New Jersey State Botanical Gardens

Today my friend Casey and I went to the New Jersey State Botanical Gardens to celebrate my birthday (which is tomorrow 9/17). The NJ Botanical Gardens are located in Ringwood State Park in Ringwood, NJ. Ringwood is located in the “Skylands” region of New Jersey, a more mountainous area of the state near the border of New York. (Last year we went to the Skylands region to explore the Lakota Wolf Preserve, you can read about our trip here). 

There are numerous gardens and historical buildings/landmarks to explore. One of the highlights is the Skylands Manor, a Tudor-revival style mansion bought by Clarence McKenzie Lewis in 1922. Beautiful small gardens are spread throughout the main lawns and in the forests. These include the Annual Garden, Magnolia Walk, Summer Garden, Perennial Garden, Rhododendron Garden, and Azalea Garden to name just a few. You can also stroll along Crabapple Vista and view the Four Continents statues from the 1600s. Another fun attraction is the Solar System Walk.

Birding was not the primary purpose of this trip, but I did see a few species. These included Gray Catbirds, Eastern Wood-Pewees, Tree Swallows, Black-capped Chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, American Goldfinches, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Blue Jays.

Here are some of the pictures from our trip.

We had a lovely morning exploring the beautiful scenery of the New Jersey State Botanical Gardens. I would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re ever in the NJ Skylands Regions.

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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. 🙂

 

 

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)

Laughing Gull: Seashore Saturday

I was unsure about what seabird I wanted to write about this week. Earlier in the day I was hanging out with my mom and brought up my predicament. She reads all my posts, so I wanted to know what she wanted to read about.

“Oh, you should write about the seagull!”, she suggested. I liked that idea. I asked her what kind.

“You know, the seagull.”, she replied. Her response was an extremely common answer that you would get from a majority of people. But it’s actually not correct (sorry Mom, no one else realizes that either! 🙂 )

A lot of people are surprised to find this out, but there is no such thing as a seagull. You read that right: it doesn’t exist. But about 98% percent of people I talk to have no clue that there are no seagulls, only gulls. The term “Seagull” is the informal layperson’s word that is used all around the world to refer to members of the Laridae family, or gulls. There are 27 species of gull in North America. The word Laridae is Greek and means “ravenous sea bird”. This week’s featured bird is the Laughing Gull, which is a summertime visitor here at the Jersey Shore.

Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)

Description:

Laughing Gulls are medium-sized gulls that have long wing/legs and stout bills. They are considered a “three-year gull”, meaning it takes 3 years for Laughing Gulls to reach adult plumage. In summer breeding plumage adults have black “hood” plumage on their heads/black wing tips, white underparts/eye-arcs, and a drooped red bill. In non-breeding winter plumage their black heads change to a blurry gray mask on white. Throughout the year adults have gray wings and black feet. Immature birds are browner.

Range:

Resident to long-distant migrant. Year-round resident south of Virginia through the Gulf Coast and west coast of Mexico. Migrating populations spend the winter in Central and South America and spend the summer in the Northeastern United States.

Habitat:

Atlantic and Gulf Coast saltwater beaches and marshes. Can also be found at parks, landfills, or parking lots where food is readily available.

Food:

Laughing Gulls have a highly-varied diet. They eat insects, fish, invertebrates, squid, and crabs while they gather while walking the beach, swimming, or stealing from other birds. They are scavenger, and will eat human-made objects such as garbage and refuse from boats. Laughing Gull are notorious for eating anything toss by or offered from beachgoers. (Or sometimes food not offered by beachgoers. I certainly have had Laughing Gulls steal food from me while living at the shore!)

Breeding/Nesting:

Laughing Gulls breed in large colones, often mixed with other gulls, American Oystercatchers, and Black Skimmers. Colonies can be up to 25,000 pairs and thousands of nests. Both sexes help construct the nest out of grasses/seaweed on the ground or under shrubs in some regions. They have 1 brood with a clutch size of 2-4 eggs which are incubated by both sexes for about 20 days. The young leave the nest within a few days of hatching and are feed by the parents. They start with half-digested food and transition to solid food as they grow. Their first flights are at about 5 weeks old.

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Juvenile Laughing Gull (Image via wikimedia commons)

Sounds:

They are named “Laughing” Gulls because their loud nasal descending calls sound like laughing.

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(Image by Gregory R. Mann, Ph.D. via otlibrary.com)

Fun Facts:

  • Sometimes Laughing Gulls will eat the young or eggs of other birds. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornitholgy, John Jame Audubon saw Laughing Gulls eating Brown Noddy and Sooty Tern eggs/chicks. They also eat Royal Tern eggs sometimes.
  • They are known to steal food from birds that are much larger than them, such as Ospreys and Pelicans.
  • Laughing Gulls are monogamous and stay with the same mate for several breeding seasons.

 

 

A Rare Summer Solstice

Happy Summer Solstice everyone! It’s the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. I can’t believe summer is already here; seems like spring just began yesterday. This year’s solstice is extra special: it coincides with the Strawberry Moon. The Strawberry Moon is a name given by the Algonquin tribes to the full first full moon of the summertime. They knew that fruits, such as strawberries, were ripe for picking during the Strawberry Moon. Today is a rare event: the full moon and summer solstice only occur on the same date around every 70 years. The next time the strawberry Moon is to happen on the summer solstice is June 21, 2062. Pretty cool, right?

I’m happy to say that I am on summer break since my school year ended last week. I plan on focusing more my bird studies now that I have time off (of course relaxing too!). This summer will be the summer of shorebirds: the new summer feature will begin on this blog sometime this weekend. I also hope to add more informational posts on bird behavior over the next few months.  I’m excited for things to come!

This afternoon Dave and I visited Haddon Lake Park. I honestly didn’t expect to see to much. Here’s why: when its hot, especially mid-day, birds want to stay cool just like we do. So it’s harder to go birding in the summer because everyone is hiding away to try to beat the heat.

I was pleasantly surprised though. It was pretty busy at the lake, with a variety of species. My favorite part was a pretty unique family of ducks.

There are a lot of waterfowl who live at the lake. They are mainly Mallards and Canada Geese, but there are some domestic species too. We were looking at some resting Mallards when all of a sudden two large brown ducks came waddling quickly out of the water. They didn’t look like female Mallards because they were too big. Then three more ducks appeared; another brown, one all white, and the other black and white.

They were the oddest group of ducks I’ve ever seen. The original brown ducks were about the size of the all white one, but have blue speculum patches on their sides like a Mallard. The black and white one looked like it came straight off a farm. I think we were seeing hybrids of a mix between one of those white domestic ducks and a mallard. They certainly had features of both. You never quite know with ducks because they hybridize all the time.

They stood around for about a minute then got in a line to continue on their mission, whatever that was. Then the five of them formed a little pod and scurried across the grass. As they waddled away I couldn’t help but giggle at them. Their little family was just so adorable. They certainly made my day :-).