Rhode Island Adventures

Last week Dave and I took a 3-day vacation to Rhode Island. We’ve visited Rhode Island in the past, but just as a day trip stop on the way to or from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This time the trip’s main purpose was birding (of course! hehe), but we did some other fun things along the way. As far as the birding went, we did see a decent amount over the 3-day period. It was a little hard to get close to anything though with the way the trails were laid out, so we don’t have too many bird pictures, but we did get to explore a variety of habitats.

Ningret National Wildlife Refuge

There are 5 National Wildlife Refuges in Rhode Island, and Ninigret was our first stop. Ninigret NWR is 858 acres that is divided by Highway 1. The Northern section has the headquarters, Kettle Pond Visitor Center, and the other section is the Salt Pond Unit. We stopped at Kettle Pond, but mainly explored the Salt Pond Unit. There are a variety of habitats to explore, such as wooded swamps, grasslands, and freshwater ponds. Part of the refuge used to be the Charlestown Naval Auxiliary Landing Fields. Nature has mainly taken over the area, but there is still evidence of some landing strips and the trail in this area is paved. We also spent some time at Grassy Point, where you can see Ninigret Pond, Rhode Island’s largest coastal salt pond.

Bird Highlights: Osprey, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Green Herons, Double-crested Cormorants, Great Black-backed Gulls, Cedar Waxwings

Norman Bird Sanctuary

On Thursday we spent the morning at Norman Bird Sanctuary in Newport County. Norman Bird Sanctuary is 325 acres and has an impressive 7 miles of hiking trails. Ecosystems found at Norman include salt marsh, ponds, streams, ridges, shrub growth, forests, and open fields. The Sanctuary also has a number of gardens on the property as well as Paradise Farm, where groups can stay as part of their ecotourism programs. The ridges ascend 70 feet and overlook Gardiner Pond and Nelson Pond.

Bird Highlights: Solitary Sandpiper (lifer for us), Green Herons, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, Eastern Towhees, Black-capped Chickadees

Newport

Thursday night we spent some time in the city of Newport. Our purpose wasn’t birding, but if you stay in Rhode Island I highly recommend checking out Newport. This charming maritime city sits right on Narragansett Bay and is known as the sailing capital of the United States. There’s so much to do and see in Newport: relax at the numerous beaches, tour the famous Gilded Age mansions, museums like the International Tennis Hall of Fame, dining at fantastic restaurants, or the Cliff Walk. We stopped at Easton Beach and saw the beach dotted with over 100 Semipalmated Plovers. We also did a small portion of the Cliff Walk. On the Cliff Walk we happened to see a decent amount of birds such as Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Song Sparrows, and American Goldfinches.

Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge

Our final destination was Trustom Pond NWR. This 787-acre refuge has freshwater/saltwater ponds, woodlands, fields, and sandy beach habitats. There are two points (Otter Point and Osprey Point) that look out over Trustom Pond, Rhode Island’s only undeveloped coastal salt point. We only had time to go to Osprey Point, but from their we were able to see a barrier beach that is one of the few Rhode Island nesting spots of Piping Plovers and Least Terns. There’s also a small Farm Pond where we spotted many frogs and turtles.

Bird Highlights: Numerous Ospreys, Mute Swans, large groups of Double-crested Cormorants, Great Black-backed Gulls, Yellow Warblers, Eastern Towhees, Hairy Woodpeckers, Eastern Wood-Pewees

 

We had a wonderful time birding in Rhode Island. We love being near the ocean, so  there’s no better place to go than The Ocean State. Although Rhode Island is the smallest state, there are tons parks and beaches to explore. I would love to go back once in the fall to experience the migration, which I heard was really nice, especially at Block Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Shorebird Central

On Sunday we took a trip down to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR. Despite the flies, Forsythe is a wonderful summer birding location. I heard that there were White Ibis around, so we decided to see if we could find this rarity.

We left pretty early in the morning and it was quiet when we arrived. We spent a little time walk around the visitor center and towards Lily Pond. At the pond we found at least 5 Wood Ducks as well as some Gray Catbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds. At the visitor center we found a Chipping Sparrow being followed by a large (compared to the sparrow) juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird. Unfortunately that Chipping Sparrow was cursed with a brood parasite. Brown-headed Cowbirds always lay their eggs in other bird’s nests, although the parasitic egg isn’t always successful (check out my post on brood parasites here).

