Up Close and Personal with an American Redstart

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Today, I helped New Jersey Audubon Society scientists record data on the resighting of this banded American Redstart. Such a beautiful warbler and a wonderful day birding on Sandy Hook (Gateway National Recreation Area, Highlands, New Jersey)! Arguably the best way to add a bird to your life list.

American Redstart

American Redstart on Sandy Hook. Photo by Lindsay McNamara

Nature Notes: Early Spring on Sandy Hook

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Birding on Sandy Hook, Highlands, New Jersey

Birding on Sandy Hook, Highlands, New Jersey

Today, I enjoyed a beautiful, warm and sunny, early spring day on Sandy Hook in Highlands, New Jersey. After the winter we had, today seemed like a long awaited miracle.

I chose to spend my morning and early afternoon birding with a friend. We joined Monmouth County Audubon Society‘s walk and saw a ton of early spring migrants!

The most exciting moment of the walk was when a large group of gulls on the Bay took off flying and cleared the sand bar they were sitting on. A few seconds later, soaring through the sky, came an immature Bald Eagle! The leaders of the walk estimated that the eagle was about three years old.

Gulls on the move before an immature Bald Eagle flew over the Bay.

Gulls on the move before an immature Bald Eagle flew over the Bay.

Today also brought three new additions to my life list! The Black-crowned Night-Herons we saw sitting in a tree above Nike Pond, the male Northern Harrier (known to birders as the “Gray Ghost”) flying over our group and the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers my friend and I saw on a later walk to North Beach were all life birds for me.

"Gray Ghost" Male Northern Harrier

“Gray Ghost” Male Northern Harrier

We estimated at least twenty ospreys have returned to Sandy Hook, many were carrying fish in their talcons and some were carrying sticks to do some “housekeeping” on their nests. We saw a number of Northern Gannets diving offshore as well.

Northern Gannet by Gavin Shand on Vimeo

Northern Gannet by Gavin Shand on Vimeo

A full list of the birds that we saw today:

Birds of Monmouth County Checklist

Birds of Monmouth County Checklist

  • American Crow
  • American Kestrel
  • American Oystercatcher
  • American Robin
  • Bald Eagle
  • Black Scoter
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Brant
  • Bufflehead
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Fish Crow
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Horned Grebe
  • Laughing Gull
  • Long-tailed Duck
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Flicker
  • Northern Gannet
  • Northern Harrier
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Osprey
  • Piping Plover
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Sanderling
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Song Sparrow
  • Surf Scoter
  • Tree Swallow
  • Turkey Vulture

Walks led by local Audubon Society chapters are great for beginning birders! I would recommend them to any 20-something environmentalist looking to learn more about birds. Find a chapter near you!

Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count on Sandy Hook

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Counting birds on Spermacetti Cove, Sandy Hook in Highlands, New Jersey.

Counting birds on Spermacetti Cove, Sandy Hook in Highlands, New Jersey.

Today marks the start of National Audubon Society‘s 115th Christmas Bird Count (CBC)! From December 14 through January 5, thousands of volunteers across North America are invited to go out, count birds and contribute data to an early-winter bird census.

When looking at the CBC Map, you will see that every state offers a significant number of local counts, which cover about a 10-15 mile diameter circle each. Since every CBC is a real census, and since the 15-mile diameter circle contains a lot of area to be covered, single-observer counts are not allowed. To participate on the CBC, you need to join an existing CBC circle. You can find one near you online!

All data from the local counts across North America gets compiled, reviewed and documented. The Christmas Bird Count allows researchers, conservation biologists, and interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America.

For example, in the 1980’s, CBC data was used to document the decline of wintering populations of the American Black Duck. Conservation measures were put into effect shortly after, to reduce hunting pressure on the species.

Learn more about how the CBC data has been used recently in Audubon’s Birds & Climate Change and Common Birds in Decline reports.

I joined the local Sandy Hook Count this morning, which covers a 10-mile radius around Gateway National Recreation Area – Sandy Hook Unit in Highlands, New Jersey.

