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….








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.

Spring is on the way!

Grassland Survey - Lakehurst NAS

I am so incredibly happy that this winter is finally coming to a close.  Unusual for me.  I typically enjoy all seasons and continue with my outdoor activities – hiking, birding, photography can be done anytime really.   This winter was challenging on several fronts with a combination of extraordinarily snowy weather and probably the worst cold I’ve had in years.   So I’m happy this year to kick February and the first part of March to the curb and start gearing up Spring.

 Good news arrived in the form of an e-mail a few days ago.  The New Jersey Audubon Society has begun planning for the grassland bird surveys and I’ve been selected to survey one of the very best grassland areas  in the state, Lakehurst NAS.   This photo of me was taken by one of the NJAS research scientist, Kristin Mylecraine, as I was walking out of the field after completing last year’s survey.   Because of the large open fields on either side of their runways, airports and military bases are considered some of the best remaining grassland areas in New Jersey and provides safe harbor for many species that have lost most of their habitat to development and changes in farming techniques. 

 Lakehurst is one of three surveys in which I take part.  I complete grassland surveys on several large farms in northwestern New Jersey and, along with my son, complete a nighttime survey of nightjars (whip-poor-wills, nighthawks) deep in the Pine Barrens.   And I’m planning other activities that’ll keep me outdoors and taking photos throughout the summer, including several guided walks through the pine barrens and a pinelands botany course run by another great organization, the Pineland Preservation Alliance.  

Finally, thanks to those of you in my new discussion group that have stopped by.  I’m going to spend some of this very rainy weekend catching up on your blogs and placing links on mine.  Happy Spring!!

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.