Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gynandromorph Cardinal

Photograph by Jim Frink (c) 2009

No, this image has not been photoshopped. And no, a female cardinal did not fall sideways onto a recently painted front porch. This Northern Cardinal (seen recently in Illinois) is a gynandromorph, an organism which contains both male and female characteristics. For a brief explanation of how this happens and some more photographs, check out:


Friday, January 23, 2009

Early Obama Environmental Moves

Shortly after the nation witnessed history on Inauguration Day, President Barack Obama began his term in office by freezing all federal regulations that had not yet been finalized. This included two key environmental regulations. The first would have loosened air quality standards, while the second would have removed the gray wolf from the endangered species list.

Photograph by Justin Sloan (c) 2008

Many of former President Bush's late-term regulations were unable to be halted by this decision, however, including a major degradation of the Endangered Species Act. Bush and his administration have also opened the path for oil shale development to begin in Western states, for more oil rigs to be placed off our coasts, and for oil and gas drilling near our country's National Parks. Stopping these things will not be as easy, and President Obama has a tall task over the next months and years if he wishes to please environmentalists who expect these decisions to be revoked.

While the current administration has only been in office a few days, many are expecting Obama to quickly begin to turn the country's environmental policies in a new direction. It appears that this has begun, but the newly inaugurated president will have to continue to move forward in the coming days and weeks.

Please continue to write local, state, and federal officials and urge them to act on behalf of our wildlife and the natural world.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Rare Birds Abound

In every season there are a few birds that decide to show up in New Jersey that are not the usual annual visitors. Winter is no different, and this year in the state we have plenty of rarities to chase around. Last year brought Bohemian Waxwings and a Townsend’s Solitaire from the west, along with the more common rarities, whatever that may mean. This winter has been quite a treat so far, delivering a Eurasian (or Common) Teal to the Meadowlands once again, Rough-Legged Hawks throughout the state, more Pine Siskins than you can shake a stick at, and of course a handful of Snow Owls from Liberty State Park and the Meadowlands down through Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge and Stone Harbor.

Photograph by Rick Leche © 2007

One of the most popular rarities this winter has been the Green-Tailed Towhee down in Collingswood, NJ. This small passerine exemplifies the term rarity here in the Garden State, as this bird represents only the seventh NJ record of the bird (and the first since 1985!). It has been frequenting a feeder and thankfully the home-owners have been kind enough to allow birders to visit their yard to observe the Towhee. Still, people should act as courteous as possible as well as remain aware of the bird’s state. Disturbing wildlife should not be a part of birding or other wildlife-viewing.

White-Winged Crossbills have been spotted in numerous places as well, along with their northern neighbors the Common Redpoll. While a small group of Sandhill Cranes usually visits the state in winter, a pair has shown up in Franklin Township and due to their miniscule numbers in the state these two have been quite popular as well. They have been scared off multiple times, however, so people should try to remain in their cars and use the vehicles as blinds to help them observe the birds.

Photograph by C.A. Mullhaupt © 2008

A Northern Shrike has once again shown up at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, and plenty of people have gotten good views. These songbirds are vicious, and this particular individual has already been seen tearing apart a sparrow. They are known to cache prey for later consumption, hanging them on wires, spines, or sharp branches. Blood will often leave a spattering of red on their breast feathers.

Photograph by Rick Leche © 2007

The water, of course, is also a great place to search for rare birds. Thick-Billed Murre was just spotted off the coast of NJ, and other winter rarities have been popping up every few days. Inland, both Eared Grebe and Horned Grebe have been sighted. Winter plumage can be a bit trickier than breeding plumages, but a careful and patient eye can discern between different types of gulls, grebes, and so on.

Eared Grebe

Photograph by Ananda Debnath © 2005

Horned Grebe

Photograph by Len Blumin © 2008

Good birding, everyone!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Hybrid ducks

Right now is an amazing time to head out and go looking for winter waterfowl. New Jersey and the east coast offer a wide variety of different types of ducks, including but not limited to Hooded Mergansers, Ring-Necked Duck, Pintail, Green-Winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, etc. As if this array of web-footed friends wasn't enough, some ducks will also hybridize with other species, offering even more interesting individuals and sometimes very cryptic plumage.

Since the precocious little ducklings feed on their own, the paternal figures rarely stick around to help out. The young follow their mother around but don't need a great amount of care other than the occasional warning or protection from potential predators. Thanks to this family dynamic, male ducks can wander as they please and are often quite promiscuous. Often they will mate with multiple females during a single breeding season, and if they come across a female from a sister species...well, that's fair game too. It isn't entirely common but if you look closely chances are you'll eventually spot a few hybrids. Sometimes it isn't so easy to identify them. It could be a difference in bill or speculum coloration. Other times, however, it quickly becomes apparent that you have a hybrid on your hands. This was the case with the individual pictured below, a mallard x black duck hybrid seen while birding the Meadowlands last week. In this instance one can assume that a male mallard has mated with a female black duck, causing some green coloration in the head feathers.

Photo taken by Bill Lynch (c) 2009

There are plenty of great places to observe ducks right now. DeKorte Park was filled with Pintail and Northern Shoveler last week. The Great Swamp can be a great place to observe Hooded Mergansers and Green-Winged Teal. Visit Sandy Hook for the chance to see Barrow's Goldeneye along with Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Red-Breasted Merganser, and many other species. Don't forget about Cape May, Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, and other Atlantic coast hotspots!