Double Day Trip

Sunday tends to be our normal birding day. This week we were having trouble deciding where we wanted to go. The options were: Palmyra Cove or Barnegat Light. Which park did we choose? We actually went to both!

We started our day at Palmyra Cove Nature Park. The weather was lovely. We had a bright blue summer sky punctuated by white puffy clouds. Our main goal for the trip was to explore the Cove Trail. On the way to the cove we listened to the song of an Indigo Bunting, saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker, watched some Carolina Chickadees chase each other, and got a rare glimpse of a Warbling Vireo (I say rare because they are usually always at the top of the tree, so I tend to hear them frequently instead of see them).

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Red-bellied Woodpecker (Image by BirdNation)

The Cove Trail runs along the Delaware River. Sometimes you can walk on the beach along the river, but it was around high tide so that wasn’t an option. We did see some Double-crested Cormorants, as well as a flock of at least 70 Canada Geese float by.

There’s a wooden platform that extends out into the marshland of the cove. We were pretty close to it when we almost ran right into a Black Rat Snake! It was having a sun-bathing section right in the middle of the trail.

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Black Rat Snake (Image by BirdNation)

There were a lot of birds around once we reached the platform. There were 2 Bald Eagles in a nest, 6 or 7 Great Blue Herons, Mallards, small flocks of Semipalmated Sandpipers, swallows, Eastern Phoebes, Red-winged Blackbirds, a Cedar Waxwing, Orchard Orioles, and juvenile Starlings to name a few. My favorite visitor though was an adorable Spotted Sandpiper. It landed on the platform railing and pumped his little tail. With all their teetering motions, no wonder why people have nicknames these little guys the “teeter-peep” or the “tip-tail”.

After Palmyra we made our way across the state to the Jersey Shore to go back to Long Beach Island. We went to Barnegat Light SP about a month ago, but wanted to spend some time at the ocean. We arrived at the park in the late afternoon. This time we saw 3 Piping Plovers running around the beach. I think one of them was a juvenile, because it lacked the black neck and forehead bands that the breeding adult Piping Plovers exhibit.

 

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Piping Plover (Image by BirdNation)

We also saw American Oystercatcher T2 and its family again. The 2 chicks are still in what is called their prejuvenal (first prebasic) molt. This means that they have some down on the tips of some of their feathers. They are in this stage from June-August and have their full juvenal plumage by week 6. They also still have a larger black tip on their orange bills than the adults do. I was happy to see the T2 family again. The 2 juveniles were banded. We weren’t able to read their bands from the distance we were at, but maybe if they return in the future we’ll get a better glimpse of them. The picture on the left is one of the chicks a month ago in June, and the picture on the right are what they look like now in July. They grow up so fast, don’t they?

Double birding days are certainly a special treat! 🙂

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Barnegat Light Beach (Image by BirdNation)
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Cloverdale Farm Big Day

We turned onto the gravel road into the woods. It was farther away than I remembered. As we made our way down the road, I was getting excited about what we would experience.

The last time I went to Cloverdale Farm in Barnegat was in 2012 with Maria. We went down a dirt road and parked somewhere in a clearing near an old building. There was no visitor center or restrooms because Cloverdale was a newer addition to the county park system. It was a place of undisturbed beauty, and I remember seeing many egrets and swallows there (even though I didn’t know much about birds at the time).

Sunday was my first time back at Cloverdale Farm since 2012. This time Dave and I were going to Cloverdale Farm Big Day of Birding. Over the years, Cloverdale has become a popular birding spot. I frequently see birds from this location on the rare bird list, and of course, I checked the list before we went. There were two rare birds listed, a Prothonotary Warble and a Red-headed Woodpecker (we didn’t see either by the end of the day). When we arrived I noticed that it was a little more developed (in a good way), but still retained that natural beauty.

Cloverdale Farm Big Day of Birding was an event featuring many South Jersey birding groups. There were presentations throughout the day as well as guided tours by naturalists. Dave and I attended two presentations. Our first presentation was by Allen Jackson of the Purple Martin Conservation Society about the management of Purple Martin housing. We also learned about the NJ Osprey Project with Ben Wurst of the Conserve Wildlife NJ Foundation. Both presentations were interesting an informative.

From there it was time to go birding on our own. Outside the visitor center we spotted a female and male Eastern Towhee, a Blue Grosbeak, Chipping Sparrows, American Goldfinches, Carolina Chickadees, House Finches, Eastern Bluebirds, and an Indigo Bunting. A Great Egret waded through a nearby pond while Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, and Red-wing Blackbirds flew in all directions. A tiny, streaky shorebird flew by and landed near the pond’s edge. It rapidly pumped its tail while probing the mud. It had a yellow legs, a yellow bill with a black tip, and a pronounced white eyering. It was our first Spotted Sandpiper!

