Last Saturday, I traveled to Barnegat Lighthouse State Park in New Jersey. Although slightly chilly, the sun and lack of wind made the birding conditions excellent… or at least better than most January days along the Jersey shore! Upon arriving, a small group of Black-crowned Night-Herons passed directly overhead, circling around the lighthouse several times before moving over the open water.
The “typical Barnegat” birds became visible while walking along the jetty for which the birding hotspot of Barnegat is known. Long-tailed and Harlequin Ducks swam close to shore, and Common and Red-throated Loons swam just a bit farther out in the inlet. At the start of the jetty, Long-tailed Ducks were the most cooperative species, as small groups would float up to me as I sat on the rocks with my camera. At times, these gorgeous ducks came so close that my camera could not focus.
As I went farther out on the jetty, Harlequin Ducks soon out numbered the Long-tails, with small groups of 6-8 birds loitering on the algae-covered boulders.
Whenever someone approached, the ducks would slip into the water. As soon as the “danger” had passed, the birds would wobble back out of the frigid water and onto the rocks.
When not milling around, the male Harlequin Ducks were busy chasing after females. Many times, groups of male Harlequins would swim up to a small group of females and chase them through the water. For the most part, the females simply scooted out of the way and ignored the males.
About halfway out on the rocks, I was sitting close to the water when two Ruddy Turnstones flew onto a nearby rock. Not minding my presence, the two birds searched for food on their rock, then fluttered over to the rock I was sitting on! For a little while, the turnstones were feeding inches from my feet!
A bit later, I came across a group of sleeping shorebirds consisting primarily of Purple Sandpipers, except for one Red Knot (the larger, paler bird):
One of the Purple Sandpipers woke up for a bit and walked to the top of the rock to stretch before taking another rest.
When I got to the very top of the jetty, I found a number of Harlequin Ducks, Black and Surf Scoters, and Common Eiders swimming in the water in this area. While not nearly as approachable as the birds closer to the shore, they still came close enough for decent photographs. One interesting bird at this spot was a male Black Scoter that seemed to flinch every time a gull flew over. It would watch as gulls approached, then would flinch as the bird sailed directly overhead. I’m not sure what would cause this particular bird to act this way, but it did provide a bit of amusement for the birders watching.
While scanning out into the ocean from this vantage point, I spotted a distant group of four Razorbills flying just above the horizon.
When I walked back part of the way to shore, a number of the brilliantly-plumaged male Long-tailed Ducks were even closer to the rocks than before. While I had seen Long-tails close up on the way out, none of the brightest birds had come extremely close.
One particular male Harlequin was also quite obliging… and apparently amused!
As I got off the jetty and walked along the beach, I came across a raft of about 80 Common Eiders (with a few Black Scoters mixed in) floating just offshore.
Barnegat is an incredible location for seeing amazingly beautiful species up-close. This is definitely a favorite winter birding spot of mine!