New Adventures

We took advantage of our 3 day weekend by going on 3 birding adventures. One of our trips was to Palmyra Cove Nature Park, but the other days we explored 2 new places: Taylor Wildlife Preserve and Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve.

On Saturday night we wanted to go to Amico Island. Every time we go there, we pass a place called Taylor Farm & Wildlife Preserve. People go to Taylor Farm to pick their own fruits and vegetables, but part of the property was turned into a wildlife preserve with a few hiking trails. We’ve been curious about Taylor’s for awhile, so we decided to check it out. We never made it to Amico that night, but had a great time exploring Taylor Wildlife Preserve instead.

Taylor’s Wildlife Preserve is right on the Delaware River and Dredge Harbor. It’s a wooded habitat that features stretches of wetlands. We arrived to the sounds of Gray Catbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds. As we walked towards the foot trails we spotted some Northern Cardinals, Eastern Phoebes, and Baltimore Orioles. Yellow Warblers and Warbling Vireos sang from high in the trees while we explored the winding trails. We found the wetlands area not long after entering the trails. There was a beaver lodge, Eastern Kingbirds, swallows, Common Yellowthroats, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.

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Taylor Wildlife Preserve (Image by BirdNation)

“Breep! Breep!” A raucous call came from high in the tree over our heads. It was a Great Crested Flycatcher! These large flycatchers have lemon-colored bellies and long tails, although the crest mentioned in their names are not very prominent. For being about 7 inches in length, the Great Crested Flycatcher has a pretty ear-piercing call. These flycatchers are agile fliers, and we watch it for a bit before it disappeared into the treetops. We also ran into a muskrat on the trail. He didn’t notice us right away, and was pretty surprised when he realized he was being watched. It was a fun moment.

Another highlight of our Taylor trip was finding Wright Cove, where there is a platform with an Osprey nest. At the end of April, Dave and I bought a spotting scope and tested it out at the local yacht club where some Osprey nest nearby. We found a second tower with nesting Osprey that night, and wondered if there was a way to see them better from land. It turns out the Wright Cove in Taylor Preserve is exactly where we want to be to see these Osprey really well. We will definitely go back to observe them, as well as explore more the preserve.

We woke up early Sunday morning to spend some time at Palmyra Cove. It was a quiet morning so we were able to see 42 species. Some highlights included Cedar Waxwings eating berries, a Green Heron flying through the woods, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the honeysuckles, and an Orchard Oriole pair chasing each other around. We ended up seeing some more Great Crested Flycatchers on this trip too. Ever have the experience where once you learn something is around, you start seeing it everywhere? Well it seems like we’ve been missing Great Crested Flycatchers for awhile, because now that we know them, we’ve been seeing them all weekend! Amazing how learning about a species can open up a brand new world you never knew was there before.

Today we went to Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve in Woodland Township for the first time. The preserve is 1,227 acres of pitch pine/scrub oak woodlands. An interesting feature of the preserve is a spung. A spung is a hydrologically isolated wetland that relies entirely on rainfall/snowfall to maintain its water level and is habitat to rare plants/amphibians.

Our hike started off with some of the usual suspects: Eastern Wood-pewees, Eastern Phoebes, Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Towhees Gray Catbirds, Common Yellowthroats and woodpeckers. But we kept hearing an ascending buzzy sound. It turned out this was the sound of the park’s namesake: the Prairie Warbler. Despite its name, these warblers don’t live on prairies, they prefer scrubby pine forests. This makes Huber Preserve the perfect breeding habitat. We were able to see and hear these beautiful yellow and black warblers throughout the entire walk.

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Prairie Warbler (Image by David Horowitz)

At one point on the blue trail Dave heard a low bellowing call. We froze and listened. “Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo-HOO!” I couldn’t believe it. I could recognize that voice anywhere; it was a Barred Owl! It was in the distance, but we heard it call a few times. I’m so excited that we added our 2nd owl to our lifelist :-).

There are actually 2 spungs at the preserve: one on the green trail and the other on the red trail. I really wanted to go to the red trail spung (which was mentioned on their website), but we would have had to walk at least 3 miles (one way that is). You can bike at the preserve, so we will probably go back and bike to that spung. We did try to find the green trail spung, but its seems like it dried up. So no spungs for us today :-(. We did however see a Pine Warbler, more Great Crested Flycatchers, Ovenbirds, an American Redstart juvenile male, Black-and-White Warblers, and the Prairie Warblers/Barred Owl listed above, so it was a great day despite there being no spung. It was a fun weekend of adventures, and overall May was a great birding month for us.