 

Cloverdale Farm has actually been a working cranberry farm since the early 1900s. The New Jersey Pine Barrens have been a top producer of cranberries since the 1800s, (cranberries for Ocean Spray are harvested in nearby Chatsworth). Now that it’s spring, the bogs at Cloverdale have been drained, but the trail leads around the bogs and a reservoir into the woods. We saw Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, more Chipping Sparrows, various Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, and Gray Catbirds along the trail.

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Reservoir at Cloverdale Farm (Image by BirdNation)

We arrived back at the visitor center to check the ponds again. We were watching a female Red-winged Blackbird when suddenly something dark popped out of the grass.

A Little Blue Heron! It flew overhead to the adjacent pond to forage near the Great Egret (which the egret was not too thrilled about). We watched it wade around a bit before it took off again over our heads into the distance. Little Blue Herons are about 22 inches tall (as compared to its larger cousin, the Great Blue, who is around 38 inches) and a dark, purplish blue. The heron we saw was an adult. How could we tell? Juvenile Little Blue Herons are actually white.

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Little Blue Heron in flight (Image by David Horowitz)

Being a “white” blue heron can have an advantage when it comes to feeding. Immature Little Blues look very similar to Snowy Egrets. Snowy Egrets are more tolerable when it comes to these immature birds than to the blue adults. This white “disguise” allows young Little Blues to forage closer to Snowy Egrets. With the help of the Snowy, the Little Blue is able to catch more fish. Immature Little Blues start gaining their adult plumage after a year. As they molt and the new plumage grows in they get a “patchy” white-and-blue look, which is usually described as “calico” or “pied”.

Cloverdale Farm Big Day of Birding was a fun and informative event. I’m glad Dave and I made the trip to this birding hotspot. We definitely plan on going back to Cloverdale Farm for more birding adventures.

Spotted Sandpiper: Seashore Saturday

This week’s featured bird is the Spotted Sandpiper of the Shorebirds family. Many sandpipers breed only in the most northern parts of North America, but Spotted Sandpipers spend their summers across most of the continent.

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)

Description:

Spotted Sandpipers are medium-sized shorebirds that have long tails and short necks. Their bills are slightly shorter their heads and they look like they are always leaning forward. Breeding adults have brown back, orange bills with a black tip, and yellow legs. True to their name, they have dark spots on their white bellies. They also have a white stripe above their eyes and on their wings during flight.. Nonbreeding “Spotties” (as they are sometimes called) have the brown backs but lack the bold belly spots. The sides of their breast are brown and more of a pinkish bill.

Range:

Summer (breeding): Canada to Alaska, Northern United States Migration: Southwest to Southeast United State Winter: Southern United States, Mexico, Caribbean Island, most of South America Year Round: Pacific Northwest Coast

Habitat:

Rocky shores, streams, lakes, ponds, mudflats. Typically found in fresh water environments. One of the most widespread sandpipers in North America

Food:

Invertebrates, insects, and small fish. They forage by probing at the mud of sand and lunging at moving prey.

Breeding/Nesting:

Spotted Sandpipers have interesting breeding and nesting behaviors. In most bird species males are more aggressive and display courtship behaviors while females take care of the young. Spotted Sandpipers reverse these roles. Females will attract males by swooping flights where she makes a weet-weet call, or by strutting on the ground. They are usually monogamus, but some females may practice a breeding strategy called polyandry, where she may have up to four mates per season. She will leave the male to incubate and care for the eggs. Females also arrive earlier than males to choose a breeding site which she will defend. The nest, which is scraped out on the ground and lines with natural materials, is usually started by the female but finished by the male.

Spotted Sandpipers can have between 1 and 5 broods per year with a clutch size of 3-5 eggs. The male will incubate the eggs for 20-24 days. The chicks are precocial, so they leave the nest within hours of hatching able to walk and feed themselves. The young are usually tended to by the male and will take their first flights within 17-20 days of hatching.

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Spotted Sandpiper chick (Image by Nathan Banfield via birds.explore.org

Sounds:

Weet-weet call during breeding; a high whistled twii twii, a single peet

Fun Facts:

  • Although male Spotties have 10 times more testosterone than females, female’s testosterone increases seven-fold during breeding, making the females more aggressive.
  • A female can store sperm in her  body for up to a month, so a male tending to her egg may not necessarily be the father of the chicks he’s caring for.
  • Spotted Sandpipers are almost always doing a teetering motion, although scientists are not sure what purpose it serves.
  • In flight, Spotties skim low over the water with a rapid burst of fastwingbeats, then have stiff short glides.
  • Spotted Sandpipers are not usually seen in flocks. They are usually solitary.
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A foraging Spotted Sandpiper (Image via Missouri Department of Conservation nature.mdc.mo.gov)