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Raritan Bay

The south shore of Raritan Bay is an under-birded area which can be quite good at any season. In summer, it is a good area for terns, oystercatcher, salt sparrows, sometimes shorebirds and occasionally Black-headed Gull. From the Garden State Parkway take Exit 117 to Route 36. Start at the municipal harbor in Atlantic Highlands off Rte. 36 via jughandle (it is easier to bird Raritan Bay working west). Drive to the harbor and park in the dirt parking lot next to Pete's Place (coffee, facilities). Check the bayfront for terns, cormorants or shorebirds at the creek mouth. Then head west on either Rte. 36 or the local streets to the state marina at Leonardo. Check the bayfront again for terns; check the mudflat near the long marine pier for shorebirds.

Continue heading west to Port Monmouth (Belford), turn right toward the bay and check the wetlands at Compton Creek (salt marsh) for salt sparrows, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and the bayfront from several mini-parks for terns and shorebirds on the beach. Continue west on 36, skip Keansburg, and go to Rose Lane at International Fragrances in Union Beach. Turn right on Rose Lane, then left when you come to the Fragrances gate, and stop and overlook the marsh (at the mouth of East Creek). Yellow-crowns like to feed here. Head west on the same local street into Union Beach, turn right at the T, and right again into the parking lot at the mouth of Flat Creek. Check the mouth and the marsh for oystercatcher, skimmer, terns, yellow-crowns and shorebirds if low tide. Continue west toward Conaskonk Point until you have to go left. Then work your way right on local streets to the sewage plant. To the left of the sewage plant is a gate (locked to vehicles). Walk around it and out the dirt road to the west side of Conaskonk Point. Check it for oystercatchers, other shorebirds, salt sparrows and Clapper rail.

Now continue toward Rte. 36, but slide off to the right on Broadway before you get to 36. This road takes you to Keyport harbor, where lots of terns often sit on pilings. Look among the Common, Forster's and Least terns for Black terns which occur on the bay from July to September. After Keyport Harbor, head west on Rte. 35 (not 36) toward South Amboy. After Lawrence Harbor, and after the bridge over Cheesequake Creek, make the first possible right turn and take it to the end where you have to go right. Follow this road (which looks like a driveway but isn't) around to the left and go down the hill to the cul-de-sac and park. Walk across the tracks (with scope), and check the beach at South Amboy (especially at low tide) for shorebirds, terns, rare gulls (blackhead was there in June). The creek mouth here is a good feeding spot, and the salt marsh behind the reeds is good for salt sparrows and has breeding Virginia and Clapper rails and Least Bittern around the periphery! Seeing the latter may be quite a chore but it is nice to know they are still there.

-- Rich Kane