Misty Cape May Morning

Today we took our first summer birding trip down to Cape May Point State Park. It was a really hot day, around 90 degrees, but we still managed to see 30 species birds. On the drive down it was pretty foggy, and it was still pretty misty by the time we got down to the Point.

Misty Morning at the Hawkwatch Platform Pond (Image by BirdNation)

Bird species along the main trail included Mute Swans, Mallards, Tree Swallows, Common Yellowthroats (heard), Forster’s Terns, Laughing Gulls, Ospreys, Northern Mockingbirds, Purple Martins, Canada Geese, an Eastern Kingbird,and Red-winged Blackbirds. There were also hundreds of tiny toads hopping across the trail.

Tree Swallow portrait
Tree Swallow (Image by BirdNation)
Purple Martin female
Purple Martin female (Image by BirdNation)

We had a few fun surprises on the beach. Two Brown Pelicans flew by over the ocean.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans (Image by BirdNation)

After I took the above picture the pelicans skimmed very close to the ocean’s surface. They used an aerodynamic phenomenon call the “ground effect”. As the pelicans fly close to the water with their full wingspan, the air is “funneled” between their wings and the ocean surface. This effect allows the birds to stay aloft and increases efficiency. Eventually the bird must gain some speed by flapping and slightly ascending in order to continue its glide. Many birds use the ground effect over water, but this principal also works on land.

Another interesting thing to note about these Brown Pelicans: the bird on the left is an adult and the one on the right is immature. You can see the whitish-yellow of the adult’s head that the immature bird lacks.

We also spotted pods of dolphins! They were relatively close to the beach, and would occasionally leap out of the water (wish I captured that in a picture!).

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Bottlenose Dophin Fins (Image by BirdNation)

There were also many pairs of American Oystercatchers. Some pairs were just strolling along the beach together, while others were guarding/sitting on eggs. This pair has a banded Oystercatcher, so I’ll submit my band findings to the American Oystercatcher Working Group and let you know what I find out.

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Taking a stroll (Image by BirdNation)
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Banded American Oystercatcer (Image by BirdNation)

This couple added some furnishings to their nest site…

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Decorating the Nest (Image by BirdNation)

We were also really lucky to catch a glimpse of this couple’s two eggs (from a safe distance behind the barrier zooming in with the camera of course!) It was our first time seeing American Oystercatcher eggs.

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American Oystercatcher Eggs (Image by BirdNation)

Our final beach surprised was a Sanderling in breeding plumage. It was all by itself, so I wonder where its flock mates went. Sanderlings are usually at the shore in the winter, so I think this little guy missed the memo that its summertime now.

Sanderling breeding plumage
Sanderling in breeding plumage (Image by BirdNation)

Our misty Cape May trip was a great way to start off our summer birding.

Piping Plover Update/Banding

Hi friends!

Yesterday I e-mailed some people from USFWS regarding 2 banded Piping Plovers at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. I heard back about the plovers today.

It turns out they are the park’s resident pair: Pete and Phoebe 😁❤️! They also sent me a link to the Exit 63 Blog so I can learn more about the birds.

This is Phoebe:

Piping Plover #1
Phoebe (Image by BirdNation)

“Phoebe Cates” is a second year female. This is her first year mating with Pete. When I saw her she was sitting on a nest will a few eggs.

This is Pete:

Piping Plover #2 “Pete McLain” is a male who in 2016 was one of the first Piping Plovers in years to nest at Island Beach State Park, right across Barnegat Inlet. He returned in 2017 and successfully raised a chick with his partner “Diane”. In 2018, Pete started spending time at Barnegat Light instead of Island Beach. Pete ended up meeting Phoebe and she accepted his courtship displays.

I highly recommend going to Exit 63’s blog and reading their description of these events. The writing is really entertaining and fun. They even have a video of Phoebe and Pete doing the courtship display/mating.


If you see a banded Piping Plover while at the beach, you should report it if possible. Reporting banded birds helps the scientific community keep track of the threatened birds, learn about their life history, and use this information to aid in their recovery/conservation.

