CAPE MAY BIRDING WEEKEND PRELIMINARIES – Intrepids at Hawk Watch Platform

Birding, –whether its interval involves weeks, weekends, or stolen moments before sundown–, guarantees the unexpected.

Below is a potpourri of impressions from the Intrepids’ Cape May week, in extraordinarily hot October.

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Sunrise, Cape May, October 2016

Above, Carolyn Yoder watches for the Cape May skimmer flock, at sun’s arrival, on our empty beach.

Below, note birdless sky at the Cape May Bird Observatory Hawk Watch Platrorm, in the face of implacable winds out of the southeast:

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Ready for Action, neglected scope and camera at Cape May Hawk Watch Platform in Hot October 2016

 

“…Home are the wanderers, home from the sea…” For a series of idyllic days, Jeanette Hooban, Carolyn Yoder and I woke and slept to the sound of waves.  Except for our superb dinner at the Ebbitts Room of the Virginia Hotel, we never left the (perfectly restored charm-ful Victorian) house without binoculars in hand.

 

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Timelessness Central, Cape May Dwelling

 

Extraordinary fellowship was the hallmark of our days and night.  Especially as Carolyn Yoder. read aloud of Whitman and of Yeats, on this beckoning porch, in pitch darkness seasoned with moonrise.

 

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Dunes and Sea from Timeless Porch of Restored Victorian Cape May Residence

 

As for birding itself…   Well, let’s just say that 21st-Century people tend not to realize the crucial factor of wind-direction, –for birders, to be sure; but even more-so, for the birds.  Fall migrants need tail winds straight and strong, out of the northwest, surging them southward.  Our four southeast-buffeted days brought glorious sunrises, sunsets, and even a delightful dip in the Delaware Bay.     Birding?  Let’s put it down to quality over quantity   –that lone whimbrel on the Skimmer’s Back-Bay Birding pontoon Cape May saltmarsh expedition, above all.

 

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Jeanette Prepares for her Dip in Delaware Bay, at Higbee Beach

 

When the keenest birder abandoned his scope and camera (see above) and the raptor workshop began to speak of optics rather than birds, we took ourselves elsewhere.  We headed for Higbee Beach, scoping it out for our final morning’s dawn.  We planned to discover which warblers (especially) had chosen to rest among dunes and shrubs, rather than take on Delaware Bay.  Basically, this Intrepid Expedition convinced us that planning and birding do not go hand-in-hand.

 

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Migrant Human Crossing Delaware Bay — well, not exactly crossing…

 

I joined Jeanette, somewhat unexpectedly, attired in my shorts and shirt, when waves suddenly removed sands from beneath my feet.  The water was divine — cool as perfectly chilled champagne, and as invigorating.  My favorite part was looking up at sky through the Bay, (neither of us had ever entered it before).  I pretend I can still taste remnant salt on my sunburnt cheeks.

We had a little competition for that body of water:

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Ferry (Cape May – Lewes, Delaware) Entering the Bay

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HIgbee Beach, Where We Would Have Spent our Last Morning, Had not FOG and Windlessness Rendered Even the Atlantic Ocean Invisible

 

We have new respect, –the three of us–, for wind direction.  Those inescapable currents act like giant policemen’s hands, holding up all in flight, causing everything from slowing to fall-outs in bird-centric Cape May.

(As I work on this blog, we are experiencing serious south-westerly wind, so fierce that it is gusting ‘my’ goldfinches right off their thistle socks.  This wind is of no use to migrants, either.  Nor to all the other obsessive birders down there for Cape May Birding Weekend, in its full swing at this moment…)

 

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Cape May Bird Observatory’s Hawk Watch Platform Sponsors

Our first day on the Platform, we had an American bald eagle implacably chasing a migrant osprey over the tree line, most likely the osprey’s breakfast.  The ‘spotters’ told us, “eagles usually win.”

Humans on the Hawk Watch Platform had time to memorize the wisdom of our brilliant ornithological mentor, Pete Dunne, meticulously and wittily differentiating sharp-shins from Cooper’s hawks.

My i.d. skills were especially honed on this journey because a dear friend, –who prefers to remain anonymous–, loaned me HER priceless Swarovski optics for the duration.  Miracles were witnessed through them, not all of them at ‘The Point.’

 

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Carolyn Yoder and Jeanette Hooban Walk Away from a Lake Full of Swans

 

A good deal of time was spent studying mute swans in coordinated pairs, on the lake below the platform, and on the lake reflecting Cape May Light.  This land is mercifully preserved, and assiduously maintained, despite dire storms, –so that birds, pollinators, native wildflowers, and humans may thrive there.

