Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Since I worked Sunday I went down to Barnegat Inlet/Light on Monday morning to make a late season look for sea ducks etc.  I got there when the tide was still very high and waves crashing over the breakwater from a pretty significant swell, so I made most of the hike to the ocean along the beach.  I discovered a new saltwater channel leading from the breakwater towards the phragmites and evergreen area in the dunes, as a result of winter storms.  An Eastern Phoebe was hunting amongst the pines near the lighthouse and a male Boat-tailed Grackle was singing at the bait shop.  As is typical for March a lot of gulls have paired up and many adults are in near-breeding plumage.

As expected Long-tailed Ducks were the most numerous and vocal, with courtship in full swing although only a few showed signs of being paired.  Harlequin Ducks were also chasing each other around and with the strong current pushing in off the ocean toward the bay, they were easily found at the end of the concrete walkway - normally they're further out.  The Red-breasted Mergansers were far less interested in pairing up, at least at this juncture.  Many Common Loons were present, most showing some signs of pre-alternate molt, and one bird that was most of the way to full breeding plumage.  Only 3 Red-throated Loons were seen.  Great Cormorants were perched on the structure at the end of the north jetty with one hunting along the inlet but they tend to avoid people wherever possible - one look at me and it headed back up the inlet.  Despite being in the 50's it was still very much a late winter rather than early spring set of water birds.

The Eider flock was still at the beach off the south side of the jetty, but apart from inevitable Long-tailed Ducks other sea ducks were elusive.  In the fog and hazy sunshine some silhouetted Scoters came by offshore in ones and twos and threes, but at that range and lighting they were strictly probable Blacks and Surf Scoters and non-definitive.  A handful of Northern Gannets were the other notable birds out on the ocean.

Since I wasn't walking along the jetty because of crashing waves, I saw only a few shorebirds: a Dunlin and Black-bellied Plover on the beach and a Purple Sandpiper perched up on the jetty staying clear of the waves.

The best action of the day was when a panicked flock of Dunlin shot past the jetty, pursued by a Peregrine which I watched pick off one Dunlin in mid-air just by flying it down rather than stooping.  Immediately a slightly larger (presumed female) Peregrine grabbed the Dunlin out of the other's talons - the first Peregrine letting go just before it got too close to the surf.  Then a Great Black-backed Gull pursued the second Peregrine to try and steal the Dunlin from it, ultimately unsuccessfully but a motivated GBB can give a loaded Peregrine a run for its money in flat flight.

Before leaving the barrier island a stop at a bay overlook about a half mile north of the bridge produced a few Horned Grebes and a Scaup sp. flock in the far more sheltered waters of the bay.

No comments: