MOVING BRINGS NEW BIRDS At THE “POLE FARM” in Lawrenceville

PIctures will be lacking for this blog, in the chaos of moving.

Please bear with me – imagelessness will not be the case from now on.

Moving to Lawrenceville takes me to within less than a mile of the “Pole Farm.”  This preserve was nicknamed because there were wooden telephone poles on this AT&T property, upon which telephone men (very likely no women) learned to climb and descend in order to repair wire problems.

Now the old white barn has been painted red, and marvelous triails extend in many directions, especially to Hopewell.  Trails smooth, with small gravel that does not turn the ankle.  Trails broad and safe, so one can walk and only look for birds, and blossoms, clouds and other eager walkers, without worrying about roots, about turning an ankle or worse.

Everything has been built with care, with fine, strong materials.

There is a bird blind with useful pictures of grassland and other birds they are managing this preserve to attract/  These panels also effectively describe bird song, so that anyone can identify rarities about to be encountered..

There are two birdwatching platforms, –one where one is likely to see the increasingly rare (but likely here because of restored grasslands) Northern Harriers now, and one where one will see exotic short-eared owls in early winter.

There are trees and shrubs, –some blooming, some budding, some struggling, because of all the disturbance on this sight.

There is the likelihood of seeing a fox and even coyotes – for I have seen coyote scat dramatically placed in the middle of Pole Farm Trails on earlier walks.

There is silence and there are flowers.  There is bird-song, and the occasional silver plane making its certain way to Mercer Airport.  Somehow these planes are not disturbing.

There are sturdy benches carefully placed.

One come upon parts of the forest where the understory seems to be revivifying, even though deer-hoofprints punctuate any muddy spots.

Signage is fequent, informative, and useful – to the tenth of a mile for any particular trajectory.

I was given the miracle of the ‘ping-pong-ball’ song of the field sparrow over and over, on Friday, on Sunday this past weekend.

I was given the sight and sound of the elusive, dramatic towhee, with its unlikely chestnut-hued sides, dark head, whitenesses, and surprising heft – as this is a member of the sparrow family.,

Above all, with two different friends, within seconds of my new apartment in Lawrenceville, I was in a nature paradise, once ruined, now returning to life that matters to wild creatures.

It therefore matters to me.

And will to you — especially if you bike, because you can zoom off to Hopewell and back.

And think about times when Roosevelt and Churchill spoke transcontinentally in most crucial days of WWII, through facilities maintained at this site, and explained on clear signs.

Good hiking!  Good birding!  Great history!

 

 

SPRING GIFTS FROM OTHERS

With moving to Lawrenceville  my top priority right now, I depend on the “kindness of strangers” and friends and colleagues to prove that spring has truly arrived.

PhoebeCharlesRogers4-12-09The Visually Shy, Acoustically Vehement Phoebe of Spring, by Brenda Jones

As reported elsewhere, first proofs were two different reports of having seen skunk cabbage.  These early flowers (though they seem like leaves) spurt in monk-like cowls of burgundy, which slowly turn to red — sometimes even through ice and snow, because exothermic.  I get my skunk-cabbage fix at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, below New Hope.  But there has been no time between packing and phonecalls to head over the Delaware.  This coming Sunday, a skunk-cabbage run is planned, with fellow poet Betty Lies.

The most exciting early evidence came from consummate birder, Sharyn McGee, at the scrumptious Bach performance by the Dryden Ensemble for Early Music.  Sharyn’s keen ear is delighted as much by instruments from or crafted in the manner of the 1600’s as by bird calls in fields and forests.  She reported having heard the first phoebe.  Phoebes are tiny birds with forceful ‘voices’, hard to see, but impossible to miss, acoustically.  In fact, should phoebes nest near you, they will announce their name so frequently and so vociferously that you might wish you could miss some of these announcements by spring’s end.

I’m still wallowing in non-spring bird memories — clouds of snow geese and the elusive snowy owl, white and wonderful, at the Brigantine Wildlife Refuge, so oddly near to Atlantic City.

Some robins are hopping desultorily about my stony hilly yard.  I think worms are few and far between, as these landlords do not know about improving soil, let alone tending bird habitat.

Anne Zeman, another consummate birder, walking the towpath near the D&R Canal last week, saw the first ospreys in our region.

O, yes, about a third of the yellow daffodils that spurt alongside an old stone wall on my way to work have opened.  Two-thirds remain tightly closed, seeming to shiver as I drive past.

Purple crocus among the roots of the queenly beech at D&R Greenway Land Trust have opened, and some paled and flattened already.  All the colors, from dark purple through lavender and lilac to near-white are glorious among the beech’s sturdy raised roots.

I can’t believe I’m not out on the trails, chronicling spring.  But this year, logistics-watching has supplanted bird-watching.

Though not bird-caring.

