Jersey Birding – Part two, Barnegat Lighthouse State Park 11/26/10

Barnegat Lighthouse State Park birding was good, but there weren’t as many species as I had hoped (no Scoters, unfortunately) , mainly because of the overcast and partly rainy weather.  First, we took a trail out along the jetty, because that was where the largest amount of species have been seen.  There wasn’t really anything spectacular around us except a large flock of gulls.  When I looked at it, my attitude immediately changed as I saw my first lifer of the day, a Bonaparte’s Gull.  At this time of year, Bonaparte’s Gulls look completely white and gray when perched, except for the telltale black feathers near it’s auriculars.  This can easily distinguish it from most other gulls, but also when the bird is in flight, you can notice black bordering the tips of their primary feathers, and their prominent orange feet.

A Bonaparte's Gull, the first lifer for today.

In other times of the year (mainly during the breeding season), they deeply resemble the common Laughing Gull, because they both have black heads and gray backs.  The two can easily be distinguished by the Laughing Gull’s red at the tip of their bills, whereas the Bonaparte’s have a completely black bill.  As I examined the flock further, I noticed Herring,

An adult Herring Gull in winter plumage. The distinguishing feature of this Gull's winter plumage is the brown streaks on it's head.

Ring-Billed, and Great Black-Backed Gulls.

A Great Black-Backed Gull, one of the many Gulls seen today.

As we walked further down the jetty, I noticed Brant

A georgeous relative of the common Canada Goose.

and Ruddy Turnstone, and then I noticed an immense flock of sandpipers in front of me.  To size it up, there were at least 600 sandpipers total in a very, very small amount of space.

Just a small portion of the hugh flock of Sandpiper seen on the jetty.

There were Dunlin, which usually have a brown back and a black chest during breeding season, Ruddy Turnstones, lacking much of the black on their chests (which they have during breeding season),

A Ruddy Turnstone in winter plumage.

and finally, Purple Sandpipers.  This was my second lifer for the day, and a very good one too.  I’m really not an expert on Purple Sandpipers, since I’ve only ever heard about them since the beginning of the year.  They typically only come down to this area in the winter time, but when they do, they are fairly easy to identify.  To start, the bird isn’t really purple, just a deep gray color on it’s back.  At this time of year, Purple Sandpipers, like I said, have a deeper gray color on it’s back compared to how it looks in breeding season.  It’s bill REALLY is the part that distinguishes it from most (if not all) of the sandpipers in North America.  The start of the bill (closest to their heads) is an odd orange-ish black color, and then about half way down, the bill changes into a complete black color.

Yet another of the many Purple Sandpipers seen today.

Then, immediately after I stopped viewing the sandpipers, I saw my highlight bird for the day—— Harlequin Ducks!  These are one of those birds where if you saw them, you would some how know what they are, even if you didn’t know what they look like, you would know that it was a Harlequin Duck.  They are simply spectacular birds with beautiful hues of dark blue, brown, and white.  This is the only time of year that this species comes to the area, and this is about only how far down south they come.

Female Harlequin Ducks. Notice white "whiskers", and the white patch near their auriculars.

A strikingly colored male Harlequin Duck, with a female in the top left corner.

A raft of beautiful Harlequin Ducks, one of my lifers for today.

The Barnegat Lighthouse jetty is one of the most famous places to see the Harlequin Duck, so if you wanted to see one, this would be the place to go.  I hope to go to Barnegat Lighthouse State Park many more times because of the large amount of species of birds that gets reported there all throughout the year.  This would be an excellent place to go if you wanted to rack on a couple of lifers, because at any time of the year, this place never disappoints!

A cloudy, windy day, but still great for some birdwatching!

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