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!

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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 :-).

 

 

The Waders: Wood Stork

This week’s featured Wading Bird is the Wood Stork. Last year on my birthday, we saw a juvenile Wood Stork in Cape May, NJ. Since the Wood Stork range is the southeastern United States, our Wood Stork was considered a rarity and delighted many excited birders for a few weeks in NJ.

Description:

Adult:

  • Large bird, standing at about 3 feet tall
  • Mainly white with black flight feathers
  • Bald, scaly looking heads
  • Thick curved black bill with long neck
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Wood Stork adult (Image by Wilfredo Lee/AP via nrp.org)

 

Juvenile:

  • Similar plumage colors to adult
  • Pale bill that darkens with age
  • Grayish feathers on neck

Range:

South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, the Caribbean, coasts of Mexico

Habitat:

Cypress swamps, lagoons, marshes, ponds. Mainly freshwater habitats

Diet:

  • Fish, reptiles, invertebrates, amphibians, aquatic insects, nestlings
  • Forages in shallow water with bill partially open; snaps bill close in contact with prey
  • Sometimes uses its feet to stir up prey or flaps to startle prey

Breeding/Nesting:

  • Courtship: A male starts off aggressive towards a female, but once he accepts her into the territory will bring her sticks and preen her. Pairs stay together for one breeding season.
  • Nesting: Colonial nesters in trees above standing water. Nesting locations include mangroves, stands of cypress trees, or flooded impoundments. The pair will construct a nest of sticks that is lined with greenery and guano. The nest will end up being 3- 5 feet wide and take 2-3 days to construct.
  • Young: Both parents will incubate 3-5 eggs for 28-32 days. The young are fed by both parents and will be guarded in the nest by a parent for about 5 weeks. First flights occur around 8 weeks, but the young will usually stick around the nest to be fed and to sleep until about 11 weeks.
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Wood Stork juvenile (Image by David Horowitz)

Vocalizations:

Usually silent except during nest. Young makes clattering bill noises while adults make croaking sounds.

Conservation:

Wood Storks are considered uncommon. Their populations have declined over the years. Threats include changes in water levels, nest predation  from terrestrial animals, and habitat degradation.

Fun Facts:

  • The Wood Stork is the only native stork species in North America.
  • When temperatures  rise in the late afternoon, Wood Storks will soar high in the thermals just like raptors.
  • Wood Storks used to be known as the “wood ibis”, even though they are not ibises.

 

You can check out our previous Wading Bird post about Black-crowned Night-Herons here.

The Waders: Black-crowned Night-Heron

This week’s featured Wader is the Black-crowned Night-Heron. (You can check out last week’s featured Wader, the Roseate Spoonbill, here.)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Description:

Adult:

  • Medium-sized, stocky heron
  • Large head, rarely extends neck
  • Whitish to pale gray belly
  • Gray wings
  • Black cap/back/bill
  • Red eyes
  • Short yellow legs
  • Long white plumes from head during breeding seasons
  • South American subspecies Dusky in plumage
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Black-crowned Night-Heron Breeding Adult (Image by David Horowitz)

Juvenile/Immature:

  • Brown overall and heavily streaked
  • Thick neck and yellow and black bill
  • Large white spots on wing coverts
  • Immature/1st Summer a mix of Juvenile and Adult features

Range: 

  • Year-Round: Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast, parts of Pacific Coast, Florida
  • Summer: Most of the United States, parts of Canada
  • Winter: Mexico

Habitat:

Marshes, wetlands, swamps, wooded streams, lakes

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Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron (Image by David Horowitz)

Diet:

Amphibians, fish, small mammals, insects, crustaceans. Black-crowned Night-Herons forage most actively at night and early morning. They will stand in one spot and wait for prey before striking. Night-Herons will also slowly forage along the shoreline or from a perch. These birds have been known to steal chicks from the nests of other herons.

Breeding/Nesting:

  • Courtship: Black-crowned Night-Herons start breeding around the age of 2. Males will choose a nest site to display from. To attract females, the male will raise his neck and ruffle his feathers. He may also bow while alternating lifting his feet.
  • Nesting Site: Night-Herons are colonial nesters who roost in trees. The female will build a nest of sticks with some assistance from the male.
  • Young: Both parents will incubate 3-5 greenish-blue eggs for 21-26 days. The young are fed by regurgitation. They begin to fly around 6 weeks of age, and will start to follow the parents for food shortly after flight.

Vocalization: 

A loud kwok!, mainly heard at night. In the breeding colony, a variety of barks and croaks

Conservation: 

Although quite inconspicuous, due to their nocturnal nature, Black-crowned Night-Herons are fairly common. They are a good indicator species for the quality of the environment in which they live since they feed at the top of the food chain.

