Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission

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Backyard Bird Count, Community Garden and other news

Posted by Friends EB EC on February 13, 2014 at 10:45 AM Comments comments (0)

 


• Tomorrow is the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The GBBC is an annual citizen science event that started in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. Everyone, everywhere can participate and help collect. Since 1998, more than 100,000 people of all ages and walks of life have joined the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds. We invite you to participate! Simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, February 14-17, 2014. You can count from any location, anywhere in the world! It is also a sort of competition between towns – East Brunswick is almost every year in the top five towns in NJ, can be number one? Yes, if more people participate! Links to the project, registration and how to count and submit are on the home page at www.friendsebec.com. You don’t need to be an experienced birder - use the online East Brunswick backyard bird guide to help identify the birds you see.


 

 

 

• A limited number of Community Garden plots are available for new gardeners. Each plot is 10’x10’ and the cost is $10 for the year. One plot per household. You have to live or work in East Brunswick to rent a plot. Information and link to online registration at www.ebcommunitygarden.webs.com.

 

• A few plots are open for charitlble organization. There is no cost for renting these plots, after the organization is approved by the garden board. Contact ebcgarden@gmail[dot]com for more information.

 

Please check the website frequently, ‘like’ the Friends on Facebook and Twitter for news and updates regarding projects and events.

 

Winter is almost over and Salamander migration is coming soon!

 

Enjoy the snow,

 

Liti

Great Backyard Bird Count

Posted by Friends EB EC on February 3, 2014 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (0)

February 14 -17, 2014

Everyone can participate in this Citizen Science project. Click for indormation

Count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the GBBC. You can count for longer than that if you wish! Count birds in as many places and on as many days as you like—one day, two days, or all four days. Submit a separate checklist for each new day, for each new location, or for the same location if you counted at a different time of day. Estimate the number of individuals of each species you saw during your count period.

Use the online East Brunswick Backyard bird guide to help you identify the birds you count.

Read more abou the Great Backyard Bird Count in East Brunswick in this blog post from 2012.


Big Day 2013

Posted by Friends EB EC on January 24, 2013 at 6:25 PM Comments comments (0)

 

Bald eagles over Edgeboro Landfill.

Photo credit: Dan Brill

Big Day 2013, East Brunswick’s winter bird count, was held on January 19th.  Board members of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission, The Friends of the Environmental Commission, ‘Friends’ members and local birders spent the day looking for and cataloging bird speciesat different locations in East Brunswick. 

We met at 8am near the EB Public Library and made our way to the first birding location – the EdgeboroLandfill. Other locations visited during the day were: Keystone Park, Jamesburg Park, Dallenbach Lake, Duhernal Lake, Heavenly Farms,  ‘Pig Farm’ near the Ireland Brook and Farrington Lake. By the end of the day we counted a total of fifty two bird species..

Thank you to everyone who participated – it was a fun and exciting day and our efforts addedto our knowledge of wildlife and nature in our town.


Click here to see list of bird species

 


Birds of East Brunswick

Posted by Friends EB EC on September 27, 2012 at 7:30 AM Comments comments (0)


Ever wonder what's flying in East Brunswick? Check out  "Project Noah" - 'Birds of East  Brunswick' mission. 

Post your own bird photos for others to enjoy, and to create a more complete list of birds in our town.

Project Noah is an award-winning software platform designed to help people reconnect with the natural world. The technology platform and community of members provide a powerful way for research groups to collect important ecological data. After you join Project Noah (by signing in through an existing online account – Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Google or AOL) you will be able to upload ‘spottings’ through the website or on a mobile device.


The Brown-Headed Cowbird: Handsome but Insidious

Posted by Friends EB EC on March 22, 2012 at 9:15 PM Comments comments (0)

"The two most characteristic habits of this bird are indicated in its names. The Greek word Molothrus signifies a vagabond, tramp, or parasite, all of which terms might well be applied to this shiftless vagabond and imposter. It deserves the common name cowbird and its former name, buffalo-bird, for its well-known attachment to these domestic and wild cattle." (Bent 1958).



The very common Brown-headed cowbird has a fascinating life history that is unfortunately detrimental to many other small birds. The males are quite handsome with iridescent blackish bodies and a brown head. The females are relatively nondescript brownish birds. The Brown-headed cowbird is a relative newcomer to the east. It is believed to have reached the east coast sometime following European settlement of the new world from its Pre-colonization range in the grasslands of the west. It expanded further and further east as forests were cleared and more and more land was converted to agriculture and other open habitats. Until the vast forests in the east were cleared, it is believed that they acted as a blockade, keeping the Brown-headed cowbird in the open habitats of the west. 

The Brown-headed cowbird is a brood parasite and does not build its own nest or raise its own young. Instead, the females lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. Typically they will wait patiently until the female leaves the nest unprotected and then slip in and lay their eggs. Then the unsuspected birds just follow their instincts and raise the young cowbirds as if they were their own. Unfortunately, the young cowbirds often grow more quickly then the other bird's nestlings and out compete them for food often leading to their starvation. I once watched a recently fledged Brown-headed cowbird follow around a much smaller Yellow warbler that I suspected was its surrogate parent. The size difference was amazing and there were no fledgling yellow warblers nearby leading me to believe that the Brown-headed cowbirds had out competed them for food leading to their demise.  Many scientific studies have documented the huge negative effects of this on many species of songbirds. This parasitic behavior of the Brown-headed cowbird is innate and stems from their ecology in the plains and open habitats of the west. They apparently evolved following the huge herds of buffalo and other mammals that once roamed the west. Since these herds never stayed in one place for long there wasn't time to build a nest or raise young. So, they evolved a very effective strategy that used other nests and birds as surrogate parents. When the Brown-headed cowbird made it to the east, they continued to employ these nesting strategies on the native songbird birds and their populations have likely been suffering ever since.        

