World Migratory Bird Day 2018

October 13 is World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD).


Today was very special day for me. I had a chance to celebrate WMBD by presenting my first birding program at Rancocas Nature Center called “The Miracle of Avian Migration“. I had a wonderful audience and we had a nice hike after the presentation. While walking through the meadow we observed Eastern Phoebes, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Turkey Vultures, a Red-tailed Hawk, Red-winged Blackbirds, House Finches, and American Robins. Other creatures included a raccoon, an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, a Wolf Spider with an eggs sac, and a woolly bear caterpillar (Isabella Tiger Moth). Thank you to everybody who came out to the program!

In honor of World Migratory Bird Day here are some fun facts about bird migration:

  • 4,000 species (40%) of the world’s almost 10,000 bird species are migratory.
  • Shorebirds are some of the most fascinating migrants. Bar-tailed Godwits from Alaska will migrate nonstop to New Zealand, a trip that is over 7,000 miles and takes about 9 days. In order to migrate such a far distance, these bird increase the size of their pectoral muscles, heart, and lungs and decrease the size of their stomach and gizzards.
  • Migratory birds can sense the Earth’s magnetic field, as well as use the Sun and starts to orient them in the correct direction. A study done on captive-raised Indigo Buntings who were exposed to natural and artificial star patterns at a planetarium found that birds don’t memorize the position of the stars, but observe the rotation of the star patterns to orient their direction.
  • Birds will engage in anxious behavior before they migrate, referred to as Zugunruhe, or migratory restlessness.
  • There are 350 species of long-distance migrants in North America.

What migrants have you been seeing in your area? Tell us in the comments!




Cape May Big Day

Yesterday, October 6th, was the first October Global Big Day. For the past 4 years, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has held an annual Global Big Day event in May. 2018 is the first year that this Big Day event was also held in autumn. With spring now in the Southern Hemisphere and autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, the Lab thought it would be great time to track the migrations around the world.

Dave and I went to Cape May for our big day. We hiked around our two favorite Cape May locations: Cape May Point State Park and South Cape May Meadows.

It seemed like everyone had the same idea about going to the Point. It was packed with birders of all ages. Many people were participating in the fall Hawk Watch, which takes place daily during the migration. Located on a prime location of the Altantic Flyway, Cape May is one of the best birding areas in the country to catch a sight of migrants, whether they are hawks, warblers, or anything in between.

Cape May Point highlights:

  • Tree Swallow massive flock!: We had the opportunity to observe a large flock of Tree Swallows gathering on the beach. It was amazing to watch them swirl around over the sand. Tree Swallows migrate in huge flocks that can number in the hundreds of thousands. They take about 3-4 months to migrate from their summer to their wintering grounds, leisurely stopping en route to forage, preen, and rest.  Sometimes the flocks are so large that they come up on weather radar as “roost rings”.


  • Monarch Butterflies. It’s also migration time for the Monarch Butterfly. Cape May happens to be a fantastic place to experience their journey. We saw many as we walked the trails.


  • Palm Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Warblers are now migrating through the area to their wintering grounds. There were Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting through the trees, Common Yellowthroats skulking through the bushes, and Palm Warblers zooming across the path. During fall migration, warblers adopt more drab plumage as opposed to their bright spring breeding plumage. The Palm Warblers we saw were actually the Western subspecies. The Western Palms are more numerous on the Atlantic Coast during fall migration.
Palm Warbler (Western)
Palm Warbler “Western” subspecies (Image by BirdNation)

South Cape May Meadows Highlights:

  • Atlantic Ghost Crab: Atlantic Ghost Crabs can be found from Block Island, Rhode Island south to Brazil along the coast. They are primarily nocturnal, so it was a surprising but wonderful sight to see one running along the trail.
Atlantic Ghost Crab (Image by BirdNation)
  • Winter Waterfowl: The winter Waterfowl are already starting to arrive. We saw groups of Northern Shovelers and Gadwalls at the Meadows (as well as some Ruddy Ducks and American Wigeons at the Point).
  • Common Buckeyes. We saw a few Common Buckeye butterflies fluttering around the paths.
Common Buckeye
Common Buckeye (Image by BirdNation)

Overall, we saw 31 species for our October Big Day (60 species for the May Big Day at Forsythe NWR. It’s always a joy to go birding in Cape May, especially during fall migration.

