Okay, so here’s where I do some sharing. I’m pretty shameless and self-deprecating so I find this more hilarious and less embarrassing. Just like when I wrote daily about my journey through cancer treatments I write to share, comfort, and inform. The unknown is scary and it’s rather humbling to have to ask for help. Knowledge and wisdom are gifts, sometimes hard-fought-for gifts, but gifts nonetheless.
I hate not knowing something and I hate having to ask for help even more. I’m neither brilliant nor particularly skilled at any one thing but if I know something or I can make your way easier I make sure to do just that. Like I said, I’m not particularly brilliant or skilled, so I write what I know and understand. If by honestly telling my truths I can help someone along that way that’s a complete bonus.
So now then, on to today’s story…
As I told you earlier this month, I’m a novice birder. And as I showed you yesterday I randomly found two pretty good photos of a Red-bellied Woodpecker that I took years before I even knew it was a Red-bellied Woodpecker. So I spent some time this morning looking through more old photos to figure out if I have any more photos of beautiful birds that I didn’t know the names of at the time. As it turns out I do. I’ll share the American Goldfinch and whatever other photos I come across during my search later this week.
Today’s photo of what I now know is a Blue Jay was taken on January 5, 2010. It is probably one of the first, if not the actual first photo I’ve ever taken of a Blue Jay, or for that matter, any bird. It’s not particularly good because it has its back to me. I took this shot for that exact reason so I could get a good look at its details.
I’m a city girl, born and raised in South Philly, where there aren’t too many birds other than pigeons and an assortment of sparrows. So when I saw my first Blue Jay visit our backyard birdfeeder I was very excited and very alarmed. I was sure it was someone’s pet that got loose from its cage. It just had to be, right? There are no blue birds in New Jersey, right? Certainly nothing this bright and spectacular lives outside of the rainforest or the Amazon, right? This is someone’s exotic bird, right? I called the hubs at work and told him there was an escaped exotic bird eating at our backyard feeder. *laughs* I wanted to show him the pretty escaped bird, but as it turns out the pretty blue bird was both wily and elusive so it took some time and some doing to get good photos of the fugitive bird.
I thought once I got a few good shots I would post them on our township’s Facebook page in the hopes that the owner of the exotic, and likely freezing to death, bird would come rescue it before January’s cold killed it. *laughs* I’m a little dippy, but I love animals. Thank God I Googled New Jersey blue birds before actually posting a lost bird post. *shakes head*
But now, thinking back, I know now this is where my true love of birding began. Sure I happily fed the backyard birds and took pictures of the pretty red and yellow birds, but it didn’t go any deeper than that. Tracking, and photographing, and researching the elusive and exotic blue bird excited and captivated me, it gave me purpose; learning that Big Blue was in fact not lost or exotic but instead a Jersey resident made me want to identify more.
You always find that which you were not looking for
Ain’t that always the way? *laughs* This is a Red-bellied Woodpecker. I thought the first time I saw this gal was Christmas Day 2012 and I’ve spent almost every day trying to get a good shot of her to no avail. Tonight while looking through old photos from 2009 I found these shots of a female Red-bellied Woodpecker from December 29, 2009. Go figure, I didn’t even know I had them. Beginner’s luck at its finest.
Six years ago we bought a bird feeder to put in our backyard for our new kittens to watch out the window. As it turns out the feeder was good for me too, I fell in love with our backyard birds and honed my photography skills at the same time. Now, six years later my husband and I have both fallen in love with birding and go to places like the Cape May Bird Observatory and the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge to see more and different birds. I’ve always loved the ocean and the beach but I never knew I loved the great outdoors and nature until we bought that bird feeder for our kittens. The ocean always brought me great peace and now the great outdoors brings me great joy.
I’m healthier and happier (we both are) for having fallen in love with birds and my strictly indoor cats are entertained. It’s really a win-win situation.
Because I’ve fallen in love with birds and birding I subscribed to the Jersey Birders e-mail list and a few Facebook groups. Lately I’ve noticed a few people writing about how many birds they’ve seen and identified this year so I decided to sit down and tally up how many different birds I’ve spotted and identified so far this year.
So far this year I’ve seen and identified 35 different species of birds; 16 of those were first sightings for us, 15 of which took place just this summer and fall; two more (laughing gulls and herring gulls) we’d seen many times before but had only ever identified as “Sea Gulls.” Of the 35 different species of birds I’ve been fortunate enough to see this year I’ve been even more fortunate to photograph 32 of the 35, having only missed the wild turkeys, the Downy Woodpecker, and the Red-tailed Hawk that I was too afraid to photograph lest it eat the squirrel in my back yard. I know, I know, that’s nature and the circle of life but I’d have still felt terrible if the poor squirrel got eaten.
I’ve set a goal to see and photograph two more species of birds before 2014 ends, a Bald Eagle and the wild turkeys that I kept missing when they were down the road. When the turkeys stopped showing up down the road I was sure I would not have another opportunity to see more turkeys but then one of the birders on the Jersey Birders list, Howard, shared one of his beautiful photo studies of his trips to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge and lo and behold there they were, turkeys along Jenn’s Trail. Each week his studies showed the turkeys on Jenn’s Trail so now I have hope to finally get a shot of wild turkeys.
Bald Eagles have been spotted at Forsythe, which is colloquially known at “the brig,” and I hope to spot one there as well but we’ve been tossing around the idea of driving down to Maryland to visit the Connowingo Dam, where Bald Eagles have also been known to frequent.
To wrap up, in 2014 we expanded our birding horizons to include “the brig” but have only had one visit to Cape May this year and I’ve all but totally stopped watching, journaling, or photographing our backyard birds. So I’m setting a goal for 2015 to get back to capturing our beautiful backyard birds and to taking walks in the neighborhood to see and photograph more local songbirds in addition to expanding our birding horizons to see more new birds as well. It’s November 18th so I’d like to hope that by November 18th of 2015 we will have seen and identified 70 different species of birds, but I’ll be happy with even one or two more. And if I’m being really greedy or ambitious or pipe dreaming I wouldn’t mind seeing a Snowy Owl or two this winter. Happy birding!
Birds I’ve Seen and Identified So Far This Year
1. Northern Cardinals (male and female)
2. Blue Jays
3. Dark-eyed Juncos
5. Red-tailed Hawks*
6. Carolina Chickadees
7. Double-crested cormorants**
8. Herring Gulls (juvenile and adult)***
9. Laughing Gulls***
10. Robins (at least 2 nests on our property this year)
11. Canada Geese
12. Glossy Ibises**
13. Great Egrets
14. Snowy Egrets
15. Red-winged blackbirds
16. Mute Swans
18. Clapper Rail**
19. Great Blue Herons
20. Black Skimmers**
21. Black-crowned Night-Heron**
22. Forster’s Terns**
23. Short-billed Dowitchers**
25. Lesser Yellowlegs**
26. Juvenile Pintail**
27. Northern Harrier**
28. Ross’s Goose**
29. Yellow-rumped Warbler**
30. Wild Turkeys*
31. Great Black-backed Gull**
32. Downy Woodpeckers*
33. Brown-headed Cowbirds (male and female)
35. Ring-billed Gulls**
* Not photographed
** First sighting
*** Newly identified
Colloquially known as “The Brig” The Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge Brigantine Division features a one-way eight-mile Wildlife Drive where visitors can make their way through wetlands and woodlands in the safety and comfort of their own car. We learned about this amazing place last winter during the Snowy Owl irruption and finally made our way there this past June.
Each time we visit I set a goal to see new birds. Since last June we’ve seen
Great Blue Heron
(to be continued)