Sandy Hook

January 6th is a special day for me. On 1/6/17 I saw my first rare bird, the American White Pelican, with my mom and sister in Tuckerton, NJ. 1/6/18, Dave and I got married!

January 6th continues to be as special day because in 2019, it’s the day of the Razorbills!

Dave and I decided that we wanted to spend our 1st wedding anniversary birding at a new location. Sandy Hook is an area that I’ve wanted to explore for a while, so we decided that it would be the perfect time. Sandy Hook is a barrier island peninsula and the northern tip of the New Jersey Shore. You can see the Manhattan Skyline across the ocean. Sandy Hook is part of Gateway National Recreation Area, run by the National Park Service.

I heard through my NJ birders groups that there were some Razorbill sightings, so I was hoping we would spot a few. However, whether or not we found Razorbills, Sandy Hook always has interesting sightings.

We started our adventure at Lot A and B Beaches. Black Scoters, Surf Scoters, and Long-tailed Ducks surfed the waves. A few Northern Gannets flew by. We spent about 10 minutes watching the flocks fly by when we spotted our first Razorbills. Razorbills look like little black-and-white jet planes in flight. They fly low to the water in lines and individuals usually rock side-to-side out of sync with their flockmates. The Razorbills were our first life list birds of the year.

Lot C Beach brought us some more Razorbills, Red-breasted Mergansers, Long-tailed Ducks, Black Scoters, a variety of gulls, Northern Gannets, and Common Loons (as well as a nice view of the Manhattan Skyline).

Common Loon (Image by BirdNation)

The other side of the peninsula runs along Sandy Hook Bay and Spermaceti Cove. You get a pretty view of the Atlantic Highlands as you walk across the beach. According to Sandy Hook’s website, the Highlands are the highest point on the eastern seaboard. We observed a group of adult and juvenile Mute Swans, American Black Ducks, Brant, Canada Geese, and many gulls.

Mute Swan Goslings (Image by BirdNation)

We also had the opportunity to see a colony of Atlantic Harbor Seals relaxing on a sandbar. It was fun watching them frolic in the water and spend some time sunning. (Speaking of seals, we had a cool seal experience in Cape Cod, MA last summer!)

Sandy Hook Seals (Image by David Horowitz)

Before leaving, we spent time exploring some of the historical sites and the lighthouse. I definitely plan on birding again at Sandy Hook.

2018 Review: Year of the Bird

Happy New Year’s Eve! 2018 was official the Year of the Bird, and it was quite a year! Here are some of the highlights from our birding year.

January

February

  • Great Backyard Bird Count: 33 species, 793 individual birds. Plus 2 Life Birds: Tufted Duck and Redheads
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Tufted Duck (Image by BirdNation)
  • 2 Snowy Owls at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.

March

  • Added 2 Life List Birds at Chincoteague: Brown-headed Nuthatch and Lesser Black-backed Gull
  • Snowy Owl at Forsythe (totaling to 3 Snowies this year)
Snowy Owl 3/18/18 (Image by David Horowitz)
  • Saw 81 species from January 1 to the first day of spring for Year List

April

  • My first dolphins!
  • Added Wilson’s Snipe to our life list at Taylor’s Wildlife Preserve

May

  • Global Big Day at Forsythe NWR: 60 species
  • Our first Red Knots at Delaware Bay
  • Participated in the 2018 Great American Arctic Birding Challenge with 62 species recorded between March 1 and June 1
  • Added 4 Life List Birds: Caspian Tern, Northern Parula, Canada Warbler, and Red Knots
  • Added 71 species to Year List, bring total to 152 by the first day of summer

June

Started working at Rancocas Nature Center

July

Roseate Spoonbill juvenile (Image by David Horowitz)
  • Also added to life list: Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Chimney Swift
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron pair with eggs (Image by BirdNation)

August

Cape Cod vacation! Added 3 new Life List birds: Roseate Tern, Black Tern, Great Shearwater. Also saw my first Grey Seals. Went birding on the way home in Connecticut.

