Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Northern (High)Lights

It's 85 miles from my house to Barnegat Light, so it's pushing things quite a lot to call it 'local birding', but Barnegat is such a famous winter destination for New Jersey birders (as well as birders from neighboring states) that it earns an honorary mention on the Cape May blog from time to time. Not least because we like to keep folks posted on what's up there. Anyone who's been to Barnegat Light will know that there's one huge reason to go there - the Harlequin Ducks. So the good news is, there was at least 28 Harlequins at Barnegat today, in the usual place along the stone jetty that leads out from the lighthouse and protects the south side of the inlet (nine half way along and 19 at the end). Good numbers of Common Eider, Surf Scoter and Long-tailed Duck can be seen all along the inlet, while I also noted at least 40 Common Loons, a fly-by male Common Merganser, 25 Red-breasted Mergansers and a smart female King Eider, the latter hanging out with a party of Surf Scoters. On the jetty itself, some 250 Dunlin and 50+ Purple Sandpipers were roosting at high tide as well as a scattering of Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plovers and a single Sanderling.

If you go to Barnegat Light, be sure to pick a day with little wind and preferably dry weather; even then, be sure to wrap up very warm and try not to get wet from sea spray as this can quickly chill you. It can be deceptively cold in such an exposed location.

(Harlequin Ducks at Barnegat Light today. Click picture to enlarge.)

(First-winter female King Eider at Barnegat Light. King Eiders have a different profile to Common Eiders, largely due to the different bill structure. In this species, the bill is shorter than in Common Eider and there is an obvious bump on the bridge of the nose (corresponding with the bill shield of the male). The bird can be aged as a youngster by the lack of an obvious white line on the trailing edge of the secondaries (note the poorly-marked line here) and also by the flank patterning which unfortunately can't be seen in this shot!

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