Sunday, January 17, 2010

Birding Barnegat Light

purple sandpipers lined up on the jetty to grab some shuteye (please excuse the poor quality of the pictures - I took them with my Blackberry since I forgot to bring my camera!)

I made my annual pilgrimage to Barnegat Light, New Jersey (at the northern tip of Long Beach Island) this past Saturday with my good friend, Kathy. Kathy and I have shared a summer rental in Barnegat Light for almost twenty years and I fell in love with this part of the Jersey Shore a long time ago. But when I started birding I realized that winters in LBI bring all sorts of feathered delights. The rocky shores and relative lack of humans makes it a perfect place for over-wintering sea ducks and other birds. So I have been making this trek in the bitter cold to stand on the jetty and delight in the birds for the last 4 years. I can usually con one or two of my non-birding friends, like Kathy, into accompanying me since a trip to LBI always includes a stop for lunch at the famous Mustache Bill's Diner.

With unseasonably warm temperatures hovering around 46 degrees and bright cloudless skies, the day was perfect for birding. We weren't the only ones who felt that way since the Lighthouse Park parking lot was jam packed with assorted birders and their scopes, cameras and binoculars. In the years I have been making this annual trek, I have never before seen so many birders on the jetty.

When the weather is not so good, the boulders that comprise the 1/2 mile long jetty can be slick and treacherous, but this time, the footing was stable. Alas, my poor friend, trying to take a picture of the purple sandpipers with her iPhone dropped the phone between the boulders and into the ocean. It was the only down part of the day, however.

Our first birds were common loon, common merganser and red-breasted merganser as well as flocks of American robins and European starlings flying over. We also saw brants, surf scoters, common eiders, the famed Harlequin ducks (the stunning bird that is the reason for my annual trip), purple sandpipers, ruddy turnstones, black-bellied plovers, swamp sparrows, turkey vultures, sharp-shinned hawk, Northern harrier and song sparrows. We saw dozens of pintail ducks which in my humble opinion, run a close second to Harlequin ducks in terms of sheer beauty. Assorted gulls including greater black-backed gulls rounded out the day.

With windswept hair and wind-burned cheeks, we trekked back on the jetty and made our way to Mustache Bills for fortification. On our way back down the jetty, I got a call from Laura (Somewhere in New Jersey) who was also coming to look at the winter birds with her friend, Jay, from BirdJam. Unfortunately, schedules being what they are, we only had time for a quick conversation in the parking lot, but it was great to see them.

All in all, a great winter birding day.

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