Salt Marsh Safari

Cape May Skimmer Egret_6493 a The day started quietly, with a drive through mist-shrouded farms and forests tinged with early fall color. The calendar said “October”, but by the time we arrived at the dock, the day was already doing a fine imitation of summer. We were here on Cape May Harbor for the Salt Marsh Safari, a two-hour tour on the 40-foot Skimmer through the back bays of Cape May. Before we even got on the boat, we had some great looks at Snowy Egrets (above.)Cape May Skimmer_6484 a

Cape May Skimmer Peep_6823 a FUN FACT: Here’s a Semipalmated Sandpiper. A big name for a little bird! Its feet have short webs between the toes, hence the name. The holes in the mud are made by crabs, a few of which we’ll meet in an upcoming post.

Cape May Skimmer Tri Color_6638 aSome of those aboard were veterans of springtime Skimmer trips, and reported that there weren’t nearly as many birds this go-round. It didn’t bother me, as I still saw two life birds this trip. Quality over quantity! Here’s the first lifer, Tri-colored Heron.

Cape May Skimmer_6525 aThese are not the Skimmer, but a couple of fishing boats anchored along the harbor.

Speaking of fishing, a couple of times our captains scooped up marine life with a bucket for us to examine. There were sea urchins, shrimp, crabs, and a sea star at least six inches across. We also found a couple of large whelks. Most people know these for the empty shells found on the beach, but they are actually snails. Every time the captain tickled the soft creature inside the shell, it fired back with a jet of water.

Cape May Skimmer_6969 a Here’s the second life bird, Whimbrel. The captain brought the boat in for a really close view. Being on a boat has its advantages. As does that long downturned bill, for the Whimbrel. It’s perfect for digging yummy tidbits out of the mud.Cape May Skimmer_6986 a

Shameless plug: if you’re in the Cape May area and want to learn about the wildlife of the marshes, or just want a relaxing boat ride, check out the Skimmer. The captains are friendly and really know their stuff.

Cape May Point SP Duck_7099 a After lunch, we went for a land-based trek through Cape May Point State Park. With marshes, ponds and forests, there’s always a lot to see here. As the afternoon wore on, the unseasonable heat was getting to animals and humans alike. A couple of Mallards found a nice patch of shade.

Cape May Point SP Frog_7292 aA Green Frog knew how to keep cool.

Cape May Point SP Butterfly_7315 a Seaside Goldenrod was in bloom everywhere, and attracting lots of butterflies and bees. This bee is loaded with pollen. Cape May Point SP Bee_7020 a

Cape May Point SP Night-heron_7207 a Here’s the Bird of the Afternoon. This is a juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron. We found him at the base of a footbridge crossing a small stream. He couldn’t have been more than ten feet away, and he barely budged the whole time we were taking his portrait.

It may have felt like summer, but the golden hues hint at autumn to come. What better way to spend a glorious fall day than soaking it all up in Cape May.Cape May Skimmer_6731 a

Coming up: Migration Meanderings

More Winter Birds

Feeder Birds_8384 ACS Feeder Birds_8392 ACSYes, I know it’s barely fall. While we’re waiting for the leaves to turn here in the East, it seemed a good time to look back at some images from last winter. To remind us what lies in store when it gets cold…

The Dark-eyed Junco (above) and White-breasted Nuthatch were feeder visitors in my backyard. Also the first subjects for my new 400mm zoom lens.

HNWR Pintail_9336 ACS Northern Pintail, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

HNWR Shoveler_9383 ACSNorthern Shovelers, Heinz NWR

Ocean City Sanderling_1191 ACS Sanderling, Ocean City, NJ

Cape May SP Swan_1425 ACSMute Swan, Cape May Point, NJ

HNWR Merganser_2441 ACS Common Merganser female, Heinz NWR

HNWR Evening_4352 ACSCarolina Wren, Heinz NWR

Middle Creek WMA_3463 ACS Middle Creek WMA_3447 ACSSnow Geese at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster County, PA. Snow Geese gather by the thousands on their winter feeding grounds. I had no sooner pulled up to a hill covered with geese when they took off. A giant cloud of geese, whirling and spinning as one. It was an amazing sight.

