Saturday, December 3, 2011

Barnegat Inlet - epic

This Saturday I made no mistake about spending most of my time at Barnegat Inlet instead of pushing on elsewhere - I was out there for about 4 hours starting shortly after dawn. Fishermen abounded on both the breakwater and in small craft, so once more there was little in the inlet itself - a group of three White-winged Scoters hugging the breakwater (injured?) being the exceptions.

In the bay there was a flock of Bonaparte's Gulls with a few Laughing Gulls but no Forster's Terns this time - the cooling weather might have pushed them south. Out at the far (Atlantic) end of the breakwater there was an immense amount of activity out on the ocean. The entire time I was watching there were always Red-throated Loons at mid-altitude headed south in small loose flocks (max=14) which means there must have been pushing a thousand migrating during that time. There were also some at sea level. I saw all of two Common Loons. Sea ducks were also numerous - mostly in one huge mixed flock just south of the inlet; Common Eider; all three Scoters; Harlequin Duck; Long-tailed Duck. Eiders themselves numbered in the hundreds (one report from there logged it as 350). If you scoped further out into the ocean there were sea ducks further out as well (scoters, mainly) so there were one to a few thousand oceanic ducks milling around the area. Most of the inshore scoters appeared to be immature/female birds, with disproportionately few males but there seemed to be more males further out in the fairly strong swell off the breeze.

With the Red-throated Loon movement there was also a smaller Northern Gannet movement southward, always in small flocks and mostly adults or near-adults. There were also more flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls north of the inlet. And just as had been reported the previous weekend, this attracted the Parasitic Jaegers. The Jaegers were behaving as a combination of sea gull and Peregrine, hugging the ocean until they saw something they wanted to follow and then accelerating to chase it down - something that was quite visible even at range. Mostly it was the Bonaparte's Gulls but sometimes they chased each other. I had about 8 sightings, which could have been anywhere between two to eight actual individuals (one birder saw 4 at once). The sheer number of birds was impressive, but it was the Parasitics that were particularly special for me since I'd only added them to my life list (conservatively) in late summer. Now I've finally seen more Parasitics than any other Jaeger (I've seen 5 Long-tailed, for example) although none of the views were especially close.

Other birds included the typical four shorebirds: Sanderling; Dunlin; Ruddy Turnstone; Purple Sandpiper. Two Peregrines were soaring together over the breakwater. An unusual bird for Barnegat was a Northern Harrier, probably a late migrant headed south down the barrier beach. Passerine activity was minimal, a few Yellow-rumped and some standard suburban birds, all at the state park.

After Barnegat I did go again to Brigantine/Forsythe NWR but the results were identical to the previous weekend and not noteworthy.

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