American Robins don’t migrate during the winter, merely keeping out of sight most of the time. They reappear with the coming of spring, when the ground is no longer too hard for them to try to pull out worms.
Flocks of Canada Geese flying overhead is another sign that the seasons are changing. However, I can’t figure out what they are doing since they seem to be flying in all directions.
Just a minute after the above shot, those Canada Geese reversed direction and flew over me again.
I thought that was the last of that flock and started walking toward the woods. Then they flew North and passed overhead once more.
Another sure sign of spring is the return of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets. They appeared two weeks ago, then went away when the weather turned cold. Now they are back.
Finally the turtles are out sunning themselves. I think they are Diamondback Terrapins, but am not positive. They all jumped into the water as I tried to come closer to them to get a better look.
A few days ago, a flock of Sanderlings appeared to be still sleeping around 9 AM on several boulders near Barnegat Ligthouse.
Later on I saw a Tabby Cat in a wooded area not too far from where the Sanderlings were. I have seen him several times for the past three years, roaming among the trees and bushes, perhaps stalking for prey. However, the Sanderlings usually kept by the beach, so maybe the Tabby Cat was after smaller birds.
There are many Double-crested Cormorants at Colonial Lake. A few days ago, they took turns taking off and flying around the lake, sometimes right over my head. I had plenty of opportunities to practice camera panning to follow their flights.
Naturally all this flying around requires a lot of energy. I saw at least two Cormorants diving and coming up with fish that they promptly swallowed in a few seconds.
Our region does not have too many Spring flowers yet. A few days ago, I went to Sayen Park Botanical Garden, a local park famous for the many weddings that are held there. Most of the flowers were still in hiding. Even Hellebores were still low on the ground, and among the Narcissus, the only blooming flowers were miniature daffodils like Tete-a-Tete and Jetfire.
One the other hand, there were an abundance of clusters of Japanese Andromeda, Pieris Japonica, in long pendulous clusters of red and white. At least that’s what I think they are. Please correct me if I am wrong.
Yesterday, after I arrived at a parking lot near Merrill Creek Reservoir in Harmony township, I heard what sounded like a dozen of birds singing lustily. Looking around I only saw a single bird perched up high on an electric wire.
It was a Mockingbird, a species with a unique ability to learn other birds’ songs and sing them day and night. In the following photos, you will see that its bill was almost constantly open as it went through its repertoire. A repertoire could include as many as 150 distinct songs, and may include two groups, one for spring and the other for autumn.
It was not shy and let me come very close to it before flying away and landing a short distance away.
Because they sang so well, in the 19th century people caught Mockingbirds and sold them as caged birds. This nearly led to their disappearance from parts of the East Coast.
Wood Ducks are among the most stunning ducks, rivaling Mandarin Ducks from Asia. I have been looking in New Jersey to photograph them for several years, going in vain to places where people have reported seeing them. Then yesterday, while I was taking pictures at Colonial Lake about 5 miles from home, I saw two ducks jump down from a tree onto the lake. It was a beautiful couple of Wood Ducks, and they were worth waiting for all this time!
As usual for ducks, the male Wood Duck was more striking, but the female was very pretty.
Red-Breasted Mergansers are high energy birds that migrate in the winter to our coastline from Canada. Whenever I see them, they are always busy diving and looking for food. They have to eat 15 to 20 fish a day and must spend 4 to 5 hours every day diving for fish!
I usually wait until they surface to photograph them, and as a result they have a constant wet look with water beading all over their faces and bodies. Both male and female birds have the spiky and shaggy head prized by some young people today.
More photos of the Bald Eagles at Colonial Lake, NJ, taken three days ago.
About a week ago, Colonial Lake was stocked with 170 Trout. That may explain why Bald Eagles have been coming there to fish, although other lakes in New Jersey were also restocked with Trout, mainly for recreation fishing by humans.
For some reason, the half-eaten fish fell to the ground (I did not know that until much later when I passed by the tree the Bald Eagle was on).
I took the following photos today while visiting the Great Swamp of New Jersey, on a very windy and cold day. There were not too many birds or animals around, but some may be good eye candy for the weekend.
A Chipmunk ran across my path then took refuge in a tree hole.
Two days ago I happened upon about a dozen Buffleheads involved in their annual courtship rituals at the refuge. Male Buffeheads court their future mates by a vigorous exercise of head bobbing, diving, running on water, and flying over the head of the female ducks.
Sometimes, a female Bufflehead chased a male away.
The courtship also took place underwater, perhaps with the males trying to prove they could be good foragers. I saw them dive and spend a minute or two submerged, but unfortunately was not equipped to take photos under water.
As temperatures today climbed above 50 °F (10 °C), I went to Colonial Lake to see if the birds responded to the sudden warmth after a long winter. At first I only saw seagulls and Mallard ducks, then just as I got back into the car to go home, two Bald Eagles appeared! They flew around the lake.