Brown-headed cowbirds can be found in many of our parks and neighborhoods. They are easy to recognize. Use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find some places to look for them. For more information about Brown-headed cowbirds and their fascinating life history visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website.

Published on the EB Patch, March 21, 2012

 

The House Wren or O-du-na-mis-sug-ud-da-we-shi

Posted by Friends EB EC on March 2, 2012 at 10:10 PM Comments comments (0)

The little brown House wren is not around in winter because they migrate south each fall and return to East Brunswick each spring. But if you are lucky enough to have a House wren nesting around your house, you will certainly know when it returns. The males are energetic and sing like crazy when they are setting up a nest territory and will scold any intruder to that area throughout the summer. They often will do this from a very visible spot, just to let you know they mean business.


When House wrens aren't chattering or singing away they can often be very mouse-like and skulking, keeping to the ground or dense vegetation. House wrens also nest in just about any suitable spot around the yard.

As I have done many times in this series, I like to let the voice of ornithologists from the past "speak" about the birds and their habits. In the entry for the House wren contributed by Alfred Otto Gross in the monumentally important Life Histories of North American Birds the description of the calls and song of the House wren lends the second part of the title to this post and is really exceptional. It underscores why I really like looking through the older ornithological literature. The descriptions of the many various nest spots of the House wren are also fantastic:

With respect to it's voice, the entry is:

"The loud clear song of the house wren is one of the dominant characteristics of its striking personality. The Chippewa Indians, who were keen observers of nature, fully recognized this trait as revealed by their name for the house wren: O-du-na-mis-sug-ud-da-we-shi, meaning a big noise for its size (Cooke, 1884).

The scolding or alarm note of the house wren is a harsh, grating chatter, but the song is a burst of melody, a rather loud, hurried, strenuous, bubbling outpouring--shrill, ecstatic, and difficult to describe or to translate into written words. It is a varied song, but to human ears it is not musical or nearly so appealing as that of its relative, the Carolina wren. The persistent repetition of its nervous energetic outbursts has after a time a tendency to tire the listener."

For nesting sites, the descriptions are equally interesting:

"The house wren stands out preeminently as one of the most eccentric of our birds in the choice of its nesting site. In fact, its choice of nesting place exhibits such extreme variation that it is difficult to select one that can be considered typical...These birds have readily adapted themselves to the environment of man reaching a state of semi-domesticity. They have availed themselves of houses constructed for their special use or lacking these have built their nests in various contraptions incidentally provided either inside or outside of buildings. They are not particular and are just as apt to accept an old rusty can in a garbage heap as they are a neatly painted house set in the midst of a beautiful flower garden. Innumerable curious nesting places have been reported, a few of which will serve to illustrate their infinite variety. At a sanctuary located on Wallops Island, Va., 24 empty cow skulls found bleaching on the island were hung up or lodged in the trees and shrubbery. Almost immediately 23 of the gruesome skulls were occupied by house wrens, who were quick to accept these unusual nesting boxes (Forbush, 1916). There are several instances where house wrens have built their nests inside the large paper nests of hornets or wasps that were attached to private or public buildings. Before adding nesting materials the interior of the insect nests were excavated by the industrious birds...It is not uncommon for the wren to make use of the nests of other birds. At Loring, Va., a pair of wrens built in a deserted barn swallow's nest. At Laanna, Pike County, Pa., Burleigh (1927) writes of a nest containing seven eggs which was in a robin's nest on a ledge above a pillar of a porch...Other interesting nesting sites of the house wren have been in a fish creel or watering pot hung on the side of a shed or fence, rusty tin cans in garbage piles, old threshing machines and other farm machinery, in tin cans, teapots, and flowerpots left on shelves of sheds, in a soap dish, in old boots and shoes, and even in a bag of feathers. Outdoors they have been known to nest in the nozzle or main part of pumps, in the hat or pockets of a scarecrow, in an iron pipe railing, in a weather vane, in holes in a brick wall or building, and in a coat hung up at a camp site. One pair of wrens built their nest on the rear axle of an automobile which was used daily. When the car was driven the wrens went along. Even under these most unusual circumstances the eggs were successfully hatched (Northcutt, 1937)."

The House wren is one of the easiest birds to attract to nest in a yard. In my yard they have nested in old bird boxes and even a gourd every year since we moved in more than 20 years ago. It is always a pleasure to know they have returned when I finally hear the long bubbling song on some spring morning when I walk outside.

House wrens can be found in many of our parks and neighborhoods. Learn their easy to recognize calls and use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find some places to look and listen for them. For more information about Mourning doves visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website.

 

Great Backyard Bird Count Update: Last Day!

Posted by Friends EB EC on February 20, 2012 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (0)

After 4 days of observing and counting birds all over town, East Brunswick is neck and neck for first place with Millville in South Jersey. We are currently in 2nd Place with 26 checklists submitted. It's amazing what has been seen around town so far. 54 species and 24,828 individual birds! Everything from ducks to Bald eagles. Here are two photos from my backyard this morning...    

Great Backyard Bird Count - Update

Posted by The Friends on February 19, 2012 at 6:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Through three days, East Brunswick continues to be first among all other towns in New Jersey in the number of checklists submitted! I took a quick walk this afternoon at Duhernal Lake and the South River and was amazed at the species diversity. Among the list of birds seen were; killdeer, Great blue heron, Pie-billed grebe, Scaup, bufflehead, pintail duck, mallard, Black duck, kingfisher, Hooded and Red-breasted mergansers, mallard and Green-winged teal. I always forget how great the birding can be at Duhernal Lake, especially in the winter when the water is not frozen.

With only one day left, keep birding! Have fun and share any photos taken during the GBBC with the Friends.      

Backyard Bird Feeder Birds - The Mockingbird and the Great Backyard Bird Count

Posted by Friends EB EC on February 18, 2012 at 4:10 PM Comments comments (0)

For anyone that can whistle, the Northern Mockingbird is one of our most fun birds. It gets its common name by it's incredible ability to mimic lots of other bird calls and a whole host of other sounds. When it is singing, it can usually be enticed to mimic whatever whistle you can throw at it. If you find one singing, just listen to the range of songs and sounds they make.


Mockingbirds are common year-round residents in East Brunswick. They don't visit feeders, but can be found in backyards and parks all around town. In the winter, they like to stay near shrubs with berries for food and often will have what must be a favorite because they can be found in the same one day after day. But they arent shy. Mockingbirds make their presence known by perching out in the open on a shrub or even in more exposed places like fence posts, telephone poles or the roof of a building. In the summer, they will sing for long periods of time from these exposed places. They are often very intolerant of intruders into their territory (sometimes us included) and will fly at them and harrass them until they hopefully leave. 

Mockingbirds are easy to recognize. They are sleek gray birds with black wings and a black tail. The wings have two prominent white wing bars across them and the outer tail feathers are white and are easily seen when the birds fly.

As I have done throughout this Backyard Bird series, I like to draw upon older ornithological literature and the writings of famous ornithologists to illustrate various life history aspects of the birds. For the Northern mockingbird, I like the contribution by the renowned ornithologist Alexander Sprunt Jr. in Arthur Cleveland Bent's monumental series, Life Histories of North American Birds:

"There is no possibility of doubt that the vocal attainments of the mockingbird are its primary characteristic. Its voice overshadows its every other trait, habit, and even appearance. Recognition of it is evident in both the common and the scientific name of the species, and neither could be more appropriate. Though its amazing powers of imitation were not known to Linnaeus except second-hand, his designation of Mimus polyglottos as its name was well chosen, for as a "many-tongued mimic" the mockingbird stands alone."  

Northern mockingbirds can be found in all of our parks and neighborhoods and even in our most developed urban areas along Route 18. Keep an eye out for them around the yard or town or use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find some places to look and listen for them. The Guide is available at: http://www.friendsebec.com/ebparks.htm. For more information about the American Robin visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_mockingbird/id/ac.

 

 

Published on the EB Patch, 18 February, 2012

Great Backyard Bird Count - Carolina wren

Posted by Friends EB EC on February 18, 2012 at 12:25 PM Comments comments (0)

I've been trying to get a decent photo of this little Carolina wren all winter and it finally stayed put long enough to snap a pciture. Lois put out a bowl of some old sunflower seeds and it went right to them. I guess it was just waiting for the GBBC

Great Backyard Bird Count - Red Tailed hawk Eating a Rabbit

Posted by Friends EB EC on February 18, 2012 at 12:00 PM Comments comments (0)

The Great Backyard Bird Count is in full swing today! Are you counting? At our feeders this morning and around our yard we have had White-breasted nuthatch, Blue jay, Black-capped chickadee, Cardinal, White-throated sparrow, House finch, Red-bellied and Downy woodpeckers and a Mourning dove calling from somewhere. Best yet, my wife spied a pair of Red-tailed hawks in the big oak trees over our neighbors house and one of them was eating what we think was a rabbit. Here are a few photos! Happy counting Citizen Scientists of East Brunswick!     

Peterson Feeder Birds of North America - Free App

Posted by Friends EB EC on February 18, 2012 at 9:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Gret FREE App for iPhone,iPad and IPod. Peterson bird guide, range maps, bird sounds, and more.  Upload and use during the Great Backyard Bird Count. 

Review from the Birder's library:

When A Field Guide to the Birds was published in 1934, I doubt that anyone, including the author, even considered that it would still be around over 75 years later. But even though it has gone through many changes, Roger Tory Peterson’s field guide is still here and still relevant. And now it has made the transition into the digital realm as the Peterson Birds of North America app.  Read more



Backyard Bird Feeder Birds - The American Robin, A True Harbinger of Spring (Except This Year!)

Posted by Friends EB EC on February 17, 2012 at 6:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Is there anyone who doesn't know the Robin with its orange breast and cheery song? It is one of our most recognizable and familiar birds. The American Robin isn't a feeder bird but can be found in yards everywhere around town. In most years, Robins aren't very common in East Brunswick in the winter and in the coldest and snowiest years they may not be around at all. In most winters the majority of Robins will move to southern New Jersey or points further south in the fall, but a few hardy ones will usually try to stick it out. But this year with the unusually mild winter, Robins have been everywhere. I can't seem to recall any other winter where they occurred around town in such abundance. In most years, Robins are a true harbinger of spring, with large numbers showing up in East Brunswick, when the ground isn't frozen and the soil is warm enough for worms to be near the surface. When I was growing up in Edison and we would drive down the Garden State Parkway in the spring to visit my grandparents, my dad would always point out the Robins along the grassy shoulders and we would know that winter was over.



Throughout much of the year, Robins feed heavily on worms and can be seen running and stopping on lawns and other grassy areas cocking their heads back and forth as they seem to listen for worms underground. Contrary to popular belief, Robins don't sense the vibrations of worms with their feet but apparently actually look for evidence that they are burrowing right beneath the surface. When worms and other insects aren't available, they switch primarily to fruits and berries, although these are also eaten throughout the year. Since Robins forage for food on our lawns and eat worms that live in the soil beneath them, they can be particularly susceptible to pesticide poisoning. Consider reducing pesticide use around your home and on your lawn and give the Robins a break. I guarantee they will thank you for the effort. 

Robins are often the first bird to sing in the morning, a few beginning even before the sun is up. On warm spring and summer nights when it is nice enough to keep the windows open they often wake me up before my alarm goes off at 5:20 a.m.! The song always seems happy and I never tire of it. In 1949 in Life Histories of North American Birds, Winsor Marrett Tyler offered the following description of the Robin's song "The robin is at his best when he is singing. In the long choruses at morning and evening, and frequently for shorter periods during the day, he devotes himself to song, and as he stands motionless on a high perch, his head thrown back a little, whistling his happy phrases, his nerves relax, it seems, and a thrushlike calm comes over him: for the time, he seems at peace. "Cheerily, cheery" is a favorite rendering of his song, aptly suggesting by sound and meaning the joyous tenor of the phrases, and the liquid quality of the notes."  

