Happy Lunar New Year!

It’s the first day the Lunar New Year. Known as the Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year occurs on the second new Moon after the Winter Solstice. Although Lunar New Year is celebrated in many Asian countries, the most popular version of this celebration is Chinese New Year.

An important part of the new year is the Chinese Zodiac. The Chinese zodiac is a repeating 12-year cycle. Each year is represented by an animal and its characteristics. The 12 animals (in order) are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. 2018 is the Year of the Dog, and 2017 was the Year of the Rooster.

Luck plays an large role in Chinese culture. Many Chinese believe in surrounding themselves with lucky symbols and objects to increase their prosperity and joy. It’s said that you are unlucky during your animal year, but there are things you can do to increase your luck.

We have one bird in the Chinese Zodiac: the Rooster (last year’s animal). The Rooster is a lucky bird because it sound similar to the Chinese word for lucky, or . Roosters represent loyalty, courage, confidence, honesty, and being hard working. These birds also epitomize the Sun God, since they crow every morning when the Sun rises.

Rooster-1.jpg
Rooseter By Žiga (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Here are a three more important birds in Chinese culture:

Phoenix:

In Western cultures, the mythical phoenix rises from the ashes and exemplifies rebirth. However, the Chinese phoenix is not related to the Western one. In Chinese culture, the phoenix is the king of all birds. They are messengers of happiness and only appear in times of prosperity and peace. The phoenix consists of the wings of a golden cockerel, the head of a peakcock, and the body of a swan. The name of phoenix, feng hunag, means “male bird, female bird”. As a result, the phoenix represents the union of masculinity and femininity, or ying and yang.

The phoenix is often pictured with another important mythical Chinese creature, the Dragon. These creatures together represent the Emperor and Empress. This bird is also extremely docile and signifies high moral standards.

Fenghuang
Fenghuang (Image via ficspecies.wikia.com)

Crane:

Cranes are one of the culture’s most favored birds, second only to the phoenix. They represent longevity, wisdom, purity, and peace. Two cranes together means a wish for a long marriage and a crane flying towards the Sun means social advancement or ambition. Cranes also signify authority, so cranes were embroidered onto the robes of Imperial officials. According to Chinese legend, cranes carry departed spirits to heaven.

red-crowned crane
Red-crowned Cranes (Image via tumbler)

Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Ducks are said mate for life, so they represent long term love and marriage. They also symbolize happiness, especially if lotus flowers are depicted along with the ducks. These birds are very common on wedding gifts and cards.

male-female-mandarin-duck
Mandarin Ducks (Image via factzoo.com/birds)
chinese-4
Image via christmas-new-year-quotes.com

 


The birds listed above are only some of the many important bird symbols in Chinese culture. If you like this topic, let me know and I can highlight some more of them. 

 

 

Advertisements

Starting Right at the Light

Dave and I took our first Barnegat Light trip of 2018 on Sunday, February 4. It was a chilly, windy, and overcast day. We left right before the afternoon rain started to fall, but we did see a decent amount of species.

On the jetty we came across this young gull with a sea urchin test. A test is a skeletal structure made of calcium carbonate. It contributes to the sea urchin’s five-fold symmetry and helps protect the internal organs. After a minute or two the gull dropped the test and flew away, since it turns out that it was already empty.  As far as the gull itself, I’m going to venture and say 2nd winter Great Black-backed Gull, but I’m not 100% (don’t quote me on it, I’m still studying my gulls! They’re tricky to id lol).

gull with test

Other birds found on the jetty included other Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Ruddy Turnstones, and Purple Sandpipers.

Dave took a few pictures of a Purple Sandpiper taking a bath on one of the rocks.

In Barnegat Inlet we watched Common Loons, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, Common Eiders, and Harlequin Ducks float and feed.

On the beach there were a few American Crows and a small flock of Snow Buntings zipping around.

IMG_4813
Snow Buntings (Image by David Howoritz)
IMG_4821
American Crow (Image by David Horowitz)

It was a nice way to start off our Barnegat Light trips for 2018.

