouette (Image by BirdNation)

Chimney Swifts can be found throughout the eastern half of the United States in cities and towns. They used to nest in trees, but are now found almost always nesting in…well you probably guessed it…chimneys. Here’s what one looks like when they aren’t swiftly flying past your binoculars.

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(Image by Jayne Amico/Mount Vernon Songbird Sanctuary)

Sunday we made our way to one of our favorite birding spots, Barnegat Lighthouse SP. Highlights included Brown Pelicans, tons of gulls, Ruddy Turnstones, Osprey, and American Oystercatchers.

We did observe one Piping Plover. I’m guessing that the Piping Plover may be Pete and Phoebe’s offspring. The plover was not banded and its bill was mainly black. Adult Piping Plovers have orange bills with black tips, and this plover had much more black than orange.

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Young Piping Plover (Image by BirdNation)

On our way off Long Beach Island, we stopped at a new birding location. Edwin B. Forsythe NWR has a new unit as of the end of June: Cedar Bonnet Island in Stafford Township. Over 20 acres of salt marsh are under restoration to provide a habitat for birds migrating along the coast. The one-mile trail opened recently, and there’s quite a lovely view of the marsh. We saw 29 species in our short visit, including Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, a Spotted Sandpiper, a Little Blue Heron, Song Sparrows, Glossy Ibis, and many Ospreys. By this point in our trip it was raining so I didn’t take my good camera out, but did capture this view of the salt marsh on my phone.

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Cedar Bonnet Island (Image by BirdNation)

We definitely plan on stopping back to Cedar Bonnet Island on our next LBI trip. I’m happy to know more of New Jersey’s shoreline is being preserved to help our coastal flora and fauna.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July (US Independence Day)! The 4th of July is personally my favorite holiday, so to celebrate, here’s a red

Northern Cardinal male
Northern Cardinal male (Image by BirdNation)

white…

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Snowy Egret (Image by David Horowitz)

and blue bird!

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Indigo Bunting (Image by David Horowitz)

And since I have many of readers from Canada….Happy Belated Canada Day! I know it was a few days ago, sorry I missed it!

Canada goose with goslings
Canada Goose with goslings (Image by BirdNation)

If you don’t celebrate either holiday, I hope you have a great day! 😀

 

My 200th Bird Species!

Today I observed my 200th life list species! The best part is that it was a species I definitely did not expect.

As of yesterday (6/30/18) I was at 198 species. Earlier this week, a co-worker at Rancocas Nature Center was telling me about a wading bird rookery (I’m not going to disclose the location). She started naming the different species nesting at this location.

Black-crowned Night-Herons, Glossy Ibis, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons…”

She had me at Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.

Dave and I have never seen Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, but have always wanted to. So of course we needed to go to this rookery asap.

We made our way down to the rookery early this morning. It was really a cool place. From the platform, you can look down into the nests, but you are also eye level with many of the birds. There were 5 nesting species: Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, Black-crowned Night-Herons, and Glossy Ibis.

What an amazing experience. We had a chance to see these wading bird’s young in different stages of development. Some were recently fledged (like some of the Glossy Ibis), some were still in the nest, and we even saw some eggs. It was really fascinating watching chicks get fed and parents switching off of nest duty. The longer we stood, more Glossy Ibis arrived.

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Glossy Ibis adult and young (Image by BirdNation)
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Yellow-crowned Night-Heron pair with eggs (Image by BirdNation)

So Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was #199. We still had one more stop for the day: Forsythe NWR (it was 94 degrees today, so we were definitely birding from the car!). I read the night before on NJ Rare Bird Alert that there was a Roseate Spoonbill being reported, so I was hoping it would still be around.

Once we entered Forsythe’s wildlife drive we quickly approached Wading Bird Paradise.  There were over 100 birds: Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Little Blue Heron juveniles and  Glossy Ibis; as well as terns and Laughing Gulls.

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Wading Bird Paradise (Image by David Horowitz)

Dave spotted it in the distance, slightly away from the commotion. The Roseate Spoonbill!

Roseate Spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill (Image by David Horowitz)

It was so beautiful to see. I was in awe watching it preen and bask in the sun. The Roseate Spoonbill is special because as I wrote in my recent Spoonbill feature,  these birds live in Florida, along the Gulf Coast of the southern United States, in Mexico, and the Caribbean. As far as I know, this Spoonbill being currently observed at Forsythe is only the 5th or 6th sighing of a Roseate Spoonbill in New Jersey. I couldn’t believe that the Roseate Spoonbill was my 200th species!

I actually ended up getting 1 more life list bird today, bringing my current total to 201 species: a Saltmarsh Sparrow (sorry, no pic!). And I also got a picture of a really cute Eastern Box Turtle before we left 🙂 .

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Baby Eastern Box Turtle (Image by BirdNation)

I’m so happy that I finally am in the 200s. Today will certainly be a birding day that I will not soon forget :-).