American Robins can be found in all of our parks and neighborhoods and even in our most developed urban areas along Route 18. Learn their easy to recognize song and use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find some places to look and listen for them. The Guide is available at: http://www.friendsebec.com/ebparks.htm. For more information about the American Robin visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/american_robin/id/ac.  ;


Published on the EB Patch, 17 February, 2012

Backyard Feeder Birds - The Mourning Dove

Posted by Friends EB EC on February 15, 2012 at 7:45 PM Comments comments (0)

The sleek brownish-gray Mourning dove is a common year-round resident in East Brunswick and can be found just about anywhere. Mourning doves are very easy to identify, with their pretty grayish brown colors and a small head. In flight, at least at first glance, they can often be mistaken for a small hawk, with their rapid direct flight, long pointy wings and long tail.

Mourning doves don't typically visit feeders but will readily forage on the ground beneath them on whatever has spilled out. Spreading a few handfuls of bird seed on the ground or some other flat surface is another easy way to attract them. The gentle "cooing" call of the Mourning dove is one of the most recognizable calls around my yard each year, often heard from before sunrise and then all through the day until it gets dark in the evening. Besides the cardinal and the robin, it is usually the first bird I hear each morning. Mourning doves are exceptionally swift fliers and their wings make a distinctive "whirring" sound as they take off. 

In the late 1800's bird identification was becoming an increasingly favorite past time of many people. With this focus, many new bird guides were being published. Most of these began to use field-marks to split and identify species, but binoculars were not readily available and birding with a gun was still quite in vogue. The field guides often provided useful field-marks for identifying a bird in the hand after it had been shot and most only had a few rudimentary line drawings. It wouldn't be until 1934 when Roger Tory Peterson would publish his first Field Guide to the Birds with paintings of all the species covered, that there would be a sea-change and the focus would really shift to identification of birds in the field. One of the cross-over books between the late 1800's and Peterson's ground breaking field guide, was Frank M. Chapman's Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America first published in 1909.


Chapman's Handbook still retained the writing prose that was a mainstay of earlier natural history works and detailed descriptions of each bird, but also included drawings illustrating various key field marks and birds. I really like his description of the Mourning dove "During the nesting season they may be found in pairs, generally in open woodlands or tree-bordered fields. They also visit roads and lanes to dust themselves. The sweet, sad call of the male has won for this species its common name; it consists of several soft coos, which may be written: coo-0-0, ah-coo-0-0--coo-o-o--coo-o-o. Under favorable circumstances these notes may be heard at a distance of at least two hundred and fifty yards; they are uttered slowly and tenderly, and with such apparent depth of feeling that one might easily imagine the bird was mourning the loss of his mate, instead of singing a love song to her."

Mourning doves can be found in all of our parks and neighborhoods and even in our most developed urban areas along Route 18. Learn their easy to recognize calls and use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find some places to look and listen for them. The Guide is available at: http://www.friendsebec.com/ebparks.htm. For more information about Mourning doves visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mourning_Dove/id/ac.

Published on the EB Patch, 15 February 2012

 

Backyard Bird Feeder Birds - Blackbirds: What's in a Flock?

Posted by Friends EB EC on February 13, 2012 at 8:35 PM Comments comments (0)

There are quite a few "black birds" that could show up around your yard or be seen flying overhead in East Brunswick; European starling, Common grackle, American crow, Brown-headed cowbird, Red-winged blackbird, Fish crow, Boat-tailed grackle, Turkey vulture, Black vulture and believe it or not, even the Common Raven. The first four are probably the most likely to actually be seen in a backyard, but Red-winged blackbirds are very common in the huge blackbird flocks now being seen around town at dusk. Anyone living near the landfill should also learn to separate Common crows from Fish crows, and Common grackles from Boat-tailed grackles, because Fish crows can be quite common in that area too and Boat-tailed grackles continue to expand their range and abundance in New Jersey. Turkey vultures are also very common around town as these huge black birds fly overhead looking for a tasty dead rotting meal. Occasionally Black vultures appear overhead too and can be separated from the more abundant and larger turkey vultures by their stubbier white-tipped wings and regular flapping. Both of these vultures were covered in a previous post (http://eastbrunswick.patch.com/blog_posts/vultures-natures-garbage-disposal). Dan Brill, a colleague of mine and a phenomenal birder also saw two ravens fly over Bordentown Avenue recently and has seen them at the landfill in the past as well.


All of these birds have fascinating aspects to their life histories, but the European starling also has an interesting human-related history. Like the House sparrow, it was introduced from Europe starting sometime in the mid-19th century. More may have been written about the introduction of this species to the United States then just about any other bird. An early article in the Wilson Bulletin describes its appearance in Essex County, N.J., and subsequent spread in the county in the first years of the 20th century (http://www.jstor.org/stable/4154388) and another provides a detailed overview of its rapid spread in New Jersey and the northeast through 1928 (http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/biogeog/COOK1928.htm). While the spread of exotic animals is very interesting from an ecological perspective, the starling should be the poster child for a cautionary tale about messing with nature. The circumstances surrounding its introduction are nothing less than fascinating.

The success of the European starling in the United States is generally attributed to the American Acclimatization Society, an unusual New York City organization, founded by wealthy New York residents, that was devoted to bringing European species of plants and animals to the United States. The group apparently introduced the starling in an effort to bring all the birds named in Shakespeare's plays to the United States (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Acclimatization_Society).   

