Barnegat Light Records

On September 7th, Dave and I went birding at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. In our area that day it was supposed to be around 80 degrees (too hot for October in my opinion), so we escaped from the heat to the breezy shore.

We saw 12 American Oystercatchers on the beach, a personal record for us. Usually when we go to Barnegat Light we see T2’s family (a resident oystercatcher who you can read more about here), and sometimes an unbanded pair. So we were delighted to see such a high number of them. American Oystercatchers from South Carolina to Florida tend to be non-migratory. Many Northeastern populations use what is called “leap-frog” migration, where instead of migrating down the Atlantic Coast they winter in Northwest Florida (we learned our friend T2 does this, and winters in Cedar Key, Fl). American Oystercatchers will start forming pre-migration flocks in late summer and will migrate usually between mid-September and mid-November. Our group of 12 oystercatchers was probably one of those migration flocks. Our friend T2 was among them. I hope s/he has a safe migration and winter in Florida, and I hope to see T2 again for a 3rd year next summer.

There were also many smaller shorebirds running around the beach and on the jetty. These included Semipalmated Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers (in non-breeding plumage) , Least Sandpipers, and Ruddy Turnstones. It was fun watching them run around the rocks looking for food. There was somebody else watching these “peeps”, although not for the same reason we were.

Every once in a while, a Merlin would swoop by and startle the the shorebirds, sending them off in a frenzy flock to escape becoming lunch. Merlins are swift, little falcons who hunt prey by using high speed attacks. Shorebirds are one of the many menu options for Merlins, who like to feast on birds that weight between 1-2 oz. The first time we saw a Merlin at Barnegat Light was December 2016. It makes me wonder if it’s possibly the same one or another individual.

Merlin
Merlin in flight (Image by David Horowitz)

Each year, Brown Pelicans show up around Barnegat Light in late summer/early fall, and during our August LBI trip we saw a few for the first time. This time we saw 10 Brown Pelicans flying towards Island Beach State Park (which you can see from Barnegat Light). We saw each pelican fly by individually, but learned they sit on some small islands out in Barnegat Inlet near Island Beach. I’m so happy that we’ve been able to see the late summer Brown Pelicans this year.

brown pelican 4
Brown Pelican over Barnegat Inlet (Image by David Horowitz)

Other highlights from our October LBI trip included a variety of gulls, a tern catching a fish and flying with it over our heads, and many Double-crested Cormorants.

tern 4
Tern with a fish (Image by David Horowitz)

We’ve had a few personal records this year at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. It was our first year seeing Brown Pelicans, we saw 12 American Oystercatchers in one visit, we’ve added a few birds to our life list, and we visited the park 5 times this year (as opposed to maybe twice per year in the past). I’m happy that we have been spending more time exploring and witnessing the seasons at Barnegat Light. I’m sure we will have a few more adventures on LBI for the remainder of the year, especially since the winter waterfowl will soon be on their way :-).

Advertisements

Piping Plover: Seashore Saturday

Hello friends! It’s the most hectic time of the year for me: back to school (this year as a teacher and a student). Everyone is one the move again, and birds are no exception: fall migration is underway. There are so many exciting things going on this time of year. Autumn begins on Thursday the 22nd, and right now we are in the midst of warbler and shorebird migration. Yesterday was Plover Appreciation Day, which is a day to raise awareness of ground-nesting plovers around the world and how we can help them. Today there are two personal special things happening: the last Seashore Saturday of the season and my birthday! I decided to combine those last two events by choosing one of my favorite shorebirds to write about: the Piping Plover. Starting next week I’m going to kick off Woodpecker Wednesday for the autumn season. I also have a birding trip post coming soon and a book review, so stay tuned!

Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)

Description:

Piping Plovers are small, stocky plovers. They have pale upperparts, white underparts, and short bills. Their legs are orange-yellow and they have black feathers on the tips of their tails and sides of their wings. During breeding season they have a black, narrow breast band while juvenile and non-breeding birds have a pale band. Their bills are orange with a black tip during breeding.

img_0750
Piping Plover on Long Beach Island, NJ (Image by BirdNation)

Range:

Breeding: northern Atlantic Coast, parts of the northern plains (mid-Canada, the Dakotas, Nebraska)/Great Lakes region (although population have dramatically declined there.) Winter: southern Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast

Habitat:

Sandy beaches, sand bars, tidal flats, alkali lakes

Diet:

Insects, crustaceans, marine worms, invertebrates. Piping Plovers are ground foragers who run a few steps then stop to look for food and peck around.