 

Next we went to the first observation platform. It was swarming with a large flock of Barn Swallows. In the distance we were able to see a few Osprey on their nest, while also spotting Laughing Gulls, Seaside Sparrows, and Marsh Wrens. There even was a little snail crossing the platform, so he was fun to see.  At Gull Pond Tower, we saw even more Wood Ducks, a Cooper’s Hawk, a Great Blue Heron, Eastern Kingbirds, and many more Barn Swallows. The surprise bird over at the Gull Pond for me was a juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron. It was our first juvenile BC-NH since our 8/23/16 Forsythe trip.

It was Shorebird and Wading Bird Central once we hit the wildlife drive. Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlins, and Semipalmated Plovers were everywhere you looked. There were a few surprises scattered around too. There was a lone American Avocet among the smaller plovers and sandpipers. It was the first time we’ve seen one at Forsythe (our firsts were at Bombay Hook NWR). We also ended up finding the White Ibis! There were 2: both juveniles. They had brown backs, white rumps, and orange bill/legs. They were foraging in a group of Snowy and Great Egrets. (Sorry the White Ibis picture isn’t that great, they were really far so it was basically so we can prove the rarity on ebird)

There were plenty of Seabirds around too. These included Forster’s/Common Terns (many of them juveniles), Laughing/Herring/Great Black-backed Gulls, Black Skimmers, and Gull-billed Terns.

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Juvenile Tern (Image by BirdNation)

 

As far as Raptors, there were at least 20 Ospreys throughout the drive. At one point we watched at least 3 of them chase one that was holding a fish. The poor guy being chased eventually lost his fish back to the water. There were also some Ospreys chasing after an adult Bald Eagle.

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We actually found a second rarity: a lone Snow Goose. This poor little guy looked like his wing was messed up, which would explain why he was still here. He waddled along the trail and disappeared into the grass.

The second half to the wildlife drive brought some more interesting surprises. There were even more wading/shorebirds/seabirds already mentioned, but on this half added Short-billed Dowitchers, Double-crested Cormorants, a single Whimbrel, Glossy Ibis, and one Ruddy Turnstone. When we were watching the Whimbrel, a small bird swam across the water in the distance. It was hard to make out, but we could see it’s downturned bill and rump sticking out. It quickly disappeared into the reeds, but we were able to figure out that it was a Clapper rail, another life bird for us.

August at Forsythe NWR is beautiful. There marshes and pools were dotted with flowers, while butterflies and bees flew to the different plants. The variety of birds at this time of the year is fantastic. We ended our day with a total of 55 species (2 rarities: White Ibis/Snow Goose and 2 life bird: Clapper Rail/White Ibis).

Stay tuned: Dave and I have been birding yesterday and today in some surprise birding locations we didn’t expect to go to. I’ll have some posts about that in the upcoming days. 🙂

 

 

The Daily Mockingbird

Summer is a special time of year to many people. People love the beach, having some time off, and spending time doing outdoor activities. There are certainly things that I appreciate about summer too, but it’s gone from being my favorite season as a kid to my least favorite. It’s my least favorite season to go birding because like many of us, birds would rather stay out of the heat as best they can and are less active during the day.

But there is something that’s really special to me about the summer since I’ve been into birding: the daily Mockingbird. It seems like once the end of May hits, I end up seeing Mockingbirds on a daily basis, usually multiple times throughout the day. Northern Mockingbirds happen to already be in my top 10 of favorite birds, but seeing the flash of their white wing patches in the middle of a summer’s day gives me a kind of joy I can’t describe. Here are some interesting facts about these vocal virtuosos.

