New Adventures

We took advantage of our 3 day weekend by going on 3 birding adventures. One of our trips was to Palmyra Cove Nature Park, but the other days we explored 2 new places: Taylor Wildlife Preserve and Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve.

On Saturday night we wanted to go to Amico Island. Every time we go there, we pass a place called Taylor Farm & Wildlife Preserve. People go to Taylor Farm to pick their own fruits and vegetables, but part of the property was turned into a wildlife preserve with a few hiking trails. We’ve been curious about Taylor’s for awhile, so we decided to check it out. We never made it to Amico that night, but had a great time exploring Taylor Wildlife Preserve instead.

Taylor’s Wildlife Preserve is right on the Delaware River and Dredge Harbor. It’s a wooded habitat that features stretches of wetlands. We arrived to the sounds of Gray Catbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds. As we walked towards the foot trails we spotted some Northern Cardinals, Eastern Phoebes, and Baltimore Orioles. Yellow Warblers and Warbling Vireos sang from high in the trees while we explored the winding trails. We found the wetlands area not long after entering the trails. There was a beaver lodge, Eastern Kingbirds, swallows, Common Yellowthroats, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.

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Taylor Wildlife Preserve (Image by BirdNation)

“Breep! Breep!” A raucous call came from high in the tree over our heads. It was a Great Crested Flycatcher! These large flycatchers have lemon-colored bellies and long tails, although the crest mentioned in their names are not very prominent. For being about 7 inches in length, the Great Crested Flycatcher has a pretty ear-piercing call. These flycatchers are agile fliers, and we watch it for a bit before it disappeared into the treetops. We also ran into a muskrat on the trail. He didn’t notice us right away, and was pretty surprised when he realized he was being watched. It was a fun moment.

Another highlight of our Taylor trip was finding Wright Cove, where there is a platform with an Osprey nest. At the end of April, Dave and I bought a spotting scope and tested it out at the local yacht club where some Osprey nest nearby. We found a second tower with nesting Osprey that night, and wondered if there was a way to see them better from land. It turns out the Wright Cove in Taylor Preserve is exactly where we want to be to see these Osprey really well. We will definitely go back to observe them, as well as explore more the preserve.

We woke up early Sunday morning to spend some time at Palmyra Cove. It was a quiet morning so we were able to see 42 species. Some highlights included Cedar Waxwings eating berries, a Green Heron flying through the woods, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the honeysuckles, and an Orchard Oriole pair chasing each other around. We ended up seeing some more Great Crested Flycatchers on this trip too. Ever have the experience where once you learn something is around, you start seeing it everywhere? Well it seems like we’ve been missing Great Crested Flycatchers for awhile, because now that we know them, we’ve been seeing them all weekend! Amazing how learning about a species can open up a brand new world you never knew was there before.

Today we went to Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve in Woodland Township for the first time. The preserve is 1,227 acres of pitch pine/scrub oak woodlands. An interesting feature of the preserve is a spung. A spung is a hydrologically isolated wetland that relies entirely on rainfall/snowfall to maintain its water level and is habitat to rare plants/amphibians.

Our hike started off with some of the usual suspects: Eastern Wood-pewees, Eastern Phoebes, Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Towhees Gray Catbirds, Common Yellowthroats and woodpeckers. But we kept hearing an ascending buzzy sound. It turned out this was the sound of the park’s namesake: the Prairie Warbler. Despite its name, these warblers don’t live on prairies, they prefer scrubby pine forests. This makes Huber Preserve the perfect breeding habitat. We were able to see and hear these beautiful yellow and black warblers throughout the entire walk.

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Prairie Warbler (Image by David Horowitz)

At one point on the blue trail Dave heard a low bellowing call. We froze and listened. “Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo-HOO!” I couldn’t believe it. I could recognize that voice anywhere; it was a Barred Owl! It was in the distance, but we heard it call a few times. I’m so excited that we added our 2nd owl to our lifelist :-).

There are actually 2 spungs at the preserve: one on the green trail and the other on the red trail. I really wanted to go to the red trail spung (which was mentioned on their website), but we would have had to walk at least 3 miles (one way that is). You can bike at the preserve, so we will probably go back and bike to that spung. We did try to find the green trail spung, but its seems like it dried up. So no spungs for us today :-(. We did however see a Pine Warbler, more Great Crested Flycatchers, Ovenbirds, an American Redstart juvenile male, Black-and-White Warblers, and the Prairie Warblers/Barred Owl listed above, so it was a great day despite there being no spung. It was a fun weekend of adventures, and overall May was a great birding month for us.

