SALEM AND CUMBERLAND COUNTY BIRDING – ECSTASY CENTRAL

Land's End, Delaware Bay NJLand’s End, Delaware Bay, New Jersey:

I could name this post, “Air-conditioned Birding.”

When it’s too hot to hike (as this morning proved, though I completed it, barely…), there are two ideal NJ places to bird in the air-conditioned car:  Brigantine/Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, near Atlantic City; and Salem and Cumberland Counties.

Sunset Bridge, Salem County Winter

Sunset Bridge, Salem County Winter

Pat and Clay Sutton’s super-complete guide to Birding Cumberland taught me these sites, and will guide you expertly.

Mary Wood and I spent a 12-hour day of coolness, last weekend, in watery reaches near the Delaware Bay, my favorite landscape on earth.

Come with us, to the wide waters, limitless “meadows of grass,” to glint of sun on ever-changing rivers and creeks and spits and bays.

Glide with us along dike roads between impoundments, through woodlands, alongside Dividing Creek to boardwalks at Bivalve’s Strawberry Lane to Pete Dunne’s Turkey Point, site of hidden herons.

Osprey Flight at Nest, by Brenda Jones

Osprey Flight at Nest, by Brenda Jones

Salem and Cumberland are unknown havens, where it seems every black dot in the sky is either an eagle or an osprey!

Majestic Eagle by Brenda Jones

Majestic Eagle by Brenda Jones

Tides are ever present, altering everything.  When it seems every molecule of water has been withdrawn, and all that is left of the marshes is shimmer, an egret will be doubled in that sheen

Great Egret Fishing, by Brenda Jones

Great Egret Fishing, by Brenda Jones

In between lands’ ends, –where the shorebirds hunt–, one moves between fields dotted with the bright faces of the best of summer’s wildflowers.  Marsh mallows quivering near water (not food, but hibiscus-like flowers); sunflowers grinning; Joe Pye Weed reaching for the sky and filling with butterflies.

Cabbage White Butterflies Nectaring, by Brenda Jones

Cabbage White Butterflies Nectaring, by Brenda Jones

Quirky names enliven the day’s intensive drives — Husted’s Landing, Nibbock’s Pork Store, Bunker and Blood Worms, Clams & Tackle, shedders and oysters.  We’re not in Kansas any more…

Preserved Farm, Salem County

Preserved Farm, Salem County

All the farms are prosperous, most of them multi-generational.  There is a strong preservation ethic in the Delaware Bayshores.  Our people at D&R Greenway have been involved literally at the grass roots level.  One of the Intrepids, Bill Rawlyk, can name everyone in most families, and identify their proud crops.  Soybeans are knee-high.  Corn is not to the elephant’s level, but every bit fully tasseled out.  In a distant field, a combine raises archangels of dust as it makes its ponderous way among the rows.  Out behind a venerable red barn, bright laundry snaps in the morning air.

Small town houses are quirky as the signs, narrow and shingled, weathered, survivors with skinny chimneys.  Farmhouses tend toward the palatial, solidity itself.  The American Dream — it’s real, in Salem and Cumberland.

Mannington Farmhouse

Mannington Farmhouse

Out toward the landings, marinas, and beaches, we are forever treated to the sinuous flight of dark cormorants, the billowing wingbeats of egrets.  At mean low tide, at Strawberry Lane, every tussock resembles and upside-down cast-iron cooking pot.  And each one holds a gleaming, almost blinding, turtle in the sun.  Our feet make hollow sounds on the boardwalk, interspersed with whisper/chatter of darting swallows, the lazy hum of bees.

Cormorant with Lunch, By Brenda Jones

Cormorant with Lunch, By Brenda Jones

A statue of a Holstein crowns the roof of the Frozen Custard stand.  Nurseries are EVERYwhere, bursting with vibrant stock.  Silver Queen corn is for sale on a broad earthen driveway, honor box for your cash.

Flags are important down here.  They are bought and raised by individual homeowners, who are proud of this land — not to flap ceaselessly in the wind over Japanese car dealers.  There aren’t any car dealers — but many repairers.  WELDING is a normal sign, and PUMPS for sale, and DRILLING.

