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 :-).

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Great Gray Owl Wednesday

This week’s featured owl is the captivating and mysterious Great Gray Owl of the northern boreal forests.

Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)

Great Gray Owls are one of the tallest owls in the world, standing at around 3 feet tall with a 5 foot wingspan. But don’t let it’s height fool you; it’s body size is an illusion. Weighting at only 2.5 pounds, Great Gray Owls have a small body core and an impressive number of fluffy feathers that make them seem bigger than they really are. Other North American owls, such as the Snowy Owl and Great Horned Owl are much larger in mass.

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Cross-section taxidermy from the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen shows it’s body core compared to its feathers (Image by FunkMonk via wikimedia commons)

These owls sport beautiful silvery gray, white, and brown plumage. They have long tails and huge facial disks that have gray and brown concentric circles. In between their bright yellow eyes, Great Gray Owls have two pale arcs that form an “X” shape. Another distinctive feature is the white “bow tie”, which are patches of white feathers on their throats. Females are slightly larger and darker than males.

Range:

Canada and the Pacific Northwest, as well as Scandinavia, Mongolia, Russia, and Siberia. When food is scarce, some owls will irrupt southeast to the northern Midwestern and Northeastern regions of the United States. An irruption is an irregular migration to a location that is not normally part of a bird’s range, usually due to food scarcity.

Habitat: 

Boreal forest, also know as taiga, with a combination of mixed woods/conifers and openings such as sedge meadows and wetlands in lowland areas. Also fir and pine forest next to montane meadows (ecosystems with seasonally moist to waterlogged soil)

Diet:

Mainly small mammals, such as voles, pocket squirrels, mice, weasels, and other rodents. A small percentage of their diet is other birds. Great Gray Owls have terrific hearing and will mainly hunt by sound while sitting on a perch or gliding silently over the snow. Their large facial disks help them focus the sound, and they use their asymmetrical ears to locate the prey. They will plunge over a foot into snow to catch rodents. These owls mainly hunt at dusk and dawn.

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Great Gray Owl (Image via pinterest)

Breeding/Nesting:

Great Gray Owls do not build their own nests, they use abandoned raptor or corvid nests. They generally choose a nest near an open bog or meadow. Pairs are monogamous during breeding season. Males will feed the female as a courtship behavior and the pair will allopreen (preen each other). 

Snow depth seems to determine when a female will lay eggs. Depending on the region egg laying can take place anywhere between mid-March and late May. Females will start incubating the eggs after the first one is laid. A brood may have between 2-5 eggs. After 28-36 days of incubation by the female, the eggs will hatch. The male will supply the food while the female feeds the young for about 3 weeks. At that point, the owlets may start to slowly venture from the nest. The female will usually abandon them to be taken care of by the male after they owlets fledge. Great Gray Owls generally have 1 brood, but may breed multiple times if prey is abundant.

Vocalizations:

Deep, powerful whoos that may be repeated up to 10 times and descend in pitch towards the end. Females are higher-pitched than the males. A bi-syllabic contact call: doo-it doo-it. 

Conservation/Status:

Due to their elusive nature, it’s difficult for ornithologists to get a clear number on population. Estimates are around 31,000 individuals in North America. They are considered “vulnerable” in some areas. The greatest threat to Great Gray Owls is timber harvest, and land management programs are in place to protect their habitat. It’s unclear how climate change and its effect on rodent populations will impact Great Gray Owls.

Fun Facts:

  • Most of the year these owls are nocturnal, but they tend to be more diurnal in the summer and midwinter. Some scientist believe their proportionally small eye-size contributes to a partially-diurnal lifestyle.
  • Great Gray Owls tend to be less aggressive than other raptors in general, but will fiercely defend their nests and young. They are also one of the few owls that have been documented in performing distraction displays to lure intruders away.
  • The Great Gray Owl is the provincial bird of Manitoba.
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By Arne List (http://www.flickr.com/photos/arne-list/2363789109/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

American Birding Expo 2017

On Saturday, September 30, Dave and I went to the 3rd Annual American Birding Expo at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oak, Pennsylvania.

