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DVOC Field Trip Report
by Martin Selzer
Sunday March 13, 2005
BARNEGAT LIGHT, BARNEGAT BAY, and BRIGANTINE NWR, New Jersey
|It was a beautiful late winter’s
day when Bert Filemyr and I
met 7 young birders from the Upper Main Line YMCA along with their adult
sponsors Brian and Sally at Barnegat Light. The junior and senior high schoolers
were many of the World Series of Birding participants from the YMCA’s
two youth teams. We were also joined by one carload of people who saw the
announcement for this trip on the DVOC webpage. After bundling up for the
wind we head out onto the jetty.
The tide was coming in and with the stiff wind; the far end of the jetty was being washed with spray. At least that’s what it looked like from the lighthouse but more on this later. At the base of the lighthouse we started to see lots of Long-tailed Ducks many of whom appeared to have already paired off, many Common Loons and lots of Black and Surf Scoters ride the current into the bay, then flying out to the mouth of the inlet, then riding the current back in. The sun was striking these birds perfectly and we took good long looks at these birds. We made it to the end of the walkway where we got our first distant, backlit looks at some Harlequin Ducks. Without any hesitation we all climbed under the railing and started out on the jetty rocks proper. Not that Bert and I wouldn’t have headed out there anyway but with an enthusiastic group of kids we weren’t going to let a little wind and spray deter us.
We worked our way out over the dry portion of the jetty and every time we got close to the Harlequins we could only get a glimpse of them in good light before they took flight and circled off to another part of the jetty. Eventually, we worked our way up to them and had simply spectacular views of this flock of 25-35 birds. There were a lot of comments about how cool Harlequins are and the kids really were into them too. Having ticked one of our major target species, we kept heading to the end of the jetty in hopes of Purple Sandpipers.
We did have several Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones and a flock of 75 Dunlin on the jetty but no Purple Sandpipers. By the time we reached the area where the beach stops we realized that the spray washing over the end of the jetty was actually the waves breaking over the jetty. All this rough action could have been why there were no Purple Sandpipers on the jetty as their favored feeding and roosting rocks were either under water or constantly being swamped by a wave. We made it to the end of the jetty and survived the adventure with nothing worse than just about everyone getting slightly wet feet. In the dunes around the lighthouse we had a couple goldfinches, yellow-rumped warblers and cardinals.
We then went to the marina near the Coast Guard Station and had close-up looks at Brant, Canada Geese, a lone Red-breasted Merganser, Great Blue Heron and a pair of American Oystercatchers. We started to look for other access points to the bay when we realized that we had time to make a run for Brigantine NWRand that the group had never been there. After a quick stop at a local deli we were heading south to Brigantine.
Our stop at Gull Pond added American Coot, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Green-winged Teal, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail, Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawk and Mute and Tundra Swan. Since the YMCA’s van had room for one more, I jumped in to provide a little more hands on help although these kids are very good and very excited about their birding so it will only be a matter of time before they start leading us on trips. Half way along the south dike we picked up some more puddle ducks including Northern Shoveler, Gadwall and a nice flock of Canvasbacks. Turtle Cove had a small flock of Bufflehead. The group was spotting stuff the entire time we were on the autoroute when Ashley (at least I think it was Ashley and I apologize if I’m wrong) spotted a rapture perched low over one of the channels.
Using a pair of Hooded Mergansers as a reference point, she immediately got everyone in the van on this bird and I started to process the field marks in my head. It was not small headed like a hawk or falcon would be, it was chunky, smaller that a Red-tail, it was pretty much evenly tan-colored, hey could this be a short-eared owl? By the time I had reached this conclusion, Bert had jumped out of his van and was running back to us pointing at this bird. He had obviously reached the same conclusion! I jumped out and yelled, “Is that a Short-eared Owl?” at the same moment he yelled, “That’s a Short-eared Owl”! Great minds do think alike and that’s all it took for the YMCA’s van to evacuate in less than 5 seconds!! After making sure everyone got on this bird with their bins, Bert and I set up our scopes. As luck would have it a second Short-eared Owl came up out of the fragmities and flushed the first bird. Neither went far and we got to watch them hunt, chase each other and perch often enough that everyone got fantastic scope views. It was one of those moments that everyone will always remember. After a good 15 minutes of thoroughly enjoying this moment we continued along the autoroute.
We were on the back dike at this point looking into the sun so we didn’t find anything not that could have topped this moment. As we were driving, Brian (think I got this right) made a call to one of their World Series team members who could not make the trip. He told his friend about the Harlequins and that we were at Brigantine and that it was awesome and that we had just watched not ONE but TWO Short-eared Owls out and about in broad daylight. It was done in the best of fashion as one birder can only tell another birder of what they had just missed. Clearly, DVOC is setting a great example for these kids.
I would like to thank Bert for helping lead the trip, Sally and Brian from the YMCA for coordinating the trip with Chris Walters and for the kids for making this a fun day of birding!
Great Blue Heron
American Black Duck
Great Black-backed Gull
American Herring Gull