Breeding/Nesting:

Piping Plovers are a threatened and priority bird, partly due to the fact that they breed on the ground. Piping Plovers lay their eggs in a scrape in the sand, usually some distance from water. The problem is that they blend in so well with their surroundings that their nests can easily be destroyed by beachgoers who are not aware the plover eggs are there. Because of this, many Atlantic Coast beaches have blocked off areas were Piping Plovers and other threatened shorebirds, such as terns and Black Skimmers, nest.

Piping Plovers lay on average about 4 eggs. The eggs are incubated by both sexes for 26-28 days. The young are downy and leave the nest a few hours after nesting to look for food. The parents brood the young, but the female usually deserts the chicks after a few days and the male cares for them. The chicks fledge between 21-35 days after hatching. Not much is known about the Piping Plover’s development.

img_0842
Piping Plover chick on Long Beach Island (Image by David Horowitz)

Sounds:

peep, peeto! or a series of pehp, pehp, pehp when agitated.

Fun Facts:

  • Sometimes Piping Plovers are seen in small groups, but they are usually solitary and don’t mix with other shorebirds often.
  • Piping Plovers are native to the United States and just barely disperse into Mexico. They also winter in The Bahamas.
  • Male Piping Plovers have thicker breast bands during breeding season, which is one of the only ways to tell the sexes apart.
  • During breeding, males display elaborate courtship ceremonies, such as flights that feature dives and stone tossing. Males create multiple scrapes in the ground for nest sites and female will choose the site she likes best to camouflage it.
  • Like, Semipalmated Plovers and Killdeer, Piping Plovers use the “broken-wing display” to distracted predators from their young.

Please be mindful of your surroundings while visiting beaches. Make sure to obey any signs you see, especially if they are telling you to avoid a shorebird nesting area. Piping Plover populations are under 10,000, so it’s important that we are taking proper precautions to protect their habit.

piping_plover_s36-37-024_l_1
Piping Plover parent and chick (Image by Johann Schmacher via audubon.org)

Semipalmated Plover: Seashore Sunday

I woke up this morning (Sunday) and realized that I didn’t post a Seashore Saturday! I lost track of what day it was. So here’s another Seashore Sunday. This week’s bird is one that I’ve been seeing a lot of lately: the Semipalmated Plover. I saw this bird on my recent trips to Cape May and Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.

Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)

Description:

Semipalmated Plovers are about 7.25 in length. They have brown upperparts, white underparts, and orange legs. They have a distinctive dark breast band, as well as dark cheeks. The base of their bill is orange while the bill tip is black. They are smaller than the similar-looking Killdeer, who have a double breast band.

semiplov_mikelentz
Adult Semipalmated Plover (Image by Mike Lentz via allaboutbirds.org)

Range:

Breeding (Summer): Alaska and Northern Canada; Migration: Canada, throughout United States; Winter: Pacific, Atlantic, and gulf Coasts, Caribbean Islands, and coast of South America

Habitat:

Shores, sandy beaches, mudflats, lake shores. Prefers open habitats and avoids flats with too much marsh vegetation

PLVSEM-5
In flight (Image by Mike Danzenbaker via avesphoto.com)

Diet:

Mainly insects, but also marine worms and crustaceans. Semipalmated Plovers forage by running in short spurts and pecking the ground when they spot food. Sometimes they shuffle their foot in the ground to startle prey into moving.

Breeding and Nesting:

To attract a mate in the air, males will flying in circles using slow wingbeats over their territories while calling. Another technique is to fluff his feathers, spread his tail and wings, crouch down, and call excitedly. Semipalmated Plovers build the nest on bare gravel or sand and line it with natural materials.

Both sexes incubate usually 4 eggs for 23-25 days. The downy young leave the nest shortly after hatching and feed themselves while being watched by the parents. Young plovers’ first flight occur between 23-31 days after hatching.