  • Throughout the year Northern Mockingbirds, who can be found all across the United States, tend to be alone or in pairs. Whether they are alone or not, they are always conspicuous. Mockingbirds love being up high on trees, fences, or other platforms to proudly sing their songs, but you could also find them running around on the ground or grass.
  • The Northern Mockingbird’s scientific name, Mimus polyglottos, roughly translates to “mimics many harmonies”. If you’ve ever heard a bunch of different bird songs/calls in a row, but they are only coming from one bird, then you are listening to a Mockingbird performance. They are part of what is called the “Mimics” (which also includes Brown Thrashers and Gray Catbirds), meaning their songs are made up of songs fragments they learned from other species, as well as mockingbird-specific songs.
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Northern Mockingbird at Strawbridge Lake (Image by BirdNation)
  • The number of songs a Mockingbird can sing varies based on its range, but many male Mockingbirds can sing up to 200 songs! Females sing also, but not as loudly or as often. Males tend to have two sets of repertoire: songs for summer and songs for fall. The songs themselves are a mix of long musical phrases that are repeated usually 2-6 times before a new phrase starts. A Mockingbird song can range anywhere from 20 seconds to a few hours! Singing is used as a way to defend their territory as well as sexual selection for mating. New songs can be learned throughout life.
  • A frequent movement done by Northern Mockingbirds is what’s called the “wing flash display”. In the display, they will partially or fully open their wings showing their large white patches while taking jerky steps forward. Some scientist thing this display may help startle insects and make them easier to catch. The odd this is though that other mockingbirds throughout the world that don’t have wing patches use this movement too…so we’re still not quite certain what the purpose of this display is.
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    Mockingbird Wing Display (Image via wikipedia commons by By Manjithkaini (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia CommonsManjith Kainickara)

    Singing is a large part of a Mockingbird’s life, and they can sing both during the day and at night. Unmated males are probably the most insistent though; they make up most of the nocturnal singers. It’s more common for an unmated male to nocturnally sing during a full moon.

  • Northern Mockingbirds are popular in United States culture and are the state birds of 5 states: Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas (formerly in South Carolina).
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Mockingbird eating crumbs at Palmyra Cove parking lot (Image by David Horowitz)
  • Northern Mockingbirds don’t just imitate other birds. They can also imitate dogs, cats, frogs, and even artificial sounds like car alarms! They may tend to fool us humans into thinking there’s another bird around, but other birds are not normally fooled by the Mockingbird’s mimicking ways.

Over the years, I’ve found many different Mockingbird territories in parks I frequent as well as other places in my area. My favorite is the Mockingbird who lives towards the front section of Boundary Creek. Dave and I took a walk on Sunday at Boundary, and my Mockingbird friend was running around the lawn grabbing bugs. He frequently flicked his long tail and hopped around to expose the bugs, then quickly snatched them up. He was quite amusing to watch. I love going to Boundary and finding him either running around or upon his treetop sings his little heart out (his picture is below).

Do you have an Mockingbirds that live nearby? Tell me your mockingbird story in the comments.

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Boundary Creek Mockingbird (Image by BirdNation)

Double Day Trip

Sunday tends to be our normal birding day. This week we were having trouble deciding where we wanted to go. The options were: Palmyra Cove or Barnegat Light. Which park did we choose? We actually went to both!

We started our day at Palmyra Cove Nature Park. The weather was lovely. We had a bright blue summer sky punctuated by white puffy clouds. Our main goal for the trip was to explore the Cove Trail. On the way to the cove we listened to the song of an Indigo Bunting, saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker, watched some Carolina Chickadees chase each other, and got a rare glimpse of a Warbling Vireo (I say rare because they are usually always at the top of the tree, so I tend to hear them frequently instead of see them).

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Red-bellied Woodpecker (Image by BirdNation)

The Cove Trail runs along the Delaware River. Sometimes you can walk on the beach along the river, but it was around high tide so that wasn’t an option. We did see some Double-crested Cormorants, as well as a flock of at least 70 Canada Geese float by.

There’s a wooden platform that extends out into the marshland of the cove. We were pretty close to it when we almost ran right into a Black Rat Snake! It was having a sun-bathing section right in the middle of the trail.

