21st Great Tomato Tasting

24 08 2011

Rutgers Snyder Research Farm will host the 21st Great Tomato Tasting, with more than 60 varieties of tomatoes, plus apples, peaches, herbs, and honey! There is also a teaching garden to explore and a wagon tour to enjoy. Everything starts on Wednesday, August 31st at 3pm. Click here to find out all the details and RSVP.

(c) Tim Waters 2007


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:

Hike & Seek

24 06 2011

The National Wildlife Federation is expanding their Hike & Seek event to six cities this fall, including our very own Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary in Bernardsville, NJ!

On October 15th, registered participants will hike 1-2 miles with a guidebook, stopping along the way to speak with naturalists, participate in scavenger hunts, and enjoy the beautiful natural setting of one of New Jersey Audubon’s most popular sanctuaries.  After the hike, the fun will continue with wildlife displays, games, and other activities.

Register early by clicking here or clicking the image above.  You can also volunteer as a naturalist by emailing hike@nwf.org

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.


An Autumn in Cape May

18 05 2011

I spent the fall 2010 as an interpretive naturalist for the Cape May Bird Observatory, working mainly at the morning flight and hawk watch platforms. Everyday in Cape May was filled with exciting surprises and energetic visitors, but my last week of work, in the end of October, elevated my standard for action packed birding! We had been experiencing bad migration weather for the last week or so until Thursday, Oct 28th when the winds shifted, a cold front came in and the flood gates opened! The nocturnal songbirds that night were amazing. That night, and into the wee hours of the morning, folks flocked to the condemned convention center downtown to watch and listen to the 300+ birds a minute flying by the light of the street lamps! It was like watching a meteor shower. They were dropping into store front windows and lamps by the hundreds: sparrows, robins, flickers! During our night out, a phoebe momentarily landed on my co-worker’s head before realizing it wasn’t a stationary object!

Northern Flicker

The next day was even crazier. Morning flight counted around 150,000 birds in 4 hours (70,000+ robins, 63,000 yellow-rumped warblers) and it probably didn’t take into account all the other birds all over the point that were not participating in the “re-directed morning flight”. The banders caught a golden eagle and released in on the hawk watch platform.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Saturday was just as impressive with thousands of sparrows, phoebes, and normally reclusive hermit thrushes littering the roads. My favorite moment of the day was watching hundreds of American Woodcocks flying out the trees pre-dawn! More golden eagle sightings and a Henslow’s sparrow, which is the first record of that bird in Cape May in 22 years!

Hermit Thrush

Sunday paled in comparison to Friday and Saturday’s flight but it was still a great day and my last day of work! It was a whirlwind two months, but some of the greatest birding experiences of my life and I am glad I had the chance to share this place with a lot of good people this season.

-Ashley Green

(Photos (c) Bill Lynch)

Rutgers team completes 3rd World Series of Birding

16 05 2011

The Scarlet Knight-Herons, a team of former Rutgers graduate students, finished their 3rd WSB on Saturday.  The event challenges birders to identify as many species as possible within a 24-hour period within the borders of NJ.  This year, the Knight-Herons also confined themselves to Cape Island (the area south of the Cape May Canal) and to bicycles!  That’s right – no motor vehicles were used by the team as they traversed over 43 miles in search of birds.

Read a short review of their day at the official blog:


Yellow-Rumped Warbler