Take the challenge!

13 04 2015

New Jersey Conservation Foundation has launched an awesome new “Step Into Nature Challenge”, asking people to set a goal for themselves to get outside more in 2015. Hiking, biking, and species identification categories are available, plus a custom category to create your own goal! For more information and to register, visit http://njconservation.org/StepIntoNatureChallenge.htm


I am challenging myself to photograph 200 different species of native plants and animals in New Jersey this year! What’s your challenge going to be?

How to Be a Better Birder

10 04 2012

On Thursday, April 19th, NJ Audubon will host author, expert birder, and all-around good guy Derek Lovitch at Scherman Hoffman Sanctuary in Bernardsville.  Derek, who has worked in the past at Sandy Hook (Migration Watch) and Cape May (Hawk Watch), will be discussing his recently published book “How to Be a Better Birder”.  He will be joined by Scott Barnes for a one-hour bird walk around Scherman Hoffman at 4:30pm.  Then, at 7pm, Derek will hold a one-hour talk on his new book, which focuses on improved birding skills, including the use of geography, weather, and habitat in advanced birding.

Both the walk and presentation are free of charge, but there is limited seating.  Please register by calling NJA’s Scherman Hoffman Sanctuary at 908-766-6787 or email scherman-hoffman@njaudubon.org  Derek will also be signing first editions of his book!

Snow Goose

17 01 2012

This image of a Snow Goose was captured by Joseph Pescatore at Osborne Pond in Basking Ridge, NJ.  It was taken early in the morning on January 1st, 2012.  Happy New Year, indeed!

(c) 2012

Big Year for NJ birders

2 01 2012

2011 is in the books, and 2012 greets a handful of new records in New Jersey birding.  Tom Reed is the new champion of The Garden State, totaling a mind-boggling 362 species of birds during the 2011 calendar year.  Others also broke the old record, including Michael Fritz, who traded the lead with Reed throughout the latter part of the year and ended up with 359 species – an incredible feat.

Photo by Ellen & Tony (c) 2011

Eighteen birders broke the 300-bird barrier last year, and three (outside of Reed and Fritz) cracked 340.  The reasons for all the listing success can be speculated upon, but at least some of the credit can be given to a far-reaching network of information – birding email chains, text messaging services, and a community searching far and wide for rarities, sharing their findings in real time with other birders.

ebird.org is a great resource for both novice and experienced birders, helping to keep track of lists, report rarities, and map out trends over time and space.

Christmas Bird Counts

7 12 2011

For over 100 years, birders have taken part in annual Christmas Bird Counts.  These events help scientists gather information on what birds are spending the winter in certain regions.  This in turn can aid conservation efforts for species in peril, as a majority of North America’s birds need protection not only on their breeding grounds, but where they spend the colder months as well.

On Audubon’s page (click here) you can find all the information needed on the Christmas Bird Counts in your area – they run for almost a month, so finding a convenient time and date to participate shouldn’t be a major hurdle for any interested naturalists out there.

Tom Reed breaks NJ “Big Year” Record

28 09 2011





NJO contributor Tom Reed has now seen 343 different species of birds in the state of New Jersey since January 1st, 2011.  This is already 6 more than the previous record, set in 2002, but only 1 more than the number currently seen by another 2011 lister.  That means Tom has to keep searching for the next three months – the competition doesn’t end until the clock strikes midnight on December 31st.

Tom and the author, Bill Lynch, birding in early January

Tom was recently featured on http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/ – check out the article and Tom’s insightful quotes on birding by clicking here.

This NJO article reflects the updated counts for the two 2011 listers – both have seen new species since the writing of the linked article.



NJ Meadowlands Festival of Birding

1 09 2011

Next weekend on September 10th-11th, the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission will host and sponsor the 8th Annual New Jersey Meadowlands Festival of Birding!  The festival includes various field trips, boat trips, exhibits, and indoor programs.  This year’s keynote speaker is Sandy Komito, holder of the North American record for the most birds seen in one year, as well as the subject of the book and upcoming movie The Big Year.

Click here to view a schedule of events and to sign up.

NJ Audubon offers free seminars

4 08 2011

Head to your favorite NJ Audubon nature center this week and next for a free seminar on the birds you’re likely to see during the summer months. Among the topics discussed will be species identification, creating an inviting habitat in your backyard, using nest boxes, attracting hummingbirds and orioles, and how to choose seed/feeder combinations.

