World Oceans Day 2018

June 8th is World Oceans Day.

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Logo via worldoceansday.org

Humans and animals depend on the ocean for survival. 75% of the planet is covered by oceans. Not only do oceans generate our climate, but they regulate oxygen and supply us with food and medicine.

The oceans are one of the few places left on Earth where there are still new things being discovered all the time. It’s estimated that there are between 700,000 to a million species living in the ocean, many which have yet to be described or named. A healthy ocean is imperative to survival on Earth.

There’s a major problem though: plastic pollution. Plastic pollution is the theme for 2018’s World Ocean Day.

Plastic has literally changed our world. Yes, there are benefits of plastic, but the negatives are truly detrimental.

It’s estimated that over 8 million metric tons of plastic are thrown into our oceans each year. But it gets worse- 236,000 tons are considered microplastics, which are smaller than 5 mm long. Many seabirds and marine animals can not distinguish these pieces of microplastics from food, so they end up being ingested. According to National Geographic, almost every species of seabirds will be eating plastic by 2050. Production of plastics have increased exponentially, and the more produced, the worse the dilemma gets.

What can be done about this critical problem? Making our oceans healthier is an extremely challenging global issue. If we want our oceans to ever improve, even a little, the problem needs to be tackled worldwide. There are many organizations and scientists working on solutions for removing plastic from the oceans. In the meantime, we can all do something to reduce our impact. Every little bit counts, and even each individual taking small steps to reduce their plastic waste can make a huge difference in the long term.

  • Avoid single-use plastics. Examples of single-use plastics include straws, plastic bags, beverage bottles, and coffee stirrers. There are many reusable items that can be used instead of single-use plastics.
  • Recycle plastics properly. Educate yourself on the different types of plastic and how to recycle them in your area. Improper recycling can be just as damaging as not recycling.
  • Spread the word. Inform your family and friends about plastic pollution and how they can help.

Our oceans are fascinating places that are brimming with life. It’s up to us to take care of them so we can continue to enjoy them. Together we can make a difference.

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Image by BirdNation

If you’d like to learn more about  World Oceans Day/oceans in general/plastic pollution check out the following websites.

World Oceans Day website: http://www.worldoceansday.org/

NOAA’s National Ocean Service: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/

National Geographic Planet or Plastic? (has links to many sources I used for this article): https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/planetorplastic/

To read an article I wrote a few years ago about Plastics and Laysan Albatrosses check out Trouble in Paradise 

First of Season

Tonight we walked at Boundary Creek. During this walk we saw 4 “first of season” birds. “First of season”  (or “first of year”) is a term birders use to simply refer to the first time they observed a specific species in a specific season.

We were greeted by the crooning of a Northern Mockingbird from high upon a tree.

While searching for the singing Mockingbird, we discovered a male Orchard Oriole (first of season). Unlike the bright orange of the male Baltimore Oriole, male Orchard Orioles are chestnut and black.

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Orchard Oriole (Image by BirdNation)

The observation platform that overlooks the creek was filled with birdsong. We saw/heard a male Baltimore Oriole and Yellow Warbler (first of season for both). Other birds included a Carolina Wren eating a worm, Red-winged Blackbirds, Downy Woodpeckers, Song Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, Canada Geese, and American Robins.

This recording prominently features the Baltimore Oriole, Canada Geese, Yellow Warbler, and Red-winged Blackbirds.

At the beaver pond platform we saw a first of season Common Yellowthroat. We also observed Mallards, a small flock of Great Egrets flying overhead, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher calling, and a Gray Catbird. On the way back to the car we found an Eastern Bluebird, which is the first time we’ve seen one at Boundary Creek.

It was great to get out on a warm spring evening to experience the new arrivals.

The Waders: Great Egret

Now that it’s springtime, the wading birds have arrived. Wading Birds are not the same as Shorebirds (although shorebirds wade through water too). Wading birds include herons, egrets, ibises, flamingos, storks, spoonbills, and night-herons. This week’s featured wader is the stunning Great Egret.

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

Description:

  • Large, slender white bird
  • Long, S-shaped neck
  • Dagger-like yellow-orange bill
  • Black legs
  • Green lores
  • Breeding adults display aigrettes, long feathery plumes its back
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Great Egret (Image by BirdNation)

Range:

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Great Egret range map (Image via Cornell Lab of Ornithology, allaboutbirds.org)

Habitat: 

Marine, freshwater, and brackish wetlands. Ponds, lakes, marshes, impoundments, tidal flats, streams, rivers

Diet:

Small fish, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates, birds, small mammals. Wades through the water or stands still, and uses spear-like bill to catch prey. May forage alone or in small groups.

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Great Egret Swallowing a Fish (Image by BirdNation)

Breeding/Nesting:

  • Courtship: Breeding adults will grow large aigrettes (plumes) for display. Displays include preening, holding/shaking a twig in its bill, and neck stretching. Great Egrets are monogamous for the breeding season, but its unknown if pair bonds last multiple years.
  • Nesting Site: Males will begin constructing a nest, and the female will help complete it. Nests are usually over water in a tree, about 100 feet off the ground. Often found in mixed colonies of other wading birds.
  • Young: 1-6 eggs are incubated by both parents for 23-27 days. The chicks are covered in white down, and are tended to for 21-25 days. The chicks are fed by regurgitation. They will usually leave the nest about 3 weeks, and can fly within 6-7 weeks.
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Great Egret with breeding plumage (Image by BirdNation)

Vocalizations: 

Guttural croak.

