Winter wildfowl (and other goodies) at Barnegat Lighthouse, New Jersey
This post has been long overdue, but as I recovered from shoulder surgery over the summer, whilst I couldn't lift a camera I could tap on a keyboard, so I finally got round to finishing the report!
I took the trip to Barnegat back in March 2016, and with winter upon us now seemed like a good time to publish. Arguably going mid-week, and late in the season is ideal, as the birds are likely to be less skittish compared to when they first arrive in early winter, but I imagine once your target birds have arrived and are settled (check ebird for latest sightings at this "hotspot") any time from late November to early March is likely to be productive.
Barnegat Lighthouse is one of those fabled winter bird photography destinations on the New Jersey shore. A rocky jetty runs SE into the Atlantic Ocean for just under 1 mile, with a sandy shore to one side, and the Barnegat Inlet/Atlantic Ocean to the other. This location affords close views of various sea duck that overwinter in the area, perhaps most highly sought after being Harlequin.
But equally beautiful are the drake Long-tailed Ducks, also known as Oldsquaw.
Other species frequently seen on the seaward side are Loons, Scoters and Mergansers. In the tidal pools that form on the inshore side of the jetty you can find the odd wader (shorebird), including Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone and Grey/Black-bellied Plover, and on the beach you may stumble across the Ipswich Sparrow, a pale, sandy coloured race of Savannah Sparrow.
Getting a good sun angle is generally fine, although it may require some careful manoeuvring over the rocks. WARNING - the jetty is SLIPPERY, at times VERY slippery, and without due care and attention you can land yourself in trouble. The jetty is not to be trifled with, and so tread carefully at all times, ensuring you have a firm and safe footing.
Find a "comfy" (!) spot to sit on the jetty and let the birds come to you - your patience will be rewarded with plenty of BIF opportunities. Long-tailed Ducks, in particular, will float by with the current, then fly back past you, to once again float by. If you get lucky, they might even have an inquisitive look as they fly by!
Loons/Divers too are good candidates for the "waiting game", this one in transition from winter to summer plumage.
I had tremendous success with shorebirds foraging along the edge of tidal pools, as well as small groups roosting among the jetty boulders - Grey/Black-bellied Plover, Purple Sandpiper and Dunlin.
One of my favourite birds of the day was Ipswich Sparrow. Back in the day this was recognized as a distinct species, but since 1973 the AOU has considered it a subspecies of Savannah (Passerculus sandwichensis princeps), although morphologically they're pretty distinctive with their pale, sandy plumage and narrower breast stripes that have a pinkish cast.
To get a sense of the place, here's a couple of snaps taken with my iPhone. The first shot is taken looking back towards the lighthouse/car park, with the jetty on the right of the frame - essentially a wall of large boulders! You can also see one of the (larger) tidal pools.
And this second shot shows the very end of the jetty. On this day the waves were routinely crashing over the end - I did not venture anywhere near there - too wet, too slippery and just too dam dangerous!!
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