This morning I found a thin layer of morning dew on our peonies.
The Semipalmated Sandpiper is a small bird about 5 to 6 in (10 to 15 cm) or about the size of Piping Plovers. I found one among a band of Semipalmated Plovers near Barnegat Lighthouse two weeks ago.
Yesterday there were quite a few of them on the South Jersey shoreline.
Semipalmated Sandpiper. Note the partially webbed feet.
Semipalmated Sandpipers were among the subject of some research by a government agency in New Jersey. While they and other birds were feasting on Horseshoe Crab eggs, researchers captured some with nets. Then they were banded, measured, and blood samples were taken from them, among other indignities.
The shores of South Jersey bordering Delaware Bay are where Horseshoe Crabs come ashore every May to mate. The female crabs lay eggs in the sand and the male crabs fertilize them. The eggs are a favorite source of food for many birds, particularly for Red Knots, those long-distance migrators that travel more than 9,000 miles (15,000 km) from Tierra del Fuego at the very end of South America to the Artic in North America.
So at this time of the year. there are literally thousands and thousands of shore birds, including Red Knots, at the South Jersey shore. To protect the birds the beaches are off limits to people for two months, which meant I could only take pictures from a good distance away.
Even in the above photo, you can see several Horseshoe Crab that got upended, laying on their backs waiting for the tide to help them get back on their feet. Many will eventually die if that does not happen, becoming another source of food for seagulls and other birds.
Cee’s challenge is here: https://ceenphotography.com/2017/05/16/cees-fun-foto-challenge-all-one-color/
This was not easy, but here’s my interpretation:
There is highway robbery, and then there is shore robbery. Early one morning two weeks ago, I saw a Sandpiper catching a clam on the seashore of Assateague Island in Maryland.
Out of nowhere, a Boat-tailed Grackle swooped in and stole the food.
I thought that was the end of it, but just as I turned away, another Grackle flew in, snatched the clam, and flew away.
Today is a rainy day, with up to 2 in (5 cm) of rain to fall all day long. It’s time then to show photos taken on a sunny day last week of an Oystercatcher named T2 and his companion, Lady Hamilton, as dubbed by the locals at Barnegat.
They went inside the restricted area of the beach, walked up the dunes and maybe toward their nest. Another blogger on WordPress said that this pair, together now for several years, has not yet managed to produce any offspring, but there could be hope for this year.
Oystercatcher are of national conservation concern, with several thousands living on the shore of Mid Atlantic states like New Jersey.
All these coming and goings under the watchful eye of Barnegat Lighthouse.
Semipalmated Plovers are very close to Piping Plovers in size and cuteness. They look similar but with different feather colors as you can see in the photos below. I found several dozen of them in the roped off area of the beach at Barnegat Lighthouse, with one or two Piping Plovers running through their midst.
A crucial distinction is that the Semipalmated Plover is not considered endangered, with a population estimated to be about 200,000. There are fewer than 10,000 Piping Plovers.
Piping Plovers are considered an endangered species, or they are at least on the verge of being so. That’s why a section of the beach and dunes at Barnegat Lighthouse is roped off from April to September. Signs placed at regular intervals warn that the area is a nesting site for them, and for two other kinds of shore birds, Black Skimmers and Least Terns.
Of course these cute little birds disregard the signs, and I have seen some running out to search for food on the beach and near the water. They look like cotton balls trotting up and down between the dunes and the waves.
The male Red-winged Blackbird is easily recognized by his red and yellow shoulder patches and his propensity to sing for any reason from the top of reeds or bushes. I saw the one pictured below at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland more than a week ago. He was not shy, stood his ground, and continued serenading even as my car came nearer to him.
I saw a couple of Oystercatchers this past Sunday near the end of the jetty at Barnegat Lighthouse. They were walking on the beach, finding shellfish to eat, not minding people approaching to take their pictures. One was banded with “T2” clearly visible.
