’19 Great Backyard Bird Count: Day 2

Day 2 of the Great Backyard Bird Count was twice as nice because we went birding at 2 locations!

It was 45 degrees with a cold breeze; much more seasonal than yesterday’s warm weather. Our first stop was Haddon Lake Park in Audubon, NJ, followed by Palmyra Cove in Palmyra, NJ. We saw 32 species today, adding 8 new species to the total GBBC so far.

At Haddon Lake, Dave spotted some banded Mallards. I was able to get some pictures of the bands and reported them at reportband.gov. This website is run by USGS (United States Geological Survey) and the link leads to Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Laboratory. We were able to learn around where the Mallard was banded, by who, and its age.

USGS Banding Information (Image by BirdNation)

Haddon Lake Park, Audubon, NJ (10 species, 188 individual birds)

  • 80 Canada Geese
  • 45 Mallards
  • 1 Mourning Dove
  • 35 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 1 Red-tailed Hawk
  • 1 Belted Kingfisher
  • 10 American Crows
  • 1 White-breasted Nuthatch
  • 2 European Starlings
  • 12 Red-winged Blackbirds

Palmyra Cove Nature Park, Palmyra, NJ (22 species, 302 individual birds)

  • 10 Canada Geese
  • 9 Mallards
  • 17 American Black Ducks
  • 15 Green-winged Teal
  • 17 Bufflehead
  • 2 Common Merganser
  • 5 Mourning Doves
  • 147 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 1 Turkey Vulture
  • 1 Red-tailed Hawk
  • 1 Belted Kingfisher
  • 2 Downy Woodpeckers
  • 1 Northern Flicker
  • 5 American Crows
  • 4 Carolina Chickadees
  • 2 Brown Creepers
  • 5 Carolina Wrens
  • 14 American Robins
  • 1 Northern Mockingbird
  • 17 Dark-eyed Juncos
  • 25 White-throated Sparrow
  • 1 Northern Cardinal

Tomorrow we are heading out to the Jersey Shore to see who we can find.

Check out what we saw last year on day 2 of the 2018 GBBC here.

What did you see on the 2nd day of the Great Backyard Bird Count? Tell us in the comments.

’19 Great Backyard Bird Count: Day 1

Today is the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count!

We had a lovely day today in New Jersey. The temperature was around 60 degrees with a slight breeze. It was the perfect weather to kick off this year’s count. Dave and I spent our first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count at Amico Island in Delanco, NJ. We’ve been to Amico Island countless times over the years, but today we took a new trail that brought us along the water’s edge. It’s always fun discovering “new” trails at familiar parks.

Amico Island (23 species, 264 individual birds)

  • 20 Canada Geese
  • 9 Mallards
  • 3 Green-winged Teals
  • 2 Hooded Mergansers (male/female pair)
  • 19 Common Mergansers
  • 2 Mourning Doves
  • 120 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 8 Herring Gulls
  • 9 Great Black-backed Gulls
  • 10 Great Blue Herons
  • 5 Downy Woodpeckers
  • 1 Hairy Woodpecker
  • 3 Carolina Chickadees
  • 1 Tufted Titmouse
  • 4 White-breasted Nuthatch
  • 3 Carolina Wrens
  • 8 American Robins
  • 1 Northern Mockingbird
  • 2 European Starlings
  • 4 Dark-eyed Juncos
  • 15 White-throated Sparrows
  • 1 Red-winged Blackbird
  • 4 Northern Carindals

This year’s bird count is already off to a get start! Tomorrow we are heading over to Palmyra Cove.

Did you participate in the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count? Tell me about it in the comments.

Amico Island 2-15-19 (Image by BirdNation)

Love Birds…or not?

