By Tony Davison
The Sea Duck of Barnegat Jetty and Avalon, NJ, USA.
From the 7th to the 13th February, along with three birding friends, I visited New Jersey and specifically Barnegat Jetty, Avalon and the Cape May Peninsular. Our quest was to try and photograph the variety of Scoter and other Sea Duck that frequent the area. There is also a regular flock of Harlequin Duck off Barnegat and these offered even more excitement. It was also my first birding trip to the USA and so I knew I was in for a treat and a rack of new birds.
During the week we also visited Stone Harbor, Brigantine and various sites along Cape May for woodland birds and none Wildfowl. We were blessed with great weather until the 13th Feb, when all hell broke loose with an ice storm, strong wind & heavy snow, at least 10 inches fell in the New York area. Life still went on though and as normal and despite a three hour delay on our return flight, we managed to get out before the real bad weather hit the area.
The sea duck were simply incredible with thousands of Black Scoter off shore at Barnegat and Avalon, emitting their eerie “cooing call notes”, hundreds of Long-tailed Duck or Oldsquaw as they are affectionately know, also emitting a strange “Yodelling” sound that carries some distance and close quarter encounters with Harlequin and Surf Scoter. A few White-winged Scoter and plenty of Common Loon, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Scaup, American Herring Gull and a large flock of very friendly Purple Sandpiper, on the Jetty at Barnegat. All made for some tremendous photographic opportunities.
Barnegat Jetty, Long Island, NJ, USA – Tony Davison
Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, NJ is located at the northern end of Long Beach Island and the Barnegat Jetty is a MUST-VISIT destination during the cold winter months. The Jetty is effectively a sea defence wall built of huge granite boulders and juts out into the sea for about a mile. Once out at the end it was like the arctic, with a freezing cold wind chill factor but some remarkable birding sights. The main attraction are the wintering Harlequin Ducks but there are also many other sea ducks that offer close quarter viewing. The Blue Mussels are the food attraction to the sea duck, and the rocks are covered in them. We visited Barnegat twice during our stay and on the second visit, we had some remarkable views of a flock of 35 Surf Scoter of varying ages.
The first birds to be encountered on the jetty are the American Herring Gulls, in a variety of age and plumage.
Adult winter American Herring Gull – Barnegat Jetty – Tony Davison
Adult Great Black-backed Gull – Barnegat Jetty – Tony Davison
Then came the variety of sea duck and in particular, the incredible “Harlies” of the feathered kind, rather than machine kind!! Stunningly beautiful birds, apart from the females!!
Adult female Harlequin Duck off Barnegat Jetty – Tony Davison
Above images – Adult Drake Harlequin – Barnegat Jetty – Tony Davison
Adult drake Bufflehead – Barnegat Jetty – Tony Davison
Above three images American Black Scoter off Barnegat Jetty Tony Davison
Above three images Drake Long-tailed Duck Barnegat Jetty Tony Davison
Above three images Surf Scoter Barnegat Jetty Tony Davison
Drake Red-breasted Merganser Barnegat Jetty Tony Davison
1st winter drake Red-breasted Merganser Barnegta Jetty Tony Davison
Above two images Purple Sandpiper Barnegat Jetty Point Tony Davison
Another site that we visited several times was Avalon, situated between The Wildwoods Township and Atlantic City. Avalon and Stone Harbor share a barrier island named Seven Mile Beach and Avalon comprises the north side of the island. The area is a huge sea bay that attracts thousands of Scoter and other sea duck. The Jetties offer the best spots for viewing but accessing them without disturbing the birds is very tricky. Extreme care needs to be taken when walking on the Jetty Stones. We viewed from the main Jetty over-looking Townsends Inlet and encountered thousands of Black Scoter, with smaller numbers of Surf and White-winged Scoter including one superb male. Hundreds of Long-tailed Ducks were also mixed in. The calls of the birds could immediately be heard as we got out the car on arrival. A fantastic sound and site, once we started viewing.
A view of Avalon Bay Tony Davison
Avalon Jetty Tony Davison
Drake White-winged Scoter Avalon Tony Davison
Part of the Scoter flock off Avalon spot the 2 WWS Tony Davison
Common Loon Tony Davison
Brant Tony Davison
A fantastic trip to a beautiful part of the world. Thank goodness the weather was on our side otherwise it would have been a completely different story.