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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Barn Swallows

The barn swallow is one of those simultaneously common yet elusive birds that I see all the time but rarely photograph because they never seem to sit still. They fly by me at high speed doing aerial acrobatics as they catch insects in the air; I see them swooping along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade all through the summer. But yesterday I was lucky enough to stumble upon a nest. The bird above is a youngster that has recently left is nest (nearby) to sit under an eave. Click to enlarge.

It is waiting for a parent to show up with food. Opening its gape to beg reveals a bright yellow target for the parent.
In a flash of wings, an adult arrived and delivered something.
At least one sibling was still in the nearby nest. Barn swallows make their nests out of dabs of mud and line the interior with grass and feathers.
The bird in the nest got a food delivery, too.
Here's an adult trying to take a rest; notice its adult beak.
But eave bird got fidgety and started begging.
And made it clear it was still hungry.
And shortly got another tasty delivery.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Bobwhite!

I usually hear bobwhites but don't see them, or catch a glimpse of a boldly patterned head as the shy bird disappears in grass. The call is an unmistakable loud whistled "bob-white!" that rises in pitch on the second syllable. But during a recent visit to Cape May Point State Park I saw this unusually bold male above and equally unselfconscious female below.      Click to enlarge.
Both birds were uncharacteristically nonchalant about nearby humans and did not seem to mind me photographing them. One of the park employees told me that the bobwhites had been around for a few days, sitting on the hawkwatch platform railings and practically posing for selfies with delighted park visitors.
The northern bobwhite, also called the Virginia quail or bobwhite quail, Colinus virginianus, has experienced steep population decline across its range and is considered to be Near Threatened. For the past three years, the New Jersey Audubon Society has released 80 northern bobwhites each year in southern New Jersey as part of a reintroduction program that also includes habitat improvement.  I don't know if the pair at Cape May Point have anything to do with that program, but they are a lovely addition to an already great park. I hope they thrive there and become a permanent attraction.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Assassin!

I was poking around in the leaves at Cape May Point State Park last week and I found this saucy wheel bug nymph, Arilus cristatus. Click to enlarge.
It's an immature form of the fine adult wheel bug pictured above. See that long sharp beak at its mouth? Wheel bugs are predators of other insects. They feed by piercing prey with their beaks, injecting salivary fluids that dissolve the victim's insides, and then sucking them up. Wheel bugs belong to an insect family known commonly as the assassin bugs. Nothing makes my day like finding a wheel bug.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Happy Fourth of July!




No blog this week -- just a couple of red, white, and blue local birds: northern cardinal, great egret, and blue jay. Have a great holiday! Click to enlarge. 


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Harvestman

I passed this lovely long legged creature while I was walking in Boundary Creek Park in Moorestown, New Jersey. Click on the photo to enlarge it. Years ago I would have thought it was a tremendously big spider; it was about 4 or 5 inches from leg tip to leg tip. But it's not a spider. It is a member of the large arachnid order Opiliones, usually called by the common names of harvestman or harvester, daddy-longlegs or granddaddy-longlegs. The opilionids don't spin silk and don't make webs. They don't make venom. Their bodies are not divided into 2 segments with a "waist" like spiders. Many but not all of the thousands of described species of harvestmen have these extremely long slender legs. I always find them like this, sitting motionless upon leaves, possibly waiting for unsuspecting prey like an aphid, mite, caterpillar, or whatnot to stroll past, but maybe just taking in the summer day.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Willet

Shorebird identification can be challenging for new bird watchers. But one of the shorebirds, the long-legged pigeon-sized willet, Tringa semipalmata, helps out by obligingly shouting its name "Pill Will Willet! Pill Will Willet!" and then spreading its wings to reveal white markings that differentiate it from all others. I cannot tell you how many times I've asked "Is that a willet?" to have the question answered by the bird itself with a call and a wing flash. Click to enlarge.
The willet is my pick for a father's day bird because, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, although both willet parents share the task of incubating eggs, only male willets spend their nights on the nest. Happy Father's Day to everybody!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Black Skimmers

Black skimmer couples, Rynchops niger, are nesting now on New Jersey beaches. Sandy beaches with light vegetation like the one pictured are among their favorite places to nest. The nest is just a scrape in the sand. Humans also like beaches like this and human disturbance combined with natural predation, habitat degradation, and flooding has led to these unique birds being endangered in New Jersey. I took the picture from farther away than it looks with a telephoto lens and tried not to seem aggressive. They ignored me so I think I was successful. Click to enlarge.
Adult black skimmers have a wingspan up to about 50 inches. The huge sleek bird feeds by flying  low over water with its beak open, the lower mandible cutting through the surface of the water and closing when it encounters a fish. (Click here to see it on YouTube.) But the thing I like most about them is the way they rest on the beach. Click on the photo above to enlarge; the four birds in the center are lying prone on the sand like a row of downed bowling pins. There is nothing average about a black skimmer.