Fun at the CAPE MAYgration Shorebird and Horseshoe Crab Festival

Gail and Ferd in Cape May 2013

Gail and I just got back from a really fun trip to Cape May, NJ. It is a birding paradise!

Cape Maygration poster

We went specifically for this event, to see the spectacle of horseshoe crabs as they come out to spawn, which coincides with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of shorebirds during their northern spring migration. The birds will travel thousands of miles. They stop here to refuel before continuing their trip north, some into Canada. More info here.

We became aware of Cape May through our friend and naturalist extraordinaire, Mark Garland. We had run into him several times at birding trips in the New River Gorge area of West Virginia. He suggested we visit him in his natural habitat some day, and we took him up on it!

Here is a short little video with Mark explaining a bit about the phenomenon:

And here are a few random pics.

Horseshoe crabs:


A variety of shorebirds, eating the horseshoe crab eggs:

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Some horseshoe crabs end up on their backs:


Mark shows us a tiny little horseshoe crab egg stuck to a bit of seaweed:


Ferd flips a crab back onto its feet, while a crab friend gives the evil eye!

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A male crab attaches itself to the back of a female, doing it crabby-style!


This was fun, friendly, educational, spectacular, and all on a beautiful day! Memorable! Thanks, Mark!

I’ll post pictures of some of our other sightings in the next few posts. 🙂

The Magnolia Plantation Audubon Swamp Garden

I recently posted on our trip to Charleston, SC and on the nearby plantations. While visiting the Magnolia Plantation, Gail and I were very happily surprised to find this gem, the Audubon Swamp Garden! Here are a few photos taken during the visit.

This area around Charleston is known as “low country” because it is at or below sea level. The rivers that course through here are tidal rivers, rising and falling with the ocean tides. So it is not surprising to find swampy, marshy habitat. This particular swampy patch had trails where the land was solid, and a boardwalk where it was not. This afforded great views of the wildlife.

Here is a typical view of the swamp, with a Great Blue Heron.

And a close up shot of the same bird. Beautiful! 🙂

In another part of the swamp we stumbled onto this pair of Wood Ducks

… and close by was their brood of ducklings!

Then we spotted these Common Gallinules. Maybe they are “common,” but they were life birds for both Gail and me.

There was action on the water, on land, in the trees, and in the air. An Osprey soared by, grasping it’s fish meal, probably headed back to the nest to feed its young.

I always have to laugh when I see a Cattle Egret. They will always remind me of Kevin’s Cattle Egret.

We had wonderful close-up and prolonged views of this Little Blue Heron.

This juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron was also a life bird for Gail and me.

But the bird of the day had to be the Great Egret. Or should I say egretS! There were a zillion of them, all over the trees, on countless nests!

Parents were flying back and forth with food for the young ones, who were playful while mom was away, and agitated for food when she returned.

What a beautiful bird!

When we were at the plantation before coming to the swamp garden, we saw this bird flying high overhead and had no idea what it was.

But we saw it again at the swamp garden. These birds were also all over the place, flying in and out of their nests. We were able to identify them as Anhinga, yet another life bird for us!

There was also a variety of the more common birds, but it was really fun to see such a collection of herons, egrets and other water birds. Memorable! 🙂

Finally, a picture of a non-bird item, a beautiful Mimosa Tree. They might be beautiful, but these Asian invaders take over roadsides and new riparian growth areas, and are able to grow just fine even in a swamp! Notice the beautiful Spanish Moss, which we learned is neither Spanish nor a moss. Who names these things anyway!?

We had a great time at the Magnolia Plantation, and if you ever go, don’t miss the spectacular Audubon Swamp Garden, with trails and boardwalk laid out nicely for easy viewing. You might pick up a new life bird, or two, or three! 😀

Bethabara Park clean-up

Princess Gail and I spent a bit of our morning with a few other members of our Audubon group cleaning up a part of Bethabara Park. It is the site of the Moravian settlement of the mid 1700’s that would eventually become Winston-Salem. A lot of the old history is preserved here. The park also has plenty of green space, woods and a pond that give birds plenty of habitats, and birders plenty of opportunities. So our group does a quarterly clean-up to help preserve this special place.

It made me mad! I simply cannot put myself into the minds of people who thoughtlessly trash and pollute our world. I cannot conceive of the idea of finishing my beer and throwing the empty can out the car window! It’s just all wrong! I guess there will always be people who make messes, and others who clean them up. This morning, I wasn’t liking mess-making people very much!

Here’s a very short list: beer and soda cans, beer bottles (broken and unbroken,) booze bottles, plastic water bottles, wrappers of all sorts, plastic bags, fast food cups, styrofoam cups, lids, straws, a shoe, a wheel, broken toys, an eyeliner, a perfume bottle, and even a used pregnancy test (one line out of two turned pink.) We filled many garbage bags.

The best part of the morning, besides the simple joy of doing something good, was hearing at least four Wood Thrushes and seeing one. They sing a beautiful song! A fine example of what we are trying to preserve.

In writing this post, as I was googling for images, I stumbled upon this North Carolina gem!

The Swat-a-Litterbug Program was designed by the NCDOT to reduce roadside littering. Clever, funny, green, and successful. I love my state! 🙂

Birding at Whitetop Mountain, VA

I’ll share some pictures of a little birding trip we took this morning. We went with some of our Winston-Salem Audubon friends to Whitetop Mountain, at the westernmost tip of the state of Virginia, in the heart of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. There was a risk of thunderstorms, but we all took a chance and drove the two and a half hours to get there, and had great luck. The overcast skies kept the temperatures down, and the birds up! It poured for most of the drive back, but that was alright.

How about that view!? It was worth the trip all by itself!

Here’s Gail, looking pretty serious. Pretty and serious. But you gotta know, the birding folks we hang with are pretty serious about it!

That’s me at the far left. I fit right in with the rest of the bird nerds! LOL

The dude with the long, white ponytail at the far right is a member of the Blue Ridge Audubon group. He and his wife, right next to him, were our most gracious guides for this outing. They knew all the local scoop on what birds where.

They took us to a part of the mountain where the Appalachian Trail cuts through. It was cool to walk even a tiny portion of it. That’s Princess Gail nicely taking up the rear, with her nice rear! 😉

We were at this spot, though, specifically to look for the Vesper Sparrow, which usually summers further north, but sometimes shows this far south at the cooler altitudes in this type of habitat. We found it!

Besides many of the regulars, we saw several other birds you don’t see every day, including Kentucky Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Alder Flycatcher. And we heard others that were too elusive to be seen, including Blue-headed Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Least Flycatcher, and a real treat, the beautiful song of the Veery thrush.

People who like birds tend to be naturalists in general. We frequently stop to ooh and aah about this plant, or this tree, or this bug, or this butterfly, or….

beautiful mountain flowers,

and a beaver’s home within a marshy river,

and even the man made beauty of planted Christmas trees, a classic Blue Ridge industry.

It was another awesome trip to the Blue Ridge, and we are grateful for a safe trip home in heavy rain. We are already looking forward to our next trip to this beautiful part of the world!

Sunday Scenery – June 6, 2010

Here are two shots taken yesterday while Gail and I were hiking and birding in the Blue Ridge Mountains close to Asheville, North Carolina. In the first shot you see a number of wild mountain flowers and plants, including a typical wild mountain rhodo. In the second, another rhodo, with a little extra surprise, a beautiful indigo bunting!