Slice of Life #9- A Lifer!

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hAs I mentioned in a previous post, I have recently become a birder.  I love watching the birds at my birdfeeders, learning how to identify the different species, and tracking them for Ebird (a citizen science effort).  One of the byproducts of this new hobby is that I have become much more aware of the birds that are around all the time.  I find myself scanning the trees and skies for birds when I am walking the dogs and sometimes when I am driving.

It amazes me how many gorgeous birds fill the trees around us all the time without most people even noticing.  We tend to think that the sparrows and crows are the only birds around but that is far from true!  There are red, yellow, blue, and rainbow-hued birds right here in New Jersey.  It’s not just the tropics that have those colorful birds!

And as a new birder I am also picking up on the language of the specialty, including the word “lifer”.  A lifer is when a bird is first seen and positively identified by a birder.  I’m only starting out but I have identified 28 individual species just in my own backyard thanks to some bird-friendly landscaping and a lot of bird feeders.  But today I added a very exciting lifer to the list!

Thanks to daylight savings time it was still light out when I came home between work and work this afternoon.  That, coupled with the 50 degree weather, led me to take the dogs on a hike.  I live minutes from a county park so off we went to walk around the lake.  As I soaked up the much-needed vitamin D I noticed a strange bird silhouette in the trees above me.  The sun was shining behind the birds so I could not clearly make out their color but I could see the outline of their bodies and I could hear them calling.  I tried to take a photo but I only had my phone with me and it came out very fuzzy.  But that call!  And the tuft of mohawk-like hair on the head…..could it be a cedar waxwing?

A few birding groups I follow on Facebook had recently mentioned a few sightings of these awesome birds in the area but I was sure it could not be them.  Could I be that lucky?  So while watching them dart around the in the tree limbs above my head I also pulled out the Merlin app on my phone and began to run through a checklist.

  • brownish hue? √
  • usually in flocks in open woods or the edge of a forest? √
  • often perches near the top of leafless trees? √
  • eats berries? √
  • distinct high-pitched call? √

Yes!  They had to be cedar waxwings!  I enjoyed listening to them for a few more minutes while the dogs sat quietly beside me.  Well, quietly until they got bored.  Bailey decided to loudly eat snow and then crash along the boardwalk at that point so the flock lifted into the air and headed towards the island in the center of the lake. I could still hear them chirping as we continued our walk and I enjoyed looking for more of them.  I can’t wait to go back tomorrow with my camera to try and get a worthwhile picture!

Keep your eyes and your ears open, because sometimes the most beautiful things are right in front of you if you’ll only take the time to notice them.  It’s a beautiful world, so slow down and really look at it sometimes!  Especially on these warm days that usher in spring and all that comes with it!

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My very blurry iPhone photo of one of the Cedar Waxwings today

A much better photo from wikimedia.

Cape May Migration


photo taken by me

This morning I rose bright and early for the two and a quarter hour drive to Cape May. I arrived right on time and met up with the other teachers from the Monarch Teacher Network. It was great seeing everyone! After catching up for a bit, I set out on the trail. (If anyone is looking for a great day trip, I highly recommend Cape May State Park!). I spent about an hour walking the trails out to the beach. It was relaxing and gorgeous. I saw 102 monarchs! The weather was warm and sunny, which meant the monarchs were nectaring as opposed to migrating. The birds were also feeding and I did not get to see any hawk clouds, but I saw a ton of migratory birds by themselves!

On the trails, I saw monarchs everywhere! They flew all around me, nectaring and slowly meandering south. I also saw swans, a yellow warbler, a great egret, a crane, sharpies, peregrine falcons, black vultures, and many other butterflies. Needless to say, my camera was constantly out! I ended up with some great shots, which I was very happy about

After I finished meandering along the trail, walking on the beach a bit, and then hanging out at the hawk pavilion, I headed out. First, I said goodbye to the MTN teachers still hanging around and had a great conversation with one of the teachers I took the workshop with 2 years ago. Hope is doing amazing work with her pre-schoolers and it was great to meet up with her again. Hopefully, we will see each other in Mexico later this winter!

After leaving the park, I decided to swing by a few other known monarch hangouts in Cape May Point. It turns out that almost everyone who lives in Cape May Point has some type of butterfly garden, due to the fact that it is the home to such a large migration flyway. I did get a chance to stop at the visitor center and gift shop, and I am now the proud owner of a
Jude Rose handmade chrysalis necklace
. I have been dying for one, but they are only sold at the Cape May Bird Observatory gift shop. I also picked up a butterly field guide, caterpillar field guide, and a monarch finger puppet.

Next, I headed to Pavilion Gardens. Pavilion Gardens is actually a neighborhood traffic circle that has been planted as a butterfly garden. It is such a great use of suburban space! I took my camera and hung out by a fragrant lilac bush for about 25 minutes, snapping pictures. I saw 20-25 monarchs over that time! I even caught two monarchs mating!!!!! I got some great pictures of that process, which I am so happy about. I had never witnessed that before in the wild.

All in all, it was a great day. I couldn’t help thinking what a great class trip this would have been. I wish I could take my students out there, with their writer’s notebooks. just to observe and write. I was itching to write in my notebook, but had forgotten it in the car! It certainly is a spot that cries out to writers. Between the plants, animals, and just plain quiet, I can’t imagine the writing that will come from the park. Instead, I will have to settle for sharing my pictures and my entry with my students, and letting that inspire them!

monarch nectaring
photo taken by me

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