Thursday, December 24, 2009

Nature's Domain

Earlier this year, Larry and Ray Hennessy launched their new nature photography blog. Their goal was to create an informative blog about nature and wildlife photography, and they've been quite successful. The site creates a community of naturalists and photographers that can share their ideas and their passion by displaying their work. Check out the site at Nature's Domain.

My first post on the site is a brief trip report of my recent trip to Panama's Canopy Tower. It was my first foray into the world of eco-tourism and birding outside of the northeast, and I had an absolute blast. Please check out the post and all of the incredible wildlife I was able to capture. It can be found here. Thanks, everyone!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Bird Count

If you're not familiar with CBCs, they are all day bird counts in a given area. That could be a town (East Brunswick), a county (Sussex), or any other location you can think up (the Raritan River Estuary). The events this year run from December 14th until January 5th, and you can still get in on many that invite the public or decide to have your own just for fun!

Long-Eared Owl seen in Morris County (c) 2008

The Christmas Bird Count is a great way to get outdoors during the winter season and have a good time. It's also a great way to serve as a citizen scientists; the data gathered during these events may help conservation organizations to determine the health and status of many groups of birds.

Visit Audubon's Christmas Bird Count site for more information! Bundle up and get out there!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

There are a few sounds still which never fail to affect me. The notes of the wood thrush and the sound of a vibrating chord, these affect me as many sounds once did often, and as almost all should. The strains of the aeolian harp and of the wood thrush are the truest and loftiest preachers that I know now left on earth. I know of no missionaries to us heathen comparable to them. They, as it were, life us up in spite of ourselves. They intoxicate, they charm us.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 31 December 1853

Photo by Eddie Callway of (c) 2008

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ivory Gull continues in Cape May

Ivory Gulls breed in the high Arctic and even spend winters far north of NJ, usually on pack ice in the Bering Sea or off the coast of northeastern Canada. Last winter it was a real treat to have an Ivory Gull as far south as Massachusetts. Last week another individual showed up even further south - right here in New Jersey! The bird has been hanging out at a marina in Cape May, feasting on fish that have washed ashore. On a few occasions the gull appeared to be heading off for good, but so far has returned every day for more easy meals.

Photo by jomilo75 (c) 2007

The above photo is a mature Ivory Gull in its usual habitat. The immature bird in Cape May is mostly white, but has some black spotting on its wings and back. As of December 7th, it was still being seen at Bree-Zee-Lee Marina.

I won't be able to spare the time needed to get down there until December if anyone can speak gull, try and convince this young fella to stick around.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Naturalist Profile: Frank DeBlasio

NJ Outdoors was fortunate enough to be able to interview Frank DeBlasio, life-long New Jersey resident and wildlife photographer. Check out the short interview below along with some of Frank's photographs.

What are your favorite areas of the state to visit?
My favorite part of NJ is Sussex County in the spring & fall. The Jersey Shore in the summer.

What are some of your favorite outdoors activities?
I love hunting, fishing & photography in New Jersey.

How did you first become interested in nature/wildlife photography (or photography in general)?
I have always carried a camera around since I was a child - you never know what you will see out there.

Do you have any favorite subjects (certain birds, mammals, etc)?
I think that the Wild Turkey is my favorite to photograph, but I love to photograph all wildlife. White-tailed deer and hawks are high on my list. I also like to photograph sports - especially football.

Any advice for novice photographers out there who might be reading this?
I am NOT a professional by any means. I am always learning. With wildlife you have to put a lot of time in. Even in a zoo it's not that easy to get the right shot. But in the wild it's much harder. You have to get to know where the animals & birds are at certain times ff the day, year, etc. Sometimes I wear camo, use calls, whatever it takes. Just learn your camera & get out there ! ! !

All photographs (c) Frank DeBlasio

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Late Autumn Feast

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to get some visitors before leaving for work. The berry tree outside our third-floor condo's window had welcomed the occasional flock of American Robins and even a few Cedar Waxwings, but it never seemed to be living up to its bird-attracting potential. Well, it certainly did on this morning.

The usual suspects like House Sparrows and American Robins were lined up for their turn at the red berries. A Dark-Eyed Junco, the first of the season outside our condo, showed up and snuck a few quick bites.

Our resident Downy Woodpecker, which we have affectionately named Robert Downy Jr., also joined in on the festivities - although he mostly stuck to the suet feeder. To my surprise a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker showed up for the first time outside our condo and downed a few berries!