Welcome to Fortescue

Welcome to Fortescue

Out of the tiny towns and back at the lands’ ends, we are treated to the rattley chatter of marsh wrens, hovering over marsh shrubs that support their amazing vertical foot-ball shaped nests.  En route to Heislerville and at Strawberry Lane, eagle and osprey nests are everywhere.  Once in awhile, we’re given the Tinkerbell-light voice of a vigilant osprey.  One eagle nest is so enormous, we name it ‘a McNest.’  All are occupied.  At one point we had two eagle nests in one glass, and a slight change in perspective brought the osprey nest into the lens.

Immature American Bald Eagles by Brenda Jones

Immature American Bald Eagles by Brenda Jones

We’re always glad to get back into the cool car, but we never want to leave those eagles!

Pristine Dunes of Fortescue -- where horseshoe crabs congregate in May

Pristine Dunes of Fortescue — where horseshoe crabs congregate in May

Walking through (new, since Sandy) dunes, opening to the Delaware Bay itself, which seems limitless, marvelous tough blinding green holdfasts keep that sand in place.  We don’t know the plant names, but some even bear minuscule white flowers.  [The picture above was taken in spring, before bright green protective spurts emerged.]

Overhead, we hear moan of fish crow and squawk of heron.

Great Blue Heron Take-off, by Brenda Jones

Great Blue Heron Take-off, by Brenda Jones

We delight at a tree full of (rare to us) cliff swallows in the Glades, a gossiping crew whose collected voices feel like fresh water droplets cascading over us.  We tear ourselves from swallows, to revere a tri-colored heron, calmly preening as though there were not two intense humans holding something odd to their eyes, fastened on every ruffle of feather.

“Salem and Cumberland”, I find written in my journal:  “Luminosity everywhere!”

But let Mary tell it, with her careful notes:

(this is what avid birders do when they’re NOT driving…

gardens are obviously also important to Mary!)

red-tailed hawk

crows and vultures

unidentified raptor zooming into a yard

crape myrtle

mimosa

“TERMITES!” (sign)

skunk smell

kettle of vultures (‘takes two to kettle’ – swirl of vultures riding thermal air currents)

OYSTERS of Fortescue

houses on stilts

cinder-block house with cinder blocks out front to sit on

immature herring gull

six or seven eagles (we had become this casual)

laughing gulls

3 great egrets

blooming roses

black-eyed Susans

tree swallows

Barn Swallow, Sunset, By Brenda Jones

Barn Swallow, Sunset, By Brenda Jones

first swallows ‘lining up’ – preparing for migration, on power line

2 mocking birds

great blue herons, great egrets, snowy egrets, osprey adult and young, tri-colored heron, cliff swallows filling tree, marsh wrens, laughing gulls learning to hover, people crabbing on Turkey Point bridge, squawk of black-crowned night herons hidden in underbrush, and (learned from her birding app, a sound that turned out to be) THE GRUNTING OUTBURST OF A CLAPPER RAIL!

Black-crowned night heron, from web

Black-crowned night heron, from web

bald eagle in tree the entire time we were at Strawberry Lane boardwalk; ditto osprey, in a different tree

immature American bald eagle practicing soaring, quite expert, overhead, heading toward ‘McNest’

cacophony of marsh wrens

turtles on tussocks

unidentified shorebirds [on wing, white/black, white/black, extremely determined,beginning migration (!)]

flock of least terns over dike road leading from Heislerville

Heislerville Rookery from internet

[ruined] rookery at Heislerville: many double-crested cormorants [in trees, air and water], black-crowned night herons

(mature, immature), and three in water at island edge

immature BCNH by Geoff Coe Ft. Myers FL001

Immature Black-Crowned Night Herons by Geoff Coe of Fort Myers, Florida

East Point Lighthouse

East Point Light with Storm Coming

East Point Light with Storm Coming

(no sign from approach road — “Bike Trail”)

Forster’s Tern Least Tern  — side-by-side on old dock pilings

single white-rumped sandpiper — [feeding right at our feet!]

single great cormorant, flying low and ponderously

4 red knots, no longer in breeding plumage

flocks of uniform shorebirds [zeroing around the point, intent migrants]

osprey nest with one young and two parents

great black-backed gull at dumpster at Mauricetown Diner !  [these are saltwater birds!]

osprey nest [alongside highway   47?  or 55?  not far beyond diner]

first robin of the day

***

We started this post in dire heat, and I am typing it in same, on the last day of July.  Here’s a picture of intent birder Mary Wood (who even works weekly to rehabilitate birds and hurt animals in the Animal Shelter south of Lambertville.)  It could’ve been 20 that day, on the boardwalk at Strawberry Lane.  Sun was obviously leaving.  But there was always one last bird….!

