Monday, January 17, 2011

Ruddy Turnstones at Barnegat Light

Beautiful sea ducks are the main reason so many birders visit Barnegat Light in the winter, but they are hardly the only birds to watch. The inlet's jetty also hosts a fair number of shorebirds. Five species predominate: Purple Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, Sanderling, and Black-bellied Plover. When I was last at the jetty, I did not see any Sanderlings, but there is usually a flock on the beaches there. (Perhaps they had flown across the inlet to Island Beach State Park.) All the rest were present, with Dunlin outnumbering the rest. I will have a post on them later in the week.

I saw relatively few Purple Sandpipers (normally a highlight at Barnegat Light) or Ruddy Turnstones on my last visit there, but both were on the jetty. In winter, Ruddy Turnstones lose the ruddiness that gives them their name, but they retain the distinctive bib and moustache. Ruddy Turnstones are one of the northerly breeders among shorebirds, with their breeding range covering parts of Nunavut and Greenland, as well as the northern coasts of Alaska and Siberia. Their winter range extends along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North and South America.

Here is a Ruddy Turnstone with a Purple Sandpiper. It is easy to see why shorebirds winter here, with a convenient mussel buffet. Turnstones switch from eating flies and other insects to a more varied diet in winter. Crustaceans and mollusks are their main prey items, but they also will scavenge animals killed by other birds and refuse left by humans. Speaking of refuse, the gray item in the lower right of this photo appears to be a fishing weight.