Many black birds have a tendency to flock together and this is the time of the year when huge flocks of starlings, grackles, Red-winged blackbirds, cowbirds and even occasionally crows can be seen around town. The number of birds and size of these flocks is really awesome and tens of thousands of birds is not unusual. The noise from these huge flocks is often deafening. These flocks are often observed at dusk as the birds come together from widely scattered daytime feeding areas before heading to overnight roosts. These nighttime roosts are often in woods and marshes. The birds in the roosts can actually change the composition of the vegetation by dispersing seeds and by the impact of their huge amount of defecation. I published a paper on this in the Northeastern Naturalist that might be of interest (http://www.jstor.org/pss/3858320). 

Counting birds in big flocks is challenging, but if you are lucky enough to have one come over your house during the Great Backyard Bird Count, here are some tips on how to do it: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/bird-counting-201

An excellent reference to the Birds of Middlesex County was prepared by the Edison Wetlands Association. This guide includes information on places to bird and the seasonal occurrence of birds in our area. It can be found online at http://www.leoraw.com/hpenv/data/BirdsofMiddlesexCounty.pdf. A list of the 40 Most Common Birds in Middlesex County was also compiled from various sources by the truly excellent Nature Blog "A DC Birding Blog" (http://dendroica.blogspot.com/2008/06/most-common-birds-in-middlesex-county.html). If you haven't visited this blog, what are you waiting for?        

For more information on all of our "black birds" visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/search/ac

Use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find places to explore and to look for all of our black birds. The Guide is available at: http://www.friendsebec.com/ebparks.htm. ;

 

 

 

 

 

Published on the EB Patch 13 Feb, 2012

Backyard Bird Feeder Birds - Blackbirds: What's in a Flock?

Posted by Friends EB EC on February 13, 2012 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (0)

There are quite a few "black birds" that could show up around your yard or be seen flying overhead in East Brunswick; European starling, Common grackle, American crow, Brown-headed cowbird, Red-winged blackbird, Fish crow, Boat-tailed grackle, Turkey vulture, Black vulture and believe it or not, even the Common Raven. The first four are probably the most likely to actually be seen in a backyard, but Red-winged blackbirds are very common in the huge blackbird flocks now being seen around town at dusk. Anyone living near the landfill should also learn to separate Common crows from Fish crows, and Common grackles from Boat-tailed grackles, because Fish crows can be quite common in that area too and Boat-tailed grackles continue to expand their range and abundance in New Jersey. Turkey vultures are also very common around town as these huge black birds fly overhead looking for a tasty dead rotting meal. Occasionally Black vultures appear overhead too and can be separated from the more abundant and larger turkey vultures by their stubbier white-tipped wings and regular flapping. Both of these vultures were covered in a previous post (http://eastbrunswick.patch.com/blog_posts/vultures-natures-garbage-disposal). Dan Brill, a colleague of mine and a phenomenal birder also saw two ravens fly over Bordentown Avenue recently and has seen them at the landfill in the past as well.


All of these birds have fascinating aspects to their life histories, but the European starling also has an interesting human-related history. Like the House sparrow, it was introduced from Europe starting sometime in the mid-19th century. More may have been written about the introduction of this species to the United States then just about any other bird. An early article in the Wilson Bulletin describes its appearance in Essex County, N.J., and subsequent spread in the county in the first years of the 20th century (http://www.jstor.org/stable/4154388) and another provides a detailed overview of its rapid spread in New Jersey and the northeast through 1928 (http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/biogeog/COOK1928.htm). While the spread of exotic animals is very interesting from an ecological perspective, the starling should be the poster child for a cautionary tale about messing with nature. The circumstances surrounding its introduction are nothing less than fascinating.

The success of the European starling in the United States is generally attributed to the American Acclimatization Society, an unusual New York City organization, founded by wealthy New York residents, that was devoted to bringing European species of plants and animals to the United States. The group apparently introduced the starling in an effort to bring all the birds named in Shakespeare's plays to the United States (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Acclimatization_Society).   

Many black birds have a tendency to flock together and this is the time of the year when huge flocks of starlings, grackles, Red-winged blackbirds, cowbirds and even occasionally crows can be seen around town. The number of birds and size of these flocks is really awesome and tens of thousands of birds is not unusual. The noise from these huge flocks is often deafening. These flocks are often observed at dusk as the birds come together from widely scattered daytime feeding areas before heading to overnight roosts. These nighttime roosts are often in woods and marshes. The birds in the roosts can actually change the composition of the vegetation by dispersing seeds and by the impact of their huge amount of defecation. I published a paper on this in the Northeastern Naturalist that might be of interest (http://www.jstor.org/pss/3858320). 

Counting birds in big flocks is challenging, but if you are lucky enough to have one come over your house during the Great Backyard Bird Count, here are some tips on how to do it: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/bird-counting-201

An excellent reference to the Birds of Middlesex County was prepared by the Edison Wetlands Association. This guide includes information on places to bird and the seasonal occurrence of birds in our area. It can be found online at http://www.leoraw.com/hpenv/data/BirdsofMiddlesexCounty.pdf. A list of the 40 Most Common Birds in Middlesex County was also compiled from various sources by the truly excellent Nature Blog "A DC Birding Blog" (http://dendroica.blogspot.com/2008/06/most-common-birds-in-middlesex-county.html). If you haven't visited this blog, what are you waiting for?        

For more information on all of our "black birds" visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/search/ac

Use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find places to explore and to look for all of our black birds. The Guide is available at: http://www.friendsebec.com/ebparks.htm.

Published on the EB Patch 13 Feb 2012

 

Backyard Bird Feeder Birds - The House Sparrow: Gamin, Tramp, Hoodlum

Posted by Friends EB EC on February 12, 2012 at 10:25 AM Comments comments (0)

This is a series of articles about the birds that visit my backyard feeders and that are seen around my yard this winter. Please share any photographs or observations from your feeders with us on the Friends website (www.friendsebec.com) or by emailing them to friends.ebec@gmail.com. As a Friends member you can also post your photographs directly to the website! Also consider joining the Friends on the weekend of February 17-20 and participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count (http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/). Details and a Field Guide to the common birds likely to be found in a backyard are on the Friends website.

