Rhode Island Adventures

Last week Dave and I took a 3-day vacation to Rhode Island. We’ve visited Rhode Island in the past, but just as a day trip stop on the way to or from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This time the trip’s main purpose was birding (of course! hehe), but we did some other fun things along the way. As far as the birding went, we did see a decent amount over the 3-day period. It was a little hard to get close to anything though with the way the trails were laid out, so we don’t have too many bird pictures, but we did get to explore a variety of habitats.

Ningret National Wildlife Refuge

There are 5 National Wildlife Refuges in Rhode Island, and Ninigret was our first stop. Ninigret NWR is 858 acres that is divided by Highway 1. The Northern section has the headquarters, Kettle Pond Visitor Center, and the other section is the Salt Pond Unit. We stopped at Kettle Pond, but mainly explored the Salt Pond Unit. There are a variety of habitats to explore, such as wooded swamps, grasslands, and freshwater ponds. Part of the refuge used to be the Charlestown Naval Auxiliary Landing Fields. Nature has mainly taken over the area, but there is still evidence of some landing strips and the trail in this area is paved. We also spent some time at Grassy Point, where you can see Ninigret Pond, Rhode Island’s largest coastal salt pond.

Bird Highlights: Osprey, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Green Herons, Double-crested Cormorants, Great Black-backed Gulls, Cedar Waxwings

Norman Bird Sanctuary

On Thursday we spent the morning at Norman Bird Sanctuary in Newport County. Norman Bird Sanctuary is 325 acres and has an impressive 7 miles of hiking trails. Ecosystems found at Norman include salt marsh, ponds, streams, ridges, shrub growth, forests, and open fields. The Sanctuary also has a number of gardens on the property as well as Paradise Farm, where groups can stay as part of their ecotourism programs. The ridges ascend 70 feet and overlook Gardiner Pond and Nelson Pond.

Bird Highlights: Solitary Sandpiper (lifer for us), Green Herons, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, Eastern Towhees, Black-capped Chickadees

Newport

Thursday night we spent some time in the city of Newport. Our purpose wasn’t birding, but if you stay in Rhode Island I highly recommend checking out Newport. This charming maritime city sits right on Narragansett Bay and is known as the sailing capital of the United States. There’s so much to do and see in Newport: relax at the numerous beaches, tour the famous Gilded Age mansions, museums like the International Tennis Hall of Fame, dining at fantastic restaurants, or the Cliff Walk. We stopped at Easton Beach and saw the beach dotted with over 100 Semipalmated Plovers. We also did a small portion of the Cliff Walk. On the Cliff Walk we happened to see a decent amount of birds such as Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Song Sparrows, and American Goldfinches.

Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge

Our final destination was Trustom Pond NWR. This 787-acre refuge has freshwater/saltwater ponds, woodlands, fields, and sandy beach habitats. There are two points (Otter Point and Osprey Point) that look out over Trustom Pond, Rhode Island’s only undeveloped coastal salt point. We only had time to go to Osprey Point, but from their we were able to see a barrier beach that is one of the few Rhode Island nesting spots of Piping Plovers and Least Terns. There’s also a small Farm Pond where we spotted many frogs and turtles.

Bird Highlights: Numerous Ospreys, Mute Swans, large groups of Double-crested Cormorants, Great Black-backed Gulls, Yellow Warblers, Eastern Towhees, Hairy Woodpeckers, Eastern Wood-Pewees

 

We had a wonderful time birding in Rhode Island. We love being near the ocean, so  there’s no better place to go than The Ocean State. Although Rhode Island is the smallest state, there are tons parks and beaches to explore. I would love to go back once in the fall to experience the migration, which I heard was really nice, especially at Block Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Shorebird Central

On Sunday we took a trip down to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR. Despite the flies, Forsythe is a wonderful summer birding location. I heard that there were White Ibis around, so we decided to see if we could find this rarity.

