Bye Winter, Hello Spring!

Winter is my favorite birding season. A common misconception is that nothing is really around in winter, but that couldn’t be more wrong! You can find a large variety of species around if you know where to look. Dave and I had a great winter bird-wise.

A New Challenge

I was inspired to try the eBird 365 checklist challenge for 2019. The grand prize for three lucky eBirders is a pair of Zeiss binocular, so I figured I would go for it. Even if I don’t get the binoculars, I’m still contributing valuable data to scientists, so it’s a win-win. So far I’ve submitted 86 checklists (as of writing this there’s been 84 days in 2019), so I’m two lists ahead. Off to a good start!

Year List 2019

This is my second year keeping a year list. We recorded 81 species from January 1- March 20 2018. This year we beat that record with 85 species. We did have some interesting life list rarities this season, so I’m thinking those rarities put us ahead of last year.

Life List Additions

  • January 6: Razorbills! Seen at Sandy Hook, NJ. New Jersey had a large influx of Razorbills off the coast this year, with numbers in the thousands over a few weeks.
  • January 27: Canvasbacks at Mansquan Reservior IBA.
  • February 3: Pacific Loon at Manasquan Inlet. This is an NJ rarity.
Pacific Loon at Manasquan Inlet (Image by BirdNation)



  • February 10: Pine Siskins at Cloverdale Farm County Park.
  • February 17: Red-breasted Nuthatch at Cloverdale Farm County Park during the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Image by David Horowitz)



  • March 1: Northern Saw-whet Owl and Winter Wren at Palmyra Cove. I think the Saw-whet was my favorite 2019 life list bird so far. It was so cute!
Northern Saw-whet Owl (Image by David Horowitz)
  • March 13th: American Woodcock displays at Rancocas Nature Center.
  • March 17: Red-necked Grebe in a pond near the mall in Toms River.
Red-necked Grebe (Image by BirdNation)

Great Backyard Bird Count

For this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count, we counted 52 different species (over 1,500 individuals) at 6 birding locations. We beat our 2018 count by 19 species.

2019 Great American Arctic Birding Challenge

Team BirdNation is participating again in the Great American Arctic Birding Challenge run by Alaska Audubon. In 2018 our team found 62 species on the checklist between March 1- June 1. This year, the Challenge occurs between March 15-June 1. The Challenge is open to anyone, so get a team together and start birding!

Moving forward…

Spring has already been off to a good start. Spring migrants, such as Ospreys, Tree Swallows, and American Oystercatchers have returned to New Jersey. Dave and I have very exciting news coming in the next month or so. I can’t tell you yet, but you’ll know soon enough! (And no…everyone automatically assumes kids, but that’s not the case at the moment lol). In the meantime, happy spring birding!

What was your favorite winter birding moment? Tell us about it in the comments!

Timberdoodle!

Spring is almost here, and we are certainly getting signs of the coming season in New Jersey. The weather is finally starting to warm up a bit, and I’ve been hearing American Robins start their bouncy spring songs each morning. The spring migrants are returning, and that includes a very fascinating and unique species…the Timberdoole!

Well, the Timberdoodle is its nickname (and an awfully cute one at that). I’m referring to the American Woodcock, a small bulbous shorebird that migrates through New Jersey in March.

I heard about these birds pretty early into my life as a birder, but never have had the chance to see them because…I would forget. I would be so busy in the spring that I would remember about the timberdoodle after it already passed through the area. I knew this year would be different.

Dave and I went to Rancocas Nature Center (where I’m a teacher naturalist on some weekends) to watch the display. The meadow at RNC is a great place to check out the Timberdoodle. The Timberdoodle is not just a bird you simply go to just get a sight of, the allure of this little bird is the famous “Sky Dance”.