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2017 Birding Vacation! Part 1

Hi friends! Sorry I disappeared for a little bit, but I have a good reason… Dave and I went on a birding vacation! We spent the weekend in Maryland and Delaware hiking and looking for new birds.

We had two major stops planned for our day in Maryland. In the afternoon we drove into Baltimore to explore the National Aquarium. It happened to be 90 degrees that day, so it was the perfect escape from the heat. There were some birds in the aquarium: an alcid (auk) exhibit featuring Atlantic Puffins, Black Guillemots, and Razorbills,;and a rainforest exhibit with a variety of birds flying around. But the main highlight of our day was spending the morning at the Pickering Creek Audubon Center in Easton, Maryland.

Pickering Creek Audubon Center is a 400-acre park on an undeveloped tributary of the Wye River. In 1981, George Olds and Margaret Strahl, who were brother and sister, donated Heigh-Ho Farm to the Chesapeake Audubon Society. The property later became Pickering Creek Audubon Center. The farmhouse and adjacent builds are still there and the first thing you see when you enter the park. Pickering Creek is hidden in a quiet rural area, and features fresh water wetlands, a meadow, and a mature hardwood forest. In the forest you can visit the house of Gilbert Byron, the American author and poet who lived on the property for 45 years.

Our adventure began on the Pond Loop Trail behind the farm. The trail was densely lined with trees and had numerous Wood Duck and Bluebird nest boxes. We were hearing a lot of birds but they were hard to spot through all the leaves. Some of the birds around the pond included Mourning Doves, Common Yellowthroats, Northern Mockingbirds, Gray Catbirds, Eastern Bluebirds, and Indigo Buntings.

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Pond at Pickering Creek (Image by BirdNation)

We moved on to the Wetlands Trail. There are 2 observation decks that overlook a few small pools. The Wetlands Trail is where we saw most of our Wood Duck observations. Pickering Creek had numerous small ponds and plenty of trees/nest boxes, so it was no wonder that we saw at least 18 Wood Ducks (the most we’ve ever seen on a trip). There were even a few chicks swimming around with their mom. Other birds in the wetlands included Tree Swallows, an Osprey, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Mallards, Blue Gray Gnatcatchers, Red-winged Blackbirds, and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  We even found a raccoon sleeping in a tree with his little ear sticking out :-).

From the beginning of the hike we were seeing a bright yellow bird fly around over head. It was very vocal, had dull upperparts, white eyerings, and black on its face. It flew deep into the thickets being loud. We kept trying to get a good look at it, but were continually missing it. It wasn’t until towards the end of the Wetlands Trail when this mystery bird landed at the top of a nearby tree and sang that we got a good look at it. It’s song was quite unusual. It croaked, rattled, gurgled, whistled, and made all sorts of jumbled sounds. We later learn that we were watching a Yellow-breasted Chat. Yellow-breasted Chats are part of the Wood Warbler family, but seems like more of a mix between a warbler and a tanager. It’s the largest warbler, with a longer tail, a heavy bill, and a more varied repertoire of songs. It was fascinating to watch him sing from the treetops.

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Yellow-breasted Chat (Image by David Horowitz)

The final trail we took was the Farm to Bay trail, which leads out to part of the creek. Along the way we found Eastern Wood-Pewees, woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, and our first White-eyed Vireo (although we wouldn’t find that out until the next day). Overall we saw 33 species during our walk.

We had a really lovely morning exploring Pickering Creek Audubon Center. If you ever happen to be in Eastern Maryland and want a quiet, rural environment, Pickering Creek is the way to go. You can check out their website at pickeringcreek.audubon.org.It was the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I talk about our birding day in Delaware!

Heislerville WMA

Hello friends! Sorry I seemed to fall of the face of the Earth for a bit. It’s been a crazy, busy week, especially with the past holiday weekend. We’ve been having a heat wave here in New Jersey, so I haven’t been out birding in about a week. I usually encounter a lot going on outside my balcony, but even the backyard birds have seemed awfully quiet and absent due to the heat. The temperatures should be going back down into the 80s next week, so I’m hoping to get some birding in next week.