The most important thing to look for/take note of is band location/colors. Taking photographs if possible is always helpful. Once you gather as much information as you can about the Piping Plover, you can use the following link to submit your data to the appropriate conservation group.

https://www.fws.gov/northeast/pipingplover/report_bands.html

To learn identification tips, check out this slideshow from Sidney Maddock of Virginia Tech.

https://www.fws.gov/charleston/pdf/PIPL_Band_Identification_Training.pdf

You can also check out the Piping Plover fact sheet to learn more about the species:

https://www.fws.gov/northeast/pipingplover/pdf/plover.pdf

Reporting banded Piping Plovers is not the only way you can help this threatened species. These guidelines can really apply to any bird you encounter on the beach.

  • Respect all fenced off or posted areas. Many shorebird species’ eggs blend in with the landscape, so the roped off areas should not be crossed.
  • Watch the birds from a distance to avoid disturbing them.
  • Don’t leave trash on the beach since it can attract predators.
  • If there are signs restricting dogs on the beach during a certain time of the year, please follow them. These restrictions are set for a reason. I can’t tell you how many people I see with dogs on the beach that is covered by “NO DOGS” signs that are clearly visible. If dogs are allowed, please keep them on a leash. Also, please keep your cats indoors, for the safety of both your cat and the local wildlife.

Birds of Peace

One thing I know for certain: when life gets real tough, like it did for me today, I will always have the birds. Birds may not be the cure to all life’s problems, but they definitely help heal the heart in times of trouble, at least for me. They bring me a sense of tranquility and peace in stressful times. Birds remind me to step away from my anxieties and live in the present.

Here are a few of the many lovely birds I saw this afternoon at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park.

Piping Plover #1
Piping Plover #1 (Image by BirdNation)
Piping Plover #2
Piping Plover #2 (Image by BirdNation)

These Piping Plovers were first of season/year for me. Piping Plover #1 was sitting on eggs. As you can see from the pictures, both plovers were banded. I reported both Piping Plovers to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, so hopefully I will know more about these plovers soon. (A post about how to report banded birds coming soon!) Piping Plovers are considered threaten throughout their range, so reporting banded plovers is important to help conserve them.

ruddy turnstone and semipalmated sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone and Semipalmated Sandpiper (Image by BirdNation)
Ruddy Turnstone
Male Ruddy Turnstone (Image by BirdNation)
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper (Image by BirdNation)
Semipalmated sandpipers on rock
Semipalmated Sandpipers (Image by BirdNation)
preening herring gull
Preening Herring Gull (Image by BirdNation)
great egret hunting
Great Egret (Image by BirdNation)
Old Barney
Old Barney (Image by BirdNation)

Mission: Red Knots

Hi friends! Sorry for the disappearance…hectic few weeks. Of course we squeezed in some birding amidst the chaos. And now back your regularly scheduled blog posts 🙂

In October 2016, I wrote a post about Deborah Cramer’s book, The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, An Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey. (You can read that post here). Throughout The Narrow Edge, Cramer explores conservation issues by documenting the journey of the Red Knot.

Red Knots are fascinating little shorebirds. They make one of the longest yearly migrations of any bird. The Calidris Canutus rufa, one of the Red Knot subspecies, travels up the Atlantic Flyway from Tierra del Fuego, Argentina to their Arctic breeding grounds. The round-trip of a Rufa migration comes out to around 19,000 miles in a single year. One of the stopover sites on their journey happens to be Delaware Bay, less than an hour from where we live. So our mission this Memorial Day weekend: to find Red Knots.

Red Knots touch down in Delaware Bay mid-May. They only stay in the region long to refuel by feasting on Horseshoe Crab eggs for about 2-3 weeks. Red Knots are considered endangered in New Jersey and are declining in many areas throughout their range. Last year, 17,000 Red Knots were counted along Delaware Bay, with around 10,000 on the New Jersey side (and the rest being in Delaware). This year numbers are up: around 34,500 birds with about 26,000 in New Jersey.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Red Knot numbers in general are up, but it is a good sign. The Red Knots are staying longer and with a better Horseshoe Crab spawning season, gaining more weight. These factors allow the Red Knots to leave the area in better condition to make it to the Arctic and breed.

