Saturday, April 30, 2011
Recent warm, south winds have brought forth many migrants into the Lower Bay region. There were impressive numbers to be seen at Sandy Hook of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Blue-headed Vireos, and even a rare Summer Tanager. The northern end of the hook yielded tons of Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks, kestrels, American Redstarts, towhees, and sparrows.
Yet, the most impressive sight for me was the scene of hundreds of Yellow-rumped Warblers near Horseshoe Cove, in a nearby grove of Red cedar trees. Shrubs and trees were filled with a dazzling mix of bright yellow, charcoal gray and black bold birds with their distinctive call of sharp chips.
What excitement! Our first migrating yellow-rumped warblers have arrived to Lower New York Bay. Though Yellow-rumped Warblers are common and widespread, they are always an impressive sight during spring migration.
The birds were all in a flurry here and there. When foraging for food, Yellow-rumped Warblers are the most versatile foragers of all warblers. They can snatch insects in mid-air, hover and grab prey from the foliage, or feed on the ground. They are also quick to switch over to eating berries. Males tend to forage higher than female during the breeding season.
Yellow-rumps will be feeding here before they rush off to their breeding areas in mature conifer and mixed forests up north in New York or New England.
Friday, April 29, 2011
On a warm and breezy day, it felt like spring. Many flowers and trees were in bloom, quite a few butterflies were floating around, and leaves on trees were bursting forth.
It even sounded like spring. I saw and heard a singing American Robin while walking in Cheesequake State Park in Old Bridge, NJ. Although the bird is quite common, it was nice to hear. I haven't heard a robin singing its coarse, territory song in the mid-day since last year.
Perhaps the robin was signing because it was happy, at least I like to think so, but more likely the bird was signing a territorially song to let other nearby robins know that this area was his.
Usually male birds sing. Early in the spring they sing to attract a mate to declare he has picked out a piece of property that is perfect to raise a family. Other times, the male will sing a callous song to alert other birds to stay out.
While the attitude is not always nice, thankfully the song is.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
April is the peak for the spring Migration of raptors as they return from Wintering areas to their breeding areas. Although many birders will travel to far off distances to witness migrating hawks, some of the best sights can be seen not far from 15 million people. At Sandy Hook in Lower New York Bay.
The other day, I must have counted dozens of migrating Sharp-shinned hawks. The bulk of the flights at Sandy Hook consists of Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, American Kestrel, and Merlin. Migrating Short-eared and Barn Owls have also been recorded.
In their winged journey to nesting sites, north bound migrating raptors often stop at Sandy Hook before crossing Lower New York Bay. This large and intimidating body of water will time and again force the raptors to cease their migration for a bit. The birds will then concentrate near North Beach to catch a meal and chill out. It's possible to see hundreds of migrating raptors during spring migration, representing 15 or more species, from little American Kestrels to imposing Bald Eagles.
Spring hawk migration is shorter in duration than fall migration, with most birds being seen during March, April and May. Mid-April tends to be the peak time, but good counts can continue into May.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
I spotted my first "brushfoot" butterfly of the year at Sandy Hook. It was on Easter Sunday, under the bright sun and with 80 degree temperatures, I saw a few small dull colored orange butterflies floating around. Only about an inch or slightly more in size. Upon taking a closer look, they were all American Ladies!
In the open spaces of fields, meadows, and along the bike path at Sandy Hook, I observed quite a few American Ladies feeding off the nectar of newly blooming dandelions. I knew this butterfly enjoyed nectar from asters, goldenrods, marigolds, and other sunflower type plants, but not dandelions. Then again, why not. The dandelion flower certainly looks like a sunflower and this flower was all over the place.
The little butterflies hoped and fluttered around to land on nearly every dandelion. They then would feed by putting their proboscis (or rolled up tongue) down the flower's stem to suck up the nectar. The sugary liquid helps to keep them hydrated and gives off plenty of energy.
I am sure many of the American Ladies were tired and needed some energy. They may have just arrived to Lower New York Bay just a day or two ago.
