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. 🙂

 

 

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Bermuda Cahow

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile now, you know that I love bird cams. I discovered the Cornell Lab Bird cams about 2 years ago. It all began with the Great Horned Owl cam and quickly turned into an obsession where I was pretty much keeping track of all the cams. I’ve spent countless hours watching Red-tailed Hawks, Laysan Albatrosses, Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, and Barn Owls successfully (and sometimes unsuccessfully) raise their young. There are also a variety of feeder cams to watch, such as the one at the Lab’s Sapsucker Woods, the Ontario feeder, and the West Texas Hummingbirds.

Over the past year, the Lab has created new partnerships with other wildlife organizations to add more cams to their website. Their newest cam is the Bermuda Cahow (my latest obsession :-)). The Cahow cam is hosted by Nonsuch Expeditions from Nonsuch, Bermuda.

The Bermuda Petrel (or Cahow as its called in Bermuda) is the second rarest seabird in the world and has an interesting history. The arrival of humans, rats, cats, and other mammals to Bermuda in the early 1600s had a terrible impact on the Cahow population, which was said to have been around a half a million birds at the time. Twenty years later, people believed that the Cahow went extinct. This belief lasted for about 330 years (from 1620-1951), until a team of scientists discovered 18 breeding pairs on offshore inlets. Many people refer to the Cahow as a “Lazarus species”.

Since it’s re-discovery, the Cahow has been the focus of intensive conservation management. One of the people to re-discover the Cahow in 1951 was David B. Wingate, a Bermuda native. This event inspired him to study zoology at Cornell University so he could help the Cahows recover. Starting in 1960, Wingate and other conservationists have been running the Cahow Recovery Program to help reduce threats that the Cahow face. David Wingate also wanted to help other species in the process and restore Nonsuch Island to it’s pre-colonial ecology through the Nonsuch Island Living Museum Project.

Many strategies have been employed to conserve the Cahows. In 2001, David Wingate’s successor, Jeremy Madeiros started a translocation project to move the birds to a more suitable environment and protect them from harsh weather conditions.In 2004, 14 Cahow chicks were translocated to a new breeding colony on Nonsuch Island. Volunteers and scientists monitored, banded, and fed the chicks, and they all successfully fledged. The colony on Nonsuch Island now has 15 breeding pairs, and the total number of breeding pairs in Bermuda increased to 120 in 2016. Other conservation strategies include using geolocators and banding.

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Jeremy Madeiros holds the Cahow chick (Image tweeted by Nonsuch Expeditions)

The chick that we watch on Bermuda Cahow came hatched on March 2, so as of today it is 12 days old. It’s parents are E0212 (male) and E0197 (female), who have been breeding together at the same burrow site since 2009.  Cahow pairs stay together for life, which may sometimes last for around 30 years. After a few years of failure, they started successfully fledging chicks since 2014, so hopefully our little chick this year will fledge as well.

Similar to the Laysan Albatross on their cam, Cahow parents leave the chick to forage for squid, and its not unusual for a chick to be left alone for up to a week without a visit. It takes so long because the adults will travel north to the cold Gulf Stream waters, sometimes up to 4,500 or more miles away! The chick was just visited today by the mother, who spent some time feeding, preening, and resting with her chick.

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Mom and chick rest together (Image tweeted by Nonsuch Expeditions Twitter)

 

So if you haven’t seen Bermuda Cahow cam, you should check it out! The chick is absolutely adorable and it’s exciting to observe the life of these fascinating seabirds. I’ll include the link to the cam below in addition to some cool Cahow facts. And while you’re there, check out some of the Cornell bird cams (link is up in the first paragraph).

Bermuda Cahow cam

Amazing Cahow Facts

2017 Season Cahow Blog

 

 

Harlequin Duck: Waterfowl Wednesday

Hello friends! Happy Winter Solstice! Today is the return of Waterfowl Wednesday. Waterfowl Wednesday is a feature I started at the end of last winter to highlight some of the waterfowl visitors in my area. I love waterfowl, so I decided to write this feature again this winter. Waterfowl includes ducks, geese, and swans.