September

  • Had my last birding trip of my 20s at Forsythe on 9/16 😂
  • Added 14 species to Year List for summer, making total 166

October

  • First October Global Big Day at Cape May: huge Tree Swallow flocks and Western Palm Warblers. 31 total species
  • Gave my first birding presentation at Rancocas Nature Center, “The Miracle of Avian Migration’, on October 13 (World Migratory Bird Day)

November

  • Added 9 more species to Year List for fall, making final total 175

December

  • Participated in my first Audubon Christmas Bird Count on 12/23 in Moorestown, NJ, with 35 total species for our count. Unsure of total count for other teams in the “Moorestown” circle. (Fun fact: Moorestown, NJ was one of the 25 towns to participate in very first Christmas Bird on December 25, 1900)
  • Close-up seaducks at Barnegat Light: Surf Scoters, Common Eiders, Black Scoters, Harlequin Ducks, and Long-tailed Ducks
  • Final hike 2018: Taylor’s Wildlife Preserve

Final 2018 Stats

  • Year List: 175 species
  • Life List: 16 new additions, current total 207.
  • Birding in 7 States: New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts

Looking forward to birding in 2019!

Chincoteague Waterfowl Weekend

We are on Thanksgiving break, so Dave and I took a one-day getaway to Chincoteague, VA. Thanksgiving weekend is Waterfowl Weekend at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Being a waterfowl enthusiast, I thought it was a perfect time to head down to Virginia’s Eastern Shore to seek out winter visitors. (We went to Chincoteague for our honeymoon in March, check out that trip here).

Tom’s Cove Beach Highlights

  • Snow Geese! Over a thousand of them! The longer we watched the flock, the more Snow Geese arrived. They circled above us as they joined the huge flock resting on the beach. Mixed within the sea of white were “blue morphs”, a color variation of the Snow Goose. Individuals will mate for life, choosing the same color morph as their family members. Two white morphs will have white offspring, a pure dark with a white morph will likely have dark morphs (sometimes with white bellies), and two blue morphs will likely have blue offspring, although white offspring are possible. Dave spotted two individual with bands, one in which he got a clear picture of.

Snow Goose Parade (Image by BirdNation)

 

 

Snow Geese soaring overhead (Image by David Horowitz)

  • Shorebirds: Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlins, Sanderlings, Willets, and Yellowlegs

  • Lots of Gulls (Ring-billed, Herring, Great Black-backed), Common and Red-bellied Loons, Surf and White-winged Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Bufflehead, Forster’s Terns. 

Extended Wildlife Loop Highlights

Chincoteague NWR has a 3.2 mile wildlife loop for walking, bicycling, and driving. For Waterfowl Weekend, the refuge opens up a 7.5 mile service (15 miles round trip) road to extend the drive. I’ll admit it was a little strange at first because it just seemed like a road with dead trees. However, further down the trail there were pools and dikes with many birds. 

  • American White Pelicans!: We saw 2 American White Pelicans floating and flying over a pool. It was Dave’s first White Pelicans (I saw my first in NJ, read about the awesome experience with Mr. Pelican  here). I discovered while entering my checklist on e-Bird that the pelicans were considered rare in our location, so we were lucky enough to have some “rare” birds on this trip. At this time of year American White Pelicans are usually in Florida, the Gulf Coast, Mexico, or parts of California.  
American White Pelicans (Image by BirdNation)
  • Yellow-rumped Warblers, more Bufflehead, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, White-breasted Nuthatch, Snowy and Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Bald Eagles 
  • And of course, the famous Chincoteague Wild Ponies. In March we had a cool experience of the wild ponies parading past our vehicle. There were a lot more visitors this time, so the ponies caused quite a spectacle (and traffic!). We again had a pretty “up close and personal” encounter with the ponies, although I don’t think the actually realized how close they came to our car. They were too busy just being wild ponies to notice how close they were.
Chincoteague Wild Ponies cause a commotion 

I’m so thankful that we had the time to head down for a fun-filled day at Chincoteague NWR. There’s always something amazing to see on Chincoteague Island. 

Cape Cod Vacation: Monomoy Island Excursions

This is Part 3 of our Cape Cod Vacation. You can check out Part 1 (Race Point Beach) here and Part 2 (Skaket Beach) here.

On August 14th, the second day of our Cape Cod vacation, Dave I and went seal watching with Monomoy Island Excursions. We took the 10 am seal cruise on their boat, The Perseverance from Harwich Port into Nantucket Sound. The cruise includes stops at Wychmere Harbor, Stage Harbor in Chatham, and Monomoy NWR; as well as pass many of the popular beaches along the cape.

The seal cruise was definitely the highlight of my trip. It was a beautiful morning and I enjoyed every moment. Not only did we have an amazing experience seeing Grey Seals, we also saw many birds.

