Sea mice

also Painted Duck, Mountain Duck, Rock Duck, Lord and Lady, Squealer.


“Harlequin, well named! Fantastically decorated, but still a thing of beauty! Delightful in color, elegant in form, graceful in carriage, rightly are its little companies called the “Lords and Ladies” of the waters. This is the loveliest of the Sea Ducks, but its beauty is reserved mainly for the cold and inhospitable North and the wave-lashed rocks of isolated ledges in the wintry sea.”
–Edward Howe Forbush in Birds of America (1936)

Monmouth County Audubon’s annual frozen pilgrimage to see the Harlequins at Barnegat Light was last weekend. We had a very small group… probably due to the especially frigid temps.

It’s one of my favorite places in the world, but the walk out the jetty to see the Harlequins is not for the faint of heart. We were blessed that day with a gentle wind out of the right direction and a low tide… so the boulders that make up the mile long jetty were mostly dry and free of ice.

Still… I mostly walked along the sand beside the jetty… looking for Sparrows and Snow Buntings and Horned Larks and leaving the dangerous stuff for the foolhardy members of the group!

The jetty was constructed to protect the shoreline and prevent sand from filling in the inlet. It and a parallel jetty on the north side of the inlet are designed to keep the channel from the ocean to Barnegat Bay deep and navigable.

If you’re lucky, as we were, a couple Harlequins will be feeding in tranquil waters at the very beginning of the jetty where there’s a concrete walkway and a guardrail; oftentimes it’s necessary to walk the full length of it to the roiled waters and slippery rocks at the very end to find them.

We walked all the way out anyway because the jetty and its boulders attract a variety of marine growth (like mussels which the Harlequins feed on) and which otherwise attracts fish, which, in turn, attract more birds like Loons, Scoters, Eiders, Mergansers and Long-tailed Ducks. Purple Sandpipers, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderling populate the mossy crevices of the jetty.

Even if there weren’t birds to look at, one could hardly be bored with the constant threat of a broken bone or a concussion with any misstep!

; )

I’d imagine the Harlequins to be something of a boon to the local beach communities which are otherwise mostly deserted in the winter. Someone has to serve chocolate-chip pancakes and hot cocoa to all us shivering birders!

Barnegat Light is, for those who love the sea and the immediate shore, a very special place.

Any ideas to explain the “Sea Mouse” name?


11 thoughts on “Sea mice”

  1. Oh my goodness, are they ever beautiful! There is one Harlequin in a harbour about 90 minutes from our home and now I know why birders are making the effort to see it.

  2. I love LBI and I usually make an annual pilgrimage to see the Harlequins. How can you not be awed, year after year, by those stunning painted ducks. Sorry to miss you this year. Glad you had a good trip, though.

  3. Really… go see them if you have the chance. I’m not sure I hear the “mouse” similarity… they are prone to funny squeaks tho, when surprised on the rocks at rest.

  4. Great series of photos. Barnegat Light is one of my favorite places too. My wife and I said our wedding vows standing in front of the lighthouse 10 years ago. Love the ducks!!

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