One of my favorite birding trips during the winter is New Jersey’s “north shore” – the coast of NJ from Sandy Hook south through the Point Pleasant area. It includes the beaches and ocean as well as the many coastal ponds in this area. On Friday I headed south with fellow birders Tom Reed and Orion Weldon.
We arrived in Point Pleasant at around 7am, just in time for the sun to start peeking up from above the horizon. After a short trek across the snow and frost-covered beach, we made it out to the jetty and started scanning the ocean. Orion turned up the first Red-Necked Grebe of the day, and Tom spotted an immature Iceland Gull on the beach.
Little Silver Lake was almost completely frozen over, so we started to move north. The fields south of Sea Girt Ave produced a Merlin sitting on the ground with a recent kill, plucking feathers while we watched from the road. Not surprisingly, there weren’t many other birds around.
Wreck Pond and Lake Como were quick stops, as was another short trip out to the boardwalk to scan the ocean. We walked around the southern shore of Silver Lake, observing the wintering Black-Crowned Night-Herons out on the island. Orion and I also photographed a cooperative Great Blue Heron as he hunted at the edge of the ice.
A short trip north on Ocean Ave and we were ready to head out onto the jetty at the Shark River Inlet. While scanning the ocean, we were able to find another Red-Necked Grebe, along with large numbers of Common Loons and eventually Red-Throated Loons. Purple Sandpipers and Sanderlings foraged on the rocks beneath us, picking at mussels between the waves.
We noticed a fishing boat coming in off the ocean with a huge swarm of gulls in its wake. Hoping for a rarity, possibly even a kittiwake, we searched through the flock but were distracted when Tom called out to us. A huge Peregrine Falcon was moving up the inlet, and as it flew in front of us zeroed in on a Bonaparte’s Gull. It took a pass at the gull, which threw itself into the water to escape the hungry raptor.
A nearby Herring Gull didn’t take kindly to the intruder, and decided to chase her off. Bobbing up and down, weaving between other gulls, the Peregrine suddenly reversed roles and chased the Herring Gull for a moment before flying off. I guess no meal is worth that much trouble.
We continued scanning the ocean as a few Long-Tailed Ducks flew by. A drake afforded us wonderful looks through the scope, and a seemingly confused female flew back and forth a few times before almost heading inland! She flew straight toward the beach before turning back only a few feet from the sand. Curious behavior for a Long-Tailed Duck. Eventually she settled in between the jetties.
Orion continued to scan with the scope, and eventually turned up the bird of the day, an Eared Grebe. As we watched, the grebe slowly drifted closer and closer to the jetty. Despite its large numbers in the west, these grebes are rarely seen east of the Mississippi. When they are, it is usually in shallow wetlands, and not out on the open ocean. This bird didn’t seem to mind, though, as we watched it catch a fish close to shore. It was seen again on Saturday afternoon in the same area.
After spending a good deal of time at the Shark River Inlet, we had to head straight for Lake Takanessee. There, we spotted our first Pied-Billed Grebe of the day. Good numbers of Hooded Mergansers were present, as were Green-Winged Teal, American Coot, and a few other species of waterfowl.
I had planned for us to search for the Common/Eurasian Teal in the fourth and final pond. There wasn’t much searching to be done. As we approached, a group of teal swam out from under the bridge – the Common Teal being one of them. After studying the different field marks of the Green-Winged and Common species, we headed back to the car to call it a day.
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