NJ Pine Barrens Flowers

Pine Barren or Golden Heather

I was fortunate enough to spend some time last weekend birding in the NJ Pine Barrens and several of the spring flowers in were full bloom.  This beautiful golden flower is known as Pine Barren Heather or Golden Health (Hudsonia ericoides).  Pine Barren Heather is a small shrub which grows in dry open sandy areas throughout the pine barrens and several plants were in full bloom last weekend.

Sand Myrtle
Sand Myrtle

Sand Myrtle is another low flowering shrub that grows in sandy patches, but prefers wet areas over dry.  Even though it has been a relatively dry spring, these lovely white-flowered shrubs were blooming in many of low wet areas I walked through this weekend.

I hope you enjoy the flowers….I took the photos with my cell phone as I walked from spot to spot during one of my bird surveys for the New Jersey Audubon.

Until next time….








That took longer than I expected……….

Hovnanian 2014-05-18_06-17-35_523
Sunrise in the New Jersey Pine Barrens

I really could not have imagined that it would take me nearly a year and a half to get back to blogging.  When I finished the post back on the last day of 2014, I expected to take a few weeks off and sort out the result of my big year.

It was a great year and, in addition to learning more about birding in New Jersey than I ever thought possible, I also learned a bit more about myself and the direction in which I wanted to take my life.

What, you ask, did I learn?

To perhaps repeat myself a bit, I learned that (from a birding point of view) I am neither a chaser or a builder of birding lists.  Before the slings and arrows start – I am not saying there’s anything wrong with either activity.  Some folks (including my non-birding wife) enjoy the thrill of the chase and can’t really get excited about simply taking a walk in a park and looking at the “same ole birds”.  Some folks enjoy keeping long lists of the birds they’ve seen, where they saw them, the first and last dates of each year’s observations…and so on and so forth.

Not me.

But learning what I enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) about birding wasn’t the only lesson of my New Jersey Big Year (the blog is still up, by the way, if you want to give it a read).  I discovered that I am truly passionate about nature and climate, and protecting both so that my children, grandchildren, and their children will have a planet worth living in.

Energized by these new self-discoveries, I been busy since my last serious period of blog postings.  I completed training to become a Volunteer Master Naturalist through Stockton College (now Stockton University) and spent several hours last year volunteering for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) at Edwin Forysthe National Wildlife Refuge.  I also continued volunteering for New Jersey Audubon’s Citizen Science program, completing breeding surveys of grassland and pinelands birds.

Perhaps the biggest step, through, has been my enrollment in American Public University’s Master’s Degree in Environmental Policy and Management.  Since June of last year, I have completed five courses toward my degree, expanding my understanding of principles such as environmental economics, adaptive management, toxicology, research techniques, and environmental law.  As you might guess, my graduate studies have taken up an enormous amount of time and left very little for other things – like blogging.

I have decided to take a few weeks off from class work to refresh and re-energize – and I am liking it.  It feels a bit odd not to have a paper due, or a quiz to take, or a forum posting to write.  But odd is good right now and the last couple of weeks have convinced me I was ready for a break.

So what am I doing in my free time?  Attending my grandkids’ sporting events.  Catching up on some reading.


And generally working through a few ideas for the next phase of my graduate work.  I have nearly finished all of the “required” courses and am now moving into to “concentration” portion of my program.  I have a bit more flexibility on which courses to take, which means it is truly decision time for choosing the direction of the remainder of my program.

I am also participating in a Massive Open Online Course or MOOC which is focused on the reasons some people use to justify their denial of science, especially climate science.  Whether you call it global warming or climate change, our planet is experiencing human-caused (anthropogenic) warming and serious steps are necessary to address it.  This course focuses on several areas including (taken from the web site):

  • How to recognize the social and psychological drivers of climate science denial
  • How to better understand climate change: the evidence that it is happening, that humans are causing it and the potential impacts
  • How to identify the techniques and fallacies that climate myths employ to distort climate science
  • How to effectively debunk climate misinformation

I am enjoying the class thus far and learning quite a bit, without the pressure of tests, papers, or grades.

