“DUCKY DAY AT ISLAND BEACH”, JANUARY 2018

This post features a series of images of rare birds found with good friends, on last weekend’s Island Beach hikes.  Yes, it was January.  Yes, there’s been wild weather.  Know that part of the lure in winter hiking lies in defying the elements, –being OUT THERE with Nature, no matter what!  And, besides, with such friendships of this magnitude, only the highest good unfurls.

Merganser male Millstone Aqueduct Brenda Jones

Merganser Male, by Brenda Jones

A series of Internet scenes of our rarities awaits — so you can see why it really didn’t matter that we did not fulfill our snowy-owl-quest this time.

***

So long as I’ve been writing about nature, I’ve been ‘on my soapbox’ that Nature does not ring down her curtain on or around Labor Day.  Those of you who hike with me know that possibly my FAVORITE season to be outdoors is winter.  It hasn’t been easy lately, but NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that we had a glorious day-long exploration of Plainsboro Preserve not long ago, threading our way among glorious arrays of ice.

common loon winter plumage from Internet

Common Loon, Winter Plumage by Elisa De Levis from Internet

This past weekend, Ray Yeager, Angela Previte (superb nature photographers who live near Island Beach); Angela’s husband, Bob, -avid birder and extremely knowledge about all aspects of photography; ‘my” Intrepids, Jeanette Hooban and Bill Rawlyk and I met at the entry of Island Beach for a mid-day-long snowy owl quest.

common loon winter take-off from Internet

Loon Take-off from Internet by Dave Hawkins from Internet

Despite our January reality, a handy aspect of I.B. treks is that, –on windy and wintry days–, you can ‘hike sideways’.  I.e., get out of the wind by taking various oceanside and bayside trails, protected from gusts by dunes or forest or both .  If you Google Island Beach, on NJWILSBEAUTY, you’ll find Bill, Jeanette, Mary Penney and me down there, in an autumn nor’easter about which none of us had somehow been warned.  That storm grew more and more fierce, as we and a flock of playful merlins headed as far east as we possibly could.   Those merlins were beating their way right into the height of those terrific winds.  They executed abrupt and daring turns, to be intentionally blown back westward , right out over the bay.  No sooner did the merlins vanish than they reappeared.  We had no idea that birds, raptors, let alone merlins, PLAYED.  In that same torrent of winds, and, yes, rain, hundreds of swallows were staging for migration.  If we hadn’t been out in the elements, think what we’d’ve missed!

It didn’t take us long last weekend to discover that snowy owls do not like warmth, let alone snowlessness.

smiling Common MerganserFemale Brenda Jones

Female Merganser by Brenda Jones

Instead, we were given, –at the first bathing pavilion’s short boardwalk–.  a smooth, rotund, swelling ocean, afloat with winter ducks of many species, all in dazzling winter plumage, otherwise known as full=breeding.  Species after species of wild birds rose and fell upon voluminous swells.  Each had the dignity of a monarch en route to or from coronation,.  These birds were not feeding.  They were not even interacting.  Few were flying, though some did regularly join their relatives on that sea of molten jade.    Hundreds rode the pillowy waves, which seemed almost determined not to crest or break.  Mesmerized by the variety and serenity of these avian crowds, we paced back and forth on the warm solid sand for nearly an hour, enthralled.

bufflehead Brenda JonesMale Bufflehead by Brenda Jones.

I’m going to shock and/or let down a great many people when I say I had no need of a snowy owl that day.

long-tailed ducks in flight from Internet Ken hoehn

Long-tailed ducks coming in for a landing by Ken Hoehn – papillophotos.com

We talked about the probability that the bird seen by naturalist Bill Rawlyk at entry may well have been a northern shrike, feeding at the crest of a laden bayberry shrub.  Some years ago, at this identical spot, I had discovered this unique creature, being at I.B. then on a Bohemian waxwing quest.  I had no idea what that ‘masked mocking bird’ could be. Calling Audubon when I returned home, describing the scrubby evergreens and bountiful bayberries, I was congratulated upon having found a northeren shrike.  It happened again the next year at the same spot.  Each time, the Audubon person asked my permission to list my find on the hot-line.  Of course, this amateur birder gave a very pleased assent  This weekend, Bill remarked on a certain intensity in the bird — slightly heftier, a bit whiter, an arrogance not seen in mockers.  But it was the bayberry bush that decided us — major winter food for (otherwise almost chillingly carnivorous) shrikes..    Part of the fun of being with this merry crew of enthusiasts  is playing the identification game.

female long-tailed duck from internet

Female long-tailed duck in winter/full-breeding plumage from Internet

Other trails that lured us that long sunny afternoon were the Judge’s Shack (#12) and Spizzle Creek.  In no time, we had tucked our jackets, hats and gloves back into the cars.  Most were beginning to regret not having remembered our sun block — all but the two professional photographersg us.  Ray and Angela were having a field day with their immense legends, capturing so many species so gently afloat.  I’ll let them share their masterpieces on Facebook and Ray’s RayYeagerPhotographyBlog.  I’ll give you the Internet:

male long-tailed duck from INternet

Male long-tailed duck in winter plumage, full-breeding plumage, from Internet

Snow was rare.  Ice intriguing.  At Spizzle Creek, we were all acutely missing ‘our’ osprey, egrets and herons of other seasons.  Our gift there, though, was the presence of handsome brant.  In our experience lately, brant sightings have become scarce.  Certain essential grasses are not doing well along our coasts, which also happened during the Great Depression years — nearly depriving us of this handsome species.

