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Mute Swan “Ornamental”?

Mute Swan, Lake Lily, Cape May Point, NJ

Ahh the mute swan. What a beautiful bird! This native of Eurosiberia was introduced to this continent in the 1870s as decorative, captive waterfowl. Some of the captives found freedom in the early 1900s and we now enjoy them throughout the continent, mostly around lakes.

Mute swan pair with young, Lake Lily, Cape May Point, NJ

Mute swans are reported to mate for life. Above is a lovely couple with whom I assume is one of their young on the left of them. Maybe this is why swans are seen as a symbol of love in our culture.

To be honest, I never really thought about the origin of swans until this trip to Cape May, when the person working at the Hawkwatch didn’t seem to want us to pay much mind to the dozens of swans in the water around us. Someone asked a question about the swans and his reply was that they are “ornamental” and then turned the conversation to the other feathered friends in the area.

Young Mute Swan, Lake Lily, Cape May Point, NJ

Downy young, called cygnets, come in two color morphs: a gray form, as pictured above, and a white form. The gray chicks start off with gray down & grow in gray-brown and white feathers, giving a mottled appearance. The white chicks have all-white down and feathers. Adults of the white morph may have pink or gray legs & feet, instead of black. Regardless of their type, all the adults are white.

Mute Swans Flying, Cape May Hawkwatch, NJ

Mute swans are non-migratory. The problem with animals & plants that are not native to an area is they can really take over a place! Their voracious appetites can really mess up a local ecosystem, displacing native bird species. A Maryland study reported that a swan can eat up to 8 pounds of aquatic vegetation A DAY. Also, these beautiful birds can be aggressive toward humans, so be careful approaching them!

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Proverbs 31.30

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Butterfly Break

Monarch Butterfly in My Backyard

Hello there! Hope you don’t mind my taking a little break–a butterfly break!! This has been a pretty good year for butterflies around here. I was happy to see monarch butterflies in my own yard. The flowers I planted a couple years ago are paying off. Do you have plants in your yard that attract butterflies? No time like the present to start planning for next year!

Above is a tiger swallowtail so beautiful at Black Hill Regional Park in Boyds, MD. SO lovely.

Here we have a couple beauties we found in Cape May Point, NJ. The photo on the left is a Buckeye at Rea Farm in Cape May Point, NJ. A little rough, but the first I have ever seen in person. On the right is an eastern black swallowtail.

Above is a little slide show of monarch butterflies on Cape May, NJ. Cape May is a migration thoroughfare for monarch butterflies! While we went to Cape May for the migratory birds, it was super exciting to see so many monarch butterflies in one place!

My book club is reading Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver this month. If you are interested in butterflies and a fan of a modern-day novel, it may be worth giving it a read. Let me know if you do and how you like it! I am only on chapter 7…

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Whimbrel

Well, here is another bird I had never heard of before this summer! What a beautiful bill!!

Whimbrel, Cape May Point, NJ

This is another photo taken from the boat and I did not know at the time what exactly this bird was. The whimbrel is a shorebird that’s larger than most, at 17″/43 cm. Notice how the bill curves downward. These birds breed in Arctic Alaska & Canada and winter in southern CA, Gulf Coast & southern Atlantic coast north to VA. So, this one must be on his or her way south! Is this where the term “snowbird” comes from? I wish I could have taken more photos of this brown beauty. Maybe we will encounter each other again in spring!

Birding, to me, has become like a meditation. It requires me to look away from myself, my problems, my daily worries. It causes me to look out and up to the sky, and makes me feel more connected to this beautiful world around me. I hope you are able to get outside during this beautiful time of year, enjoy the fresh, clean air and the leaves that may be changing where you live!

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:2

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American Oystercatcher

This season has been shorebird heaven for me! While visiting Cape May, NJ, my friends and I took a boat ride to explore what shorebirds might be there. Whoa! Were there shorebirds!!