 

 

Misty Cape May Morning

Today we took our first summer birding trip down to Cape May Point State Park. It was a really hot day, around 90 degrees, but we still managed to see 30 species birds. On the drive down it was pretty foggy, and it was still pretty misty by the time we got down to the Point.

Misty Morning at the Hawkwatch Platform Pond (Image by BirdNation)

Bird species along the main trail included Mute Swans, Mallards, Tree Swallows, Common Yellowthroats (heard), Forster’s Terns, Laughing Gulls, Ospreys, Northern Mockingbirds, Purple Martins, Canada Geese, an Eastern Kingbird,and Red-winged Blackbirds. There were also hundreds of tiny toads hopping across the trail.

Tree Swallow portrait
Tree Swallow (Image by BirdNation)
Purple Martin female
Purple Martin female (Image by BirdNation)

We had a few fun surprises on the beach. Two Brown Pelicans flew by over the ocean.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans (Image by BirdNation)

After I took the above picture the pelicans skimmed very close to the ocean’s surface. They used an aerodynamic phenomenon call the “ground effect”. As the pelicans fly close to the water with their full wingspan, the air is “funneled” between their wings and the ocean surface. This effect allows the birds to stay aloft and increases efficiency. Eventually the bird must gain some speed by flapping and slightly ascending in order to continue its glide. Many birds use the ground effect over water, but this principal also works on land.

Another interesting thing to note about these Brown Pelicans: the bird on the left is an adult and the one on the right is immature. You can see the whitish-yellow of the adult’s head that the immature bird lacks.

We also spotted pods of dolphins! They were relatively close to the beach, and would occasionally leap out of the water (wish I captured that in a picture!).

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Bottlenose Dophin Fins (Image by BirdNation)

There were also many pairs of American Oystercatchers. Some pairs were just strolling along the beach together, while others were guarding/sitting on eggs. This pair has a banded Oystercatcher, so I’ll submit my band findings to the American Oystercatcher Working Group and let you know what I find out.

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Taking a stroll (Image by BirdNation)
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Banded American Oystercatcer (Image by BirdNation)

This couple added some furnishings to their nest site…

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Decorating the Nest (Image by BirdNation)

We were also really lucky to catch a glimpse of this couple’s two eggs (from a safe distance behind the barrier zooming in with the camera of course!) It was our first time seeing American Oystercatcher eggs.

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American Oystercatcher Eggs (Image by BirdNation)

Our final beach surprised was a Sanderling in breeding plumage. It was all by itself, so I wonder where its flock mates went. Sanderlings are usually at the shore in the winter, so I think this little guy missed the memo that its summertime now.

Sanderling breeding plumage
Sanderling in breeding plumage (Image by BirdNation)

Our misty Cape May trip was a great way to start off our summer birding.

Goodbye Spring, Hello Summer!

Happy Summer Solstice!

I can’t believe summer is already here. This will be an interesting summer for me. I’m usually off for 10 weeks, but this year I have a summer job. Here’s a picture of my workplace:

I’m a nature summer camp intern at Rancocas Nature Center. I’m excited that I get to spend the next few weeks working outside and learning more about nature 😁.

Now that it’s a new season, I’ve been reflecting on my year list. Since winter (where we observed 81 species) I’ve added 71 species to the list, bringing my total to 152 species in 2018. We had a great spring migration this year. Here are some of the highlights.

  • Team BirdNation participated in the 2018 Great American Arctic Birding Challenge from March 1-June 1. Overall we observed 62 species on the checklist.
  • 60 species, including our first Caspian Tern, at Forsythe NWR during Global Big Day
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet on Global Big Day (Image by BirdNation)
  • Added 2 warblers to our life list: Northern Parula at Amico Island and Canada Warbler at Patuxent Research Refuge
  • Took a “mini vacation” to Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland. Saw Pileated Woodpeckers for the first time in 3 years
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Patuxent Research Refuge on a rainy day (Image by BirdNation)
  • Red Knots for the first time ever at Fortescue Beach as well as thousands of other shorebirds and Laughing Gulls
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Semipalmated Sandpipers (Image by BirdNation)
  • Our first Wilson’s Snipe at Taylor’s Wildlife Preserve
  • Met Pete and Phoebe, the resident pair of Piping Plovers at Barnegat Light SP
  • Had an awesome trip to Forsythe with my friends Deborah and Bella, where we saw 51 bird species, some snakes, and tons of turtles
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Black Skimmers and Laughing Gulls (Image by BirdNation)

Spring migration was awesome this year. We got 5 life list species (Wilson’s Snipe, Red Knot, Canada Warbler, Northern Parula , and Caspian Tern), and went on lots of great birding trips.

Summer always ends up being a little slow due to the heat, but you never know what will show up. We are also heading to Cape Cod, Massachusetts in August, so that’s something to look forward to. Can’t wait to see what the summer will bring!

How was your spring migration this year? What birds did you see? Tell us about them in the comments! 

Also, don’t forget to join the flock on Instagram, @birdnation123