March Vacation Pt 3: Prime Hook NWR

Our final destination on our winter birding vacation was Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. Prime Hook is located along the Delaware Bay and mainly comprised of saltwater/freshwater habitats, as well as some mature hardwood/pine forests.

We really didn’t get many pictures of birds that came out well since everything was pretty far out. It was a beautiful refuge though, so here are some pictures of the landscape.

Boardwalk Loop
Boardwalk Trail (Image by BirdNation)
Fleetwood Pond
Fleetwood Pond (Image by BirdNation)
Dike Trail
Dike Trail (Image by BirdNation)
Pine Grove Trail 2
Pine Grove Trail (Image by BirdNation)

Birds Observed (22):

Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons, Ring-billed Gulls, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Herring Gulls, Carolina Wrens, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Cardinals, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Shovelers, American Black Ducks, Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawk, Greater Yellowlegs, Great Black-backed Gull, Mourning Dove, American Robins, Northern Mockingbird, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbird

We had so much fun visiting 3 national wildlife refuges in 3 different states in 3 days! Can’t wait for the next adventure!

Last year we went to Bombay Hook NWR, Delaware’s other national wildlife refuge. Click here to read about that trip. 


March Vacation Pt 2: Chincoteague NWR

We had a fantastic day exploring Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge at Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Woodland Trail

Highlights: our very first Brown-headed Nuthatches! What amazing little birds! It was such a thrill watching these nuthatches flutter around the pines. Also Eastern Towhees and juvenile Bald Eagles. Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrels

Other birds: Gray Catbird, tons of Northern Cardinals, Black Vultures, Song Sparrows, Carolina Wrens, Turkey Vultures, White-throated Sparrow, Red-bellied Woodpecker

Toms Cove Beach

Highlights: 2 North American River Otters! We even watched one battle with a female Northern Harrier. American Oystercatchers, Willets, our first Lesser Black-backed Gull, Snow Geese flying right over us

Other birds: Ring-billed Gulls, Bonaparte’s Gull, Dunlins, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Grackles, Mute Swans, Northern Shovelers, American Wigeons, Black-bellied Plover, Great Black-backed Gull

Lighthouse Trail

Highlights: Assateague Lighthouse! The only birds were saw on this trail were many more Northern Cardinals.

Assateague Lighthouse (Image by BirdNation)

Marsh Trail

Highlights: Tundra Swans, Chincoteague Wild Ponies at a distance

Marsh Trail (Image by BirdNation)

Other birds: Red-winged Blackbirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, American Crow

Wildlife Loop

Highlights: Chincoteague Wild Ponies. A herd of them walked right next to my car. The horses were so close to my car, I could have literally reached out and touched them (of course I didn’t!). What a exciting experience! (Make sure to watch the video below to see them all walk by)

Other birds: Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teals, Canada Geese

Black Ducks and Green-winged Teals (Image by David Horowitz)

It was an amazing day. We added 2 species to our life list (current total 192 for me), saw the Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel, 2 North American River Otters, and got up close and personal with the famous Chincoteague Wild Ponies!

Have you been to Chincoteague Island and seen the wild ponies? Tell me about it in the comments.

To read about Part 1 of our vacation at Blackwater NWR, Maryland, click here.

2018…So Far

Hello friends! We are 14 days into 2018 and it’s been pretty eventful so far…

Last year on January 6th, 2017, I saw one of my first real rare birds: an American White Pelican. Remember Mr. Pelican? It was a pretty special day.



This year, on January 6th, 2018 something else extremely special happened…

Dave and I got married!


Of course birds were part of the celebration. See the birds on my dress and the feathers in my hair? Dave’s mom was also nice enough to frame some of our best bird photographs and have them displayed throughout the reception room. I already considered Dave my lifelong birding partner, but I’m so happy it’s finally official!

Our wedding also happened to be on one of coldest day of the year/winter so far. I believe the forecast was a high of 13 with a windchill of -2. That’s the kind of weather we’ve been dealing with since the end of December here in New Jersey. So between the weather, our wedding, and generally craziness we haven’t had much opportunity to go birding.

Today, January 14, was our first birding trip of the year. We went to Forsythe NWR. It was 26 degrees, so most of the pools and parts of the ocean areas were frozen over. We only saw 11 species, but I think it’s pretty cool to see what the refuge looks like when its that cold. Species observed were: American Black Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Bufflehead, Herring Gulls, an American Crow, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Mallards, Canada Geese, a Northern Harrier, Mute Swans, and Tundra Swans.


Although we only saw 11 species on today’s trip, I’ve seen 31 species so far this year. This is the first year that I decided to keep a Year List. To be honest, I’m kind of bad at keeping lists, so we’ll see how I do. I wanted to try it though. Some days I get too busy with the really mundane things in life (like work lol), so I thought a Year List might help me stay connected with birds when I’m not able to spend time in the field. My first bird of 2018 was the Mourning Dove, which I feel is a nice start.

Question: if I did a feature at the end of each month about some of the new birds I added to my Year List that month, would that be interesting to read? Let me know in the comments. I’d like your opinion!

That’s where we are at so far. Waterfowl Wednesday will return next week (it’s been a bit of a crazy week!). Hope your year started off well. More to come very soon!




Flock Friday

While many Americans were out shopping on Black Friday in crazy crowds, Dave and I were among the flocks of water in Cape May.

Last Sunday we went to Barnegat Lighthouse SP with the goal of seeing the winter waterfowl. It turns out we picked the windiest day to go (40+ mph winds!). We didn’t see much more than Brants, many gull varieties, Forsters Terns, and a few Sanderlings hiding from the wind behind rocks. No waterfowl to besides Brants to be seen, and I don’t blame them for not being around with the rough waters and high winds. It was still a fun trip, but we more than made up for the lack of waterfowl last week with today’s trip.

We started the morning at Cape May Point State Park (CMPSP) where we saw 7 species of waterfowl. They were Mallards, Gadwalls, Mute Swans, Hooded Mergansers, Bufflehead, American Wigeons, and Canada Geese.

Interspersed between the waterfowl were American Coots. Many people think that Coots are similar to ducks, but these species are not even in the same family. Coots belong to the family Rallidae (while ducks are in the family Anatidae) and are more closely related to rails and cranes. American Coots also lack webbing on their feet and instead have comically large lobed toes. Other birds at CMPSP included Yellow-rumped Warblers, an Osprey, Pied-billed Grebes, a Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Double-crested Cormorants, and Dark-eyed Juncos.

Showing off its Yellow-rump (Image by BirdNation)

We took the connector trail into South Cape May Meadows, where we saw even more waterfowl. Waterfowl included Ring-necked Ducks, Ruddy Ducks, a drake Northern Pintail, 3 female Surf Scoters, and more of the other species observed at CMPSP. At this location we spent most of our time walking on the beach instead of through the meadow itself. On the beach there were large groups of Greater Black-backed Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls. Sanderlings ran along the crashing waves and a few Black-bellied Plovers joined them. Out over the ocean large rafts of Scoters flew by, though it was hard to identify which kind with how far out they were. We also saw a few Red-throated Loons. Like CMPSP, we found a lot of Yellow-rumped Warblers on the trails to and from the beach.

After exploring the Point and the Meadows, we tried a new birding area: Cape May National Wildlife Refuge. Cape May NWR is actually split into 3 units. The Great Cedar Swamp Division is near Upper Township, the Delaware Bay Division is in Middle Township, and Two Mile Beach Unit is in Lower Township. We decided to check out Two Mile Beach. At Two Mile Beach we saw tons of Dunlins, Sanderlings, gulls, some Black-bellied Plovers, and some Red-throated Loons. I didn’t take any pictures, but it was a nice way to end our day. I would certainly like to check out the other two units during future trips.

I’m so glad that we were able to spend some time with the birds down in Cape May. I certainly enjoyed spending my time among the large waterfowl flocks than with the crazy shopping crowds!

Island Beach State Park

Dave and I spent Sunday exploring Island Beach State Park, a popular birding hotspot in Ocean County, NJ. Island Beach State Park (IBSP) is a 10-mile long preserved barrier island that extends along Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The southern tip of the island runs along Barnegat Inlet, where you can view Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. IBSP also includes the Sedge Islands Marine Conservation Zone. The park is a popular recreation area used for ocean swimming, fishing, birding, and kayaking, especially in the summer months.

IBSP is easily one of the best birding spots in Ocean County, with 330 species of birds reported over the years. The park is also known for its elusive red foxes. We didn’t see any foxes on our trip, but we did see a decent number of bird species.