Peepers are somewhat feeble this year, next to my stony promontory.  Others mention their loudness, and Jim Amon, our Director of Stewardship at D&R Greenway, has also heard the click-ticking of the wood frogs.

Jim has brought me Spring’s best proof.  He came in, after a morning in the field on one of our preserves, cupping both hands, as though they held something sacred.  Jim was grinning from ear to ear.

“What are you carrying?,” I asked.

“Eggs,” said he.

“Whose?”

“Wood frogs, then salamanders…  they’d been laid in tire depressions over on the St. Michael’s land.  They’d dry out any day now, would not survive.  Emily and I carried first the wood frog eggs, then the salamanders, over to a vernal pool, where they can grow and thrive.”

Spring is here.

WHEN A NATURALIST PACKS AND MOVES

PhoebeCharlesRogers4-12-09facingleftcopy

Phoebe I Have Yet to Hear — By Brenda Jones – at Carl Rogers Refuge off Alexander Street

First of all, a naturalist who is packing and moving  looks wistfully at spring out car windows, en route to and from her new abode.

Daffodils spurt from the dead earth, warmed by reflections from an old stone wall.

Crocus spill across too few beds, little cups of spring.  Tiny Grails.  I long to stop the car, kneel, sip their grace and light.

NorthernHarrierHawkLHT3-19-12DSC_5594Northern Harrier above Lawrenceville’s Pole Farm, by Brenda Jones

But I’ve become a beast of burden in recent days, having found my new dwelling in lovely Society Hill of Lawrenceville.  No, this is not a snob’s name — it goes back to ancient times in our state, perhaps even to when we were West Jersey and East Jersey.  The ‘Friends’ in question were Quakers.  Reading Revolutionary tales, we might well not have a country, were it not for this company of Friends.

Where I am now, high on a stony hill above the D&R Canal and Towpath, is stingy with spring.  Nothing new erupts, let alone blooms, in this odd woods — all too ruined by constructions of McMansions, turning all this lovely forest into edge habitat.

The cardinals seem to be singing more lustily.  Robins are here, but not caroling yet.  I have yet to hear a phoebe.  Red-bellied woodpeckers are a little more frequent in their odd purring.

However, one gift of this site is a plethora of peepers.  Of course, it’s too darned cold for these hardy, eager singers, –if my door thermometer is below 32, which it remains many a day and most nights.  I shall miss the peepers.

NorthernHarrierstandinginLHTfield3-19-12DSC_5711Northern Harrier in Late Light at Pole Farm, by Brenda Jones

I shall not miss the poisons spewed into our air, and waters — the Delaware and Raritan Canal and Towpath and the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed — drinking water for the region — by ever-expanding Trap Rock. 

No one realizes that Trap Rock somehow secured, long ago, a permit to burn and transport asphalt 24/7.  That means, everyone, by day and by night.  With not only the stench but the particles being carried to the four corners of the compass in heavy open noisy trucks.  Open, meaning the poisons are not sealed from anyone they pass — “because the trucks might catch fire.”

Never mind that Trap Rock asphalt in my air, in my car, on my outside table and chairs, seeping through my windows, staining my carpets, gave me a collapsed lung and enlarged heart.  Officials who came here said they could not enter that as a complaint.  Even if I went to a courtroom with all my physicians, Princeton Radiology, and so forth.  They can only enter a complaint if the asphalt fumes are preventing me from working outside in the garden!  If they entered a complaint, –and after hours of talk and filing out forms, I never heard whether or not those Somerset County Board of Health and Public Safety officials did so–, if there were a fine imposed, it would be around $100.

Never mind that I lost my voice from asphalt, that wracking coughs were asphalt’s gifts to me, that one has little energy when one’s lungs are not fully functioning.  Never mind that I need my voice at D&R Greenway, –where I work, ironically, to save the planet.  Never mind health of humans, let alone amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, the lovely coterie of vultures who need Trap Rock rocks for nests in breeding season.

I have fought as long and hard as I could.  I am “folding my tent like an Arab, and as silently steal[ing] away.”

On Easter Monday.  I will depart from a tomb, roll back a stone, seek resurrection.  And new levels of energy and creativity.

Short-eared Owl wing swoop-lookShort-Eared Owl Above Pole Farm, by Brenda Jones

Where I’m moving is very near the expansive Pole Farm.  Site of Northern Harrier flights and short-eared owl winter arrivals and bobolink spring returns.

Bobolink Autumn Olive Brenda JonesBobolink at Pole Farm, by Brenda Jones

Place where I have found coyote tracks on the trail.  Though, sadly, never seen a coyote in New Jersey.  I never give up hope.

Pole Farm where I came across salamander and wood frog eggs one chilly March walk after rain, with a poet friend, who lives in Lawrenceville.  These unmistakeable signs of spring glistened, full of life and promise, oddly enough in some sort of vehicle depressions on our trail.