I like to look at this image at the right, pick out a goose, and imagine what he may be thinking.

  • “Does anyone know where we’re going?”
  • “Mom always told me not to follow the crowd.”
  • “Can’t a guy get some peace and quiet around here?”
  • “Why is everybody following me?”
  • “If you’re not the lead horse, the view never changes.”
  • “I wish that goose next to me had used deodorant this morning…”

Middle Creek WMA_3490 ACS Clone

Coming up: Something more seasonal, I promise!

The Critter Radio Sports Update

HNWR Painted Turtle_6615 aHey, hey, hey sports fans! This is Shelly Zuppa with your sports update here on KRTR 99.9 FM – Critter Radio. Today we have a real treat for all you sports fans – live coverage of yesterday’s hotly contested Herp Swamp Hockey match. Nothing like the timely coverage you’ll get here on Critter Radio! Let’s throw it over to our play-by-play announcer.

Hi, folks, I’m Myrtle Turtle the Dapper Snapper, and welcome to the Marsh Arena. For the Herp Swamp Hockey novices out there, let’s review the game. The league is restricted to herps – reptiles and amphibians, in other words. No fish, no fowl. No rules, no referees, no holds barred. Four teams for all the marbles, competing on land and in water.

HNWR_5624 a Looks like we’re all set for the match to start. The crowd is trembling with anticipation…

HNWR_9701 a…as their favorite players from the Tinicum Turtles take the field.

CM Higbee Beach_9885 aRight off the bat, the Higbee Beach Fence Lizards take the offensive by going on defense. These guys would lead the league if the game were Freeze Tag. At the first whiff of an opponent, they become motionless. “If I don’t move – you can’t see me!” is their battle cry.

HNWR Snake_7379 ACSThe strategy must have worked, because we can see they’ve got this Garter Snake player from Serpents United on the rocks.

HNWR Bullfrog_7722 ASMeanwhile, this American Bullfrog is mired deep in his own zone. Maybe water polo is more his game.

HNWR Tadpoles_5187 aHalftime entertainment keeps to the water with a nice display of synchronized swimming by three baby fish. Yes, folks, there’s nothing we Snapping Turtles like better than a good fish fry. Or three…

Tinicum_6389 Alt 2 AS OrigBack to the action, these Painted Turtles from Heinz seem to have been benched. The Tinicum Turtles try to overwhelm other teams with sheer numbers, but spend most of the game sunning themselves on the sidelines. It’s enough to make a fellow turtle weep.

CM Higbee Beach_9945 aWait, folks, what’s this… There’s a Spider Crab on the field and creeping away with the ball… Oh my gosh, we have a streaker! Don’t look, Ethel!

CMPSP Snake_9767 aThe Cape May fan contingent is not happy with this turn of events, as a Ribbon Snake shows his displeasure.

HNWR_2233 aWith time running out, Serpents United have taken a risky strategy by sending a Garter Snake player deep into the opposition’s Thistle to try to score. It’s a highly unusual place for a snake – but…

CM Higbee Beach_9942 aYES! He scores!


And the Serpents take the match!

Well, folks, it’s all over but the shouting. This Horseshoe Crab spectator seems overwhelmed with emotion. What an exciting game!

The rematch is bound to be a barn-burner. Be sure to tune in again to catch all the action right here on KRTR Critter Radio.

Blimp_3787 a copyI’m Myrtle Turtle the Dapper Snapper from the Marsh Arena – good night!

Aerial coverage provided by the Goodyear Blimp.

FUN FACT: Most crabs that walk on land do so sideways, but the Spider Crab usually goes forward. It’s particularly fond of draping itself with all sorts of adornments, including living sea plants, bits of shell and other oddities. Presumably this is for concealment, but maybe the crab’s just really fashion forward!

Coming up: Independence Day: Wissahickon Wanderings

Cape May Potpourri

CM Point SP Bluebird_9640 aEarly in May, a friend and I went to Cape May in search of migrating warblers. First stop: Cape May Point State Park. Surprisingly, we had no luck in the warbler department, although we got this obliging Eastern Bluebird to pose for us.

