Avian looks forward to leading this trip every year, and it is easy to understand why. It has always proved to be a great birding experience. The best part? The birds allow much closer approach!
This year was no exception. Me, Avian, Dunlin, Shrimpkee, Capt'n Bob and new member Matthieu threw caution to the wind and it fell to the ground. That is because there was no wind, making this sunny February day with temps in the mid-twenties a pleasure. Cold you say? Dress properly, stop whining, and enjoy the outdoors. That's why they invented VCR's, etc. The show nature puts on cannot be Tivo-ed. And it IS reality.
Despite a later start, Capt'n Bob and Shrimpkee arrived just after we did, while Dunlin let us know she would catch up with us further down the shore. We began birding at the Monmouth Cultural Center. The stairs over the sea wall was an exercise in not slipping on the ice and killing yourself, but we all survived. The sea was flat and sparkling in the sunlight, and full of Black Scoters. Initially blocked by the sunlight's reflection, the raft of birds seemed to go on and on.
Looking west instead of east out on the ocean, Aigle-eyed Matthieu caught sight of an imm. Bald Eagle and got the rest of us on it. They truly are everywhere!
We continued south, making stops at lakes; some frozen, some open. Nothing unusual was found, but we were seeing a lot of Robins. A lot. A real lot, perhaps 5000 or more all told. At Bradley Beach we stopped at a small park when it was noticed the place was filled with Robins in the trees, lawn, and air. I was intent on finding something in with this bunch, but for the time we spent [ all too short ] we could not find anything other than a lone Cedar Waxwing amongst them. Matthieu assured me that if there was a Redwing or Fieldfare in with them, he would find it for us, as he has seen many back in Remulac.
|Robins on the ground|
|Robins in the air|
|Robins in the trees|
For some reason, the others were not as enthusiastic as I was, I reluctantly, and we moved on. At Belmar we got a great close-up look at a Red-throated Loon, that was close in to shore because it as tangled in fishing line.Hopefully it will be okay.
The Shark River held an impressive amount of birds. Brant in particular were quite numerous, but to our dismay there were easily hundreds of Mute Swan. The controversy has just begun, but plans to remove this invasive and destructive species have been made public. Time will tell if this is a good idea or not.
Nearby at the Inlet, we had the first of many confiding birds. On the beach were Dunlin [ the feathered kind ] and Black-bellied Plovers, who didn't particularly see to mind us walking right by them
|Dunlins and Black-bellied Plovers|
Out on the jetty, we scanned the numerous birds and the first good find was a Red-necked Grebe. I got Avian and Matthieu on it, then waved at the slackers Capt'n Bob and Shrimpkee who were lagging behind.
|The first of many Red-necked Grebes|
We were looking for Purple Sandpipers, and looking all over both jetties. And then out of no where a flock of small pipers flew by. We thought initially they were Dunlin, but Matthieu called out that they were in fact Sandpurples! Best of all the landed right in front of us!
|Sandpurples on the wing|
|Sandpurples on the jetty|
Time ticking and stomachs growling, we concluded our perusal and headed off for lunch at Kubels before the long walk out the jetty at Barnegat. We met up with Dunlin here, [ the non-bird, though birder extraordinaire ] who clued us in to the goodies she had found in the area. A Horned Grebe was in close behind the restaurant, and just a short step away at a boat basin were two more Red-necked Grebes. There had been four earlier in the day! The word about the large influx of Red-necked Grebes is that it is due to the Great lakes being frozen over.
|More Red-necked Grebes|
Continuing on to the Barnegat Lighthouse, this time we wisely decided to park outside the lot, because when they say they close the gates at 4pm, they mean it! Last year they locked us in, an we had to wait for them to come back and let us out.
Looking over the sea wall here we saw the water racing out with the tide, and under a small pier was our first Harlequin and a life-bird for Matthieu! It is interesting that upon seeing this female bird I knew what it was, but so up close, I second guessed myself. A quick check of the guide and yes, my initial impression was correct. At times I remind myself how important it is to review.
|Female Harlequin Duck|
Approaching the inlet, we saw a flock of 100 or so Snow Buntings, but the area was devoid of larks or sparrows. The sea birds did not disappoint, and we had great looks! Most important, we saw the male Harlequins for the benefit of Matthieu who had this bird high on his wish list. But just to keep our enthusiasm in check, Shrimpkee pointed out that the light was not optimal for photographs. As a result, Avian took out his tuning fork, and we called her Steve Walnut in four part harmony.
The light was fading, and we returned to the cars to the relief of Capt'n Bob. He was not up for the long and arduous walk and had waited in the car for Shrimpkee's return so that they could head home. He had hungry cats to attend to, and though he has a gun, lives in fear of their reprisal.
The rest of us made one last stop: the "road to nowhere". We were relieved to find that it was clear of snow, and made our way down it looking for the Kingfisher usually present. We had Great-blue Heron, and three Tree Sparrows along the road before the first of several cars drove past and spooked them.
We have consistently observed that this road is very popular for people to drive down, turn around at the end, and drive back. They really need to put a movie theater or something in that town.
At the end of the road we found Harriers, and saw a Snowy Owl in flight, and another sitting on a sign way out in the marsh. The trend continues, Snowy's are everywhere. As if on queue, as the Harriers stopped harassing the owl, a Short-eared Owl took over harassing it, getting a hoped for bird for us all, and a life bird for Matthieu.
It was now just about dark, so we bid Dunlin adieu, and no one bid higher, so she went home while we went for dinner at our perennially favorite spot: The Office.
Yet another great QCBC Barnegat trip.