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

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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. 

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 Part 1: Blackwater NWR

Dave and I are on a weekend get-away to Chincoteague Island, Virginia. On the way to Virginia, we stopped at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland.

Blackwater NWR is more than 28,000 acres of tidal marsh and mixed loblolly pine and hardwood forests located along the Atlantic Flyway. The refuge features a 4.5 mile wildlife drive as well 4 walking trails. Blackwater NWR has one of the highest concentrations of nesting Bald Eagles on the Atlantic Coast.

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Blackwater River (Image by BirdNation)

The first bird that we saw upon arriving into the refuge was an adult Bald Eagle. By the end of the afternoon we ended up seeing 10 eagles. We saw a mix of adults and juveniles. Bald Eagles don’t fully gain their adult plumage of white heads/tails until they are 5-years-old.

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Juvenile Bald Eagle (Image by BirdNation)

There were still many large flocks on wintering waterfowl. Hundreds of Tundra Swans and Snow Geese gathered together in the pools behind and next to the visitor’s center. Northern Shovelers were also very abundant. Other waterfowl included Gadwalls, American Wigeons, Canada Geese, Mallards, and American Black Ducks. Interspersed between the waterfowl were small groups of American Coots. Although they look duck-like, American Coots are not closely related to ducks. They are more closely related to rails.

 

We spent some time walking along the Woods Trail which consists of pine and mixed hardwood trees. This area is prime habitat for the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel. Along the trail we saw Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Brown Creepers, a Carolina Wren, and a Hermit Thrush.

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Hermit Thrush (Image by BirdNation)

Other birds observed included Great Blue Herons, Greater Yellowlegs, Red-winged Blackbirds, an Eastern Bluebird, Ring-billed Gulls, Red-tailed Hawks, and Tree Swallows.

After spending a lovely morning at Blackwater NWR, we made our way to Chincoteague Island, Virginia. After checking into our hotel, found Veteran’s Memorial Park (on eBird as Chincoteague Memorial Park.). From the park we could see Assateague Lighthouse across the water as well as about 8 of the famous wild ponies. At Memorial Park we saw Bufflehead, American Oystercatchers, Red-breasted Mergansers, Black Vultures, Greater Yellowlegs, Common Loons, various gulls, and a bunch of Turkey Vultures sunbathing on a house.

Tomorrow we plan on exploring Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. I’m looking forward to see what we discover!

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Assateague Lighthouse across the water (Image by BirdNation)

Orchids and Winter Blues

Today was my best friend Casey’s birthday, so I took her to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA. We like visiting gardens together and have gone to Longwood Gardens for both their spring and fall exhibits. From now until March 25 there are two exhibits on display in the Conservatory: Orchid Extravaganza and Winter Blues. Blue is a rare color in the flower world, so the Winter Blues exhibit showcased blue hues. We had a wonderful time exploring the hundreds of lovely flowers and plants. We even saw a couple get engaged in front of the main display (it was like a scene straight out of a movie). Here are some of my favorite flowers of the day :

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Mustard Colored Orchid (Image by BirdNation)
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Pink Beauty (Image by BirdNation)
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Purple Striped Orchid (Image by BirdNation)
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‘Lingholm’ Blue-Poppy (Image by BirdNation)
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Striking Purple Orchid (Image by BirdNation)
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Hibiscus (Image by BirdNation)
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The Main Display (Image by BirdNation)
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Orchid Trellis (Image by BirdNation)
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Yellow and Red Orchid (Image by BirdNation)
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Bigleaf Hydrangea (Image by BirdNation)

(Please note: I don’t know the actual names of a lot of these flowers. If you know the species names please let me know in the comments)

If you want to check out some of the other gardens Casey and I have explored, click the following links:

Longwood Gardens Spring 2017 

Longwood Gardens Fall 2016

New Jersey Botanical Gardens: Ringwood SP