American Oystercatcher, Cape May Point, NJ

There were many American oystercatchers like the one above. They were walking along during low tide, poking their bills into the sand, foraging for food. While they do eat oysters, they will also eat shellfish, marine worms, sand crabs, etc. I did a google search to find out what sea worms are… Ew, I don’t ever ever want to see one in person! It may be what the bird below has caught, though.

These birds are pretty large, at 17″-21″, and weigh over a pound.

American oystercatchers are pretty solitary much of the time, but are known to hang around in their family groups. In winter, they will also flock together in larger groups.

In the photos above and below, notice the semi-webbed feet. They are able to walk around easily, but are also great swimmers!

It’s hard to get good shots while on a boat! The up and down of the boat is an issue. The jockeying with other passengers for a good vantage point was challenging, as well.

It’s hard to miss the long, reddish orange bill.

Notice the yellow eye and the red eye ring.

I am so thankful to God for the beauty of this world. It’s easy to get distracted by the negative happenings all around us, isn’t it? But this day, let’s focus on the simple & most important things: those we love, nature all around us, enough food, a roof over our heads…

Have a blessed and peaceful day!

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ParulaPalooza!

Northern Parula, Cape May, NJ, Hawkwatch

What a surprise to come across this Northern Parula from the Cape May Hawkwatch Platform! It took awhile for me to shift attention to this bird, as we were there to look for raptors! As nice as the raptor viewing was, this little bird caught my heart.

Northern Parula, Cape May Hawkwatch, NJ

The Northern Parula is a small warbler at 4 1/2″/11 cm. This is a teensy tiny bird. This is an active bird. This is usually a difficult bird to find, yet I lucked out! What a cutie, and posing like crazy as I clicked away. At the time, I was completely unaware of the rarity of this photo op!

Northern Parula, Cape May, NJ Hawkwatch Platform

Northern parula typically forage in the dense foliage of treetops. They hide their nests inside Spanish moss in the south, or in lichens in the north. They feast on insects and sometimes on small berries.

Northern Parula, Cape May, NJ, Hawkwatch

They may hang upside down on twigs or forage on the ground for food.

Northern Parula, Cape May, NJ, Hawkwatch

This was the most gratifying photo shoot of my Cape May trip! What a photogenic little bird. Isn’t nature endlessly awe inspiring? The intricacy of God’s creation, even in the tiniest of beings, blows my mind. The suggestion that we all came about by some chemical accident rather than intelligent design? Naaa.

Northern Parula, Cape May, NJ, Hawkwatch

You are deeply loved. You were created with a purpose. Use the life you were given for good!

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable then they?” Matthew 6:26

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The Perfect Perch

Before this past summer, I had never heard of a double crested cormorant. When I first saw one at Great Falls, VA, I was fascinated by this black duck-like bird floating around on the Potomac River. As the summer drew on, it became apparent that double crested cormorants are wherever a body of water is. AND, they are not ducks at all. However, some other names for them are crow-ducks, Florida or Farallon cormorants and Taunton turkeys.

Double Crested Cormorants atop the Atlantus, Sunset Beach, Cape May Point, NJ

Double crested cormorants are primarily black sea birds that love to sit on things that are near or emerging from bodies of water. Above is what is left of the Atlantus, an old concrete ship from World War I. Long story short, post-WWI, the ship was salvaged & eventually brought to Cape May Point in 1926 to be a ferry between Cape May, NJ & Lewes, DE. Unfortunately, a storm sunk the ship before it was used for it’s new purpose & was not able to be removed. The old hull of the Atlantus acts as the perfect perch for countless birds, including these double crested cormorants! Behind the Atlantus, note today’s Cape May/Lewes ferry.

Double Crested Cormorant, Cape May, NJ

I love their teal green eyes & their long hooked bill! During breeding season, they develop a white double head crest. Notice also, the yellow throat patch which is visible in the photo above.

Double Crested Cormorants, Cape May, NJ

If you want to be guaranteed to see these beautiful creatures, visit Cape May, NJ! It really is a beautiful, peaceful place. It is obvious the Cape May community has worked hard to maintain a natural environment which supports the needs of all the migrating birds & butterflies that travel through their very special island.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and BE AT PEACE WITH EACH OTHER.” Mark 9:50

Peace

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Take a Tern!

