Life After 200

Hi friends! Hope you are all doing well.

I haven’t written since my 200th species post…but I have been outside everyday. I’m working at a nature camp this summer, so I’ve been doing plenty of hiking and learning an awful lot about nature that’s not bird-related. I’ve been having a blast (and am also exhausted  but in a good way, which is why I haven’t been writing lol). Shameless self promotion: I’ve also been posting on Instagram everyday @birdnation123, so if you haven’t followed us yet you should check it out! Sometimes I post pics there that are not featured on the blog, so don’t miss out on the fun 😉

Dave and I went birding twice this weekend to 3 different locations. Saturday we spent some time at Maria B. Greenwald Memorial Park for the first time in a few months. It was a fairly quiet evening: lots of cardinals, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, American Robins, and a family of Canada Geese out on a stroll.

The pace of the evening sped up when we made it back to the parking area. The sun was starting to set and many small birds started zooming through the air. They were flying like swallows but had the wrong shape. They were our first Chimney Swifts! And they don’t call them swifts for nothing! They were so fast as they tried to catch insects that it was hard to get a good look at them. I managed to get a silhouette of a swift’s distinct scimitar-shaped wings.

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Chimney Swift silhouette (Image by BirdNation)

Chimney Swifts can be found throughout the eastern half of the United States in cities and towns. They used to nest in trees, but are now found almost always nesting in…well you probably guessed it…chimneys. Here’s what one looks like when they aren’t swiftly flying past your binoculars.

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(Image by Jayne Amico/Mount Vernon Songbird Sanctuary)

Sunday we made our way to one of our favorite birding spots, Barnegat Lighthouse SP. Highlights included Brown Pelicans, tons of gulls, Ruddy Turnstones, Osprey, and American Oystercatchers.

We did observe one Piping Plover. I’m guessing that the Piping Plover may be Pete and Phoebe’s offspring. The plover was not banded and its bill was mainly black. Adult Piping Plovers have orange bills with black tips, and this plover had much more black than orange.

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Young Piping Plover (Image by BirdNation)

On our way off Long Beach Island, we stopped at a new birding location. Edwin B. Forsythe NWR has a new unit as of the end of June: Cedar Bonnet Island in Stafford Township. Over 20 acres of salt marsh are under restoration to provide a habitat for birds migrating along the coast. The one-mile trail opened recently, and there’s quite a lovely view of the marsh. We saw 29 species in our short visit, including Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, a Spotted Sandpiper, a Little Blue Heron, Song Sparrows, Glossy Ibis, and many Ospreys. By this point in our trip it was raining so I didn’t take my good camera out, but did capture this view of the salt marsh on my phone.

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Cedar Bonnet Island (Image by BirdNation)

We definitely plan on stopping back to Cedar Bonnet Island on our next LBI trip. I’m happy to know more of New Jersey’s shoreline is being preserved to help our coastal flora and fauna.

 

 

 

 

 

Misty Cape May Morning

Today we took our first summer birding trip down to Cape May Point State Park. It was a really hot day, around 90 degrees, but we still managed to see 30 species birds. On the drive down it was pretty foggy, and it was still pretty misty by the time we got down to the Point.

Misty Morning at the Hawkwatch Platform Pond (Image by BirdNation)

Bird species along the main trail included Mute Swans, Mallards, Tree Swallows, Common Yellowthroats (heard), Forster’s Terns, Laughing Gulls, Ospreys, Northern Mockingbirds, Purple Martins, Canada Geese, an Eastern Kingbird,and Red-winged Blackbirds. There were also hundreds of tiny toads hopping across the trail.

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Tree Swallow (Image by BirdNation)
Purple Martin female
Purple Martin female (Image by BirdNation)

We had a few fun surprises on the beach. Two Brown Pelicans flew by over the ocean.

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Brown Pelicans (Image by BirdNation)

After I took the above picture the pelicans skimmed very close to the ocean’s surface. They used an aerodynamic phenomenon call the “ground effect”. As the pelicans fly close to the water with their full wingspan, the air is “funneled” between their wings and the ocean surface. This effect allows the birds to stay aloft and increases efficiency. Eventually the bird must gain some speed by flapping and slightly ascending in order to continue its glide. Many birds use the ground effect over water, but this principal also works on land.

Another interesting thing to note about these Brown Pelicans: the bird on the left is an adult and the one on the right is immature. You can see the whitish-yellow of the adult’s head that the immature bird lacks.

We also spotted pods of dolphins! They were relatively close to the beach, and would occasionally leap out of the water (wish I captured that in a picture!).

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Bottlenose Dophin Fins (Image by BirdNation)

There were also many pairs of American Oystercatchers. Some pairs were just strolling along the beach together, while others were guarding/sitting on eggs. This pair has a banded Oystercatcher, so I’ll submit my band findings to the American Oystercatcher Working Group and let you know what I find out.

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Taking a stroll (Image by BirdNation)
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Banded American Oystercatcer (Image by BirdNation)

This couple added some furnishings to their nest site…

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Decorating the Nest (Image by BirdNation)

We were also really lucky to catch a glimpse of this couple’s two eggs (from a safe distance behind the barrier zooming in with the camera of course!) It was our first time seeing American Oystercatcher eggs.

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American Oystercatcher Eggs (Image by BirdNation)

Our final beach surprised was a Sanderling in breeding plumage. It was all by itself, so I wonder where its flock mates went. Sanderlings are usually at the shore in the winter, so I think this little guy missed the memo that its summertime now.