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Black Rat Snake (Image by BirdNation)

There were a lot of birds around once we reached the platform. There were 2 Bald Eagles in a nest, 6 or 7 Great Blue Herons, Mallards, small flocks of Semipalmated Sandpipers, swallows, Eastern Phoebes, Red-winged Blackbirds, a Cedar Waxwing, Orchard Orioles, and juvenile Starlings to name a few. My favorite visitor though was an adorable Spotted Sandpiper. It landed on the platform railing and pumped his little tail. With all their teetering motions, no wonder why people have nicknames these little guys the “teeter-peep” or the “tip-tail”.

After Palmyra we made our way across the state to the Jersey Shore to go back to Long Beach Island. We went to Barnegat Light SP about a month ago, but wanted to spend some time at the ocean. We arrived at the park in the late afternoon. This time we saw 3 Piping Plovers running around the beach. I think one of them was a juvenile, because it lacked the black neck and forehead bands that the breeding adult Piping Plovers exhibit.

 

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Piping Plover (Image by BirdNation)

We also saw American Oystercatcher T2 and its family again. The 2 chicks are still in what is called their prejuvenal (first prebasic) molt. This means that they have some down on the tips of some of their feathers. They are in this stage from June-August and have their full juvenal plumage by week 6. They also still have a larger black tip on their orange bills than the adults do. I was happy to see the T2 family again. The 2 juveniles were banded. We weren’t able to read their bands from the distance we were at, but maybe if they return in the future we’ll get a better glimpse of them. The picture on the left is one of the chicks a month ago in June, and the picture on the right are what they look like now in July. They grow up so fast, don’t they?

Double birding days are certainly a special treat! 🙂

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Barnegat Light Beach (Image by BirdNation)

Nests and Surprise Guests

Hi friends! I received an update from the American Oystercatcher Working Group about T2, who we spotted for the second year in a row at Barnegat Light State Park. T2 was banded on Island Beach State Park (which is on the barrier island directly north of Long Beach Island). T2 was banded on September 19, 2007 and spends its winters in Cedar Key, Florida, which is about a 1,050 mile migration one-way from Barnegat Light. Pretty cool to get to know a bird personally, right?

This past Friday (June 16), Dave and I took a trip to Cape May. We spent some time at South Cape May Meadows (SCMM) and Cape May Point State Park (CMPSP).

SCMM and CMPSP actually connect through a path. We made our way through the meadow with the intent of taking this path, but it turns out it was closed off. The connecting path is right before entering the beach, so we decided to explore the beach instead. It turns out the path being closed was a good thing, because we had the opportunity to watch some nesting Least Terns.

Least Terns are the smallest of the North American Tern species, standing only at about 9 inches tall. In breeding plumage, Least Terns have unique bills because they are yellow with a black tip, as opposed to orange or black of other terns. Least Terns also have a white forehead and two dark primary feathers. There were a few pairs either sitting on eggs, flying around to get food for their mate, or some defending their nests. We watched one one breeding pair repeatedly dive bomb an American Oystercatcher pair, who quickly got the message that they weren’t welcome in that spot. It was the first time we had the chance to see any sort of nesting tern. They were fascinating to watch. If you look closely to the picture on the right of the tern standing, you can see its 2 speckled eggs behind the sticks.

Throughout our walk we kept seeing an Oystercatcher pair. Eventually we saw one of them sitting on their nest. We were observing this oystercatcher from a distance when its mate came from the other direction and walked right up to us. This Oystercatcher had bands which read M3. Before walking off Dave was able to get some good pictures of M3’s metal band, so I submitted a report about M3 to the Oystercatcher Working Group as well. M3 was banded on Avalon Beach, NJ on June 26, 2009. It migrates over 670 miles one way to spend the winters at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina.

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American Oystercatcher M3

Other birds we saw at the Meadows included at least 8 Ospreys, Common Yellowthroats, Black Skimmers, a Willet, and Great Black-backed Gulls to name a few. We drove over to CMPSP to see what we would find there.

It was pretty quiet bird-wise at the Point since there were more people around. From the Hawk Watch platform we saw 20 Mute Swans (never saw that many at once!), Great Egrets, Canada Geese, Mallards, House Finches, and Red-winged Blackbirds. We were getting tired, so we decided we were only going to walk up the path a little bit then head back to the car. We didn’t expect to see too much.

