Birding Hotspots: The Harlequin Ducks of Barnegat Light, New Jersey

Photographing Harlequin Ducks on the East Coast

Rob Ripma

As I mentioned in a previous post, click here for that post , I spent the last few days along the East Coast working on waterfowl photography. We made our way from Maryland to Long Island but my favorite stop was at one of the best birding hotspots on the East Coast, Barnegat Light, New Jersey. There were tons of awesome species to photography but my hands down favorite were the Harlequin Ducks! I’d only seen this species a couple times before, in Alaska and on Lake Michigan in Indiana,  but my views had never been great. This all changed at Barnegat Light! The ducks are extremely tame and if you take it slow and approach with caution, you can get some great photos.


Brian Zwiebel on Barnegat Breakwall Birding Hotspot

In order to get close to the Harlequin Ducks, you must walk out on the breakwall. This is my friend Brian who was on the trip with me as he heads out to take some photos.

Harlequin Duck Male on Rock Birding Hotspot

One of the great things about the Harlequin Ducks at Barnegat was that they would sit up on top of some of the rocks and “pose” for photographs.

One of the keys to getting great photos of waterfowl is the get as close to the water level as you can. This allows you to be on the same level as the ducks and will greatly improve how your photos look!


Harlequin Duck Sitting on Rock Birding Hotspot

You can tell in the photo that this photo is not looking down on the duck but is looking straight at it instead. I much prefer my photos to look this way.

In addition to sitting up on the rocks, the ducks would also pass quite close in flight. I’d never done very much flight photography but found it to be the most fun for me to work on.


Harlequin Duck in Flight Birding Hotspot

The Harlequin Ducks would flyby at close range when you were sitting on the breakwall. They are so awesome in flight!

Harlequin Duck Flock in Flight Birding Hotspots

Here a group of Harlequin Ducks comes by at close range.


Have you ever seen and photography Harlequin Ducks? If so, where were you?

  1. Frank says

    Just wonder if those Harlequin ducks are there year round? Best time to see them? And other water fowls? Is it close to Cape May?

    • Anne Hoge says

      Barnegat Light is the north most point of Long Beach Island in South Jersey. It is just north of Atlantic City. Ducks are there year round. I lived there for 12 years and still own property there.

    • Rob RipmaRob Ripma says

      Hi Frank! The Harlequin Ducks are only around from November to mid April. They’re around all day sitting on the jetty as well as swimming around in the inlet. Barnegat Light is about 1.5 hours from Cape May.

  2. says

    I live in Maine and we go down to southern Maine and see lots of Harlequin ducks! We usually go in January! In the summer they go up north and live along the streams!

  3. Wendy Morgan says

    We get Harlequins here on Cape Ann-
    Rockport & Gloucester, MAss, every winter.
    People come from all over to see them,
    but they are more shy than the ones in NJ.

  4. Jason says

    Hello everyone. I’m planning to take a trip down to barnegat very soon to see the harlequin ducks and I was wondering if anyone knew whether the warmish weather we’ve been having has affected their migration timing at all. Has anyone who’s been there recently seen them?

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