Contact your local Audubon nature center for more information. The dates and times (along with contact information) are:

Saturday August 6 – 1pm Plainsboro Preserve
80 Scotts Corner Road, Cranbury NJ 08512, (609) 897-9400

Saturday August 13 – 10am Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary
11 Hardscrabble Rd. Bernardsville, NJ 07924 (908) 766-5787

Saturday August 13 – 2pm Lorrimer Sanctuary
790 Ewing Avenue, Franklin Lakes, NJ 07417 (201) 891-2185

Also be sure to stock up on bird seed during the big sale:

Dickcissels at Negri Nepote

15 06 2011

An uncommon visitor to New Jersey, a trio of male Dickcissels were found earlier this week at Negri Nepote Native Grassland Preserve in Franklin Township.  To add to the excitement of singing male Dickcissels in breeding plumage, a single female has also been spotted!  One observer has reported that potential nesting material was being collected by one of the birds, and that one of the males was associating with the female bird.  If the birds end up nesting here, it would represent a very rare case of  breeding Dickcissels in the state.

Photo by Joseph F. Pescatore (c) 2011

It is also curious that these birds seem to have arrived on their breeding grounds so late in the season.  Normally male Dickcissels will arrive at this latitude in late April to early May and began setting up territories for the eventual arrival of the female birds (about a week later).  The Negri Nepote birds, however, seem to have arrived sometime in early to mid-June, with the males still singing ceaselessly on conspicuous perches as of this posting.  One explanation could be that these are young birds that found their way to breeding grounds later than their more experienced relatives.  This could also explain why they are seemingly making a relatively small grassland in central NJ their home for the summer.

Regardless of why they are here, they have already attracted many birders to this natural oasis.  And we can all help them by staying on the mowed paths and not approaching too closely.  Before we know it, there could be little Dickcissels chirping away from their nest!

Brotherly Birding at Sandy Hook

31 05 2011

To my surprise, my 20-year old, younger brother agreed to go birding with me early on Memorial Day.  When I called him at 5am to see if he was still on board (and awake), I had my doubts that he would actually be accompanying me.  To my surprise, he answered the phone and was waiting outside his house a few minutes later.

We geared up at the north end of Sandy Hook, ready to head down the Fisherman’s Trail.  I strapped on my binoculars and shouldered my camera while he got comfortable with my wife’s new Nikon Monarchs.  The sun had appeared and I was confident it would cast away the dark clouds looming behind us.  After all, I had just checked the forecast a day ago and it called for a sunny, clear morning with 0% chance of rain.

It rained.  We had walked all the way out to the beach and were scanning for the King Eider when we noticed the sun had vanished behind the darkening sky.  I decided we better start moving, but as we did, the first few drops began to descend.  Thirty seconds later, we were trudging through the dunes as the torrential downpour pelted us with seemingly horizontal streams of rain.  If it weren’t for my increasingly soaked camera equipment (my baseball cap didn’t work very well as an umbrella), it was actually somewhat fun.  When’s the last time you were caught up in an intense thunderstorm?  Not much we could do but walk back and try to enjoy the miserable situation.

We drove south a bit and parked in the next lot.  It was still raining, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from continuing my search for the King Eider.  We wrapped up our binoculars in a jacket and a plastic bag, respectively, and headed back out into the elements.  As we reached the water, the rain finally started to let up.  Two scoters cruised by, and a Great Black-Backed Gull flew in with a crab danging from its mouth.

Walking up the beach, we made some interesting finds.  A dead shark had washed ashore, and just a few feet further we discovered a dead Common Loon among the wrack.  Yes, there were living birds too.  My brother seemed impressed that we were able to see so many endangered species – Piping Plovers, Least Terns, Red Knots, and Black Skimmers all made appearances.  A trio of Black Skimmers even flew back and forth right in front of us, giving great views of their sleek wings and fascinating mandibles.

Black Skimmer

As we were walking along, admiring the spectacle of a large tern flock, my brother warned that there was a snake in front of me.  A dead snake, I thought confidently.  As I looked down and simultaneously took another step, I noticed that there was indeed a snake right next to my foot – and that no, it was not dead.  It flicked its tongue and hissed as I quickly stepped away.  Lacking any real knowledge regarding snake identification, we both marveled at the odd creature – its head appeared totally flattened, but the snake seemed perfectly healthy and ready to defend itself.  We studied it for some time before deciding to leave it to its own devices.  After some quick searching I realized it had been an Eastern Hognose Snake, explaining why it had been hanging out on the beach.

After spending some time with this mystery snake, we continued on our way until I noticed a pair of Forster’s Terns – one standing on top of the other.  Now, I’ve seen plenty of birds copulate.  I know this is the usual starting position.  These two, however, were doing nothing but standing: one on the sand, one on the back of the other.  We had a hearty laugh about it, especially my brother.  The birds were still stacked up when we finally headed back to the car.

Least Terns

A few more stops heading south and we were ready to call it a day somewhat early.  Our clothes were still soaked through, and we were getting hungry.

Being out in the field with a non-birder for the first time in quite awhile reminded me that you don’t need to be a birder to enjoy birding.  The birds and the lists (I never did see that King Eider) and the photographs are just an excuse to be outside and admire whatever nature decides she’s offering up on that particular day.  In this case, it was a lot of rain, some really cool birds, and a snake story neither of us will soon forget.