Finally Fall!

Happy Autumn Equinox, my friends!

I’m back!

I missed writing on here. After our Cape Cod vacation mid-August, life got really crazy real fast. There were a lot of major transitions going into September (work/college starting up). Being a teacher, September is always chaotic and exhausting for me, so as much as I wanted to write I haven’t had the time. But I’m very happy that we finally made it to my favorite season.

The Autumn Equinox is taking place here in the United States today, September 22. Since we live in New Jersey, the equinox is occurring at 9:54 EST. “Equinox” is a Latin word that translates to “equal night”. Fun fact: the day and night are almost equal, but not quite. There are actually about 8 more minutes of daylight than of nighttime during an equinox.

Since we are now in a new season, I thought it was the perfect time to reflect on my summer and my year list. Here are the highlights:

  • I was lucky to spend a majority of my summer outside as a summer camp intern at Rancocoas Nature Center. I worked with amazing staff and students and learned so much about nature beyond birds. I started a Butterfly/Moth life list, saw tons of really cool fungi, went birding everyday (as well as taught the kids about birds), and learned to identify more plants/trees/insects. I also have occasionally been leading hikes on the weekends since camp ended, and am running my first birding program in October. 

  • My 200th bird: the Roseate Spoonbill! July 1, 2018 was an fantastic birding day for me. We started by seeing our first Yellow-crowned Night-herons (#199) at Ocean City, NJ. Afterwards we visited Forsythe, where the juvenile Roseate Spoonbill was with the other wading birds. I couldn’t have asked for a better 200th bird! We also saw our first Saltmarsh Sparrow in the same trip.

 

  • Cape Cod birding vacation. We spent a few days birding in Cape Cod, Massachusetts during mid-August. We added 3 new life list birds: Roseate Tern, Black Tern, and Great Shearwater. In addition to tons of birds, we went on an amazing seal tour(I actually have a few more Cape Cod posts coming soon!)

 

  • This summer was also special because I started studying a subject again that I haven’t thought about in a long time: astronomy.  I have loved learning about space since I was a little kid. I had a telescope, and I enjoyed looking for and learning about constellations, planets, and meteors. At Nauset Beach in Orleans, MA, we had a chance to see 4 planets in an arc with the moon: Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. Ever since that night, I subscribed to some astronomy sites, and spend each day looking up at the night sky and reading about space. Now I look for planets and stars in the sky in addition to my birds :-). (If you look closely in the picture below, you can see a faint Venus coming into view over the clouds)
The Moon with a faint Venus coming into view at Nauset Beach, MA (Image by BirdNation)

I added 14 birds to the Year List this summer, bring the total to 166 species so far this year. 7 of those 14 were life list birds: Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Chimney Swift, Black Tern, Roseate Tern, and Great Shearwater.

I can’t wait to “fall” into some autumn birding (Sorry, I couldn’t resist 😂).

Barnegat Light Records

On September 7th, Dave and I went birding at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. In our area that day it was supposed to be around 80 degrees (too hot for October in my opinion), so we escaped from the heat to the breezy shore.

We saw 12 American Oystercatchers on the beach, a personal record for us. Usually when we go to Barnegat Light we see T2’s family (a resident oystercatcher who you can read more about here), and sometimes an unbanded pair. So we were delighted to see such a high number of them. American Oystercatchers from South Carolina to Florida tend to be non-migratory. Many Northeastern populations use what is called “leap-frog” migration, where instead of migrating down the Atlantic Coast they winter in Northwest Florida (we learned our friend T2 does this, and winters in Cedar Key, Fl). American Oystercatchers will start forming pre-migration flocks in late summer and will migrate usually between mid-September and mid-November. Our group of 12 oystercatchers was probably one of those migration flocks. Our friend T2 was among them. I hope s/he has a safe migration and winter in Florida, and I hope to see T2 again for a 3rd year next summer.

There were also many smaller shorebirds running around the beach and on the jetty. These included Semipalmated Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers (in non-breeding plumage) , Least Sandpipers, and Ruddy Turnstones. It was fun watching them run around the rocks looking for food. There was somebody else watching these “peeps”, although not for the same reason we were.

Every once in a while, a Merlin would swoop by and startle the the shorebirds, sending them off in a frenzy flock to escape becoming lunch. Merlins are swift, little falcons who hunt prey by using high speed attacks. Shorebirds are one of the many menu options for Merlins, who like to feast on birds that weight between 1-2 oz. The first time we saw a Merlin at Barnegat Light was December 2016. It makes me wonder if it’s possibly the same one or another individual.

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Merlin in flight (Image by David Horowitz)

Each year, Brown Pelicans show up around Barnegat Light in late summer/early fall, and during our August LBI trip we saw a few for the first time. This time we saw 10 Brown Pelicans flying towards Island Beach State Park (which you can see from Barnegat Light). We saw each pelican fly by individually, but learned they sit on some small islands out in Barnegat Inlet near Island Beach. I’m so happy that we’ve been able to see the late summer Brown Pelicans this year.

