Winter at Barnegat
Barnegat Light stands tall in the cold winter air as the first sunlight of the day shines upon it.
Barnegat Light stands tall in the cold winter air as the first sunlight of the day shines upon it.

Every Winter along the coast of central/southern New Jersey thousands of birders and bird photographers head to the jetty at Barnegat Light to witness the arrival of many interesting species of birds that winter at this one specific location.  One of the most sought after birds is the Harlequin Duck which spends most of the year in northern parts of Canada and Alaska.  In the winter Barnegat Light is one of the locations they frequent where you can usually find these beautiful diving ducks and because of this they certainly draw a crowd to this area.  If you have never been lucky enough to see these striking and playful ducks you owe it to yourself to make a trip over the winter months.  You can usually find them in good numbers ranging from late December thru February and sometimes into March.

Standing on the beach you can see the moon and stars as the sun begins to light up the horizon.

Looking out from the jetty a bit before sunrise.

The first sliver of sun begins to rise over the Atlantic Ocean.

Sunrise viewed from the Barnegat jetty.

A visit to Barnegat Light will present you with a few options to view the wildlife with the most difficult but best option being a walk down the jetty.  From the base of the lighthouse an easy to use concrete walkway makes its way out to the inlet and stops where the rock jetty begins.  If the tide is low you can usually walk behind the rock jetty on the exposed sand and then choose different spots to climb up and see if there are any birds out in the water.  At high tide a walk along the top of the jetty is the best way to get a good chance to see the birds, be aware that this can certainly be a precarious and possibly dangerous walk as you have to keep an eye on the openings between the rocks.  It’s especially fun when the wind and waves are crashing over the jetty and you can get a coating of ice on the rocks!  If it’s too much for you to venture out onto the rocks I have seen most of the Barnegat birds from the cement walkway, you usually just increase your odds by heading out onto the jetty.

A snowy and icy jetty stretches out to the inlet.

a precarious and possibly dangerous walk
A male Harlequin Duck shows off his striking plumage.

This Harlequin is stretching out to get a better look at me.

A group of Harlequin ducks just hanging out near the jetty on a calm morning.

The contrast of white and black on these ducks is so amazing.

One of the most sought after birds is the Harlequin Duck

A group of Harlequins trying to stay on the rocks as the waves crash on the rocks.

On this calm winter morning, a male and female Harlequin duck take a short rest on a rock.

A playful pair of Harlequins in the clear waters next to the jetty.

Thankfully you will find much more than just Harlequin Ducks when you visit Barnegat Light.  There are a great variety of gulls, sea ducks, loons and many small shorebirds including the beautiful Purple Sandpiper to be readily seen in the winter.  The Long-tailed Ducks are another species that only show up along the Jersey coast in the winter and they are a joy to see.

If you have been to Barnegat Light in the winter you know how great it can be and if you haven’t made a trip yet I highly recommend you consider a visit.  I’ve been there on days when you don’t even need a jacket in the middle of winter, the sun is shining and the wind is so calm you can barely hear the waves.  I’ve also been at Barnegat when the wind is blowing 30mph and before sunrise the temperatures are in the teens, probably the coldest I’ve ever been.  Even at its most brutal, Barnegat Light is always a wonderful place to experience and always worth the trip.  I hope you enjoy some of the photos I’ve been able to capture over the years and maybe I’ll see you out on the rocks some winter.

A Herring Gull poses in the early sunlight on Barnegat jetty.

A Common Loon waving its foot in the air.

A Common Loon drying off its wings.

The beautiful red eye of a Common Loon really shows in this closeup portrait.

Ruddy Turnstone on the rocks.

A Surf Scoter living up to its name on the waves just off the jetty.

A Purple Sandpiper sits on the jetty in the early morning sunlight.

A beautiful Purple Sandpiper on the jetty rocks.

This Sanderling is foraging for food in the water and sand just behind the jetty.

A male Long-Tailed Duck shows off its namesake.

A juvenile Long-Tailed Duck swimming in the early morning sun.

It always makes me laugh watching a Long-Tailed Duck landing in the water, they always seem to belly flop and create a big splash.

In flight you can really see where the Long-tailed Duck gets its name from.

A male Long-Tailed Duck making a dive.

This Ruddy Turnstone stops in a perfect spot for the sun to outline it.

A male Common Eider comes in close to the jetty.

A Common Eider comes in for a landing near the jetty.

A classy Black-Bellied Plover standing on the mussel covered rocks.

A male Red-Breasted Merganser looks pretty funny when the feathers on his head get blown around.

A Purple Sandpiper hiding behind a rock on the jetty.

Interesting patterns show up in the sand as the tide recedes.

Shaking out its feathers in the wind this Ruddy Turnstone fluffs up and looks much bigger than normal.

A snowy fence leading towards the lighthouse.

With a light coating of snow on the parking lot this Herring Gull settles in for a while.

You can view all the photos on this blog larger by clicking on them which I suggest to get a better view of them.  Below is a short video showing some of the sights and sounds that you will experience with a visit to Barnegat Light.  Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about this wonderful location.

Nature photography has become a very passionate hobby of mine and whenever I get a chance I love to get outside and enjoy being outdoors. I am also the co-owner of KGM Expressions, a wedding and portrait photography business, with my wife Kim. This is how we make our living and I love that we get to do that together.