Our first bird of the season is the clown-like Harlequin Duck. I saw my first Harlequin almost two weeks ago, when Dave and I took a trip to Barnegat Lighthouse State Park.

Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus)

Description:

Harlequin Ducks are medium-sized sea ducks. Like many other kinds of ducks, they exhibit sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females have different plumage. Male’s bodies are a slate blue with a large chestnut patches on their wing. They have white bands on their feathers, collar, and down the back of the neck that are bordered with black lines. On their face they have white crescent-shaped marks before their eyes and a white dot behind the eyes. Females are a duller gray-brown, with white patches around their eyes and a white dot behind the eyes. The male’s tail feather is longer than the female’s.

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Male Harlequin Duck (Image by Steve Byland, via https://nationalzoo.si.edu/)

Range:

Summer (breeding): Pacific population: Northwest North America from Alaska south to Montana, Atlantic population: Baffin Island, Iceland, Greenland, parts of Quebec, Labrador, and Newfoundland. Winter: along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts

Habitat:

Summer: mountain streams, fast-flowing rocky rivers. Winter: salt water and rocky coastlines

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Female Harlequin Duck (Image via birdzilla.com)

Diet:

Harlequins are diving ducks, but may also dabble at the surface for food. Eats mollusks, fish, insects, and crustaceans.

Breeding/Nesting:

Harlequins start to breed at around 2 years old and form pairs in winter and spring. Many males my try to court one female by head-bobbing and tail-raising. Nests are shallow depressions in the ground that are lined with plant material The nests are placed near fast-moving water sources in forested areas.

Only females incubate the 5-7 eggs for about 27-30 days. When leaving the nest she will cover the eggs. Young are precocial, so they leave the nest fairly quickly after hatching. They are able to feed themselves and can dive, but usually dabble. Broods usually combine to be tended to by multiple females.  First flights usually take place 5-6 weeks after hatching.

Sounds: 

Call: a mouse-like squeak, because of this call they are sometimes refer to as the “sea mouse”. Females give a nasal eek-eek, males give a whistle tiv

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Harlequins in flight (Image by Paul Higgins via utahbirds.org)

Conservation: 

Not much is know about populations, but the eastern populations has declined over the last centuries. More than half of the eastern population winters in coastal Maine.

Fun Facts: 

  • The species name comes from the Latin word “histrio”, meaning “actor”. The name “Harlequin” comes from a character that is colorfully-dressed from “Commedia dell’arte”.
  • Due to living in rough enviroments, studies have found that many Harlequin ducks have had broken bones.
  • Harlequins are one of the three ducks in the world who breed in fast-moving streams.
  • In the winter, Harlequins are usually found in loose flocks that also contain scoters and eiders.

Gulls Galore

This past Sunday was warm: a whopping 76 degrees here in New Jersey. I’m not the biggest fan of that kind of heat in the fall, but I thought it would be nice to go to Barnegat Lighthouse State Park on Long Beach Island, NJ. I figured that it’s usually cooler at the shore, so we should have a nice cool breeze while birding. I wanted to see some shore birds and new migrants who I’ve been hearing about on some of my birding Facebook groups.

Things didn’t quite turn out as I expected though. There was no cool breeze (although it was nice and sunny). You know what else was missing?

Shorebirds. There were no shorebirds in sight. Zero. Once again, birding got me by giving me exactly what I did not expect. But instead I got something else that’s pretty great.

Gulls. Lots and lot of gulls. Gulls galore.

Like Turkey Vultures, I feel like gulls also get a bad rep. They are noisy, they steal, they invade our parking lots. Many people think of them as a nuisance.