Where I’m moving, pretty soon, an exquisite array of pink magnolias will open all along an island where my guests and I will park our cars.

Where I’m moving, light suffuses all the rooms.  I have been unpacking with sliding doors open to a greensward, broad and treed and welcoming.

Where I’m moving, I’ll be free of asphalt.

So, if I have to give spring excursions this year, in quest of light and health and beauty, it will be worth it.

My Muse has been in hiding here.  She is longing to emerge.

New NJWILDEAUTY posts will be the result.

Short-eared owl profile Pole Farm Brenda JonesShort-Eared Owl Flying Toward My New Home, From Pole Farm, by Brenda Jones

 

 

WOODCOCKING – SEEKING THE ELUSIVE AT MAPLETON PRESERVE

Sometimes, a bizarre pursuit can result in exorbitant pleasure.

Birders know that late March, –as dusk plunges into darkness, in empty fields, even in cold wind and after drizzling rain–, one of the keenest joys of birding can unfold.  Woodcocks, –even right here in Princeton and Kingston and Rocky Hill and Plainsboro Preserve –perform their mating dance at sundown.  Birders strain to hear that characteristic “Peent”, and the odd ascending/descending whirling buzz that alerts those in the know to look up for that short-lived dance, something unique in all the world.

Last weekend, my intrepid friend, Karen Linder, and I trekked from her Kingston house over to Mapleton Preserve.  We were on a woodcock quest.  She had heard them once this season; I not at all.

When you ‘woodcock’, yes, you have your best light-gathering binoculars at the ready.  But a stellar sense of hearing is even more important.

Also warm clothes, layers and layers, because woodcocking involves a great deal of standing around, every nerve aquiver, as silently as possible.

There’s always the sense that this is absolutely impossible.

And absolutely crazy — it’s almost dark out here.  (It never occurred to us to bring flashlights.  I don’t know if they would alarm the birds.)

Whatever you do, you don’t want to interfere with these essential rituals, without which there would be no more woodcocks.

We tromped Mapleton’s expansive fields, like detectives looking for essential clues.

We came upon a noble skeleton of a deer, ribs like antique scrimshaw, hooves still glossy.  One leg and haunch had been carried elsewhere, and by what?  I hoped coyote.

In an adjacent field, we found the elegant skeleton of a fox.  I don’t know what was more arresting — that glowing, still bushy tail, or that stripped head and o! those fangs…

A great blue heron sailed silently above, an exclamation point against the lowering sky.

Here and there, a bustly robin went about final foraging of the day.

We reminisced about the year when Rush Holt began and successfully completed his first run for office, using the lodge-like building that had been essential to Flemer Nurseries on what is now the Mapleton Preserve.  Rush Holt, that rare politician, who gets it that all nature is connected.  Who does whatever he can to preserve habitat in our region.  Who is in his final term now, to our great regret – although we are happy for Rush. 

Maybe politics and woodcocks seem far-fetched to some NJWILDBEAUTY readers.  But no — without crusading and courageous champions, those fields we were traversing would be concrete and buildings and parking lots and lights that shine all night.  It’s a miracle that this handful of acres stretches golden in last light, shorn and welcoming to woodcocks in their dance.

Suddenly, Karen stiffened, pointed toward a shadowy row of trees.  “Hear that?!”, she exulted.

I missed her sound, but heard my own in trees across another field, –in fact, near the famous allee of Flemer gingko trees.  It wasn’t so much a “Peent”, as the sound of my children’s hushed “neat”, in their teen years — the way modern teenagers almost whisper “cool”.  the more whispery, the more important.

Then a small zippy slate-colored something zoomed over our heads going west.  Something else did the same going the other way.

“Neat”

“Peent”

“Neat”

“Peent”

zip

zoom

All color had left the sky, except a hint of tinfoil.  So we could see no field marks, only woodcock silhouettes.  And very determined they were.

A single charcoal-blue cloud stretched across a backdrop of tarnished silver — a cloud exactly like a mackerel, crossed with a whale.

We tiptoed.

We craned our necks.

We cocked our ears.

A few more zips and peents.

And then it was time to make our almost blind way home.

Something about the sheer outrageousness of our quest conferred profound drama and dignity to our hour in the field.

Something like this would have occasioned my mother’s one profanity, “No other damfool.”…

That’s just the point.

We were out there in the bitter cold, and winds so strong the woodcocks could not create their DNA-spiral dance, because we honor those birds, their wildness and their traditions.

And because we were among those brave committed souls who said, “The Princeton Nursery Lands must be saved.  Attention must be paid.”  Those ghastly hours at those loaded hearings, the grave discouragements, our seemingly futile arguments with frankly pompous experts determined to develop, were not in vain.

Because of preservation, on that cold March night, in Mapleton’s preserved fields, we were in the presence of woodcocks.