September has taken a tern for the better for me any my travel buddies! We just got back from a long weekend on Cape May, NJ after hearing that it is a great place to spot migrating birds. No kidding! I haven’t even gone through all the photos taken on this trip. Hopefully you will enjoy these Forster’s tern pics!!

Forster’s Tern, Cape May Point, NJ, Sunset Beach

On our first day, after an early morning birding expedition, we were on our way back to the rental when we took a wrong tern and ended up at Sunset Beach. There, I saw bunches of birds of all different shapes, sizes and plumage. Some I recognized, some not.

Forster’s Tern, Cape May Point, NJ, Sunset Beach

So, in spite of inappropriate shoes & jeans wet from a dewy bird walk, I climbed out of the car and onto the beach to get a closer look. I was not about to tern a blind eye to the amazing quantity of feathered friends on this beach! Snap, snap, snap. Honestly, I did not know what this lovely bird was when I photographed it. Later on, I opened my handy Audubon app & figured it out.

Forster’s Tern, Cape May Point, NJ, Sunset Beach

The tables have really terned this fall, as all the birds are looking different from spring and summer. It’s a real learning curve. In spring/summer, Forster’s terns have a black cap. But in fall/winter, they have a white head with black ear patches. If I’d known about the forked tail, I would’ve worked harder to get a better shot of it. Next time for sure!

Forster’s Tern, Cape May Point, NJ, Sunset Beach

With summer terning to fall, the air cool and crisp, I pray you take the time to look up, wish the migrating birds well on their journey, and thank our Creator for the beauty around us this season.

Blessings to you!

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Think Blue

Blue Heron, Great Falls Park, Maryland

As I’ve said before, I love blue heron as a new birder & photographer! They are big. They are beautiful. They don’t usually move very fast. They are a dream for practicing bird photography with! In fact, earlier the same morning this photo was taken, I got what I thought would be fantastic shots. I was sure I would be sharing them with you. But the light was so dim that my flash opened. If I thought the flash would ruin the pics, I would have taken the time to turn it off. But I thought well, maybe it will brighten up the photos because it is pretty dark. Sadly, when I opened the photos on my computer the next day, poor Mr. Heron had bright red eyes and looked quite devilish! Uggggg.

Great Blue Heron, Great Falls, Maryland

Fortunately I didn’t pass this beauty by! Fortunately, no flash this time! Maybe he sensed my appreciation of his loveliness or he knew I would need more pictures than I thought? Maybe he knows how amazingly beautiful he is and enjoyed the admiration he was receiving? You may be thinking, “probably just a big bird standing still” and you are probably right!

View From Bridge to Olmstead Island, MD

John 4:14 “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

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Think Green

Thinking green today–green heron! Prior to May, I had never heard of a green heron. Now, I am quite taken with them! They are pretty plentiful around lakes and marshy areas.

Green Heron, Great Falls Park, MD

We spotted this beauty in a swampy area beside the C&O Canal Towpath at Great Falls Park, Maryland side (The Potomac River runs between Maryland and Virginia). The lighting was just perfect to catch all the iridescence of the bird’s feathers.

We saw a total of three green heron this day. The one below appears to be a young/juvenile green heron, just a few feet away from the one pictured above.

Juvenile Green Heron, Great Falls Park, Maryland

This juvenile green heron has more prominent striping down it’s neck and chest, as well as spotted wings. Also, notice his black cap.

These birds are pretty small compared with some other heron. I’d describe them as about the size of a crow, but with longer legs. They spend their time in shallow wetland areas and also climbing/perching on vegetation surrounding the water.

They are usually spotted wading for fish, staring intently into the water. In fact, they are one of the few tool-using bird species. They often create fish lures out of crusts of bread, insects & feathers, dropping them on the water’s surface to lure small fish. Occasionally, they may dive into deeper water for prey.

Have you ever seen a green heron? If not, look for them next time you are close to a lake or wetlands. You just might spot one!

From Bridge at Olmstead Island, Great Falls Park, Maryland

Psalm 42:7 “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.”