The House sparrow, or English sparrow, is one of our most common birds in residential areas, often making its nest in holes in and around homes. We have a pair in our yard that has nested in a hole beneath the eaves and in an old bird house too. The House sparrow is a bird of towns and neighborhoods and cities and farms but not woods or fields or meadows. Wherever people have settled, the House sparrow has followed. Even its scientific species name "domesticus" indicates its strong association with people. "domesticus" is Latin for "belonging to the house". 

The House sparrow occurs in small noisy flocks, constantly chirping as they perch in the open or quickly duck for cover into a shrub at the first sign of danger. The males are sharp looking birds, with a brown back, brown head, gray cap and black "bib" from the beak to the center of the chest. The females are a drab, grayish brown rather indistinct bird but usually occur with males, making identification a bit easier.  

I can't really put my finger on why, but I like House sparrows even though I know they compete for cavity space with other birds like nuthatches and woodpeckers and chickadees. Maybe it's familiarity, or maybe it's their amazing history in the United States. House sparrows were not part of our fauna before 1852 when they were first introduced from Europe. Since then, these highly successful little birds have spread across nearly all of North and Central America, throughout the Caribbean and in a large part of South America too. The story of their introduction is fascinating and shows what can happen when we move living things around the globe to places they don't naturally occur.

My sentiments about the House sparrow aside, in the decades after its introduction there was widespread disdain for the bird. As I often do, I like to look through older ornithological literature to get a historical perspective on the birds I am writing about or conducting field surveys for. Since I knew the House sparrow was introduced into the United States in the 1850's I pulled out one of my oldest books on New Jersey Birds to see what was written about the House sparrow more than 100 years ago. My 1896 copy of the Birds of New Jersey by Charles A. Shriner, the State Fish and Game Protector for the Fish and Game Commission of the State of New Jersey is fragile and brown and fascinating. There is a very long entry on the House sparrow, much of it focused on how to trap and kill them. The entry lists four other common names for the House sparrow; English sparrow, owing to its European roots, and Gamin, Tramp, Hoodlum. I knew what tramp and hoodlum meant, but Gamin was new to me. A Gamin is a "street urchin" or a "waif", and when combined with Tramp and Hoodlum should portray a less than positive feeling for the bird. The entry is fascinating both for its historical perspective and the way it describes the House sparrow. It is a little long (and I've only provided part of it) but worth the read:

"The English sparrow was introduced into the United States in 1852 by the Brooklyn Institute, eight pairs being imported. These did not thrive and members of the Institute and others subscribed to a fund of $200 for the acquirement of more. The second lot arrived in the latter part of the year and these fifty were let loose at the Narrows in New York harbor; the rest were placed in the tower of the chapel at Greenwood Cemetery. They were released in the spring of 1853 and did well. From that time to the year 1881 English sparrows were imported direct from Europe to various states, the last consignment being to Iowa city, Iowa, in 1881. Since that time the birds have spread themselves over nearly the whole of the United States and Canada, and there is little doubt that in a few years they will have possession of the whole country. 


"The object of the introduction of the English sparrow was the destruction of insect pests. As destroyers of insects they have proven a lamentable failure in this country. All reports concerning them alike: to-wit, they do very little good and an immense amount of harm. In a number of states bounties have been offered for their destruction, but as there was no concerted action all over the country the diminution in numbers was scarcely perceptible. The birds destroy fruit and grain, both in blossom and in the more or less advanced state, and they annoy and drive away large numbers of beneficial birds. The few insects they destroy are but trifle in the scale when the large number of insectivorous birds driven away by them is considered." 

House sparrows can be found in many of our parks and neighborhoods. Use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find places to explore. The Guide is available at: http://www.friendsebec.com/ebparks.htm. For more information about House sparrows visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/House_Sparrow/id/ac


Puvlished on the EB Parch, 12 Feb, 2012

 

Backyard Feeder Birds - The Industrious Little Downy Woodpecker

Posted by Friends EB EC on February 10, 2012 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (0)

The little Downy woodpecker is one of our most common year round residents and can be found around homes, in woods and even sometimes in brushy fields. It frequents bird feeders filled with sunflower seeds and is particularly fond of suet. Downy woodpeckers often feed at the tips of very small branches and can be very acrobatic, hanging upside down or moving slowly along on the narrowest most flexible branches. They also move up and down trees looking for insects and despite a bold black and white pattern, are often unassuming and inconspicuous. 

The Downy woodpecker is only about the size of a House sparrow and is boldly marked with a jet black back with bright white "ladder-like" lines and a bright white patch in the middle of the back. The male also sports a bright red patch on the back of the head. Downy woodpeckers can be confused with the very similar looking but larger Hairy woodpecker.

The Downy woodpecker is much more common in East Brunswick than the Hairy woodpecker, especially around homes. A helpful field mark to separate the two is the size and length of the bill. Comparing the bill length to the width of the head is a really useful field tool. In the Downy woodpecker the bill is short and less than the width of the head. In the Hairy woodpecker the bill is at least as long as the head is wide. With a little work and patience the two will be easy to separate. A convenient side by side comparison to both woodpeckers is at http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/AboutBirdsandFeeding/woodpeckerIDtable.htm ;

In previous articles, I have frequently quoted from well-known ornithologists and older ornithological literature to describe the life histories of our backyard birds. I find these resources and the writing fascinating. Many of the references describe Downy woodpeckers as "industrious" because they continuously and methodically search for food. The renowned ornithologist Edward Howe Forbush noted in 1927 that the Downy woodpecker is a "model of patient industry and perseverance." 