On the way back, Dave paused. “Is that…a Bobwhite?”. I listened closely.

“poor- bob-WHITE!” 

Yep. Our ears weren’t playing tricks on us. It was a Northern Bobwhite. A Bobwhite is not quite who we expected to hear at the beach since they tend to live in forest or brushy habitats. Then I remembered that people were reporting Bobwhites here at the Point on the NJ Rare Bird List. Some people say they were released there, which is very likely. We started walking towards the sound when a cute, plump brown bird popped out from the grass.

The next moment made the whole trip for me. It ran right at us, stopped, and started making little mumbling sounds at us. It was adorable to watch it run around. It quickly ran back into the grass only to emerge onto a large sand pile a few moments later. Then its friend showed up on another sand pile and began to make the “bob-WHITE!” call. The original Bobwhite wasn’t too happy with the other’s appearance though, because it ran down the sand pile and waddled straight down the path until we couldn’t see it anymore (I couldn’t help but think of Forrest Gump, “Run, Bobwhite, Run!” hahaha :-P). The Bobwhites were really amusing, and a fun way to end our Cape May trip.

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Male Northern Bobwhite (Image by BirdNation)

 

 

Hey, I Know That Bird!

Every June, Dave and I take a trip out to Long Beach Island to explore Barnegat Light State Park. June 9th was our 3rd annual “late spring” LBI birding trip. It’s nice to have a trip “tradition” so you can compare what species you see around a specific time/season and see how your location list changes from year to year.

This year we didn’t see too many species (16, probably because we went in the late afternoon this time, but that’s ok!). Every year I hope to see Piping Plovers and American Oystercatchers. We had a special treat when we it came to the Oystercatchers: an Oystercatcher family! We had the opportunity to watch 2 adults with the 2 chicks walk/forage around the dunes. I’ve seen pictures of Oystercatcher chicks before, but they were even cuter in person.

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American Oystercatcher family (Image by David Horowitz)

I have to admit: I’ve been a little lazy with my birding stuff the past week or two. My job (teacher) just ended for the summer and I’ve been taking a summer class (Biology 1) so it’s been a little bit of an adjustment. I mention this because I didn’t look at any of our June 9th LBI pictures until tonight (June 16). And while zooming in on the Oystercatcher family photo I found a surprise.

I zoomed in on an adult and chick. The adult had 2 yellow bands that said T2. Then it hit me: “Hey, I know that bird!”

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Oystercatcher and chick (Image by David Horowitz)

I don’t think that’s what Dave expected me to say. But it’s true. We know Oystercatcher T2. I quickly opened up my Barnegat Light picture folder and pulled up this picture from last year’s trip:

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American Oystercatcher T2 in 2016 (Image by BirdNation)

Well, well, well, look who it is. T2 from 2016. I wonder how many years this particular Oystercatcher has come back to Barnegat Light. And this time I got to see his/her family!

Once Dave and I made this discovery I went to the American Oystercatcher Working Group website. This organization works with conservation groups throughout the East Coast to band, study, and conserve American Oystercatchers. I reported T2 and all the information that I know about this bird (as well as someone from today, but I’ll tell you about that in the next post). Now I wait to hear back about this particular Oystercatcher’s backstory, which of course I will update you on.

If you happen to see a banded American Oystercatcher, try to take some pictures and send your info to the American Oystercatcher Working Group (click that link to see their site).

Here are a few more pictures from out Barnegat Light trip.

This was the only Piping Plover we saw, and it was the first time we’ve seen one on a nest. It was sitting inside a wire fence to protect it. The Great Egret was looking stunningly beautiful in its breeding plumage.

It’s exciting to go to the same location each year to compare, especially when you rediscover a familiar friend (as in the case with T2)!

New Adventures

We took advantage of our 3 day weekend by going on 3 birding adventures. One of our trips was to Palmyra Cove Nature Park, but the other days we explored 2 new places: Taylor Wildlife Preserve and Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve.

On Saturday night we wanted to go to Amico Island. Every time we go there, we pass a place called Taylor Farm & Wildlife Preserve. People go to Taylor Farm to pick their own fruits and vegetables, but part of the property was turned into a wildlife preserve with a few hiking trails. We’ve been curious about Taylor’s for awhile, so we decided to check it out. We never made it to Amico that night, but had a great time exploring Taylor Wildlife Preserve instead.