Conservation:

In the nineteenth and early twentieth, 95% of the North American Great Egrets were hunted for their plumes. Plume hunting was banned around 1910, and the population has recovered considerably. Populations are now considered stable. Breeding ranges have been moving northward in recent years.

Fun Facts: 

  • Great Egrets are also found in part of Asia, Africa, South America, and Southern Europe.
  • The Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society.
  • A breeding colony can easily have over 1,000 Great Egret nests.
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Great Egret (Image by BirdNation)

 

Sights of Spring

Over the past 2 weeks, Dave and I have gone birding 7 times. We’ve had an interesting variety of early spring weather conditions, including chilly 40s and rain in the 70s. Here are some of my favorite moments from the last two weeks. (I don’t have pictures from all 7 trips)

Palmyra Cove Nature Park (3/23/18): first of season Killdeer and Osprey. Also saw a Muskrat

 

Barnegat Lighthouse State Park (3/25/18)

 

Palmyra Cove Nature Park (4/4/18): It started raining when we arrived, so we ended up walking in the middle of a short rainstorm. It was a really cool experience. There were still a lot of birds out, and by the time we finished walking the rain had stopped (29 species in total, including a first of season Palm Warbler and many Eastern Phoebes). We also had a chance to watch the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge open, found a goose egg, saw interesting fungi, and discovered a bunch of forest snails.

 

Island Beach State Park (4/6/18): Saw about 200 Northern Gannets and many Osprey. First of season Snowy Egrets and Laughing Gull

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)

A Winter Retrospective

We are almost 3 days into spring and so far it seems like winter just does not want to let go. Here in New Jersey we’ve been hit with another nor’easter (or “Four-easter” as the news has been calling it).  The last two days have been snow days for me, which of course I appreciate, but I really just want it to feel like spring.

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Spring “Winter” Weather (Image by BirdNation)

All this winter weather has given me time to reflect on my winter birding this year. I’d have to say that this is probably my most successful birding winter to date. In January I started a “Year List”, where I write down each species I see for the first time in 2018. From January 1st to March 8th I have observed 81 different species. A lot of people don’t realize that there are still a lot birds around in the winter (especially waterfowl), but even I didn’t realize how many there actually were! 5 of these 81 species were life list birds for Dave and I. Here are some of our 2018 winter birding highlights:

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Tufted Duck (Image by BirdNation)

 

  • 4 Snowy Owls this winter! 
  1. Christmas Eve 2017 at the Holgate Unit (LBI) of Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.
  2.  2 Snowies at the Brigantine Unit of Forsythe on February 25 when our camera died (so just bad cell phones pics of them).
  3. 1 this past Sunday, March 18. It’s probably one of the same Snowies from February, but this time our camera worked! Dave a got a pretty decent shot for how far out the bird was.

This year’s Snowy Mega Irruption certainly treated us well. I feel so lucky to have seen so many Snowies in one season!

In my past life (the non-birding one lol), I used to hate winter. In my new awesome birding life, winters are the best! So many cool birds to see, you just need to get on your cold weather gear and find them.

Now that spring has arrived (“supposedly” ha), I’m looking forward to seeing home many species I add to my year list.

What are some of your favorite winter birding moments of 2018? Tell me about them in the comments. 

Yellow Northern Cardinal?

There’s been quite a buzz the last few weeks in the bird world about this picture:

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Yellow Northern Cardinal (Image by Jeremy Black)

Nope, that’s not Photo-shopped. That is a real yellow Northern Cardinal.

The story of this cardinal began back in January, when it was spotted by birdwatcher Charlie Stephenson of Alabaster, Alabama. She was looking at her feeder when she noticed a yellow bird, but did not realized right away that it was a Northern Cardinal.

So she contacted ornithologist Geoffrey Hill of Auburn University and her friend, photographer Jeremy Black, to take pictures of this rarity. The cardinal stuck around Stephenson’s yard for a few weeks. At the end of February the photo of the cardinal went viral on Facebook.

So how exactly did this Northern Cardinal, which is normal red, become yellow?

Pigments are found in both plants and animals. In birds, pigments are found independent of feather structure. There are three pigment groups found in birds: carotenoids, porphyrines, and melanin.

Carotenoids are responsible for pigments found in birds that are yellow, red, and orange. Since carotenoids are produced by plants, birds with these pigments get them by ingesting plant material or something that ate the plant material. The quality of a bird’s diet plays a role in how brightly-colored feathers are. Birds with a poor diet will be paler in pigments than a bird with a richer diet. A theory from some scientist and birders is that diet as well as environmental factors may be affecting this cardinal’s color.

Ornithologist Geoffrey Hill believes that the yellow cardinal has xanthochroism. This is a genetic mutation where the carotenoid pigments being drawn in by the bird’s diet are yellow instead of red. Xanthochroism has been seen in other birds such as House Finches, Evening Grosbeaks, and other Northern Cardinals.

Whether the cardinal’s color is due to genetics, environmental factors, or diet, it really is quite beautiful. It’s certainly a very special and lovely sight to see.

Have you ever seen a bird that was a different color than it was supposed to be? Tell me about it in the comments.