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.

Orange-crowned Warbler Sunday

Hi, friends! Our warbler of the week is the Orange-crowned Warbler. It’s one of the few North American warblers that is more abundant in the Western US than the East.

Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothypis celata)

Descriptions:

Orange-crowned Warblers are one of the plainest New World warblers. Their plumage varies, but they tend to be yellowish or olive. Western Orange-crowns are yellower while Eastern birds are grayer, especially around the head. The orange crown described by their name is very rarely seen in the field. It’s usually only seen when the warbler raises its crest in agitation or excitement. Orange-crowned Warblers have small, sharp pointy bills, short square tails, and short wings. These features help distinguish them from other similar-looking warblers, such as Tennessee, Yellow, and Nashville Warblers. They are also slim and the brightest part of their plumage is usually the yellow under their tails. Orange-crowns also have a split eyering and thin dark eyelines.

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Orange-crowned Warbler in Texas (Image by Dan Pancamo via wikimedia commons)

Range:

Summer (breeding): Alaska and Canada, parts of the Western United States. Migrates throughout most of the Eastern and Midwestern United States. They migrate early in the spring and leave later in the fall. Winters further north than most other warblers. Instead of wintering in Central/South America like most wood warblers, Orange-crowns stay in the southern United States, Mexico, and some parts of California.

Habitat:

Shrubby vegetation, brushy deciduous undergrowth near or in forests.

Diet:

Mainly insects, some berries, nectar, and sap from woodpecker sapwells. They flutter around from branch to branch catching insects and will feed at flowers for nectar. In the winter Orange-crowned Warblers sometimes visits feeders looking for peanut butter and suet. They’ve even been spotted drinking from hummingbird feeders.

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Orange-crowned Warblers (Image by Easton Parkhurst via utahbirds.org)

Breeding/Nesting:

Orange-crowned Warblers tend to return to the same breeding spot each year. Males return first and sing to defend the territory. The female builds the nest low to the ground and covers it with vegetation. It takes her about 4 days to build an open nest cup out of a variety of grasses/twigs and lined with animal hair/grasses. The male does not assist with building the nest but will keep a close watch over the female.

3-6 white and reddish brown-speckled eggs are laid and incubated for about 11-13 days by the female. Both parents will feed the young, who will fledge 10-13 days after hatching. The parents will feed the young for a few days after they leave the nest.

Sounds:

A trilling song that may rise up then fall at the end: chee chee chee chew chew! The songs vary geographically. Males form “song neighborhoods” where males who live in adjacent territories will mimic each others songs.

Conservation:

Populations have declined slightly since the late 60s, but are generally stable. These warblers don’t face many of the same issues that other warblers do, such as deforestation in tropical areas, since their wintering grounds are farther north.

Fun Facts: 

  • There are 4 subspecies of Orange-crowned Warblers: the Pacific Coast lutescens, who are brighter yellow; the celatathe grayest and dullest form in Canada and Alaska; orestera found in the Rocky Mountains/Great Basin who are intermediate in color; and the sordida,  he darkest green form found only on the Channel Islands and small parts of California and Baja, California.
  • Orange-crowned Warblers breed in more forest types than any other warbler. They like open woodland and can be found in oak, laurel, fir-aspen, maple, willow, alder, and chaparral (to name a few).

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

On Sunday Dave and I took a day trip to Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope, Pennsylvania. We visited Bowman’s Hill in fall of 2015 with Dave’s parents, but this is the first time we went to go birding.

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve is a botanical garden and sanctuary for Pennsylvania’s native plants. In 1934, the Washington Crossing State Commission set aside 100 acres of land near Bowman’s Tower as a memorial to the famous crossing of the Delaware River during the American Revolution (you can read more about this and our trip to the NJ Washington Crossing trip here). This land later became the Wildflower Preserve (which is now 134 acres).

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A View from a Bridge (Image by BirdNation)

The Preserve has a variety of habitats including a meadow, a pond, woodlands, and Pidcock Creek. There’s a lot to see: lots of flowers (of course!), log cabins, and a three-arched stone bridge from the Great Depression. It’s also a birding hotspot; around 110 bird species can be found throughout the year, including up to 31 warblers during peak migration. One of the highlights is the Platt Collection located in the Visitor’s Center. In 1972, ornithologist Charles Platt donated a collection of over 200 nests, 600 eggs, and nearly 100 taxidermy birds. It’s quite an exhibit!

Dave and I ended up walking through most of the Preserve. We started at the feeders near the Visitor’s Center, where we saw Tufted Titmice, chickadees (not sure if they were Carolina or Black-capped), Downy Woodpeckers, and American Goldfinches. Once on the trails we saw Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Eastern Phoebes, Turkey Vultures, Wood Ducks, a Belted Kingfisher, and a Brown Creeper (to name a few).

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Brown Creeper (Image by BirdNation) (Sorry it’s a little blurry!)