Taylor’s Wildlife Preserve is right on the Delaware River and Dredge Harbor. It’s a wooded habitat that features stretches of wetlands. We arrived to the sounds of Gray Catbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds. As we walked towards the foot trails we spotted some Northern Cardinals, Eastern Phoebes, and Baltimore Orioles. Yellow Warblers and Warbling Vireos sang from high in the trees while we explored the winding trails. We found the wetlands area not long after entering the trails. There was a beaver lodge, Eastern Kingbirds, swallows, Common Yellowthroats, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.

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Taylor Wildlife Preserve (Image by BirdNation)

“Breep! Breep!” A raucous call came from high in the tree over our heads. It was a Great Crested Flycatcher! These large flycatchers have lemon-colored bellies and long tails, although the crest mentioned in their names are not very prominent. For being about 7 inches in length, the Great Crested Flycatcher has a pretty ear-piercing call. These flycatchers are agile fliers, and we watch it for a bit before it disappeared into the treetops. We also ran into a muskrat on the trail. He didn’t notice us right away, and was pretty surprised when he realized he was being watched. It was a fun moment.

Another highlight of our Taylor trip was finding Wright Cove, where there is a platform with an Osprey nest. At the end of April, Dave and I bought a spotting scope and tested it out at the local yacht club where some Osprey nest nearby. We found a second tower with nesting Osprey that night, and wondered if there was a way to see them better from land. It turns out the Wright Cove in Taylor Preserve is exactly where we want to be to see these Osprey really well. We will definitely go back to observe them, as well as explore more the preserve.

We woke up early Sunday morning to spend some time at Palmyra Cove. It was a quiet morning so we were able to see 42 species. Some highlights included Cedar Waxwings eating berries, a Green Heron flying through the woods, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the honeysuckles, and an Orchard Oriole pair chasing each other around. We ended up seeing some more Great Crested Flycatchers on this trip too. Ever have the experience where once you learn something is around, you start seeing it everywhere? Well it seems like we’ve been missing Great Crested Flycatchers for awhile, because now that we know them, we’ve been seeing them all weekend! Amazing how learning about a species can open up a brand new world you never knew was there before.

Today we went to Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve in Woodland Township for the first time. The preserve is 1,227 acres of pitch pine/scrub oak woodlands. An interesting feature of the preserve is a spung. A spung is a hydrologically isolated wetland that relies entirely on rainfall/snowfall to maintain its water level and is habitat to rare plants/amphibians.

Our hike started off with some of the usual suspects: Eastern Wood-pewees, Eastern Phoebes, Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Towhees Gray Catbirds, Common Yellowthroats and woodpeckers. But we kept hearing an ascending buzzy sound. It turned out this was the sound of the park’s namesake: the Prairie Warbler. Despite its name, these warblers don’t live on prairies, they prefer scrubby pine forests. This makes Huber Preserve the perfect breeding habitat. We were able to see and hear these beautiful yellow and black warblers throughout the entire walk.

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Prairie Warbler (Image by David Horowitz)

At one point on the blue trail Dave heard a low bellowing call. We froze and listened. “Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo-HOO!” I couldn’t believe it. I could recognize that voice anywhere; it was a Barred Owl! It was in the distance, but we heard it call a few times. I’m so excited that we added our 2nd owl to our lifelist :-).

There are actually 2 spungs at the preserve: one on the green trail and the other on the red trail. I really wanted to go to the red trail spung (which was mentioned on their website), but we would have had to walk at least 3 miles (one way that is). You can bike at the preserve, so we will probably go back and bike to that spung. We did try to find the green trail spung, but its seems like it dried up. So no spungs for us today :-(. We did however see a Pine Warbler, more Great Crested Flycatchers, Ovenbirds, an American Redstart juvenile male, Black-and-White Warblers, and the Prairie Warblers/Barred Owl listed above, so it was a great day despite there being no spung. It was a fun weekend of adventures, and overall May was a great birding month for us.