The Birds of Spring

So far, May has been a pretty busy birding month for us: new life list editions, an owlet, purchasing our first spotting scope, big day events, and rare birds. The past week wasn’t as busy, but we still had the opportunity to get out a few times this week to enjoy the spring migrants. Dave and I went to Strawbridge Lake and Boundary Creek, Dave and his dad went to Palmyra Cove, and I went with my mom and sister to Haddon Lake for Mother’s Day.  I wanted to share some of the pictures we took on this week’s trips.

Strawbridge Lake

 

Palmyra Nature Cove (all these pictures were taken by Dave)

 

Haddon Lake Park

 

We didn’t take any pictures at Boundary Creek because it was supposed to rain and pretty dark out. The highlight of that trip was seeing 5 Baltimore Orioles: 3 males and 2 females. It was fascinating watching the orioles flying around chasing each other, fighting, calling/singing, and displaying.

We have a very exciting trip coming up…I can’t wait to share our experiences with you! It’ll be a surprise…stay tuned.

Owlet!

It was a cool, breezy evening on Friday. Dave and I were exploring Boundary Creek to see if any new spring migrants arrived. A flute-like sound came from one of the nearby trees. It was a Baltimore Oriole, a first of season for us. We made our way to the Beaver Pond platform to see who else was around.

It may not be a spring migrant, but there was something new at the Beaver Pond: Mute Swans. Of all the years walking at Boundary, this was the first time we’ve seen Mute Swans there. A lot of times Dave and I are on the platform alone, but there were some other birders around who we chatted with for a while. Interestingly, they’ve never see Mute Swans at Boundary either.The swans spent some time preening and swimming around the beaver lodge.

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Mute Swans at Boundary Creek (Image by BirdNation)

A few mammals made a special appearance: 2 beavers and a muskrat. The beaver’s lodge (where they live), is not far from the platform, so many visitors arrive at night to see if they can spot them. It was my lucky night: I finally was able to get some nice pictures of one of them. The muskrat also showed up at one point. It’s likely that the muskrat lives in the beaver lodge too. Many people don’t realize that other smaller creatures usually end up living in the beaver lodge, and the beavers don’t really seem to mind (to learn more about that, check out “Leave It To Beavers”, from the PBS series “Nature”).

A woman who I was talking to for a bit asked if we ever bird at Palmyra. I told her that we do, and she asked if we saw the owlets yet. I did hear that there were 2 owlets that live there,  but didn’t know where to find them. She was happy to tell us the location, so from that point I knew what our Saturday goal was: to find some owlets.

Dave and I would be considered “night owls”, so we do a lot of late afternoon/evening or mid-morning birding. But I knew it was important to try to find the owlets in the morning, so we took one of our first early morning bird trips (well…early for us at least lol).

On the Perimeter Trail is a newer nest box. The woman told us that the owlets didn’t nest in that box, but in a nearby tree. We knew the location, so we quickly made our way out to the nest box. When we arrived we noticed that the box tree had a message spray painted onto it: “there are two of them”. We knew we had to be close.

As we scanned the trees, a group of birders arrived. One of them asked how our morning was and we shared some interesting sightings. Then he said “oh, they must be looking at the owlet” and pointed to another group looking in the tree. They invited us over and there it was! We’ve never really gone birding in a group before, but it was fun to enjoy the sighting with other birders. I’m glad they spotted that owlet!

The owlet was older sitting in a far branch looking away from us (of course!). We spent some time watching it preen and stretch its wings. We didn’t see the second owlet, but it probably wasn’t too far away. This was our our 6th Great Horned Owl sighting, but our first owlet. What a wonderful experience! (To read about previous owl sighting check the previous link or this one for 2 separate stories).

(We did our best with the pics, it was far and there were a lot of leaves. At least we saw it!)

We continued along the Perimeter Trail with a few other birders. I was really enjoying walking with them because I learned so much. They even helped us find some new life birds! We saw our first Swamp Sparrow and first Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Other birds we observed were Black-and-White Warblers, Indigo Buntings, Northern Waterthrushes, Gray Catbirds (my favorites are finally back!!), Eastern Towhees, Yellow Warblers, Warbling Vireos, a variety of Swallows, and some Yellow-rumped Warblers. I enjoyed walking with other birders, and hope to do more group birding in the future.

Last week was a really exciting birding week for us: a record day at Edwin B. Forsythe (53 species + a rare Black-headed Gull), seeing our first owlet,  and 7 new life birds (5 at Forsythe, 2 at Palmyra). We also purchased our first spotting scope! We bought a Celestron Trail20-60×80 angled scope. We tested it on Thursday near the one of the yacht clubs on the Delaware River and found 2 Osprey nests!