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Sanderling in breeding plumage (Image by BirdNation)

Our misty Cape May trip was a great way to start off our summer birding.

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!

 

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.

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BirdNation’s Global Big Day

For Global Big Day, we went birding at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. We observed a total of 60 species, including 1 life list bird.

Here’s our official checklist:

  • 173 Brant
  • 34 Canada Geese
  • 14 Mute Swans
  • 2 Wood Ducks
  • 10 Mallards
  • 7 American Black Ducks
  • 9 Green-winged Teals
  • 14 Double-crested Cormorants
  • 3 Great Blue Herons
  • 13 Great Egrets
  • 17 Snowy Egrets
  • 42 Glossy Ibis
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Glossy Ibis (Image by BirdNation)
  • 3 Turkey Vultures
  • 15 Osprey
  • 1 Bald Eagle
  • 1 American Coot
  • 5 American Oystercatchers
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American Oystercatcher (Image by BirdNation)
  • 57 Semipalmated Plovers
  • 33 Dunlin
  • 54 Semipalmated Sanpipers
  • 70 Short-billed Dowitchers
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Short-billed Dowitchers (Image by David Horowitz)
  • 1 Spotted Sandpiper
  • 36 Greater Yellowlegs
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Greater Yellowlegs (Image by David Horowitz)
  • 20 Willets
  • 2 Bonaparte’s Gulls
  • 12 Laughing Gulls
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Laughing Gull and Gull-billed Tern (Image by David Horowitz)
  • 32 Herring Gulls
  • 10 Great Black-backed Gulls
  • 5 Gull-billed Terns
  • 7 Caspian Terns (life list bird)
  • 60 Forster’s Terns
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Forster’s Terns (Image by BirdNation)
  • 2 Mourning Doves
  • 4 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
  • 2 Downy Woodpeckers
  • 1 Eastern Wood-Pewee
  • 1 Eastern Kingbird
  • 7 American Crows
  • 14 Purple Martins
  • 8 Tree Swallows
  • 2 Barn Swallows
  • 3  Carolina Chickadees
  • 4 Tufted Titmice
  • 5 Marsh Wrens
  • 2 Carolina Wrens
  • 5 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers
  • 5 American Robins
  • 11 Gray Catbirds
  • 2 European Starlings
  • 1 Black-and-white Warbler
  • 18 Common Yellowthroats
  • 10 Yellow Warblers
  • 2 Prairie Warblers
  • 3 Chipping Sparrows
  • 7 Savannah Sparrows
  • 3 Song Sparrows
  • 2 Northern Cardinals
  • 41 Red-winged Blackbirds
  • 2 Brown-headed Cowbirds
  • 5 American Goldfinches
  • 1 House Sparrow

Did you go birding for Global Big Day? Where did you go and how many birds did you see? Tell us about it in the comments!

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 :-).

2017: A Year In Review

There’s something about the end of a calendar year that puts people in a reflective mood. Many people like to think back on the past year and establish goals for the future year.

2017 was a wonderful birding year for Dave and I. We went birding in 5 states, saw some cool rarities, and spent tons of time enjoying nature. So since it’s New Year’s Eve, I wanted to share my favorite birds and birding moments of 2017.

January: A Rare Experience

My mom, sister, and I observed a American White Pelican at the Jersey Shore on January 6th, a rarity at that time of year!

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American White Pelican (Image by BirdNation)

February: Great Backyard Bird Count

We had our most successful Great Backyard Bird Count so far, by observing 45 different species and over 5,000 individual birds in 4 days!

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Male Northern Shoveler (Image by David Horowitz)

March: Goodbye Winter

Our first Barnegat Light trip of 2017 included our first time seeing Red-breasted Mergansers at the lighthouse, our first ever Ipswich Savannah Sparrows, and a lone Black Skimmer!

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Red-breasted Merganser (Image by David Horowitz)

April: A Strawbridge Surprise

A surprise Pied-billed Grebe at Strawbridge Lake!

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Pied-billed Grebe (Image by BirdNation)

May: 

May was filled with tons of great birding moments! Some favorites included: our first Prairie Warbler and hearing a Barred Owl, going on vacation in Maryland and Delaware, and seeing our first Great Horned Owlet.

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Prairie Warbler (Image by David Horowitz)

June:

In June we got to reconnected with one of our favorite local celebrities, American Oystercatcher T2 of Barnegat Light, who had a family in tow. We also saw our first Northern Bobwhite and a Least Tern nest!

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Northern Bobwhite (Image by David Horowitz)

July

Three words: Double Day Trip!

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Spotted Sandpiper (Image by David Horowitz)

August

Surprise Rhode Island vacation!

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Sail Boats at Dusk (Image by BirdNation)

September

Wood Stork for our birthdays and our first American Birding Expo!

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Wood Stork (Image by David Horowitz)

October: Call of the Grackle

Our first Boat-tailed Grackles on our 9 year anniversary!

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Boat-tailed Grackle on sign (Image by BirdNation)

November: Island Beach State Park

Our first Northern Gannets and the return of winter visitors at Island Beach State Park! Also our first Short-eared Owl at Palmyra.

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Sanderling (Image by BirdNation)

December: A Snowy Christmas Eve

Our first ever Snowy Owl at Holgate!

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Snowy Owl (Image by David Horowitz)

We had a fantastic 2017! I’m looking forward to more amazing birding adventures in 2018. Happy New Year!