Long-tailed Ducks breed in the Arctic parts of Canada and Alaska, and only migrate to the coast of New Jersey in the winter. Thursday of this week, I saw several near Barnegat Lighthouse.
I could not photograph a male Long-tailed Duck swimming in the water, so here’s a photo of two males taken in 2016.
This past Thursday, there was a male that took off from the water as shown in the following flight shots.
These ducks are about half the size of Common Eiders, and their take off is shorter and quicker. Although there are no estimates of their current population, they are classified as Common Bird in Steep Decline as of 2014.
A week ago at the Barnegat Lighthouse, many people came to walk along the beach, as it was sunny and the wind was bearable, especially if one wore a good winter jacket or coat.
Along the jetty, but away from the swift currents that Harlequin ducks preferred, there were three other kinds of ducks or waterbirds swimming and diving calmly for food.
Earlier in the day, I saw a pair of Mallards dabbling for food at Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge which has been practically closed due to road repairs for at least half a year now.
On the inland side of Barnegat Lighthouse some thirty Long-tailed Ducks were foraging for food. They are the same size as the nearby Harlequin Ducks. They swam back and forth, diving frequently for what seemed like a long time. They are reputed to be capable of reaching depths up to 200 ft (60 m). They live near the Artic and winter on the East Coast. Only the males have the distinctive long black tail that curves upward.
Several hundreds ducks of all kinds were floating on the ocean, maybe 50 to 100 yards or so from where I was standing on the beach. There were Common Eiders, the largest duck North of the equator, Black Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, and others I could not identify. They all seemed to be drifting further and further away from the shore. At first they swam North, then after a while reversed direction and went South.
Suddenly one Long-tailed Duck treaded water then took off.
Then the Black Scoters noisily left the scene.
I saw the head of a Harbor Seal among the waves. They usually go after fish but are also known to have a penchant for killing and eating ducks. That’s why the ducks I saw were giving him a respectful and wide berth.
He swam toward me! Hmmm …
Then he changed his mind, dove into the water and went after the ducks. The Black Scoters kept flying up, one flock after another.
Soon more than half of the ducks were gone. I no longer saw the seal, but he was probably still there lurking underwater.
Last Friday, while walking back from the tip of the island at Holgate, I saw that the ocean waves were fairly high, and once in a while I heard the sound of clapping thunder as they crashed violently against the shore. However, one surfer braved it all and seemed to enjoy herself.
She was engulfed by the waves several times, but persisted and rode the waves fearlessly. She was definitely the bravest among other surfing ducks that day. In the following photo, a wave was about to crash and I clicked the shutter just after several ducks dove in. Long-tailed ducks are known for their diving prowess, able to go as deep as 200 ft (60 m) to look for food.
This is what our female surfer looked like after a wave had gone past her.
Finally, here’s a shot of the wave crashing against the beach.
By the way, before starting my hike, I saw some human surfers at the parking lot, clad in their wetsuits. They had decided not to attempt surfing that day and were getting into their cars to drive out of the area.