My last birding trip was actually on Sunday, July 3. Dave and I wanted to try somewhere different. We took a trip to Heislerville Wildlife Management Area. Heislerville WMA is a marsh habitat that borders Delaware Bay and the Maurice River in Cumberland County NJ. We’ve never visited before, so we didn’t really know what to expect.

The experience was a little confusing. We found the signs letting us know we were in Heislerville WMA, but we weren’t really sure where to park or where the wildlife auto loop entrance was. We did find something pretty cool though: a rookery. A rookery is a breeding colony. In the past I’ve talked about the Great Blue Heron rookery at Amico Island, but this one was a little different.

This rookery was for Double-crested Cormorants, Great Egrets, and Black-crowned Night-Herons. They were on a little island of trees, not far from the side of the road where people were crabbing. There were about 250 Cormorants, 40 Great Egrets, and 35 Black-crowned Night-Herons. I actually didn’t notice the Night-Herons at first until Dave pointed out a few; they blended in really well. Some birds were sitting on nests, some were standing around and/or preening, and some were coming and going. It was very loud and fascinating to watch. I’ve only ever seen 2 Black-crowned Night-Herons in my life, so seeing 35 of them in one spot was a treat! (The Night-Herons are hard to spot in these pics, they blend in perfectly)

After watching the rookery for awhile we moved on to another impoundment across the street. There were large flocks of Laughing Gulls and Herring Gulls (easily 150-200 + per species), some Snowy Egrets, and more Great Egrets. We did eventually find the wildlife auto loop. It’s 8 miles, but we didn’t stay on it very long. Some of the other birds we saw included Red-winged Blackbirds, Gray Catbirds, American Robins, Song Sparrows, House Sparrows, Blue Jays, a Great Blue Heron, Mourning Doves, Downy Woodpeckers, an Eastern Kingbird, Crows, Carolina Chickadees, and Northern Cardinals.

We only stood for about an hour and mostly watched from the car, but saw a decent amount in a short time. We could barely walk around though because it was really buggy even with spray on.

Overall, I had mixed feeling about this trip. The rookery was amazing, but it was a little confusing to get around and pretty crowded. It may be nice to visit in the fall when it’s less crowded. I am glad we tried something different though.

 

GBBC Day 3: Edwin B. Forsythe NWR

We spent a lovely morning at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. The high for today is about 16 degrees here in Southern New Jersey, so lucky for us, Forsythe has an 8 mile wildlife drive. It’s one of New Jersey’s 5 wildlife refuges and comprised mainly of wetlands. Other habitats include swamps, forests, and fields.

It’s a bit of a drive, but I make my way to Forsythe at least 5 or 6 times a year. I try to go at least once a season to see the resident birds as well as visitors during migration. The experience is always different, and always worth the drive. I’ve added over 50 birds to my life list from visiting the refuge. Today was the first time I’ve been there where it was almost completely frozen over, except for a few areas where we saw a majority of our birds.

Day 3 official count (17 species, 679 individual birds):

  • 3 Snow Geese
  • 469 Canada Geese
  • 79 Tundra Swans
  • 28 American Black Ducks
  • 19 Mallards
  • 1 Bufflehead (male)
  • 3 Great Blue Heron
  • 1 Bald Eagle (juvenile)
  • 10 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 4 Herring Gulls
  • 3 American Crows
  • 1 Hermit Thrush
  • 54 American Robins
  • 1 Brown Thrasher
  • 2 Cardinals (male and female pair)
  • 1 Red-winged Blackbird

We first saw a group of about 250 Canada geese. This was the first area of moving water we encountered. There were some American Black Ducks in the distance. American Black Ducks are very similar to female Mallards, but Black ducks are more of a chocolate brown color with yellow-olive bills instead of orange-black bills.  On the other side we saw a single male Bufflehead frequently diving in the water. A juvenile bald eagle soared overhead.

As we continued along we thought we were seeing some sort of loon, because the bird was swimming lower in the water. It turned out to be a male Common Merganser. He had a white body, red bill, and a dark green head. He was busy swimming around with some herring gulls. We got a video of him swimming and cleaning off his feathers. We’ve seen Hooded Mergansers multiple time, but this was our first Common, making him a “life bird” for us.