We started our trip walking the trails around the Visitor’s Center and the Interpretive Center. There we saw a Hermit Thrush, a Gray Catbird, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Song Sparrows. From there were took a short maritime forest trail to the ocean. There were numerous gull species throughout the beach, as well as Dunlins, Sanderlings, and Black-bellied Plovers. The Dunlins were standing around on one foot and tucking their bills in their wings to stay warm from the wind. They kept making be giggle because when they wanted to move they would hop on their one little leg. They are such cuties :-).

Some of the other trails we explored were the Johnny Allen’s Cove Trail and Spizzle Creek Trail (which has a bird blind that overlooks Osprey Pond). We found Red-throated Loons, Double-crested Cormorants, Bufflehead, Carolina Chickadees, Eastern Phoebes, Brant, a Great Blue Heron, juvenile Little Blue Herons, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, American Goldfinches, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and our first Blackpoll Warbler (life list #1 for this trip). Along the way we enjoyed beautiful views of the tidal marshes.

Our last stop on IBSP was the beach near the south end of the island. There were mainly gulls on the beach, but all the action was happening in the water. Large rafts of scoters were rapidly flying across the ocean. Our second life list birds of the day were Northern Gannets who were flying by with some gulls. We saw both juveniles and adults. Gannets are usually found pretty far into the ocean, but are sometimes able to be spotted off shore. I was waiting so long to observe these seabirds, so I was so excited to get a quick glimpse.

We had a really enjoyable trip to IBSP. I hope to visit again in the winter when more waterfowl arrive.

Call of the Grackle

October 22 is a special day for Dave and I. It’s our anniversary date. So we thought what better way to spend our 9 year anniversary than at one of our favorite birding locations: Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.

We couldn’t have asked for more beautiful weather. It ended up getting quite warm today, but in the mid-morning it was cool and breezy. Even though the weather has been kind of strange lately, you can tell that winter will be on it’s way in a few months from the flocks that were hanging around.

The flocks of Black Skimmers, Forster’s Terns, Laughing Gulls, Great Egrets, Glossy Ibis and other summer visitors have been replaced by waterfowl. I did end up seeing 2 Forster’s Terns and a few Great Egrets, but it was clear the winter crowd is slowly starting to take over. There were still plenty of Snowy Egrets wading through the water and a large flock of Tree Swallows scooping up the flies that are still hanging on to the warm weather.

Waterfowl observed included Wood Ducks, Mallards, Northern Pintails, American Black Ducks, Canada Geese, and over 40 (!) Mute Swans. We didn’t add any new birds to our life list overall, but we did add someone new to our park list: Pied-billed Grebes! We saw at least 6 in different parts of the refuge, sometimes in pairs. This was the first time we’ve seen them at Forsythe although we have seen this grebe species elsewhere (like this surprise one at Strawbridge Lake. There were a few raptors hanging around as well: 2 Cooper’s Hawks, a Red-tailed Hawk, and a female Northern Harrier.

The highlight of the trip for me were the Boat-tailed Grackles. I’ve seen one or two from a distance before, but this was the first time we saw a flock and we were able to get close to them. They were really fun to watch and very noisy. Boat-tailed Grackles and Common Grackles are similar, but do have some distinct differences. Boat-tailed Grackles are larger, have longer tails, have larger bills, and are more of a bluish iridescence. We saw both male and female Boat-tailed Grackles. The females are rufous brown with dark tails and wings. They were really beautiful.

Boat-tailed Grackle male
Boat-tailed Grackle male singing (Image by David Horowitz)
Boat-tailed Grackle female
Boat-tailed Grackle female (Image by BirdNation)
boat-tailed grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle on sign (Image by BirdNation)

We even got a few videos of their calls. Their common songs is a jeeb-jeeb-jeeb sound but like other grackles they make a variety of calls, whistles, guttural noises, and clicks. I like that after the grackle in the first video calls it makes a wing flutter that makes an interesting sound. (These videos were taken on my Iphone, so please excuse the quality :-), I was more concerned about the sounds). 

Overall we saw 29 species on our Forsythe trip. I’m glad we got to spend our special day at one of our favorite birding areas. Here’s to many more years of birding together! ❤


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.

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.

brown pelican 4
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.

tern 4
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 :-).