Monday, January 30, 2012

Barnegat Pilgrimmage

 [Harlequin, where else but at Barnegat Light, yesterday.]

Somehow I managed to book myself for back-to-back talks this week, talks I've never given before, which meant a beautiful Saturday was squandered indoors compiling photos, writing, &c. [If you're interested, it'll be "It's Not About the Camera" at the Cape May County Library in Cape May Courthouse this Wednesday, 7 p.m., and "How to Identify Birds Like an Expert" at Delaware Valley Ornithological Club in Philly on Thursday, 7:30 p.m.]

Sunday, thankfully, I'd made plans to meet Tim (my son, not to mention ecologist and keen birder) up at Barnegat Light. Two elements, beyond the company, determine a great visit to Barnegat. The first is the wind - the less the better! Windchill can be mediated with clothing, but waves and swells cannot, and if half of what you're looking for is going to be sitting on the water, you want calm. We didn't quite have that, but 8-12 mph west winds weren't so bad.

The other thing you want at Barnegat is a falling tide. All that food sweeping out of Barnegat Bay attracts birds, and the lower water exposes the intertidal zone on the jetties, attracting sea ducks, shorebirds, and a zillion gulls. It makes one realize just how rich Barnegat Bay still is, despite its many problems, and how important it is to birds. The volume of birds at Barnegat Inlet greatly exceeds that at Townsend's or Hereford Inlets.

There were a LOT of birds at Barnegat today, thousands of gulls, well over 100 Red-throated Loons, about 100 Common Eiders, 18 or so Harlequins, 100's of Long-tailed Ducks, a mixed raft of scoters out at the end of the jetty.  Two different Razorbills fed actively (and were thus elusive) where the inlet meets the ocean, a small-billed first winter and an adult.

 [85 Red-throated Loons, actual count, foraged in Barnegat Bay as seen from the lighthouse. Many more were in the inlet itself and offshore. I don't recall seeing this many RTLO in the bay, must be something going on food-wise.]

The people on the jetty provided as much food for thought as the birds. Most of them, including the many birders, seemed disinclined to talk or even make eye contact, kind of weird. Tim remarked at one point, "I hate New Jersey!" Not entirely fair, but we resolved to get people to say hello, and eventually succeeded at least with that. But most people seemed too serious or busy to smile and chat.

A couple parties of birders we did talk to got me thinking about observation powers, or maybe it's better put, "observation intensity." Folks we met mentioned seeing "a gannet," or "a Red-throated Loon" or "some Common Eiders." Yet Northern Gannets were in view anytime you looked, at one point over 50 got into a plunge-fest just north of the north jetty that had me wishing I was over there with a surf rod, and several sailed right over our heads on the south jetty. Red-throated Loons, as mentioned, were all over the place, as were Commons, and although most of the eiders were far, they were there. I wonder sometimes how people look and what their expectations are. Sometimes you have to stretch your eyes, just a little.

 [A lone Black-bellied Plover occupied the jetty.]

 [Several birders said they hadn't found Purple Sandpipers, perhaps because the tide was still up when they were out there. It was about 2 hours to low in the late afternoon on Sunday, and the Purples were easy to find with Ruddy Turnstones.]

 [Eight zillion gulls, and do you think we could find a rarity like an Iceland Gull? Noooo. Makes me think more about observation powers - mine. You know there were good ones to be had.]

[This Red Knot has been hanging out on the jetty for several days, apparently.]


  1. Don, I almost went to Barnegat on Sunday also but didn't because of the winds. Thanks for all the information you give on your blog. I didn't know the falling tide is the time to go there. Love learning more about all the birds. Beth Polvino

  2. I'm still windburned. . . but, west winds (i.e. out of the west) tend to get the inshore waves to lay down, unlike east winds, which increase them. Upshot is, light to moderate west can make for good viewing of the ocean, especially if you can hunker in the lee of a dune.

  3. Don, it is entirely possible (nay, probable) that even a big mass of gulls can exist without any rarities! Question your observation skills and you're asking from an argument from me, and many other members of your fan club!

  4. Just catching up with your blog today. It is very odd few wanted to talk or make eye contact although lately, in the parks I visit, birders say little but it's the "civilians" who are curious what I'm seeing, etc. I try to convert whenever possible. 8-) As for Barnegat, the next time you go there, with or without your son, let the world know so my husband and I can make our annual trip down and greet you effusively. It would be nice to know a razorbill when I see one.