’19 GBBC Count: Day 4

Today was the final day of the Great Backyard Bird Count. I went back to Haddon Lake Park; this time with my mom and sister. Haddon Lake Park is a GBBC tradition, so I’m glad I was able to go there twice this weekend.

Haddon Lake Park, Mt. Ephraim/Audubon, NJ (9 species, 245 individual birds)

  • 90 Canada Geese
  • 50 Mallard
  • 32 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 1 Downy Woodpecker
  • 1 American Crow
  • 4 Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • 40 European Starling
  • 2 Song Sparrow
  • 25 Red-winged Blackbird

We had the opportunity to watch a Mallard pair demonstrating a courtship display.

We observed an interesting looking Mallard. It seems like it can be a possible hybrid. Mallard mixed with Green-winged Teal or American Wigeon? The world may never know…it was interesting nonetheless. (Let me know who you think it is…)

We had an amazing Great Backyard Bird Count weekend! We saw 19 more species than 2018 as well as about 700 more individual birds. Here are the official Team BirdNation numbers for 2019:

  • 6 birding locations
  • 1 life list bird: Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • 52 different species
  • 1,505 individual birds (estimate)

Did you participate in this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count? Tell me your favorite birding moment from the weekend in the comments!

To see learn what we saw on Days 3 and 4 of the 2018 GBBC (including a rare life list bird!), click here.

’19 Great Backyard Bird Count: Day 2

Day 2 of the Great Backyard Bird Count was twice as nice because we went birding at 2 locations!

It was 45 degrees with a cold breeze; much more seasonal than yesterday’s warm weather. Our first stop was Haddon Lake Park in Audubon, NJ, followed by Palmyra Cove in Palmyra, NJ. We saw 32 species today, adding 8 new species to the total GBBC so far.

At Haddon Lake, Dave spotted some banded Mallards. I was able to get some pictures of the bands and reported them at reportband.gov. This website is run by USGS (United States Geological Survey) and the link leads to Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Laboratory. We were able to learn around where the Mallard was banded, by who, and its age.

USGS Banding Information (Image by BirdNation)

Haddon Lake Park, Audubon, NJ (10 species, 188 individual birds)

  • 80 Canada Geese
  • 45 Mallards
  • 1 Mourning Dove
  • 35 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 1 Red-tailed Hawk
  • 1 Belted Kingfisher
  • 10 American Crows
  • 1 White-breasted Nuthatch
  • 2 European Starlings
  • 12 Red-winged Blackbirds

Palmyra Cove Nature Park, Palmyra, NJ (22 species, 302 individual birds)

  • 10 Canada Geese
  • 9 Mallards
  • 17 American Black Ducks
  • 15 Green-winged Teal
  • 17 Bufflehead
  • 2 Common Merganser
  • 5 Mourning Doves
  • 147 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 1 Turkey Vulture
  • 1 Red-tailed Hawk
  • 1 Belted Kingfisher
  • 2 Downy Woodpeckers
  • 1 Northern Flicker
  • 5 American Crows
  • 4 Carolina Chickadees
  • 2 Brown Creepers
  • 5 Carolina Wrens
  • 14 American Robins
  • 1 Northern Mockingbird
  • 17 Dark-eyed Juncos
  • 25 White-throated Sparrow
  • 1 Northern Cardinal

Tomorrow we are heading out to the Jersey Shore to see who we can find.

Check out what we saw last year on day 2 of the 2018 GBBC here.

What did you see on the 2nd day of the Great Backyard Bird Count? Tell us in the comments.

Backyard Bird Count ’18: Lakes Edition

2018 is was our 4th year of participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count. What an interesting weekend it was!

Unfortunately, Day 1 (2/16) ended up being a washout. It was a miserable, dark, rainy day. Here is what we saw on Day 1 last year. 

Thankfully the Sun made an appearance for a little while on Day 2 (2/17) . The temperature was around 40, so we ended up birding at two lakes. First up was Smithville Lake in Eastampton.

Every January/February we end up seeing Common Mergansers at Smithville Lake. I was hoping to see them again, but they weren’t around. It was pretty quiet, but we did see a few species. In total we saw 7 species and 22 individual birds. They were:

  • 4 Mallards
  • 3 Black Vultures
  • 3 Turkey Vultures
  • 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • 3 American Crows
  • 2 Carolina Chickadees
  • 6 White-throated Sparrows

winter at Smithville
Winter at Smithville Lake (Image by BirdNation)

Our second stop was Haddon Lake Park in Mt. Ephraim. Upon arriving at the park, we were greeted by the leader of the welcoming committee:

stalker goose
Canada Goose (Image by BirdNation)

Clearly he wanted food, but I certainly wasn’t going to feed him (Quick PSA: don’t feed the waterfowl!). We continued on our way to find more Canada Geese, Mallards, and Ring-billed Gulls. We also spotted some of the “strange ducks”, like the hybrid below, who seems to be a mix of a Mallard and one of the white domestic ducks.

 

Haddon Lake is a GBBC tradition for us. Now that we’ve been participating for multiple years, we can compare what we’ve observed this year to the past. Two species that we saw this year for the count but not past years were the Northern Mockingbird and Double-crested Cormorant. We had the opportunity to watch the cormorant climb out of the water and dry its wings off for a few minutes. Surprisingly, for a bird who’s livelihood is diving for fish, the Double-crested Cormorant’s feathers are not waterproof. Therefore, you’ll commonly see these birds fanning out their wings to dry. I took a video the cormorant preening.

We weren’t the only ones taking a stroll around the lake. It turns out that we were being followed around the whole lake by…

stalker goose 2
Canada Goose follower (Image by BirdNation)

The Canada Goose from the welcoming committee.  It was the first time I’ve had a Canada Goose participate in my bird count walk haha! :-p

Haddon Lake Park count (8 species, 233 individuals):

  • 130 Canada Geese
  • 90 Mallards
  • 1 Double-crested Cormorant
  • 7 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 2 Downy Woodpeckers
  • 1 Northern Mockingbird
  • 1 Song Sparrow
  • 1 Common Grackle

Overall our total count for Day 2 was 14 different species and 255 individual birds. Check our what we saw on Day 2 last year here).

Stay tuned for Part 2!

 

 

Strange Ducks

Imagine you are at your local pond and all the ducks are out and about. You scan through a flock of Mallards with your binoculars.

Mallard…mallard…mallard…wait, what is that?

You spot a duck that looks…strange. It kind of looks like a Mallard, but something is not quite right. It’s possible that you found a hybrid.

Hybridization is common in birds, but especially so in waterfowl. When two birds of different species mate they can produce a hybrid offspring. The hybrids will usually display characteristics of both parents to some degree. Two of the most common hybridizing species in North American waterfowl are the Mallard and Wood Duck. In fact, scientists have identified around 400 different waterfowl hybrid combinations.

In general, many hybrid offspring are infertile. This is not always the case. Sometimes a hybrid can reproduce, but usually with not as much success as a pure-breed duck. This may occur in species that are more closely related in the same genus. The more evolutionary distant two species are, the more likely their hybrid will have low fitness (relative success of an individual in passing along their genes) or be sterile. Female hybrids are more likely to be inviable than males, due to the fact that sames have two different sex chromosomes and males have two of the same sex chromosomes (the opposite of mammals).

Hybrids actually tend to be rarer than people think. This is because there are many barriers to reproduction between unique waterfowl species. Examples of these barriers include songs/calls, habitat preference, physical attributes, and courtship behaviors. However, when everyone arrives at the breeding grounds and all those hormones get going, well….just about anything can happen.

