LACEY — Meredith Martin of the New Jersey Audubon Society was canoeing near Sedge Island with a friend, looking at a group of gulls, when something seemed out of place.

She and Bill Scullion were scanning across the gulls, and saw what appeared to be a pink one

"We kind of did a double-take, like 'That shouldn't be here,'" she said. '"What is that?'"

The bird was unusual for New Jersey. Martin assumed at first it was an out-of-place flamingo.

But when the pair saw the unusual shape of the bird's bill, they knew they were onto something special. They got confirmation from the website ebird, a resource for birders and photographers around the state — and found the spectacle in front of them had only been seen four times in New Jersey.

It was a roseate spoonbill, described by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as a "bizarre wading bird of the southern coasts (that) uses its odd bill to strain small food items out of the water."

According to, a roseate spoonbill was seen last week in the southern part of the state, in 2009 at the Forsythe Wildlife Refuge in Galloway Township and near the beach in Sandy Hook. Martin said it could very well be the same bird she and her friend saw in July.

She also said that while the spoonbills are unusual in New Jersey, they are a constant presence in Florida, often flying as far north as Georgia.

"I've heard sometimes they just kind of get lost and follow the wrong group and migrate when they shouldn't," she said. "It could also be an offspring of previously relocated ones."

But a program director at the Cape May Bird Observatory told earlier this month the group had been receiving reports of pink spoonbill sightings more recently, and speculated the recent hurricanes may have driven some of the birds north.

Calling herself an "accidental birder," Martin said seeing the bird was still a special experience.

"For me it was unbelievable," she said. "Our birds are kind of greysish and slightly boring in terms of color pattern. To see something pink in the midst of gulls that are pretty generic looking to us is something you just don't see everyday."

She called the experience "geekishly exciting."

"I do think even a non-avid birder would realize how cool it was to see a random pink bird off of Island Beach State Park," she said.

What made the experience even more special for Martin was that they were able to get so close to the bird. Martin said she only used her iPhone and did not have to zoom in to get a good view of it.

"It was totally kind of calm with me approaching it," she said. "I do think the next day that once the word got out from ebird and stuff, I know a lot of photographers tried to get to it and I think they spooked it."

After they saw the bird, Martin said, they got reports of it being seen in places like Tuckerton before the most recent sighting.

"I do think initially around us it didn't care that we were there," she said.

Martin has spent more than her fair share of time exploring nature around the state, and said even after all that she will not soon forget this encounter with the rare bird.

"I'm always hiking and I'm always wandering through nature," she said. "This is definitely a highlight of something I just don't think I'll ever get to see in my lifetime again."

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