The Daily Mockingbird

Summer is a special time of year to many people. People love the beach, having some time off, and spending time doing outdoor activities. There are certainly things that I appreciate about summer too, but it’s gone from being my favorite season as a kid to my least favorite. It’s my least favorite season to go birding because like many of us, birds would rather stay out of the heat as best they can and are less active during the day.

But there is something that’s really special to me about the summer since I’ve been into birding: the daily Mockingbird. It seems like once the end of May hits, I end up seeing Mockingbirds on a daily basis, usually multiple times throughout the day. Northern Mockingbirds happen to already be in my top 10 of favorite birds, but seeing the flash of their white wing patches in the middle of a summer’s day gives me a kind of joy I can’t describe. Here are some interesting facts about these vocal virtuosos.

  • Throughout the year Northern Mockingbirds, who can be found all across the United States, tend to be alone or in pairs. Whether they are alone or not, they are always conspicuous. Mockingbirds love being up high on trees, fences, or other platforms to proudly sing their songs, but you could also find them running around on the ground or grass.
  • The Northern Mockingbird’s scientific name, Mimus polyglottos, roughly translates to “mimics many harmonies”. If you’ve ever heard a bunch of different bird songs/calls in a row, but they are only coming from one bird, then you are listening to a Mockingbird performance. They are part of what is called the “Mimics” (which also includes Brown Thrashers and Gray Catbirds), meaning their songs are made up of songs fragments they learned from other species, as well as mockingbird-specific songs.
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Northern Mockingbird at Strawbridge Lake (Image by BirdNation)
  • The number of songs a Mockingbird can sing varies based on its range, but many male Mockingbirds can sing up to 200 songs! Females sing also, but not as loudly or as often. Males tend to have two sets of repertoire: songs for summer and songs for fall. The songs themselves are a mix of long musical phrases that are repeated usually 2-6 times before a new phrase starts. A Mockingbird song can range anywhere from 20 seconds to a few hours! Singing is used as a way to defend their territory as well as sexual selection for mating. New songs can be learned throughout life.
  • A frequent movement done by Northern Mockingbirds is what’s called the “wing flash display”. In the display, they will partially or fully open their wings showing their large white patches while taking jerky steps forward. Some scientist thing this display may help startle insects and make them easier to catch. The odd this is though that other mockingbirds throughout the world that don’t have wing patches use this movement too…so we’re still not quite certain what the purpose of this display is.
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    Mockingbird Wing Display (Image via wikipedia commons by By Manjithkaini (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia CommonsManjith Kainickara)

    Singing is a large part of a Mockingbird’s life, and they can sing both during the day and at night. Unmated males are probably the most insistent though; they make up most of the nocturnal singers. It’s more common for an unmated male to nocturnally sing during a full moon.

  • Northern Mockingbirds are popular in United States culture and are the state birds of 5 states: Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas (formerly in South Carolina).
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Mockingbird eating crumbs at Palmyra Cove parking lot (Image by David Horowitz)
  • Northern Mockingbirds don’t just imitate other birds. They can also imitate dogs, cats, frogs, and even artificial sounds like car alarms! They may tend to fool us humans into thinking there’s another bird around, but other birds are not normally fooled by the Mockingbird’s mimicking ways.

Over the years, I’ve found many different Mockingbird territories in parks I frequent as well as other places in my area. My favorite is the Mockingbird who lives towards the front section of Boundary Creek. Dave and I took a walk on Sunday at Boundary, and my Mockingbird friend was running around the lawn grabbing bugs. He frequently flicked his long tail and hopped around to expose the bugs, then quickly snatched them up. He was quite amusing to watch. I love going to Boundary and finding him either running around or upon his treetop sings his little heart out (his picture is below).

Do you have an Mockingbirds that live nearby? Tell me your mockingbird story in the comments.

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Boundary Creek Mockingbird (Image by BirdNation)
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The Birds of Spring

So far, May has been a pretty busy birding month for us: new life list editions, an owlet, purchasing our first spotting scope, big day events, and rare birds. The past week wasn’t as busy, but we still had the opportunity to get out a few times this week to enjoy the spring migrants. Dave and I went to Strawbridge Lake and Boundary Creek, Dave and his dad went to Palmyra Cove, and I went with my mom and sister to Haddon Lake for Mother’s Day.  I wanted to share some of the pictures we took on this week’s trips.

Strawbridge Lake

 

Palmyra Nature Cove (all these pictures were taken by Dave)

 

Haddon Lake Park

 

We didn’t take any pictures at Boundary Creek because it was supposed to rain and pretty dark out. The highlight of that trip was seeing 5 Baltimore Orioles: 3 males and 2 females. It was fascinating watching the orioles flying around chasing each other, fighting, calling/singing, and displaying.