That is what I have been up to over the past several months.  My plan is to get more involved in blogging again and time will tell if I am able to keep it going (this time).  I hope so.

I also hope that you’ll take a few minutes to drop me a note – what have you been up recently?  Any big or small changes in your life?  I’d love to hear all about it!

Until next time….


World Series of Birding – A Fundraising Appeal

Dear Friends,
I have joined with a group of my fellow citizen scientists to compete in this year’s “World Series of Birding”, a state-wide competition to identify as many bird species as possible in one 24-hour period throughout the State of New Jersey (USA).  More importantly, this competition provides us with an opportunity to raise funds for New Jersey Audubon Society (NJAS) and their important environmental conservation missions. 

You can learn more about the World Series of Birding at http://www.birdcapemay.org/wsob.shtml
Our team, the Uncommon Nighthawks, is competing and raising funds for the NJAS Citizen Science program!  So that you may learn more about our team, a team bio appears below.  There are two ways that you may donate to this important cause – you may pledge a fixed dollar amount or you may pledge an amount that is based on the number of bird species our team identifies.  We hope to identify between 150 – 180 bird species during the 24 hours of the competion.  All of the money raised, 100% of the funds raised by our team, are devoted to NJAS citizen science programs. 
Won’t you take a moment now and complete a pledge form?  To ensure that your donation is properly credited, write the words “Donation for the NJAS Citizen Science progam” across the top of the form and make your check out to “New Jersey Audubon Society –  Citizen Science Program”.  Completed pledge forms may be e-mailed to the team captain, Gregory Cantrell at gregory_cantrell@yahoo.com or to Nellie Tsipoura at nellie.tsipoura@njaudubon.org.  Contributions should be mailed to  Nellie Tsipoura, Ph.D, Director of Citizen Science, New Jersey Audubon Society, Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, 11 Hardscrabble Road,Bernardsville, NJ 07924
Team Bio  – Meet the 2011 Uncommon Nighthawks!

 The 28th annual World Series of Birding, North America’s premier conservation event, will be held on Saturday, May 14, 2011.  This event has changed the birding landscape and raised over $8,000,000 for bird conservation. Every species found – every dollar raised preserves and protects critical bird habitat.

A small group of Citizen Scientist, the Uncommon Nighthawks, is competing and raising funds for the New Jersey Audubon Society’s Citizen Science program.  This year’s team is comprised of a mix of scientist who oversee these important programs and citizen scientist volunteers. 

 Dr. Nellie Tsipoura coordinates a number of studies that involve an army of volunteers throughout the state of NJ to monitor bird populations. In addition, she directs NJ Audubon’s urban ornithology research. Current ongoing projects include a study on foraging habitat use and behavior of egrets and herons in wetlands of the NY/NJ Harbor, as well as a seasonal migrant shorebird survey along coastal New Jersey. In research, Nellie strives to bridge measures of bird ecology and behavior with measures of habitat loss, pollution, and other human disturbances, and their potential effects.

Nellie earned her Ph.D. from Rutgers University for work on eco-physiological and hormonal aspects of wintering and migration in shorebirds. She has over 25 years of experience on bird ecology, behavior, and population biology on a variety of bird species in New York, New Jersey, Washington, Virginia, Georgia, Venezuela and Mexico. Prior to joining the NJ Audubon staff in 2004, the majority of her work involved ornithological research for non-profit organizations including National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Wildlife Conservation Society. She has published numerous articles on shorebird ecology, heavy metal contaminants in birds and horseshoe crabs, as well as the effects of oiling on birds. She is also the co-author of the Harbor Heron Conservation Plan.

Dr. Kristin (Mylecraine) Munafo received a B.S. in Environmental Studies from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and a M.S. and Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution from Rutgers University. Before joining New Jersey Audubon, Kristin worked as a postdoc at Ohio State University, studying population genetics of migratory and resident Canada Geese, and as a Research Biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, studying grassland birds.