Great Ducks of Sundown Cumberland County March 2015

POOL READING, Lawrenceville Haven After Work

Pool Late Light Society Hill

A year ago July, I discovered that my new home, Society Hill (named for Quakers of Old) has s saltwater pool.

A year later, I return, carrying Genet, a Biography of Janet Flanner, by Brenda Wineapple.  I had evidently carried it on my first pool experience, finding notes about that day on the back page:

I’m not so sure about swimming – cannot remember last time I did so, nor where.   I think Island Beach and Sandy Hook, and even Whitesbog, over and over, in the romantic summer of the year 2000.

It’s a perfect day, sun and high clouds in a periwinkle sky.  Pretty windy – hard to keep my place in the book.  Tall, lush evergreens seem to be singing above me.  Singing and dancing, even waltzing.

Two vultures play the wind.

Beside this very American pool, which looks Hollywood from the shallow end, I am reading the best source on Paris in the 20’s, –what and who might be chic; what and who definitely is is not.  Josephine Baker is a Flanner favorite, the infamous banana dance, and a rare person of color rising to fame in that challenging city.

But this shockingly blue sky, these high winds, these mountain-trees carry me right out to Montana, yes, to Big Sky Country.  Where I stood, equally storm-tossed, at an outdoor telephone, as my husband in Princeton read me the acceptance letter from Princeton University.  The Creative Writing Department had examined my poems, which no one had ever seen nor heard.  Accepting, they put me into Advanced Poetry (as a 35 year-old), with all those brilliant children.  My teacher would be the Founder and Editor of the Quarterly Review of Literature, Ted Weiss.  My knees buckled, hearing this impossibility, on the windswept Montana mountaintop.

Here I lie back on a lush towel on a solid chaise, wondering whether the tiny, supersonic raptor overhead could be a peregrine.  Word has it that they fly 200 mph.  Not in this wind, but he’s making a valiant try.

I think about getting into that water.   Hmmm…   there are plantings in tubs around the pools, neglected marigolds, faltering, going to seed.  I go around and deadhead every tub – once a gardener always a gardener.  My fingers, turning Genet pages, smell of old marigolds.

I shall wash them.  Walk straight into that water and set off, my lazy butterfly stroke that will never win me any medals, but does convey me to the other side.  Water on my tongue proves our Society Hill rumor, that we have a salt-water pool.  I’m grateful – not exactly the Salt Lake, but it does render a certain buoyancy.

Pool 'My End; Society Hill

Even though this is the pool of a development, I am absolutely alone, in what seems an endless reservoir of aquamarine, my favorite color.  Back and forth, back and forth.

Back on the chaise to dry, a dragonfly comes to sip from my upraised knee.

Janet Flanner is being her usual anecdotal, acerbic self.

I glance up to discover a great blue heron arrowing directly over me, east to west.

I feel cleansed within and without by my time in the saltwater, enriched within and without by Genet’s rapier wit and refusal to be easily satisfied.

I decide to weave Flanner qualities increasingly into my too-compliant being.

I gather my towel and my book, and stroll back to 23 Juniper, more alive than I have been in years.

Pool Evergreen Reflections Society Hill

Childhood Summers — Michigan

The lovely weather of recent weeks allows me to keep windows and doors open, so that not only light, but also air, nature sounds, and fragrances waft into my ‘new’ Lawrenceville apartment.

This morning, the departure of a small plane, –purring like the aircraft of my Michigan childhood –, thrust me right back into the silken grass of our smoothly rounded ditch in front of our little red brick house.  It was newly built by my parents, in the tiny town of Lathrup, well outside Detroit.  Hardly anyone drove down ‘California Drive’ except neighbors, guests, and the bakery truck.

There was nothing in Lathrup, not even a post office — we were officially ‘Birmingham.’  If we needed food, my father would have to drive us to ‘the store’, in the NEXT town.  ‘Store’ meant grocer.  He stood behind a weathered counter, near a worn butcher’s block.  A huge wheel of real cheddar, which we called ‘store cheese’, rested under glass to the right of the cash register.  Which was shiny black and now we’d say, ‘had all the bells and whistles,’ especially bells.  I’d give him my Mother’s list, and he’d have to go all over the tiny store and up and down a rickety ladder, to bring provisions to us.  When my father moved us here, his German mother wept:  “You are moving to the wilderness.”

