By Billy Kaselow
New Jersey, though it is very urban, has a treasure trove of birding hotspots such as Garret Mountain, the Meadowlands, Brigantine, and, of course, Cape May. But above all, my favorite place to bird is Sandy Hook. I had never thought of going to the shore for anything but swimming or surfing. Now I go for birding far more often than as a summer day trip. There are many aspects to Sandy Hook that make it so spectacular. Watching the sun rise over the ocean is a breathtaking experience. Along with its beautiful scenery, Sandy Hook also has so many different habitats, such as grasslands, expansive forest, salt-water marshes, fresh-water ponds, and sandy beaches. It is a migrant trap, making it an ideal place to bird. Sandy Hook is where I spent my first day of spring birding.
I was on a field trip with Sandy Hook Audubon and I got 22 lifers that day, including Black-and-white Warbler, Snowy Egret, and Northern Parula. These are common birds that I would become very familiar with as time went on, but at the time I was taken by their beauty and wonder. On this particular May evening I was on the end of the Fisherman’s Trail. As we were birding the area, it seemed such a surreal thing. Magnificent creatures that accomplish incredible feats in their lifetime surrounded us. On one side of us were Red Knots that just weeks prior were on the coast of South America. Then two male King Eiders flew over, along with a Little Gull that was mixed in with the Bonaparte’s Gulls. An American Oystercatcher flew past a flock of Black Skimmers, exhibiting his exuberant flight call. It then joined the Black-Bellied, Piping, and Semipalmated plovers and Ruddy Turnstones. Some Gull-Billed, Common, Forster’s and Least terns were actively feeding all around us. This is my favorite memory from the past two years of birding.
Sandy Hook is good in almost every season. Just this year they ripped out all of the invasive plants and put in native grasses. The difference was enormous. The amount of fall sparrows in the grass was overwhelming at first light. I also do a lot of my winter birding there, which provides good views of some awesome birds like Long-Tailed Duck, Razorbill, Horned Grebe, Common Goldeneye, Common Eider, King Eider, and lines of all three species of scoter. Along with all of those species, there are flocks of Greater Scaup with over 300 individuals.
Sandy Hook also gets its fair share of rarities. Some recent individuals were Townsend’s Warbler and Harris’s Sparrow. On top of everything else, Sandy Hook also offers great company. The people from the branch of New Jersey Audubon stationed at Sandy Hook are amazing and so are the local birders you may encounter. If you ever get the chance to get over there I really urge you to do so. If you can, plan to go on a day that there is a field trip scheduled. The leaders are fantastic birders as well as wonderful people. You will learn a lot, see great birds, and have fun and great conversation along the way.
About the author: Billy Kaselow is a 15-year-old birder from New Jersey. He started seriously birding two years ago. His favorite groups of birds are shorebirds because identifying them can be a challenge and they’re just cool. Warblers are also a favorite of his because of their intense patterns and cool songs. He has been banding songbirds for the last year and a half at a couple of places around the state and hopes to eventually get his own permit.