Sounds:

Two-note whistle: tu-wee!

Fun Facts:

  • “Semipalmated” refers to the fact that they have partial webbing in between their toes.
  • Semipalmated Plovers are the most numerous of the small plovers.
  • Like the Killdeer, Semipalmated Plovers use the “broken-wing display”, where they pretend to be injured to lure predators away from their chicks.

Day of the Ibis

This summer turned out to be very different than I expected. I was hoping to go on more birding trips than I actually did, but we had a lot of heat waves (96 with a heat index of 111?! No thanks!). Now that the weather is starting to calm down Dave and I have been able to go birding again. So expect more bird trip posts in the near future!

On Wednesday we took Dave’s mother to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR. It was her first time and I was glad that she enjoyed it. It was our 3rd Forsythe trip since May, but as usual, it was a completely new experience and just as exciting.

We took the wildlife drive. There were a lot of “peeps”. People use the term “peeps” to describe species of small sandpipers. Sandpipers can be difficult to identify, especially now during molting and the start of migration. I believe we saw a lot of Semipalmated Sandpipers with some Semipalmated Plovers (who are not “peeps”) mixed in. In the distance were Mute Swans, Canada Geese, American Black Ducks, and a mix of gull species. We were surrounded by different flocks on both sides of the marsh and everyone was either resting, foraging, or preening.

Then The Frenzy happened. I’m not sure what changed, probably the wind, but all the flocks took off at the same time. Everyone was flying in different directions, either with their flocks or as individuals. It’s hard to describe what I refer to as “The Frenzy” in words, but if you’ve ever experienced thousands of birds flying around you at one time you know what I mean. It’s always a spectacular moment.

the frenzy
The Frenzy (Image by David Horowitz)

(I know that’s not the best quality picture, but I wanted to give you an idea of what The Frenzy looked like. Everyone was really high up and scattered, making it hard to get a good shot)

Another great thing about this trip: herons and egrets galore! Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Snowy Egrets dotted the landscape, usually in mixed flocks. We even saw our first Tricolor Herons! There were 3 of them hanging with a Great Egret and some Snowies. It’s fascinating to watch the different hunting styles. Tricolor Herons hunch down close to the water/mudflats, Great Blue Herons/Great Egrets are slow and meticulous, and Snowy Egrets look like they are in a rush and run all crazy (haha I love Snowies! I think if I was a Great Blue Heron I’d be frustrated hunting next to a Snowy. He would scare all my fish away!). The Tricolor Heron’s neck was a reddish color, so it’s a juvenile. Adults have darker necks both in breeding and non-breeding plumage.

IMG_1234
Tricolor Heron (Image by David Horowitz)

We also saw 3 Black-crowned Night-herons hiding out in a tree with a variety of egrets. One was an adult and 2 were juveniles. It was our first time seeing Bc-Nh juveniles. They look very similar to juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-herons. Black-crowns have large white teardrop-shaped spots on their wings while Yellow-crowns have small dots. We went with Black-crowned because these guys seemed to have large spots.  True to their names, Night-herons are active mainly at night. People usually tend to find them roosting in a tree during the day. They blend into the branches pretty well, so they can be tricky to spot.

IMG_1213
Juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron (Image by David Horowitz)

But the highlight of the day for me were the Glossy Ibis. We’ve seen them multiple times, but this time was special because we counted 100 of them! Usually we see no more than 10 per trip. I don’t know where they were flying in from, but they just kept coming! All 100 were not in the same place at the same time, but they were spread out in flocks of about 30.

IMG_1199
Glossy Ibis (dark birds) with Great and Snowy Egrets (Image by David Horowitz)

Other species on this trip included 11 Ospreys, Double-crested Cormorants, European Starlings, Red-winged Blackbirds, a variety of Terns (including I think at 1 Least Tern, he was teeny!), Willets, Crows, and Tree Swallows.

Dave and I went to Cape May on Monday, so look out for that post soon!

Side note: After finishing this post, I found a pdf from the American Birding Association about identifying “peeps”. It’s called Identification of North American Peeps: A Different Approach to an Old Problem. If you would like to learn more about “peeps” you can click the link below. You can also download it to your computer (you know I did!) to reference it later.