A few American Goldfinches flew in, followed by some unwelcomed European Starlings. Some of my favorite birds joined in on the festivities as well - a small flock of Cedar Waxwings flew into the tree to feast. Such cool-looking birds!

If anyone knows what kind of tree this is, please let me know. I'm still fairly bad with plant IDs, unless it's a Sweet Gum or an American Holly.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fishers and tracking in New Jersey

In the latest issue of Trail Walker, a publication of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, Robynn K. Shannon takes a look at the return of fishers to Sussex County in northern New Jersey (page 7). These nocturnal mustelids are extremely elusive and were only confirmed in the state with the use of strategically placed camera traps.

The wildlife biologist who works most extensively with these camera traps, Charlie Kontos, has also written an article which appears on page 7 of this issue. He discusses the tracking of both fishers and bobcats in northern New Jersey during the winter. This knowledge helped him to eventually capture a fisher on camera in 2006, the first known record in the state since the late 1800s.

Photo by Charlie Kontos (c) 2006

Kontos, a PhD student in the Ecology & Evolution graduate program at Rutgers University, also runs his own website chronicling the history of the fisher in New Jersey. The site can be found here and also includes photos, interesting information about the predator, and much more regarding the Garden State's lesser seen wildlife. Check out both the Trail Walker and The New Jersey Fisher Experience to learn more about the state's most impressive hunters.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Who says nature isn't funny?

I took this photo last year just down the block from my condo, near one of the man-made ponds. Coincidence? Or was this Belted Kingfisher stickin' it to the man? The world may never know.

This photo is currently being featured on the front page of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds site, a great resource for birders and nature-lovers.

The Flickr page can be found here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wawayanda State Park

Join Wild New Jersey's David Wheeler as he hikes Wawayanda State Park. His light-hearted "Wild Wawayanda" series is currently running on the Wild New Jersey site. Head over there now to check out part 3!

Photos (c) David Wheeler 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

Big day in Cape May

This morning in Cape May a Northern Goshawk was spotted at the Meadows during a morning walk. A short time later, a Swainson's Hawk was seen flying over one of the fields at the Beanery. Add a Western Kingbird to the mix and it's quite the day for mid-autumn birding down at the tip of New Jersey!

Swainson's Hawk (c) Jerry Oldenettel 2007

While the Northern Goshawk's southern range does extend into New Jersey during the winter, it is still a treat to see one this early in the year that isn't flying overhead at a Hawkwatch. The Swainson's Hawk and Western Kingbird are true rarities in the state, as their eastern ranges do not usually extend beyond the Mississippi River. These three make for quite the trio - just remember to be courteous to both the birds and other people if you plan on heading down to search for them.

Western Kingbird (c) Matt Knoth 2009

Follow the Cape May Bird Observatory twitter for sightings and updates:

Monday, November 2, 2009

Vote Yes Tomorrow!

For information on public question number 1 and why it is imperative that we all vote "yes", please visit - thanks!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Autumn Harvest

We visited Suydam Farms in Somerset this weekend to do some pumpkin shopping. After choosing one we are hopeful is filled to the brim with delicious seeds (which we will toast this weekend), we also found a nice variety of decorative gourds for our home. There was also a bounty of delicious, freshly picked produce for sale including turnips, a wide variety of potatoes, apples, peppers of all different kinds, squash, and more.

We decided to add some great-looking green beans to our purchase. Yesterday Elizabeth cooked them with some garlic and we had them with dinner. Mmm mmm mmm.

It's not too late to enjoy local, fresh produce. And not only are the products you'll get at your local farm or farmer's market fresh and probably better tasting than the grocery store alternative, it's also a ton of fun to get outside on a nice fall afternoon and pick your pumpkins, shop around an open-air market, and support the farmers of your community.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sage Thrasher moves on

Prior to this week, only three known Sage Thrashers had ever visited the Garden State. On Tuesday, Sandy Hook welcomed the fourth.

Bob Devlin (c) 2009

The range of the Sage Thrasher is mostly contained with the American south-west. It is not known to breed, migrate, or winter east of the Mississippi River, so finding one on the Atlantic Coast was quite a sighting. With no sightings as of 7pm on Friday, it appears that the lost bird has moved on, possibly to try and find his way home.