CM Higbee Beach Towhee_9902 aCM Higbee Beach_9823 a

Our next stop was Higbee Beach WMA, along the Delaware Bayshore. This is a wonderfully confusing tangle of woods, meadows, dune scrub and beach. We got lost at least twice. It was worth it though, as we did find the warblers we’d been seeking, as well as this Eastern Towhee (above). Flowering trees drew swarms of bees, but I was more bothered by the jumbo mosquitos. Some of them were bigger than the birds!

CM Thompsons Beach Rail_0160 comboNext up: Thompson’s Beach, further north along Delaware Bay. Our sole purpose here was to see the elusive Clapper Rail. We searched first from the observation deck at the end of the road, then took a long walk out to the beach and back. For the duration of our trek we could hear the constant laughing call of the bird, but we didn’t spot a single Rail. Finally back at the deck we saw one, who gave us a good look while he was preening. Imagine my joy when my camera suddenly declared “Card Full”… Fortunately I came away with one good shot. Here you can see why they’re so hard to find (above). Not only do they blend in so well, they are usually are deep in the grass.

CM Matts Landing Rookery_3189Our last port-of-call was Matt’s Landing Road at Heislerville WMA. There’s an island there covered with trees – and Cormorants. And Egrets. And Herons… Basically it’s a rookery, a place for birds to roost and nest. I was happy not to be too close – I can only imagine the smell. CM Matts Landing Night Heron_3291 acsOn the drive around the impoundment we spotted this Black-crowned Night Heron (above) in a tree, and a Snowy Egret in the wonderful evening light. CM Matts Landing_3339 Egret a

FUN FACT: The male Eastern Bluebird chooses the nest site, in tree cavities or nest boxes. He entices the female to nest there by displaying and carrying nesting material in and out of the hole. That’s it! The rest is up to her – building the nest, and incubating the eggs. She keeps him around though, as pair bonds last for several seasons. A male will defend his nest sites against any bird he considers a threat, so maybe he’s good for something after all!CM Point SP Bluebird_9657 a

Coming soon: Ready or Knot

Jersey Shore-Birds

Forsythe NWR Egret_0194 a

Forsythe NWR

I was lucky enough to make two trips to the Jersey Shore in one spring week. The first was to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR near Atlantic City, a 47,000 acre refuge spread along the marshes of the Jersey Shore. While driving the 8 mile Wildlife Drive loop, we got to see a lot of cool birds. Luckily for me, I was accompanied by several veteran birders, since I needed all the help I could get identifying a number of bird species. I had two life birds in the first ten minutes and ended the day with seven. Above is a Great Egret, definitely not a life bird for me, but one I love watching.

Forsythe NWR Ibis_9770 aHere’s a flock of Glossy Ibis flying overhead. I barely got a look at them, but was assured we would see more. We didn’t. Promises, promises.

Forsythe NWR Terns_0182 a

FUN FACT: Common Terns (above) drink saltwater (yuck!) by flying above the water’s surface and dipping their beaks into the water. Grab and go – no leisurely time on the veranda sipping iced tea for them!

Forsythe NWR Egret_9980 acsSnowy Egret landing. There’s a move in tai chi that looks like this!

CM Thompsons Beach Laughing Gull_0031 acsCape May

Later that week a friend and I went to four different places in the Cape May area. Again, lots of shorebirds. Like this Laughing Gull.

CM Thompsons Beach Willet_0120 acsWillet, landing. Before I saw them fly, they looked like every other mid-sized sandpiper. Then I saw this beautiful white wing patch, and suddenly I’m a Willet expert. As long as they’re not on the ground!

CM Thompsons Osprey_0086 acs2FUN FACT: Osprey (above) – and Osprey nests – are numerous at the Shore. Ospreys used to nest in dead trees. As these have become scarce, they are happy to build their stick nests on man-made structures, including telephone poles, channel markers and the platforms we humans have put up for them. They have a reversible toe on each foot that helps them better grasp fish. A migratory bird, they may fly more than 150,000 miles in their lives. That’s a lot of frequent flier miles!

On a personal note, I recently became a published photographer for the first time when a spread of my Heinz NWR photos was featured in Phactum, a publication of the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking. If you’re interested, you can access it at the link below.