American Woodcock (Image via Pinterest)

Timberdoodles like to spend their time in brushy fields near deciduous forests. In the cover of darkness, the male Timberdoole will give a distinct buzzy “peent!” to get the female’s attention. After a few calls, the male rockets up into the air with a flutter, soaring up and circling about 200-300 feet in the air. As the male ascends into his dazzling display you can hear his wings twitter. After reaching his peak, the male circles back down to the ground and land in the same spot next to the female. These aerial display can last into the night and take place around dawn as well. Once a pair does mate, the male provides no parental care. Males usually mate with multiple females. The female will feed the chicks for a week, and about a month later the chicks will become independent.

It was really amazing to see the American Woodcock’s sky dance. We observed at least 4 birds participating in the display. We even had a pair fly right over us! I’m so glad we had a chance to observe these magnificent birds in action.

I was able to get a short recording of the “peents” at the beginning of the display (I was too mesmerized watching to record anything after it start lol). You can hear a few peents through the wall of sound that is a bunch Spring Peeper frogs calling.

American Woodcock “peents!” with Spring Peeper background

Have you seen a Timberdoodle? Tell me about your experience in the comments!

’19 GBBC Count: Day 4

Today was the final day of the Great Backyard Bird Count. I went back to Haddon Lake Park; this time with my mom and sister. Haddon Lake Park is a GBBC tradition, so I’m glad I was able to go there twice this weekend.

Haddon Lake Park, Mt. Ephraim/Audubon, NJ (9 species, 245 individual birds)

  • 90 Canada Geese
  • 50 Mallard
  • 32 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 1 Downy Woodpecker
  • 1 American Crow
  • 4 Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • 40 European Starling
  • 2 Song Sparrow
  • 25 Red-winged Blackbird

We had the opportunity to watch a Mallard pair demonstrating a courtship display.

We observed an interesting looking Mallard. It seems like it can be a possible hybrid. Mallard mixed with Green-winged Teal or American Wigeon? The world may never know…it was interesting nonetheless. (Let me know who you think it is…)

We had an amazing Great Backyard Bird Count weekend! We saw 19 more species than 2018 as well as about 700 more individual birds. Here are the official Team BirdNation numbers for 2019:

  • 6 birding locations
  • 1 life list bird: Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • 52 different species
  • 1,505 individual birds (estimate)

Did you participate in this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count? Tell me your favorite birding moment from the weekend in the comments!

To see learn what we saw on Days 3 and 4 of the 2018 GBBC (including a rare life list bird!), click here.

’19 GBBC Day 3: To the Shore

Dave and I made our way out to the Jersey Shore today for the Great Backyard Bird Count. We went birding at two locations: Barnegat Lighthouse State Park on LBI and Cloverdale Farm Park in Barnegat. We added a new bird to our life list: the Red-breasted Nuthatch. I went to Cloverdale last week with my mom and sister to look for the Red-breasted Nuthatch, but we didn’t find it (however, we did see Pine Siskins, a lifer for us!)

Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, Barnegat Light, NJ (20 species, 461 individual birds)

  • 42 Brant
  • 3 Greater Scaup (1 male, 2 females)
  • 3 Common Eiders
  • 15 Harlequin Ducks (mostly male)
  • 30 Black Scoters
  • 45 Long-tailed Ducks
  • 10 Bufflehead
  • 13 Red-breasted Mergansers
  • 3 Ruddy Turnstones
  • 1 Sanderling
  • 85 Dunlin
  • 25 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 136 Herring Gulls
  • 26 Great Black-backed Gulls
  • 1 Red-throated Loon
  • 14 Common Loons
  • 6 Double-crested Cormorants
  • 1 Merlin
  • 1 Northern Mockingbird
  • 1 Savannah Sparrow

Bonus find: 6 Seals!