If you feel that way about gulls, I challenge you to look closer. Gulls are actually pretty fascinating. They have complex communication systems and are excellent parents. Gulls are also extremely adaptable. People may get annoyed seeing gulls hanging out by all the garbage, but let’s remember who created all that garbage in the first place…(hint: it’s not the gulls :-P)

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“Mr. Sandy-bill” takes a stroll on the beach (Image by BirdNation)

So although I did not get to see shorebirds, I was happy to spend some time with the gulls. I felt honored to be able to get so close and observe. We watched them preen, rest, hang out together, swim in a tide pool, float on ocean waves, and soar over the water. It was a nice day to be with these underappreciated sea birds.

As I explained in my Seashore Saturday about Laughing Gulls, the term “seagull” is not real. There are only “gulls”, and there are many different kinds that live here at the Jersey Shore in the fall and winter. We saw a healthy mix of Ring-billed, Herring, Laughing, and Great Black-backed Gulls (I heard later through Facebook that there were Bonaparte’s Gulls somewhere that day but I did not personally observe them).

I’ll admit, I’m not the best at gull identification. Gull plumage varies greatly. It depends on the season, breeding vs. nonbreeding, and how old a bird is. Juveniles of all the species listed above tend to be more brown, but some gulls have different winter plumage depending on if they are 1st winter, 2nd winter, or 3rd winter. I would be remiss if I acted like I knew what all these specific gulls were in the pictures of this post. I have a long way to go in my gull id skills. But it is a work in progress that I am determined to improve over time. So I will caption these pictures with simply just “mixed flocks of gulls”.

However, I feel somewhat confident of this picture:

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Herring Gull? (Image by David Horowitz)

After much deliberation I believe this fellow is a 3rd winter Herring Gull. But don’t quote me on that! (lol 🙂 and please correct me if I’m wrong!).

I may have only gotten decent pictures of gulls, be we did see some other species on our trip. These included male and female Northern Cardinals, two Brown Creepers, two Great Cormorants, a Double-crested Cormorant, a Red-bellied and a Downy Woodpecker, a White-breasted Nuthatch, Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and a juvenile Eastern Phoebe. We determined the Phoebe was juvenile because of its pale yellow belly.

We even picked up two new feathers for our collection: a Northern Flicker and some sort of gull (again, I have no clue who’s feather this may be, I just thought it was cool).

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Northern Flicker and gull feathers (Image by BirdNation)

I’m glad we had a day full of gulls. These interesting birds deserve more respect and positive attention. The shorebirds can wait until the next Long Beach Island trip.

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Gulls getting their feet wet (Image by BirdNation)

Brown Pelican: Seashore Saturday

Our seabird of the week is the Brown Pelican. The Brown Pelican is the smallest of the eight species of pelicans in the world. It is one of the three species who live in the Western Hemisphere.

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

Description:

Brown Pelicans are large seabirds who stand about 51″ in length. They are gray-brown with long wings, necks and bills. An unmistakable feature of the Brown Pelican is their throat patch, which expands while foraging for food. Pacific Pelicans tend to be bigger with slate gray bodies and darker bellies. While breeding their throat patches are bright red and they have dark napes with a yellow crown. Atlantic Pelicans are smaller and their throats are a greenish-black during breeding. They have a white crown and the nape of their necks are dark brown.

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A Brown Pelicans flies over Bodega Bay, California  (Image by Frank Schulenburg via wikipedia)

Range:

Pacific Coast between Southern California and Southern Ecuador, Atlantic Coast between Maryland and Venezuela, and the Gulf Coast. Sometimes found north of typical breeding range

Habitat:

Oceans, beaches, and salt bay. Typically not found very far inland. Pacific Coast Pelicans breed offshore on dry rocky beaches. Gulf and Atlantic Coast Pelicans breed mainly on barrier islands or on islands in estuaries. They breed in mangrove islets in Louisiana and Florida.