A Golden Day

Today Dave and I took a trip to Amico Island. It was only 30 degrees, but we ended up seeing 14 species, including a new life list bird.

We spotted Golden-crowned Kinglets as soon as we got out of the car. There were at least two of them swiftly jumping from branch to branch. These cute little birds are extremely agile while gleaning the branches for food. They sport a golden yellow crest surrounded by black stripes. It’s no surprise that we found these kinglets in the freezing weather: they can survive -40 degree nights!

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Image by David Horowitz)

There weren’t only kinglets when we arrived at the park. On a nearby tree was a Brown Creeper. The tiny Brown Creeper happened to be on the largest tree in the area. Brown Creepers are very hard to spot because they blend in perfectly with the tree bark. Unlike White-breasted Nuthatches, who climb both up and down tree trunks, Brown Creepers only climb up the tree. Once it reaches the top, a creeper will fly back down to the base in order to ascend again. Brown Creepers actually hop up the tree using their curved sharp claws and tail to help keep them stable.

Brown Creeper
Brown Creeper (Image by David Horowitz)

For the first part of the hike we took the blue trail through the woods. Along the way we saw more creepers, kinglets, a Tufted Titmouse, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, a Downy Woodpecker, and some Carolina Wrens. The Carolina Wren pictured below was doing an interesting little back-and-forth dance while chattering. I’m guessing it was a female since female Carolinas are the ones that chatter.

Carolina Wren 3
Carolina Wren (Image by BirdNation)

We spent the second part of the walk near where Rancocas Creek and the Delaware River meet. The creek was really frozen, but parts of the river were starting to melt. It was really cool hearing the sounds of the cracking and melting ice while we looked for birds. Along the way we spotted two Great Blue Herons, a Bald Eagle, tons of Ring-billed Gulls, a Bufflehead, some Canada Geese, and Common Mergansers.

Not far from the mergansers was a dark diving duck. It had a distinct white patch towards the rear of its body. Another one soon arrived, and this duck had a white patch near the bill. The heads of these ducks were more of a triangular shape, and the newly arrived bird had a large white section. We got our moment of confirmation when these ducks flew away: a bright gold eye. Our first life bird of the year were a small group of Common Goldeneyes. The picture below isn’t that great (they were really far), but it was able to help us with id.

Common Goldeneyes.JPG
Common Goldeneyes (Image by BirdNation)

It was cold, but at the same time refreshing to be out with the waterfowl in the crisp air. Although it was a pretty drab-looking day, we came out golden with our kinglets and goldeneyes :-).

frozen river 2
Frozen Delaware River (Image by BirdNation)

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!

img_2027
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!

img_2325
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!

IMG_2509
Red-breasted Merganser (Image by David Horowitz)

April: A Strawbridge Surprise

A surprise Pied-billed Grebe at Strawbridge Lake!

IMG_2749
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.

IMG_3341
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!

IMG_3465
Northern Bobwhite (Image by David Horowitz)

July

Three words: Double Day Trip!

Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper (Image by David Horowitz)

August

Surprise Rhode Island vacation!

sailboats
Sail Boats at Dusk (Image by BirdNation)

September

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

Wood Stork
Wood Stork (Image by David Horowitz)

October: Call of the Grackle

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

boat-tailed grackle
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.

Sanderling
Sanderling (Image by BirdNation)

December: A Snowy Christmas Eve

Our first ever Snowy Owl at Holgate!

Snowy Owl
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!

 

 

American Wigeon: Waterfowl Wednesday

It’s one of the best times of the year again: waterfowl season! And you know what means…the Waterfowl Wednesday feature is back for its 3rd winter!

Today we took our first winter trip down to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR and saw a plethora of waterfowl (13 species to be exact). One of these species was the lovely American Wigeon.

