Big Year 2016: Barnegat Light & Island Beach State Park

Snuggled Against the Wind

One of my favorite things about spring birding is taking a day off on a beautiful day and hitting a number of different spots

Barnegat Light

As is my norm, I usually start my Ocean County, NJ trips at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. I was looking forward to a slightly chilly but quickly warmming day, as the forecast was for 60+ degrees by about 11 a.m. However, Mother Nature had other ideas and it was a frigid 38&#8457 and very windy; when I arrived and a deep fog was rolling in with the sunrise (isn’t sun supposed to burn off the fog?). At the entrance, two competing corvids were calling with the vocal combat of Fish Crow and Boat-Tailed Grackle sounding from the end of the driveway.

Call Me Ishmael

Are You An American Crow?

Walking to the jetty, the normal denizens of the small walkway by the visitor center were waking up – cardinals, white-throated sparrows, yellow-rumped warblers, carolina chickadees. But then I heard a cedar waxwing calling, joined by another and then several more. Next thing I know, 30 of them flew into the pines right above me to enjoy some of the bounty they were putting out. There were more calling from a distance but I was enjoying watching the close-up view of these beautiful birds.

Masked Waxwings
Wots of Waxwings

On the Jetty

By the time I got to the jetty, the fog was really thickening, reducing visibility to less than 20 feet and dropping. But I was determined to walk the jetty as far as I could, hoping to pick up few new year birds and seeing some of my favorite ducks – the Harlequin Ducks that frequent the rocks during the winter. The inlet was mostly full of Long-tailed Ducks, including some that were really far along their plumage change into breeding plumage.

Dark Duck

But as I made my way further along the rocks, the fog was coming in thicker and thicker. Soon, trying to shoot more than a couple of yards from the rocks was impossible and trying to see what awaited me on top of them was likewise tough. A flock of Dunlin were manning the jetty, mixed in with some FOY PURPLE SANDPIPER, another winter visitor the Barnegat. Ruddy Turnstone were also clambering around and picking from the seaweed coating the flanks of the rocks, less nervous than either of the other sandpipers.

Jetty Shots
Rhymes with Purple (2016)
Ruddy, Ruddy

My first quartet of BRANT were feeding in the pools of seawater on the beach side of the jetty,
Brant

joined by a pair of beautiful AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, something I didn’t really expect to see this soon.
Early bird gets the oyster

Past the mid-point of the jetty, the scoters started showing up, along with Common and RED-THROATED LOON hanging just a bit too far off in the fog to get decent shots. So instead, it was one of those times to just watch as the birds went about their day, fishing and riding the waves, spectral in the mist. I kept walking, heading for the end of the jetty. But the winds were really pushing the waves in and after an all-too-close call with a wave near the end, I decided that prudence was better than valor and started my way back. I got better looks at some of the birds I had seen on the way out (including those Harlequins!), plus a FOY EASTERN PHOEBE and a Golden-crowned Kinglet feeding on the rocks!

Kinglet on the Rocks (CROP)

Island Beach State Park

For years, I’ve wanted to check out this prime birding destination so I decided to make the long roundabout way to the park (which sits about 500′ from Barnegat as the crow flies – but about 26 miles by road). The weather was still cold and overcast – definitely not the day I’d signed up for when I took the day off – but I was determined. Sadly, most of the spots were somewhat dead due to the time of year and the weather, but I can definitely see how this place would be fantastic once migration is in full swing.

I stopped at every trail and birding spot throughout the whole park, getting to see what it offered. Towards the beginning, the common winter residents were plentiful: chickadees, cardinals, nuthatch, blue jays, etc. At one point there was a mini-fallout of birds where I was surrounded by a small phalanx of cedar waxwing, a number of yellow-rumped warblers and pair of beautiful PINE WARBLER.

Brunette

Eventually, I came upon one of the park’s famous “friendly” foxes. There are a bunch of red fox in Island Beach State Park and they are well-accustomed to humans – perhaps too much. Sadly, too many people take their familiarity as an invitation to feed them for better photographs, which has caused issues that the park rangers are really trying to stop. As I came into the parking lot where they’re often found, there was one of the group hanging out by the dunes. When I got out of my car, the fox immediately made a bee-line for me; he was disappointed when I made no move to offer a snack, it went right past me dejected.

Don't Mind Me

Moving along, many of the trails were relatively quiet except for the typical, common songbirds. It was nice to see the OSPREY platform occupied already and offering great views of the bird who has already staked its claim,

Homecoming

while the blind trail had brant, mallards, bufflehead and red-breasted merganser hanging out in close proximity. Overall, not the greatest day of birding there but I can understand why so many people like this place and I paln on checking it out again in the near future.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • 123) American Oystercatcher
  • 124) Purple Sandpiper
  • 127) Merlin
  • 128) Osprey
2016 YTD Tally
128 Species – Month 80
Lifers 7
NJ Species 110
NJ Lifers 7
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