2018 Arctic Birding Challenge

Have you heard about the Great American Arctic Birding Challenge?

Each year, birds from all over the United States as well as the other continents spend the summer at Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is an extremely important sanctuary for all wildlife, but many birds rely on this habitat for breeding, raising young, and molting.

Audubon Alaska has set up the Arctic Birding Challenge to allow birders from all over the United States to celebrate the importance of the Arctic. It’s really easy to participate:

  • Create a team of up to 6 birders.
  • Print out the GAABC checklist.
  • Go birding as many time as you want between March 1-June 1. If at least 2 birders on your team see/hear a bird, check it off your list.
  • Submit your results to Audubon Alaska by June 1 (or have it postmarked by June 1).

The two winning teams will receive Audubon Alaska Bird of the Year hats and all teams that have checked off 10 or more birds (that are asterisked) will receive Bird of the Year stickers. The bird of the year is the Pacific Golden-Plover.

It’s that simple!

Of course, Dave and I are participating as Team Bird Nation. We’ve had a great time so far finding birds for our checklist. If you haven’t started participating yet, what are you waiting for? Have fun with the Arctic Birding Challenge! 🙂

To find out more and to print your checklist click on this link: Audubon Alaska GAABC

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(Image via https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Arctic/about.html)
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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.

GBBC ’18 Part 2: A Rare Surprise

Today’s post is Part 2 of the 2018 Great Backyard Bird Count. You can read about Day 1 here.

We spent the last half of the bird count weekend at the Jersey Shore. For the last few weeks, many birders on some of the Facebook groups I’m a member of have been posting about Redhead ducks. A large flock of these ducks, as well as other waterfowl, have been observed at Lake of the Lilies in Pt. Pleasant, NJ. We’ve never seen Redheads before, so we thought it would be fun to check out this new location.

The first thing I noticed about Lake of the Lilies is that it’s relatively small. It’s also a little unusual because it’s surrounded on all sides by beach houses. I heard the Redheads tend to show up every winter, but with such a small lake I wasn’t sure what else would be around.

What a treasure trove! We observed 13 different waterfowl species. There were Mallards, Gadwalls, Greater Scaups, Ruddy Ducks, Northern Shovelers, Ring-necked Ducks, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Buffleheads, an American Wigeon, Hooded Mergansers, and as we expected, a large raft of Redheads. All these different species congregated together to sleep, preen, feed, and float around the lake. We even had a chance to see two Horned Grebes and tons of American Coots. Lake of the Lilies is a lovely little gem. I was so satisfied watching all the waterfowl together. Mission accomplished.

We started head back around the lake to our car when a van stopped. The man in the van yelled out, ” Hi! Did you see the Tufted Duck? My friend told me that there’s a Tufted Duck hanging around here. Supposedly it’s pretty rare!”

No, we have not seen the Tufted Duck. We actually didn’t even know one was there. So we thanked the man  and turned around (obviously lol!) to search for the Tufted Duck. We scanned the lake. Tufted Ducks look very similar to Great Scaups, and as their name suggests, they have a tuft of feathers sticking out from the back of their heads. By this point, most of the duck had their heads tucked in to sleep. I did see one duck with some feathers sticking out, but wasn’t sure if that was the bird. I took some more pictures and after awhile we went on our way.

It turns out that after we left a large number of birders arrived at Lake of the Lilies to find the Tufted Duck. Many people posted the duck on Facebook. I scanned through all the photos I took and checked every single duck. Only one duck looked suspect with some feathers sticking out, so I asked my Facebook group. It was confirmed: we saw the Tufted Duck!

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Sleepy Tufted Duck (Image by BirdNation)

Tufted Ducks are from Eurasia, so finding one here in America is pretty rare. We didn’t expected to find a rare bird during the count, but we ended up nabbing our first ever Eurasian rarity!

Here’s our count from Lake of the Lilies (17 species, 305 individuals):

  • 45 Canada Geese
  • 3 Mute Swans
  • 5 Northern Shovelers
  • 4 Gadwall
  • 1 American Wigeon
  • 84 Mallards
  • 45 Redheads
  • 4 Ring-necked Ducks
  • 1 Tufted Duck
  • 35 Greater Scaup
  • 3 Bufflehead
  • 6 Hooded Mergansers
  • 22 Ruddy Ducks
  • 2 Horned Grebes
  • 30 American Coots
  • 10 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 5 Rock Pigeons

Our final park of the day was Fisherman’s Cove Conservation Area. We didn’t stay too long, but did see 14 species and 233 individuals.

  • 100 Brant
  • 2 Long-tailed Ducks
  • 2 Mallards
  • 42 American Black Ducks
  • 8 Bufflehead
  • 1 Horned Grebe
  • 1 Double-crested Cormorant
  • 3 Great Blue Herons
  • 3 Turkey Vultures
  • 24 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 37 Herring Gulls
  • 5 American Crows
  • 3 White-throated Sparrow
  • 2 Song Sparrows

Here’s what we saw last year on Day 3. We were not able to participate on Day 4 this year, so you can read about 2017’s Day 4 here.


In the 2 days that we were able to participate this year, we saw 33 different species and 793 individual birds. Two of our species were life-list birds. It will certainly be a Great Backyard Bird Count to remember.

 

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

 

 

 

 

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.

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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!