Finally Fall!

Happy Autumn Equinox, my friends!

I’m back!

I missed writing on here. After our Cape Cod vacation mid-August, life got really crazy real fast. There were a lot of major transitions going into September (work/college starting up). Being a teacher, September is always chaotic and exhausting for me, so as much as I wanted to write I haven’t had the time. But I’m very happy that we finally made it to my favorite season.

The Autumn Equinox is taking place here in the United States today, September 22. Since we live in New Jersey, the equinox is occurring at 9:54 EST. “Equinox” is a Latin word that translates to “equal night”. Fun fact: the day and night are almost equal, but not quite. There are actually about 8 more minutes of daylight than of nighttime during an equinox.

Since we are now in a new season, I thought it was the perfect time to reflect on my summer and my year list. Here are the highlights:

  • I was lucky to spend a majority of my summer outside as a summer camp intern at Rancocoas Nature Center. I worked with amazing staff and students and learned so much about nature beyond birds. I started a Butterfly/Moth life list, saw tons of really cool fungi, went birding everyday (as well as taught the kids about birds), and learned to identify more plants/trees/insects. I also have occasionally been leading hikes on the weekends since camp ended, and am running my first birding program in October. 

  • My 200th bird: the Roseate Spoonbill! July 1, 2018 was an fantastic birding day for me. We started by seeing our first Yellow-crowned Night-herons (#199) at Ocean City, NJ. Afterwards we visited Forsythe, where the juvenile Roseate Spoonbill was with the other wading birds. I couldn’t have asked for a better 200th bird! We also saw our first Saltmarsh Sparrow in the same trip.

 

  • Cape Cod birding vacation. We spent a few days birding in Cape Cod, Massachusetts during mid-August. We added 3 new life list birds: Roseate Tern, Black Tern, and Great Shearwater. In addition to tons of birds, we went on an amazing seal tour(I actually have a few more Cape Cod posts coming soon!)

 

  • This summer was also special because I started studying a subject again that I haven’t thought about in a long time: astronomy.  I have loved learning about space since I was a little kid. I had a telescope, and I enjoyed looking for and learning about constellations, planets, and meteors. At Nauset Beach in Orleans, MA, we had a chance to see 4 planets in an arc with the moon: Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. Ever since that night, I subscribed to some astronomy sites, and spend each day looking up at the night sky and reading about space. Now I look for planets and stars in the sky in addition to my birds :-). (If you look closely in the picture below, you can see a faint Venus coming into view over the clouds)
The Moon with a faint Venus coming into view at Nauset Beach, MA (Image by BirdNation)

I added 14 birds to the Year List this summer, bring the total to 166 species so far this year. 7 of those 14 were life list birds: Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Chimney Swift, Black Tern, Roseate Tern, and Great Shearwater.

I can’t wait to “fall” into some autumn birding (Sorry, I couldn’t resist 😂).

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!

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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 :-).

 

 

The Waders: Black-crowned Night-Heron

This week’s featured Wader is the Black-crowned Night-Heron. (You can check out last week’s featured Wader, the Roseate Spoonbill, here.)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Description:

Adult:

  • Medium-sized, stocky heron
  • Large head, rarely extends neck
  • Whitish to pale gray belly
  • Gray wings
  • Black cap/back/bill
  • Red eyes
  • Short yellow legs
  • Long white plumes from head during breeding seasons
  • South American subspecies Dusky in plumage
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Black-crowned Night-Heron Breeding Adult (Image by David Horowitz)

Juvenile/Immature:

  • Brown overall and heavily streaked
  • Thick neck and yellow and black bill
  • Large white spots on wing coverts
  • Immature/1st Summer a mix of Juvenile and Adult features

Range: 

  • Year-Round: Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast, parts of Pacific Coast, Florida
  • Summer: Most of the United States, parts of Canada
  • Winter: Mexico

Habitat:

Marshes, wetlands, swamps, wooded streams, lakes

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

Diet:

Amphibians, fish, small mammals, insects, crustaceans. Black-crowned Night-Herons forage most actively at night and early morning. They will stand in one spot and wait for prey before striking. Night-Herons will also slowly forage along the shoreline or from a perch. These birds have been known to steal chicks from the nests of other herons.

