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)

Sandy Hook

January 6th is a special day for me. On 1/6/17 I saw my first rare bird, the American White Pelican, with my mom and sister in Tuckerton, NJ. 1/6/18, Dave and I got married!

January 6th continues to be as special day because in 2019, it’s the day of the Razorbills!

Dave and I decided that we wanted to spend our 1st wedding anniversary birding at a new location. Sandy Hook is an area that I’ve wanted to explore for a while, so we decided that it would be the perfect time. Sandy Hook is a barrier island peninsula and the northern tip of the New Jersey Shore. You can see the Manhattan Skyline across the ocean. Sandy Hook is part of Gateway National Recreation Area, run by the National Park Service.

I heard through my NJ birders groups that there were some Razorbill sightings, so I was hoping we would spot a few. However, whether or not we found Razorbills, Sandy Hook always has interesting sightings.

We started our adventure at Lot A and B Beaches. Black Scoters, Surf Scoters, and Long-tailed Ducks surfed the waves. A few Northern Gannets flew by. We spent about 10 minutes watching the flocks fly by when we spotted our first Razorbills. Razorbills look like little black-and-white jet planes in flight. They fly low to the water in lines and individuals usually rock side-to-side out of sync with their flockmates. The Razorbills were our first life list birds of the year.

Lot C Beach brought us some more Razorbills, Red-breasted Mergansers, Long-tailed Ducks, Black Scoters, a variety of gulls, Northern Gannets, and Common Loons (as well as a nice view of the Manhattan Skyline).

Common Loon (Image by BirdNation)

The other side of the peninsula runs along Sandy Hook Bay and Spermaceti Cove. You get a pretty view of the Atlantic Highlands as you walk across the beach. According to Sandy Hook’s website, the Highlands are the highest point on the eastern seaboard. We observed a group of adult and juvenile Mute Swans, American Black Ducks, Brant, Canada Geese, and many gulls.

Mute Swan Goslings (Image by BirdNation)

We also had the opportunity to see a colony of Atlantic Harbor Seals relaxing on a sandbar. It was fun watching them frolic in the water and spend some time sunning. (Speaking of seals, we had a cool seal experience in Cape Cod, MA last summer!)

Sandy Hook Seals (Image by David Horowitz)

Before leaving, we spent time exploring some of the historical sites and the lighthouse. I definitely plan on birding again at Sandy Hook.

Avalon and Stone Harbor: First Hike ’19

New year, new birding location!

Dave and I spent New Years Day morning at the 8th St. Jetty in Avalon, New Jersey. The 8th St. Jetty is the location of the Avalon Sea Watch, run by New Jersey Audubon.

Avalon Sea Watch is a migratory bird count that occurs from September 22 to December 22 each year. The 8th St. Jetty in Avalon was chosen as the bird count site because it extends a mile farther out into the ocean than the northern coastline. Therefore, many seabirds pass close to the beach. Fall is the best time to visit the Sea Watch, because any seabird that migrates across the Atlantic Coast can be a possibility. Winter brings rafts of seaducks, wintering loons, gulls, alcids, and grebes. New Jersey Audubon’s Sea Watch page states that around 800,000 birds are counted annually at this location.

January 1st was our first time birding at the 8th St. Jetty, but we did have a motivation to check it out: Razorbills. Razorbills are seabirds that are members of the alcid family (the auks). These black-and-white birds are well adapted for ocean life and only come ashore to breed. They are residents of the North Atlantic, and sometimes in the winter can be seen offshore as far south as North Carolina (rarely to Florida).

We’ve been having a record winter this year for Razorbills in New Jersey. Since late December, Razorbills have been spotted at a few Jersey Shore locations in the hundreds to thousands on some days. They mainly fly by in the mornings around sunrise (from 7:00am-10:00 generally). It’s been quite an event, and has been widely discussed in Jersey Birder circles.

Razorbill (Image via bbc.co.uk)

So Dave and I figured that we should check it out. Who knows, maybe we would see some Razorbills? Well, we ended up not seeing any that morning, but did see Long-tailed Ducks, Common Eiders, Black Scoters, Common Loons, a Brant, and some Herring Gulls. It’s definitely a great birding location and I would like to visit the Sea Watch again.

If you want to learn more about Avalon Sea Watch check out their website: https://njaudubon.org/places-to-visit/avalon-seawatch/

Long-tailed Duck male (Image by BirdNation)

After the Sea Watch site, we went to Stone Harbor Point. At Stone Harbor we saw some more Long-tailed Ducks, Common Loons Herring Gulls, and Brant. We also observed Purple Sandpiper, Sanderlings, and a Northern Gannet.

Our first hike of the year is usually at Palmyra Cove, so it was nice to head out the Jersey Shore for some New Year birding.

By the way, my first bird of 2019 was a Ring-billed Gull at the local Wawa (a good convenience store/food market for those not lucky enough to live near one lol).

What was your first bird of 2019? Tell me in the comments!

Duck-mas Eve

Last year we had a Snowy Christmas Eve….Snowy Owl that is.

Snowy Owl 12/24/17 (Image by David Horowitz)

We went back to Long Beach Island today…no Snowies. Instead we celebrated Duck-mas Eve! All the waterfowl attended…

Surf Scoters,

Harlequin Ducks,

Long-tailed Ducks,

Black Scoters,

Brants,

And Common Eiders of all plumage types. There were breeding males, females, and juveniles.

There was even a Common Eider parade.

A Snowy Owl Christmas Eve is great, but Duck-mas Eve is just as awesome! Merry Duck-mas!

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

IMG_6711
“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.