Archive for New Jersey Birding

Sep
30

Do You Hear Hoofbeats?

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Gellert and I are used to running into interesting birds on his walks: in just the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen a fine peregrine falcon, a common raven, and a smattering of the commoner southbound warblers. This morning, though, we came across something totally unexpected.

Gould, SynAust, Zebra Finch

We screeched to a halt when a tiny, short-tailed gray thing flushed from the roadside into a low tree, and were startled to see a little zebra finch looking back at us.

It was a long flight on those short wings from this species’ native range. Or do you suppose — just suppose — that somebody left a window open last night?

Vieillot, OisChant, Zebra Finch

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Sep
29

Cape May

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Yes, we arrived a day late for the whiskered tern and we left a day early for the zone-tailed hawk: but my latest tour had a great time at Cape May last week all the same. A few photos:

Birding birders Cape May

The view from the hotel balcony at dawn.

Birding birders Cape May

Sunrise over the beach.

Birding birders Cape May

Some autumn color in Atlantic County.

Birding birders Cape May

An eastern ribbon snake in the Meadows (or some Thamnophis or another).

Brown Thrasher

One of many, many, many brown thrashers at Higbee Beach.

Birding birders Cape May

If you get a chance to bird with this genial gang, do it!

Birding birders Cape May

The beach scene across from our hotel.

Birding birders Cape May

Black skimmers and a nice variety of gulls and terns, there for the picking just steps from our door.

Birding birders Cape May

A great cormorant joins its smaller cousins on the concrete ship.

Birding birders Cape May

We’ll be back.

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Sep
28

Not Your Everyday Feeder Bird

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Black-throated Blue Warbler

This pretty little black-throated blue warbler was a welcome but not unexpected guest at the bird bath this morning.

But — as they say on the internet — watch what she does next.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

I think the house sparrow was as surprised as I was when the warbler flew up to the newly filled tray feeder.

She obviously liked what she found in there.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

I should explain that she wasn’t sharing the house sparrow’s millet: I’d put the remnants of a chunk of suet in there earlier this morning. Still, this isn’t your everyday feeder bird, is it?

Black-throated Blue Warbler

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Sep
14

Did Anybody Ever Really Think That?

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whiskered tern and gull-billed tern

The find of the fall — so far — at Cape May has been the continental US’s third whiskered tern, discovered a couple of days ago and still showing nicely, I hear. I’ve got fingers, toes, and eyes crossed that it linger until next Monday, when my group will be there with hopeful bells on.

In all the excitement, there’s inevitably been some shooting from the hip about this bird’s name, Chlidonias hybridaand we’ve been reminded more than once now over these past days that the species owes that funny epithet to the quaint belief that these birds actually were hybrids.

But that’s not true. Though there are plenty of cases in which “good” species were originally mistaken for the products of miscegenation, this isn’t one of them.

Peter Simon Pallas observed this “extremely rare bird” a few times in the course of his expedition to central and eastern Russia, and almost 40 years later, he gave it its first formal scientific description in the Zoographia Rosso-asiatica. He named it Sterna hybrida, not because he or anyone else had thought it was a hybrid, but because its appearance combined features of the “white” and of the “black” terns.

You might say that it was born of the black and the common tern.

You might say — “diceres” — but no one did.

Of course, Pallas was not the first to see this widespread tern. He himself indicates that it had perhaps already been described and depicted — in neither case very well — in Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli’s pre-Linnaean Danubius pannonico-mysicus, where the bird is said to differ from the black tern in its reddish bill and feet.

Marsigli, whiskered [or black?] tern

The account of the plumage here more closely recalls, if anything, a molting black or white-winged tern; indeed, Brisson would later use Marsigli’s description as the basis for his own “patchy tern,” Sterna naevia, which, if memory serves, Bonaparte eventually identified as a black tern.

The sorting out of the marsh terns and their names took some time; as late as Coues’s “Review of the Terns of North America,” there still obtained “a state of great confusion,” and even more than a dozen years later, Taczanowski could mix up the names of the whiskered and the white-winged terns. We were well into the twentieth century before any sort of stability could be declared.

But never did we really believe that any of them were hybrids.

whiskered tern, France

And why is it hybrida? We’re told that this is a noun “in apposition” and not an adjective. Hmph.

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Aug
15

Curb Appeal

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Downy Woodpecker

A downy woodpecker spent most of the day yesterday throwing wood chips and sawdust out of its neat new roost hole in our backyard; apparently the results were satisfactory, as the bird is in there this morning, looking smugly out at the rest of the world.

And there’s a lot of world for it to look at. Over just a few minutes this morning, the new cavity was investigated by black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, Carolina wrens, white-breasted nuthatches, and a second downy woodpecker; the new homeowner drove them all away with threatening movements of the head, though I didn’t see any actual contact made with that sturdy little bill.

This should be fun to watch as the autumn proceeds.

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