Misty Cape May Morning

Today we took our first summer birding trip down to Cape May Point State Park. It was a really hot day, around 90 degrees, but we still managed to see 30 species birds. On the drive down it was pretty foggy, and it was still pretty misty by the time we got down to the Point.

Misty Morning at the Hawkwatch Platform Pond (Image by BirdNation)

Bird species along the main trail included Mute Swans, Mallards, Tree Swallows, Common Yellowthroats (heard), Forster’s Terns, Laughing Gulls, Ospreys, Northern Mockingbirds, Purple Martins, Canada Geese, an Eastern Kingbird,and Red-winged Blackbirds. There were also hundreds of tiny toads hopping across the trail.

Tree Swallow portrait
Tree Swallow (Image by BirdNation)
Purple Martin female
Purple Martin female (Image by BirdNation)

We had a few fun surprises on the beach. Two Brown Pelicans flew by over the ocean.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans (Image by BirdNation)

After I took the above picture the pelicans skimmed very close to the ocean’s surface. They used an aerodynamic phenomenon call the “ground effect”. As the pelicans fly close to the water with their full wingspan, the air is “funneled” between their wings and the ocean surface. This effect allows the birds to stay aloft and increases efficiency. Eventually the bird must gain some speed by flapping and slightly ascending in order to continue its glide. Many birds use the ground effect over water, but this principal also works on land.

Another interesting thing to note about these Brown Pelicans: the bird on the left is an adult and the one on the right is immature. You can see the whitish-yellow of the adult’s head that the immature bird lacks.

We also spotted pods of dolphins! They were relatively close to the beach, and would occasionally leap out of the water (wish I captured that in a picture!).

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Bottlenose Dophin Fins (Image by BirdNation)

There were also many pairs of American Oystercatchers. Some pairs were just strolling along the beach together, while others were guarding/sitting on eggs. This pair has a banded Oystercatcher, so I’ll submit my band findings to the American Oystercatcher Working Group and let you know what I find out.

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Taking a stroll (Image by BirdNation)
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Banded American Oystercatcer (Image by BirdNation)

This couple added some furnishings to their nest site…

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Decorating the Nest (Image by BirdNation)

We were also really lucky to catch a glimpse of this couple’s two eggs (from a safe distance behind the barrier zooming in with the camera of course!) It was our first time seeing American Oystercatcher eggs.

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American Oystercatcher Eggs (Image by BirdNation)

Our final beach surprised was a Sanderling in breeding plumage. It was all by itself, so I wonder where its flock mates went. Sanderlings are usually at the shore in the winter, so I think this little guy missed the memo that its summertime now.

Sanderling breeding plumage
Sanderling in breeding plumage (Image by BirdNation)

Our misty Cape May trip was a great way to start off our summer birding.

Forsythe Fun with Friends

I recently took a trip to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR with my friends Deborah and Bella. It was their first time visiting the refuge. Both Deborah and Bella have worked at nature centers, with Bella currently working in horticulture. I had such a blast spending the day with them, and learned a lot of new information from them about plants and snakes.

We started our trip taking a short walk around the visitor center and Lily Lake. A few birds around this area included Wood Ducks, Glossy Ibis, Gray Catbirds, House Finches, and Purple Martins, as well as tons of beautiful flowers/plants.

Before entering the wildlife drive we spent some time at the Eco Leeds Boardwalk and Gull Pond. Highlights included fiddler crabs, Barn Swallows, Great Egrets, and Least Terns.

We even had a special surprise: snakes! I have never seen snakes at Forsythe before, so I’m glad I was able to see them with Deborah, “the snake lady” :-D.

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Snake among the lilies (Image by BirdNation)

The wildlife drive was really active. Birds included Red-winged Blackbirds, American Crowns, Snowy Egrets, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Gull-billed Terns, Black Skimmers, Laughing Gulls, Forster’s Terns, American Oystercatchers, Willets, Greater Yellowlegs, and Ospreys. Bella made what I think was the most exciting find of the trip: 3 Black-crowned Night-herons foraging. Black-crowned Night-herons usually forage at dawn or dusk. I usually see them roosting during the day, so it was amazing to see them foraging in the middle of the day. There were also lots of turtles out and about crossing the road. I helped a Northern Diamondback Terrapin get across who was trying to dig a hole for her eggs in the middle of the drive.