You’ve probably seen an image like this before, especially around Valentine’s Day:
Mute Swans forming a “heart” with their heads. The perfect image of love. Or is it? It’s not as simple as you might think. When you see a bird with its mate, you might assume that those birds are just mates with each other. Sometimes that’s true, the bird pair you’re watching may be monogamous. However, there is actually a wide variety of avian mating systems, so things are usually not as they seem on the surface.
Wood Duck pair (Image by BirdNation)
3 main types of avian mating systems include social monogamy, polyandry, and polygyny. These systems can be broken down even further, with multiple categories for each system. We aren’t going to go too far into specifics today, but here’s a quick overview of some of the avian mating systems. Social Monogamy In social monogamy, one female will form a pair bond with one male. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the pair is mated for life. The pair bond may last only one or several breeding seasons. In the social monogamy system, females may copulate with other males. This means within a clutch of chicks, some chicks may have different fathers. About 92% of bird species are considered monogamous, but it’s actually quite rare to find species that practice true genetic monogamy. Genetic monogamous species only have offspring that are within the specific male/female couple. Common birds that practice social monogamy include Northern Cardinals, Eastern Bluebirds, Black Vultures, and Mute Swans. Examples of genetic monogamous birds include Common Loons, Laysan Albatrosses, and Florida Scrub Jays.
Northern Cardinal male (Image by BirdNation)
Common Loon on land (Image by BirdNation)
Polyandry In polyandry, during a breeding season a female will accept sperm from multiple males. There are many reasons why a female would want to have sperm from multiple male partners. A female bird’s oviduct has a special sperm storage tubules (SSTs) where sperm can be stored for days to weeks depending on the species. Eggs are only able to be fertilized for a certain period of time. Therefore, by storing sperm, a female would be able to fertilize a clutch of eggs and not have to mate at a particular time to be able to do so. Females who practice polyandry can use this system as a sort of “insurance policy”; a female is more likely to be able to fertilize eggs if one of her partner’s sperm are defective if she mated with multiple males. Other reasons for polyandry include securing more parental care/resources/genetic benefits from secondary partners, or being forced to copulate by sexually aggressive “partners”. This mating type is only found in about 1% of bird species. Examples of polyandry in bird species include Spotted Sandpipers, Sanderlings , and Wilsons Phalaropes.
Spotted Sandpiper (Image by David Horowitz)
Sanderling (Image by BirdNation)
Polygyny In polygyny, males are able to have sexual access to two or more females, however a female will only mate with one male. Males of this mating systems may defend valuable resources that will attract several mates as well as try to monopolize potential mates against rival males. Males may also defend a specific territory and try to convince females to visit and mate with him. This tactic is called lek polygyny. Some males in a lek may not mate with any females, while only a few males will mate with most of the females. Many grassland birds practice polygyny. Examples include Red-winged Blackbirds, Great Sage Grouse, Bobolinks, and Marsh Wrens.
Red-winged Blackbird, Taylor’s Wildlife Preserve (Image by BirdNation)
And if this all wasn’t complicated enough… …sometimes birds get divorced. Yep, you read that right. Sometimes the breeding season is unsuccessful and each member of the pair will choose to mate with someone else. Sometimes a partner dies and the widow finds a new mate. Whatever the reason, it just goes to show that avian lives are much more complex than we previously knew or imagined. So what about those Mute Swans we were talking about earlier? Divorce can rarely occur between Mute Swans, but they are generally monogamous. They do tend to form strong pair bonds and work together well as a team. Does that mean Mute Swans are an accurate depiction of true love? Maybe. Or maybe not…you be the judge. It does prove though that the avian social life is complex and fascinating.

Time to Count!

Hi friends! It’s one of the best times of the year…the Great Backyard Bird Count. It’s time to get ready to count some birds.

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) occurs every February for four days. This year the count is this weekend, February 15-18. Created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the GBBC was the first online citizen-science project to collect bird data in real time. In 2018, over 6,4000 bird species were recorded in over 100 countries in just four days!

It’s fun and easy to participate:

  • Create an eBird account if you don’t already have one. It’s free and only takes a minute to set up.
  • Go outside for at least 15 minutes and count as many birds as you can identify. You can count anywhere as long as you want.
  • Submit your results on eBird.com. Or use the mobile app to submit your data in real time.

That’s it! By participating, you are helping scientists obtain data to help them track trends in bird populations before spring migration starts.

Team BirdNation participates in the Great Backyard Bird Count every year, and 2019 is no exception. We’ll be bringing you updates on the birds we find throughout the weekend. Hope you can join in the fun!

