My 200th Bird Species!

Today I observed my 200th life list species! The best part is that it was a species I definitely did not expect.

As of yesterday (6/30/18) I was at 198 species. Earlier this week, a co-worker at Rancocas Nature Center was telling me about a wading bird rookery (I’m not going to disclose the location). She started naming the different species nesting at this location.

Black-crowned Night-Herons, Glossy Ibis, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons…”

She had me at Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.

Dave and I have never seen Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, but have always wanted to. So of course we needed to go to this rookery asap.

We made our way down to the rookery early this morning. It was really a cool place. From the platform, you can look down into the nests, but you are also eye level with many of the birds. There were 5 nesting species: Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, Black-crowned Night-Herons, and Glossy Ibis.

What an amazing experience. We had a chance to see these wading bird’s young in different stages of development. Some were recently fledged (like some of the Glossy Ibis), some were still in the nest, and we even saw some eggs. It was really fascinating watching chicks get fed and parents switching off of nest duty. The longer we stood, more Glossy Ibis arrived.

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Glossy Ibis adult and young (Image by BirdNation)
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Yellow-crowned Night-Heron pair with eggs (Image by BirdNation)

So Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was #199. We still had one more stop for the day: Forsythe NWR (it was 94 degrees today, so we were definitely birding from the car!). I read the night before on NJ Rare Bird Alert that there was a Roseate Spoonbill being reported, so I was hoping it would still be around.

Once we entered Forsythe’s wildlife drive we quickly approached Wading Bird Paradise.  There were over 100 birds: Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Little Blue Heron juveniles and  Glossy Ibis; as well as terns and Laughing Gulls.

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Wading Bird Paradise (Image by David Horowitz)

Dave spotted it in the distance, slightly away from the commotion. The Roseate Spoonbill!

Roseate Spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill (Image by David Horowitz)

It was so beautiful to see. I was in awe watching it preen and bask in the sun. The Roseate Spoonbill is special because as I wrote in my recent Spoonbill feature,  these birds live in Florida, along the Gulf Coast of the southern United States, in Mexico, and the Caribbean. As far as I know, this Spoonbill being currently observed at Forsythe is only the 5th or 6th sighing of a Roseate Spoonbill in New Jersey. I couldn’t believe that the Roseate Spoonbill was my 200th species!

I actually ended up getting 1 more life list bird today, bringing my current total to 201 species: a Saltmarsh Sparrow (sorry, no pic!). And I also got a picture of a really cute Eastern Box Turtle before we left 🙂 .

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Baby Eastern Box Turtle (Image by BirdNation)

I’m so happy that I finally am in the 200s. Today will certainly be a birding day that I will not soon forget :-).

 

 

Birds of Peace

One thing I know for certain: when life gets real tough, like it did for me today, I will always have the birds. Birds may not be the cure to all life’s problems, but they definitely help heal the heart in times of trouble, at least for me. They bring me a sense of tranquility and peace in stressful times. Birds remind me to step away from my anxieties and live in the present.

Here are a few of the many lovely birds I saw this afternoon at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park.

Piping Plover #1
Piping Plover #1 (Image by BirdNation)
Piping Plover #2
Piping Plover #2 (Image by BirdNation)

These Piping Plovers were first of season/year for me. Piping Plover #1 was sitting on eggs. As you can see from the pictures, both plovers were banded. I reported both Piping Plovers to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, so hopefully I will know more about these plovers soon. (A post about how to report banded birds coming soon!) Piping Plovers are considered threaten throughout their range, so reporting banded plovers is important to help conserve them.

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Ruddy Turnstone and Semipalmated Sandpiper (Image by BirdNation)
Ruddy Turnstone
Male Ruddy Turnstone (Image by BirdNation)
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper (Image by BirdNation)
Semipalmated sandpipers on rock
Semipalmated Sandpipers (Image by BirdNation)
preening herring gull
Preening Herring Gull (Image by BirdNation)
great egret hunting
Great Egret (Image by BirdNation)
Old Barney
Old Barney (Image by BirdNation)

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)

 

Cape May Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! To celebrate, we spent the afternoon birding in Cape May, NJ.

