Cape May Big Day

Yesterday, October 6th, was the first October Global Big Day. For the past 4 years, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has held an annual Global Big Day event in May. 2018 is the first year that this Big Day event was also held in autumn. With spring now in the Southern Hemisphere and autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, the Lab thought it would be great time to track the migrations around the world.

Dave and I went to Cape May for our big day. We hiked around our two favorite Cape May locations: Cape May Point State Park and South Cape May Meadows.

It seemed like everyone had the same idea about going to the Point. It was packed with birders of all ages. Many people were participating in the fall Hawk Watch, which takes place daily during the migration. Located on a prime location of the Altantic Flyway, Cape May is one of the best birding areas in the country to catch a sight of migrants, whether they are hawks, warblers, or anything in between.

Cape May Point highlights:

  • Tree Swallow massive flock!: We had the opportunity to observe a large flock of Tree Swallows gathering on the beach. It was amazing to watch them swirl around over the sand. Tree Swallows migrate in huge flocks that can number in the hundreds of thousands. They take about 3-4 months to migrate from their summer to their wintering grounds, leisurely stopping en route to forage, preen, and rest.  Sometimes the flocks are so large that they come up on weather radar as “roost rings”.

 

  • Monarch Butterflies. It’s also migration time for the Monarch Butterfly. Cape May happens to be a fantastic place to experience their journey. We saw many as we walked the trails.

 

  • Palm Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Warblers are now migrating through the area to their wintering grounds. There were Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting through the trees, Common Yellowthroats skulking through the bushes, and Palm Warblers zooming across the path. During fall migration, warblers adopt more drab plumage as opposed to their bright spring breeding plumage. The Palm Warblers we saw were actually the Western subspecies. The Western Palms are more numerous on the Atlantic Coast during fall migration.
Palm Warbler (Western)
Palm Warbler “Western” subspecies (Image by BirdNation)

South Cape May Meadows Highlights:

  • Atlantic Ghost Crab: Atlantic Ghost Crabs can be found from Block Island, Rhode Island south to Brazil along the coast. They are primarily nocturnal, so it was a surprising but wonderful sight to see one running along the trail.
Atlantic Ghost Crab (Image by BirdNation)
  • Winter Waterfowl: The winter Waterfowl are already starting to arrive. We saw groups of Northern Shovelers and Gadwalls at the Meadows (as well as some Ruddy Ducks and American Wigeons at the Point).
  • Common Buckeyes. We saw a few Common Buckeye butterflies fluttering around the paths.
Common Buckeye
Common Buckeye (Image by BirdNation)

Overall, we saw 31 species for our October Big Day (60 species for the May Big Day at Forsythe NWR. It’s always a joy to go birding in Cape May, especially during fall migration.

Tell us some of the migrants you’ve been seeing in your area in the comment section!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

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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!

 

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.