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  When it seems every molecule of water has been withdrawn, and all that is left of the marshes is shimmer, an egret will be doubled in that sheen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

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8 thoughts on “SALEM AND CUMBERLAND COUNTY BIRDING – ECSTASY CENTRAL

  1. Hi Carolyn, I’m amazed at the flock of cormorants and their nests so close to each other! What a great photo! Great info about the farmers in Salem and Cumberland. The photo that I took of that Osprey flying down to the nest has a story behind it… We were sitting by one of the barracks houses at Sandy Hook, relaxed, waiting and watching as the Ospreys came back and forth to the chimney to prepare the nest. Cliff had the day off from work…or so we thought. His cell phone rang, and it was his boss asking him where he was. He said, “We’re off today, it’s a holiday, …aren’t we?” His boss told him, “no, you were supposed to be in work today!” He had to take it as a sick day. We felt kind of guilty after that, but enjoyed the rest of the gorgeous day at Sandy Hook nevertheless. Brenda

  2. Thank you so much, Brenda, for writing already! I just love that ethereal picture of the heron — one of the most poetic you’ve ever taken. I didn’t take that picture of Heislerville — that island is so ugly, I think I never even tried. However, it’s pretty thrilling to see it in real life — there are many more cormorants and egrets and herons everywhere than show up in this scene.

    A sad tale about Sandy Hook — sounds like a harsh boss. I wish that had not happened.

    Thank you for all your masterpieces. You have been with me all afternoon, of course!

    love and light

    c

  3. Wow! Wish I was there with you both. Great story; great pictures. My kind of thing. Your friend Mary sounds wonderful as well! The best kind of day – to be out in nature with a friend who understands the simple peace and wonder at these marvels. Thank you!

  4. Angela, always remember, NJ is the only state with three coastlines — Atlantic, Delaware River, Delaware Bay — this is part of your domain! Yes, Mary is a treasure in every way — always curious, willing, eager and in a good mood (even if we’re somewhat lost, which is a joy in Salem and Cumberland). And this is true in all seasons, as well. Thank you for commenting. c

  5. Carolyn, you’re right, there is no finer place on earth to be lost than Salem and Cumberland Counties. And let’s not forget my “lost” binoculars that I so negligently left behind in the diner. Much credit to the beautiful day goes to the waitress, busboy and manager of the Maurice River Diner who rescued the binoculars and kept them safe for me until I could retrieve them the next day. I took a non-birding friend with me for company on the long drive back and insisted that she see at least one glimpse of marshland so I took her to Strawberry Lane where she was treated to an adult bald eagle flying with a juvenile. She loved it! Thanks for capturing these beautiful memories. Mary

    • Mary, everyone comments that you must be the ideal travel companion, which is TRUE! thank you for you in every way, on every wayward road and byway, and for your persistence with identifications, and that magnificent list! c

  6. It was fun to go along on the journey with you and Mary. Some wonderful photos – especially the Cormorant with Lunch, Joe Pye Weed with Butterflies and the Mannington Farmhouse.

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