 

Overall we saw 50 species. I had a wonderful time at Forsythe with Deborah and Bella. I’m looking forward to another adventure soon!

 

Lessons from an Oystercatcher

There’s someone in my life who’s been missing lately.

It all started a few years ago. I was at Barnegat Light and saw him on the beach. I thought he was cute, so I took his picture.

I went back about a month later. And he was there again. Then the next year, and the next. He was dependable; always there.

Last summer was even more special. He was there again, this time with his family. It was such a lovely sight.

But now it’s the next year and he’s nowhere to be found.

His name was T2 and he was an American Oystercatcher. And I can’t help but feel a little sad that he didn’t show up this year at Barnegat Light. Yes, he’s just one bird out millions. But to me he was special, because I knew him.

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T2 with a snack (Image by BirdNation)

Last year I reported a T2 sighting to the American Oystercatcher Working Group. They sent me his profile, where I had the opportunity to learn more about him. He was captured and banded on September 19, 2007 at Island Beach State Park. He would spend his summers right across the inlet at Barnegat Light State Park where I would see him each time I visited. Every fall he would head down to Cedar Key, Florida for the winter.

I recently learned from another birding blog (Exit 63,who wrote a lovely tribute to T2) that last year was the first time him and his mate successfully raised chicks. If you google “T2 American Oystercatcher”, tons of pictures come up of him, including artwork. So T2 was a bit of a local bird celebrity. And to me he wasn’t just another bird, he was one who’s life history I knew about. That’s not something that happens everyday.

I believe things happen for a reason. Certain things…people, animals, etc…come into your life and impact you in ways you could have never anticipated. You might not know why they are there, but they’re supposed to be. Only time will tell. But T2 was one of the first individual birds that opened my eyes to the avian world and inspired me.

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T2, possibly with his mate (Image by BirdNation)

The more I study birds, the more I realize that birds are really not that much different from us. Yes, in fundamental ways, they are different. But if you start to pay attention to little details, you start to discover a whole new world.

That bird you see has a life story just like you. It has daily routines. It wakes with the sun and retires to its roost in the evening. It has to take care of itself and endure the daily struggles of survival. That bird, like T2, may have certain places it spends its days. Or like Old Man Plover, the Piping Plover, arrive each year on the same exact date at the same exact place. They show their mates affection to maintain their bond, raise families, and defend themselves and their brood. It’s really amazing, and even more so that we can even get to know certain birds like T2 personally. Once you start to discover the world of creatures that are smaller than yourself, or even of other people,  it shifts your whole perception of the world.

My experiences seeing T2 multiple times over the years has brought me much joy and the appreciation of the little things in life. His disappearance also reminds me that all good things must come to an end. Of course T2 wasn’t going to live forever, and neither will we. There’s a fear in letting go of things that have brought us joy and a sense of stability, but life goes on. There will  be more Oystercatchers, and birds, and other wonderful things in life that will bring joy.

I’ll miss seeing T2 at the beach. But I feel blessed that I had the chance to get to know him. T2 is a bird I’ll never forget. Thanks for the memories buddy.

American oystercatcher 3

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 :-).

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

GBBC ’18 Part 2: A Rare Surprise

Today’s post is Part 2 of the 2018 Great Backyard Bird Count. You can read about Day 1 here.

We spent the last half of the bird count weekend at the Jersey Shore. For the last few weeks, many birders on some of the Facebook groups I’m a member of have been posting about Redhead ducks. A large flock of these ducks, as well as other waterfowl, have been observed at Lake of the Lilies in Pt. Pleasant, NJ. We’ve never seen Redheads before, so we thought it would be fun to check out this new location.

The first thing I noticed about Lake of the Lilies is that it’s relatively small. It’s also a little unusual because it’s surrounded on all sides by beach houses. I heard the Redheads tend to show up every winter, but with such a small lake I wasn’t sure what else would be around.

