Book Review: The Shorebird Guide

As birders, we’ve all been there: you’re at a beach or marsh and there’s a large group of shorebirds in the distance. You scan the flock with your spotting scope. There is definitely variation between the birds, however they seem similar. Are you seeing one species or a mixed flock? What’s a birder to do?

Consult The Shorebird Guide by Michael O’Brien, Richard Crossley, and Kevin Karlson. This guide is a fantastic resource for learning ways to identify shorebirds.

As the book begins, the authors explain that out of 217 shorebird species, about 50 are found regularly breeding in North America. Most birders will encounter about 35-40 of these species per year, so you’d think that it would be easier to learn to identify these species. However, many birders find shorebirds notoriously hard to identify. Plumage variation within a single species throughout the year depends on age and breeding status, which can be quite challenging. In addition, many times shorebirds are found at far distances, making it difficult to see their details.

O’Brien’s, Crossley’s and Karlson’s approach is not about the details, but the overall impression of the bird. Yes, plumage details are important, but in order to become better at shorebird id, one should first start with general size, shape, voice, and behavior. These characteristics are fundamental and less variable than plumage, so the more you practice birding by impression, the more accurate your identifications will become.

This field guide is split into four main sections. The introduction gives basic information about shorebirds in general, such as families, population threats, topography, molting, aging, and more detail about their identification approach.

I find the second section to be the most valuable: Species Photos. The top of each account shows a range map, the scientific name, size, structure, behavior, and status. There are 870 beautiful full color photos included in this guide. The variety of photos for each species is quite impressive. For each species there are close-ups, plumage variations, age variations, flocks at a distance, species in flight, and mixed species photos. Each photo has captions that go into detail about characteristics to look for, as well as some quiz questions to test your knowledge.

The third section is Species Accounts. This section has no photos. It includes information about status, migration, taxonomy, molting, vocalizations, and more details about behavior.

The final section features the appendix with the quiz answers and a glossary. I like that back cover contains silhouettes that are intended to be used as a quiz so you can practice.

I would highly recommend The Shorebird Guide to anyone who is interested in improving their shorebird identification skills.

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. 

Finally Fall!

Happy Autumn Equinox, my friends!

I’m back!

I missed writing on here. After our Cape Cod vacation mid-August, life got really crazy real fast. There were a lot of major transitions going into September (work/college starting up). Being a teacher, September is always chaotic and exhausting for me, so as much as I wanted to write I haven’t had the time. But I’m very happy that we finally made it to my favorite season.

The Autumn Equinox is taking place here in the United States today, September 22. Since we live in New Jersey, the equinox is occurring at 9:54 EST. “Equinox” is a Latin word that translates to “equal night”. Fun fact: the day and night are almost equal, but not quite. There are actually about 8 more minutes of daylight than of nighttime during an equinox.

Since we are now in a new season, I thought it was the perfect time to reflect on my summer and my year list. Here are the highlights:

  • I was lucky to spend a majority of my summer outside as a summer camp intern at Rancocoas Nature Center. I worked with amazing staff and students and learned so much about nature beyond birds. I started a Butterfly/Moth life list, saw tons of really cool fungi, went birding everyday (as well as taught the kids about birds), and learned to identify more plants/trees/insects. I also have occasionally been leading hikes on the weekends since camp ended, and am running my first birding program in October. 

  • My 200th bird: the Roseate Spoonbill! July 1, 2018 was an fantastic birding day for me. We started by seeing our first Yellow-crowned Night-herons (#199) at Ocean City, NJ. Afterwards we visited Forsythe, where the juvenile Roseate Spoonbill was with the other wading birds. I couldn’t have asked for a better 200th bird! We also saw our first Saltmarsh Sparrow in the same trip.

 

  • Cape Cod birding vacation. We spent a few days birding in Cape Cod, Massachusetts during mid-August. We added 3 new life list birds: Roseate Tern, Black Tern, and Great Shearwater. In addition to tons of birds, we went on an amazing seal tour(I actually have a few more Cape Cod posts coming soon!)