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Brown Pelican over Barnegat Inlet (Image by David Horowitz)

Other highlights from our October LBI trip included a variety of gulls, a tern catching a fish and flying with it over our heads, and many Double-crested Cormorants.

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Tern with a fish (Image by David Horowitz)

We’ve had a few personal records this year at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. It was our first year seeing Brown Pelicans, we saw 12 American Oystercatchers in one visit, we’ve added a few birds to our life list, and we visited the park 5 times this year (as opposed to maybe twice per year in the past). I’m happy that we have been spending more time exploring and witnessing the seasons at Barnegat Light. I’m sure we will have a few more adventures on LBI for the remainder of the year, especially since the winter waterfowl will soon be on their way :-).

Hidden in Plain Sight

Dave and I took a trip to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR on Saturday.

It wasn’t our normal trip however.The wildlife drive is under construction. A few years ago Hurricane Sandy hit the shore hard, so the refuge is finally being revitalized the way it should be. The wildlife drive was only accessible up to Turtle Cove Tower and up Gull Pond Road (which is a very small part of the 8 mile drive). We were hoping that there would see be a lot of birds to see despite being limited.

As usual, the refuge was filled with thousands of birds. Now that the weather cooler, the waterfowl have returned! There were large flocks of  Canada Geese, Brant, Mallards, American Black Ducks, Buffleheads, and Northern Pintails. Large flocks of Dunlins and various gulls were present as well. Some other birds we saw included Double-crested Cormorants, Great Blue Herons, Song Sparrows, European Starlings, Northern Harriers, Ruddy Ducks, American Coots, and Mute Swans. There were even a few Horseshoe Crab shells on the beach.

We decided to drive up Gull Pond Rd, a first for us. When we arrived there was a small crowd (about 8 people) gathered by the reeds snapping pictures excitedly. I heard someone talking about Ruddy Ducks and Hooded Mergansers as we approached. So I started to wonder, “Is everyone taking pictures of a duck?”

We stopped by to investigate, but…it seemed like nothing was there. I searched the water. There must have been something, or people wouldn’t have been so excited. I was at a loss. So after a minute I turned to a lady who was standing behind us on top of her truck and asked:

“Excuse me… what are we looking at?”

She replied, “An American Bittern. It’s right in front of us in the reeds. See it now?”

And I did! There it was! Hiding in plain sight.

American Bitterns are part of the heron family. They are brown with strong stripes on their underparts. They look similar juvenile Night Herons. American Bitterns live in meadows and marshes with grassy or reedy vegetation. They are very inconspicuous. Spotting one is extremely difficult because their bold stripes help them blend into the reeds perfectly.

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American Bittern (Image by David Horowitz)

This bird was standing at the edge of the reeds. It was beautiful. We watched it for a few minutes as it watched us back. We took a few pictures then moved on. The American Bittern was a new addition to our life list.

You know the saying, “When one door closes, another one opens”? In our case when one road closed, another opportunity opened. Having most of the drive closed forced us to explore a different area, so we were able to find something new. That’s my favorite thing about birding, never knowing what amazing bird you’ll find. Maybe you’ll even find a bird hiding in plain sight.

 

 

 

Autumn

Autumn has become a special time of year for me. Autumn brings inevitable but important change. For me, it’s a time for reflection; not only about the past, but about my future. Feeling the cool breeze and the seeing changing colors make me feel invigorated. Seeing the new species arrive and the old migrate south fills me with wonder. There’s nothing quite like spending time outdoors in the crisp air and experiencing the beauty of nature on a sunny autumn day.

I don’t really share much of my personal life here unless it has to do with birds (of course!), but it’s been a rough few months for me. Circumstances beyond my control have consumed my time since mid-September, which I would have rather spent outdoors enjoying the season. This past weekend renewed my sense of calmness, because I was able to spend most of it outdoors. I feel like I was able to experience autumn of the first time this year over the past few days. Autumn is slowly repairing my bruised soul from the past few months. As time goes on, I find the more time I spend in nature, the happier I become.

I don’t have any pictures or stories about birds for this post (but have a few posts currently in the works about that, so stay tuned!). On Saturday I had a wonderful time at Smithville Park with my Mom and sister to celebrate my Mom’s birthday. On Sunday I spend a lovely day with my friends Casey and Cathe at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA. I wanted to share with you some of the autumn beauty that I experienced on those trips. I hope these pictures of the amazing season inspire you as well.

“Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.” -William Cullen Bryant

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Smithville Lake (Image by BirdNation)
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Path at Smithville Lake (Image by BirdNation)
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Lovely flowers at Longwood Gardens (Image by BirdNation)
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A dash of orange (Image by BirdNation at Longwood Gardens)
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The Farmhouse (Image by BirdNation at Longwood Gardens)

The following images were taken inside The Conservatory at Longwood Gardens. We were there during the Chrysanthemum Festival. These pictures were taken in many different rooms that housed hundreds of varieties of flowers. I do not know the names of these flowers, I just thought they were beautiful (if you know anything of them I would love to learn what they are).