The Bufflehead Birder

May 24, 2008

Honk if You Love Harlequins

Filed under: Main Posts — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 11:20 am

I wish there were a bumper sticker that shouted “honk if you love Harlequins”. I’d buy it and actually put it on my car. Had we seen such a bumper sticker one Saturday last March my brother and I would have been leaning on the horn all the way up Long Beach Island Blvd up to Barnegat Light and back. It’s not hard to see why.

Adult male Harlequin ducks have striking white slashes and facial patches that give their plumage a Mardi Gras look. In overcast light the colors appear to be poured on.


Harlequins spend the summer in arctic regions, but these cool diving ducks hang out on the Atlantic coast in the winter as far south as New Jersey. They like rocky shorelines and that’s good for us because that make the jetty off the Barnegat Lighthouse a popular hang out for the ducks.

The Barnegat jetty is notorious for the winds that cut across the bay, but last March there was one Saturday when the wind was mild and we were able to join up with folks from the Delaware Valley Ornithology Club (DVOC) on a bird photography outing led by Steve Kacir.


The jetty was deceptively slick and the careful foot placement involved in walking out gave a workout to the quads that surpassed lunges. There were a couple of places where I could just stand and let my feet slide sideways on the slick rock surface. Reminded me of skiing in Vermont with its blue ice. Only in this situation it was more than a bruised hind end if I fell; like a mother with her children, I had to think of my beloved scope and camera.

Clusters of Harlequins were found on the mossy wet rocks where they would take a breather from diving for fish. The female Harlequin has brown plumage but still has little white cheek patches and it looks as if the male next to her has not fully come out of his first winter plumage.


An ocean idyll

I could have spent all day no problem just photographing harlequins. But there were other birds - Longtail Ducks (Oldsquaws), Eiders, Common Loons, a Northern Gannet, Purple Sandpipers, mergansers, Herring and Black-backed Gulls. One of my favorite birds is the Oyster Catcher. I think it’s the brilliant red bill and orange eyes.

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The above photos are of an American Oystercatcher and a Herring Gull. I can’t tell if the oystercatcher was in resting mode or truly did have only one leg. My attention was soon distracted by some Dunlins that were clumped together on the other side of the jetty, along with some Purple Sandpipers that wouldn’t stay still for a shot.


It was fairly windy out. By this time I has already purchased the video mount for my tripod which gave my scope more stability than the previous ballhead mount I had. But there was still some camera/scope shake.

Although that little droplet of precipitation on the end of the one bird’s bill and the way they are huddled with feathers fluffed makes the little bunch appear cold, they are summer breeding arctic birds and the New Jersey shore is their balmy Florida. If you want to see more photos of the Harlequins and other birds go to my photo gallery. I hope to have it ready in a week or so.

The first Barnegat Lighthouse was built in 1834 and by 1857 was falling into the sea as a result of sandbank erosion. The second one was finished in 1859 and is now the 2nd tallest lighthouse in the U.S.


For some interesting history on this lighthouse go to

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Barnegat Lighthouse is no longer a working lighthouse. But it was open to the public and I did my workout for the day going to the top. I love the surprises when things are seen from a completely different perspective.

I am in the process of learning how to edit my video clips and will soon have more of them uploaded into the Nature Video Clip category. Meanwhile, I did post one of my video clips of the harlequins.

And after that is a fun puzzle of one of the friendliest mailboxes I’ve ever seen. It makes up, I’m sure, for all the attack dogs postal delivery folks have to face.





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