It’s pretty interesting seeing a hybrid duck. It’s fun to try and figure out what species the parents were. Although interesting, unfortunately sometimes hybridization can lead to a decline in population of a species. Let’s use our Mallards again as an example. Over time, habitat changes in some duck species has led to Mallards expanding their range. In the case of the American Black Duck, their shrinking range has been encroached by Mallards and since these species interact more often,  they result in more American Black Duck x Mallard hybrids. Species threatened by Mallards also include the Mottled Duck of Florida and the Hawaiian Duck.

hybrid duck 1
American Black Duck x Mallard Hybrid (Image by BirdNation)

Other common duck hybrids include Mallard x Northern Pintail, Gadwall x American Wigeon, Eurasian Wigeon x American Wigeon, and Wood Duck x Mallard.

There’s also the good possibility that the odd duck you saw at the pond could be a domestic duck. It’s not uncommon to find domestic ducks mixed into the waterfowl flock. If a strange duck seems comfortable with/approaches people or has large white patches where you don’t expect it, then it is most likely a domestic duck. We have seen plenty of these domestic ducks at Haddon Lake over the years.

 

And last but not least, my favorite: Puff Duck ( aka “Puffy”, R.I.P. You can read his story, “The Tale of the Three Amigos”, here).

puff duck and friend 1
Puff Duck and friend (Image by BirdNation)

Keep an eye out for strange ducks! Happy duck watching!

Birding in 16 Degrees

Yep, you all know me. I had to squeeze in one last birding trip of 2017. 16 degrees won’t stop me from spending a few minutes out with the ducks and geese of Haddon Lake Park. The lake was almost completely frozen over, except for a small area with all the waterfowl. Happy New Year! See you on the other side in 2018 🙂

 

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)
IMG_3967
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:

IMG_3702
Amico Island Beaver (Image by David Horowitz)

Eclipse Plumage

Today, August 21, 2017, was a big astronomical event: the first total solar eclipse seen over the United States since 1918. The path of totality went through 14 states from the Pacific to Atlantic Coast, while the rest of the states could view a partial eclipse. Here in New Jersey, we could only see a partial eclipse. I didn’t buy special eclipse glasses so I couldn’t watch it directly. I did however, watch a live stream of the eclipse from South Carolina State Museum, which happened to be in the totality path. It was extremely cool to watch.

Although the eclipse happened at a specific time today, many people don’t realize that an “eclipse” of sorts has been occurring the last few weeks. Have you gone to your local lake or pond and notice that it seems like the male Mallards are “missing”? Many ducks molt their feathers twice a year, one of these times being mid/late-summer. At this time they go into dull-colored basic plumage, or what is referred to as eclipse plumage. For reference, a male duck is called a drake and a female duck is called a hen. In eclipse plumage, drakes take on a hen-like appearance.

male eclipse plumage
Drake (male) Mallard in Eclipse Plumage (Image by BirdNation)

All birds molt their feathers at some point during the year. For many birds, this takes place after breeding season and before migration. Molting is when old worn out feathers are replaced by new feathers. Many species undergo was is called a sequential molt. During a sequential molt, birds lose one flight feather at a time from the innermost primary feather to the wing tip. This allows the bird the ability to still be able to fly. Waterfowl, however, undergo what is referred to as simultaneous wing molt. As a result, waterfowl loses all their flight feathers at the same time and therefore lose their flying ability. This period of being flightless can last between 20 and 40 days depending on duck species.

Wood_duck_eclipse
Wood Duck male in Eclipse Plumage (Image via wikimedia commons by Meidosensei)

Eclipse plumage acts as a camouflage for these flightless drakes. The drakes molt their bright colored plumage first, which is replaced by dull brown feathers. This gives them the hen-like appearance. When it comes to Mallards, it could be hard to tell whether you are seeing a hen or drake in eclipse plumage. The trick is to look at the bill. Drakes have yellow bills while hens have orange bills with black markings. Eclipse plumage only happens for a few weeks. After eclipse plumage Mallards will  go into “alternate”  plumage for the fall/winter.

So even though the total solar eclipse is over, you can still see some eclipse plumage with the ducks at your local pond.

Have you been seeing any eclipse plumage drakes lately? And did you watch the solar eclipse? Tell me about these things in the comments!