We have a very exciting trip coming up…I can’t wait to share our experiences with you! It’ll be a surprise…stay tuned.

Owlet!

It was a cool, breezy evening on Friday. Dave and I were exploring Boundary Creek to see if any new spring migrants arrived. A flute-like sound came from one of the nearby trees. It was a Baltimore Oriole, a first of season for us. We made our way to the Beaver Pond platform to see who else was around.

It may not be a spring migrant, but there was something new at the Beaver Pond: Mute Swans. Of all the years walking at Boundary, this was the first time we’ve seen Mute Swans there. A lot of times Dave and I are on the platform alone, but there were some other birders around who we chatted with for a while. Interestingly, they’ve never see Mute Swans at Boundary either.The swans spent some time preening and swimming around the beaver lodge.

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Mute Swans at Boundary Creek (Image by BirdNation)

A few mammals made a special appearance: 2 beavers and a muskrat. The beaver’s lodge (where they live), is not far from the platform, so many visitors arrive at night to see if they can spot them. It was my lucky night: I finally was able to get some nice pictures of one of them. The muskrat also showed up at one point. It’s likely that the muskrat lives in the beaver lodge too. Many people don’t realize that other smaller creatures usually end up living in the beaver lodge, and the beavers don’t really seem to mind (to learn more about that, check out “Leave It To Beavers”, from the PBS series “Nature”).

A woman who I was talking to for a bit asked if we ever bird at Palmyra. I told her that we do, and she asked if we saw the owlets yet. I did hear that there were 2 owlets that live there,  but didn’t know where to find them. She was happy to tell us the location, so from that point I knew what our Saturday goal was: to find some owlets.

Dave and I would be considered “night owls”, so we do a lot of late afternoon/evening or mid-morning birding. But I knew it was important to try to find the owlets in the morning, so we took one of our first early morning bird trips (well…early for us at least lol).

On the Perimeter Trail is a newer nest box. The woman told us that the owlets didn’t nest in that box, but in a nearby tree. We knew the location, so we quickly made our way out to the nest box. When we arrived we noticed that the box tree had a message spray painted onto it: “there are two of them”. We knew we had to be close.

As we scanned the trees, a group of birders arrived. One of them asked how our morning was and we shared some interesting sightings. Then he said “oh, they must be looking at the owlet” and pointed to another group looking in the tree. They invited us over and there it was! We’ve never really gone birding in a group before, but it was fun to enjoy the sighting with other birders. I’m glad they spotted that owlet!

The owlet was older sitting in a far branch looking away from us (of course!). We spent some time watching it preen and stretch its wings. We didn’t see the second owlet, but it probably wasn’t too far away. This was our our 6th Great Horned Owl sighting, but our first owlet. What a wonderful experience! (To read about previous owl sighting check the previous link or this one for 2 separate stories).

(We did our best with the pics, it was far and there were a lot of leaves. At least we saw it!)

We continued along the Perimeter Trail with a few other birders. I was really enjoying walking with them because I learned so much. They even helped us find some new life birds! We saw our first Swamp Sparrow and first Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Other birds we observed were Black-and-White Warblers, Indigo Buntings, Northern Waterthrushes, Gray Catbirds (my favorites are finally back!!), Eastern Towhees, Yellow Warblers, Warbling Vireos, a variety of Swallows, and some Yellow-rumped Warblers. I enjoyed walking with other birders, and hope to do more group birding in the future.

Last week was a really exciting birding week for us: a record day at Edwin B. Forsythe (53 species + a rare Black-headed Gull), seeing our first owlet,  and 7 new life birds (5 at Forsythe, 2 at Palmyra). We also purchased our first spotting scope! We bought a Celestron Trail20-60×80 angled scope. We tested it on Thursday near the one of the yacht clubs on the Delaware River and found 2 Osprey nests!

We have a few exciting birding trips coming up later this month that I can’t wait to share with you!

 

Wood Duck Wednesday!

For the final Waterfowl Wednesday of the winter, I wanted to feature one of my favorite ducks; the Wood Duck. I am always on the lookout for Wood Ducks when I go birding, especially at Boundary Creek. Dave and I know a mating pair live there, so we always try to find them. The last time we visited Boundary, the Wood Duck pair was hanging out with the Mallards. We were able to get our best picture of them to date, and even that is still blurry because they are always slightly to far out of range.

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Boundary Creek Wood Duck pair (Image by David Horowitz)

Anyway, I think Wood Ducks are beautiful birds and always wonderful to see. Here are 7 fun facts about these stunning ducks.

