Blog by Jesse Amesbury.....
Saturday December 5th, Atlantic Audubon held a field trip to Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. Barnegat is a major birding hotspot known for its winter specialties, although the weather didn’t feel that much like winter. With the temperature near 60oF and bright sunshine, we were in for a real treat. The walk began with a few passerines in the shrubs near the parking lot, which included northern cardinals and white-throated sparrows. We eventually made it out to the main event, the jetty. A few brave souls walked out onto the rocks of the jetty, down to the tip, while others took the safer route and walked along the beach towards the tip. On our way to the end of the jetty we enjoyed views of long-tailed ducks, a common loon, and a very confiding ruddy turnstone who walked feet away from us!
The group finally made their way to the tip of the jetty when we suddenly heard another birding group shout out “BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE!!!” We got on the bird, an immature, as it was sitting on the water bouncing in the waves. However, it quickly got up and flew out towards the sea leaving the group wishing they got much better views of the bird, which was a lifer for most. We were quickly distracted by the mass of ducks floating in the surf behind us. The main target of the trip, a harlequin duck, was quickly picked out of the group and put in the scope for all to enjoy. After oohing and awwwing at the gorgeous duck we were alerted to a second black-legged kittiwake flying into the inlet. This time an adult, but again, just a little too far away to enjoy. However, after sifting through the rest of the birds around the tip of the jetty other goodies were picked out such as common eider, purple sandpiper, red-throated loon, white-winged scoter, and northern gannets. Just as we were about to call it quits the immature black-legged kittiwake returned, except this time it flew right along the jetty offering spectacular views of this normally pelagic species. We watched it clumsily crash into the water as it fed on small fish, giving everybody the looks we all desired - definitely the icing on the cake during this great trip.
Black-legged kittiwake is a pelagic species of gull, meaning they normally spend their time out at sea and are rarely seen from shore. Their buoyant and nimble flight style makes their appearance very tern-like. This immature has bold black markings all the way down the front of its wings creating a bold M pattern when it banks, making it easy to identify from a distance. (Photo by Jesse Amesbury)
The adult black-legged kittiwake is a much more generic looking bird and and is very similar to the ring-billed gull in appearance. Notice the jet black wing tips with no white in them, as if they were dipped in black ink. They also lack the ringed-bill of a ring-billed gull. That is if you get close enough to see the bill. (Photo by Jesse Amesbury)
This purple sandpiper was another real treat on the trip. If you look very closely at the shoulder area on this bird, you can see why it gets the name purple sandpiper. There is a slight purplish hue on the feathers, which can be very tough to see in the field. (Photo by Jesse Amesbury)