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My Mother’s Legacy

Photo By My Mother, Bonnie, Rockport, ME

The above photo was taken by my mom, whom I lost to breast cancer eight years ago today. She was an artistic person who loved all animals and nature. When she retired and moved from Virginia to Maine, she began taking photos of what she saw, whether it was the lupines in her yard, a pond glistening in the sunlight or the above photo of a hummingbird. The thing is, I believe (but am not certain) that this photo was taken using film. I love digital photography. One can take thousands of frames, delete the bad pics, save the good ones. Do you remember film cameras? You never knew how your pictures would turn out until they came back from development. When I see a beautiful photo taken with film, I see it as much more of an accomplishment! I am really proud of my mom’s picture and it makes me feel happy every time I see it.

I’ve been following in my mother’s footsteps by seeking to record nature’s beauty in photographs. Last week, I have focused on capturing the movements of hummingbird wings when they fly.

Hummingbirds flap their wings 80 times per SECOND! Also, they have a ball-and-socket joint at the shoulder which allows them to rotate their wings 180 degrees in all directions. Because of their special ability, they can hover and even backwards! Thankfully, film photography is a thing of the past for most of us. Digital photography allows a novice like me to experiment and improve skill with practice and immediate gratification.

I’m thankful every day for the influence of my mother. She shared her love of nature with me and now, in my fifties, I’m finally beginning to share her passion. Apparently, I am a slow learner. If she can see me now, I’m confident she is glad I finally caught on!

If you have someone in your life who shared a special part of themself with you, thank them while you can. If you have a talent, passion, interest or hobby, please share it with another person. If you think you have nothing to give to another, show them care and love–that’s the BEST gift you could ever give. THANKS MOM!

Female ruby throated hummingbird, beak open with tongue
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What the Hawk?!?

Hawkstravaganza 2020

Continuing with my baby bird series… Last year, I noticed a hawk family had taken up residence in the woods behind my home. I wasn’t “into” birding at that time, but was certainly interested in this new development. The impact they would have on my feeder birds was of concern as well. At that time, I observed what seemed to be two adults and a young hawk. I tried to figure out what type of hawks they were: Sharp shinned hawks or cooper’s hawks, I wasn’t sure.

This summer, equipped with binoculars, camera and Audubon app on my iPhone, I began noticing hawks in the yard again. But it seemed like they were EVERYWHERE. What the hawk was going on?!? One day, I looked up and saw FIVE hawks on one singular pine tree! Strangely, most, if not all of them appear to be young. It has been a backyard hawkstravaganza!! With the aforementioned equipment, I determined them to be Cooper’s hawks, which are common in my area. Judging by appearance, one might think sharp shinned hawks, but these ladies and gents are too large. Also, their calls are different & what I’ve been hearing are definitely Cooper’s hawks’ kiks, caks & calls.

Having these glorious creatures in my yard has been mixed–really fun at times & other times, a little hawkward. It’s been exciting to watch them fly and swoop through the yard, across the deck & into the woods. Also, it’s been entertaining to observe these young cooper’s hawks romp and play in the woods behind my yard, chasing each other, hopping around, leaping over fallen trees and vocalizing. However, in my yard at the same time have been two bird houses containing bluebird & house wren hatchlings as well as a feeder full of songbirds. After reading up on hawks, I stopped stocking the feeder. The experts say once the feeder birds move elsewhere for lack of food, so will the hawks. It’s been two weeks since I stopped filling the feeder and the hawk presence has decreased a little, but they are still around. In fact, I spotted a red shouldered hawk in my yard the other day, but no good photos. Today, the baby birds have all fledged from the bird houses, so I may chance filling the feeder again soon.

What about you? Have you noticed hawks in your area? They really are fun to watch with their soaring and daring flight moves! While they enjoy feasting on our beautiful songbirds (bad!), they also feed on small mammals such as mice (good!).

Thank you so much for reading this far. I know this was a longer entry than usual and it took some commitment to read it to the end! Hopefully, the end result will be for you to go on a hawkventure of your own! By September in the mid-atlantic area, many varieties of hawks will be seen migrating south in large numbers, so dust off your binoculars and go find some!!