Food:

Almost exclusively fish. Brown Pelicans and their relatives, the Peruvian Pelican, are the only two of the eight Pelicans that plunge dive for food. Brown Pelicans can plunge dive  from up to 60-65 feet in the air. They dive bill first and their throat patch expands in order to catch fish. During the dive, the pelican will twist its body to the left to protect its esophagus and trachea from impact. Its body will submerge under water briefly and the bird will surface with water and fish in its throat. Brown Pelicans tilt their head down to empty out the water in their throats before swallowing the fish.

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A Brown Pelican plunge diving (Image by Ingrid Taylar via baynature.org)

Breeding/Nesting:

Brown Pelicans nest in large colonies that include thousands of  pairs. They are monogamous during breeding season. Males will perch at a nest site for up to 3 weeks while trying to attract a female. Nests are built by the female with materials gathered by the male on the ground, in a low tree, or on a cliff. The nest is a scrape on the ground usually lined with natural materials.

Both sexes will incubate 2-4 eggs with their feet. They are essentially standing on their eggs. Incubation lasts up to 30 days and chicks are fed by both parents. When the young get slightly older they will gather in groups. The parents are able to pick out their young from the group for feeding. Young Pelicans typically take their first flights between 9-12 weeks of age, but are fed by their parents for some time afterwards.

Sounds:

Adults are nonverbal, while the young will make grunts and groans from the nest

Fun Facts:

  • Pesticides, such as DDT, caused a large drop in population in the 1950s to the 1970s. DDT was causing the lining of the pelican’s eggshells to become so thin that the eggs would break under the parent’s weight. Since the ban of these chemicals, Brown Pelican populations have improved drastically and stabilized. They are still considered a Priority Bird, but are an example of how conservation efforts can be successful.
  • American White Pelicans are larger than Brown Pelicans are usually fly higher in the air. Brown Pelicans fly slowly over the water’s surface, usually seen in single file or a “V”, with the birds flapping in unison.
  • A Pelican’s throat can fill with up to 2.6 gallons of water while fishing. Since Pelicans have to open their bills to empty out the water, Gulls tend to steal fish right out of the Pelican’s mouth. Sometimes Gulls are even seen perching on a Pelican’s head waiting for fish! Pelicans can be scavengers as well, sometimes following fishing boats or taking handouts from people.
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A flock of Brown Pelicans (Image via planetgreenrecycle.com)

 

 

Common Tern: Seashore Saturday

This week’s seabird is the most widespread North American tern: the Common Tern.

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

Description:

Common Terns are are white with a black cap and considered medium-sized terns. Their tail feathers are forked up. Breeding adults have an orange-red bill that features a dark tip. Their backs are grays and legs are orange. Nonbreeding and first year birds have a dark carpal bar on their upper wings and black feet/tail feathers. Juveniles have an orange bill and a brown-striped back.

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Adult breeding Common Tern  (Image via animilia-life.com

Range:

Breeding (summer): Eastern Canada and Northeast Atlantic Coast Migration: Midwest, Atlantic and Pacific Coasts and some parts of Western United States Winters: coasts of South America and Caribbean Islands

Habitat:

Ocean beaches, bays, lakes, lagoons. Usually found on the coast but less common inland. Winters in tropical or subtropical waters.

Food:

Fish, crustaceans, insects, shrimp. Common Terns forage by hovering over the water and plunge diving. They may also catch insects in the air or steal food from other terns.

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A Common Tern defends its territory (Image by Michelle Kinsey Bruns via wikimedia commons)

Breeding/Nesting:

Common Terns breed in large colonies found on rocky or sandy islands. They usually start to breed between 3-4 years of age. Pairs of groups may perform aerial courtships where they fly high in the air. On the ground pairs will bow and strut. Males will present a fish to the females. Both sexes will participate in choosing a nest site. Nests are usually a scrape in the ground but may be lines with natural materials. Both parents will incubate 1-3 eggs for 21-25 days. Young will remain on the nest for a few days after hatching and take their first flights in about 22-28 days. The chicks will stay with their parents for about 2 months.