White-winged Scoter. Photo: AllAboutBirds.org © Ken Phenicie Jr

White-winged Scoter. Photo: AllAboutBirds.org © Ken Phenicie Jr

The Sandy Hook Count is split up into smaller territories, since there is such a large amount of bird habitat to cover in the park. I joined members of Monmouth County Audubon Society and helped count birds in the South Sandy Hook territory. We scanned Sandy Hook Bay for waterfowl and gulls, walked to Nike Pond and looked for songbirds, and we also traveled through the ancient Holly Forest, where we saw a few raptors. Many areas of Sandy Hook that are usually closed to the public were open to us for the CBC.

In the short three hours that I joined the group, we watched a number of Harbor Seals sunning on Skeleton Hill Island (!) and saw and heard a number of great birds:

  • American Black Duck
  • American Crow
  • American Goldfinch
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Brant
  • Bufflehead
  • Canada Goose
  • Carolina Wren
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Gray Catbird
  • Great Black-backed Gull
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Herring Gull
  • Horned Grebe
  • House Finch
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Harrier
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Sanderling
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Song Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • White-winged Scoter
Bufflehead. Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org © Brian L. Sullivan

Bufflehead Photo: AllAboutBirds.org © Brian L. Sullivan

Wondering how this incredible citizen science initiative all got started? The first Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was completed on Christmas Day of the year 1900 as an “alternative activity to an event called the ‘side hunt‘ where people chose sides, then went out and shot as many birds as they could.” The group that came in with the largest number of dead birds was declared the winner of the event. Frank Chapman, a famous ornithologist, recognized that over-hunting would only exacerbate declining bird populations, and proposed to count birds on Christmas Day rather than shoot them.

To get involved in this historic event, visit The National Audubon Society’s website.

Counting waterfowl on Sandy Hook Bay.

Counting waterfowl on Sandy Hook Bay.

Nature Notes: Birding on Sandy Hook

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Fields Near an Old Tennis Court on Sandy Hook

Fields Near an Old Tennis Court on Sandy Hook

The bird nerd that I am, I decided to join a New Jersey Audubon field trip on Halloween today. It was a cold and overcast morning as we walked along the fields and trails of Sandy Hook.

New Jersey Audubon does a great job of providing every birder (regardless of skill level) with an excellent, informative program. I highly recommend their guided walks for any beginner (like me). The community of birders, in my experience, has always been extremely welcoming and energized by a new person on their walks. I learned so much about identifying different types of sparrows, warblers and other song birds from everyone in our group.

Today, we saw a wide array of species. Dark-eyed Juncos and both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets were out in high numbers. The crowd favorite was a Winter Wren. Usually, Winter Wrens are heard but not seen because they hide in brush and at the base of trees. We were able to see one up-close along the wall of an abandoned building.

Winter Wren Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org

Winter Wren Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org

The Kinglets were my personal favorite. They are the second smallest type of bird (hummingbirds are the smallest) and were adorable hopping around in the fields and trees.

Golden-crowned Kinglet Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Golden-crowned Kinglet Photo Credit: Wikipedia

ruby_crowned_kinglet_1

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org

I do know all birders love making lists, so here’s one of all the birds I saw today:

  • American Kestrel
  • Black Phoebe
  • Brown Creeper
  • Canada Goose
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Common Loon
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • European Starling
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Gray Catbird
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Mallard
  • Merlin
  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Gannet
  • Northern Harrier
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Song Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Winter Wren
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler

The New Jersey I Want for My Kids #VoteYeson2

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Last year, on the first anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, I encouraged New Jersey residents to call their State Assembly representatives and ask them to post open space funding bill ACR 205 for a vote before the end of 2013. If passed, ACR 205 would have allowed residents a chance to vote for a renewed open space funding source on the November 2014 ballot. I was hoping that voters would be given the chance to have their say in keeping the ‘garden’ in ‘Garden State.’

