The ranks are swelling, of intrepid birders, willing to go out in all weathers to find winged miracles.
Tomorrow morning, despite near-zero temperatures lately, Jeanette Hooban and I will set out on the trail of sandhill cranes in Somerset County. Somewhere near Mettlers Lane, past the Rose Garden, at the north end of Canal Road and beyond. Neither of us has ever seen a crane. Stay tuned…
Thursday, an uncharacteristic day off, Mary Wood, Cathy Cullinan and I left Lawrenceville at 8 a.m., for the Bakery in Smithville, then the birds of the Brig — especially the newly reported snowy owl.
YES, we DID find the SNOWY. No, my camera will not show it to you. But this is the landscape in which we seek them, and the whiteness they require.
FROZEN BIRDERS: There has to be a snowy out here someplace!
OK, now I set the scenes in which we hunted, so to speak, for the snowy owl and other rarities.
That snowy, in Cathy Cullinan’s splendid picture, is no larger than my little fingernail. It was parallel to the bank on the northeast corner of the dike road, breast not visible, so we don’t know whether it had the black distinctive marks of the female, or the mostly white feathers of the male. It was as miserable as we were, out of the car, in that fierce southwest wind that daunted even those Canada geese. It did not change position, in all the time we spent in its presence. Occasionally we were more or less aware of the golden eyes, but I would NOT say we saw it actually blink. Yes, it was worth the entire trip, to honor the presence of this new visitor.
However, as NJWILDBEAUTY readers know, I cannot photograph most birds with this camera. And the miracles that were ours that day remain only in our hearts and memories. Here they are, not necessarily in order of appearance.
Great egrets / Canada geese / buffleheads / hooded mergansers / tundra swans / snow geese / great blue herons / a peregrine, imperious upon an evergreen bough across the Gull Pond / gulls, including one very late great black-backed gull / no crows / no brant / the snowy owl / snow geese / one very late female red-winged blackbird / we don’t know whether salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrows – but tiny birds gleaning sides on and immediately off the dike roads / ring-necked ducks / mallards / blue jay / flock of robins / American bald eagles everywhere – including over ABSECON BAY! – but not intense, not fiercely fishing — I would say playing, kettles of eagles, relaxed, merry, sure of themselves one immature who may be the electronically monitored nearby youngster named Nacote / no bluebirds / no Northern pintails / no shovelers
Well, you see, the Brig was mostly frozen. Cathy, –tne burgeoning birder of our trio, who has hawk eyes, eagle eyes, snowy-owl eyes now — described what we were seeing: “It’s as though the tide froze, and somehow went out, and everything collapsed.” Huge plates of ice, zigging and zagging, careened, juxtaposed, oddly blued by the pale sky, were everywhere. Barely any open water for birds, and inescapable winds. Temperatures in the teens.
Harriers were on all sides, probably all females — possibly one ‘grey ghost’ male, but we can’t be sure — now THEY were intense, intent, hunting madly over the grasses, ‘great display’ over and over, white rump spots almost blinding.
The egrets looked the most miserable, the eagles most insouciant.
Cathy revealed that the snowy was the first owl she’d ever seen out of captivity: “Nothing like starting at the top of the line!:
I really hand it to Mary and Cathy, out of the warm car, scanning every snow lump, trying to find that snowy or freeze in the attempt. Mary set up the scope with frozen fingers, over and over that day.
We spent most of the day there, very very slowly making our way along the dike road and between impoundments and the Bay. Beauty everywhere, birds or no birds. Wildness prevailed.
Nature’s kingdom, and we mere courtiers.
Remember, the Brig/Forsythe is a preserve, a national one. All preserves are sacred, and all need your constant donations to non-profits, your constant vigilance and letters to senators and representatives and especially in OUR state, the Governor — so that these wild reaches continue to welcome and sustain wild creatures in this Anthropocene era of ours, hurtling toward the Sixth Extinction.
Go to the Brig. Let her creatures inspire you. Do what you can, every single day, for their preservation and that of their crucial habitat in all seasons.