The Waders: Wood Stork

This week’s featured Wading Bird is the Wood Stork. Last year on my birthday, we saw a juvenile Wood Stork in Cape May, NJ. Since the Wood Stork range is the southeastern United States, our Wood Stork was considered a rarity and delighted many excited birders for a few weeks in NJ.

Description:

Adult:

  • Large bird, standing at about 3 feet tall
  • Mainly white with black flight feathers
  • Bald, scaly looking heads
  • Thick curved black bill with long neck
ap91829061610_wide-48aefd19029ef92fec5ea546b0550a9332a87166-s800-c85
Wood Stork adult (Image by Wilfredo Lee/AP via nrp.org)

 

Juvenile:

  • Similar plumage colors to adult
  • Pale bill that darkens with age
  • Grayish feathers on neck

Range:

South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, the Caribbean, coasts of Mexico

Habitat:

Cypress swamps, lagoons, marshes, ponds. Mainly freshwater habitats

Diet:

  • Fish, reptiles, invertebrates, amphibians, aquatic insects, nestlings
  • Forages in shallow water with bill partially open; snaps bill close in contact with prey
  • Sometimes uses its feet to stir up prey or flaps to startle prey

Breeding/Nesting:

  • Courtship: A male starts off aggressive towards a female, but once he accepts her into the territory will bring her sticks and preen her. Pairs stay together for one breeding season.
  • Nesting: Colonial nesters in trees above standing water. Nesting locations include mangroves, stands of cypress trees, or flooded impoundments. The pair will construct a nest of sticks that is lined with greenery and guano. The nest will end up being 3- 5 feet wide and take 2-3 days to construct.
  • Young: Both parents will incubate 3-5 eggs for 28-32 days. The young are fed by both parents and will be guarded in the nest by a parent for about 5 weeks. First flights occur around 8 weeks, but the young will usually stick around the nest to be fed and to sleep until about 11 weeks.
Wood Stork
Wood Stork juvenile (Image by David Horowitz)

Vocalizations:

Usually silent except during nest. Young makes clattering bill noises while adults make croaking sounds.

Conservation:

Wood Storks are considered uncommon. Their populations have declined over the years. Threats include changes in water levels, nest predation  from terrestrial animals, and habitat degradation.

Fun Facts:

  • The Wood Stork is the only native stork species in North America.
  • When temperatures  rise in the late afternoon, Wood Storks will soar high in the thermals just like raptors.
  • Wood Storks used to be known as the “wood ibis”, even though they are not ibises.

 

You can check out our previous Wading Bird post about Black-crowned Night-Herons here.

Forsythe Fun with Friends

I recently took a trip to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR with my friends Deborah and Bella. It was their first time visiting the refuge. Both Deborah and Bella have worked at nature centers, with Bella currently working in horticulture. I had such a blast spending the day with them, and learned a lot of new information from them about plants and snakes.

We started our trip taking a short walk around the visitor center and Lily Lake. A few birds around this area included Wood Ducks, Glossy Ibis, Gray Catbirds, House Finches, and Purple Martins, as well as tons of beautiful flowers/plants.

Before entering the wildlife drive we spent some time at the Eco Leeds Boardwalk and Gull Pond. Highlights included fiddler crabs, Barn Swallows, Great Egrets, and Least Terns.

We even had a special surprise: snakes! I have never seen snakes at Forsythe before, so I’m glad I was able to see them with Deborah, “the snake lady” :-D.

IMG_6085
Snake among the lilies (Image by BirdNation)

The wildlife drive was really active. Birds included Red-winged Blackbirds, American Crowns, Snowy Egrets, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Gull-billed Terns, Black Skimmers, Laughing Gulls, Forster’s Terns, American Oystercatchers, Willets, Greater Yellowlegs, and Ospreys. Bella made what I think was the most exciting find of the trip: 3 Black-crowned Night-herons foraging. Black-crowned Night-herons usually forage at dawn or dusk. I usually see them roosting during the day, so it was amazing to see them foraging in the middle of the day. There were also lots of turtles out and about crossing the road. I helped a Northern Diamondback Terrapin get across who was trying to dig a hole for her eggs in the middle of the drive.

 

Overall we saw 50 species. I had a wonderful time at Forsythe with Deborah and Bella. I’m looking forward to another adventure soon!

 

An Evening at the Lake

We had lovely weather today; it was relatively cool for a June day. Dave and I decided to take advantage of the cool weather by going to one of our favorite parks, Haddon Lake Park.  We’ve walked around Haddon Lake easily over a hundred times over the years, but there was something very different about this time.

IMG_6178
The Fountain (Image by BirdNation)

They added a fountain. To be honest, I’m not really sure how to feel about it. Of course, my immediate response was, “How’s it going to affect the birds?”. It didn’t really seemed to have an impact on the amount of activity we witnessed.

Every year, Red-winged Blackbirds nest in the same shrubbery. This year there were a juvenile blackbirds hanging around the shrub and being fed by the adults.

IMG_6189
Young Red-winged Blackbird (Image by BirdNation)

As usual, there was multitudes of Mallards and Canada Geese. There were young birds with the adults in different stages of development. We heard this Mallard duckling peeping loudly. It seemed to have lost its mother.

mallard duckling (2)
Mallard Duckling (Image by BirdNation)

A few minutes later, the female Mallard returned to her duckling and they spent the rest of the time swimming together.

female mallard with duckling
Female Mallard with her duckling (Image by BirdNation)

There were also Canada Geese goslings…can you find the ones in this picture?

