South Jersey Birding Group Tallies for Audubon’s Great Backyard Bird Count

Feb 22, 2017
Photo by: Sue Puder A dunlin is found sunning Saturday at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park.

Eight members of the Southern Ocean Birding Group participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count for four hours this past Saturday. Four of them went to Holgate on the south end of Long Beach Island and four, including group president and founder, photographer and author Sue Puder, went north to Barnegat Light. They then moved to the center of the Island, searching the bay and oceanside for bird species.

They identified 27 species including nine harlequin ducks, 19 long tail ducks, six or eight cormorants including 2 great cormorants, red head ducks, buffleheads, red breasted mergansers and a raft of golden eyes, said Puder.

“We do it every year. Last year it was called off because it was something like 10 degrees out, but this year we had 40-degree weather when we started at 9 a.m,. and by the time we left for the mainland it was in the 60s.”

The Great Backyard Bird Count is celebrating its 20th year as the “largest instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations ever recorded,” according to the National Audubon Society’s web page. The Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology originated the backyard count as a way to keep tabs on the health of the world’s bird populations. From its humble beginnings as an experiment in using the internet and the sightings of amateur birders in 1997, the three-day event has spread worldwide. Last year, 160,000 participants found 5,405 species and counted 2,055,797 birds.

The event, from Feb. 17 to the 20th, is promoted as an easy and fun way to engage bird watchers of all ages. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the event and report their sightings online at

Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts.

Each checklist submitted during the GBBC helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society learn more about how birds are doing, and how to protect them and the environment.

This year, birders in Colombia found the most diverse bird population, counting 866 species. India was next with 759 species, then Mexico with 739 and the United States with 662. Costa Rica, Ecuador, Brazil, Australia, Thailand and Panama finished up the top 10—although tallies are still accepted until March 1.

There were 172 bird species spotted and tallied in New Jersey, and so far, Ocean County leads the state with 134 species; Cape May came in second with 129.

Some of the wilder spottings in New Jersey were a pileated woodpecker, Lapland longspur, northern harrier, razorbill, red-throated loon and horned lark. Virginia Rettig, manager of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, saw a pink-footed goose, an arctic species. allows for searching neighboring states and counties for bird sightings. In January, an American white pelican was seen in Tuckerton on Lake Pohatcong, but when the lake froze during arctic temperatures, the bird disappeared. While using the search feature, an American white pelican was spotted during the GBBC in Maryland in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, about 120 miles south of Tuckerton as the crow flies. Perhaps it is the one so many birders flocked to see in January.

Another fun part of the GBBC is the photography contest. Besides uploading their tally sheets, the birders can also enter five categories of bird photos. These are incredible shots of birds in their environment, bird behavior, birds in groups, birders themselves and composition shots.

Puder is a bird photographer and recently published New Jersey Birds and Beyond. The Southern Ocean Birding Group meets once a month in the winter at the Tuckerton Seaport in the Hunting Shanty. At the next meeting, 6:30 p.m. on March 2, New Jersey Audubon Society member Pete Bacinski will talk about the changes in bird species in New Jersey he has witnessed in over 40 years of birding. The public is invited for the PowerPoint lecture; there is no charge.

— Pat Johnson

Harlequin ducks rest from the turbulent waters of Barnegat Inlet. (Photo by: Sue Puder)
Ruddy turnstones search the jetty rocks for food at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. (Photo by: Sue Puder)
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