It was my normal Saturday out... my three boys and I, but my daughter Lily was along for the ride! While the offspring combination can be chaotic, I was willing to deal with it to get my daughter out into the field. Here's a photo of Lily on the 8th Street Jetty in Avalon, NJ.
We arrived here at 7:30. The birds were numerous... Purple Sandpipers, a few Ruddy Turnstones, and flocks of Dunlin all dotted the jetty. Gulls glided by the dozen or so fisherman, and the sun made the view into the ocean a bit difficult. The day was already gorgeous. There was a hint of a breeze, the sun was warm, and my teenage son was in a t-shirt by 8:30 on December 12th!
A passerby may have not noticed all the activity offshore. To the naked eye, it looked like a hazy ocean horizon to the East. But a patient birder armed with some optics is able to open up the secret of the sea. I watched multiple scoter flocks, and the most Long-tailed Ducks I had seen in a while. Numerous Red-throated Loons flew by, while a common one dove and surfaced - eventually popping up 20 feet from us. The sun made photos difficult, but it was fun to guide my daughter into observing the birds over the horizon. Meanwhile, an occasional side-eye let me know none of my sons had fallen into the water.
I had talked to the bird counter on duty and he tipped me off as to where Red Knots hang out. Red Knots would be bird #320 for me and would break my old record from 2014. I had been stuck on 319 since Black Friday. So without hesitation we made our way further down the coastline and wouldn't be disappointed.
When we arrived and walked the path through the dunes, we were greeted with a gorgeous beach. To our left, about six blocks down, was a myriad of shorebirds. My knots HAD to be in there! ...so we walked. Along the way, I was surprised by a group of six Semipalmated Plovers.
The group of shorebirds was within reach and I would do my best to sneak up on them and grab as many photos as I could.
Are those my Red Knots??? ...no, Black-bellied Plovers.
Hmm... There's definitely birds in there with a different size than the Black-bellied Plovers and the Sanderlings closer to the surf. These were the anxious thoughts in my head. I am addicted to stats and wanted to beat my record badly at this point. So I moved in and sure enough, #320 and a new record - RED KNOTS!
There were Dunlin mixed in and the size difference was apparent. A group of Dunlin flew in while I was laying in the wet sand, obtaining shots of #320.
At this point I was soaked. Thank God it was warm out. I used the opportunity to grab some sand-level Sanderling shots as well - why not, right?! *It's funny to me that they sleep on one leg and if I got too close, they would hop instead of putting the other foot down to at least run, let alone fly. I captured one hopping below.
It was really warm and the kids wanted to try for snakes - no problem with me! We worked our way up into the Pines but hit Brigantine for a quick loop as it was on the way. The normal birds were there. We did see an American Avocet, which was nice! I didn't take many photos as we were in a rush to get to some dens at the peak of the heat. But here's a few...
Our quick loop was done, so it was den-checking time! I won't get into any details, let's just say it was good! We only had about an hour to check, and I ran around to a few quick dens and found two snakes basking and flipped two snakes (racer, pine, two corns)! The weather and sun combined with perfect timing andit paid off. Here's the herps from the day:
What an amazing day in the field! December 12th and we broke the annual bird count record... December 12th and we were sweating by 9:00 AM... December 12th and we found four snakes, one threatened, and two endangered! December 12th and we enjoyed the natural world and kept the kids away from video games for a day.
...step into the outdoors