Kristin joined New Jersey Audubon in 2008, and is currently a Project Coordinator for the Grassland Citizen Science project. This project is a cooperative effort between NJ Audubon and the NJ Endangered and Nongame Species Program, designed to monitor the abundance and distribution of grasslands bird populations on private lands enrolled in incentive programs, as well as assess the effectiveness of these programs. She is also involved in a variety of other Citizen Science projects, including the statewide Nightjar survey, and the Harbor Heron survey in the Meadowlands and Raritan Bay areas, as well as a variety of breeding and migration surveys in urban wetlands.

William Margaretta, President of the New Jersey State Safety Council, has been an avid birder for 35 years and a volunteer member of the Citizen Science program since 2005.  Bill has participated in numerous projects involving grassland, piedmont, and pineland habitats throughout the state.  In addition to his involvement in Citizen Science program, Bill is a volunteer member of USGS Breeding Bird Survey and participates in the national Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Counts.

Thomas P. Smith is a retired science educator who is has been actively involved in outdoor pursuits for many years.  He has hiked and camped in many areas of the country and participated in an Earthwatch expedition to study tropical rain forests in Panama.  He is a volunteer with the NJ Audubon Society’s Citizen Science program conducting studies on grassland birds and herons.  He is a member of the Stream Monitoring Team from the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association in central Jersey sampling the water quality in Peddie Lake, Hightstown for the past six years.

Steve Mattan is a manager in software development for PayChoice.  He has been birding for approximately ten years, ever since becoming “curious about some little yellow birds I saw on a family vacation.”  Steve is an active volunteer for NJAS’s Rancocas Nature Center and participates in several Citizen Science programs.  

 Gregory Cantrell is the Assistant Director for Environmental Health & Safety at Princeton University and a Citizen Scientist volunteer since 2006.  Like other team members, Greg has participated in numerous grassland, piedmont, pineland, and nightjar surveys throughout the state, Heron nesting surveys for the NJ-DEP, has participated as a volunteer in the USGS Breed Bird Survey and the Christmas Bird Count.  In addition to being an avid birder, he enjoys numerous other outdoor activities including nature photography, hiking, and the study of unique plants and animals found in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.

Pine Barrens Treefrogs

Colliers Mills WMA, NJ

During the spring I participate in several bird population studies, managed by the wonderful folks in New Jersey Audubon Society’s Citizen Science program.   To accomplish one of these studies, I drive about 10 miles on sandy dirt roads through the Pine Barrens, after dark, stopping every mile to listen for and count Whip-poor-wills.   At a couple locations I also hear Pine Barrens Treefrogs singing away in the dark.  One of my personal challenges this year is to capture a photographic image of these amazing little frogs.  Here is a really cool video, featured on a nature photography blog, of several Pine Barrens Treefrogs found in North Carolina.

A True Sign of Spring – Citizen Science

Grasshopper Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow

In addition to my other outdoor activities, I am an avid birder and spend as much time (probably more) watching birds as photographing them.  As part of my birding activities, I participate in several bird population surveys that are managed through the Citizen Science Program of the New Jersey Audubon Society.  One of these surveys is focused on Grassland Birds.  Much of the pasture and farm lands that once made up New Jersey (yes, our state is known as the Garden State for a reason) have been gobbled up by developers and turned into shopping malls and housing projects.  And while the resulting McMansions seem like a tax generating windfall for our local officials, they have consumed vast tracks of land that, in addition to producing agricultural crops, also provided living and breeding spaces for small birds like this Grasshopper Sparrow.

I took this photograph last summer, so I can’t use it for my current photography project.  This little fellow was perched on a fence surrounding a horse enclosure not far from my home.  I live in a part of New Jersey that has several large horse farms where racing horses are bred, raised, and trained.  These farms offer large tracks of open grasslands that support populations of grassland birds, like the Grasshopper Sparrow.

The weather and my job have conspired against me these last few days and I haven’t been able to do much photography. But I have received several requests from the New Jersey Audubon to participate in this year’s surveys. The announcements always come out around the first part of March, so I know Spring can’t be too far away. I can almost hear the little wing beats of the birds migrating north from their winter homes in South America or the islands of the Caribbean Sea. Hopefully, they will find a little patch of a New Jersey pasture to set up housekeeping for the summer. If so, I’ll try to count and photograph them and keep you informed of my progress.