Today we decided to look for Red Knots at Fortescue Beach in Cumberland County. It ended up raining while we were there, but we were in no way disappointed. The goal was Red Knots, and well…mission accomplished!

We didn’t find the Red Knots right away. First there were the Laughing Gulls. Hundreds of obnoxiously loud Laughing Gulls. The video below (which was shot on my Iphone 7 at a far distance, so please excuse the bad quality!), barely captures the volume of the bird sounds, but it gives you a little idea of how loud they were. You can also see the Greenhead flies, which are unfortunately out in full force already.

The amount of shorebirds was amazing, even considering peak numbers were about a week ago. There were over 1,000 Semipalmated Sandpipers, and hundreds each of Red Knots, Dunlins, and Ruddy Turnstones. We even saw the occasional Willet and Herring Gull. I’ve never seen so many shorebirds and Laughing Gulls in one place. Behind us were the sounds of Yellow Warblers, Marsh Wrens, and Red-winged Blackbirds. On the way to and from the beach we saw at least 8 Ospreys.

Our last top of the day was Stone Harbor Point in Cape May County. We only saw a handful of Red Knots, but more variety of species. Species included American Oystercatchers, a Little Blue Heron, Dunlins, Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderlings, Barn Swallows, Least Terns, Willets, and a Boat-tailed Grackle.

Stone Harbor Beach (Image by BirdNation)
Stone Harbor Point (Image by BirdNation)

I wanted to see Red Knots ever since I read The Narrow Edge. I feel so fortunate that Dave and I were able to experience these birds on their epic journey north. The Red Knot also marks my 198th life list entry. Only 2 more until 200!

If you want to learn more about the Red Knots in Delaware Bay this year, check out this article from the Press of Atlantic City: http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/press/science_nature/red-knots-numbers-weight-up-this-year/article_24bef445-6669-5371-85e8-630ba79bee5a.html

Waders Far and Wide

Happy Autumn everyone!

Autumn is my favorite season. I’m usually the first person to wish people a happy autumn. On the 22nd I actually forgot it was autumn until about 9 pm…probably because it was 90 degrees outside! We’ve had unseasonably warm weather the past week and a half, but of course that didn’t stop us from going birding. On Sunday Dave and I took a trip to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR for our first fall birding trip.

September is always a busy time at the refuge with a mix of fall migrants and summer stragglers. It’s also peak time for waders, who could be seen all over the wildlife drive. Wading Birds are not the same as Shorebirds. Shorebirds consist mainly of plovers, sandpipers, avocets, and oystercatchers. Wading Birds refer to herons, egrets, ibies, bitterns, spoonbills, and storks. Wading birds can be found at the shore, but they are actually listed in between Pelicans/Frigatebirds/Boobies and Hawks/Falcons in field guides, meaning they are more closely related to those families than shorebirds.

We saw 6 species of wading birds on this trip: Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night-herons, Snowy Egrets and Glossy Ibis. There were 3 Black-crowned Night-herons hanging out on an island of shrubs. We actually found them in the same place I saw my very first Night-heron on my very first birding trip with Maria (my best friend/birding buddy), so that was special.

Black-crowned Nigh-Heron Immature
Black-crowned Night-heron Juvenile (Image by BirdNation)

The 6th species of wading bird was a bit of a surprise and the most interesting species for me on this trip. Dave and I were standing atop the Gull Pond Observation Tower when a medium-sized white wader landed in the water. At first we thought it was a Snowy because of its size, but then changed our minds and thought Great Egret. But the size seemed too small, and the legs weren’t quite the right color. A second bird of this species showed up.

They were also kind of, well, weird. Their movements while foraging were different compared to a Great Egret. They moved slowly, but would stretch out their necks and rock them from side to side. I feel like all the Great Egrets I’ve watched forage extremely carefully, while Snowy Egrets move quickly and erratically (sometimes I wonder if Great Egrets find it annoying to hunt next to a crazy-moving Snowy Egret lol). 

Then we noticed the bill and it all clicked. It was darker compared to the Great Egret’s bill and too light to be a Snowy.