Let's all remember that these birds are often stressed and should be given plenty of space. If you are approaching too closely and it is affecting the behavior of the rarity, you should take a few steps back until the bird seems to calm down. Most of you know this, so please pass it along to those who don't seem to! Thanks, and good birding!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Explore Ken Lockwood Gorge

The East Brunswick Environmental Commission will be hosting a trip to Ken Lockwood Gorge on Saturday, October 24th (rain date Sunday, October 25th). If you are interested in hiking around and/or taking photos of this beautiful place, please email Richard Wolfert at to inquire about any open spots left on the trip.

shutterbugMike (c) 2008

The autumn leaves should be vibrant and colorful, so don't miss a great opportunity for fall photography. For more info on the trip visit the Events & Trips page.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cranberry Festival!

The Cranberry Festival of Chatsworth takes place this weekend, October 17th and 18th. The festival will include many artists and craftsmen as well as tours of the actual harvest as it happens! Come and celebrate the Pine Barrens and the unique culture of this part of New Jersey.

Photograph by Chris Pesotski

The website can be found at - unfortunately it's not jam-packed full of information so you may want to contact the committee by navigating to their contact page.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Species Profile - American Bittern

Species Profile #1
American Bittern
Botaurus lentiginosus

The American Bittern is a wading bird, closely related to the much more conspicuous herons and egrets we’re all familiar with. While relatively common in New Jersey’s marshes and wetlands, the American Bittern is rarely seen. The solitary birds almost always stay hidden in dense vegetation, perhaps coming to the edge of the water to hunt. Like other herons, bitterns will eat fish, amphibians, snakes, crustaceans, small mammals, and just about anything else they can find that is edible.

These birds are some of the most remarkably camouflaged vertebrates you will find in the state. Their streaked breast pattern gives the appearance of reeds, and when the bittern remains motionless it is almost impossible to spot them. When they fear a predator is nearby they will raise their bills into the air, exposing their cryptic pattern and hopefully blending in with their surroundings. Incredibly, they have also been observed swaying back and forth when the wind is blowing the reeds around them.

The closest relative to the American Bittern in New Jersey is the Least Bittern, however this bird belongs to a different genus and the American Bittern actually has closer relatives belonging to Botaurus in other parts of the world. Scientists can actually create a phylogeny of the bitterns using information from sound recordings of their distinctive calls. These phylogenies match up with genetic phylogenies perfectly.

The American Bittern is truly one of New Jersey’s most spectacular animals. Their incredible camouflage and thunderous, booming call are unmatched. If you’re lucky enough to see one, watch from a distance and be patient. Watching them hunt, sway with the breeze, and call is worth the wait.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Nature & Survival - For Kids!

Amy Manning, one of New Jersey's finest young naturalists, has put together a Nature Awareness and Wilderness Survival series for children grades 5 through 8. This is a truly unique opportunity to instill important values and knowledge in our youth. Please pass this along to anyone who might be interested, and check out the flyer below for more information.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

International Vulture Awareness Day 2009

Show me a birder who says vultures are cute, and I’ll show you a liar. 

The wrinkled, carcass-like skin on their heads probably won’t ever make me smile like an Indigo Bunting’s bright blue plumage will.  Their hunched over walk and black feathers probably won’t either.  Watching them soar overhead, while amazing in its own right, isn’t going to compete with a Peregrine Falcon’s dive or a hummingbird’s mid-air hovering act anytime soon (at least not in my book). 

Don’t overlook these scavengers, though.  They are truly wonders of evolution and are as ecologically fascinating as any other bird you will find.  Take their feather-less heads, for example.  If a scavenging bird has to stick their face into a nice, fresh deer carcass, what would be the better option?  Having a bunch of feathers that are going to collect blood, guts, infectious diseases, and potentially parasites?  Or having a head that looks like a feather-plucking machine just got a hold of them, making those big spongy primates say “ew”?  I think evolution has ignored us on this one and chosen the latter. 

A Black Vulture and Turkey Vulture share a squirrel carcass they have just removed from the road (c) 2009

Vultures also serve important ecological functions.  They consume large quantities of dead flesh;  dead flesh that would otherwise be crowding our forests, streets, and parks.  Sure, there are other scavengers and agents of decay that would eventually do their thing, but few as quickly as the vultures.  And some of these other scavengers are animals like rats and feral dogs that carry diseases and act as pests in a variety of other ways.   