 

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An adult and chick (Image by Kevin T. Karlson via ny.audubon.org)

Sounds:

A high keeeyurr that descends in pitch; a short kip call

Fun Facts:

  • Common Terns who live at the coast drink saltwater. They have nasal glands that help excrete excess salt like many other seabirds do.
  • They are strongly migratory and are considered long-distance migrants. Populations usually move north before staring their migration southward.
  • Common Terns have circumpolar distribution. There are 4 subspeices that are found in subarctic and temperate regions of not only North America, but also Asia and Europe.

Protect the Puffins

Hello my friends! Today I wanted to share a petition from the National Audubon Society related to the Atlantic Puffin and other marine birds/creatures. It’s for the creation of of a Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean. I also wanted to spread the word about Project Puffin and why I believe a Marine National Monument is necessary.

You can read and sign the petition at Audubon’s website here.

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Atlantic Puffins (Image via http://www.public-domain-images.com)

Project Puffin is a restoration program that was created by the National Audubon Society in 1973 and lead by Dr. Stephen W. Kress. Historically there were 6 islands off the coast of Maine where Atlantic Puffins had established breeding colonies. Due to hunting of their eggs, feathers, and meat for around 300 years following the colonial age, there were only 2 islands used for breeding by the 1970s. The original goal of Project Puffin was to establish a breeding colony on Eastern Egg Rock Island.

Atlantic Puffins, like many seabirds, typically return to the same breeding grounds that they were born at. Between 1973 and 1986, 954 Atlantic Puffins were transplanted from Great Island, Newfoundland to Eastern Egg Rock Island when they were between 10-14 days old. Audubon biologists essentially took the place of Puffin parents and tagged them before they fledged. 914 chicks successfully fledged in this time. Transplanted Puffins started returning to Eastern Egg Rock Island in 1977. They were lured with wooden Puffin decoys and in 1981 4 pairs bred on the island. There are now 150 breeding pairs on Egg Rock. As usually with all bird conservation projects, it is still an ongoing and active mission.

But there was a mystery. When the Puffins would leave the breeding grounds, nobody knew where they were going. They would spend as much as 8 months at a mystery location. Learning where the Puffins go would be important so that these birds and other wildlife could be protected all year round. In 2009 birds were tagged with geolocators. There ended up being issues with the equipment, so in 2013, 26 new Puffins were fitted with geolocators.

In 2015, scientists were able to retrieve 19 devices and analyzed the data. They found that Atlantic Puffins spend the winter 200 miles east of Cape Cod, at the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts. There is still more research to be done, and as technology improves, scientist will be able to retrieve more precise data. In the meantime, making the Coral Canyons and Seamounts a permanent Marine National Monument will help protect the Puffin’s wintering grounds. There are many Marine National Monuments protecting areas in the Pacific Ocean, but there are none in the Atlantic Ocean. At the moment, the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts are pretty much undisturbed. By protecting them now, we can help make sure that this habitat is left untouched by fishing and oil industries so that all kinds of marine life can thrive.

Since it’s inception in 1973, Project Puffin has become much larger than just helping Puffins. It’s now a conservation program that benefits many other seabirds, such as terns and storm-petrels. As a result, there are now Puffins nesting on 5 Maine Islands and is also helping to restore Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge. Please consider signing this petition to help marine animals stay protected. If you want to learn more about Project Puffin, check out their website:

Project Puffin

There is a book called Project Puffin: The Improbable Quest to Bring a Beloved Seabird Back to Egg Rock by Stephen W. Kress and Derrick Z. Jackson. You can also “adopt” a Puffin on their website.

Thank you all for reading this! Every person who can help with this effort is much appreciated. To quote Audubon’s website, “Spread the word. It’s the least you could do.”

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(Book image via projectpuffin.audubon.org)