Last week at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware I saw for the first time a pair of Black-necked Stilt. They are graceful birds with long legs and striking colors that stand out from a distance. They don’t usually come to the Northeast, staying normally much further South, so it was a real treat.
Second only to Flamingos, these birds have the longest legs in proportion to their bodies, as you can see in the following photo when one of them stood next to a Lesser Yellowlegs which has pretty long legs also.
Last Sunday I saw a vivid flash of orange fly by as I walked along a trail next to Barnegat Lighthouse. It was a male Scarlet Tanager, the first time I saw one. It kept jumping from branch to branch, even spending some time on the ground. It had to be one of the most handsome birds in the Northeast United States. Because it was so active, I had trouble focusing and only two shots turned out well enough to post here.
Spring in the East would not be the same without Dogwood (Cornus Florida) flowers, and traditionally farmers would not plant their crops until they saw such flowers. This morning I went around our town and took the following pictures of pink, red, and white Dogwood flowers.
My favorite is the Pink Dogwood, which is slowly disappearing due to some disease. I could only find one tree today, although there may be others hidden elsewhere.
It has been a really cool spring this year. One day, I suddenly realized that there were no flowers on our Magnolia Soulangeana trees which in other years would be covered with thousands of pink blooms. The frost had killed all but two of the buds, so no flower show this year! Fortunately, our Jane Magnolias, which bloom later did not suffer from the same fate. Thus we still have some pink Magnolias around the house.
Some other late bloomers also came through with a good showing.
Our Asian pear trees also did very well.
Finally when the Goldfinches molt and change their winter coats for bright breeding colors, you know that Spring has arrived.
I could not miss these Oystercatchers even from a distance. They are larger than most shore birds, and are quite colorful with red eyes and bills on a black head and a brown and white body. They use their pointed bills to kill partially opened shellfish. Their call can be a long series of “wheep” easily traced back to them.
Oystercatchers are on the endangered list of birds, but I have seen them almost every year at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.
First a brown shape dove straight down from the sky, at a blazing speed. It was gone almost instantly. Then I saw a Snowy Egret floundering among a group of Cormorants swimming at the spot where the dive bombing occurred.
Then the Cormorants began fleeing the scene.
Eventually the Snowy Egret managed to fly away and went hiding among the tall grasses of the marshes. Meanwhile, a Peregrine Falcon was perched on top of a nearby pole, watching. I wonder if it was the same one who had dive bombed and scared every bird away. Peregrine Falcons are super fast and capable of reaching 200 mph (320 km/h) on a dive. They are also known to attack mid-sized birds and ducks.
One of my favorite flowers is Marsh Marigolds (Caltha Palustris), a brave perennial that lives near water and puts on a brilliant display of gold and yellow in the spring, a real feast for the eyes. Last week, they were there at the Sayen Gardens in Hamilton, NJ, next to a small pond, outshining other flowers that did not fare so well in the cold and rainy days we have experienced these past few months.
Ospreys stay at the refuge from Spring to Fall, making their nests on platforms built for them. Last week I saw a pair at one of the nests which can easily be seen from Wildlife Drive. She was eating half of a fish that he had brought to her. He observed her for a while, then took off flying. He flew around the nest before circling back to her.
All of this love making lasted just a few seconds. In about two months I may be able to have pictures of Osprey chicks at this same nest. Note that the female was banded on one leg.
At another nest, a pair of Ospreys had already finished their breakfast and were just enjoying some down time.
Geese form beautiful skeins when they fly, and capturing them in flight is irresistible to most photographers. A few days ago, I was fortunate enough to see both Snow Geese and Canada Geese in V formation heading along on their Spring migration paths.
As bird photographers, we are often told to focus on the bird eyes and make sure they are not only visible but also stand out.
Chickadees are quite common in our area, at any time of the year. Up to now in most of the photos I took of them, their black eyes blend in and are indistinguishable from their black cap. Recently, at sunset, one of them posed long enough with its head turned to the sun, and revealed its bright eyes.