Tell us some of the migrants you’ve been seeing in your area in the comment section!

Late Summer Birding

September is my one of my favorite months for many reasons: the change of summer to fall, birthdays (both for Dave and me), fall migration, getting paid again (teacher life lol). September also happens to be one of the busiest time of the year because of all the back-to-school events. Therefore, I don’t get to go birding much as I wanted to at the beginning of September.

However, the weather has been pretty mild here in New Jersey lately compared to the “indian summer” that we usually get. We’ve had some beautiful weekends/afternoons, so Dave and I have been trying to go birding as much as possible. I have some other posts I want to write/2 upcoming hiking trips, but since I’m exhausted from back-to-school night, I figured I’d share some of our recent late summer birding pictures. Enjoy! 🙂

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Rub-throated Hummingbird (Image by David Horowitz)
American Redstart
American Redstart First-year Female (Image by David Horowitz)
Mallard Squad (Image by BirdNation)
chipping sparrow 3
Chipping Sparrow (Image by David Horowitz)
yellow warbler female
Yellow Warbler Female (Image by BirdNation)

Bonus non-bird Picture:

Amico Island Beaver (Image by David Horowitz)



A Whirlwind of Warblers

Ah, fall migration! One of the most exciting times of the birding year. As I stated in the recent Barnegat Lighthouse trip post, winter migrants have started to arrive and summer visitors are getting ready to go down South. This means that we get another chance to see warblers passing through the area, now in their fall plumage.

Saturday we took a trip to Palmyra Cove Nature Park. It started out normal enough: Wild Turkeys, a Great Blue Heron, a Great Egret, Mallards. Recently we’ve been taking the trail to the Dredge Retention Basin then the Red-wing Blackbird Trail to the Cove. This time Dave said he wanted to take the Saw-whet Trail. The Saw-whet Trail is only 1/4 of a mile, but it ended up being the busiest 1/4 mile of the day. Busy with what?

Warblers. A whirlwind of Warblers.

We were surrounded by warblers in all directions. They were flitting around the trees looking for food and chasing each other. There were other birds too, such as Carolina Chickadees, Red-eyed Vireos, Eastern Wood-Pewees, Cedar Waxwings, Great Crested Flycatchers and American Robins. But they were mostly warblers.

There are 56 species of warblers found in North America. Warblers are a diverse groups of small birds that can be found in all different colors. Sometimes male and females of a particular species will look the same and sometimes they are sexually dimorphic (males and females look different from one another). There are also some warbler species that have a “Bright” and “Drab” plumage variations. But that’s just the start. There’s spring vs. fall plumage, 1st year male/female vs. adult male/female and so on.

So the world of warblers is wonderful but it’s also…confusing. And while I was happily surrounded by warblers of many kinds, the big question became: who are they?

We did recognize a few of them; namely Black-and-white and a male American Redstart. But everyone else was a mystery. One was yellow with a black eye patch. A few had distinctive yellow and black tails. Others were gray with wingbars and yellow bellies. I had no clue who they were, but I was excited to spend time watching them.

Figuring out who they were wasn’t easy. Thankful, Dave bought me The Warbler Guide last year. If you want to learn about warblers, this book is essential for your library (you can read my review at the link above). Dave and I (as well as my friend Maria) figured out that our new warblers included: many female/1st year male American Redstarts, a Blue-winged Warbler, “Drab” Chestnut-sided Warblers, “Drab” Magnolia Warblers, and Mourning Warblers. The “drab” warblers would have been more difficult to figure out if it wasn’t for The Warbler Guide because not all fields guides are as detailed with plumage variations.

