By Scott Barnes, Bird Program Director, All Things Birds
This description of birding the northern part of the New Jersey "North Shore" covers the areas south of Sandy Hook down to Deal Lake. The area can be birded as an extension of a day begun at the Hook or begun further south along the shore and working one's way north. An aggressive birder with a full day might possibly work the entire shore from Manasquan Inlet to Sandy Hook. Birding this northern part of the North Shore could take 2-3 hours by itself.
The time frame for productive birding of these areas is late fall through early spring, with winter being the best.
Geographically, there are four main areas in this discussion:
1. Monmouth Beach- the Shrewsbury Rocks
2. Long Branch- consisting of Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park, Lake Takanassee, and Pullman Avenue in Elberon
3. Deal- three main viewing points of Roosevelt Avenue, Phillips Avenue, and Clem Conover Blvd.
4. Allenhurst/Asbury Park- the boardwalk of Allenhurst, Deal Lake, and the oceanfront/Deal Lake outflow
The Shrewsbury Rocks area, long known as an excellent fishing area for Striped Bass, Bluefish, Blackfish (Tautog), and Sea Bass, is also an excellent birding area. It has produced many interesting records on "inshore" pelagic trips in the last several years.
One block east of the intersection of Joline Avenue (State Route 36) and Ocean Avenue in North Long Branch, this Monmouth County park can be good for near-shore seabirds, waterfowl, and gulls. The ocean here is always worth a quick look for sea ducks, loons, gannets, gulls, and alcids. During flight years Razorbill is possible and more frequent visitors include Surf and Black Scoters, Long-tailed Duck, and Red-throated and Common Loons. A flock of Bonaparte's Gulls is usually present in winter and there is often a Lesser Black-backed Gull in the area. A short boardwalk on the north side of the bathrooms provides a good place to scan. Check the brushy area here for any wintering landbirds: Orange-crowned Warbler has been recorded and both White-winged and Red Crossbills have visited the Japanese Black Pines.
One of the best areas to scan the waters of the Shrewsbury Rocks is from the southern end of Monmouth Beach, where the hard and rocky bottom comes closest to shore. At the south end of the Municipal Beach club is a parking lot, and the raised wooden staircase there labeled "Little Monmouth" is a slightly elevated spot from which you can scan. In years when alcids are present this is a good place to bird. A Western Grebe was recorded from this area in 2009.
Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park
During foul weather the extensive athletic fields attract a large flock of Brant: check carefully for Black Brant among them, which have been recorded several times. Gulls also frequent the fields during rainy weather and should be sorted through for white-winged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A nor'easter in March of 2007 brought several Little Gulls and 2 Black-headed Gulls to this location for a few days. (The Black-headed Gull photo above was taken by Scott Barnes and Linda Mack in January 2008.) One nice feature of birding this spot is that you can scan the fields from the comfort of your car during bad weather. Look from the parking lots inside the park and the roads bordering it. Other interesting birds recorded at Seven Presidents include Sooty Shearwater, Black-legged Kittiwake, Parasitic Jaeger, Vesper Sparrow, and Snow Bunting.
Once known as "Green's Pool," this series of ponds begins at State Route 71 adjacent to Monmouth College and extends east to Ocean Ave. All the ponds are worth checking for waterfowl from November through March.
The main lake closest to Ocean Ave. is a reliable spot for Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, and Hooded Merganser. Flocks of gulls often come here to drink and bathe, typically during mid-day or afternoon. If the lake is partially frozen, it can turn into a real magnet for larids. Sort through the gulls for something different: this is a regular spot for Lesser Black-backed Gull, and Iceland and Glaucous Gulls occur here most years.
Bridled Tern by Alex Tongas
Black-headed Gull, formerly sometimes found here, has become much less frequent in recent memory, though individuals are still noted at other nearby sites (see Seven Presidents Park and Deal). Check any Bonaparte's Gull flocks for Little Gull, which occurs from time to time. During invasion years, Red-necked Grebe is sometimes noted on the main lake. In some winters the main lake attracts a small flock of Redheads.
The next two ponds to the west attract a mix of dabbling and diving ducks. A Eurasian Wigeon wintered with the American Wigeon flock for a couple of years and should be looked for in the future. Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Ducks, American Coots, and other common waterfowl frequent the lakes. Continuing west past the playground, check the lake with the wooded island (the western edge of the lake borders Rte. 71) for Green-winged Teal and Wood Ducks during winter.
Rarities at Lake Takanassee have included Tufted Duck (male, 31 Jan.-25 Feb. 2003), Red-necked Phalarope, Roseate Tern, and Bridled Tern (the latter three during Tropical Storm Ernesto on 2 Sep. 2006). A Common Teal, shown here in a photo by Nerses Kazanjian, visited in 2005.
Located three blocks south of Lake Takanassee, this short street offers excellent views of the ocean from an elevated position and is one of the most productive spots locally for seabirds. Regular species here include Red-throated Loon, Common Loon, all three scoters (somewhat erratic), Long-tailed Ducks, Northern Gannets, and gulls during winter. During the February 2005 invasion this was the spot for seeing Thick-billed Murre, with at least two birds present for about two weeks. During "good" years this is often a reliable place for Razorbill. Other less common-to-rare birds found here have included Common Eider, Harlequin Duck, Red-necked Grebe, Wilson's Storm-Petrel, Red-necked Phalarope, Little Gull, Black-headed Gull, and Black-legged Kittiwake. Like Seven Presidents Park and Lake Takanasee, Pullman Avenue is a spot bird-able from your car during foul weather.
||There are many side streets east of Ocean Ave. in Deal that offer some view of the ocean. The three best roads are (north to south) Roosevelt Avenue, Phillips Avenue, and Clem Conover Blvd.
A Pacific Loon was present between Phillips and Roosevelt Avenues 10-11 Mar. 2007, shown here in a photo by Jim Gilbert.
A boardwalk runs the entire length of this small town and provides an elevated site from which to view the ocean. A small L-shaped jetty sometimes hosts Purple Sandpipers, ducks, and a few gulls. Scan the ocean here for scoters, loons, and gannets. Look north from the northern end of the boardwalk and scan the groins for waterbirds. Some years a large flock of scoters winters; a drake Harlequin Duck wintered here for three years. A Pacific Loon was discovered here in March of 2003.
Deal Lake & Deal Lake Outflow
A quick scan of Deal Lake should be made, although there is often little there except a few dozen Red-breasted Mergansers. Like Lake Takanassee, Deal Lake attracts gulls for bathing and roosting. Check the grassy margins adjacent to Route 71; there is often a Lesser Black-backed Gull there. Both Iceland and Glaucous Gulls have been viewed on the lake as well. Angus Wilson photographed the Iceland Gull shown here.