 

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Feisty Butterfly on Cape May Point Boardwalk

 

The leitmotif of our pre-Birding-Weekend days was the bell-like muffled chatter of yellow-rumped warblers in and out of high tide plant and vines.  In normal years, we wouldn’t have been able to see the ivory blossoms of high tide plant for nectaring monarchs.  Amazingly enough, we may have been granted a higher proportion of lepidopterae than birds, for most of our time on the platform.

 

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Jeanette Discovering the Gadwall, confirmed by official Hawk Watch Platform Spotter, from Cape May Bird Observatory

 

Fellowship is high among today’s birders.  The second day, Jeanette was convinced that head shape and neck design meant a bird other than black duck.  Here she is, her discovery being confirmed and identified.  Queries are welcomed and richly answered.

But even Pete Dunne noted, “When talk turns to Cape May restaurants, we know the wind is wrong on the Platform.”  I teased him that a talk on such topics would be his next article.  Pete shook his head…  “Done that!,” he noted, turning to watch a sharp-shinned hawk twisting in high erroneous gusts.

Birders tend to have many teachers, over our years of (unending) apprenticeship:  But there is no one from whom I more joyously and thoroughly learn birding essentials than Pete Dunne.  Every aspect of Cape May Point echoes his work there, since he essentially founded Cape May Bird Observatory, standing on a picnic table and counting raptors decades ago.  Pete dared declare that Cape May had the highest seasonal concentrations of migrating raptors along the East Coast/Atlantic Flyway.

 

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Raptor I.D. Flag at the Point

 

Many of us first learned of Pete in his New York Times columns on nature in general; birds, birders and birding in particular.  But I must not overlook his long list of books, among which two favorites are Featherquest and Tales of a Low-Rent Birder.

The subtly witty Pete is the Ur-speaker at birding events.  He remains the ideal guide on a day devoted to avian creatures – whether on a boat on the Maurice River or on a rather odd bus in Philadelphia, riding from the Heinz Refuge to the shaded, bird-rich grave sites of America’s earliest ornithologists, Alexander Wilson and George Ord.  It would seem that birder-feuds are less virulent now than in their day — Ord is known for fiery resentment of colleagues, John James Audubon and Thomas Say.

 

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From Far and Near

 

The miracle of Pete Dunne is that he does not hold his encyclopedic knowledge ‘close to the chest.’  Quite the contrary — there is no more dedicated, determined teacher.  As Guide, he not only wants everyone ‘on’ the bird.  Pete sees to it that you take home field marks, silhouette nuances, and nearly-nonsense jingles so that you can do all this without him.

 

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Habitat-Protectors of the Future

 

As I tell Pete most times when I’m privileged to be with him, “All of us take you with us, every time we pick up our binoculars.”

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Pete Dunne on the Hawk Watch Platform from Internet

 

 

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Carolyn Watches Birdwatchers at the Platform

“WHITE ASH” Poem – ‘in memoriam’: Ash Trees in storm track of emerald-ash-borer-infestation

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Ashes, Green and Gold, from Internet

A phonecall just surprised me at work, conveying gratitude for one of my nature poems — in the most recent Sourland Conservancy newsletter.  Long ago, this courageous group had asked for seasonal poems they might use to further preservation in their pages.  I had frankly forgotten.

I urge your strong support of these generous people.   In word and deed, they honor and preserve one of New Jersey’s most crucial stretches of contiguous forest, and water source par excellence.]  NJWILDBEAUTY readers read often of my favorite Sourlands hike, off Hopewell’s Greenwood Avenue.  This post holds the link to newsletter, with that poem in place:  http://sourland.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Sourland-Journal-Autumn-2016.pdf

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Golden Ash from Internet

My current dwelling is surrounded by imposing ash trees.  This year, probably for drought reasons, — instead of their leaves turning boring seared brown– all these monarchs represent the new gold standard.  The light through their leaves is literally blinding, as though glancing off the rare metal itself.  I leave my living room to follow the sun in late afternoon, so I won’t miss a moment of dazzle.

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Golden Ash from Internet, closest in shape to, yet far younger than, ‘mine’

As for the white ash tree of the the poem, I never saw its leaves.  That ash by the towpath is termed ‘white’; the ones near me in Lawrenceville ‘black’.  Ashes represent stateliness surpassed only by oaks, such as the late lamented Mercer Oak, under which the dying Mercer continued to direct the Battle of Princeton.

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Gilded Ash Leaves, October -Blue Sky from Internet

Usually, for me, nature leads to poems.  This time, the poem led to nature.

Published in U.S.1 Newspaper, the man who’d numbered the rings called my editor, the paper’s founder Rich Rein.  He politely requested to be put in touch with me.  The outcome was a shared hike to his ash, mourning already that the elements were having their way with those precise pencil marks.  Ever after, I have called my guide, “Mr. Impeccable”…

It never occurred to me, nor I think, to him, that we could lose our bounty of regional ash trees.  Beware, everyone!  Even the fate of the sturdiest trees is imperiled by climate change:  New Jersey’s ever-warmer winters encourage insects to multiply.  As I urge  so often, please do everything possible through your life choices, –as in writing editors, signing on-line petitions, and especially voting–, to focus our country’s attention on altering climate change once and for all. 

Together, we can bring forth human change for the better, for a change

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Green Trees of Ash from Internet

The Sourland Consevancy chose this poem now, not only to praise ash trees. Their key purpose was to inform readers that we will no soon be bereft of ashes.

These majestic ones will no longer shade; nourish; delight; absorb carbon; shelter squirrels and birds from warblers to raptors; cradle nests; nor fling down a king’s ransom in gold.

The fate of the ashes, the climate, the Planet itself is in your hands.

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Ash Majesty Measured, From Internet

[I wrote this poem in the year 2000, when thinking in terms of eons was the norm…]

WHITE ASH

 

I take the high track

where the path splits

wondering if the felled trunk

remains to block my way

 

but it’s been sawn

and someone impeccable

has named the tree

numbered its annular rings:

“1872”   “1905”   “1950”

 

this enormous trunk

yet a mere two inches

mark years from my grade school

until this year’s tree-death

 

–faint the rings

and fainter still the penciled

letters naming this compacted

wood — preferred for baseball

bats because it does not crack

 

my own annular rings

do not bear numbering

 

 

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

February/March 2000

CAPE MAY CALLING

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Beach Walk to the Light, Cape May

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that The Intrepids are prone to stealing the last glimmers of summer, by going away toward the end of October.  Jeanette is determined to wade, even to swim.  With any luck, newly prospering humpback whales and/or clusters of minke whales will migrate alongside our beachwalks, beginning Monday.

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Storm at Sea, Cape May

This October flight pattern  stranded me up in the Berkshires, while Sandy roared his/her impossible way throughout those distant mountains. Next-door North Adams lost power for days.  Somehow Williamstown was spared. I spent that week marooned, but warm, unlike my Princeton neighbors.  My days were spent reading thick books and watching a weather station of mere words typed — not even a commentator, not a picture, not even of Mantaloking’s destructions.

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Stormy Williamstown

For there was no way for me to come home from my three-day runaway to wild beauty of the mountainous type for nearly a week.  Driving back roads home, trees were down on all sides, and I never knew what literally lay ahead.  But nowhere on that interminable route was as ruined as Princeton.  Police cars spun blinding lights on the tarmac of familiar gas stations, for people were at each others’ throats over necessities.  It had been rather blessed, being stranded between the Berkshires, Green Mountains, the nearby Catskills.  That kind town took me to heart as a refugee.  That multi-houred drive home brought me not surcease, but power outage at home, after all that.  Tasha O’Neill and Alan McIlroy took me in, wrapped me in wool, gave me a warm supper in their twinkling greenhouse.  To this day, I rue my blase assertion, in a cafe about 2/3 of the way to Williamstown, hearing the owners talk of the coming storm: “Oh, don’t be silly.  There aren’t hurricanes in mountains.”

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Mount Greylock Vista as Storm Nears

Other Octobers brought returns to Williamstown with Jeanette Hooban and Carolyn Yoder, followed by last year’s sentimental journey to Cape Cod.  This year, Jeanette found us a bright (probably modern) Cape May Victorian home to rent, a block from the sands.  This means the three of us can stroll in quest of birds, at this time of key raptor migration, at first light and last.  The weather’s to be good.  The birding spectacular.  A friend came to work today to loan me her Swarovski optics, –a king’s ransom in monetary value, and beyond price in bird details that will be evident for me as they only are with those phenomenal lenses.  Also beyond price in terms of trust and friendship.

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The Faithful Gather on the Cape May Hawk Watch Platform

Carolyn Yoder, my co-author of the book on Stuart Country Day School’s fifty years of excellence, is driving us.  Jeanette found the ideal setting, at a price even I can afford.  [Basically less than a night at a normal hotel…]  Jeanette’s bringing wine.  I’m bringing breakfast muffins from Lawrenceville’s phenomenal Gingered Peach bakery.  Cape May will have a bakery, but it won’t hold a candle to this!  My Cape May Bird Observatory Membership is in good order, so we’ll have access to all the latest migratory information; as well as certain birding sites only available to members in good standing.

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Skimmers Return from the Open Sea

Carolyn’s never been to Cape May.  Jeanette, I think, never overnight.  I’ll be the site-and-restaurant guide.  You all know there is nothing I cherish more than leading enthusiasts to new nature experiences.

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Cape May Irresistible, Even in Winter                 (from Internet)

We’ll do Back Bay birding on the Skimmer (pontoon boat with naturalist staff), and walk Reed’s Beach at leas one dawn when there’ll be warblers collecting and facing the dauntless challenge of Delaware Bay.  The birds, of course, are the true Intrepids.  The hawk watch platform should lend irresistible raptors, as well as the resident peregrine.  There’ll be wild swans on ponds tucked in among the dunes, and a black one has been recently sighted.  We could also find loons in those jewel-like pools.  We hope for squadrons of skimmers zooming in from the sea, and maybe even new whales and late dolphins.

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The Peregrine’s Bunker, near the Hawk Watch Platform

NJWILDBEAUTY readers may remember about the adventures of Tasha O’Neill and Alan McIlroy, last Christmas Day.  I would be groping upward from Cape May; and they downward from Princeton, in fog so thick we could not see the hoods of our cars.  Our destination was the Brigantine Wildlife Refuge near Smithville, otherwise known as Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, where we have a festive Christmas picnic ever year.  Tasha pooh-poohed my dawn proposal to call our off our plans: “There’s so much fog, I can neither see nor hear the sea, and I am inches from it.  We’re not going to get any birds!”  “Carolyn,” insisted wise Tasha, “this isn’t about birds.  It’s about fellowship.”  Of course it was:

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The Christmas Red-Tail at the Brig,                          taken by Tasha O’Neill

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Tasha O’Neill and Al McIlroy in the Christmas Fog at the Brig, 2015

And fellowship will be the core of this journey, beginning Monday for the week. Three friends-of-long standing, who cherish the same things with the same passion, will stretch their wings together in setting new to two of them.  Anything could happen…  but, probably not an October hurricane.  I had remnants of that last weekend at ‘The Brig’, so that birds could not fly and we couldn’t see the sitting ones without open rain-smeared windows, so that wind-driven rain soaked us in the car.  We earned our birders’ stripes that day.  But this coming week will be easier.

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Where the Warblers Meet the Bay — Reed’s Beach, Cape May

And, o, yes.  October is an ‘R’ month.  We are traveling to the home of Cape May Salts, my favorite oysters after Wellfleet.  I told my colleagues at work this afternoon, “We’ll be o.d.’ing on oysters.”

Here’s to adventure!

 

 

 

 

 

…AND THE DAYS DWINDLE DOWN…

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Poison Ivy Turned for Fall, Sandy Hook

It’s rough when a season is so laggard that one is forced to turn to poison ivy for color.  Vines alter to let migrant birds know their fruits are ripe, ready to fuel those southern journeys.  Have YOU seen the scarlet or crimson of ivy or woodbine anywhere yet?

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Autumnal Lichen and Oak Leaves, Brigantine Wildlife Refuge Forest Floor

September used to mean fall, and there were songs to prove it.  But are there songs about October?  For that is the most difficult of the autumnal offerings for me — darker, ever darker, without the blessing of the snows…   Walking in woods becomes mysterious-to-hazardous, as sun plunges not only earlier and earlier, but more and more rapidly.

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Autumnal Glory, Prallsville Mills, Canal, –Normal Fall Color

 

Most Octobers, we have the most sublime compensation — colors like bonfires erupting in all deciduous trees, many vines, certain ‘weeds’, and even rare migrant birds arrowing overhead on their way south.

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Geese Migrating Past the Moon by BRENDA JONES, Fine Art Photographer

Not this fall.  Wherever I look, at home, at work, in the car, even when we drove four hours north to Connecticut recently, everything is the relentless, face it — boring, dark green of summer.

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Connecticut Proof of Autumn

Do I have any autumn scenes to remind me of how it ought to be?

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Canal Walk in Autumn, Delaware River near Prallsville Mills

Can looking at yesterday’s pictures make up for today’s monochrome palette?

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Brigantine Wildlife Pine and Oak Forest Still Life in Autumn

I’m never again going to take a colored leaf for granted — not EVEN brown!

 

 

 

UNEXPECTED POEM

Sometimes, the poetry Muse leaves you alone for months at a time.  You try very hard to call this experience “the fallow time”.  But you’re secretly sure she will never return… , Like that rider in the subway below Boston, ‘her fate… still unlearned…’

Other times, the Muse takes you by the scruff of the neck.  This September, and even tiptoeing back into August, nights have tended to be poetry-ridden.

If you’re very lucky, you have poet friends who will generously suggest simple but essential changes.  One of my great life gifts is Betty Lies.  Her delicate ‘removal of the on-ramp’ significantly strengthened this new one.

 

EXTINGUEE

 

hard to imagine

this dark circle

once spewed light

interrupted sleep

suffused worship

let alone ignited dreams

 

interrupted conversations

–flames audible as some distant bell

tugging its train of memories and hopes

 

figures danced here

nourishments were transformed

smoke itself spicing the empty air

 

21st-century fingers

sift through silken ashes

wondering

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

October 2016

 

 

ON SUNLESS MORN, SOUTHWEST MEMORIES

NjWILDBEAUTY readers know that three of the Intrepids — Jeanette Hooban, Janet Black and I — pursued a Georgia-O’Keeffe-Quest in Santa Fe and Taos.  On this grey day in this week of not only no sun, seemingly never sun, I journey back into the southwest’s sunlit scenes.  Come with us.  Help me realize that somewhere, surely, sun is gleaming.

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Early Morning, Millicent Rogers Museum

Frail early light in a southwest olive tree, weathered classic adobe and a cloudless sky greeted first visitors at the Millicent Rogers Museum on our last full Taos Day.  This ‘glamourwoman’ was one of a constellation of strong-minded females who turned this tiny New Mexico town into a 20th Century arts mecca. Georgia O’Keeffe and Mabel Dodge Luhan were key members of the major triumvirate.  Feisty, original, independent to the core, weaving in other luminaries of both genders, –such as D.H. Lawrence and his wife, Frieda; the luminous Ansel Adams; Mark Strand — photographer whose extreme cropping heavily influenced Georgia O’Keeffe; her long-time friend and travel companion, connoisseur/collector David McAlpin; and, oh, yes, the entire Taos ‘School’ of artists — these worldly women linked Taos to the world.

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Millicent Rogers sitting in a chair wearing a sweater set and many pieces of turquoise jewelry        Millicent Rogers Museum Caption

Millicent Rogers became devoted to American Indian culture of the Southwest, of Taos in particular.  This is not just any turquoise jewelry, in the picture provided by her museum.  They are among the finest early 20th-Century Navajo pieces, of which Millicent was a renowned connoisseur and promoter.  Rogers earned world renown for her passion for the first truly American art form.  She was equally sought after for her own massive, dramatic, ‘unignorable’ jewelry designs.  A ‘cover girl’ in every sense of the word, she shared brilliance, originality, independence, and depths with her Taos ‘sisters’-in-creativity.

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The Dramatic Millicent Rogers as photographed for Manhattan-based magazine article

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Abstract Doorway — Millicent Rogers Museum

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Sun and Shadow — Courtyard, Millicent Rogers Museum

We spent ‘the shank of the day’ ‘with Millicent’, learning Taos through her fascinated, discriminating eyes.  Our entire journey was justified by the treasure trove of Navajo pieces, alight with resonant early turquoise, in gleaming cases on all sides.  We marveled at Millicent’s designs, and that this slender woman could carry off works of such massive majesty.

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Millicent’s Navajo Collection – one shelf of one case

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Millicent Design — Mostly Diamonds

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Looking Out from Within Millicent Rogers Museum

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Sangre de Christo Range, Taos, from Millicent Rogers Museum

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BEST OF TAOS! — Millicent Rogers Museum in Early Light

Remote as we found Taos, –set like fine turquoise in the bezel of the Sangre de Christo range –, last summer, this haven seems even more impossible back in New Jersey.  Tethered to my desk, creating art receptions at D&R Greenway as I did last night, sending releases to all our media partners every week as I do.  I can feel as though The Intrepids must have dreamed our journey.  But I wear my own perfect turquoise pendant, bought while kneeling in Santa Fe, literally rapt with respect, before Navajo Grandmother Verdie Mae Lie. It is very simple, chosen for color, gleam and lustre.  Her mark, incised behind the stone, strengthens me in times of challenge

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Ms. Rogers, Wearing one of her Own Designs

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Crafting this post, this drizzly morning, I see that my own passion for preserving New Jersey lands has been amplified and deepened by the wise women of the Southwest, especially, today, the glamorous Millicent Rogers.