Dave was able to take a decent amount of picture so that we can try to identify the new warblers when we got home. The problem with warblers is that they are small, usually far away, and moving non-stop. Basically, they are challenging to photograph. So the pictures below aren’t the best we’ve ever taken, but I think he did a nice job considering (we don’t consider ourselves photographers, just birders who happen to take pictures of who we see).

So by the end of the day we added 4 new birds to our life list: Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Mourning Warbler, and a Veery (we’ve seen the male versions of our other “new” warblers, so they weren’t new to our life list). I didn’t realize we saw a Veery until a few days later. I was entering my list onto ebird thinking we saw a Hermit Thrush, but that bird wasn’t on the list under thrushes. Veery was there so I decided to see what it looked like and aha! There it was! It looked just like the picture we had.

I’m so happy fall migration is here. Have you seen fall warblers migrating through your area? Who are you seeing? Tell me about your fall warblers in the comments.



The Miracle of Migration

Fall migration has been underway for awhile now, starting as early as August for some birds. Of the 10,000 or so species of birds in the world, around 4,000 (40%) migrate. Birds migrate mainly due to the increase/decrease of resources and nesting sites. Factors that influence when a bird migrates includes genetics, day length, weather, and food supplies. Species that migrate may use annual migration routes, Earth’s magnetic field, the sun, and/or stars to help navigate their way.

Migrating Cranes (Image via the Climate Institute,

There are 3 kinds of migrants: short-distance, medium-distance, and long-distance. Birds considered permanent residents do not migrate since they can find resources all year round. In North America, there are around 350 species of long-distance migrants who travel between North America and Central/South America.

Migration is a very dangerous time in a bird’s life. There are many hazards, and an individual bird may not make it through the migration. The migration of birds has been evolving over thousands of years and occurs all over the world.

Here are some of the world’s most spectacular long-distance migrants.

  • Earlier this year, a 7-year-old female Arctic Tern broke the record for longest migration ever recorded: 59, 650 miles over her yearly migration from the coast of England to Antarctica and back. This is equivalent of flying around the Earth twice, with an extra 10,000 miles added to the trip. This trip was recorded by using geolocaters to track the bird’s position along their trip. Arctic Terns migrate through every ocean near almost every continent, and use global wind patterns. As geolocater technology improves, scientists estimate the this record will be broken.
Arctic Tern (Image by OddurBen via wikimedia commons)
  • The record for the longest migration in a single flight is held by a Bar-tailed Godwit. This bird flew 9 days straight for 7, 145 miles from Alaska to New Zealand.
  • Bar-headed Geese are the highest-flying migrants, who have been found flying 5 1/2 miles above sea level.
  • The longest migration record used to be held by the Sooty Shearwater. They migrate around 40,000 miles round-trip from New Zealand to the Northern Pacific Ocean.
Sooty Shearwater (Image by Greg Gillson via

Other Fascinating Migration Facts:

  • Before migrating, birds enter a state called hyperphagia.  During hyperphagia, a bird’s hormones cause it to drastically increase its body weight in order to used stored fat as energy. Some birds may more than double their body weight before heading out to their new destinations.
  • Many species of swifts, waterfowl, and hawks will mainly migrate during the day. Songbirds tend to migrate at night since the cool air help them fly more efficiently.
  • While migrating, birds usually fly at speeds between 15-50 miles per hour. However, the Greater Snipe can fly at 60 miles per hour for up to 4,200 miles, making it the fastest flyer at long distances.

To learn more about bird migration, check out the following links:

Bird Migration Basics: The Basics of Bird Migration: How, Why, and Where by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology (

9 Awesome Facts About Bird Migration by Jhaneel Lockhart via the National Audubon Society (

If you want to learn more about the record-breaking Arctic Tern:

How a Tern Broke the Record for the Longest Known Migration by Sabrina Imbler for the National Audubon Society (article from June 2016)

Have you had any new migrants recently arrive in your area? Tell me about it in the comments below.