The highlight of our trip though was seeing our first warblers of the 2017 spring season: Palm Warblers! We were near the Medicinal Trail when we saw a flash of yellow fly into one of the trees. It was a lone Palm Warbler pumping it’s tail and swiftly moving from branch to branch. It was the first Palm Warbler we’ve seen since our first ones at Palmyra Cove in 2015! I was overjoyed to finally see one again! We saw a few more along the Evergreen Trail. It’s always an exciting moment to see your first warbler of the spring :-).

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Palm Warbler (Image by BirdNation)
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Palm Warbler (Image by BirdNation)

We had a wonderful afternoon visiting Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve. There weren’t a ton of flower out yet, but we did see some pretty ones along the trails. I’d be interested in returning to the Preserve closer to the summer to see more flowers and warblers.

If you are ever in Buck Country, Pennsylvania, I highly recommend spending some time at Bowman’s Hill. It’s a great place to hike any time of the year. If you’d like to learn more information about the Preserve, check out the link below.

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve website

 

 

Common Yellowthroat Sunday

Today’s featured warbler is the Common Yellowthroat, which can be found throughout most of the United States during the breeding season.

Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)

Description:

Common Yellowthroats are small warblers with a round head and medium-length rounded tail. Males have olive upperparts and yellow throats/chests. Their most unique and distinctive feature is a broad black face mask. They have a thin white line across their forehead that contrasts the black mask. Females are a dull olive-gray color with a faint yellow throat.

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Male Common Yellowthroat (Image by the USFWS via wikimedia commons)

Range:

Summer (breeding): Canada and most of the United States, with the Southwest being less common. Migrates through parts of California and Texas. Winters in Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Found Year-Round in the Southeastern United States to the Gulf Coast, and parts of California, Meixco, and Baja, California

Habitat:

Common Yellowthroats are the only wood warbler that nests in open marshes. Found in reed beds, swamps, briars, streams, overgrown fields, pine forests, and brushy thick areas. They tend to avoid dry habitats.

Diet:

Mainly insects and sometimes seeds. They tend to forage low in the trees, bushes, and other low vegetation growth. They glean insects off the foliage or forage on the ground, and sometimes will catch an insect in mid-air.

Breeding/Nesting:

Males may court females by doing a flight display where he flies up then lands on a perch to sing. They will also follow the female or flick their tails. Males arrive to defend their breeding grounds earlier than the females and fight more intensely after the females arrive. A female will signal that she’s ready to mate with her partner by fluttering her wings and chipping rapidly. This behavior attracts more males than her mate however, so it’s possibly that the female with also mate with a male who’s not her partner.

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Common Yellowthroat Felmale (Image by Tom Grey via birdnote.org)

The female will spend between 4-5 days constructing a nest close to or on the ground. She starts by building a platform of leaves and grasses then weaves together the cup with sedge and grasses. She lays between 3-5 eggs that are white with black or brown spots. The female incubates the eggs for about 12 days while being fed by the male. Common Yellowthroat nests are frequently parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds (I experienced a Yellowthroat adult feeding a cowbird chick once, you can read about it here). Both parents will feed the young, who fledge between 8-12 days after hatching. Common Yellowthroat chicks stay dependent on their parents after fledging for longer than most other warbler chicks do.

Sounds:

witchity-witchity-witchity! or which-is-it, which-is-it

Conservation:

Although still pretty widespread, populations have declined due to the draining of salt marshes.

Fun Facts:

  • There are 13 races of Common Yellowthroats, which differ slightly based off their face mask patterns and the brightness of their yellow. The brightest Yellowthroats live in the Southwestern United States.
  • Common Yellowthroats mainly migrate at night.

Yellow Warbler Sunday

Today I wanted to feature my favorite North American Warbler: the Yellow Warbler. Here are some fascinating facts about these adorable and bright birds.