Immature Little Blue Herons! Immature Little Blue Herons are in fact white, not blue like the adults. Why are they white? Ornithologists believe that blending in with the other egrets puts Little Blues at an advantage. Not only do they catch more fishing with the other species, but they get extra protection by blending into a mixed-flock. They are also better tolerated by Snowy Egrets, who can be aggressive towards Little Blues.  We’ve seen Little Blue Herons before (our first at Cloverdale Farm and second at Bombay Hook NWR), but these were our first juveniles. These Little Blues were fun to watch.

Little Blue Heron juvenile
Little Blue Heron juvenile (Image by David Horowitz)
Little Blue Herons
Little Blue Heron juveniles foraging (Image by David Horowitz)

Other highlights of our trip included a large flock of Greater Yellowlegs, Forster’s Terns in non-breeding plumage, Double-crested Cormorants, tons of gulls, a single Osprey, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Wood Ducks, and a Belted Kingfisher (our first for our Forsythe list) to name just a few from our 39 species total.

I’m glad autumn is finally here, but I can’t wait for the weather to finally cool down! I’ll miss the wonderful summer visitors, but am also looking forward to the winter birds. I’m happy we had the opportunity to enjoy all the waders before they migrate.

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.

feeding ospreys.jpg

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. 🙂

 

 

Old Man Plover

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“Old Man Plover” (Image by Alice Van Zoeren via audubon.org)

Meet BO:X,g (pronounced box gee). He’s 15 years old, making him the oldest Piping Plover in the Great Lakes population. But BO:X,g is better known for his endearing nickname, “Old Man Plover”.

There are 3 populations of the Piping Plover in the United States: the Great Plains, the Atlantic Coast, and the Great Lakes. Plovers on the Atlantic Coast and Great Plains regions are considered federally threaten, while the Great Plains population is considered federally endangered. A strategy used to help keep track of threatened bird populations in banding. Each bird in the population has a unique combination of colored bands that researchers can use to identify individuals. Old Man Plover’s real “name”, BO:X,g, are the letters that are found on his leg bands.

Old Man Plover has lead a long and interesting life so far. Many Piping Plovers don’t live much longer than 5-years-old, so the fact that Old Man Plover is 15 an amazing feat. He was born in 2002 in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore in Michigan. Old Man Plover is not the oldest current living Piping Plover (the oldest is 17 and lives in the Atlantic Coast population), but he has played a large role in the revival of his population.

Like many other Piping Plovers, Old Man Plover is loyal to not only his birthplace breeding grounds, but also his wintering grounds in Cape Romaine National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina (where our American Oystercatcher friend, M3, from Cape May winters too). He is also very punctual; every year he’s arrives at Sleeping Bear Dunes on exactly April 13 to rendezvous with his current mate. His current mate is actually his 3rd. His first mate (referred to as his childhood sweetheart in the article I read haha!) died in 2002 and his second mate died in 2013.

Over the years, Old Man Plover has successfully fledged 36 chicks, averaging around 3 or 4 chicks per breeding season (as compared to the normal rate of 1.5). The biologists who study him believe he is well represented in his population. The Great Lakes population has been slowly increasing, but there is still a long way to go to get to the goal of 150 breeding pairs. As of last spring (2016), there were 75 breeding pairs in the region and 28 of them nested in Old Man Plover’s Sleeping Bear Dunes area.

There’s been some more great news recently about the Great Lakes Piping Plover population. Last year, Piping Plovers nested in Lower Green Bay, Wisconsin, for the first time in 75 years. It was also announced as of July 24, 2017, that two Piping Plover nests have been found along Lake Erie in Pennsylvania. This is the first time Piping Plovers have nested in Pennsylvania in 60 years.

Old Man Plover is an inspiration, not just to me, but to the people who want to help conserve vulnerable species. This cute little plover doesn’t even know it, but he has made such a positive impact on his population and is a symbol of hope. I firmly believe one of the keys of conservation is to educate yourself and others, so I wanted to share his story with you.

If you’d like to learn more about Old Man Plover, about the Piping Plover populations, or about what you can do to help check out the links below:

Meet Old Man Plover, the Pride of the Great Lakes by Meaghan Lee Callaghan on Audubon.org

Success! Piping Plovers Nested in Pennsylvania for the First Time in 60 Years by Andy McGlashen via Audubon.org

Piping Plover Fact Sheet, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service