We have a few exciting birding trips coming up later this month that I can’t wait to share with you!

 

Palm Warbler Sunday

Hi everyone! Now that it’s spring it’s time to start a new weekly feature. We are a week into spring and I’ve already seen many spring migrants in my neck of the wood. Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, American Oystercatchers, Killdeer, Eastern Phoebes, and Osprey are just a few of the migrants arriving in New Jersey. Over the next 2 months, many more bird species will be arriving in North America after their winter breaks, including one of my favorite groups: the warblers.

Warblers tend to be some of the later spring migrants, with many arriving in late April/early May. I thought now would be the perfect time for us to starting learning about warblers so we’ll be ready to identify them when they arrive. Our first warbler will be one of the early migrants: the Palm Warbler.

Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum)

Description:

Palm Warblers have prominent rusty caps that they show off while constantly pumping their tails. Their upperparts are brown with tan wing bars and underparts are yellow with faint brownish stripes. They have a very noticable supercilium (“eyebrow”) above their eyes. Their tails are long and square, block black base and white tips. Males and females have similar plumage.

 

Range:

Winters in Florida, the Gulf Coast, the southern Atlantic Coast, the Caribbean, and some parts of Central America. Migrates through the Eastern part of the United States. Summer (breeding) in Canada.

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Palm Warbler (Image by Corinne Errico via njaudubon.org)

Habitat:

During migration, Palm Warblers can be found in woodlands, near ponds and streams, and open pastures. At their breeding grounds, they live in open boreal coniferous forests and bogs that contain tamaracks, spruce, cedar, and pine trees. They tend to stay in the lower parts of the tree, in bushes/thickets, or on the ground.

Diet:

Insects, berries, and seeds. They may glean insects off of leaves or catch them in mid air. During the winter they will usually forage on the ground.

Breeding/Nesting:

Palm Warblers arrive on their breeding grounds in April and the female will start building her nest by early May. Males may have more than one mate. Females build a small open cup nest in low trees near the trunk or on the ground. She weaves a variety of grasses and other plant materials together on top of sphagnum moss. She will usually conceal the nest with a clump of grass and line the inside with feathers.

The female lays 4-5 creamy white eggs with brown spots. The eggs are incubated for around 12 days. Sometimes Palms deal with brood parasitism by Brown Cowbirds.However, they will usually discover the intruding egg and cover it to add an extra layer to the bottom of the nest. Both parents will feed the chicks and within 12 days the young are taking their first short flights. Palms can possibly have 2 broods per year.

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Palm Warbler (Image via pintrest/fineartamerica.com)

Sounds:

A weak trill song, a chip or tsip call

Conservation:

There are currently no major threats against Palm Warblers in their winter or summer habitats, and their population is considered stable.

Fun Facts: 

  • Being called “Palm” these birds sound more tropical, but they actually live farther north than many other warblers.
  • There are 2 subspecies of Palm Warblers. Western Palms have white bellies and paler breasts, while Eastern Palms are yellower and patchier.
  • In their winter grounds of Florida you may see a Palm Warbler near palm groves, but you won’t find them in the palm trees themselves.

 

I’ve only ever seen one Palm Warbler so far. It was at Palmyra Nature Cove and was my first warbler I learned to identify. Have you seen a Palm Warbler? Tell me in the comments below.

First Hike 2017

Happy New Year, everyone! Did you observe a “first bird” of 2017? A lot of people in bird internet groups I’m on like to share what the first bird they saw of the year was. Mine was a Blue Jay. I think that’s a fun was to start a new year of birding :-). On New Years Day, Dave and I took our first hike of the year at Palmyra Cove Nature Park.

If I had to choose one word to describe January 1, 2017 I would have to say: peaceful. It was a lovely morning. It was sunny and cool but not too cold. Our usual route when we go to Palmyra is the forest, the beaver ponds, then the cove. On this trip we worked backwards and headed to the cove trail first.

The trail to get to the cove was pretty quiet, while flocks of gulls flying high overhead. At one point there was a trilling sound coming from the understory. It was hard to track where the sound was coming from because it seemed to be moving around. Then suddenly one of the nearby bushes shook; and there was a Carolina Wren.