Cape May Point State Park (CMPSP)

At the Ponds: Green-winged Teals, Blue-winged Teals, Northern Shovelers, Forster’s Terns, Great Egrets, Tree Swallows, Purple Martins, Mute Swans, Bufflehead, Gadwalls, American Coots, Osprey, Field Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Palm Warblers, Savannah Sparrows, Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, female Red-breasted Merganser. Also saw a Muskrat.

 

On the Beach:

American Oystercatchers, Sanderlings, Great Black-backed Gulls, Northern Gannets, Common Loons, Forster’s Terns, Double-crested Cormorants (in V-formation flying)

 

One of my favorite moments of the day took place on the way back to the parking lot. There were 2 Northern Mockingbirds doing the “wing flash display”. In this display, the mockingbird will open its wings to show their bright white wing patches. Some speculate that this movement is used to startle insects. However, even mockingbird species without white patches will use the move, so people are still not quite sure the purpose of the display. I wrote about the wing flash display last year, so it was cool to see it in person!

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Wing Flash Display (Image by BirdNation)

Another one of my favorite things that happened today were DOLPHINS! I saw dolphins in the wild for the first time ever! I was ecstatic to see them, as I have loved dolphins since I was a kid.

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Dolphin Fin (Image by David Horowitz)

South Cape May Meadows (SCMM)

The Meadows was wading/shore bird central today! Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Greater Yellowlegs, Willets, Killdeer, American Oystercatchers, Glossy Ibis, Semipalmated Plover

 

Other birds included Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Laughing Gulls, White-throated Sparrows, American Crows, and Barn Swallows. Bonus mammals: 2 Muskrats fighting with each other

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Mute Swan on Nest (Image by BirdNation)

Overall we observed 46 bird species and two mammal species (muskrat and dolphin). It was a lovely afternoon in Cape May :-).

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. 🙂

 

 

Hey, I Know That Bird!

Every June, Dave and I take a trip out to Long Beach Island to explore Barnegat Light State Park. June 9th was our 3rd annual “late spring” LBI birding trip. It’s nice to have a trip “tradition” so you can compare what species you see around a specific time/season and see how your location list changes from year to year.

This year we didn’t see too many species (16, probably because we went in the late afternoon this time, but that’s ok!). Every year I hope to see Piping Plovers and American Oystercatchers. We had a special treat when we it came to the Oystercatchers: an Oystercatcher family! We had the opportunity to watch 2 adults with the 2 chicks walk/forage around the dunes. I’ve seen pictures of Oystercatcher chicks before, but they were even cuter in person.

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American Oystercatcher family (Image by David Horowitz)

I have to admit: I’ve been a little lazy with my birding stuff the past week or two. My job (teacher) just ended for the summer and I’ve been taking a summer class (Biology 1) so it’s been a little bit of an adjustment. I mention this because I didn’t look at any of our June 9th LBI pictures until tonight (June 16). And while zooming in on the Oystercatcher family photo I found a surprise.

I zoomed in on an adult and chick. The adult had 2 yellow bands that said T2. Then it hit me: “Hey, I know that bird!”

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Oystercatcher and chick (Image by David Horowitz)

I don’t think that’s what Dave expected me to say. But it’s true. We know Oystercatcher T2. I quickly opened up my Barnegat Light picture folder and pulled up this picture from last year’s trip:

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American Oystercatcher T2 in 2016 (Image by BirdNation)

Well, well, well, look who it is. T2 from 2016. I wonder how many years this particular Oystercatcher has come back to Barnegat Light. And this time I got to see his/her family!

Once Dave and I made this discovery I went to the American Oystercatcher Working Group website. This organization works with conservation groups throughout the East Coast to band, study, and conserve American Oystercatchers. I reported T2 and all the information that I know about this bird (as well as someone from today, but I’ll tell you about that in the next post). Now I wait to hear back about this particular Oystercatcher’s backstory, which of course I will update you on.

If you happen to see a banded American Oystercatcher, try to take some pictures and send your info to the American Oystercatcher Working Group (click that link to see their site).

Here are a few more pictures from out Barnegat Light trip.

