Thursday, February 12, 2015

Manasquan Inlet 2/12--White-winged Scoter. OR: Chasing the Thick-billed Murre

Last night two Thick-billed Murres were reported in Barnegat Inlet. I have seen exactly one Thick-billed Murre in my years of birding--it was about 50 yards off the beach by the Gil Hodges Bridges in Brooklyn, many years ago. So that was my destination this morning. I remembered that the Brooklyn murre stayed around for a few days; I was hoping these murres would do the same. The inlet isn't very wide. If they were there, I'd find them.

They weren't there.

I scanned the inlet a number of times, coming up only with the expected birds. I walked out to the beach with no luck. On my way back, I stopped to talk to Steve G who was brave enough to walk on the jetty. He had a couple of Harlequin Ducks and I was just about to climb up there when my cell rang. It was Greg. "Are you busy?"

"I'm at Barnegat Light."

"Oh, because I have an alcid here at Manasquan Inlet."

"What kind."

"Not sure. Doesn't look like a Razorbill."

Inwardly I groaned. "There's a very good chance that it's a Thick-billed Murre."

"That's what I think too," he replied.

Manasquan Inlet, as the murre flies, is 23 miles from Barnegat Light. As the car drives it is 53 miles, or about an hour. When I got back to the car (after clambering up on the jetty to see the Harlequins), I called Greg and he confirmed that he had a TB Murre, loafing in the inlet. So I was at the wrong inlet.

I started to drive up there, it's a rather roundabout route, considering you have to start going south and west before you can even start heading the proper northerly direction. On the way Greg called. I stopped the car (good citizen) and he told me it had flown to the tip of the jetty. Already, I was feeling bad about this bird. By the time I got there, around 11:45, I called Greg (who was on the Monmouth County side of the inlet) and he told me he'd lost the bird. Outwardly I groaned.

The jetty at Manasquan Inlet is paved most of the way, so walking on it was no big deal like it is at Barnegat. I got to the tip and found many, many ducks and loons, but no alcid. I was there only a few minutes when I saw Steve walking toward me. Either he knows a better way to get there than my GPS device or he drives much faster than me. Together we scanned the inlet and ocean with no luck, though we did come up with two Red-necked Grebes. On any other day, that would be a good find. Today we weren't that excited about them. I could see Greg standing on the jetty across the inlet. I phoned him and we compared notes--his were a lot better than mine. What a great bird! I went back to the end of the jetty and scanned the many scoters--mostly Surf Scoters with a handful of Black Scoters. There was one duck that didn't look "right." I scoped it tight and saw the "comma" over it's eye and had my first White-winged Scoter of the year. I called it to Steve's attention and he subsequently found four more in front of the larger scoter flock. So at least I got a year bird out of the day but the murre is a teeth-gnashing miss. They are such rare birds to see inshore. And there's seems to be an influx the last two days--not only were two more found again after I left the inlet, but they've been reported also in Brooklyn and off Staten Island today.  Some inexplicable force has pushed them in from far off in the ocean.

Tomorrow, I'm sure, more will be reported, but tomorrow is going to be wicked cold and while I want to see one I'm not that much of a masochist, especially after missing the bird twice in one day, 53 miles apart.

My two lists, which on any other day, would make me happy:
Barnegat Lighthouse SP
16 species
Common Eider  150
Harlequin Duck  2     About half-way down the jetty
Surf Scoter  8
Black Scoter  10
Long-tailed Duck  25
Red-breasted Merganser  10
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon  25
Great Cormorant  6
Purple Sandpiper  3
Ring-billed Gull  2
Herring Gull  100
Great Black-backed Gull  10
Carolina Wren  1     Heard
Yellow-rumped Warbler  2
Savannah Sparrow (Ipswich)  2
Manasquan Inlet
12 species
Surf Scoter  25
White-winged Scoter  5
Black Scoter  10
Long-tailed Duck  50
Bufflehead  2     Inlet
Red-breasted Merganser  2     Just off the tip of the jetty
Common Loon  30
Red-necked Grebe  2
Dunlin  71
Ring-billed Gull  1
Herring Gull  10
Great Black-backed Gull  1

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