What a treasure trove! We observed 13 different waterfowl species. There were Mallards, Gadwalls, Greater Scaups, Ruddy Ducks, Northern Shovelers, Ring-necked Ducks, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Buffleheads, an American Wigeon, Hooded Mergansers, and as we expected, a large raft of Redheads. All these different species congregated together to sleep, preen, feed, and float around the lake. We even had a chance to see two Horned Grebes and tons of American Coots. Lake of the Lilies is a lovely little gem. I was so satisfied watching all the waterfowl together. Mission accomplished.

We started head back around the lake to our car when a van stopped. The man in the van yelled out, ” Hi! Did you see the Tufted Duck? My friend told me that there’s a Tufted Duck hanging around here. Supposedly it’s pretty rare!”

No, we have not seen the Tufted Duck. We actually didn’t even know one was there. So we thanked the man  and turned around (obviously lol!) to search for the Tufted Duck. We scanned the lake. Tufted Ducks look very similar to Great Scaups, and as their name suggests, they have a tuft of feathers sticking out from the back of their heads. By this point, most of the duck had their heads tucked in to sleep. I did see one duck with some feathers sticking out, but wasn’t sure if that was the bird. I took some more pictures and after awhile we went on our way.

It turns out that after we left a large number of birders arrived at Lake of the Lilies to find the Tufted Duck. Many people posted the duck on Facebook. I scanned through all the photos I took and checked every single duck. Only one duck looked suspect with some feathers sticking out, so I asked my Facebook group. It was confirmed: we saw the Tufted Duck!

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Sleepy Tufted Duck (Image by BirdNation)

Tufted Ducks are from Eurasia, so finding one here in America is pretty rare. We didn’t expected to find a rare bird during the count, but we ended up nabbing our first ever Eurasian rarity!

Here’s our count from Lake of the Lilies (17 species, 305 individuals):

  • 45 Canada Geese
  • 3 Mute Swans
  • 5 Northern Shovelers
  • 4 Gadwall
  • 1 American Wigeon
  • 84 Mallards
  • 45 Redheads
  • 4 Ring-necked Ducks
  • 1 Tufted Duck
  • 35 Greater Scaup
  • 3 Bufflehead
  • 6 Hooded Mergansers
  • 22 Ruddy Ducks
  • 2 Horned Grebes
  • 30 American Coots
  • 10 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 5 Rock Pigeons

Our final park of the day was Fisherman’s Cove Conservation Area. We didn’t stay too long, but did see 14 species and 233 individuals.

  • 100 Brant
  • 2 Long-tailed Ducks
  • 2 Mallards
  • 42 American Black Ducks
  • 8 Bufflehead
  • 1 Horned Grebe
  • 1 Double-crested Cormorant
  • 3 Great Blue Herons
  • 3 Turkey Vultures
  • 24 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 37 Herring Gulls
  • 5 American Crows
  • 3 White-throated Sparrow
  • 2 Song Sparrows

Here’s what we saw last year on Day 3. We were not able to participate on Day 4 this year, so you can read about 2017’s Day 4 here.


In the 2 days that we were able to participate this year, we saw 33 different species and 793 individual birds. Two of our species were life-list birds. It will certainly be a Great Backyard Bird Count to remember.

 

Starting Right at the Light

Dave and I took our first Barnegat Light trip of 2018 on Sunday, February 4. It was a chilly, windy, and overcast day. We left right before the afternoon rain started to fall, but we did see a decent amount of species.

On the jetty we came across this young gull with a sea urchin test. A test is a skeletal structure made of calcium carbonate. It contributes to the sea urchin’s five-fold symmetry and helps protect the internal organs. After a minute or two the gull dropped the test and flew away, since it turns out that it was already empty.  As far as the gull itself, I’m going to venture and say 2nd winter Great Black-backed Gull, but I’m not 100% (don’t quote me on it, I’m still studying my gulls! They’re tricky to id lol).

gull with test

Other birds found on the jetty included other Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Ruddy Turnstones, and Purple Sandpipers.

Dave took a few pictures of a Purple Sandpiper taking a bath on one of the rocks.

In Barnegat Inlet we watched Common Loons, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, Common Eiders, and Harlequin Ducks float and feed.

On the beach there were a few American Crows and a small flock of Snow Buntings zipping around.

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Snow Buntings (Image by David Howoritz)
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American Crow (Image by David Horowitz)

It was a nice way to start off our Barnegat Light trips for 2018.