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Male Common Merganser (Image by David Horowitz)

Then a lone Snow Goose appeared randomly. Maybe they were looking for their friends?

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Snow Goose wonders where everyone went…(Image by David Horowitz)

Towards the end of the wetlands section we saw 2 large groups in the distance. One looked to be American Black Ducks or Canada geese. The other had white birds with some darker ones, so we assumed they were Snow Geese with some blue morphs. As we got closer we learned the first group were Canada Geese, about another 200-something individuals. There was another singular Snow Goose relaxing on the grass.

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Snow Goose taking a rest (Image by David Horowitz)

We pulled up to the flock of Snow Geese we saw in the distance…except they weren’t Snow Geese. They were Tundra Swans! There were 79 of them, and the assumed “blue morphs” were Canada Geese and Mallards mixed in.  Remember on Waterfowl Wednesday I said that waterfowl were ducks, geese, and swans? Well this was the very definition of the word “waterfowl” because they were all represented here. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never seen so many swans in one place. They were pretty far away, so this was the best picture we could get with our camera that was not made for birding. You can see some swans sticking their long necks straight up. They also got pretty loud at one point. It was certainly a pleasant surprise.

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Swans, geese, and ducks hanging out (Image by David Horowitz)

Once you drive through the wetlands you enter the forest section. Here we saw some Robins, Crowns, a Hermit Thrush, and a Brown Thrasher. The Hermit Thrush was running around on the grass, while the Brown Thrasher hung out in a nearby bush. The Thrasher was our other “life bird” today.

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Brown Thrasher (Image by David Horowitz)

Although it wasn’t as busy with birds as it is other times of the year, it was very peaceful driving around seeing the frozen landscape. As usually we had a great time at the Refuge. Day 3 was a success.

Wetlands

Today is February 2nd. Do you know what that means? It’s World Wetlands Day! (Did you really think I was going to say Groundhog’s Day??)

Wetlands are one of the most important ecosystems in the world. They support a countless number of animal and plant species. Wetlands are beneficial to us as well. The plants in wetlands help against erosion. Wetlands help keep rivers at normal levels and filter the water.

So I thought I would talk about a bird that is common in wetlands: the Great Blue Heron. As we mentioned in the last post, the term “greater” means the largest of a species. The Great Blue Heron is the most abundant of the 6 heron species found in the United States. They have beautiful blue-gray feathers and a black and white crown. Their legs and neck are long and slender. They can bend their neck into an S-shape due to the way their vertebrae are shaped. As big as the Heron looks, it’s bones are hollow, so it only weigh 5 to 6 pounds! A Great Blue’s bill is sharp like a dagger, and they use it to spear fish. If you’ve ever seen a Great Blue Heron at a lake or pond, you would notice that it usually stalks around slowly. Sometimes it stands still like a statue. But don’t be fooled: when that heron spots a fish it moves swiftly to catch its meal.

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Great Blue Heron at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR (taken by David Horowitz)
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Great Blue Heron at Strawbridge Lake (taken by David Horotwitz)

In addition to fish, Great Blue Herons also eat reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and insects. Sometimes they will take the prey they catch and shake it or hit it against the water before swallowing it. I once observed a Great Blue catch a frog at a lake and slam it against the water before consuming it.

Great Blue Herons are usually by themselves when they hunt, but when it comes to breeding they will nest in pairs by the hundreds. These nesting colonies are called rookeries. They nest in trees and make large stick nests. Great Blues are monogamous during breeding season, but will find a new mate each year. When it comes to mates, pairs will do pair-bonding rituals such as courtship dances. Great Blue Herons usually have between 2-6 eggs.

It’s always wonderful to see a Great Blue Heron. They are such striking and majestic birds. I also enjoy watching them fly overhead, with their large, fluid wing beats. One of my favorite Great Blue Heron moments was at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia last December. There were 6 Great Blues hanging out in the same pond! Since they are very independent I was shocked to see that many in one place. By the end of the walk that day we saw 10 Great Blue Herons! It was certainly a record for me.

Do you see Great Blue Herons in your local wetlands? Remember, if we want to continue seeing amazing birds like the Great Blue Heron, we need to protect our wetlands. If you want to find out ways that you can help protect wetlands check out this link: http://www.habitat.noaa.gov/protection/wetlands/whatyoucando.html