The female Ruddy Duck has brown eyes, usually lost in its brown cap, until the sun shines on them.
Sparrows have brown eyes which are more visible, but a ray of sunlight also helped to bring them out.
On the other hand Red-breasted Mergansers have devilish red eyes that cannot be missed.
In the fall, Snow Geese migrate some 3,000 miles (4,800 km) from the northernmost reaches of Canada to as far South as Mexico. In the Spring they do it in reverse, and so we get to see them twice a year, in flocks of a few hundreds to as many as hundreds of thousands of them. In the latter case, they cover the ground like snow, and the sight of them lifting up to fly is a wonder of nature.
The above photos were taken at Merrill Creek Reservoir on a bright sunny day three years ago. The following photos are more recent close ups of Snow Geese in flight. They were taken at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge on an overcast day.
I put out a brick of bird feed mixed with mealworms, and right on cue, the birds came and willingly posed for Cee’s challenge.
Cee’s photo challenge is at this link: https://ceenphotography.com/2017/03/17/cees-which-way-photo-challenge-march-17-2017/
Here’s my submission for the challenge: a photo of a beautiful wooden bridge spanning a creek in South Jersey. You can drive and park next to the bridge, then walk on it. On the other side there was only a barely visible dirt path leading into the wilderness of Glades Wildlife Refuge.
It has been below freezing for the past several days with up to a foot (30 cm) of snow to fall two days from now. I have not been outside, except to go see a performance of Verdi’s La Traviata, a live broadcast from the New York Metropolitan Opera at a local movie theater. The singing was outstanding, but the stage set was minimalist and truly disappointing.
In any case, I went back to some old photos taken about a year ago and found the following with pairs of flying birds as the common subject.
When I left the house this morning to go to the recently reopened Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, it was 17 °F (-8 °C), perhaps too cold for the birds to show up. Sure enough there were not many, and most of them were seagulls that live there throughout the year.
However, just as I was about to leave the refuge, I saw a Great Blue Heron catching a fish for lunch.
All of the above, and some other intervening action, mostly shaking and turning (not displayed here), took less than a minute.
Today the cold and threatening rain reminds me of scenery I saw in Washington state before getting to California (see previous post). The road there was also winding uphill, but stopping at 6,400 ft (1,920 m) even though Mt Rainier itself towered at 14,410 ft (4,320 m), literally lost in the clouds most of the time. The locals said only the lucky few would ever see the top of Mt Rainier without clouds.
Prior to reaching Mt Rainier National Park, the road went through a totally different landscape, dry and parched country dependent on center-pivot irrigation for cultivation. Along the road, sagebrush was the dominant vegetation.
You can find this photo challenge at the following link: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/the-road-taken/
In the fall of 2015, a friend and I went to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains near Bishop, CA. There was almost no traffic, and I soon found out why.
The road we took, the only one to our destination, went from 4,100 ft to 12,000 ft (1,200 m to 3,600 m), uphill all the way, without any dip. It took us almost an hour to get through so many turns that I lost count, before finally finding a place to park on the side of the road, not far from the mountain top.
I was rewarded with some of the most spectacular vistas that I had ever seen, with bright sunshine, a cool breeze and fantastic clouds that kept swirling in a vibrant blue sky no matter where I turned.
Mute Swans are monogamous and mate for life. However, when one of a pair dies, the other will try to find another mate. A male will then find a younger or older female, but a female will look for a younger male.
Yesterday, I went to Glades Wildlife Refuge at the southern end of New Jersey not very far from the Delaware Bay. On a pond there, a bevy of Mute Swans was foraging for food, each swan separate from the others, except for a couple. Unless I am mistaken, a smaller female and a younger male where going through courtship rituals. Young male swans have a dull gray bill that will become orange in color when they are mature.
Last Saturday at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, I came too close to some Mallards and they took off flying with a great deal of noise, almost like a series of explosions. First the female.
Then the male.
As I walked on, I found them again after a while, swimming and looking for food as they do most of the time.