That day has come. Thanks to a tireless effort by Keep It Green, a coalition of over 180 New Jersey organizations, the State Senate and Assembly passed a measure to put open space on the ballot this November 4. This Election Day, New Jersey voters will have the opportunity to decide if a stable source of funding should be established for open space, farmland, and historical preservation throughout the state by voting on Public Question 2.

There is a great need for this stable source of funding, since all funds from the statewide bond that voters approved in 2009 are fully allocated. You read that right, there is currently no new money left for preservation programs in the most densely populated state in the U.S.

According to a report by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, over 650,000 acres still need to be preserved to protect land and water resources, and to provide outdoor recreational opportunities for an ever-increasing population.

“Funding for the New Jersey Farmland Preservation Program is critical to keeping the garden in the Garden State,” said New Jersey Farm Bureau Executive Director Pete Furey. “By voting yes on Public Question 2, New Jersey residents can ensure that families continue to have access to fresh, nutritious, locally grown food for generations to come.”

It is no surprise that the New Jersey Farm Bureau supports a stable source of open space funding. According to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, more than 350,000 acres of additional farmland must be preserved to support a dynamic agricultural industry in the state.

Morris County, NJ

Morris County, NJ

But how does it work? Where is the money coming from?

Public Question 2 would ensure that long-term, dedicated funding is available to protect and preserve New Jersey’s open spaces, waterways, farms and historic sites. It dedicates a small percentage of existing state revenues, without increasing taxes, to replenish the now-depleted Green Acres, Blue Acres, farmland and historic preservation programs, and continue funding to improve water quality, remove and clean up underground storage tanks, and clean-up polluted sites.

If passed, Public Question 2, a state-wide referendum, will reallocate 4% of the Corporation Business Tax to fund open space, recreational opportunities, farmland, historic sites, polluting underground storage tanks and hazardous discharges. There will be no new taxes for corporations or residents. The 4% dedication of corporate taxes will increase to 6% in 2020. It is slated to generate over $70 million a year and will rise to $117 million dollars a year after 2020.

Where is the accountability? Who will be monitoring the effectiveness of the preservation programs?

The Garden State Preservation Trust (GSPT) will be charged with monitoring and reporting on program expenditures. GSPT is an Independent authority that includes five citizen representatives.

Have more questions? Check out Trust for Public Land’s FAQs page.

While it is not perfect, I fully support Public Question 2 and a stable source of open space funding for my home state. Though controversial, due to its reallocation of state funds, I agree with the referendum and believe it is a strong compromise. Given our current political climate, I believe it is imperative to create a long-term source of funding for open space without creating any new fees or taxes.

As mentioned in The New York Times Editorial, “once open space is gone, it is virtually impossible to get it back.” I am extremely fearful of the consequences of Public Question 2 not passing. There are no proposed alternatives. We cannot sit back and wait for years and years while another long-term funding option is proposed. I believe the time to act is now. I will be voting yes on Public Question 2 on November 4.

4openspace

Sea Bright, NJ

This Jersey Girl is #4openspace in her state! Coastal resiliency and storm surge protection in shore towns like Sea Bright depend on open space. More natural buffers, like marshlands, could help mitigate floodwater from future storm events. Increased plots of open space in North Jersey could help reduce pollution runoff into local waterways and ultimately the ocean. Less impervious surfaces could help rainwater to be absorbed back into the groundwater table and reduce local flooding from smaller storm events. Creating areas of open space that support native plants could help to filter runoff and slow down the rate of flooding events.

Did you know that New Jersey is second only to Louisiana for rate of severe repetitive flood loss in the U.S.? Preservation projects that include floodplain acquisition and flood mitigation have seen a 5:1 benefit to cost ratio in Morris County, according to Morris County Preservation Trust. The organization also found evidence to suggest that for every 1% of land preserved, there is an increase of $1.50/square foot in land values.

For more information on the economic benefits of open space, visit:

I love open space. I love experiencing all of the different types of landscapes in New Jersey. From the coastal communities of Monmouth County, to the mountains of Morris County and the woodlands of Hunterdon County, I think I live in a beautiful state. I love going hiking and bird watching in New Jersey. I love our farmland, open space and historic sites, our clean drinking water and all of the progress that has been made to clean up our polluted sites. I love the wildlife that call New Jersey home. This is the state I know and love. That is why I can’t wait to vote yes on Public Question 2. I want the same New Jersey I have for my kids.