To find out more info, check out the Great Backyard Bird Count website, gbbc.birdcount.org.

Pacific Loon in NJ

Last weekend, Dave and I went birding at 4 locations searching for waterfowl . One of our locations was Manasquan Inlet, where there was an abundance of loons. Naturally, I just assumed they were all Common Loons, checked out a few, and kept looking for different species. However, when I got home that evening I learned that a Pacific Loon was there when we were. What a bummer! I was annoyed at myself because we could have potentially seen it, but didn’t look hard enough. But it just wasn’t meant to be that day.

Pacific Loons are one of the most abundant North American loons. However, they are considered are rarity in New Jersey because…well…a Pacific Loon should be on the Pacific Coast. This particular loon has been observed all week by numerous birders so I was hoping it would still be there by the time we could go back.

On Sunday February 3, we spent an hour watching at Manasquan Inlet. There were significantly less loons this time…only about 9 compared to about 30 last week. But nobody seemed to have the dusky black chinstrap that distinguishes the nonbreeding Pacific Loon from the nonbreeding Common Loon. We did see a lot of bird around though…Red-breasted Mergansers, Long-tailed Ducks, Ring-billed Gulls, a female Common Goldeneye, a Double-crested Cormorant, Ruddy Ducks, and Boat-tailed Grackles. There was even a Harbor Seal hanging around. But after an hour, still no Pacific Loon.

We were watching the seal for awhile, but we had other plans in the afternoon so we decided it was time to go. Sometimes you find the rare bird you’re chasing and sometimes you don’t. On they way back to the car we scanned a few loons that were congregating. Dave noticed one seemed a little smaller/thinner than the others. As we approached it dived underwater, and after a few seconds it popped up in front of us. The Pacific Loon! We could see the black chinstrap clearly. We informed some other birders who were around and we all watched the Pacific Loon for a few minutes. So cool! What an elegant and beautiful bird.

Pacific Loon (Image by BirdNation)

The Pacific Loon and Common Loon in nonbreeding plumage look pretty similar at a glance. However, the Pacific has the black chinstrap, shorter neck, and is slightly smaller (the chinstrap may sometimes not be visible).The Common has a larger, flatter bill and a “collar” around the neck that the Pacific lacks.

Mission accomplished! The rare NJ Pacific Loon is our 3rd life list bird of 2019.

4 the Waterfowl

On Sunday January 27, Dave and I went to 4 birding locations in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. I was inspired to find some Canvasbacks, so we drove out to the Jersey Shore to see what we could find. Overall, we saw 15 different waterfowl species between the 4 locations. Here are the highlights.

Manasquan Reservoir IBA, Howell, NJ

This was around the time of the polar vortex, so it was pretty cold and most of the reservoir was frozen over. Despite the cold, we observed 20 species.

  • Waterfowl: Canvasbacks (life list #2 for 2019, read about life list #1, the Razorbill, here), huge flocks of Common Mergansers and Canada Geese, Hooded Mergansers, Bufflehead, Ring-billed Ducks, female Common Goldeneye, Ruddy Ducks, Mallards, Mute Swans
  • Others: 3 Bald Eagles (breeding pair and juvenile), watched an adult and juvenile eating prey on the ice. American Coots, gulls.
Ice Skating Canada Geese (Video by BirdNation)

Common Goldeneye female in flight (Image by BirdNation)

Fisherman’s Cove Conservation Area, Manasquan, NJ

  • Waterfowl: Brants, Red-breasted Mergansers, Hooded Merganser, Bufflehead, Long-tailed Duck
  • Other: Turkey Vultures, tons of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, Common Loons

Manasquan Inlet, Manasquan, NJ

Manasquan Inlet is where the Manasquan River meets the Atlantic Ocean. There were a lot of Common Loons that day, and we learned after we got home that there was a Pacific Loon among them, a NJ rarity. I didn’t think to pay close attention to each individual loon since I just assumed they were our normal Common Loons. Lesson learned!