American Wigeon (Anas americana)

Description:

  • Male Alternate Plumage (breeding): Pinkish-brown body, white forehead, green patch from eye to nape, white rear flanks, green speculum, black undertail coverts, gray cheeks/chin, white patch on upper wing, gray slightly down-turned bill with black tip
  • Male Basic Plumage: (eclipse)Variable amounts of green and white on heads, and some white on undertail coverts (usually black)
  • Female: Reddish-brown body, mainly gray heads with dusky/white streaks, gray slightly down-turned bill with black tip
  • Immature: Very similar to female plumage, gets black tip on gray bill as it gets older
american wigeon 3
American Wigeon male (Image by BirdNation)

Range:

  • Breeding: Canada and Northwestern United States
  • Resident: Parts of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and Colorado
  • Winter: Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, southern half of United States, Mexico
  • Migration: New England and Midwestern regions of United States

Habitat:

freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, bays, fields, lakes, coastal estuaries

american wigeon 2
Breeding male American Wigeon (Image by David Horowitz)

Diet:

Mainly aquatic plants, mollusks, some insects, seeds. Forages day or night on land or in shallow water by submerging head. Sometimes steals prey from diving ducks in deeper waters.

Breeding/Nesting:

  • Courtship: jumping out of water, head-turning, wing-flapping, wagging tail. Several males court a single female, with pairs forming on wintering grounds.
  • Nesting Site: Dry land away from water. Uses a small depression on the ground lined with grasses and down feathers. Conceals nest with vegetation
  • Young: Female incubates 5-12 whitish eggs for about 3 weeks. Males tend to leave before the eggs hatch. Chicks are precocial, they leave the nest shortly after hatching and can feed themselves. The female will tend to the young until their first flights, which can be between 45-63 days after hatching.

800px-Anas-americana-004
Female Wigeon By Mdf (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Vocalizations:

Males whistle whew-whew-whew! Females give a low harsh quack or rred growl

Conservation: 

Although populations have risen and fallen over the years, American Wigeons are considered stable. Their breeding range has slowly been extending eastward. They are widely hunted during fall hunting season.

Fun Facts:

  • American Wigeons spend more time in deep water than other marsh ducks.
  • The male’s white forehead has given these ducks the nickname “Baldpate”.
  • American Wigeons have been known to hybridize with the Eurasian Wigeon, a rare visitor to North America. Breeding male Eurasian Wigeons are distinct from Americans because of their dark rufous heads. Female Eurasians have a brown head. Juvenile Americans and Eurasians look almost completely alike, however, Americans have white underwings and Eurasians have gray underwings.
458804ca4d46d4d3d1caeb3474c9c81f
Male American (left) and Eurasian (right) Wigeons (Image via pinterest)

A Snowy Christmas Eve

‘Twas the day before Christmas, and out near the dunes,

Were the gulls, long-tailed ducks, the brants, and the loons;

The birders looked all ’round the beach and the air,

In hopes that a Snowy Owl would be there.


AND GUESS WHAT?

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl (Image by David Horowitz)

We found it!!!!

(***Please note: the image above was taken at a far and safe distance and was heavily cropped.)

Dave and I went to Long Beach Island this morning to look for a Snowy Owl that was being reported at the Holgate section of Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge on Long Beach Island. We tried tracking down some Snowies at Island Beach State Park a few weeks ago (where there 2 are being tracked/studied by Project SNOWstorm), but didn’t find them. So I was hoping we’d have a bit of a Christmas Eve miracle…and we did.

We scanned the dunes with our binoculars while walking along the beach (making sure not to go on them of course!). After about 20 minutes of walking there was no Snowy to be found. Dave asked how far out I wanted to walk since the beach is at least 3 miles out. I said a little farther, because I had a feeling that today was going to be the day.

And then we spotted something in the grass a good distance away. It was pretty far, so at first we weren’t quite sure if we found the owl. We were cautiously optimistic, trying not to get too excited if it turned out to be something else. But as we quietly made our way down the beach it became clear that it really was the owl.