The American Birding Expo was founded by Bill Thompson III, the editor and publisher of Bird Watcher’s Digest. The event’s slogan is “the world of birding in one place!”. I originally heard about the Expo while listening to the podcast This Birding Life, which is hosted by Bill Thompson III (if you haven’t listened to This Birding Life you should check it out!). Dave and I live less than an hour from the expo center, so we thought it would be a great event to check out.

This 3-day event features field trips, guest speakers, travel companies, merchandise, and much more. The first section of the hall was filled with travel companies from all over the world. According to the Expo website, in 2016, over 41 countries and 42 states were represented. Some of the countries present this year were Panama, Taiwan, Chile, Ecuador, Australia, Uganda, Portugal, Mexico, and New Zealand. There were also booths for optics companies, such as Zeiss, Swarovski, Celestron, and Opticron. Organizations such as the Cape May Bird Observatory, Bird Life International, and Bird Watcher’s Digest could also be found in the first hall. We also had the chance to meet Conrad, a blue jay who lives at the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove.

The second hall featured artists, publishers, and shops. Julie Zickefoose, bird artist and author had a booth. She was also the Friday night featured presenter. Dave and I are a fan of bird-related art, and we ended up buying some watercolors from Ohio-based artist Jim Turanchik. Turanchik’s goal in his art is to capture the essence of birds, which I feel he does very well. The birds in his watercolors seem like they are moving. He does this by portraying them at different angles. He also has a “Birds in Flight” collection, which feature larger birds such as Anhingas, Great Blue Herons, Wood Storks, and Glossy Ibis to name a few. We purchased two watercolors, a Magnolia Warbler and a Blackburnian Warbler. You can check out his website at jturanchik.com.

(We hung the watercolors up in our dining area, which is near a small chandelier. I took this pictures on an angle because no matter what lighting I try to use you can see reflections, so sorry for the bad angles).

At the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing booth, author Stephen Shunk was signing copies of the his book, Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America. As longtime blog readers know, I already own this book (and happily used it to write last fall’s Woodpecker Wednesday feature), so I got my copy signed! I found out that Stephen Shunk’s favorite woodpecker is the Lewis’s Woodpecker and we talked about Pileateds and Red-headed Woodpeckers. It was really cool to meet an author and get my book signed. He wished me “Happy Woodpecker Watching!”, which I will definitely do.

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Signed by Stephen Shunk 

One event that I wanted to see but didn’t was Scott Weidensaul’s presentation on Project SNOWstorm. I’m a fan of Weidensaul’s nature books, but the presentation was from 6-8, which was a little late for us since we were there in the morning. There were also morning bird hikes each day of the expo from 7-10 am. There were 5 birding locations around Philadelphia were birders could meet to take guided tours. We didn’t end up going to any of them, but we did explore one of the locations on our own after the expo.

After lunch, we drove over to the Militia Hill section of Fort Washington State Park, one of the Expo birding hotspots. The Militia Hill section features a Hawk Watch platform and is near the Wissahickon Creek. We spent some time sitting on the platform and them briefly walked around the area. Some birds we saw included an American Redstart, an Osprey, Turkey Vultures, Blue Jays, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and House Finches. It was a lovely place that I’d like to explore more one day.

It was still early in the day and we weren’t done with birds yet! After Militia Hill, we drove back to New Jersey and hiked around Palmyra Cove. Highlights included 2 Bald Eagles, a Green Heron, a Red-bellied Woodpecker cleaning out its hole, Wild Turkeys, and Eastern Phoebes.

September 30th was a fantastic day. We not only had a fun time at the American Birding Expo, but spent the day outside with the birds. I couldn’t have asked for a better birding day.

Waders Far and Wide

Happy Autumn everyone!

Autumn is my favorite season. I’m usually the first person to wish people a happy autumn. On the 22nd I actually forgot it was autumn until about 9 pm…probably because it was 90 degrees outside! We’ve had unseasonably warm weather the past week and a half, but of course that didn’t stop us from going birding. On Sunday Dave and I took a trip to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR for our first fall birding trip.