Hawkstravaganza2 2020
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Little Pop of Color

Female Juvenile Northern Cardinal 6/23/20 Lake Hallowell, Olney, MD

Here’s another installment of the baby bird series! Look at this cutie!! A little female northern cardinal youngster. Everything I read says that juvenile northern cardinals have black beaks until their first molt… but this little lady had her orange beak, but with what looks to me to be juvenile plumage. No matter what her age, isn’t she lovely?

Female Juvenile Northern Cardinal. 6/23/20. Lake Hallowell, Olney, MD

Having such an early and long, cool spring seems to have brought about much fertility in the bird world, at least here in Maryland. It has been so much fun watching little families expanding & growing every day. Stay tuned for more babies!

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Wings of Eagles

I am continuing with the baby series. Today, I’d like to share my joy in locating a bald eagle nest this spring! After a hike around a local lake, my friends & I met a nice birding couple who asked if we eyed the eagle nest. Eagle nest?? WHAT EAGLE NEST?!? They were kind enough, even during scary COVID times, to share the location with us. They even told us about a sneaky spot to get a good waterfront look! So next time, we set out with binocs, cameras, etc., to find said eagles.

Is this adult bald eagle a beauty or what?!? What a thrill to see eagles thriving in nature practically out my back door. There were two fledglings in and around the nest. Hard to call them fledglings when they are so large, but they are babies, hatched this spring. It makes sense when they live 20-30 years or more. It takes four years for bald eagles to develop their adult plumage.

The male and female usually mate for life & build their nest together. They may return to it year after year. If they return, they will add onto it, making it quite large–eagle McMansion? The female lays 1-3 eggs per season and both parents incubate them. Yay male eagles for helping out!

Next year, we will look earlier in spring for the nest in hopes of finding a new batch of eggs and/or eaglets. Do you know of bald eagles near you? If yes, please share!

“but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

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Play Ball!

Do you enjoy baseball? Are you a Baltimore Oriole’s fan?? Well, it’s okay either way, but let’s talk about birds! This spring was the first time I had ever seen a Baltimore oriole at all, let alone a nest and babies!

This nest! The female builds this pouch-like nest near the end of a thin branch high in a tree. It looks like it could easily be knocked off that spindly branch, but apparently it is strongly woven in place.

The three top photos are the striking male with his blood orange-color body contrasted by his deep black wings and back. He was helping keep an eye on the young-uns and feeding them, which is the LEAST he can do after allowing his woman to build the nest by herself. Mom was shy about showing herself for the camera, but if you look carefully, she is behind leaves in the last photo. The Baltimore oriole female has a lighter, softer orange underside with brown back and wings and some black on her head.

Thanks for taking a look at my blog!

Take a Tern on the Royal Side

To be honest, when I took these photos, I may have thought these were interesting looking gulls rather than the royal terns they are! They look like balding old men to me.

Royal Terns with Common Tern & Herring Gull Cape May Point, NJ

The royal tern is about 18-21″/46-53 cm. During breeding, it has a black crest that covers the top of it’s head, but this is how the crest looks during non-breeding. Note the orange bill, as well.

Royal Tern. Cape May Point, NJ

They are likely to stay put during winter, but may migrate a little south. They eat fish and crustaceans. They begin breeding around age four.

Notice there is a common tern in the photos, along with a herring gull. One big happy friend group! Friends are very important for us all, aren’t they? All you need is one solid friend in life, in my opinion. Additional friends are the icing on the cake and the cherry on top! Hopefully you have at least one bosom buddy. I am fortunate in the friends department and not a day goes by that I don’t feel gratitude for each of them. But do I tell them how appreciative of them I am? I do, but probably not often enough…

Royal Terns with Common Tern & Herring Gull. Cape May Point, NJ

I’m going to resolve to express how dearly I love my friends this week. Life can be so short, so complicated and I wouldn’t want them to be unaware of how cared for and appreciated they are!

“A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24