  • Yellow Warblers are one of the most widely distributed wood-warblers. They breed throughout a majority of the United States and Canada up to the Arctic Circle, and winter as far south as Mexico and parts of Northwest South America.
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Yellow Warbler (Image by Gerrit Vyn via allaboutbird.org)
  • Yellow Warblers, as their name suggest, have bright yellow plumage throughout their whole body. Females and immature birds are a paler yellow than the males. Males have faint chestnut-colored streaking down their breasts. All Yellows have elongated bodies, edging on their wings, plain faces, large black eyes with faint eyerings, and straight black bills.
  • There are numerous races/subspecies of Yellow Warblers. They are usually split into three main groups (that can be further split into even smaller races): Yellow Warblers (United States/Canada), Mangrove Warblers (Central and South America), and Golden Warblers (West Indies). The groups are determined mainly by the head color of the male. Mangrove Warblers are chestnut-hooded and Gold Warblers have chestnut caps.
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“Golden” Yellow Warbler (Image by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble via wikimedia commons)
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“Mangrove” Yellow Warbler (Image by Charles J. Sharp, sharpphotography.co.uk)
  • You can find Yellow Warblers in wooded areas along streams, lakes, and marshes. They tend to prefer willow, cottonwood, and alder trees. They also can be found in orchards and waterside thickets. In their winter they live in sub-tropical habitats in towns, woodland edges, and open-country.
  • They will forage from low in the tree up to the top, but males tend to forage higher up than females.
  • Yellow Warblers mainly eat insects and sometimes berries. Two-thirds of their diet can be made up of various species of caterpillars.
  • Yellow Warblers build small but sturdy nest cups that are found in a vertical fork of a small tree or bush. However, because they are usually in an open areas, they are frequently parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds. Many Yellow Warblers can figure out when there is a Cowbird egg in their nest, so they will build another layer over the intruding egg and bury it. Unforunately, when this happens their real eggs get buried too, so they are essentially starting their nest over. Some Yellow Warbler nests have been found with 5 to 6 layers because the Cowbird would continue to try to lay its eggs and the warbler would keep burying them!
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Yellow Warbler nest with hatchlings at Boundary Creek (Image by David Horowitz)
  • A male Yellow Warbler will defend his territory by singing or using a circle flight display.
  • Breeding pairs are monogamous and may stay together for more than one nesting season.
  • Yellow Warblers arrive at their breeding range in late April/May and some leave right after their young fledge (early July). However, some stay later into August or linger into the fall.
  • The oldest-known recorded Yellow Warbler was an 11-year-old female. The maximum age of wild Yellow Warblers is usually 10-years-old.
  • Males sing a bright and melodic song. It’s so cheery that many people say it sounds like sweet-sweet-I’m-so-sweet! (I’ll agree with that! haha :-))

What is your favorite species of warbler? Tell me about it in the comments.

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Singing Yellow Warbler (Image by BirdNation)

Palm Warbler Sunday

Hi everyone! Now that it’s spring it’s time to start a new weekly feature. We are a week into spring and I’ve already seen many spring migrants in my neck of the wood. Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, American Oystercatchers, Killdeer, Eastern Phoebes, and Osprey are just a few of the migrants arriving in New Jersey. Over the next 2 months, many more bird species will be arriving in North America after their winter breaks, including one of my favorite groups: the warblers.

Warblers tend to be some of the later spring migrants, with many arriving in late April/early May. I thought now would be the perfect time for us to starting learning about warblers so we’ll be ready to identify them when they arrive. Our first warbler will be one of the early migrants: the Palm Warbler.

Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum)

Description:

Palm Warblers have prominent rusty caps that they show off while constantly pumping their tails. Their upperparts are brown with tan wing bars and underparts are yellow with faint brownish stripes. They have a very noticable supercilium (“eyebrow”) above their eyes. Their tails are long and square, block black base and white tips. Males and females have similar plumage.

 

Range:

Winters in Florida, the Gulf Coast, the southern Atlantic Coast, the Caribbean, and some parts of Central America. Migrates through the Eastern part of the United States. Summer (breeding) in Canada.

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Palm Warbler (Image by Corinne Errico via njaudubon.org)

Habitat:

During migration, Palm Warblers can be found in woodlands, near ponds and streams, and open pastures. At their breeding grounds, they live in open boreal coniferous forests and bogs that contain tamaracks, spruce, cedar, and pine trees. They tend to stay in the lower parts of the tree, in bushes/thickets, or on the ground.

Diet:

Insects, berries, and seeds. They may glean insects off of leaves or catch them in mid air. During the winter they will usually forage on the ground.

Breeding/Nesting:

Palm Warblers arrive on their breeding grounds in April and the female will start building her nest by early May. Males may have more than one mate. Females build a small open cup nest in low trees near the trunk or on the ground. She weaves a variety of grasses and other plant materials together on top of sphagnum moss. She will usually conceal the nest with a clump of grass and line the inside with feathers.

The female lays 4-5 creamy white eggs with brown spots. The eggs are incubated for around 12 days. Sometimes Palms deal with brood parasitism by Brown Cowbirds.However, they will usually discover the intruding egg and cover it to add an extra layer to the bottom of the nest. Both parents will feed the chicks and within 12 days the young are taking their first short flights. Palms can possibly have 2 broods per year.

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Palm Warbler (Image via pintrest/fineartamerica.com)

Sounds:

A weak trill song, a chip or tsip call

Conservation:

There are currently no major threats against Palm Warblers in their winter or summer habitats, and their population is considered stable.

Fun Facts: 

  • Being called “Palm” these birds sound more tropical, but they actually live farther north than many other warblers.
  • There are 2 subspecies of Palm Warblers. Western Palms have white bellies and paler breasts, while Eastern Palms are yellower and patchier.
  • In their winter grounds of Florida you may see a Palm Warbler near palm groves, but you won’t find them in the palm trees themselves.

 

I’ve only ever seen one Palm Warbler so far. It was at Palmyra Nature Cove and was my first warbler I learned to identify. Have you seen a Palm Warbler? Tell me in the comments below.