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

…as well as finding a sleepy Domestic Goose gosling with its family.

sleepy gosling
Domestic Goose chick (Image by BirdNation)

Other birds at the lake included Downy Woodpeckers, a Red-tailed Hawk, American Robins, House Sparrows, a Common Grackle, Gray Catbirds, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and this lovely Eastern Kingbird.

eastern kingbird
Eastern Kingbird (Image by BirdNation)

It’s always a pleasure to go back to Haddon Lake. We have so many special memories, and each visit feels like going home.

Spring Odds and End

To me, birding is not a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. I pretty much try to go birding as much as possible. How often we go birding depends on the week and season. During spring migration, it’s not unusual for Dave and I to go birding 4-5 times per week (after work and at least once/sometimes twice on the weekend). Today I wanted to share some spring birding pics from some of our smaller excursions.

red-winged blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird, Taylor’s Wildlife Preserve (Image by BirdNation)
yellow warbler
Yellow Warbler, Taylor’s Wildlife Preserve (Image by BirdNation)
IMG_5421
Mourning Dove, Barnegat Lighthouse State Park (Image by BirdNation)
cedar waxwing
Cedar Waxwing, Palmyra Cove Nature Park (Image by BirdNation)
IMG_5850
Magnolia Warbler, Amico Island Park (Image by BirdNation)
IMG_5856
Magnolia Warbler, Amico Island Park (Image by BirdNation)

Piping Plover Update/Banding

Hi friends!

Yesterday I e-mailed some people from USFWS regarding 2 banded Piping Plovers at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. I heard back about the plovers today.

It turns out they are the park’s resident pair: Pete and Phoebe 😁❤️! They also sent me a link to the Exit 63 Blog so I can learn more about the birds.

This is Phoebe:

Piping Plover #1
Phoebe (Image by BirdNation)

“Phoebe Cates” is a second year female. This is her first year mating with Pete. When I saw her she was sitting on a nest will a few eggs.

This is Pete:

Piping Plover #2 “Pete McLain” is a male who in 2016 was one of the first Piping Plovers in years to nest at Island Beach State Park, right across Barnegat Inlet. He returned in 2017 and successfully raised a chick with his partner “Diane”. In 2018, Pete started spending time at Barnegat Light instead of Island Beach. Pete ended up meeting Phoebe and she accepted his courtship displays.

I highly recommend going to Exit 63’s blog and reading their description of these events. The writing is really entertaining and fun. They even have a video of Phoebe and Pete doing the courtship display/mating.


If you see a banded Piping Plover while at the beach, you should report it if possible. Reporting banded birds helps the scientific community keep track of the threatened birds, learn about their life history, and use this information to aid in their recovery/conservation.

The most important thing to look for/take note of is band location/colors. Taking photographs if possible is always helpful. Once you gather as much information as you can about the Piping Plover, you can use the following link to submit your data to the appropriate conservation group.

https://www.fws.gov/northeast/pipingplover/report_bands.html

To learn identification tips, check out this slideshow from Sidney Maddock of Virginia Tech.

https://www.fws.gov/charleston/pdf/PIPL_Band_Identification_Training.pdf

You can also check out the Piping Plover fact sheet to learn more about the species:

https://www.fws.gov/northeast/pipingplover/pdf/plover.pdf

Reporting banded Piping Plovers is not the only way you can help this threatened species. These guidelines can really apply to any bird you encounter on the beach.

  • Respect all fenced off or posted areas. Many shorebird species’ eggs blend in with the landscape, so the roped off areas should not be crossed.
  • Watch the birds from a distance to avoid disturbing them.
  • Don’t leave trash on the beach since it can attract predators.
  • If there are signs restricting dogs on the beach during a certain time of the year, please follow them. These restrictions are set for a reason. I can’t tell you how many people I see with dogs on the beach that is covered by “NO DOGS” signs that are clearly visible. If dogs are allowed, please keep them on a leash. Also, please keep your cats indoors, for the safety of both your cat and the local wildlife.

Birds of Peace

One thing I know for certain: when life gets real tough, like it did for me today, I will always have the birds. Birds may not be the cure to all life’s problems, but they definitely help heal the heart in times of trouble, at least for me. They bring me a sense of tranquility and peace in stressful times. Birds remind me to step away from my anxieties and live in the present.

Here are a few of the many lovely birds I saw this afternoon at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park.

Piping Plover #1
Piping Plover #1 (Image by BirdNation)
Piping Plover #2
Piping Plover #2 (Image by BirdNation)

These Piping Plovers were first of season/year for me. Piping Plover #1 was sitting on eggs. As you can see from the pictures, both plovers were banded. I reported both Piping Plovers to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, so hopefully I will know more about these plovers soon. (A post about how to report banded birds coming soon!) Piping Plovers are considered threaten throughout their range, so reporting banded plovers is important to help conserve them.

ruddy turnstone and semipalmated sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone and Semipalmated Sandpiper (Image by BirdNation)
Ruddy Turnstone
Male Ruddy Turnstone (Image by BirdNation)
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper (Image by BirdNation)
Semipalmated sandpipers on rock
Semipalmated Sandpipers (Image by BirdNation)
preening herring gull
Preening Herring Gull (Image by BirdNation)
great egret hunting
Great Egret (Image by BirdNation)
Old Barney
Old Barney (Image by BirdNation)

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.

American oystercatcher T2 2016 3
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.

American oystercatcher T2 2016 5
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