Unfortunately many species of vulture are in severe decline.  “Across the Indian subcontinent, populations of three formerly very common species of vulture have declined by more than 97% as a result of consuming cattle carcasses contaminated with the veterinary drug diclofenac. There have been mass vulture deaths in East Africa associated with misuse of chemicals, huge population declines in West Africa due to habitat loss, and the disappearance of vultures from large areas of their formers ranges in South Africa because of the continued use of vulture parts in traditional medicine and sorcery.” (Source: ) 

Today, September 5th, is International Vulture Awareness Day.  Check out the official site at and get some more info about the trouble vultures are in at BirdLife .  If you have a blog, please consider participating in the event by posting about vultures.  Could be something you write, paint, photograph, draw…anything, really.  Get the button and more info here: 

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Arrival of Autumn

While the calendar still reads summer, there are two groups of people who have already shifted into fall mode. Students, who know the end of August means the beginning of classes, and birders, who know that the second round of yearly migration doesn't wait until summer officially ends. Birds have already begun moving south to escape the cold that is quickly approaching. Shorebirds began moving last month, and now songbirds are starting to trickle through New Jersey on their way to the southern United States and the neotropics. Migratory warblers are being seen more and more, and in the coming weeks their numbers will continue to rise.

Raptors have begun to migrate as well, although the spectacle that is hawk-watching won't peak until October. It is then that thousands of raptors can be seen in a single afternoon. Hawk-watches around New Jersey, such as Chimney Rock, Raccoon Ridge, and Cape May Point State Park, offer extraordinary views of Peregrine Falcons, Broad-Winged Hawks, American Kestrels, Merlins, Bald Eagles, and even the occasional Golden Eagle.

Migration always brings some interesting and often unusual birds to the state. This week a Swallow-Tailed Kite has been viewed reliably at Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge. Although a few of these birds usually turn up in NJ each year, it's always a treat to be able to watch a kite in the Garden State.

Photograph by Derek Bakken

Baird's Sandpiper, Loggerhead Shrike, Franklin's Gull, Black Terns, and Little Stints are some other recent sightings. There are certainly more rarities to be discovered, and even more that haven't yet arrived but will shock us all when they do end up showing up.

Autumn is really an exciting time to enjoy the outdoors. Not only do you have great birding opportunities, but the weather is perfect for hiking, kayaking, or just tossing around the ol' pigskin. When the leaves turn the rich colors of the season become impossible to ignore, and it's always fun finding a great roadside market to buy some warm apple cider.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Meadowlands Festival of Birding

Join the NJ Audubon Society, the NJ Meadowlands Commission, and Hackensack Riverkeeper for a fun-filled weekend of birding and other festivities! There will be both field and boat birding tours, butterfly walks, a raptor presentation, a lecture by Dr. Robert DeCandido on bird migration, plus much more. On Sunday the weekend continues with paddling tours of nearby birding spots. Tickets are $40 for the two-day festival and include just about everything, including breakfast and lunch on Saturday. Check out their site here and sign up quickly! The boat and paddling tours require reservations in addition to tickets.

Friday, August 7, 2009

International Vulture Awareness Day 2009

That's right, vultures have finally received their own day in the spotlight. Check out the official IVAD09 website and join in on September 5th by blogging about vultures. That could mean photos, video, a short story about a close encounter...anything you want!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Hey readers,

I have to apologize for the lack of updates. This past Saturday I returned from a week of birding and hiking central Panama, and next week I leave for Reno, NV. A day after I get back, I'll be driving up to Maine! And while those places have little to do directly with "New Jersey Outdoors", I should have some great photos to post here soon!

On the NJ front, banding has continued at HMF in my absence. Some new birds have been banded including Scarlet Tanager, House Wren, Carolina Wren, Hairy Woodpecker, and Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

With the breeding season drawing to a close, our hope is that this banding will continue next summer and beyond so that abundances and species composition can be monitored. Trends in these numbers will hopefully reveal causes of decline and perhaps increases in certain species of birds. With the potential control of invasive plants looming on the horizon, it will be interesting to see how that affects the bird communities of Hutcheson Memorial Forest moving forward.

The forest is a unique ecosystem for the area, and it's a great place to visit and explore. Check the website for upcoming tours at

Bird's Nest Fungi

Stay tuned! Starting this fall NJ Outdoors will be commencing a Species Profile series for the different types of wildlife in the Garden State. An interview series is also in the works featuring sit-downs with prominent members of the community. Scientists, photographers, and many others with their hands in our natural world.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Birding & Wildlife Trails needs your help!