We left pretty early in the morning and it was quiet when we arrived. We spent a little time walk around the visitor center and towards Lily Pond. At the pond we found at least 5 Wood Ducks as well as some Gray Catbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds. At the visitor center we found a Chipping Sparrow being followed by a large (compared to the sparrow) juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird. Unfortunately that Chipping Sparrow was cursed with a brood parasite. Brown-headed Cowbirds always lay their eggs in other bird’s nests, although the parasitic egg isn’t always successful (check out my post on brood parasites here).

 

Next we went to the first observation platform. It was swarming with a large flock of Barn Swallows. In the distance we were able to see a few Osprey on their nest, while also spotting Laughing Gulls, Seaside Sparrows, and Marsh Wrens. There even was a little snail crossing the platform, so he was fun to see.  At Gull Pond Tower, we saw even more Wood Ducks, a Cooper’s Hawk, a Great Blue Heron, Eastern Kingbirds, and many more Barn Swallows. The surprise bird over at the Gull Pond for me was a juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron. It was our first juvenile BC-NH since our 8/23/16 Forsythe trip.

It was Shorebird and Wading Bird Central once we hit the wildlife drive. Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlins, and Semipalmated Plovers were everywhere you looked. There were a few surprises scattered around too. There was a lone American Avocet among the smaller plovers and sandpipers. It was the first time we’ve seen one at Forsythe (our firsts were at Bombay Hook NWR). We also ended up finding the White Ibis! There were 2: both juveniles. They had brown backs, white rumps, and orange bill/legs. They were foraging in a group of Snowy and Great Egrets. (Sorry the White Ibis picture isn’t that great, they were really far so it was basically so we can prove the rarity on ebird)

There were plenty of Seabirds around too. These included Forster’s/Common Terns (many of them juveniles), Laughing/Herring/Great Black-backed Gulls, Black Skimmers, and Gull-billed Terns.

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Juvenile Tern (Image by BirdNation)

 

As far as Raptors, there were at least 20 Ospreys throughout the drive. At one point we watched at least 3 of them chase one that was holding a fish. The poor guy being chased eventually lost his fish back to the water. There were also some Ospreys chasing after an adult Bald Eagle.

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We actually found a second rarity: a lone Snow Goose. This poor little guy looked like his wing was messed up, which would explain why he was still here. He waddled along the trail and disappeared into the grass.

The second half to the wildlife drive brought some more interesting surprises. There were even more wading/shorebirds/seabirds already mentioned, but on this half added Short-billed Dowitchers, Double-crested Cormorants, a single Whimbrel, Glossy Ibis, and one Ruddy Turnstone. When we were watching the Whimbrel, a small bird swam across the water in the distance. It was hard to make out, but we could see it’s downturned bill and rump sticking out. It quickly disappeared into the reeds, but we were able to figure out that it was a Clapper rail, another life bird for us.

August at Forsythe NWR is beautiful. There marshes and pools were dotted with flowers, while butterflies and bees flew to the different plants. The variety of birds at this time of the year is fantastic. We ended our day with a total of 55 species (2 rarities: White Ibis/Snow Goose and 2 life bird: Clapper Rail/White Ibis).

Stay tuned: Dave and I have been birding yesterday and today in some surprise birding locations we didn’t expect to go to. I’ll have some posts about that in the upcoming days. 🙂

 

 

Old Man Plover

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“Old Man Plover” (Image by Alice Van Zoeren via audubon.org)

Meet BO:X,g (pronounced box gee). He’s 15 years old, making him the oldest Piping Plover in the Great Lakes population. But BO:X,g is better known for his endearing nickname, “Old Man Plover”.

There are 3 populations of the Piping Plover in the United States: the Great Plains, the Atlantic Coast, and the Great Lakes. Plovers on the Atlantic Coast and Great Plains regions are considered federally threaten, while the Great Plains population is considered federally endangered. A strategy used to help keep track of threatened bird populations in banding. Each bird in the population has a unique combination of colored bands that researchers can use to identify individuals. Old Man Plover’s real “name”, BO:X,g, are the letters that are found on his leg bands.