By no means was Lathrup wilderness.  But we did have woods nearby, a side yard (which turned into a skating rink in winter, thanks to my father), and a ‘vacant lot’ which became a Victory Garden during the war.  (WWII)  As I wrote in an early poem, “one year the fathers, gardens overrun, waged cucumber war.”

There wasn’t much privacy in our childhood.  One of the few places where I wasn’t pursued by the grown-ups, — not even the kindly ones–, was that silky ditch.  In summer, I’d lie back into its welcoming contours, and watch blue skies hatch clouds.  I pretended that God had a cloud pipe, puffed them into existence.  Then I would seriously study, trying to find out what creatures were billowing into existence overhead.

Planes were so rare then, although we were not far, as the crow flies, from Willow Run (where Lindbergh was running wartime plane production – so we’d’ve been prime Hitler targets, had he been able to turn out sufficient transatlantic planes).  Any time one of these little miracles (I remember especially biplanes) would come into view, I could not take my eyes nor my ears away from that phenomenon.

There were bees then.  One of the key memories of lying in the ditch was hearing bees, yes, busy, in all that short white clover.  It was ceaseless, seemed deafening.

My sister liked to be out in, even to run away into, the deep woods.  I preferred the vacant lot with its myriad of wildflowers.  The colors of summer in Michigan were white Queen Anne’s lace, spiky blue chicory, and the glare and blare of gold/orange brown-eyed Susans.  The dark centers of the ‘lace’ looked far more like insects to me than the only true flower of that weed.  It never did any good to bring the ‘lace’ inside for bouquets to set in Mother’s antique pewter — the little white parts shriveled, as though shocked, into something a little thicker than dust, tumbling all over the maple tables.

The chicory always seemed to be struggling.  Towering above me in the ditch, it seemed faded, as though just giving up in summer’s heat, always closing early.  Later I would learn that Indians could tell time by the opening and closing of chicory’s washed-out blue stiff blooms, even on cloudy days.

Our mother didn’t like to cook, really, and especially turned her back on gardening.  A few spring iris grew spikily behind the house, but turned hideous as soon as each bloom twirled shut.  A few raucous marigolds, and sometimes multicolored portulaca, made up the flowers of the yard.  Everything in the side yard, especially the minuscule ‘Chinese lanterns’,  was far more fascinating to me.

As August appeared, the wild weeds put forth a parched yet spicy fragrance.  That, along with almost deafening crickets of the Fourth of July, and locusts not long thereafter, meant summer was already rolling to a close.

We knew nothing of wilderness in those days.  My sister and I had never heard of preserves, where she in Illinois and I in New Jersey, spend key nature hours in all seasons.  Nobody gave us a bird book, let alone binoculars.  When we try to remember, we ‘see’ jays, robins everywhere (the Michigan state bird), hefty crows in and around our yards.  Mallards swam in cemetery ponds.  Gulls called loud and clear as we would reach first the ferry, then the BRIDGE, to the Upper Peninsula, our absolute favorite place to be.  Never was there a gull anywhere but Northern Michigan.  And, once, above the Tahquamenon River, an eagle coursed above us on the root-beer-hued waters.

There must have been butterflies.  If so, they ‘were all monarchs’.  No fireflies in Michigan.  Each summer, we’d poke holes in Mason jar lids, fill the jars with grass, catch fireflies in Ohio and bring them back home in the back seat of one of the Pontiacs, whose hood ornaments my father resembled.  As an adult, here in Princeton, someone revealed, re lightning bugs, “Carolyn, only one sex lights.”

We’d keep summer Crayolas in the refrigerator, so they would not melt when we used them on the screened-in back porch.  Totally lacking needlework skill, I nevertheless had crocheted long strands which my father attached on the outside of the screens.  I planted blue morning glory (his nickname for me) seeds, and they exuberantly twined all the way to the top of the screens.  We colored all summer in a blue haze.  As I would write in a much later poem, there were, of course, houseflies, “bumping, disgruntled, against the tall porch screens.”

Re-experiencing “ditch days” now, in the 21st Century, my clearest memory –beyond the small planes, the huge clouds– is the sound of all those bees, singing as they worked the clover.