Some of my favorite ornithological references are my tattered and browning Life History Bulletins of North American Birds published by the Smithsonian Institution in the first half of the 20th century. This massive series was written by Arthur Cleveland Bent and other experts he enlisted for help. I've chosen some quotes from the entry on the Downy Woodpecker that is within Bulletin 174 (Life Histories of North American Woodpeckers - 1939) to illustrate a little bit about the life history of this common little woodpecker.

On Feeding - "The downy woodpecker sits very still as it digs out a grub from under the bark of a tree, or from wood under the bark, or as it dislodges a bit of bark in its hunt for a cocoon or a bundle of insects' eggs. We hear the gentle taps of its bill, and when our eyes, led by the sound, catch sight of the bird, perched on a branch or the trunk of the tree, we understand why it has been called industrious. It is concentrated on its work; it works patiently, seriously, like a carpenter working earnestly with his chisel, spending a full minute, sometimes more, to secure a bit of food."         


On Flying - "The downy woodpecker, like most of its family, has an undulating flight when flying a considerable distance. The undulations are not as deep, as in the plunging flight of a goldfinch; it gives rather the effect of a ship pitching slightly in a head sea. A few strokes carry the bird up to the crest of the wave - the wings clapping close to the sides of the body - then, at the crest, with the wings shut, the bird tilts slightly forward, and slides down into the next trough."

On Voice - "...we cannot be for long near one of these little birds, hidden high among leafy branches, before we learn of its presence. Within a few minutes, long before we catch sight of it, we are almost certain to hear its voice. Its call note is a single abrupt syllable, like "tchcik"...I believe one characteristic of the note that helps us distinguish it is its shortness - it is over almost as soon as it has begun, like a dot in the telegraph code. But in spite of being sharp, it is a modest little sound."     

Downy woodpeckers can be found in many of our parks and neighborhoods. Learn their easy to recognize calls and use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find some places to look and listen for them. The Guide is available at: http://www.friendsebec.com/ebparks.htm. For more information about Downy woodpeckers visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Downy_Woodpecker/id/ac

Published on the EB Patch, 10 Feb 2012

 

Backyard Feeder Birds - The American Goldfinch, our New Jersey State Bird: But Why?

Posted by Friends EB EC on February 8, 2012 at 6:55 PM Comments comments (0)

The American Goldfinch is a common year-round resident in East Brunswick. Goldfinches visit bird feeders filled with sunflower seeds, but are particularly fond of feeders filled with Nyjer thistle seed. In the winter (and females at any season), goldfinches are a drab olive-yellow with distinct black wings featuring a bright white stripe. In the summer, the dull yellowish colors are transformed into a stunning bright yellow giving the bird its common name. Goldfinches can also be easily identified by their songs and by their distinctive "roller-coaster" like flight. The song is often given in flight and commonly gives away their presence long before they are seen. They also call from the tops of trees where despite their bright color, the calls give away their location. Interestingly, goldfinches are also one of the latest birds to breed in New Jersey, sometimes waiting until August to initiate nesting.


I've referenced the great New Jersey ornithologist, Dr. Leon Augustus Hausman for other species because his series on New Jersey birds is excellent and I love the way he desc"ribes various life history attributes of the birds. His description of the goldfinch in The Buntings, Finches and Their Allies of New Jersey (NJ Agricultural Experiment Station, 1936)" is no exception: "Goldfinches fly with a bouncing or undulating flight, folding their wings and dropping regularly, then turning upwards, and at each dip call in a clear sweet tone, "te tee' dee dee". The call is not invariably given in flight but is often heard in the tree tops when the birds are at rest. It is in tree tops that troops of goldfinches love to gather, where they often fill the air with a medley of sweet, varied notes, canary-like in character, with a distinctly plaintive quality, the upward slurred syllables "swee swee" being frequently introduced." To me, the call always sounds like "Perchikorree, Perchikorree, Perchikorree." The songs and calls also give the goldfinch its other common name, the "wild canary."

The goldfinch is almost always noted in the older ornithological literature as having a wonderful disposition, of being "happy," "merry," "cheerful." Of course, anthropomorphizing wildlife is never a good idea, but it does seem like a happy bird. In 1935, Roger Tory Peterson, the greatest ornithologist of modern times, said "The responsibilities of life seem to rest lightly on the Goldfinch's sunny shoulders." 

I suspect that most every elementary school child in New Jersey knows that the beautiful goldfinch is our State bird. I think I learned it in my first years in school.  What I didn't know is that no one is sure why it was chosen. While doing some research for this article, I found the original legislation naming the goldfinch the New Jersey State Bird and an interesting commentary by the New Jersey State Librarian on the history behind the legislation. Robert Lupp, Supervising Librarian, New Jersey Publications, State Library noted "New Jersey adopted the goldfinch on June 27, 1935. And that's about all anyone knows about New Jersey's state bird! Unfortunately, no information is available as to why the eastern goldfinch was chosen New Jersey's state bird. Neither the original bill nor the legislative journals (which do not record debate) provide a clue.”  

If I had to guess why the goldfinch was chosen as our State bird, I suspect it had to do with the largely agricultural nature of New Jersey in the 1930's. At that time, before modern agricultural techniques were used, New Jersey was a patchwork of small family farms. Fallow fields were rotated with active farming to allow the soil to rest. Weedy pastures and fields and abandoned farms were likely abundant too. These are all the haunts of the goldfinch. It was probably very abundant and one of the most easily recognizable and distinctive birds around. So why not choose it? 

Here is the enabling legislation:

The Eastern Goldfinch is the New Jersey state bird, having been so declared by Senate, No . 241.

SENATE, No. 241

 

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

--------

Introduced January 29, 1935

By Mr. KUSER

Referred to Committee on Miscellaneous Business

 

An Act to create a New Jersey State Bird

BE IT ENACTED by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of

New Jersey:

1. The Eastern Goldfinch is hereby designated as the New Jersey

State bird.