This was the only Piping Plover we saw, and it was the first time we’ve seen one on a nest. It was sitting inside a wire fence to protect it. The Great Egret was looking stunningly beautiful in its breeding plumage.

It’s exciting to go to the same location each year to compare, especially when you rediscover a familiar friend (as in the case with T2)!

Day of the Ibis

This summer turned out to be very different than I expected. I was hoping to go on more birding trips than I actually did, but we had a lot of heat waves (96 with a heat index of 111?! No thanks!). Now that the weather is starting to calm down Dave and I have been able to go birding again. So expect more bird trip posts in the near future!

On Wednesday we took Dave’s mother to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR. It was her first time and I was glad that she enjoyed it. It was our 3rd Forsythe trip since May, but as usual, it was a completely new experience and just as exciting.

We took the wildlife drive. There were a lot of “peeps”. People use the term “peeps” to describe species of small sandpipers. Sandpipers can be difficult to identify, especially now during molting and the start of migration. I believe we saw a lot of Semipalmated Sandpipers with some Semipalmated Plovers (who are not “peeps”) mixed in. In the distance were Mute Swans, Canada Geese, American Black Ducks, and a mix of gull species. We were surrounded by different flocks on both sides of the marsh and everyone was either resting, foraging, or preening.

Then The Frenzy happened. I’m not sure what changed, probably the wind, but all the flocks took off at the same time. Everyone was flying in different directions, either with their flocks or as individuals. It’s hard to describe what I refer to as “The Frenzy” in words, but if you’ve ever experienced thousands of birds flying around you at one time you know what I mean. It’s always a spectacular moment.

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The Frenzy (Image by David Horowitz)

(I know that’s not the best quality picture, but I wanted to give you an idea of what The Frenzy looked like. Everyone was really high up and scattered, making it hard to get a good shot)

Another great thing about this trip: herons and egrets galore! Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Snowy Egrets dotted the landscape, usually in mixed flocks. We even saw our first Tricolor Herons! There were 3 of them hanging with a Great Egret and some Snowies. It’s fascinating to watch the different hunting styles. Tricolor Herons hunch down close to the water/mudflats, Great Blue Herons/Great Egrets are slow and meticulous, and Snowy Egrets look like they are in a rush and run all crazy (haha I love Snowies! I think if I was a Great Blue Heron I’d be frustrated hunting next to a Snowy. He would scare all my fish away!). The Tricolor Heron’s neck was a reddish color, so it’s a juvenile. Adults have darker necks both in breeding and non-breeding plumage.

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Tricolor Heron (Image by David Horowitz)

We also saw 3 Black-crowned Night-herons hiding out in a tree with a variety of egrets. One was an adult and 2 were juveniles. It was our first time seeing Bc-Nh juveniles. They look very similar to juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-herons. Black-crowns have large white teardrop-shaped spots on their wings while Yellow-crowns have small dots. We went with Black-crowned because these guys seemed to have large spots.  True to their names, Night-herons are active mainly at night. People usually tend to find them roosting in a tree during the day. They blend into the branches pretty well, so they can be tricky to spot.

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Juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron (Image by David Horowitz)

But the highlight of the day for me were the Glossy Ibis. We’ve seen them multiple times, but this time was special because we counted 100 of them! Usually we see no more than 10 per trip. I don’t know where they were flying in from, but they just kept coming! All 100 were not in the same place at the same time, but they were spread out in flocks of about 30.

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Glossy Ibis (dark birds) with Great and Snowy Egrets (Image by David Horowitz)

Other species on this trip included 11 Ospreys, Double-crested Cormorants, European Starlings, Red-winged Blackbirds, a variety of Terns (including I think at 1 Least Tern, he was teeny!), Willets, Crows, and Tree Swallows.

Dave and I went to Cape May on Monday, so look out for that post soon!

Side note: After finishing this post, I found a pdf from the American Birding Association about identifying “peeps”. It’s called Identification of North American Peeps: A Different Approach to an Old Problem. If you would like to learn more about “peeps” you can click the link below. You can also download it to your computer (you know I did!) to reference it later.

ABA Identifying Peeps pdf