New Jersey's Birding & Wildlife Trails is creating a new Pinelands Guide for the state, which will include Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester counties. If you fill out their nomination form to help them decide on which sites to include, they will give you a FREE one-year membership to the New Jersey Audubon Society! All of the information needed can be found on the site, located here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Brighter Planet

From the green minds of the people who brought us the 350 Challenge comes Brighter Planet! - a website designed to help people accurately and easily track their environmental impact. Enter things like your vehicle, home, and diet to find out how large your carbon footprint might be. You can also read and contribute tips on saving energy and conserving the environment. For those interested the site also makes it easy to partially or completely offset your carbon footprint!

Check out the site and help them test their beta version:

Add me if you decide to join. Username: Billtacular

Thursday, July 16, 2009

New Green Media

From the fine folks over at the Edison Wetlands Association comes New Green Media, a news site bringing you all the environmental and green news from across the great state of New Jersey. Similar to their Wild New Jersey site, this news outlet will bring both exclusive, breaking news as well as important headlines from the mainstream media. Head on over there now to watch a special report on the Raritan Bay Slag Site in Old Bridge and Sayreville.

You can always find links to both EWA-affiliated sites on the right-hand side of New Jersey Outdoors.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Butterfly Walk at DeKorte Park

The NJ Meadowlands Commission and the Bergen County Audubon Society will co-sponsor a butterfly walk this Sunday at 1pm.

For more information head on over to The Meadowlands Blog by clicking here.

Garden Party!

The Somerset County Park Commission is hosting a garden party this Saturday, July 18th from 11am until 3pm in East Millstone, NJ. There is no charge for admission (although donations are always appreciated) and the day will include various speakers, specialty plants and perennials for sale, complimentary refreshments, and live music!

Check out the flyer for more information: Garden Party Flyer

Photograph by clare_and_ben

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

HMF banding continues

We continue to band birds and collect data over at Hutcheson Memorial Forest. We added a few more species to our list last time out including White-Brested Nuthatch and Common Grackle. I'm still holding out hope for some edge/field birds to sneak into the woods a bit. Indigo Bunting or Prairie Warbler would be really neat.

I was able to handle more of the tasks the last time around. It's still tough getting the birds out of the nets, especially when their wings get all tangled up. Getting them out of the bags and banding them is becoming more natural, so hopefully the untangling will come easier next time out.

We're going to try and get out once or twice this week so hopefully I'll have some more photos and species to share!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dismal Swamp tour rescheduled

NJ Audubon's tour of the Dismal Swamp has been rescheduled and will take place on Tuesday, July 7th at 7pm. The "Diz" is conveniently located in Edison, NJ.

Check out the Facebook event for more information by clicking here.

Hope to see you out there!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cape May - Spring 2009

I was once again lucky enough to be able to visit Cape May for a week in mid-May to bird. Despite some rain on our first day there, it turned out to be a gorgeous week of weather. We hit all the usual spots - Cape May Point State Park, The Meadows, Reed's Beach, Jake's Landing, Beaver Swamp WMA, Villas WMA, Higbee, and of course Belleplain.

On the beach between the park and The Meadows there were Least Terns setting up territories and beginning to mate. I spent an entire afternoon watching and photographing them.

Territorial Dispute

Love is in the air

Jake's Landing was surprisingly quiet the night we visited, but on the way there Beaver Swamp produced a singing Prothonotary Warbler and some great looks at the Bald Eagles. Reed's Beach was packed with Red Knots and Ruddy Turnstones feeding on the shore. A new location for me this year was Heislerville Wildlife Management Area. Unfortunately the Curlew Sandpipers that had been seen there were nowhere to be found when I arrived, but the trip was far from a waste. The spectacle of tens of thousands of migrating shorebirds more than made up for it. As high tide came in and filled most impoundments, the main impoundment was high enough to resist completely filling. This meant that ALL the shorebirds in the area flew in during high tide to feed and roost. Check out the video I took with my P&S camera (quality isn't great but you can get a sense of how many birds there were):

Higbee produced more mosquitos than birds, but what else is new? Even this poor guy couldn't escape the onslaught:

Pesky mosquitos

A trip down to Cape May isn't complete for me unless I'm able to stop at Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge, which happened twice (on the way down and back up). Despite a horde of insects on the second trip, Forsythe delivered as usual. Clapper Rails were out and about (we saw at least four individuals). We also observed a gull dropping a mussel in the road over and over until he finally appeared to crack it open. He took it off to the side and had himself a little brunch. Some other cool views included:

Brigantine Black-Crowned
Black-Crowned Night Heron

Hard at work
Ospreys building a nest

Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwings

Another great week down in Cape May! Can't wait until next spring!