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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Who says February Birding is Boring - Barnegat Light NJ 2015

Male & Female Harlequin Ducks (photo by Nick Pulcinella)

          Nick Pulcinella and I decided to make a winter excursion to Barnegat Light, NJ since neither if us have been there in ages. Of course, we had to pick one of the windiest days of the year. We arrived around eleven o'clock and put on our extra layers of coats and hats. After all preparations were made we headed to the lighthouse and quickly spotted several Red-breasted Mergansers with a few males already started to be protective of their female partners. 
Red-breasted Merganser
Across the bay we could see hundreds of Brant flying around and gathering on the far shoreline.

Brant (photos Nick Pulcinella) 
           As we trudged along the promenade we noticed several Common Loons and one Red-throated Loon, all in winter plumage. Nick was having a good time with his camera while I was grappling and agonizing over trying to hold my telescope still against the steady 30 mph winds. Long-tailed Ducks made a beeline for the ocean after taking off from the bay area.

         I was surprised that we only found one Horned Grebe in the channel the whole day. After leaving the cement walkway we started our perilous 3/4 mile hike to the end of the jetty. Along the way we added Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls and Great Cormorants. At one point I spotted some shorebirds on the jetty up ahead and yelled to Nick, who was walking on the sand and had a better camera angle. He was able to get photos of the Black-bellied Plover, some Dunlins, and a Ruddy Turnstone.
Black-bellied Plover on jetty (Photo Nick Pulcinella)
           As we approached the terminus of the jetty the winds were really kicking up now. We were finally able to find 11 Harlequin Ducks hanging tight against the jetty staying under cover from the stiff winds.

Harlequin Ducks (photo Nick Pulcinella)

           We also found three Purple Sandpipers clinging to the rocks while feeding.

Purple Sandpipers (photo Nick Pulcinella)
          While we were looking at the birds on the jetty, thousands of scoters were ascending on the ocean just past the jetty on the other side of the inlet. We estimated about two thousand birds, about 1500 Surf Scoters, about 500 Black Scoters and although we didn't see any White-winged Scoters while there, a later photo provided by Nick shows that at least two were present.
White-winged Scoter in mixed flock (photo Nick Pulcinella)
           Also at the end o f the jetty were a large group of Common Eiders that I estimate to be around 200 indivduals.

Common Eider
            So, as we headed back to the car, we walked though the short grasses and managed to spot a cooperative Ipswich race of the Savannah Sparrow. The sandy beach area is usually a good habitat to find this race of Savannah.

Savannah Sparrow (Ipswich race)
           We ended the day with 29 species and a good feeling that birding anytime of the year is fun, even in February.

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