  • Waterfowl: Long-tailed Ducks
  • Other: Common Loons, Rock Pigeons, Ring-billed Gulls, Dunlin
Common Loon (Image by BirdNation)

Lake of the Lilies, Pt. Pleasant, NJ

Our first visit to Lake of the Lilies was last year for the Great Backyard Bird Count. We saw 13 species of waterfowl that day in February, including a large raft of Redheads and a rare Tufted Duck. This visit was quieter, but we got an amazing views of some Wood Ducks.

  • Waterfowl: Wood Ducks, 1 Redhead, Mallards/domestic/hybrid Mallards, Canada Geese, Bufflehead, Hooded Mergansers
  • Others: American Coots, gulls, Great Blue Heron
Wood Duck male (Image by BirdNation)
Wood Duck female and male (Image by BirdNation)

The Seabird’s Cry Book Review

Seabirds are some of the most fascinating creatures on Earth. Over millions of years, these birds have mastered life on the open ocean. Seabirds are an elusive group; it’s hard to study them because they only come ashore to breed.

A seabird is any bird that spends the majority or part of its life out on the open ocean. While the term “seabird” can describe a wide variety of birds, this group is most often used to describe the orders of Procellariiformes and Suliformes. Procellariiformes include petrels, albatrosses, shearwater, and storm-petrels, which are more commonly known as “tubenoses”. Suliformes include cormorants, boobies, gannets, and frigatebirds. Gulls, jaegers, skuas, auks, and penguins are also seabirds.

I recently read The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet’s Great Ocean Voyagers
by Adam Nicolson. This beautifully-written book explores the lives of 10 species of seabirds. For each species, Nicolson explores not only how these birds live from a scientific standpoint, but how they touch the lives of people in emotional and spiritual ways. I particularly enjoyed reading some of the myths that native cultures tell about these fascinating creatures.

It’s clear that Nicolson loves the subjects he writes about. Adam Nicolson was born in England. During his childhood his father actually bought the Shiant Islands in the Outer Herbrides of Scotland, where Nicolson would watch puffins, fulmars, razorbills, shags, kittiwakes, and other seabirds breed. The Seabird’s Cry offers intimate accounts of the specie’s life, but also reminds us how fragile their lifestyles can be in an ever changing world of climate change.

I learned so many interesting facts in this book, so I wanted to share some of them with you. Below is one fact from each of the 10 species. You’ll just have to find out the rest when you read The Seabird’s Cry. 🙂 

  1. Fulmars were known as the “foul gulls” to the Vikings, since they would vomit the oils from their food as a defense mechanism.
  2. An adult puffin raising a chick will dive between 600 and 1,150 times per day to get sandeels, sprats, or capelin.
  3. Kittiwakes are the most populous gull, with approximately 18 million individuals in the Northern Hemisphere.
  4. Some gull species have black heads instead of white heads. Studies found that gulls with black heads/faces actually scare other gulls, most likely to space out the breeding territory. Therefore, when black-headed gulls mate, they face away from each other to show their white bodies and use other senses during courtship such as smell and touch.
  5. A Newfoundland study found that “extramarital affairs” were fairly common among guillemots. However, females who had these affairs would typically end up being less successful breeders than males who had affairs.
  6. Cormorants and shags are most likely the closest in lifestyle and body-type to the first fossilized seabirds from about 100 million years ago.
  7. Shearwaters, like other “tubenoses” have large olfactory bulb and therefore a strong sense of smell. Phytoplankton, which is eaten by the shearwater’s prey krill, emit dimethyl sulfide (DMS). Young shearwaters are exposed to DMS in the burrow, so they are able to locate krill by smell when they go foraging. Unfortunately, plastics also emit DMS, so seabirds are accidentally eating plastic not because it looks like prey, but smells like prey.
  8. Gannets regularly fly over 350 miles or more while fishing.
  9. Razorbills are the living representatives of the largest seabird that ever lived in the Northern Hemisphere, the extinct Great Auk.
  10. Albatross have a lifespan of 60-80 years depending on the species. (Not from this book, but Wisdom, the 68-year-old albatross, laid an egg in December!)

What’s your favorite seabird? Tell me in the comment section! Mine is the Laysan Albatross.