There were loads and loads of Long-tailed Ducks on the water at Barnegat Light. A walk out onto the jetty produced close views of them in various stages of molt, a sure sign that spring is on the way, thank goodness. This duck looks completely different in the summer; with a black front and head and only a white face patch. This is the classic winter view.
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Barnegat Light is the mecca in NJ for wintering diving ducks. Now, winter birding is a chilly business at best, but if you have ever been to the Jersey shore in January; you know it can be downright cold. Of course you would not be birding tucked in close to the shrubbery around the lighthouse, oh no, you are going to be in the bracing, scope-shaking wind out at the jetty. Walking out yesterday, the wind was at our backs, pushing us along. I had dressed for the occasion with my long down coat and furry hat with the ear flaps, so I was comfortable. But the longer we stood there, the stronger the wind got; pulling at my hat and tearing at my coat tails. I had my coat partially unzipped so I could stuff my camera inside to try and keep the battery warm, which did nothing for keeping me warm.
Looking through a scope from the safety of the sand, we could see Surf Scoters as they bobbed in the rough surf; a Red-throated Loon popped up and down; Black Scoters huddled beyond the breakwater; Great Cormorants winged past; both Common and Red-breasted Mergansers skimmed above the waves and there were flock after flock of Long-tailed Ducks. Sanderlings ran before the waves, Ruddy Turnstones balanced on algae-covered rocks; Dunlins took salty baths in shallow pools; and mixed in with all this activity, were the odd Black-bellied Plovers in winter wear and the sought-after Purple Sandpipers resplendent in charcoal with its orange bill and feet.
This was all fine and good, but I wanted to get out on the jetty. Clambering up onto the rocks; I hopped from boulder to boulder, occasionally backtracking when the space between the stones got a little too big to jump easily; while my birding buddies walked on the hard-packed sand. From this vantage point, I could get closer and look down on the birds as they worked the rocks. I had come with a few target birds in mind, the Purple Sandpiper being one, but my main focus was Harlequin Ducks. I could see them up ahead, but the further I got out on the jetty the further they seemed to be. Until I looked down and there they were.
He almost looks fake doesn’t he? They are so worth the 2 1/2 hour drive, the cold, and the wind. I’d go again tomorrow. Wanna come?