Highlights of our Seal Cruise

  • The seals, of course! We saw a herd of at least 70 Grey Seals on our trip. Low tide hit its peak 2 hours before our cruise, so many of the seals we saw were relaxing on a sand bar. It was fascinating watching the seals interact with each other, vocalize, and curiously watch us back.

 

  • Our “Winter Birds” on summer vacation. We saw immature Common Eiders, Black Scoters, and White-winged Scoters, which we usually see in New Jersey during the winter.

flock of eiders
Common Eiders (Image by David Horowitz)

  • Lots of seabirds, including Herring Gulls, Laughing Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, Forster’s Terns, Roseate Terns, Least Terns, Common Terns, and a Great Shearwater.
  • A few hundred Double-crested Cormorants
  • Many Osprey and a Northern Harrier

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Captain Osprey (Image by David Horowitz)

  • A huge school of fish under the boat (in the thousands)
  • Stage Harbor Lighthouse 

Stage Harbor Lighthouse

  • Shorebirds and Wading Birds, including Willets, Snowy Egrets, Short-billed Dowitchers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Sanderlings, Spotted Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, and a Great Egret
  • The Staff. Our Captain and the naturalist on our cruise were really friendly and informative. A few minutes into the trip, noticing our Cape May/NJ Audubon binocular straps, the naturalist (I don’t remember his name) asked if we were birders. It turns out that he’s been birding on Cape Cod for over 30 years. He spent many years leading tours at Monomoy, as well as participating in the local birding community. He is also a bird bander. Throughout the trip he would come over and talk to us about birds. It was really fun to talk to as well as learn from him.

My seal cruise with Monomoy Island Excursions was fantastic and will certainly be an experience that I won’t soon forget.

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Journey On (Image by BirdNation)

 

My 200th Bird Species!

Today I observed my 200th life list species! The best part is that it was a species I definitely did not expect.

As of yesterday (6/30/18) I was at 198 species. Earlier this week, a co-worker at Rancocas Nature Center was telling me about a wading bird rookery (I’m not going to disclose the location). She started naming the different species nesting at this location.

Black-crowned Night-Herons, Glossy Ibis, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons…”

She had me at Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.

Dave and I have never seen Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, but have always wanted to. So of course we needed to go to this rookery asap.

We made our way down to the rookery early this morning. It was really a cool place. From the platform, you can look down into the nests, but you are also eye level with many of the birds. There were 5 nesting species: Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, Black-crowned Night-Herons, and Glossy Ibis.

What an amazing experience. We had a chance to see these wading bird’s young in different stages of development. Some were recently fledged (like some of the Glossy Ibis), some were still in the nest, and we even saw some eggs. It was really fascinating watching chicks get fed and parents switching off of nest duty. The longer we stood, more Glossy Ibis arrived.

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Glossy Ibis adult and young (Image by BirdNation)

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Yellow-crowned Night-Heron pair with eggs (Image by BirdNation)

So Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was #199. We still had one more stop for the day: Forsythe NWR (it was 94 degrees today, so we were definitely birding from the car!). I read the night before on NJ Rare Bird Alert that there was a Roseate Spoonbill being reported, so I was hoping it would still be around.

Once we entered Forsythe’s wildlife drive we quickly approached Wading Bird Paradise.  There were over 100 birds: Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Little Blue Heron juveniles and  Glossy Ibis; as well as terns and Laughing Gulls.

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Wading Bird Paradise (Image by David Horowitz)

Dave spotted it in the distance, slightly away from the commotion. The Roseate Spoonbill!

Roseate Spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill (Image by David Horowitz)

It was so beautiful to see. I was in awe watching it preen and bask in the sun. The Roseate Spoonbill is special because as I wrote in my recent Spoonbill feature,  these birds live in Florida, along the Gulf Coast of the southern United States, in Mexico, and the Caribbean. As far as I know, this Spoonbill being currently observed at Forsythe is only the 5th or 6th sighing of a Roseate Spoonbill in New Jersey. I couldn’t believe that the Roseate Spoonbill was my 200th species!

I actually ended up getting 1 more life list bird today, bringing my current total to 201 species: a Saltmarsh Sparrow (sorry, no pic!). And I also got a picture of a really cute Eastern Box Turtle before we left 🙂 .

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Baby Eastern Box Turtle (Image by BirdNation)

I’m so happy that I finally am in the 200s. Today will certainly be a birding day that I will not soon forget :-).