How can you protect open space in New Jersey?

This blog explains my personal viewpoint on this issue as a 20-something Environmentalist. As always, all views are my own.

Birding…For Science!

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Gateway National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook, NJ

Gateway National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook, NJ

Do you love birding? Can’t wait to add to your life list or ID a new species? Consider taking your love for all things with wings to the next level: volunteer with the National Audubon Society‘s Citizen Science program!

Citizen Science projects recruit volunteers to collect ecological information. For example, the New Jersey Audubon Citizen Science program asks bird nerds to help them develop information data sets on the abundance, distribution and demography of bird species throughout the state.

With GPS coordinates provided by NJA, volunteers can set out on an adventure, tallying different types of bird species they see, while noting information about habitat, weather and tidal conditions. The information is then collected by NJA to provide a basis for managing bird populations, promote habitat preservation and improve knowledge of state ecology.

For more information and to learn how you can get involved, find an Audubon Society near you!

Nature Notes: Birding in Northern Jersey

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As any bird nerd will tell you, migration months are the best time for birders to see so many species! Warblers, thrushes, vireos, flycatchers, and other migratory birds, including shorebirds have flown thousands of miles from Central/South America and the Caribbean to nest in my home state of New Jersey, or to continue on to the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska. These mass migrations allow for more bird species to be observed in NJ than any other time of the year.

My friend and fellow birder Dana and I made plans to get outside and do some birding this weekend. We brought along our friends and family and headed to a few different spots in Northern Jersey.

Wood Turtle

The Wood Turtle is a threatened species in NJ

Our first stop was New Jersey Audubon’s Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary in Bernardsville, NJ. Turns out, a dear friend of mine from my days as a nature camp counselor was leading our walk!

Miss Stephanie guided us throughout the property as we searched for the Blue-Winged Warbler. During our walk, the group learned that skunk cabbage is able to generate its own heat in order to grow and flower while snow is still on the ground. How cool is that?!

 

We also found a Wood Turtle, which is classified as threatened in New Jersey. AND at the end of our walk, we were able to spot a Blue-winged Warbler in the tallest branches of a beautiful tree.

Blue-winged Warbler. Photo Credit: birds.audubon.org

Blue-winged Warbler. Photo Credit: birds.audubon.org

Eastern Towhee. Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org

Eastern Towhee. Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org

Here’s a list of the other birds we saw (birders LOVE lists):

  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Blue Jay
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Gray Catbird
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Song Sparrow
  • Tree Swallow
  • Turkey Vulture
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Wood Thrush

If you are curious about any of the species of birds listed, check the National Audubon Society’s website for more information about them.

Yellow Warbler. Photo credit: birds.audubon.org

Yellow Warbler. Photo credit: birds.audubon.org

Next, we went for a hike through Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. There we saw a number of bullfrogs, painted turtles, cowbirds, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch. My favorite was the Yellow Warbler that we saw in its nest above the water of the swamp. It was such a beautiful and striking bird, bright yellow among all the green.

 

 

Barred Owl at The Raptor Trust

Barred Owl at The Raptor Trust

After lunch, my sister and I took a drive over to The Raptor Trust. The Trust, located in Millington, NJ, provides care to over 3,500 injured and orphaned wild birds each year. Many of them are rehabilitated and released back into the wild. For those birds that would not survive if they were released, The Raptor Trust property has become their home. My sister and I saw so many birds of prey, we even circled back through the area where the birds live to make sure we didn’t miss seeing anyone. Our favorites were definitely the owls.

I’m so happy to have spent such a beautiful day outdoors and in nature among friends and family. I am looking forward to purchasing my own pair of binoculars and going birding more often. It was revitalizing to step away from my computer and desk and get back into nature! I truly believe in the restorative power of nature. Do you?