Mission: Red Knots

Hi friends! Sorry for the disappearance…hectic few weeks. Of course we squeezed in some birding amidst the chaos. And now back your regularly scheduled blog posts ūüôā

In October 2016, I wrote a post about Deborah Cramer’s book,¬†The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, An Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey.¬†(You can read that post here). Throughout¬†The Narrow Edge,¬†Cramer explores conservation issues by documenting the journey of the Red Knot.

Red Knots are fascinating little shorebirds. They make one of the longest yearly migrations of any bird. The Calidris Canutus rufa, one of the Red Knot subspecies, travels up the Atlantic Flyway from Tierra del Fuego, Argentina to their Arctic breeding grounds. The round-trip of a Rufa migration comes out to around 19,000 miles in a single year. One of the stopover sites on their journey happens to be Delaware Bay, less than an hour from where we live. So our mission this Memorial Day weekend: to find Red Knots.

Red Knots touch down in Delaware Bay mid-May. They only stay in the region long to refuel by feasting on Horseshoe Crab eggs for about 2-3 weeks. Red Knots are considered endangered in New Jersey and are declining in many areas throughout their range. Last year, 17,000 Red Knots were counted along Delaware Bay, with around 10,000 on the New Jersey side (and the rest being in Delaware). This year numbers are up: around 34,500 birds with about 26,000 in New Jersey.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Red Knot numbers in general are up, but it is a good sign. The Red Knots are staying longer and with a better Horseshoe Crab spawning season, gaining more weight. These factors allow the Red Knots to leave the area in better condition to make it to the Arctic and breed.

Today we decided to look for Red Knots at Fortescue Beach in Cumberland County. It ended up raining while we were there, but we were in no way disappointed. The goal was Red Knots, and well…mission accomplished!

We didn’t find the Red Knots right away. First there were the Laughing Gulls. Hundreds of obnoxiously loud Laughing Gulls. The video below (which was shot on my Iphone 7 at a far distance, so please excuse the bad quality!),¬†barely captures the volume of the bird sounds, but it gives you a little idea of how loud they were. You can also see the Greenhead flies, which are unfortunately out in full force already.

The amount of shorebirds was amazing, even considering peak numbers were about a week ago. There were over 1,000 Semipalmated Sandpipers, and hundreds each of Red Knots, Dunlins, and Ruddy Turnstones. We even saw the occasional Willet and Herring Gull. I’ve never seen so many shorebirds and Laughing Gulls in one place. Behind us were the sounds of Yellow Warblers, Marsh Wrens, and Red-winged Blackbirds. On the way to and from the beach we saw at least 8 Ospreys.

Our last top of the day was Stone Harbor Point in Cape May County. We only saw a handful of Red Knots, but more variety of species. Species included American Oystercatchers, a Little Blue Heron, Dunlins, Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderlings, Barn Swallows, Least Terns, Willets, and a Boat-tailed Grackle.

Stone Harbor Beach (Image by BirdNation)
Stone Harbor Point (Image by BirdNation)

I wanted to see Red Knots ever since I read The Narrow Edge. I feel so fortunate that Dave and I were able to experience these birds on their epic journey north. The Red Knot also marks my 198th life list entry. Only 2 more until 200!

If you want to learn more about the Red Knots in Delaware Bay this year, check out this article from the Press of Atlantic City: http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/press/science_nature/red-knots-numbers-weight-up-this-year/article_24bef445-6669-5371-85e8-630ba79bee5a.html

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
Glossy Ibis
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
Greater Yellowlegs
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 :-).

Sights of Spring

Over the past 2 weeks, Dave and I have gone birding 7 times. We’ve had an interesting variety of early spring weather conditions, including chilly 40s and rain in the 70s. Here are some of my favorite moments from the last two weeks.¬†(I don’t have pictures from all 7 trips)

Palmyra Cove Nature Park (3/23/18): first of season Killdeer and Osprey. Also saw a Muskrat

 

Barnegat Lighthouse State Park (3/25/18)

 

Palmyra Cove Nature Park (4/4/18): It started raining when we arrived, so we ended up walking in the middle of a short rainstorm. It was a really cool experience. There were still a lot of birds out, and by the time we finished walking the rain had stopped (29 species in total, including a first of season Palm Warbler and many Eastern Phoebes). We also had a chance to watch the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge open, found a goose egg, saw interesting fungi, and discovered a bunch of forest snails.

 

Island Beach State Park (4/6/18): Saw about 200 Northern Gannets and many Osprey. First of season Snowy Egrets and Laughing Gull

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.

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Assateague Lighthouse (Image by BirdNation)

Marsh Trail

Highlights: Tundra Swans, Chincoteague Wild Ponies at a distance

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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

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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.

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

Dave and I got married!

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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!