Friday, December 24, 2010

Barnegat, Brigantine

Rolling the dice on a traditional NJ coastal route I started at Barnegat Inlet a little after sunup, although more accurately presented as sun-behind-overcast-rise. For a late Xmas present I request a weatherman voodoo doll.

The tide was so high that the breakwater (south side of the inlet, as usual) was surrounded by water on all sides beyond the concrete paved section. This also meant that there was some inundation further along. That didn't make a great deal of difference since with the tide so high not very much was perched on it. I saw fly-by Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin and Purple Sandpiper. On the walk back down the breakwater from half-way I added Black-bellied Plover. A (presumed) Savannah Sparrow was also hanging out, too far to ID with any certainty but also likely to be an Ipswich ssp.

Large numbers of ducks milled around the ocean side of the inlet - scoters and Eiders and the common Long-tailed Ducks. I got all 3 species of Scoter (Black, Surf, White-winged) and a small group of Eider flying down the inlet on the rising tide. Red-breasted Mergansers periodically flew by. There was a relatively small group of Harlequin Ducks next to the breakwater but the tide was really too high to induce them to perch up. Common and Red-throated Loon were in the inlet. So in fact despite the high tide and unfavorable conditions I managed to find a perfectly typical range of Barnegat species. I left when two duck hunting boats headed out into the inlet. This appears to be a new feature this year, and as far as I can tell not illegal, but rather screws birding here.

Down at the Brigantine division of Forsythe NWR I could also hear shots out in the saltmarsh, but not right next to the impoundments. There was a flock of Snow Geese near start of the drive - normally they are further south and east of this, but I didn't find a Ross's with them - the flock was rather dispersed. Much of the fresh water impoundment was frozen solid - 30+ Tundra Swans and other waterfowl were clustered around the open patch. The southerly salt-water impoundment was about 50% ice free. The tide here was also very high - perhaps as high as I have seen it and much of the saltmarsh was under water. The flocks of Dunlin were resting on ice mats still stuck to the marsh grasses out in the bay. Waterfowl numbers were decent, although mainly American Black Duck, Northern Pintail and Mallard. Hooded Mergansers and Bufflehead were present, as was a nice surprise in a single female Common Merganser near one of the sluices giving good photo ops. Common Mergansers are usually pushed down from the north after hard freezes and it has been a cold December. Passerines were limited to a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds and a few Eastern Meadowlarks

Raptors were not especially numerous but I did have Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Peregrine and a Bald Eagle. The eagle was an adult, but the Peregrine showed a small patch of brown on its otherwise slate-gray back, suggesting a first year bird.

I went back to Barnegat on the way back home and found nothing new, although I did watch a cooperative Common Loon hunting crabs near the end of the concrete paved section of the breakwater.

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