Big Year 2016: Goose Chase

It was mid-January and there were a number of rare geese being seen in NJ – including a possible lifer Barnacle Goose, a Greater White-fronted Goose and a Cackling Goose. So I thought it was time for me to go on a “wild goose chase” to see if I could see some.

Barnegat Inlet

I started at my second birding trip of the year, to one of my favorite winter birding spots: Barnegat Light. This spot is always a bastion of a good sea ducks, winter shorebirds and usually some interesting landbirds like Merlin, Snow Buntings and Horned Lark.

A quick look out into the bay brought me a surprise – an immature LAUGHING GULL in the area near the Coast Guard station. However, there was little else swimming in the high waves so I made my way to the jetty.

Inlet Wave

But it was a COLD day so I knew that it was going to be a tough one walking out onto that jetty. Worse, strong winds were pushing the tide in the inlet creating waves like I had never seen there. That kept a lot of the birds away from the inlet, but also brought some of them up closer to the rocks. Several BONAPARTE’S GULLS came in close to the rocks and hovered over them. The beautiful HARLEQUIN DUCKS were hanging out just off the rocks in a small flock (I’d see 15 in all), along with LONG-TAILED DUCK and BLACK SCOTER. As I walked along the rocks of the jetty a GREAT CORMORANT flew by, its long body and white breast cutting through the wind as it headed inland.

Out at the breakers at the end of the jetty, COMMON EIDER, BLACK SCOTER, COMMON LOON and RED-BREASTED MERGANSER bobbed in the high waves, while RUDDY TURNSTONE clambered among the rocks. Sadly, however, the normally common Purple Sandpipers were missing the whole way up and back along the rocks meaning I missed a common species for me.

Adult Bonaparte's Gull

Blue Duck

Riverfront Landing, Tom’s River

Next it was off to Tom’s River to find some of the Aythya ducks. The Riverfont Landing gave me a great show with my FOY CANVASBACK, LESSER and GREATER SCAUP, RING-NECKED DUCK and RUDDY DUCK all swimming in and around the marina. The Canvasback gave me the best looks I’ve ever had of the species as 2 males and a female swam right in front of me.

Canvasing the Area

One of the best shots was this look at all 3 of the dark-headed Aythya ducks, offering great looks at the ID marks for the 3 species. From left to right are Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis), Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) and Greater Scaup (Aythya marila).

Aythya Comparison

  1. The Ring-necked is the easiest to tell because of the distinctive bill and dark back.
  2. The Lesser Scaup on the left is showing the peaked head, purplish color and smaller size.
  3. The Greater Scaup (right) has a more rounded head, slightly green hue and large nail on the bill, plus is larger. It’s also supposed to have a whiter flank but this one seems rather dark.

Marshall’s Pond, Tom’s River

A male REDHEAD had been seen at this strangely popular pond next to a shopping center. Along with a lot of RING-NECKED DUCKS was the single male redhead, resplendent even in the poor light. The weather was turning and I had two more stops to make for the day.

Redheads have more fun?

Office Pond & Lake Etra, Monroe Township

Up to this point, I still hadn’t actually gone for the geese. Now it was time, though I would sadly strike out on all 3 species. The Barnacle Goose had been seen fairly regularly at a small pond with a pair of hybrids and a lot of Canada Geese. Despite a number of us looking, the Barnacle never made an appearance and it started to get colder and the snow started to come down. I made my way to Lake Etra for the other two geese but by then the snow was coming down so hard it was hard to see … but it was evident there were no geese on the lake itself, though there were some HOODED MERGANSER there. I came across 1,000+ Canada Geese in a nearby field but in the heavy snow it was impossible to find anything other than Canadas. So, 0/3 on my goose chase.

As a consolation, I managed to get a FOY HAIRY WOODPECKER at home when I arrived.


  • Laughing Gull (rare this time of year)
  • Harlequin Duck
  • Redhead
2016 YTD Tally
84 Species – Month 84
Lifers 1
NJ Species 81
NJ Lifers 1

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