Male Carolina Wrens can have 30-40 songs in their repertoire, but females have a “chatter”. Her chatter sounds insect-like, so sometimes it’s easy to overlook her chatter for something else. Even though the female doesn’t “sing” per se, the male and female will duet, where the male with sing a song and the female will respond with different degrees and intensity of chatter. (Fun fact: female Carolina Wrens are the only wrens of the genus Thryothorus that don’t sing melodious songs like the males). I recently learned this from the book The Singing Life of Birds by Donald Kroodsma, so I was excited to recognize the female chatter in the field. Another bird quickly showed up after she did, so I’m guess that’s her mate since pairs stay together year-round. It ended up being the “Day of the wrens” because we ended up seeing a few more pairs of wrens throughout the hike in different territories.

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Carolina Wren (Image by David Horowitz)

We also saw a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos. I’m always excited to see my first Junco every winter; these little birds are fun to watch. They zip around the forest, hopping on the ground, trees, and everything in between. I love the flash of their black and white tail as they rise into flight. To me, Dark-eyed Juncos are like the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers of the winter.

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Dark-eyed Junco (Image by BirdNation)

If you’re at the cove at high tide, you usually see different kinds of waterfowl. It was low tide though, so the only waterfowl around were the American Black Ducks. We did get a good view of a beaver dwelling that the ducks like to sit near and found some tracks in the mud. The area were were standing in also had a lot of gnawed beaver trees, which were cool to see. Upon standing in that are for a few minutes, other birds started to appear. Crows flew by and a juvenile Bald Eagle soared above us.

That’s when I spotted an unexpected visitor: a male Red-winged Blackbird.  To me there are 2 possibilities of why he’s still here: 1. He didn’t leave with the rest of the flock for the winter or 2. he’s back 2 months too early. I certainly didn’t expect him in the area. It started getting windy at the cove so we made our way to the beaver ponds.

The beaver ponds were fairly quiet as well. A small group of Wild Turkeys strutted by, possibly the same female/juvenile group we saw on our last trip to the Cove (remember when we did the turkey trot?). We saw a Northern Cardinal pair, some Mallards, Canada Geese, Downy Woodpeckers, and…a Sharp-shinned Hawk taking a bath?

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A pretty pair (Image by BirdNation)

He was at the far side of the lake and really difficult to see. All we could see was a tiny bird, with a white belly that seemed to be stripey. What was it?? Every once in awhile it would splash but it was just slightly too far to identify. We could tell it was some sort of a raptor, maybe a juvenile? After a few minutes it flew up onto a tree to reveal a dark back and a square tail. Mystery solved: Sharp-shinned. But it’s definitely not every day you see a hawk bathing in a pond, now is it?

Instead of walking through the forest we took the Perimeter Trail back to the entrance. The perimeter was pretty uneventful, but that’s ok. Like I said earlier, it was a peaceful morning that ended up staying peaceful throughout the rest of the day. I hope that mood is a sign for what’s to come in 2017. I thought visiting Palmyra Cove was a refreshing was to start the new year.

Did you take a “first hike” this year? If you did let me know in the comments.

Doin’ the Turkey Trot

We’ve had some beautiful warm weather here in New Jersey the past couple of days.Dave and I decided to take advantage of the warmth by going to Palmyra Cove Nature Park on Sunday evening.

Palmyra Cove Nature Park is 250-acres and there are a ton of trails to explore. We can easily spend hours there, but since we were competing with the sunset we decided to check out the meadow and the beaver pond.

There were a lot of Tree Swallows gliding over the meadow. Tree Swallows can migrate south as early as July and August. The East Coast population migrates to Florida, Central America, and Cuba. I was surprised to still see so many Tree Swallows around at this point, but I guess since it’s still so warm they are continuing to feed before they leave. Towards the end of the meadow is a small pond. We saw a Lesser Yellowlegs, Great Blue Heron, some sandpipers, and Eastern Phoebes.

The next destination was the Beaver Pond. You have to pass through the forest to get to the beaver pond from the meadow. Along the way we saw Carolina Chickadees, different woodpeckers, American Robins, Carolina Wrens, some deer, and 2 Wild Turkeys. I’m always delighted to see the Turkeys at Palmyra. I know that there are a decent amount that live there, and we usually see a few at a time.

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Wild Turkey (Image by BirdNation)

There are a lot of little trails interspersed throughout the forest. It’s easy to “trail hop” from one to another without realizing it. We know the paths pretty well, but weren’t paying attention and took a “wrong” turn (there’s not technically a “wrong way”, we just missed the trail we wanted). We should have already been at the pond, but decided to continue and explore this new path.

And I’m glad we did. Because suddenly a group of Turkeys jumped out onto the trail in front of us. It started with about 5 or 6, but as we watched more and more ran from the bushes. By the time the whole flock ran past there were about 24 of them! They were apparently headed in the same direction as us, so we trailed behind at a distance.