Old Man Plover has lead a long and interesting life so far. Many Piping Plovers don’t live much longer than 5-years-old, so the fact that Old Man Plover is 15 an amazing feat. He was born in 2002 in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore in Michigan. Old Man Plover is not the oldest current living Piping Plover (the oldest is 17 and lives in the Atlantic Coast population), but he has played a large role in the revival of his population.

Like many other Piping Plovers, Old Man Plover is loyal to not only his birthplace breeding grounds, but also his wintering grounds in Cape Romaine National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina (where our American Oystercatcher friend, M3, from Cape May winters too). He is also very punctual; every year he’s arrives at Sleeping Bear Dunes on exactly April 13 to rendezvous with his current mate. His current mate is actually his 3rd. His first mate (referred to as his childhood sweetheart in the article I read haha!) died in 2002 and his second mate died in 2013.

Over the years, Old Man Plover has successfully fledged 36 chicks, averaging around 3 or 4 chicks per breeding season (as compared to the normal rate of 1.5). The biologists who study him believe he is well represented in his population. The Great Lakes population has been slowly increasing, but there is still a long way to go to get to the goal of 150 breeding pairs. As of last spring (2016), there were 75 breeding pairs in the region and 28 of them nested in Old Man Plover’s Sleeping Bear Dunes area.

There’s been some more great news recently about the Great Lakes Piping Plover population. Last year, Piping Plovers nested in Lower Green Bay, Wisconsin, for the first time in 75 years. It was also announced as of July 24, 2017, that two Piping Plover nests have been found along Lake Erie in Pennsylvania. This is the first time Piping Plovers have nested in Pennsylvania in 60 years.

Old Man Plover is an inspiration, not just to me, but to the people who want to help conserve vulnerable species. This cute little plover doesn’t even know it, but he has made such a positive impact on his population and is a symbol of hope. I firmly believe one of the keys of conservation is to educate yourself and others, so I wanted to share his story with you.

If you’d like to learn more about Old Man Plover, about the Piping Plover populations, or about what you can do to help check out the links below:

Meet Old Man Plover, the Pride of the Great Lakes by Meaghan Lee Callaghan on Audubon.org

Success! Piping Plovers Nested in Pennsylvania for the First Time in 60 Years by Andy McGlashen via Audubon.org

Piping Plover Fact Sheet, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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)

Double Day Trip

Sunday tends to be our normal birding day. This week we were having trouble deciding where we wanted to go. The options were: Palmyra Cove or Barnegat Light. Which park did we choose? We actually went to both!

We started our day at Palmyra Cove Nature Park. The weather was lovely. We had a bright blue summer sky punctuated by white puffy clouds. Our main goal for the trip was to explore the Cove Trail. On the way to the cove we listened to the song of an Indigo Bunting, saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker, watched some Carolina Chickadees chase each other, and got a rare glimpse of a Warbling Vireo (I say rare because they are usually always at the top of the tree, so I tend to hear them frequently instead of see them).

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Red-bellied Woodpecker (Image by BirdNation)

The Cove Trail runs along the Delaware River. Sometimes you can walk on the beach along the river, but it was around high tide so that wasn’t an option. We did see some Double-crested Cormorants, as well as a flock of at least 70 Canada Geese float by.

There’s a wooden platform that extends out into the marshland of the cove. We were pretty close to it when we almost ran right into a Black Rat Snake! It was having a sun-bathing section right in the middle of the trail.

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Black Rat Snake (Image by BirdNation)

There were a lot of birds around once we reached the platform. There were 2 Bald Eagles in a nest, 6 or 7 Great Blue Herons, Mallards, small flocks of Semipalmated Sandpipers, swallows, Eastern Phoebes, Red-winged Blackbirds, a Cedar Waxwing, Orchard Orioles, and juvenile Starlings to name a few. My favorite visitor though was an adorable Spotted Sandpiper. It landed on the platform railing and pumped his little tail. With all their teetering motions, no wonder why people have nicknames these little guys the “teeter-peep” or the “tip-tail”.