 

 

Misty Cape May Morning

Today we took our first summer birding trip down to Cape May Point State Park. It was a really hot day, around 90 degrees, but we still managed to see 30 species birds. On the drive down it was pretty foggy, and it was still pretty misty by the time we got down to the Point.

Misty Morning at the Hawkwatch Platform Pond (Image by BirdNation)

Bird species along the main trail included Mute Swans, Mallards, Tree Swallows, Common Yellowthroats (heard), Forster’s Terns, Laughing Gulls, Ospreys, Northern Mockingbirds, Purple Martins, Canada Geese, an Eastern Kingbird,and Red-winged Blackbirds. There were also hundreds of tiny toads hopping across the trail.

Tree Swallow portrait
Tree Swallow (Image by BirdNation)

Purple Martin female
Purple Martin female (Image by BirdNation)

We had a few fun surprises on the beach. Two Brown Pelicans flew by over the ocean.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans (Image by BirdNation)

After I took the above picture the pelicans skimmed very close to the ocean’s surface. They used an aerodynamic phenomenon call the “ground effect”. As the pelicans fly close to the water with their full wingspan, the air is “funneled” between their wings and the ocean surface. This effect allows the birds to stay aloft and increases efficiency. Eventually the bird must gain some speed by flapping and slightly ascending in order to continue its glide. Many birds use the ground effect over water, but this principal also works on land.

Another interesting thing to note about these Brown Pelicans: the bird on the left is an adult and the one on the right is immature. You can see the whitish-yellow of the adult’s head that the immature bird lacks.

We also spotted pods of dolphins! They were relatively close to the beach, and would occasionally leap out of the water (wish I captured that in a picture!).

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Bottlenose Dophin Fins (Image by BirdNation)

There were also many pairs of American Oystercatchers. Some pairs were just strolling along the beach together, while others were guarding/sitting on eggs. This pair has a banded Oystercatcher, so I’ll submit my band findings to the American Oystercatcher Working Group and let you know what I find out.

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Taking a stroll (Image by BirdNation)

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Banded American Oystercatcer (Image by BirdNation)

This couple added some furnishings to their nest site…

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Decorating the Nest (Image by BirdNation)

We were also really lucky to catch a glimpse of this couple’s two eggs (from a safe distance behind the barrier zooming in with the camera of course!) It was our first time seeing American Oystercatcher eggs.

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American Oystercatcher Eggs (Image by BirdNation)

Our final beach surprised was a Sanderling in breeding plumage. It was all by itself, so I wonder where its flock mates went. Sanderlings are usually at the shore in the winter, so I think this little guy missed the memo that its summertime now.

Sanderling breeding plumage
Sanderling in breeding plumage (Image by BirdNation)

Our misty Cape May trip was a great way to start off our summer birding.

Forsythe Fun with Friends

I recently took a trip to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR with my friends Deborah and Bella. It was their first time visiting the refuge. Both Deborah and Bella have worked at nature centers, with Bella currently working in horticulture. I had such a blast spending the day with them, and learned a lot of new information from them about plants and snakes.

We started our trip taking a short walk around the visitor center and Lily Lake. A few birds around this area included Wood Ducks, Glossy Ibis, Gray Catbirds, House Finches, and Purple Martins, as well as tons of beautiful flowers/plants.

Before entering the wildlife drive we spent some time at the Eco Leeds Boardwalk and Gull Pond. Highlights included fiddler crabs, Barn Swallows, Great Egrets, and Least Terns.

We even had a special surprise: snakes! I have never seen snakes at Forsythe before, so I’m glad I was able to see them with Deborah, “the snake lady” :-D.

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Snake among the lilies (Image by BirdNation)

The wildlife drive was really active. Birds included Red-winged Blackbirds, American Crowns, Snowy Egrets, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Gull-billed Terns, Black Skimmers, Laughing Gulls, Forster’s Terns, American Oystercatchers, Willets, Greater Yellowlegs, and Ospreys. Bella made what I think was the most exciting find of the trip: 3 Black-crowned Night-herons foraging. Black-crowned Night-herons usually forage at dawn or dusk. I usually see them roosting during the day, so it was amazing to see them foraging in the middle of the day. There were also lots of turtles out and about crossing the road. I helped a Northern Diamondback Terrapin get across who was trying to dig a hole for her eggs in the middle of the drive.

 

Overall we saw 50 species. I had a wonderful time at Forsythe with Deborah and Bella. I’m looking forward to another adventure soon!