Cloverdale Farm County Park, Barnegat, NJ (16 species,45 individual birds)

  • 2 Mallards (male/female)
  • 1 Bufflehead
  • 1 Belted Kingfisher
  • 3 Carolina Chickadee
  • 3 Tufted Titmouse
  • 2 Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • 4 White-breasted Nuthatch
  • 1 Brown Creeper
  • 5 Eastern Bluebird
  • 1 Northern Mockingbird
  • 1 House Finch
  • 1 American Goldfinch
  • 16 Dark-eyed Junco
  • 2 White-throated Sparrows
  • 1 Pine Warbler
  • 1 Northern Cardinal
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Image by David Horowitz)

It’s always a pleasure visiting the Jersey Shore. Tomorrow is the last day of the 2019 GBBC. Stay tuned!

’19 Great Backyard Bird Count: Day 2

Day 2 of the Great Backyard Bird Count was twice as nice because we went birding at 2 locations!

It was 45 degrees with a cold breeze; much more seasonal than yesterday’s warm weather. Our first stop was Haddon Lake Park in Audubon, NJ, followed by Palmyra Cove in Palmyra, NJ. We saw 32 species today, adding 8 new species to the total GBBC so far.

At Haddon Lake, Dave spotted some banded Mallards. I was able to get some pictures of the bands and reported them at reportband.gov. This website is run by USGS (United States Geological Survey) and the link leads to Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Laboratory. We were able to learn around where the Mallard was banded, by who, and its age.

USGS Banding Information (Image by BirdNation)

Haddon Lake Park, Audubon, NJ (10 species, 188 individual birds)

  • 80 Canada Geese
  • 45 Mallards
  • 1 Mourning Dove
  • 35 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 1 Red-tailed Hawk
  • 1 Belted Kingfisher
  • 10 American Crows
  • 1 White-breasted Nuthatch
  • 2 European Starlings
  • 12 Red-winged Blackbirds

Palmyra Cove Nature Park, Palmyra, NJ (22 species, 302 individual birds)

  • 10 Canada Geese
  • 9 Mallards
  • 17 American Black Ducks
  • 15 Green-winged Teal
  • 17 Bufflehead
  • 2 Common Merganser
  • 5 Mourning Doves
  • 147 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 1 Turkey Vulture
  • 1 Red-tailed Hawk
  • 1 Belted Kingfisher
  • 2 Downy Woodpeckers
  • 1 Northern Flicker
  • 5 American Crows
  • 4 Carolina Chickadees
  • 2 Brown Creepers
  • 5 Carolina Wrens
  • 14 American Robins
  • 1 Northern Mockingbird
  • 17 Dark-eyed Juncos
  • 25 White-throated Sparrow
  • 1 Northern Cardinal

Tomorrow we are heading out to the Jersey Shore to see who we can find.

Check out what we saw last year on day 2 of the 2018 GBBC here.

What did you see on the 2nd day of the Great Backyard Bird Count? Tell us in the comments.

’19 Great Backyard Bird Count: Day 1

Today is the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count!

We had a lovely day today in New Jersey. The temperature was around 60 degrees with a slight breeze. It was the perfect weather to kick off this year’s count. Dave and I spent our first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count at Amico Island in Delanco, NJ. We’ve been to Amico Island countless times over the years, but today we took a new trail that brought us along the water’s edge. It’s always fun discovering “new” trails at familiar parks.

Amico Island (23 species, 264 individual birds)

  • 20 Canada Geese
  • 9 Mallards
  • 3 Green-winged Teals
  • 2 Hooded Mergansers (male/female pair)
  • 19 Common Mergansers
  • 2 Mourning Doves
  • 120 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 8 Herring Gulls
  • 9 Great Black-backed Gulls
  • 10 Great Blue Herons
  • 5 Downy Woodpeckers
  • 1 Hairy Woodpecker
  • 3 Carolina Chickadees
  • 1 Tufted Titmouse
  • 4 White-breasted Nuthatch
  • 3 Carolina Wrens
  • 8 American Robins
  • 1 Northern Mockingbird
  • 2 European Starlings
  • 4 Dark-eyed Juncos
  • 15 White-throated Sparrows
  • 1 Red-winged Blackbird
  • 4 Northern Carindals

This year’s bird count is already off to a get start! Tomorrow we are heading over to Palmyra Cove.

