Ready to Count Some Birds?

Are you ready for the Great Backyard Bird Count? It’s only a few days away!

The 21st annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is Friday, February 16 to Monday, February 19. This worldwide citizen science project is organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in partnership with the National Audubon Society.

Participating is easy as 1-2-3!

  1. Pick any location.
  2. Spend at least 15 minutes in that location and count as many birds as you can.
  3. Submit your findings on ebird.org

And voilà! You just had tons of fun and helped scientists at the same time!

Wait…how did you help scientists?

The data that you submit on eBird is used by scientists to keep track of  bird populations in real time. The count takes place in February so ornithologists can see where birds are before spring migration occurs. The data collected also helps them understand how weather/climate change/diseases affect the timing of migration and  to observe the avian biodiversity in different habitats around the world. As data builds up each year, scientists are able to compare how populations have been influenced over a longer period of time.

In 2017, birders from over 100 countries reported more than 6,200 species of birds in the 4-day period. That’s over half of the world’s bird species!

I can’t wait to see what the 2018 GBBC brings. I will be reporting the findings of our bird count throughout the weekend as I have done in past years. I hope you’ll join me and the thousands of other birders this weekend for this awesome event!

Find out more at gbbc.birdcount.org. Let me know in the comments if you plan to participating!

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Photo courtesy of the gbbc.birdcount.org

 

 

 

 

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 :-).

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Frozen Delaware River (Image by BirdNation)

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!

 

 

 

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!

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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!

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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!

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Red-breasted Merganser (Image by David Horowitz)

April: A Strawbridge Surprise

A surprise Pied-billed Grebe at Strawbridge Lake!

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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.

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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!

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Northern Bobwhite (Image by David Horowitz)

July

Three words: Double Day Trip!

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Spotted Sandpiper (Image by David Horowitz)

August

Surprise Rhode Island vacation!

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Sail Boats at Dusk (Image by BirdNation)

September

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

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Wood Stork (Image by David Horowitz)

October: Call of the Grackle

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

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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.

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Sanderling (Image by BirdNation)

December: A Snowy Christmas Eve

Our first ever Snowy Owl at Holgate!

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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!

 

 

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?

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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!

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.

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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!

Big Listers

Many birders, myself included, like to keep lists of the birds we’ve seen. We refer to them as life lists, where you record each new bird species you observe in the field. There are a number of reasons why somebody would want to keep a list of bird species seen. I use eBird from the Cornell Lab to track my birding data. Personally, I like eBird because scientists use the data collected from around the world to track bird populations. The program also makes it easy for me to keep track of my observations. (I am notoriously bad at making lists of things I have to remember to do, but I’m great at keeping my life list. Go figure.) 

The level of detail in which birders keep lists varies by individual. Variations of lists include state, country, location/park, county, yard, year…the list goes on. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist! I’m corny as heck lol). Some birders keep no lists at all. But then, there’s the extreme of all birding lists: the big list.

Big listers don’t want to just keep track of birds…they want all the birds. There are around to 10,000 bird species world wide, and big listers want as many of those birds on their list as humanly possible. These individuals will go at great lengths to add a bird to their checklist. Here a few of the most well known big listers.

  • Jon Hornbuckle, a retired metallurgist originally from England, currently holds the record the most birds ever observed at 9,600 bird species. If you would like to learn about him you can check out his website, where he documents his bird trips, species lists, and photos. Jon Hornbuckle website
  • Tom Gullick  of England was the first person in the world to see over 9,000 birds species back in 2012 at the age of 81. His 9,000th bird was the Wallace’s fruit dove in Indonesia. He started birding in 1971 after he retired from being a navy officer and moved to Spain. One of his accomplishments was helping to discover the São Tomé grosbeak with a group of birds. It was thought that the grosbeak was extinct. He has since retired from big listing, and doesn’t want to try for 10,000. His current record is 9,096 bird species.
  • Phoebe Snetsinger, an American birder, was the first person to observe over 8,000 bird species. Phoebe started birding when she observed her first Blackburian Warbler in 1961. She found out in 1981 at the age of 50 that she had a melanoma, which inspired her to start birding aggressively. By the time Phoebe died in Madagascar in 1999 (from a car accident, not cancer) she saw 8,398 species. Her memoir, Birding on Borrowed Time, was published posthumously in 2003.
  • Arjan Dwarshuis is a Dutch birder who broke the world record for most birds seen in a calendar year in 2016 (referred to as a Big Year) with a total of 6,852 species. This total breaks the previous record that was set just the year before in 2015 of 6,042 species by Noah Strycker. While doing his Big Year, Arjan started raising money for BirdLife International’s “Birdlife Preventing Extinctions Programme”. His goal is to raise 100 thousand Euros for the program. You can find out more at his website: arjandwarshuis.com

Seeing a majority of the world’s bird species in a lifetime is an amazing and fascinating feat. It’s interesting to read about the people who dedicate their lives to finding and documenting birds. I don’t plan on becoming a Big Lister, but it’s exciting to know that there are so many possibilities out there in the world of birds. My current goal is to reach 200, but who knows where my birding adventures will take me! The sky’s the limit! 🙂

Do you keep a life list? What’s your current total? Tell me in the comments below!