First thought on my mind upon arrival, except for more than a few gulls, it seemed odd that the ocean seemed so empty for a late December day. This may be year's end for humans, but it's only the beginning for winter wildlife. Conspicuous by their absence were any winter ducks, loons, gannets, sanderlings, even cormorants.
With binoculars in hand, I noticed the bird was dark cinnamon-brown and soft white in color. The bird also had a very unique profile. Its bill was distinctive, long and sloping, dull yellow in color. What was this strange looking bird?
A quick review of The Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds showed the bird to be a juvenile eider, a first-year Common Eider in fact. Wow, that changed everything. What a great sight to see this rarity, and swimming and foraging so close to the active waters of New York Harbor. Although a first year bird, I still felt lucky to have been able to see and photograph this sporadically seen eider.
This young eider must have recently flew in from where it hatched over the summer. The "Atlantic Eider" population of Common Eiders, which are seen along the coast of New Jersey and New York in the winter, usually nest on rocky coastlines or on offshore rocks in the tundra along much of the north Canadian mainland, including the coast of Hudson Bay, on Canada's Arctic islands, or along the coast of Greenland or Iceland. It was almost certainly an over two thousand mile journey for this young eider to reach the Jersey Shore in rain, snow, and strong winds.