This past Sunday was warm: a whopping 76 degrees here in New Jersey. I’m not the biggest fan of that kind of heat in the fall, but I thought it would be nice to go to Barnegat Lighthouse State Park on Long Beach Island, NJ. I figured that it’s usually cooler at the shore, so we should have a nice cool breeze while birding. I wanted to see some shore birds and new migrants who I’ve been hearing about on some of my birding Facebook groups.
Things didn’t quite turn out as I expected though. There was no cool breeze (although it was nice and sunny). You know what else was missing?
Shorebirds. There were no shorebirds in sight. Zero. Once again, birding got me by giving me exactly what I did not expect. But instead I got something else that’s pretty great.
Gulls. Lots and lot of gulls. Gulls galore.
Like Turkey Vultures, I feel like gulls also get a bad rep. They are noisy, they steal, they invade our parking lots. Many people think of them as a nuisance.
If you feel that way about gulls, I challenge you to look closer. Gulls are actually pretty fascinating. They have complex communication systems and are excellent parents. Gulls are also extremely adaptable. People may get annoyed seeing gulls hanging out by all the garbage, but let’s remember who created all that garbage in the first place…(hint: it’s not the gulls :-P)
So although I did not get to see shorebirds, I was happy to spend some time with the gulls. I felt honored to be able to get so close and observe. We watched them preen, rest, hang out together, swim in a tide pool, float on ocean waves, and soar over the water. It was a nice day to be with these underappreciated sea birds.
As I explained in my Seashore Saturday about Laughing Gulls, the term “seagull” is not real. There are only “gulls”, and there are many different kinds that live here at the Jersey Shore in the fall and winter. We saw a healthy mix of Ring-billed, Herring, Laughing, and Great Black-backed Gulls (I heard later through Facebook that there were Bonaparte’s Gulls somewhere that day but I did not personally observe them).
I’ll admit, I’m not the best at gull identification. Gull plumage varies greatly. It depends on the season, breeding vs. nonbreeding, and how old a bird is. Juveniles of all the species listed above tend to be more brown, but some gulls have different winter plumage depending on if they are 1st winter, 2nd winter, or 3rd winter. I would be remiss if I acted like I knew what all these specific gulls were in the pictures of this post. I have a long way to go in my gull id skills. But it is a work in progress that I am determined to improve over time. So I will caption these pictures with simply just “mixed flocks of gulls”.
However, I feel somewhat confident of this picture:
After much deliberation I believe this fellow is a 3rd winter Herring Gull. But don’t quote me on that! (lol 🙂 and please correct me if I’m wrong!).
I may have only gotten decent pictures of gulls, be we did see some other species on our trip. These included male and female Northern Cardinals, two Brown Creepers, two Great Cormorants, a Double-crested Cormorant, a Red-bellied and a Downy Woodpecker, a White-breasted Nuthatch, Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and a juvenile Eastern Phoebe. We determined the Phoebe was juvenile because of its pale yellow belly.
We even picked up two new feathers for our collection: a Northern Flicker and some sort of gull (again, I have no clue who’s feather this may be, I just thought it was cool).
I’m glad we had a day full of gulls. These interesting birds deserve more respect and positive attention. The shorebirds can wait until the next Long Beach Island trip.