Then they went to perch on tree branches and looked down on walkers, joggers, and photographers. Apparently, they had caught and eaten some fish and were just happy to sit up high and enjoy the scenery.
Buffleheads are among the smallest ducks, one with a large head relative to the body. A small group of them was swimming near the Barnegat Lighthouse a few days ago. These ducks live mainly in North America, but may be seen in some Western European countries and Japan, but only rarely.
Suddenly they took off flying toward the open sea.
Then they began landing on the water.
Here are two of them swimming around, watching the humans and the other ducks and loons.
Long-tailed Ducks also breed in the Artic Coasts and winter in Northern Europe and the North Atlantic coast, although New Jersey, Delaware, and parts of Maryland are as far South as they will go. There were many of them yesterday near Barnegat Lighthouse. They swam back and forth during the time I spent there, providing many opportunities for photographs.
Just before I left, a male Long-tailed Duck flew around several times, at least three, calling out constantly, perhaps reminding all the other ducks that migration time was fast approaching. It was quite a show and a photographer’s dream.
A Brant is a relatively small goose that breeds on the Artic coasts of Western Siberia, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. In late fall, they migrate to Western Europe from Siberia. In North America, they fly down from Alaska and the upper reaches of Canada to the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, at times making non-stop flights that could be as long as 1,000 miles (1,600 km) or more. While the Pacific and European Brants have black bellies, the Atlantic Brants that I see have white ones.
Yesterday, as temperatures climbed to the 50’s (10 °C) I went to Barnegat Lighthouse State Park where the Brants put on quite a show in preparation for their impending flight back to their breeding grounds.
Overnight wet and heavy snow fell in our area, bending and sometimes breaking the branches of some trees. Many birds came to our feeder, among them a pretty female Downy Woodpecker that looked for insects on a nearby magnolia tree. Here is a shot of her, rendered in monochrome for this Monday.
Three years ago, when I went to bring Jackie, the Golden Retriever, home, I saw a farm in South Jersey that raised miniature horses. Going through the photos I took at the time, there are some that have not been published yet, and one, the last one below, that can be republished.
I have been twice to Monument Valley, a famous place used as the backdrop for many Western movies made by John Ford. It lies within the Navajo Nation, on the border of Utah and Arizona.
We got there one late afternoon in June, with the setting sun creating a wonder of light and shadows on the iconic buttes and the surrounding desolate landscape.
The Wright Brothers flew their airplane successfully on December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in the Outer Banks. Today there is a Wright Brothers National Memorial at the spot, with a visitor center, a monument, and sculptures of their bi-plane and that historic moment.
The two brothers each flew their bi-plane twice that day. Their final flight covered 852 ft (260 m) before the bi-plane struck the ground and broke part of its frame.
We visited this place almost five years ago. We arrived too early, before the visitor center was open. But it was a beautiful day for photography.
The flu has forced me to stay home these past two weeks and I have not gone out to take any picture, or visited your posts as often as before. The following photos are the results of my editing of recent shots of backyard birds that show some different views of the two most common visitors to our feeder in the winter.
About two weeks ago, I also caught a Great Blue Heron jumping around a pond, probably on a fishing expedition.
There were two male Hooded Merganser at the refuge cruising around on a patch of water amid the ice, looking for food. They swam, dove, and came up for air. These small ducks are specific to North America, with the males very noticeable because of their black and white hood.
In the water, Hooded Mergansers hunt for food by sight. They have an extra eyelid, a nictitating (blinking) membrane, that they can deploy to protect their eyes, somewhat like humans who use goggles when swimming underwater. You can see it in the following shot.
They can also adjust the refractive property of their eyes to improve their vision under water.
As temperatures slowly climbed above freezing, I ventured out yesterday to view scenes of the wintry landscape left by that Polar Vortex storm everyone was talking about last week. I was hoping that a thaw would be in full force, but everything still looked cold and encrusted in ice. The first place I went to was Sandy Hook, a barrier island in New Jersey facing New York City across Raritan Bay.
There were hardly any bird, just a few lonely gulls and three Sanderlings.
I drove around the old Fort Hancock, an abandoned Army fort, at the tip of Sandy Hook island.
There were some antique cannons, the biggest one shown below, and two Cold War era missiles.
Leaving Sandy Hook I went to my familiar haunt, the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. All the ponds there were frozen as well, and snow had fallen the previous day.
Even though temperatures plunged and the wind was fierce, our area only got a dusting of snow. I filled the bird feeder beforehand, and for the past two days bird traffic picked up significantly, even while snow was falling. All the birds looked fluffier and bigger than in warmer months.
Today, following the example of Eliza Waters (https://elizawaters.com/2019/01/21/brrrr/), I went to Colonial Lake close to home to photograph ice formations. The lake is man-made, capturing water coming from Shabakunk Creek, damming it, then releasing it further downstream back into the same creek.
It was around 20 °F (-6 °C), the lake was completely iced over, but the water underneath had to flow along its usual path.
There was a Great Blue Heron nearby, wondering what all the fuss was about.