2. This act shall take effect immediately.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

STATEMENT

The purpose of this act is to create a State bird. Forty-four

of the States have already designated State birds.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

See also Chapter 283, Laws of 1935.

Older field guides and references call the goldfinch the Eastern goldfinch, but it is the same bird as the American goldfinch.  

Goldfinches can be found in many of our parks and neighborhoods. Learn their easy to recognize calls and songs and use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find some places to look and listen for them. The Guide is available at: http://www.friendsebec.com/ebparks.htm. For more information about goldfinches visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/american_goldfinch/id/ac.

Published on EB Patch, Feb 8,2012


 

Backyard Bird Feeder Birds - The Carolina Wren

Posted by Friends EB EC on February 5, 2012 at 11:05 PM Comments comments (0)

This is a series of articles about the birds that visit my backyard feeders and that are seen around my yard this winter. Please share any photographs or observations from your feeders with us on the Friends website (www.friendsebec.com) or by emailing them to friends.ebec@gmail.com. As a Friends member you can also post your photographs directly to the website! Also consider joining the Friends on the weekend of February 16-19 and participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Details and a Field Guide to the common birds likely to be found in a backyard are on the Friends website.  

The Carolina wren is one of my favorite birds. There is a pair that nests somewhere in my neighborhood and they visit my yard and feeders fairly regularly. They are particularly fond of suet in the winter, but will also take sunflower seeds. The Carolina wren is a common year-round resident in East Brunswick and can be found in many of our neighborhoods and parks. They are cool and distinctive little birds, with rich brown colors, short wings, a stiff upward pointing tail and a creamy white stripe right above the eyes. They are skulkers, more at ease in thickets and shrubs and tangles than out in the open. They also rarely sit still for more than a few seconds and have a habit of quickly disappearing into thick vegetation the moment they are disturbed. Despite sometimes being hard to see as they lurk in thickets, they can be very easily recognized by their songs and calls. In fact, they are more often heard than seen. Once you learn what they sound like, it will give away their presence and with some patience the birds can usually be tracked down for a look. Carolina wrens will sing throughout the year, even in winter, when most other birds are silent. They also respond to spishing, but unlike many other birds won't tarry too long, just a quick inquisitive look to see what is making the sound and then they are gone. 


For many years, I have been collecting old natural history books. Searching through old book shops for some long ago written nature book is one of my great pleasures. While Internet resources are amazing and I am continuously stunned by the vast amount of excellent information available, there is still nothing like an old book to me. I've amassed a pretty significant collection of old natural history books and peruse them frequently, both for professional purposes as an Environmental Consultant and simply for the joy of reading what early naturalists and ecologists had to say about things. Their take on nature and the way they describe things in a less modern world is often fascinating to me. They also run circles around my ability to convey the natural world around me in writing they way they did. So, having said that, as I was looking for information about the Carolina wren I pulled out my somewhat dusty copy of Arthur Cleveland Bent's 1948 Life Histories of North American Nuthatches, Wrens, Thrashers and their Allies. Bent was one of the great American Ornithologists, and I thought I'd let his words describe some life history aspects of the Carolina wren:

"The Carolina wren is one of our great singers, a beautiful singer and a most persistent singer. It is one of the few birds that sing more or less during every month in the year, though it sings most persistently and most enthusiastically during the late winter and spring months; it sings in all kinds of weather, spring sunshine, summer rains, or winter snowstorms; during the height of its song period it may be heard all through the day, from dawn to dusk. It has a varied repertoire; the songs of other birds are often suggested, or perhaps imitated, leading to some confusion at times. But it has a very distinct and characteristic song of its own, which is unmistakable.

"The song is a loud, ringing combination of rich, whistling notes, given with a definite and emphatic swing and a decided accent; it can be heard for a long distance and is so pleasing in its cheering effect that it can hardly pass unnoticed by even the most casual observer. The phrases consist of two to four syllables, usually two or three, and each phrase is repeated two or three times with short intervals between the phrases. Among the 28 references to the song of this bird that I have consulted, I find an almost endless variety of interpretations, expressed in human words or in expressive syllables. I shall select only a few of the best of each which, to my mind, most clearly recall the song. Among the human words, those that please me best are "tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle"; others are "sweet heart, sweet heart," "sweet William, sweet William," "come to me, come to me," "Richelieu, Richelieu, Richelieu," "Jew-Pet-er, Jew-Pet-er," "tree- double-tree, double-tree, double-tree," "sugar to eat, sugar to eat, sugar to eat, sugar," "which jailer, which jailer," etc."

"Like others of its tribe, the Carolina wren is the embodiment of tireless energy and activity, seldom still for a moment, as he dodges in and out of the underbrush or creeps over and around a pile of logs, appearing and disappearing with the suddenness of a mouse, diving into one crevice in a wood pile, and popping out of another in some unexpected place. His movements are exceedingly quick and sudden, accompanied by frequent teetering of the body and nervous jerking of the upturned tail, chattering to himself the while, or stopping occasionally to pour out one or two strains of his joyous song, for he is a merry little chap and seems to enjoy his elusive way. We may watch him thus, if we stand quietly, but if we move toward him, he immediately darts into the thickest cover and disappears; it is useless to pursue him, for he has a tantalizing way of keeping out of sight ahead of us and mocking us with his derisive chatter; he is more than a match for us in the game of hide and seek. C. J. Maynard (1896) says: "I have frequently seen these wrens in isolated bushes and, after seeing them vanish, have beat about the place where they disappeared, then through it without starting them, afterwards finding that the wily birds had escaped by running with great rapidity beneath the grass and weeds to the next thicket."

Carolina wrens can be found in many of our parks and neighborhoods. Learn their easy to recognize calls and songs and use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find some places to look and listen for them. The Guide is available at: http://www.friendsebec.com/ebparks.htm. For more information about cardinals visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/carolina_wren/id/ac.

Publisehd on the EB Patch, Fevruary 5, 2012