September is always a busy time at the refuge with a mix of fall migrants and summer stragglers. It’s also peak time for waders, who could be seen all over the wildlife drive. Wading Birds are not the same as Shorebirds. Shorebirds consist mainly of plovers, sandpipers, avocets, and oystercatchers. Wading Birds refer to herons, egrets, ibies, bitterns, spoonbills, and storks. Wading birds can be found at the shore, but they are actually listed in between Pelicans/Frigatebirds/Boobies and Hawks/Falcons in field guides, meaning they are more closely related to those families than shorebirds.

We saw 6 species of wading birds on this trip: Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night-herons, Snowy Egrets and Glossy Ibis. There were 3 Black-crowned Night-herons hanging out on an island of shrubs. We actually found them in the same place I saw my very first Night-heron on my very first birding trip with Maria (my best friend/birding buddy), so that was special.

Black-crowned Nigh-Heron Immature
Black-crowned Night-heron Juvenile (Image by BirdNation)

The 6th species of wading bird was a bit of a surprise and the most interesting species for me on this trip. Dave and I were standing atop the Gull Pond Observation Tower when a medium-sized white wader landed in the water. At first we thought it was a Snowy because of its size, but then changed our minds and thought Great Egret. But the size seemed too small, and the legs weren’t quite the right color. A second bird of this species showed up.

They were also kind of, well, weird. Their movements while foraging were different compared to a Great Egret. They moved slowly, but would stretch out their necks and rock them from side to side. I feel like all the Great Egrets I’ve watched forage extremely carefully, while Snowy Egrets move quickly and erratically (sometimes I wonder if Great Egrets find it annoying to hunt next to a crazy-moving Snowy Egret lol). 

Then we noticed the bill and it all clicked. It was darker compared to the Great Egret’s bill and too light to be a Snowy.

Immature Little Blue Herons! Immature Little Blue Herons are in fact white, not blue like the adults. Why are they white? Ornithologists believe that blending in with the other egrets puts Little Blues at an advantage. Not only do they catch more fishing with the other species, but they get extra protection by blending into a mixed-flock. They are also better tolerated by Snowy Egrets, who can be aggressive towards Little Blues.  We’ve seen Little Blue Herons before (our first at Cloverdale Farm and second at Bombay Hook NWR), but these were our first juveniles. These Little Blues were fun to watch.

Little Blue Heron juvenile
Little Blue Heron juvenile (Image by David Horowitz)
Little Blue Herons
Little Blue Heron juveniles foraging (Image by David Horowitz)

Other highlights of our trip included a large flock of Greater Yellowlegs, Forster’s Terns in non-breeding plumage, Double-crested Cormorants, tons of gulls, a single Osprey, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Wood Ducks, and a Belted Kingfisher (our first for our Forsythe list) to name just a few from our 39 species total.

I’m glad autumn is finally here, but I can’t wait for the weather to finally cool down! I’ll miss the wonderful summer visitors, but am also looking forward to the winter birds. I’m happy we had the opportunity to enjoy all the waders before they migrate.

Birthday Birds

When Dave asked me what I wanted for my birthday a few weeks ago, I told him I wanted warblers (naturally lol :-p). What I really meant was that I wanted to spend the morning birding in Cape May, NJ, which is a great spot to see warblers during migration. We actually did not see many warblers; only a few Yellow and Pine Warblers. But you know what, I’m okay with that, because instead I saw this guy:

Wood Stork
Wood Stork (Image by David Horowitz)

A Wood Stork!

Wood Storks are primarily found in Florida and South America, but can also be in other Southeastern/Gulf Coast states certain times of year. They are consider rare outside their range, so a Wood Stork in New Jersey is a special treat! Adult Wood Storks are bald, so this bird is a juvenile since it has brown head feathers.

This particular Wood Stork has been around Cape May and showing up on the NJ Rare Bird List for the last few weeks. I checked the list on Saturday night and there were 22 sightings, but over a few different Cape May locations, so I wasn’t sure where it would be.