After Palmyra we made our way across the state to the Jersey Shore to go back to Long Beach Island. We went to Barnegat Light SP about a month ago, but wanted to spend some time at the ocean. We arrived at the park in the late afternoon. This time we saw 3 Piping Plovers running around the beach. I think one of them was a juvenile, because it lacked the black neck and forehead bands that the breeding adult Piping Plovers exhibit.

 

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Piping Plover (Image by BirdNation)

We also saw American Oystercatcher T2 and its family again. The 2 chicks are still in what is called their prejuvenal (first prebasic) molt. This means that they have some down on the tips of some of their feathers. They are in this stage from June-August and have their full juvenal plumage by week 6. They also still have a larger black tip on their orange bills than the adults do. I was happy to see the T2 family again. The 2 juveniles were banded. We weren’t able to read their bands from the distance we were at, but maybe if they return in the future we’ll get a better glimpse of them. The picture on the left is one of the chicks a month ago in June, and the picture on the right are what they look like now in July. They grow up so fast, don’t they?

Double birding days are certainly a special treat! 🙂

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Barnegat Light Beach (Image by BirdNation)

Bringing Back the Bobwhite (and the blog!)

Hi, friends! Long time, no see! Sorry I’ve been m.i.a. for the past few weeks. To be honest, I’ve had a bit of writer’s block since my summer break from work has started. A lot of my time lately has been taken up by my Biology I lecture/lab class. I’ve also completed my Picture Life List (to be continued…), which was a goal of mine for awhile now. And I have another exciting bird-related journey that I’ll be starting on, but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to learn about that one!

My blog is not the only thing returning though. The Bobwhites are starting to return too!

The Northern Bobwhite (a.k.a. the Virginia Quail), is a small quail that lives in the Eastern United States. They are found in weedy meadows, fields, open woods with dense native grasses, and clear cuts. Grasses are important to Bobwhites because they spend their lives on the ground. Over the past 40 years, Northern Bobwhites, and other species that depend on the same habitat, have been declining.

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Northern Bobwhite (Image by BirdNation)

Although Bobwhites were commonly hunted, the reason for the decline is mainly habitat degradation. America’s grasslands are rapidly disappearing, and changes in agricultural policies and cattle grazing have all had an impact on the Bobwhite. Young forest is also important to Bobwhites, which could be managed with prescribed fires. Over the years, prescribed burns have become less accepted, therefore not rejuvenating the young forests that Bobwhites and other related species need to thrive. Northern Bobwhites do very poorly in urban habitats and dense forest. Bobwhites are not the only species on the decline due to habitat degradation. Pollinators, native plants, and a variety of grassland birds (such as the Grasshopper Sparrow, Dickcissels, and Eastern Meadowlark to name a few) have been suffering along with the Northern Bobwhite.

There are many conservation groups working together to help the Bobwhites and other grassland creatures. One of these groups is the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, which consists of 25 states coming together to form an action plan to save the Bobwhite.

Another group involved with the NBCI is New Jersey Audubon (I mention them specifically because I’m from NJ and an NJ Audubon member). The Northern Bobwhite population nationally has decreased 82% between 1966 and 2010, and the bird was considered functionally extinct in New Jersey. The tide is slowly starting to turn however. In April 2015, NJ Audubon translocated Northern Bobwhites from Georgia (which has a viable Bobwhite population) to the Pinelands area. 3 months later they found the first Bobwhite nest, which was the first one in the NJ Pinelands since the 1980s. 66 eggs were found during the first release, as well as more nests from the second 2016 release, and the 2017 release. The first 2017 nest was found at the Pine Island Cranberry Study sight in June, as well as 3 more active nests. This is great news for the Northern Bobwhite!

When it comes to conservation, birds are considered an indicator species. If there’s a problem with the local bird population, chances are very high there are other major issues affecting other members of the ecosystem. Maintain healthy grasslands and open forests are not only going to help the Northern Bobwhites, but the other species that depend on these habitats for their survival too.

I started actively birding over 3 years ago now, and this year was the first time that Dave and I have seen/experienced Bobwhites. I hope that as conservation efforts continue, the Bobwhite can return to New Jersey and other Eastern states so that future generations can enjoy hearing and seeing these adorable little quails.