Did you participate in the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count? Tell me about it in the comments.

Amico Island 2-15-19 (Image by BirdNation)

Love Birds…or not?

You’ve probably seen an image like this before, especially around Valentine’s Day:

Mute Swans forming a “heart” with their heads. The perfect image of love. Or is it? It’s not as simple as you might think.

When you see a bird with its mate, you might assume that those birds are just mates with each other. Sometimes that’s true, the bird pair you’re watching may be monogamous. However, there is actually a wide variety of avian mating systems, so things are usually not as they seem on the surface.

Wood Duck pair (Image by BirdNation)

3 main types of avian mating systems include social monogamy, polyandry, and polygyny. These systems can be broken down even further, with multiple categories for each system. We aren’t going to go too far into specifics today, but here’s a quick overview of some of the avian mating systems.

Social Monogamy

In social monogamy, one female will form a pair bond with one male. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the pair is mated for life. The pair bond may last only one or several breeding seasons. In the social monogamy system, females may copulate with other males. This means within a clutch of chicks, some chicks may have different fathers. About 92% of bird species are considered monogamous, but it’s actually quite rare to find species that practice true genetic monogamy. Genetic monogamous species only have offspring that are within the specific male/female couple.

Common birds that practice social monogamy include Northern Cardinals, Eastern Bluebirds, Black Vultures, and Mute Swans. Examples of genetic monogamous birds include Common Loons, Laysan Albatrosses, and Florida Scrub Jays.

Northern Cardinal male (Image by BirdNation)
Common Loon on land (Image by BirdNation)

Polyandry

In polyandry, during a breeding season a female will accept sperm from multiple males. There are many reasons why a female would want to have sperm from multiple male partners. A female bird’s oviduct has a special sperm storage tubules (SSTs) where sperm can be stored for days to weeks depending on the species. Eggs are only able to be fertilized for a certain period of time. Therefore, by storing sperm, a female would be able to fertilize a clutch of eggs and not have to mate at a particular time to be able to do so. Females who practice polyandry can use this system as a sort of “insurance policy”; a female is more likely to be able to fertilize eggs if one of her partner’s sperm are defective if she mated with multiple males. Other reasons for polyandry include securing more parental care/resources/genetic benefits from secondary partners, or being forced to copulate by sexually aggressive “partners”.

This mating type is only found in about 1% of bird species. Examples of polyandry in bird species include Spotted Sandpipers, Sanderlings , and Wilsons Phalaropes.

Spotted Sandpiper (Image by David Horowitz)
Sanderling (Image by BirdNation)

Polygyny

In polygyny, males are able to have sexual access to two or more females, however a female will only mate with one male. Males of this mating systems may defend valuable resources that will attract several mates as well as try to monopolize potential mates against rival males. Males may also defend a specific territory and try to convince females to visit and mate with him. This tactic is called lek polygyny. Some males in a lek may not mate with any females, while only a few males will mate with most of the females.

Many grassland birds practice polygyny. Examples include Red-winged Blackbirds, Great Sage Grouse, Bobolinks, and Marsh Wrens.

Red-winged Blackbird, Taylor’s Wildlife Preserve (Image by BirdNation)


And if this all wasn’t complicated enough…

…sometimes birds get divorced. Yep, you read that right. Sometimes the breeding season is unsuccessful and each member of the pair will choose to mate with someone else. Sometimes a partner dies and the widow finds a new mate. Whatever the reason, it just goes to show that avian lives are much more complex than we previously knew or imagined.

So what about those Mute Swans we were talking about earlier? Divorce can rarely occur between Mute Swans, but they are generally monogamous. They do tend to form strong pair bonds and work together well as a team. Does that mean Mute Swans are an accurate depiction of true love? Maybe. Or maybe not…you be the judge. It does prove though that the avian social life is complex and fascinating.