The first destination for our trip was Cape May Point State Park, where it was previously seen around the Hawk Watch Platform. We were driving past Lake Drive, when the car in front of us (who’s license plate happened to be “SAWWHET” as in saw-whet owl haha) started randomly pulling over. Dave was driving so I looked to my right and saw a few birders looking up at a tree. And there was the Wood Stork.

“OH MY GOSH! WOOD STORK! IT’S RIGHT THERE!”

Dave quickly turned the corner onto Lake Dr. We quietly parked an made our way to the other birders. The Wood Stork was sitting up on a tree preening. It was so beautiful, especially its eyes. It would interrupt its preening every so often to look back at us, almost as if it was posing for our photographs. Then it would preen again and loudly shake its feathers back into place. It was a fascinating bird to watch, and I’m thankful we had the opportunity to spend some time with this magnificent Wood Stork.

Once we arrived at the Point, the sound of a familiar friend echoed through the air.

“poor-bob-WHITE!”

I was happy to hear that the Northern Bobwhites from our last trip were still around, although we didn’t actually see them today. At the ponds near the Hawk Watch Platform there were over 20 Mute Swans, Mallards, Tree Swallows, and a Great Egret. We also were able to watch a number of Northern Mockingbirds fly around with each other through the bushes and shrubs. Other birds at the Point included a Yellow Warbler, Pine Warblers, a Double-crested Cormorant, and a Snowy Egret.

We took the connector trail into South Cape May Meadows. It was quieter for us than in the past, but we still managed to see some birds. These included another Yellow Warbler, Carolina Wrens, a Black Vulture, a Turkey Vulture eating a dead gull, a Cooper’s Hawk, Mourning Doves, more Mockingbirds, and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

I’m so happy that I had a chance to see the Wood Stork and was able to have a wonderful birding day with Dave. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my birthday.

 

New Jersey State Botanical Gardens

Today my friend Casey and I went to the New Jersey State Botanical Gardens to celebrate my birthday (which is tomorrow 9/17). The NJ Botanical Gardens are located in Ringwood State Park in Ringwood, NJ. Ringwood is located in the “Skylands” region of New Jersey, a more mountainous area of the state near the border of New York. (Last year we went to the Skylands region to explore the Lakota Wolf Preserve, you can read about our trip here). 

There are numerous gardens and historical buildings/landmarks to explore. One of the highlights is the Skylands Manor, a Tudor-revival style mansion bought by Clarence McKenzie Lewis in 1922. Beautiful small gardens are spread throughout the main lawns and in the forests. These include the Annual Garden, Magnolia Walk, Summer Garden, Perennial Garden, Rhododendron Garden, and Azalea Garden to name just a few. You can also stroll along Crabapple Vista and view the Four Continents statues from the 1600s. Another fun attraction is the Solar System Walk.

Birding was not the primary purpose of this trip, but I did see a few species. These included Gray Catbirds, Eastern Wood-Pewees, Tree Swallows, Black-capped Chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, American Goldfinches, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Blue Jays.

Here are some of the pictures from our trip.

We had a lovely morning exploring the beautiful scenery of the New Jersey State Botanical Gardens. I would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re ever in the NJ Skylands Regions.

Late Summer Birding

September is my one of my favorite months for many reasons: the change of summer to fall, birthdays (both for Dave and me), fall migration, getting paid again (teacher life lol). September also happens to be one of the busiest time of the year because of all the back-to-school events. Therefore, I don’t get to go birding much as I want to at the beginning of September.

However, the weather has been pretty mild here in New Jersey lately compared to the “indian summer” that we usually get. We’ve had some beautiful weekends/afternoons, so Dave and I have been trying to go birding as much as possible. I have some other posts I want to write/2 upcoming hiking trips, but since I’m exhausted from back-to-school night, I figured I’d share some of our recent late summer birding pictures. Enjoy! 🙂

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Rub-throated Hummingbird (Image by David Horowitz)
American Redstart
American Redstart First-year Female (Image by David Horowitz)
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Mallard Squad (Image by BirdNation)
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Chipping Sparrow (Image by David Horowitz)
yellow warbler female
Yellow Warbler Female (Image by BirdNation)

Bonus non-bird Picture:

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Amico Island Beaver (Image by David Horowitz)