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.

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.

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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.

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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

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

Cape May Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! To celebrate, we spent the afternoon birding in Cape May, NJ.

Cape May Point State Park (CMPSP)

At the Ponds: Green-winged Teals, Blue-winged Teals, Northern Shovelers, Forster’s Terns, Great Egrets, Tree Swallows, Purple Martins, Mute Swans, Bufflehead, Gadwalls, American Coots, Osprey, Field Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Palm Warblers, Savannah Sparrows, Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, female Red-breasted Merganser. Also saw a Muskrat.

 

On the Beach:

American Oystercatchers, Sanderlings, Great Black-backed Gulls, Northern Gannets, Common Loons, Forster’s Terns, Double-crested Cormorants (in V-formation flying)

 

One of my favorite moments of the day took place on the way back to the parking lot. There were 2 Northern Mockingbirds doing the “wing flash display”. In this display, the mockingbird will open its wings to show their bright white wing patches. Some speculate that this movement is used to startle insects. However, even mockingbird species without white patches will use the move, so people are still not quite sure the purpose of the display. I wrote about the wing flash display last year, so it was cool to see it in person!

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Wing Flash Display (Image by BirdNation)

Another one of my favorite things that happened today were DOLPHINS! I saw dolphins in the wild for the first time ever! I was ecstatic to see them, as I have loved dolphins since I was a kid.

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Dolphin Fin (Image by David Horowitz)

South Cape May Meadows (SCMM)

The Meadows was wading/shore bird central today! Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Greater Yellowlegs, Willets, Killdeer, American Oystercatchers, Glossy Ibis, Semipalmated Plover

 

Other birds included Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Laughing Gulls, White-throated Sparrows, American Crows, and Barn Swallows. Bonus mammals: 2 Muskrats fighting with each other

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Mute Swan on Nest (Image by BirdNation)

Overall we observed 46 bird species and two mammal species (muskrat and dolphin). It was a lovely afternoon in Cape May :-).

Sights of Spring

Over the past 2 weeks, Dave and I have gone birding 7 times. We’ve had an interesting variety of early spring weather conditions, including chilly 40s and rain in the 70s. Here are some of my favorite moments from the last two weeks. (I don’t have pictures from all 7 trips)

Palmyra Cove Nature Park (3/23/18): first of season Killdeer and Osprey. Also saw a Muskrat

 

Barnegat Lighthouse State Park (3/25/18)

 

Palmyra Cove Nature Park (4/4/18): It started raining when we arrived, so we ended up walking in the middle of a short rainstorm. It was a really cool experience. There were still a lot of birds out, and by the time we finished walking the rain had stopped (29 species in total, including a first of season Palm Warbler and many Eastern Phoebes). We also had a chance to watch the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge open, found a goose egg, saw interesting fungi, and discovered a bunch of forest snails.

 

Island Beach State Park (4/6/18): Saw about 200 Northern Gannets and many Osprey. First of season Snowy Egrets and Laughing Gull