 

  • This summer was also special because I started studying a subject again that I haven’t thought about in a long time: astronomy.  I have loved learning about space since I was a little kid. I had a telescope, and I enjoyed looking for and learning about constellations, planets, and meteors. At Nauset Beach in Orleans, MA, we had a chance to see 4 planets in an arc with the moon: Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. Ever since that night, I subscribed to some astronomy sites, and spend each day looking up at the night sky and reading about space. Now I look for planets and stars in the sky in addition to my birds :-). (If you look closely in the picture below, you can see a faint Venus coming into view over the clouds)

The Moon with a faint Venus coming into view at Nauset Beach, MA (Image by BirdNation)

I added 14 birds to the Year List this summer, bring the total to 166 species so far this year. 7 of those 14 were life list birds: Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Chimney Swift, Black Tern, Roseate Tern, and Great Shearwater.

I can’t wait to “fall” into some autumn birding (Sorry, I couldn’t resist 😂).

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

captain osprey
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)

 

Stone Harbor

Sunday we took a trip down to Stone Harbor, NJ. Stone Harbor Point is considered an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Audubon Society and the surrounding area has many birding hotspots. We visited 3 areas on our Stone Harbor trip: the SH Bird Sanctuary, SH Point Beach, and The Wetlands Institute.

Our first stop was the 21-acre Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary. The sanctuary consists of maritime forests and meadows. The paths were relatively short and sometimes it was difficult to see what birds were around . We ended up seeing/hearing 15 species of birds in our short visit. There were a few Northern Mockingbirds, Gray Catbirds, some Osprey, and House Finches.

 

 

The second destination was Stone Harbor Point. This was actually our second trip to the Point. The last time we were at the Point was after seeing our first Red Knots at Fortescue Beach in May. At that point it was about to thunderstorm, so I was looking forward to seeing the Point in sunny weather. I definitely was not disappointed.

The beach was busy with a variety of shore and seabirds. Three Brown Pelicans and a few Ospreys soared above the waves. As with almost all beaches, there were many gulls, including Laughing, Herring, and Great Black-backed. Black Skimmers floated above a tide pool hunting for fish at a dizzying pace. There were also many terns in different stages of development. Least Terns (mainly adult but a few juvenile) dotted the sand near a tide pool. They looked like little wind-up toys as they shuffled along the beach with their tiny legs. There were a few Forster’s and Common Terns.  Two juvenile Common Terns squawked incessantly at a parent who seemed indifferent to their clamor. S/he eventually gave them some fish, but seemed to wonder when their annoying mainly-grown chicks would move out to a different patch of sand and start hunting for their own food 😂. I have to admit, all those terns really tested my identification skills. I’m not the best at terns, so it was challenging but definitely educational

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“FEED US!” (Image by BirdNation)

One of the most exciting parts of this trip was having the opportunity to observe a family of American Oystercatchers. (Last year we were lucky to see T2’s family on LBI, you can read about that here). This family had 5 oystercatchers and 4 out of 5 were banded. The adults were A58 and its unbanded mate; the chicks were A78, A79, and A80. I reported the banded birds to the American Oystercatcher Working Group, so I’m excited to learn their story. I’m assuming the chicks were hatched/tagged at Stone Harbor, but curious about A58.

Throughout our walk we kept seeing small groups of shorebirds zooming over the waves and beach. They all congregated at the end of the beach in a massive flock. It was a mixed flock of Sanderlings, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Red Knots, and Ruddy Turnstones with gulls interspersed. The shorebirds were also in various stages like the terns were, with many birds transitioning between breeding and nonbreeding plumage.

