Sunday, December 7, 2008

Eiders, Harlequins and the Usual Good Stuff at Barnegat

CMBO's traditional early December field trip to Barnegat Light and surrounds yesterday featured some groovy ducks. "Best" among them was the immature male King Eider, which fraternized with 10 Common Eiders including a gorgeous adult male, and 22 Harlequins. We were there in the morning on an incoming tide and with calm conditions, and all the above ducks were south of the Barnegat Jetty, feeding over the submerged old 8th street jetty. It seems like Barnegat gets better and better for sea ducks each year, perhaps a consequence of the maturation of the sea life community along Barnegat Inlet's south jetty, which was finished in 1991.

The jetty hosted many Dunlin, plus about 10 Purple Sandpipers and a similar number of Ruddy Turnstones. The shorebirds gave great views near the end of the jetty, seeming to prefer the area where the jetty first meets the ocean when not being flushed by passing fishermen. Fifty Snow Buntings settled on the jetty briefly before flying north across the inlet to Island Beach. I also heard a Savannah Sparrow that I presumed an Ipswich, both beause it was at its traditional location along the jetty and because the note sounded more modulated than a typical Savannah, but we never saw the bird. Other parties reported Ipswich Sparrows along the jetty, however. Five Horned Larks fed on the sandy flats near the lighthouse.

An apparently injured immature Northern Gannet floated past with the incoming tide. Bonaparte's Gulls were common, as were Long-tailed Ducks. Some of the Long-taileds were courting and calling.

On the bayside at Harvey Cedars, we enjoyed two Common Loons following each other in a tight circle as they took turns looking underwater - it seemed like they had something cornered and were trying to capture it - a large crab, perhaps? An adult Peregrine was perched on an island, and by looking westward across Barnegat Bay to the Manahawkin marshes we were able to spot a very, very distant dark morph Rough-legged Hawk.

We always finish this trip by looking for Short-eared Owls, often at Manahawkin's Bridge to Nowhere. When I scouted the road to the bridge in the morning, I discovered it was in even worse shape than usual, so instead we opted to go to Cedar Run Dock Road. No short-eareds appeared, but we did see several groups of Hooded Mergansers, 4 Greater Scaup, and the usual harriers. Also of interest was a large flock of Boat-tailed Grackles, at least 120 strong, which foraged on the edge of a channel for a bit and then apparently went to roost in a phragmites stand.

Thanks to Chuck and MJ Slugg, Bill and Lee Smythe, Janet Crawford and Carole Hughes for helping out as leaders with our big group, and also to Bill Roache and Tom McParland for tipping us off to the King Eider.

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