Thursday, December 28, 2006

Barnegat Harlequins

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been visiting family in New Jersey for the holidays. Today several of us were down at Barnegat Light, a nineteenth-century lighthouse and state park. Barnegat Light is an important historic site for its longtime role in ship navigation along the New Jersey coast, and it is a beautifully scenic location. Visitors may climb the steps to the top of the lighthouse for a view with a thirty-mile radius on a clear day. The site is also a great birding spot, particularly for seabirds and waterfowl.

Harlequin ducks have visited the lighthouse regularly for the past several years. They and a large flock of common eiders can be found at the far end of the jetty, either on the inlet side or the ocean side. I must say that today I had my best-ever looks at harlequin ducks, up close and in full sunlight. This was much better than picking out a single bird in the snow, as was the case last February. On the jetty itself, there were several purple sandpipers, a ruddy turnstone, and a snow bunting. All were seen at close range. Many of these birds were life birds for my mother and sister, though I had seen them before at one time or another.

On the walk back to the lighthouse for lunch, we spotted a peregrine falcon land on the lighthouse roof. Later, another birder reported seeing this falcon plucking the feathers from some hapless bird for its lunch. After our own lunch, our dad joined us for a climb to the top of the lighthouse tower for views of Barnegat Bay and its barrier islands. The image at left shows the jetties along Barnegat Inlet; the harlequin ducks stick close to the inlet side of the south jetty, near where the sand ends and the ocean begins. Today the common eiders were on the ocean side of the south jetty, though sometimes they can be found in the inlet. The image below is looking north towards Island Beach State Park, on the southern end of the long peninsula that extends north to the top of Barnegat Bay and Point Pleasant. Island Beach State Park is another good birding spot in all seasons.

For a final stop, we walked the beach along High Bar, a spit of land that is part of the Edwin B. Forsythe NWR. Along the beach we spotted American oystercatchers (always a favorite), dunlin, red-breasted mergansers, and brant. A northern harrier was working the dunes. The real treat was a chorus of vocalizing long-tailed ducks. Each bird gave a call that sounded a bit like an oboe or clarinet. I enjoy hearing birds as much as seeing them, and I was not aware of how beautiful these birds sound.

Species List: 30 species seen

Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Common Eider
Harlequin Duck
Long-tailed Duck
Red-breasted Merganser
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Peregrine Falcon
American Oystercatcher
Ruddy Turnstone
Purple Sandpiper
American Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Fish Crow
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Snow Bunting
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow