Sunday, February 12, 2012

(more) Gulls in NJ

Sunday's route was a coastal one, starting at Point Pleasant for Razorbill and then bouncing up the northern coast. The idea was to pick up coastal water birds to fill out the year list. The weather had other ideas - cold, partially overcast and with a strong westerly breeze and I was almost totally stymied.

Point Pleasant: Dunlin, Black-bellied Plover, Common Loon, Northern Gannet
Little Silver Lake, Wreck Pond, Spring Lake, Lake Como etc: Hooded Merganser, Bufflehead, Mallard, Am. Black Duck, Black-crowned Night Heron, Ruddy Duck, Brant (1), Snow Goose (1). Somewhat of a dearth of interesting birds, low numbers in general, missing the American Wigeon flock at Silver Lake in Belmar etc. I did have two Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Roosevelt Avenue access point in Deal to avoid a complete birding disaster.

I did stop at Sandy Hook at the C (Chokeberry) lot and found very little out on the open water: Common Loon, Long-tailed Duck, distant Gannets and a few Bonaparte's Gulls. The sand was being whipped up by the wind which was ferocious enough at this point to eliminate any enthusiasm I had for scanning from more windswept ocean beaches - there wasn't anything noteworthy looking to the north of C lot along the Atlantic, no sign of any scoters.

I retreated to South Amboy and walked east along the beach from the waterfront park (large flock of Brant) to the Walker Ave mudflats. I was searching for a Black-headed Gull amongst the Bonaparte's flock so it was with some chagrin that from a distance I saw the Bonaparte's take to the air and the flock fragment with about half of them heading out towards rips offshore far enough that you certainly couldn't tell them apart. This actually happened again once I got closer to the flock, leaving 30-40 on the beach once I got within scoping range. The flock appeared nervous in the high wind and the presence of some large Herring Gulls. Put to flight briefly by the big gulls I spotted the Black-headed Gull by virtue of the black underneath of its primaries, followed it until it return to the water with the Bonaparte's, and finally saw the one interesting bird for the day. Apparently my first Black-headed in four years. As is the case in flocks that I've seen them in before, Black-headed don't look much larger than Bonaparte's when in the water, and the red bill is quite subdued in mediocre light in winter, but when it wandered out onto land it seemed almost twice the bulk of a Bonaparte's by virtue of the legs being longer. I got fairly decent looks at it, and this was my only good bird of the day - out in the bay Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-throated Loon and Great Cormorant didn't quite make the noteworthy list, although the Cormorant was starting to sport breeding plumage.

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