If you’d like to read our most recent Northern Bobwhite experience at Cape May, click here.

If you’d like to learn how you can help Northern Bobwhites and conservation efforts, check out the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative website here.

To read the New Jersey Audubon bobwhite article, click here.

 

Nests and Surprise Guests

Hi friends! I received an update from the American Oystercatcher Working Group about T2, who we spotted for the second year in a row at Barnegat Light State Park. T2 was banded on Island Beach State Park (which is on the barrier island directly north of Long Beach Island). T2 was banded on September 19, 2007 and spends its winters in Cedar Key, Florida, which is about a 1,050 mile migration one-way from Barnegat Light. Pretty cool to get to know a bird personally, right?

This past Friday (June 16), Dave and I took a trip to Cape May. We spent some time at South Cape May Meadows (SCMM) and Cape May Point State Park (CMPSP).

SCMM and CMPSP actually connect through a path. We made our way through the meadow with the intent of taking this path, but it turns out it was closed off. The connecting path is right before entering the beach, so we decided to explore the beach instead. It turns out the path being closed was a good thing, because we had the opportunity to watch some nesting Least Terns.

Least Terns are the smallest of the North American Tern species, standing only at about 9 inches tall. In breeding plumage, Least Terns have unique bills because they are yellow with a black tip, as opposed to orange or black of other terns. Least Terns also have a white forehead and two dark primary feathers. There were a few pairs either sitting on eggs, flying around to get food for their mate, or some defending their nests. We watched one one breeding pair repeatedly dive bomb an American Oystercatcher pair, who quickly got the message that they weren’t welcome in that spot. It was the first time we had the chance to see any sort of nesting tern. They were fascinating to watch. If you look closely to the picture on the right of the tern standing, you can see its 2 speckled eggs behind the sticks.

Throughout our walk we kept seeing an Oystercatcher pair. Eventually we saw one of them sitting on their nest. We were observing this oystercatcher from a distance when its mate came from the other direction and walked right up to us. This Oystercatcher had bands which read M3. Before walking off Dave was able to get some good pictures of M3’s metal band, so I submitted a report about M3 to the Oystercatcher Working Group as well. M3 was banded on Avalon Beach, NJ on June 26, 2009. It migrates over 670 miles one way to spend the winters at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina.

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American Oystercatcher M3

Other birds we saw at the Meadows included at least 8 Ospreys, Common Yellowthroats, Black Skimmers, a Willet, and Great Black-backed Gulls to name a few. We drove over to CMPSP to see what we would find there.

It was pretty quiet bird-wise at the Point since there were more people around. From the Hawk Watch platform we saw 20 Mute Swans (never saw that many at once!), Great Egrets, Canada Geese, Mallards, House Finches, and Red-winged Blackbirds. We were getting tired, so we decided we were only going to walk up the path a little bit then head back to the car. We didn’t expect to see too much.

On the way back, Dave paused. “Is that…a Bobwhite?”. I listened closely.

“poor- bob-WHITE!” 

Yep. Our ears weren’t playing tricks on us. It was a Northern Bobwhite. A Bobwhite is not quite who we expected to hear at the beach since they tend to live in forest or brushy habitats. Then I remembered that people were reporting Bobwhites here at the Point on the NJ Rare Bird List. Some people say they were released there, which is very likely. We started walking towards the sound when a cute, plump brown bird popped out from the grass.

The next moment made the whole trip for me. It ran right at us, stopped, and started making little mumbling sounds at us. It was adorable to watch it run around. It quickly ran back into the grass only to emerge onto a large sand pile a few moments later. Then its friend showed up on another sand pile and began to make the “bob-WHITE!” call. The original Bobwhite wasn’t too happy with the other’s appearance though, because it ran down the sand pile and waddled straight down the path until we couldn’t see it anymore (I couldn’t help but think of Forrest Gump, “Run, Bobwhite, Run!” hahaha :-P). The Bobwhites were really amusing, and a fun way to end our Cape May trip.

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Male Northern Bobwhite (Image by BirdNation)