Yesterday morning I went with my parents and sister to meet up with my uncle and his wife at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. During winter months, this site offers some of the best coastal birding in the state. One of its major advantages as a birding site is that it allows relatively close approach. Birds that winter there seem used to being around large numbers of people and tend not to flush as quickly as at other sites. This allows close viewing of birds that we do not see very often.
It is the most reliable site in the state for finding northern waterfowl such as Common Eiders and Harlequin Ducks. Both of these species, as well as scoters, were present in modete numbers yesterday. I only saw one Harlequin Duck myself, but there was a larger flock farther down the beach. Other wintering waterfowl such as Long-tailed Ducks and Buffleheads were nowhere near their winter peak numbers. In addition to the headline ducks, there was a flock of Brant next to the jetty.
Several shorebird species were present along the jetty. A small flock of Black-bellied Plovers were hiding in the beach grass. Flocks of American Oystercatchers flew past us over in the inlet. On the jetty itself, there were Ruddy Turnstones, Dunlin, and Purple Sandpipers. The largest group of shorebirds that I noted was a flock of Dunlin numbering around 100. Above is a Dunlin and a Ruddy Turnstone loafing on the same rock. I posted other photos of Dunlin and Turnstones at my Flickr account.
Gulls, though abundant, should not be neglected. This handsome immature Herring Gull started its long call just as I took its photograph.
Walking from the lighthouse to the far end of the jetty is always exciting. I am lured farther and farther out by the prospect or seeing new birds or having a better view of birds I have seen distantly or in poor light. Plus there are constantly new birds – sandpipers, sparrows, etc. – popping up from between the jetty's rocks. On the way back I am more tired, more worried about my footing, and have seen most of the bird species the jetty has to offer. At least the return trip offers a marvelous view:
In the afternoon we walked along the "High Bar" beach to the west of the lighthouse. Most of the birds were the same as at the jetty – small flocks of Brant, Black-bellied Plovers, and Dunlin, with a few other water birds in the mix. One new addition was a hatch-year Merlin perched at the top of a bare tree. Not bad at all for a fall day!