As I prepare a 7+a.m. departure for the Brigantine/Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge with the original Intrepids, [Sunday, February 28], I am so impatient to be there that I retrieve these images for NJWILDBEAUTY. Taken in Christmas Fog with Tasha O’Neill and Alan McIlroy, they reveal our annual Christmas picnic tradition in this haven for birds and humans.
NJWILDBEAUTY readers know my passion for hiking winter beaches. Part of that impulse is the rare sight of snow on sand. 2016’s major lure, however, has been to be in the presence of the rare birds of winter.
You’ve exulted with me over long-tailed ducks and gannets at Island Beach in November/December. Yesterday, at Sandy Hook, I was privileged to be somewhat near four long-tails (formerly Old Squaws, but not p.c.) and one red-throated loon in winter plumage – also an Island Beach rarity enjoyed not long ago. The amusing thing about the red-throated loon, however, is that it doesn’t display its red throat in winter. But it’s still elegant, imposing, arresting, even in an otherwise empty ocean!
In a few morning minutes, I’m being descended upon by three of the Intrepids, whom you remember from the Nor’easter at Island Beach. Mary Penney, Bill Rawlyk, Jeanette Hooban and I and are taking off on my cherished back roads down to ‘The Brig.’ Most of this day (and even on major holidays) we’ll be alone on straight smooth stretches edged with pitch pine, blueberry bushes, blackjack oaks and sugar sand.
Otherwise known for the politician who saved great swathes of open New Jersey shoreland, Edwin B. Forsythe, winter’s Brigantine Refuge should be rich in swans of several species, snow geese beyond counting, vivid ducks — especially beloved buffleheads and various saucy mergansers. With luck, we’ll re-find the peregrine of our Christmas picnic. Nearby, also in Atlantic County, three avocets are listed on the birding hot line this morning as “Continuing.” Can we find them? Will the avocets dance for us today?
Who could stay home with all these riches 75 miles away? O, yes, and there’ll be bountiful breakfast at Smithville’s historic, cozy, savory “Bakery.” [One friend thought that only meant sweets, so had filled up, tragically, before the trip. I think she ordered orange juice…] We will be forced to choose between in-house yeasty sweet breads, and their savory home-made sausage patties and eggs that taste like eggs, with yolks like marigolds. The Bakery echoes a stage-coach site at the corner of Route 9 and Alternate 561 in Smithville that harkens back to pre-Revolutionary Days. There we read of Jimmie Leeds, who wrote the first Almanac in America, which Ben Franklin called America’s first literature. Also, obviously, near the birthplace of the Jersey Devil, which we’ll seek out after the birds.
O, and what happened today? Stay tuned – but think snow geese like snow drifts; rare red-breasted merganser couple, blown in on recent wild winds; and our Absecon Quest for the “Continuing” Avocets — yes, they danced for us – worthy of the journey!.
Winter birding is always rich, rewarding and varied. Surprises are the norm.
The peace and beauty of the Pine Barrens stuns us newly every time. This is a world where people still live by the seasons and the tides.