What an experience! Just Dave and I and 24 Turkeys strolling along on a warm Sunday evening. I’ve never been that close to that many Wild Turkeys before. In the past we’ve watched a large group of Turkeys in a field doing mating displays (you can watch a video of it at that link), but it’s quite different being so close. They eventually caught on that we were following them, so a few started to trot and the other followed. The group ended up going back into the bushes to forage. It made me happy knowing that pretty soon all 24 of them were going to climb up into the trees to roost. You wouldn’t expect to see a bird that big sitting in a tree, but they do roost in trees at night. I unexpectedly discoveed that last year; it was quite amusing to me (you can read the story here).

At the Beaver Pond we saw Double-crested Coromrants, a female Belted Kingfisher, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. From across the pond we could heard Red-winged Blackbirds and our first White-throated Sparrows of the season.

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Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warbler (Image by BirdNation)

We always have a wonderful experience at Palmyra Cove, and Sunday was no exception. How can you beat spending some time trotting around with Wild Turkeys? 🙂

Have you ever experienced a large flock of Turkeys?  Tell us your Turkey stories in the comments.

 

 

Welcome Warblers!

They say April showers bring May flowers. We certainly received our fair share of April showers the past week. We were lucky to get a bit of a break from the rain on Saturday, so Dave and I used that opportunity to go to Palmyra Cove Nature Park. I heard that many warblers and other migrants have been flooding into the area, so I wanted to see how many we could spot. We did pretty well for 2 1/2 hours and overcast conditions: 33 bird species, 2 deer, 3 groundhogs, and turtles galore.

A few minutes into our journey we entered a meadow. We spotted a hawk soaring and wanted to see if we could get a better look. Suddenly we heard a sharp tschat call from the tall grasses and out popped our first warbler of the season: a male Common Yellowthroat! He quickly hid once realizing we were stalking him but we were able to catch a glimpse of him a few more times. Male Common Yellowthroats are pretty distinctive; they have a black face mask and their throats/chests are a yellow-olive. Female Yellowthroats are much duller and lack the black mask that the male displays. We ended up seeing a few male Yellowthroats. Many of the birds we saw during this trip were small and fast, so we tried our best when it cam to pictures. We did get to see the soaring hawk, and decided that he was a Broad-winged Hawk.

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Male Common Yellowthroat (Image by David Horowitz)

The second warbler of the day is one of my favorites: the Yellow Warbler. Remember when I talked about dream birds? The Yellow Warbler was my dream bird for awhile. I wanted to see one so badly, and finally saw my first last spring at Boundary Creek. Yellow Warblers are almost completely yellow, with breeding males sporting  chestnut stripes down their chests. Throughout our entire hike we could hear them singing from the trees. Sometimes ornithologists will use mnemonic devices to help people learn birdsong,  and I think the Yellow Warbler’s is very appropriate: Sweet-sweet-I-am-so-sweet! 🙂

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Male Yellow Warbler

Our next stop was the Beaver Pond. We had to walk through the forest area and on the way we saw/heard: Robins, Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadees, Northern Flickers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Brown Cowbirds, American Crows, Northern Cardinals, and Song Sparrows. A great spectacle waited for us at the Beaver Pond: tons of turtles! They were on every log and rock available. There had to be at least 70 turtles or more of different sizes and species.

At the pond there were also: Canada Geese, Mallards, Tree Swallows, a Green Heron, and a Pied-billed Grebe.

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Male Tree Swallow (Image by David Horowitz)

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers flitted around the trees nearby. I am still shocked that Dave managed to get a picture of one; Gnatcatcher are super fast.

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Image by David Horowitz)

We even were able to find a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher nest on our way to the cove.

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher nest (Image by David Horowitz)

The last stop of the day was the Cove Trail. We weren’t able to get any good pictures because everything was far. The biggest surprise at the cove: Green-winged Teals! They are some of our Winter Waterfowl visitors and I expected them to have migrated already. They were busy waddling through the mudflats looking for food. Others found at the cove were: a Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Northern Rough-winged Swallows , Tree Swallows, and a really big Snapping Turtle.

It was starting to get windy and rain was threatening so we headed back to the car. We took a quick walk on the beach and saw some Double-crested Cormorants. When we went back to the forest part of the trail we saw an Eastern Towhee and I heard my first Gray Catbird of the season. I’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of Gray Catbirds and I was a little disappointed that I only heard it, but I’m glad to know they are back. Overall, we had a great day greeting some of the new spring migrants. I’m looking forward to going to Amico Island and Boundary Creek soon to see some more warblers. Have you seen any warblers yet?