Sandy Hook Bird Observatory
Guide to Birding Along Raritan Bay

By Scott Barnes

Raritan Bay is visible on a map of New Jersey as the large "bite" taken out of the state's northern coast.  Although the shores of Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays are heavily developed and industrialized, the bay still supports extensive wildlife.  The east coast bird migration flyway crosses the bay, and the bay provides an important stopping and feeding ground for loons, grebes, long-legged waders, gulls, and shorebirds.  The bay is an important feeding area for nesting species like American Oystercatcher, Common and Least Terns, and Black Skimmer.  It is also an important wintering location for many varieties of waterfowl, with globally significant numbers of Greater Scaup.  Fish such as Striped Bass, Bluefish, and eels use the bay as both a spawning ground and a migration path to several rivers, including the Hudson, Passaic, and Raritan.  Sizable populations of shellfish, including oysters, quahog clams, lobster, and blue crabs, still remain, although reduced from their historical levels.  Harbor Seals are still found in late winter at several locations. 

Since 1992, the New Jersey Audubon Society has conducted a census of the bird life along the southern shore of the Bay, where there are a number of interesting pockets of bird-friendly habitat:  tributary creeks, mudflats, freshwater and tidal marshes, and ponds.  These studies have documented a number of good birding sites (and a few with exceptional winter concentrations of waterfowl), along and near this 20-mile stretch.  NOTE:  Unfortunately, many of the towns along Raritan Bay were badly damaged during Storm Sandy in October 2012.  We have inserted notes in the descriptions of the various birding sites where you can expect changes in the normal access, parking, etc.

The premier birding site along the bay is Conaskonk Point, easily doable in an hour before or after a visit to Sandy Hook.  The maturing deciduous woods around Natco Lake, especially along the Henry Hudson Bike Path, are the best spot for numbers of passerine migrants in spring and fall.  The public parking area on the Middletown side of the Oceanic Bridge (Navesink River) can be a great place to study scaup and other diving ducks, sometimes at very close range.
Focus on Natco Lake with Associate Naturalist Tom Boyle.

Click on the locations shown below to read about the birdlife found there, and for directions on driving to that location.

Cheesequake Park  |  South Amboy  |  Pirate's Cove  |  Treasure Lake  |  Conaskonk Point  |  Natco LakeKeansburg Beach  |  Leonardo Marina  |  Hartshorne Woods  |  Oceanic Bridge  |