Breeding/Nesting:

  • Courtship: Black-crowned Night-Herons start breeding around the age of 2. Males will choose a nest site to display from. To attract females, the male will raise his neck and ruffle his feathers. He may also bow while alternating lifting his feet.
  • Nesting Site: Night-Herons are colonial nesters who roost in trees. The female will build a nest of sticks with some assistance from the male.
  • Young: Both parents will incubate 3-5 greenish-blue eggs for 21-26 days. The young are fed by regurgitation. They begin to fly around 6 weeks of age, and will start to follow the parents for food shortly after flight.

Vocalization: 

A loud kwok!, mainly heard at night. In the breeding colony, a variety of barks and croaks

Conservation: 

Although quite inconspicuous, due to their nocturnal nature, Black-crowned Night-Herons are fairly common. They are a good indicator species for the quality of the environment in which they live since they feed at the top of the food chain.

Fun Facts: 

  • Black-crowned Night-Herons are the most widespread heron in the world. They are found on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica.
  • Young Night-Herons don’t reach adult plumage until around the age of 3.
  • They are one of the seven heron species known to use bait-fishing. They will toss an object in the water to attract prey within their striking range.
  • The Black-crowned Night-Heron’s scientific name Nycticorax nycticorax means “night raven”.
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Black-crowned Night-Heron (By Tom Grey via birdnote.org)

 

Sources:
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-crowned_Night-Heron/overview
https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/black-crowned-night-heron
http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/blackcrown.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black-crowned_night_heron

 

 

 

The Waders: Roseate Spoonbill

This week’s featured Wading Bird is the gregarious and striking Roseate Spoonbill. (Last week’s wader, the Great Egret, can be found here). 

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Roseate Spoonbill adult  (Image by Purio via rio.wikia.com)

Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)

Description:

Adults:

  • Pale pink plumage with brighter pink on their rumps and shoulders
  • Distinct “spoon” at the end of a long bill
  • Long, partially-feathered, white neck that is an “S”-shape at rest
  • Small, yellowish-green heads with red eyes

Juveniles:

  • Even paler pink than the adults, almost white
  • Completely feathered head for 3 years until adult plumage

Range:

  • Resident: Florida, the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, coasts of Mexico, the Caribbean
  • Short-Distance Migrant depending on changes in food source/water levels

Habitat:

Coastal marshes, mudflats, tidal ponds, lagoons, shallow water, both salt and fresh water.

Diet: 

Crustaceans, fish, aquatic insects. They forage by sweeping their partially opened bill in water less than 5 inches deep. They swallow their prey whole.

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Juvenile Roseate Spoonbill By Andrea Westmoreland from DeLand, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Breeding/Nesting:

  • Courtship: The males and females will begin their courtship with aggressive behavior, but later end up perching closely together. The pair will also clasp/cross their bills together and exchange sticks. Pairs last for one breeding season.
  • Nesting Site: Colonial, usually with other waders such as ibises, herons, and egrets. Nest on islands, mangroves, or over water in the shadiest part of the tree.
  • Young: 2-3 (sometimes 1-5) white eggs incubated by both parents for 22-24 days. 1 brood per year. Chicks are born with white natal down and fed by both parents. Young leave the nest around 5-6 weeks and flights occurs at 7-8 weeks.

Vocalization:

Silent except at breeding colony. Grunting huh-huh-huh-huh. A low raspy rrek-ek-ek-ek. 

Conservation: 

Uncommon, but population has slightly increased in recent years. Threats include habitat degradation, human disturbance due to boating, water quality, and salinity of the water.

Fun Facts: 

  • When a flock of Roseate Spoonbills flies over feeding spoonbills, the feeding birds will “Sky Gaze”, a posture where they lift their bills and point them towards the sky.’
  • They are pink in color due to their diet. The shrimp and other crustaceans they consume contain the carotenoind cantaxanthin. 
  • Roseate Spoonbills are the only spoonbill species (out of 6) to live in the Americas.