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 😂).

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.

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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.

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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.

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Sanderling in breeding plumage (Image by BirdNation)

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

Goodbye Spring, Hello Summer!

Happy Summer Solstice!

I can’t believe summer is already here. This will be an interesting summer for me. I’m usually off for 10 weeks, but this year I have a summer job. Here’s a picture of my workplace:

I’m a nature summer camp intern at Rancocas Nature Center. I’m excited that I get to spend the next few weeks working outside and learning more about nature 😁.

Now that it’s a new season, I’ve been reflecting on my year list. Since winter (where we observed 81 species) I’ve added 71 species to the list, bringing my total to 152 species in 2018. We had a great spring migration this year. Here are some of the highlights.

  • Team BirdNation participated in the 2018 Great American Arctic Birding Challenge from March 1-June 1. Overall we observed 62 species on the checklist.
  • 60 species, including our first Caspian Tern, at Forsythe NWR during Global Big Day
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Willet on Global Big Day (Image by BirdNation)
  • Added 2 warblers to our life list: Northern Parula at Amico Island and Canada Warbler at Patuxent Research Refuge
  • Took a “mini vacation” to Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland. Saw Pileated Woodpeckers for the first time in 3 years
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Patuxent Research Refuge on a rainy day (Image by BirdNation)
  • Red Knots for the first time ever at Fortescue Beach as well as thousands of other shorebirds and Laughing Gulls
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Semipalmated Sandpipers (Image by BirdNation)
  • Our first Wilson’s Snipe at Taylor’s Wildlife Preserve
  • Met Pete and Phoebe, the resident pair of Piping Plovers at Barnegat Light SP
  • Had an awesome trip to Forsythe with my friends Deborah and Bella, where we saw 51 bird species, some snakes, and tons of turtles
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Black Skimmers and Laughing Gulls (Image by BirdNation)

Spring migration was awesome this year. We got 5 life list species (Wilson’s Snipe, Red Knot, Canada Warbler, Northern Parula , and Caspian Tern), and went on lots of great birding trips.

Summer always ends up being a little slow due to the heat, but you never know what will show up. We are also heading to Cape Cod, Massachusetts in August, so that’s something to look forward to. Can’t wait to see what the summer will bring!

How was your spring migration this year? What birds did you see? Tell us about them in the comments! 

Also, don’t forget to join the flock on Instagram, @birdnation123

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.

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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.

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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.

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Piping Plover parent and chick (Image by Johann Schmacher via audubon.org)

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.

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)

 

My New Avian Neighbors

One thing I enjoy about birding is that you can do it anywhere. There are no specific places you need to be. You can find all sorts of interesting birds, and don’t even have to leave your own backyard.

I don’t actually have a “backyard” but I because I live in an apartment complex. But I do have a nice large balcony that looks out over a lawn with some trees and live next to a wooded area, so I see a decent amount of birds.

I don’t really know my human neighbors that well, but I certainly know my avian neighbors. Over time I get to know the resident birds and their habits and am excited when new species move into our area. This spring/summer a new couple has moved into the neighborhood: the House Wrens.

Every morning, one the the wrens (I like to call him my “little friend Wren” haha) sings out from my balcony. I was honored that Wren chose our balconies of all the ones he could have chosen from. Then I noticed that Wren had a plan, and it was sneaky. (Below is a fuzzy cell phone picture of Wren on my balcony)

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My little friend Wren on my balcony 🙂 (Image by BirdNation)

Wren is trying to take over my nest box. He likes to sneak in but doesn’t succeed for very long. The male House Sparrow who resides there always kicks him out. Wren is pretty persistent though and usually will try multiple times before flying off. He’s not afraid to put up a fight either. It makes for quite a spectacle.

This has been the summer of the wren for me. I have been seeing Carolina, House, and Marsh Wrens pretty frequently, but my neighbor House Wrens are my favorite so far. So in honor of my little friend Wren and his mate, here are some fun facts about House Wrens.

  • Despite being a plain-looking brown bird, House Wrens are anything but dull. House Wrens are energetic and bubbly little birds. They move quickly, fluttering about with their tails straight up in the air. Their songs are just as lively as their personalities. They let out an exuberant, trilling song that ascend then descends. (If you’ve never heard a House Wren, I suggest you look up their songs. It’s delightful!)
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House Wren (Image via animalia-life.com)
  • They may only weight about the size of two quarters, but if you’re a bird you better watch out! House Wrens are fierce competitors when it comes to looking for nest sites. If they want a certain spot they will harass larger birds, sometimes even killing the young that is already in the nest.
  • Breeding House Wrens choose new mating partners each season. To persuade a female to court with him, a male will prepare multiple nests. Single males may try to steal a female from another male after nesting has already begun. If the single male succeeds, he will get rid of the former male’s eggs so he can have his own. Females may leave the male to take care of the chicks to start a nest with a new male.
  • House Wrens have the largest range of any New World songbird. Their range extends from Central Canada and all throughout North/Central America and can go down to the southernmost tip of South America.
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(Map via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
  • House Wrens earned their names because they tend to live close to humans and in man-made structures.

Who is your favorite avian neighbor? Tell me about them in the comments.