We watched the Snowy from a distance for a few minutes. It was absolutely beautiful. The owl peeked at us through its sleepy eyes then continued to rest. It was breathtaking to see such a magnificent bird. I always dreamed of seeing a Snowy, and I’m so thankful I had an opportunity to spend a few minutes in its presence.

It’s certainly a Christmas Eve that I’ll never forget.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Ready for a Snowy-storm?

It’s that time of year again: Snowy Owl irruption! Many birders across regions of the United States have been observing these black-and-white owls very far away from their home in the tundra.

There’s something magical about the Snowy Owl. These beautiful birds capture our imaginations each winter. Snowy Owls breed high in the arctic and subarctic tundra zones of Canada, so it’s no wonder seeing a Snowy Owl in the United States is a huge deal. So why are these owls showing up further south from their usual winter range?

Snowy_Owl_-_Schnee-Eule
By pe_ha45 [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Snowies are well-equipped for life in the cold, barren tundra. Once breeding season is over the owls typically either: 1. stay at the breeding grounds 2. go even farther north! or 3. move south throughout Canada and the upper Great Plains of the US. But for reasons still be studied, some years Snowies irrupt further south into the United States. An irruption is an unpredictable migration of a large number of birds. Small Snowy Owl irruptions usually happen every 4-5 years, but rarely there are “mega-irruptions”.

Why do these irruptions occur? Scientist don’t quite know, which is where programs like Project SNOWstorm come in. Project SNOWstorm was co-founded by Scott Weidensaul. Since Snowy Owl irruptions are so mysterious, Project SNOWstorm aims to study this phenomenon in order to conserve these marvelous birds.

One thing we do know for certain is that there are some popular myths surrounding Snowy Owls and irruptions. One of the biggest misconceptions is that Snowies irrupt because they are hungry, mainly from a lack of lemmings (one of their main food source). Recent studies have found that the opposite is true: there’s an overabundance of food.

A successful breeding season depends on good lemming populations. When the population drops, these birds may breed less or not at all. But when there’s a boon of lemmings, the owl population soars as well. An average clutch of eggs is between 5-7, but can be as high as 11 in boom years (or as low as 3 in lean times). So successful breeding seasons result in more offspring and potentially large irruptions. Many Snowy Owls that arrive in the United States during an irruption are generally healthy and usually tend to be heavier than in non-irruption years.

One of the ways Project SNOWstorm tracks the owls is through GPS-GMS transmitters. The transmitters are solar-powered, and record locations in altitude, latitude, and longitude. They are programmed to record data at 30 second intervals, so the owls are always being tracked. The transmitters only weigh about 40 grams and attach to the bird by a small backpack. The data is sent through cell towers, so when an owl is out of range, the transmitter can store up to 100,000 locations and send the data when the owl is back in range (even years later!).

So far, 52 owls have been tracked throughout the program’s entirety, but there are 7 currently being watched. 3 happen to be here in New Jersey: Island Beach, Higbee, and Lenape. Island Beach and Lenape were both fitted with a transmitters at Island Beach State Park and Higbee at South Cape May Meadows in Cape May.  The other current owls are Hilton (Rochester, NY), Sterling (Sterling, NY), Chickatawbut (last detected in Quebec), and Wells (Maine).

Of course, not all the Snowies that irrupt get tracked, so there have been tons of owl sightings throughout the country since November. Dave and I went to Island Beach State Park a few weeks ago looking for Snowies, but were unsuccessful. There’s been reports of Snowy Owls on Long Beach Island, so I would love to see if we can find one over winter break.

What should you do if you happen to see a Snowy Owl? You should keep a respectful distance and never feed the owls. Many Snowy Owls that irrupt are found on beaches (since it resembles the tundra to them), so please, keep off the dunes! Observing Snowy Owl etiquette is extremely important for the health of the owls, while making the experience for birders more enjoyable and safe.

To learn more about Project SNOWstorm, check out their website projectsnowstorm.org.

Have you ever seen a Snowy Owl? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!