ABA Identifying Peeps pdf

 

Shore to Please

It’s Memorial Day weekend. Although summer doesn’t start until June 20th, many people consider this weekend to be the start of the summer season. In New Jersey, this means that thousands of people make their way to the Jersey Shore each weekend from now until Labor Day.

I grew up at the Jersey Shore. The strange thing is though, I barely spent any time at the beach until I became an adult. Once I became a birder and moved away from the shore I realized that there were so many birds that I missed out on growing up. So I try to go to the shore a few times a year to enjoy the beach and the shore birds.

Dave and I visited Barnegat Lighthouse State Park on Friday morning. Barnegat Light SP is located on the northern  tip of Long Beach Island in the town of Barnegat Light. It’s a great place to see all different kinds of shore birds as well as waterfowl in the winter. Whatever time of the year, Barnegat Lighthouse SP is shore to please (bad pun, I know haha!). It seems like a crazy idea on Memorial Day weekend but we got there early and beat all the crowds. We started our hike by walking along the short pine trail near the visitor entrance. I finally got to see my first Black and White Warbler. Other birds on the trail were Northern Cardinals, a Mourning Dove, Song Sparrows, Yellow Warblers, Gray Catbirds, and American Robins.

We continued onto the beach and walked along the jetty towards the end of the beach. The first thing we spotted was a small group of gulls, but there was something else mixed in…a Piping Plover! Piping Plovers are small and blend in perfectly with the sand. They are considered endangered in New Jersey as well as in some of the other states they live in. Human recreation, habitat loss, and predators have all contributed to the decrease in numbers of Piping Plovers over the years. Here in New Jersey we’ve had some good new though. Last year Conserve Wildlife New Jersey reported that the breeding population of Piping Plovers increased from 92 pairs in 2014 to 108 pairs in 2015. On Long Beach Island certain parts of the beach are blocked off to avoid people from interfering with the shorebird’s nests.

IMG_0750
Piping Plover (Image by David Horowitz)

This Piping Plover was putting on a show. It was rapidly flying through the gulls and running around with its tail feathers down while being chased. Then we spotted it…a chick! The other adult and chick were nearby and this adult was trying to distract the gulls. I have seen Piping Plovers before but this was my first chick! It was so adorable.

The Piping Plovers disappeared into the sand, so we continued on our way. There were 5 Semipalmated Plovers resting nearby and 2 Eastern Kingbirds fluttering through the sky. We ran into one of my favorite summer residents: the American Oystercatcher. These birds are so striking to me: medium-sized, black/white/brown bodies, with a long bold orange bill and entrancing red eyes.

 

We saw 3 Oystercatchers, but my favorite was the one towards the end of the jetty. It found an oyster and happily strutted around with it in its bill. It would stop every so often to twist the shell in the sand then continue on its way. We watched it run to a tide pool near the jetty where it finally cracked open the shell to enjoy its snack.

 

Another bird we watched along our walk was the Ruddy Turnstone. A few days after Christmas it was 75 degrees (crazy New Jersey!), so we went to Barnegat Light and saw our first Ruddy Turnstones. There were a handful of them running around on the jetty in non-breeding plumage that December day. We saw many of them on Friday and finally got to see them live up to their names. They walked around in small flocks, turning over any object that was in the way to find food. They were fun to watch.

Towards the end of the jetty we saw some more gulls and Double-crested Cormorants. As we looked out at the ocean a few Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings foraged along the coastline. When we were ready to leave we were in for a surprise: a whole mixed flock arrived! There were a mix of about 30 Sanderlings and Ruddy Turnstones running out towards the ocean then being chased back by the waves. And suddenly, they were gone as quickly as they arrived.

We saw the same Piping Plover family on our way back towards the lighthouse. There was not one chick though…there were 3! What a wonderful sight! I still can’t believe we were lucky enough to see a whole family of Piping Plovers. I hope through conservation efforts these beautiful plovers and other endangered shorebirds continue to see their populations increase. If you happen to go to the beach this weekend (or know anyone who is) please remember to share the beach with our avian friends. Don’t you want to continue experiencing this cuteness in the years to come? I shore do :-).