Shorebirds and Waterfowl at Barnegat Light, NJ

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Jan 17, 2009 | by Adrian Binns

Winter has arrived! It was our coldest day in many years and what a difference a few hours can make. Driving through the Pine Barrens shortly after sunrise it was an astonishing minus 14F! We are talking only a few meters above sea level and less than 20 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. But, at the coast it was 20 degrees warmer, 6F!

It is a good long walk out to the end of the jetty at Barnegat with many of the boulders covered in patches of frozen sea water this morning. Most of the inlet had large sheets of ice which by late morning had been carried inshore on the incoming tide. The adjacent grassy dunes held Yellow-rumped Warblers, Savannah Sparrow and Horned Larks and not far away a Cooper’s Hawk and Peregrine were lurking.

Barnegat in winter is a wonderful place to see Brant geese, Common and Red-throated Loons, Great Cormorant, Red-breasted Mergansers, Harlequin and Long-tailed Ducks (top). Surf and Black Scoter along with Horned Grebes were also there. While all those birds spent their time in the water, five species of shorebirds were using the jetty to rest – Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Purple Sandpipers and Dunlin.

Sandpipers in winter tend to have rather drab colors, mostly shades of gray, making it tougher for predators to see them. They also stay in large flocks which makes singling one out a tough task for a Peregrine. See if you can pick out the lone Ruddy Turnstone amongst the sleeping Dunlin in the picture above?

The star of the wintering sandpipers is undoubtedly the Purple Sandpiper (left). They get their name from the purplish iridescence reflected on their wings and upper body, which is just visible at this time of year if your look closely. The word “piper”, as in sandpiper, comes from the Latin meaning “to chirp”, a sound that is very obvious when a flock of them takes flight.
all photos © adrian binns


  1. giggles on January 18, 2009 at 10:29 AM

    I pick the one, right smack in the middle….it seems to have a little more contrast than the ones surrounding it? (Smart one anyway, bein’ in the middle!) You saw all of these birds…yesterday….in this cold??? Did you take a group with you or do you do this for fun in your spare time?

  2. Adrian Binns on January 18, 2009 at 10:43 AM

    Yes you are right. Subtle coloration and shape differences help to seperate shorebirds species. I went out to photography knowing it was going to be a sunny day with little to no wind. I never expected it to be as cold as it was. I wrapped up, it warmed up and had a wonderful time. I have an upcoming club trip to lead there.

  3. giggles on January 18, 2009 at 2:38 PM

    …”club trip…” Which “club” might I have to join to have the kind of fun you are having??!!

  4. Adrian Binns on January 19, 2009 at 5:57 PM

    I belong to the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club We run about 50 field trips a year and you are more that welcome to join in. Information is on the website.

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