World Oceans Day 2018

June 8th is World Oceans Day.

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Logo via worldoceansday.org

Humans and animals depend on the ocean for survival. 75% of the planet is covered by oceans. Not only do oceans generate our climate, but they regulate oxygen and supply us with food and medicine.

The oceans are one of the few places left on Earth where there are still new things being discovered all the time. It’s estimated that there are between 700,000 to a million species living in the ocean, many which have yet to be described or named. A healthy ocean is imperative to survival on Earth.

There’s a major problem though: plastic pollution. Plastic pollution is the theme for 2018’s World Ocean Day.

Plastic has literally changed our world. Yes, there are benefits of plastic, but the negatives are truly detrimental.

It’s estimated that over 8 million metric tons of plastic are thrown into our oceans each year. But it gets worse- 236,000 tons are considered microplastics, which are smaller than 5 mm long. Many seabirds and marine animals can not distinguish these pieces of microplastics from food, so they end up being ingested. According to National Geographic, almost every species of seabirds will be eating plastic by 2050. Production of plastics have increased exponentially, and the more produced, the worse the dilemma gets.

What can be done about this critical problem? Making our oceans healthier is an extremely challenging global issue. If we want our oceans to ever improve, even a little, the problem needs to be tackled worldwide. There are many organizations and scientists working on solutions for removing plastic from the oceans. In the meantime, we can all do something to reduce our impact. Every little bit counts, and even each individual taking small steps to reduce their plastic waste can make a huge difference in the long term.

  • Avoid single-use plastics. Examples of single-use plastics include straws, plastic bags, beverage bottles, and coffee stirrers. There are many reusable items that can be used instead of single-use plastics.
  • Recycle plastics properly. Educate yourself on the different types of plastic and how to recycle them in your area. Improper recycling can be just as damaging as not recycling.
  • Spread the word. Inform your family and friends about plastic pollution and how they can help.

Our oceans are fascinating places that are brimming with life. It’s up to us to take care of them so we can continue to enjoy them. Together we can make a difference.

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Image by BirdNation

If you’d like to learn more about  World Oceans Day/oceans in general/plastic pollution check out the following websites.

World Oceans Day website: http://www.worldoceansday.org/

NOAA’s National Ocean Service: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/

National Geographic Planet or Plastic? (has links to many sources I used for this article): https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/planetorplastic/

To read an article I wrote a few years ago about Plastics and Laysan Albatrosses check out Trouble in Paradise 

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:

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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.

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

2018 Arctic Birding Challenge

Have you heard about the Great American Arctic Birding Challenge?

Each year, birds from all over the United States as well as the other continents spend the summer at Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is an extremely important sanctuary for all wildlife, but many birds rely on this habitat for breeding, raising young, and molting.

Audubon Alaska has set up the Arctic Birding Challenge to allow birders from all over the United States to celebrate the importance of the Arctic. It’s really easy to participate:

  • Create a team of up to 6 birders.
  • Print out the GAABC checklist.
  • Go birding as many time as you want between March 1-June 1. If at least 2 birders on your team see/hear a bird, check it off your list.
  • Submit your results to Audubon Alaska by June 1 (or have it postmarked by June 1).

The two winning teams will receive Audubon Alaska Bird of the Year hats and all teams that have checked off 10 or more birds (that are asterisked) will receive Bird of the Year stickers. The bird of the year is the Pacific Golden-Plover.

It’s that simple!

Of course, Dave and I are participating as Team Bird Nation. We’ve had a great time so far finding birds for our checklist. If you haven’t started participating yet, what are you waiting for? Have fun with the Arctic Birding Challenge! 🙂

To find out more and to print your checklist click on this link: Audubon Alaska GAABC

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(Image via https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Arctic/about.html)

Happy Bird Day!

Today, January 5, is National Bird Day! It’s a day to celebrate the lives of our avian friends and promote awareness of critical issues that birds face.

In honor of this day, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, Birdlife International, and National Geographic announced that 2018 is the Year of the Bird.

2018 is the centennial year of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the law that protects migratory birds of North America. The four conservation organization, plus another hundred or so participating groups, will be spreading awareness of avian issues to the public through multiple outlets all year.

How can you get involved in the Year of the Bird?

One of the goals of Year of the Bird is to educate that public that small, meaningful actions to help birds can make a huge difference.

You can sign the pledge to receive the Year of the Bird newsletter. Each month, you’ll receive an e-mail that will give you ideas on steps you can take to help birds. You can sign the pledge at the official Year of the Bird website:

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/year-of-the-bird/

And don’t forget to spread the word to your friends and family in person and with the hashtag #birdyourworld on social media.

I hope you can join the cause! The birds are worth it 🙂

Happy Bird Day!

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Yellow-rumped Warbler (Image by David Horowitz)

 

 

 

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

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.