 

After our awesome walk at the Point, we visited The Wetlands Institute. The Wetlands Institute is an organization aiming to conserve coastal ecosystems as well as educate the public. You can view the beautiful marshland from their lecture hall as well as the observation tower and Salt Marsh trail. We saw at least 10 Ospreys, a Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egrets, and a Great Egret. “Terrapin Station” was all about terrapins and horseshoe crabs. “Secrets of the Salt Marsh” featured a small aquarium with the featured animal being a Common Octopus. Octopuses are fascinating and intelligent creatures. The octopus at the Institute was really cool; I could have watched it all day. The Wetlands Institute was a great way to end our birding excursion to Stone Harbor.

Life After 200

Hi friends! Hope you are all doing well.

I haven’t written since my 200th species post…but I have been outside everyday. I’m working at a nature camp this summer, so I’ve been doing plenty of hiking and learning an awful lot about nature that’s not bird-related. I’ve been having a blast (and am also exhausted  but in a good way, which is why I haven’t been writing lol). Shameless self promotion: I’ve also been posting on Instagram everyday @birdnation123, so if you haven’t followed us yet you should check it out! Sometimes I post pics there that are not featured on the blog, so don’t miss out on the fun 😉

Dave and I went birding twice this weekend to 3 different locations. Saturday we spent some time at Maria B. Greenwald Memorial Park for the first time in a few months. It was a fairly quiet evening: lots of cardinals, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, American Robins, and a family of Canada Geese out on a stroll.

The pace of the evening sped up when we made it back to the parking area. The sun was starting to set and many small birds started zooming through the air. They were flying like swallows but had the wrong shape. They were our first Chimney Swifts! And they don’t call them swifts for nothing! They were so fast as they tried to catch insects that it was hard to get a good look at them. I managed to get a silhouette of a swift’s distinct scimitar-shaped wings.

Chimney Swift
Chimney Swift silhouette (Image by BirdNation)

Chimney Swifts can be found throughout the eastern half of the United States in cities and towns. They used to nest in trees, but are now found almost always nesting in…well you probably guessed it…chimneys. Here’s what one looks like when they aren’t swiftly flying past your binoculars.

chimney_swift_clinging_270x224
(Image by Jayne Amico/Mount Vernon Songbird Sanctuary)

Sunday we made our way to one of our favorite birding spots, Barnegat Lighthouse SP. Highlights included Brown Pelicans, tons of gulls, Ruddy Turnstones, Osprey, and American Oystercatchers.

We did observe one Piping Plover. I’m guessing that the Piping Plover may be Pete and Phoebe’s offspring. The plover was not banded and its bill was mainly black. Adult Piping Plovers have orange bills with black tips, and this plover had much more black than orange.

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Young Piping Plover (Image by BirdNation)

On our way off Long Beach Island, we stopped at a new birding location. Edwin B. Forsythe NWR has a new unit as of the end of June: Cedar Bonnet Island in Stafford Township. Over 20 acres of salt marsh are under restoration to provide a habitat for birds migrating along the coast. The one-mile trail opened recently, and there’s quite a lovely view of the marsh. We saw 29 species in our short visit, including Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, a Spotted Sandpiper, a Little Blue Heron, Song Sparrows, Glossy Ibis, and many Ospreys. By this point in our trip it was raining so I didn’t take my good camera out, but did capture this view of the salt marsh on my phone.

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Cedar Bonnet Island (Image by BirdNation)

We definitely plan on stopping back to Cedar Bonnet Island on our next LBI trip. I’m happy to know more of New Jersey’s shoreline is being preserved to help our coastal flora and fauna.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July (US Independence Day)! The 4th of July is personally my favorite holiday, so to celebrate, here’s a red

Northern Cardinal male
Northern Cardinal male (Image by BirdNation)

white…

snowy egretcropped
Snowy Egret (Image by David Horowitz)

and blue bird!

indigo bunting 5
Indigo Bunting (Image by David Horowitz)

And since I have many of readers from Canada….Happy Belated Canada Day! I know it was a few days ago, sorry I missed it!

Canada goose with goslings
Canada Goose with goslings (Image by BirdNation)

If you don’t celebrate either holiday, I hope you have a great day! 😀