The butterflies are migrates. They reside during the winter in the southern United States, Mexico, and even as far as Colombia in South America. Then sometime in late winter or early spring, they begin their long winged migration to temporarily colonize the northern United States and southern Canada, perhaps as far north as Newfoundland and Labrador.
Although common to the Lower New York Bay region, this lady is beautifully colored with two large eye spots on the underside of the hind wings. This is the characteristic that distinguishes it from Painted Lady butterfly. The flight pattern is usually close to the ground so they are easy to see. The American Lady is a delight to have in any community.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Fog is a fact of life on the coast of Lower New York Bay. Today was a foggy day.
|A foggy fishing pier in Port Monmouth, NJ|
|Port Monmouth Road in Port Monmouth, NJ|
Spring is coming on at full speed in the Lower New York Bay region. Wintering coastal birds with fanciful and curious names such as Long-tails, golden-eyes, and Buffleheads have been leaving for the past several weeks for the north to breed.
|Lesser Yellowlegs was paying a visit to Lower New York Bay a few days ago|
These diving ducks have been replaced with a diverse group of wading birds, shorebirds, and terns. The birds of spring migration and summer nesting possess as well their own whimsical and curious names, including Snowy Egrets, Black Skimmers, Red Knots, Golden Plovers, Killdeer, Least Terns, and Oystercatchers.
One of the more interesting names for a migrating shorebird is actually a large sandpiper called Lesser Yellowlegs. Although an infrequent visitor to Lower New York Bay, good ol' yellowlegs does make an appearance now and then.
A few days ago, I was walking with a friend near Conaskonck Point in Union Beach and was happily surprised to see a single Lesser Yellowlegs foraging for food in shallow water. Situated not far from Chingorora Creek in Raritan Bay, this 11-inch tall bird with gray and black mottled upperparts, a lengthy straight bill and, of course, long yellow legs, was seeking a tasty meal of small fish, or crustaceans, small mollusks, aquatic insects or other invertebrates.
I watched as this skillful water bird was swinging its head back and forth with the tip of the bill in the water. It was sifting through the mud. Pecking and grabbing up prey from shallow water. Sometimes it would be a small killifish, other times it would be a clam, and once in while it would be a worm.
No doubt this bird was hungry. For good reason. Lesser Yellowlegs will have to fly around thousand miles, perhaps more to reach its breeding territory in open boreal woods in the far north. Studies have shown that Lesser Yellowlegs are socially monogamous, and they return to the same general breeding area located in either western Canada or Alaska.
During migration, Lesser Yellowlegs can be seen along the coast, in marshes, on mudflats, and lakeshores. The species is a widespread migrant in North America.
Certainly with a name like Lesser Yellowlegs there has to be a Greater Yellowlegs, right? At first glance, the two species of yellowlegs look identical except for size. Greater Yellowlegs is about 3 to 4 inches taller. Greater Yellowlegs is also more commonly seen in our tidal creeks during migration. Some birders will swear that the two species of yellowlegs were put on the planet to confuse and baffle people.
As long as I have lived in lower New York Bay, this is the first sight of a Lesser Yellowlegs in Raritan Bay. The bird, however, I am sure has been here before. During the 1800s and early 1900s, many Lesser Yellowlegs were eagerly sought by sport hunters around the northeast. The birds were a popular game species and large numbers were harvested regularly at many migration stopover sites from Long Island, NY to Cape May, NJ.
Today, with a glimpse of Lesser Yellowlegs in Lower New York Bay it portends a positive and enduring sign. Good ol' yellowlegs has returned, as long as there is food in the bay, and mudflats and marshes to feel safe and sound.
In April, all life begins to stir. You never know who you will meet on a hike along Lower New York Bay. It could be a Lesser Yellowlegs, or perhaps another shorebird with a fanciful and curious name. This is a good reason to grab a field guide and head out to get to know nature on a first name basis. It is a special feeling indeed to be able to call a plant or animal by its first name.