  • Both male and female Wood Ducks have distinctive plumage. Males have buffy flanks, a chestnut breast, a round head with a purplish-green hooded crest, and a white “bridle”. Their eyes and bill are bright red-orange. Females are a pale gray with spotted flanks. She has an eyering and white patches that encircle the eyes. Even though their plumage is so distinctive, they are masters of camouflage in their habitat (especially the female, who can seem to disappear by simply moving over a few steps). They are smaller than Mallards, at about 19 inches in length.
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Male and Female Wood Ducks (Image by BS Thurner Hof via wikimedia commons)
  •  Unlike most ducks, Wood Ducks nest in tree cavities. As a result, they have strong claws that help them climb trees. The tree is usually close to water, but can be as far away as 1.2 miles.
  • Of all the North American ducks, Wood Ducks are the only species that regularly produce 2 broods per year. There can be up to 15 eggs in a nest cavity. When the young hatch they are precocial, so they have their down feathers and leave the nest within a few hours. Remember, they hatched up high in a tree, so Wood Duck chicks need to jump out of the tree to make their way towards the water! It’s quite a sight to watch a parachuting Wood Duck chick. (I suggest you google some videos of jumping wood duck chicks, it’s a lot of fun!)
  • Wood Ducks live year-round in the Southeastern and Pacific Coast of the United States. They can breed throughout the Midwest, New England, and Northwestern United States. They are rarely found throughout most of the Interior West/Southwest, except for small pockets of year-round populations. They prefer wooded habitats near rivers, ponds, streams, and swamps.
  • It’s common for Wood Ducks to demonstrate intraspecific brood parasitism, meaning females will lay their eggs in each other’s nests. It’s possibly that a nest cavity that has been parasitized can have up to 40 eggs in it!
  • They are strong fliers, and can fly up to speeds of 30 miles per hour.
  • Ducklings can jump from a tree up to 300 ft high without injury!
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Female and chicks (Image via Pinterest, liberatingwings.typepad.com)

Have you ever seen a Wood Duck? Tell me your Wood Duck experience in the comments.

Next week is Spring, so we will start a new feature. I hope you enjoyed another winter of Waterfowl Wednesday!

 

Nest Watch!

Hello friends! I wanted to post today to catch up on the past month or so. The end of the school year is approaching (I’m a teacher), so things have been pretty hectic and I haven’t posted much. Even though its been busy I have been birding, so here are some of the highlights from the past weeks.

I feel so lucky to have been able to do some nest watching this spring. I found two Yellow Warbler nests at Boundary Creek. One of the nests we found was just being started by a female at the time. A few days later we were able to see the results of her hard work. It’s amazing how quickly birds will build these amazing nests. Here’s the before and after.

Last year at Boundary Creek we discovered a Barn Swallow nest on top of a light near the bathrooms. We ended up observing the nest throughout the season. This particular female had two broods with about 3 chicks fledging per brood. A few weeks ago we checked the nest and there she was! I haven’t seen chicks yet, but she was sitting on the nest. I was wondering about her so I’m glad to see her again.

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Barn Swallow on her nest (Image by BirdNation)

In mid-May Dave and I spotted a female Baltimore Oriole hanging around a sycamore tree at Strawbridge Lake. It turns out she was constructing a nest. Baltimore Oriole nests are really cool because they make hanging sacs. The female will lay her nesting material on a branch and by randomly poking starts to form knots. It takes about a week for a female to finish a nest. (If you want to learn more about Baltimore Orioles and their nests, check out my Migration Monday article about them here)  A week later I found her beautiful completed nest.

A few months ago House Sparrows moved into our nest box. We weren’t seeing much happening on our nest box cam for awhile except the shuffling of sticks. About a week ago Dave turned on the cam and there was a chick! It was waiting to be fed by its mom. House Sparrows make messy nests, so we didn’t realize there were eggs. I’m not sure how many chicks there were, but there were at least 2. They fledged a few days ago.

Have you observed any nests this spring? Tell me about it in the comments. I would love to hear about them!

They’re Finally Here!

Friends, I’m so excited! One of my absolute favorite birds is back! I saw one of my balcony this morning and all throughout my walk at Boundary Creek tonight. I’ve been waiting so long for this.

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Gray Catbird being awesome! (Image by BirdNation)

The Gray Catbird! I love Gray Catbirds. These little guys definitely have personality. First of all: they are super cute. I like their little black caps and their rusty rumps. Secondly, I love hearing their cat-like “meeeh!” calls coming from the bushes as I hike. They are also awesome because they are in the mimic family and their songs are a jumble of all sorts of interesting sounds. I am ecstatic that they are back and will definitely write a post about how great they are soon (so look out for that!).