Fun Facts: 

  • Black-crowned Night-Herons are the most widespread heron in the world. They are found on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica.
  • Young Night-Herons don’t reach adult plumage until around the age of 3.
  • They are one of the seven heron species known to use bait-fishing. They will toss an object in the water to attract prey within their striking range.
  • The Black-crowned Night-Heron’s scientific name Nycticorax nycticorax means “night raven”.
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Black-crowned Night-Heron (By Tom Grey via birdnote.org)

 

Sources:
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-crowned_Night-Heron/overview
https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/black-crowned-night-heron
http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/blackcrown.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black-crowned_night_heron

 

 

 

The Waders: Roseate Spoonbill

This week’s featured Wading Bird is the gregarious and striking Roseate Spoonbill. (Last week’s wader, the Great Egret, can be found here). 

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Roseate Spoonbill adult  (Image by Purio via rio.wikia.com)

Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)

Description:

Adults:

  • Pale pink plumage with brighter pink on their rumps and shoulders
  • Distinct “spoon” at the end of a long bill
  • Long, partially-feathered, white neck that is an “S”-shape at rest
  • Small, yellowish-green heads with red eyes

Juveniles:

  • Even paler pink than the adults, almost white
  • Completely feathered head for 3 years until adult plumage

Range:

  • Resident: Florida, the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, coasts of Mexico, the Caribbean
  • Short-Distance Migrant depending on changes in food source/water levels

Habitat:

Coastal marshes, mudflats, tidal ponds, lagoons, shallow water, both salt and fresh water.

Diet: 

Crustaceans, fish, aquatic insects. They forage by sweeping their partially opened bill in water less than 5 inches deep. They swallow their prey whole.

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Juvenile Roseate Spoonbill By Andrea Westmoreland from DeLand, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Breeding/Nesting:

  • Courtship: The males and females will begin their courtship with aggressive behavior, but later end up perching closely together. The pair will also clasp/cross their bills together and exchange sticks. Pairs last for one breeding season.
  • Nesting Site: Colonial, usually with other waders such as ibises, herons, and egrets. Nest on islands, mangroves, or over water in the shadiest part of the tree.
  • Young: 2-3 (sometimes 1-5) white eggs incubated by both parents for 22-24 days. 1 brood per year. Chicks are born with white natal down and fed by both parents. Young leave the nest around 5-6 weeks and flights occurs at 7-8 weeks.

Vocalization:

Silent except at breeding colony. Grunting huh-huh-huh-huh. A low raspy rrek-ek-ek-ek. 

Conservation: 

Uncommon, but population has slightly increased in recent years. Threats include habitat degradation, human disturbance due to boating, water quality, and salinity of the water.

Fun Facts: 

  • When a flock of Roseate Spoonbills flies over feeding spoonbills, the feeding birds will “Sky Gaze”, a posture where they lift their bills and point them towards the sky.’
  • They are pink in color due to their diet. The shrimp and other crustaceans they consume contain the carotenoind cantaxanthin. 
  • Roseate Spoonbills are the only spoonbill species (out of 6) to live in the Americas.

 

The Waders: Great Egret

Now that it’s springtime, the wading birds have arrived. Wading Birds are not the same as Shorebirds (although shorebirds wade through water too). Wading birds include herons, egrets, ibises, flamingos, storks, spoonbills, and night-herons. This week’s featured wader is the stunning Great Egret.

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

Description:

  • Large, slender white bird
  • Long, S-shaped neck
  • Dagger-like yellow-orange bill
  • Black legs
  • Green lores
  • Breeding adults display aigrettes, long feathery plumes its back
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Great Egret (Image by BirdNation)

Range:

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Great Egret range map (Image via Cornell Lab of Ornithology, allaboutbirds.org)

Habitat: 

Marine, freshwater, and brackish wetlands. Ponds, lakes, marshes, impoundments, tidal flats, streams, rivers

Diet:

Small fish, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates, birds, small mammals. Wades through the water or stands still, and uses spear-like bill to catch prey. May forage alone or in small groups.

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Great Egret Swallowing a Fish (Image by BirdNation)

Breeding/Nesting:

  • Courtship: Breeding adults will grow large aigrettes (plumes) for display. Displays include preening, holding/shaking a twig in its bill, and neck stretching. Great Egrets are monogamous for the breeding season, but its unknown if pair bonds last multiple years.
  • Nesting Site: Males will begin constructing a nest, and the female will help complete it. Nests are usually over water in a tree, about 100 feet off the ground. Often found in mixed colonies of other wading birds.
  • Young: 1-6 eggs are incubated by both parents for 23-27 days. The chicks are covered in white down, and are tended to for 21-25 days. The chicks are fed by regurgitation. They will usually leave the nest about 3 weeks, and can fly within 6-7 weeks.
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Great Egret with breeding plumage (Image by BirdNation)

Vocalizations: 

Guttural croak.

Conservation:

In the nineteenth and early twentieth, 95% of the North American Great Egrets were hunted for their plumes. Plume hunting was banned around 1910, and the population has recovered considerably. Populations are now considered stable. Breeding ranges have been moving northward in recent years.

Fun Facts: 

  • Great Egrets are also found in part of Asia, Africa, South America, and Southern Europe.
  • The Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society.
  • A breeding colony can easily have over 1,000 Great Egret nests.
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Great Egret (Image by BirdNation)