We had a few “firsts” today. It was the first day in a whole week that it didn’t rain, so we walked at Boundary Creek. One of our “first of season” birds was the Baltimore Oriole. We spotted a male in a tree singing a song. Later in the walk we saw a male and female together. Last year we found a Baltimore Oriole nest at Boundary so I wonder if that nest will be used again this season or not.

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Male Baltimore Oriole (Image by BirdNation)

We also have a new lifer for our list: the Field Sparrow. There were two looking for food on the side of the path. I originally thought that it could have been a Chipping Sparrow. However, Chipping Sparrow’s rufous cap is brighter and it has a dark eye stripe as opposed to the Field Sparrow’s lighter eye stripe. It’s always exciting to add a new bird to your life list.

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Field Sparrow (Image by BirdNation)

Other birds we saw included American Robins, Carolina Chickadees, Canada Geese, European Starlings, Tree Swallows, American Crows, Song Sparrows, and Red-winged Blackbirds. We also saw a lot of cute rabbits.

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Female Red-winged Blackbird (Image by BirdNation)
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Tree Swallow checking out the real estate (Image by BirdNation)
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Adorable baby rabbit (Image by BirdNation)

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. My mom, sister and I will be celebrating by going to Amico Island. We are hoping to see some more warblers so I’ll let you know what we see.

Also, exciting news! I will be going to my favorite place later this week for part of my vacation: the Cornell Lab of Ornithology! I will tell you more about this soon!

Shore Adventures

Hi everyone! Exciting news: Dave and I finally purchased our first DSLR camera. We picked it up Friday night and naturally we were super excited to use it, so we went birding 3 times last weekend. We are still learning all about the cool features, but we had fun testing it.

Saturday night we went to Boundary Creek. It was a peaceful night and we saw many of the residents. I was happy to run into one of my favorite residents, the Northern Mockingbird. These little guys are in the mimic family (other in this family include Gray Catbirds and Brown Thrashers). Mockingbirds are masters at imitating other birds in the area and surrounding sounds. Their songs are a jumble of many different bird calls and sometimes the real species may respond. I usually see this guy on top of the trees near the parking lot singing, but today he was spending time in the grass.

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Northern Mockingbird (Image by BirdNation)

We also saw a lovely White-throated Sparrow. There are 2 plumage variations: tan-striped and white. We get the white variation in my area. I love the male’s yellow patch above the eye. Honestly, I’m surprised I’m still seeing White-throated Sparrows right now. They are a winter bird in my area, but still see them on a daily basis. I wonder how much longer they will stick around. I’m just as happy seeing them now as I was when the arrived in the fall.

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Male White-throated Sparrow (Image by David Horowitz)

We spotted the Wood Duck pair out in the creek. As usual, they were really far away so even with our new lens we managed a mediocre picture. But at least we finally have one picture of them in the creek.

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Wood Duck pair (Image by David Horowitz)

On Sunday Dave and I went birding at the shore. I wanted to go to Manasquan Inlet and we found a nice park called Fisherman’s Cove Conservation Area in Manasquan. There were a few trails that lead you along the small beach/dunes and a meadow. The first thing we spotted were Brants: over 120 of them all floating around the inlet.

Some of the birds we saw included: Red-winged Blackbirds, Northern Cardinals, Ring-billed Gulls, a Common Loon, and numerous Song Sparrows. Across the inlet on another beach were 4 American Oystercatchers. We also watched a Red-tailed Hawk get mobbed by crows. At our car a large flock of Double-crested Cormorants flew by in a V-shape. There were at least 60 of them! (of course the camera was already away so I have no proof!) I have never experienced something quite like that. It was a pretty park that I would definitely visit again.

You have to cross a small bridge when entering this particular section of Manasquan and we got stuck waiting for it to let boats pass through going and coming from the park. However, we got a little treat while waiting the second time around. Two medium-small shore birds quickly flew into the water and waded around. I am still not 100% on our id, but I believe we saw a Greater Yellowlegs. Our other guess was Willet, and we spent a lot of time comparing pictures. So I’m sticking with Yellowlegs for the moment, but either way, at least we had something enjoyable to see while sitting in traffic.

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Greater Yellowlegs? (Image by David Horowitz)

The last stop of our shore adventure was Manasquan Reservoir. I visited there last weekend with Casey, so I was excited to bring Dave to check it out. We saw many American Coots, Double-crested Cormorants, Canada Geese, Ruddy Ducks, Tree Swallows, White-throated Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, a Great Blue Heron, and even one of the resident Bald Eagles to name a few.

New Jersey has been getting a lot of rain this week, so I haven’t been out much on the weekdays. However, I’ve been hearing that many migrants have been flooding in, including a lot of warblers. So I’m hoping to see some warblers on my trips this weekend. In the meantime, check back for more cool posts!