Brant Goose Drinking BarnegatBrant Feeding, by Brenda Jones

northern-shrike-from internet

Deceptively sweet northern shrike probably seen by Bill Rawlyk on Bayberry at Island Beach entry — image from Internet: (RD)

When I tell people about our January beachwalks, my listeners seem puzzled-to-skeptical.  We couldn’t have had better weather.  Fellowship was at peak throughout.  Angela’s husband, Bob, kindly served as sentinel for all the camera-wielders — alerting all as tide-thrust waves threatened to drown our footgear.  Warm we were, but not even Jeanette was barefoot this time.

Angela and Ray knew exactly where to seek 1918’s array of snowy owls.  But, after that all-star cast adrift upon molten silver waves,  snowies had become “the last thing on our minds.”

Try winter trekking — surprises await!

Always remember, these rare species could not be here without the powerful advocacy of determined preservationists.  Even though I work for D&R Greenway Land Trust, I’m very clear that the saving of our waterways is every bit as important.

In fact, I take the stand that, in our New Jersey, with its unique three (count them!) coastlines, the well-being of water is a thousand times more crucialUnder NO CIRCUMSTANCES must even one oil well take its place off our Shores!

 

 

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“CONFLUENCE” – Poem on Rivers, (for once, not the Delaware)

 

Written some years ago, this poem resurrects a winter trip to Pere Marquette State Park with my sister, Marilyn, to southern Illinois.  We stayed in Pere Marquette Lodge, which echoes Yellowstone’s and Yosemite’s.  It is sited at the point where three rivers (Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi) course as one, –keeping the waters open, blessing the birds    The rangers at Pere Marquette State Park told us at our dawn confluence (of naturalists), “Every black dot is an eagle.”

 

CONFLUENCE

 

this wild connection

proves turbulent as two rivers

 

–Illinois, Missouri –

coursing, writhing

between blonde flanks

of tower-rocks

that funneled Pere Marquette

in his frail bark

smack into the Mississippi

 

here eagles cry and joust

for winter fish

–all smaller tributaries

marble-hard

releasing no nourishment

 

two tumultuous rivers

crest, fling spray

scour their own depths

 

til scale-silvered life

meets fate

in gilded beaks and talons

 

–two voluminous rivers roiling

until fish take wing

 

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

 

“TO BUILD A FIRE”

That was a favorite short story in my schooldays, for this person who (apart from Hem) is not that fond of short stories.  In this run of gelid days, learning to make fire as did the Apaches, with Tom Brown, Tracker, who had been taught by his friend’s grandfather, Stalking Wolf, of the Oklahoma Apaches, comes sharply back to memory.

It took me any number of days to achieve this in 1983.  Every break we had from day and night tracking lectures and practices, I went off in a corner and worked with that stout stick and the woodblock into which it had to fit so perfectly.

I thought no one knew I was doing this.  I thought everyone else had already made fire.  I was not going home from Tracker School without having achieved this major skill.  Boy Scouts of ten years of age had managed it in less than a half hour…  I was then in my forties, being not at all handy with that heavy, unwieldy, essential Buck knife.

When the spark finally glowed, there was a great cheer.  Tom and all his Trackers had been standing behind me in a circle, one with a strong hand and arm coming to my aid to keep the key elements in contact in the last crucial seconds.  I admit tears…

O, yes.  After that, many people went off into corners to continue learning to make fire…

 

TO BUILD A FIRE

[for Tom Brown, Tracker,

Tracker School,  Summer 1983]

craft

with your big Buck knife

a stout stick

then work the pale woodblock

removing anything extra

 

pare

a smooth deep cone

which must exactly match

the stick’s new girth

 

kneel

upon needles and pine duff

— a hand-sized clutch

of some plant’s inner softness

near at hand

 

roll

the smoothed pine

between determined hands

faster, faster!

pay no attention

to your trembling knees

 

watch

for first white smoke

but do not stop

 

press on

until

the block glows red

 

quickly!

surround

your fiery gem

with plant fluff

careful

not to breathe too hard

 

make a whistle of your mouth

using will and skill

exhale the long breaths

waiting all these years

only for this fire

 

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

August 28/September 3,2004

 

WINTER POEM

Sending a poem a day to a recuperating friend, I have been baffled lately.  It feels as though I must send poems timely to this challenging season.  Yet, I write few winter poems.

Here is one, from the year 2000 — that pivotal year we thought we had to dread for technological reasons.  I had nightmares about the coming century, having no idea what it was that I so feared.  Since November 2016, I see why my dreams portrayed a furious steam locomotive hurtling toward me, blinding me with smoke and bright lights, and no escape.

Nature, as you know, is my refuge.  Come, stroll with me:

NEAR ZERO

 

it’s too cold!

and the wind!

now snow with

the rattle of sleet

 

I can’t go

on my walk

but I must

pull on layers

of everything but

courage which is

in short supply

 

winter’s pathways belong but to pairs —

cross-country skiers

cardinals shaking whiteness from a shrub

beside the iced canal

man&dog/girl&dog

even the Towpath

–half thawed/half-glazed–

made for two

 

the one of me

takes the thawing way

 

February 2000

This weekend, I’ll be at Island Beach, with Jeanette Hooban, Bill Rawlyk, Fine Art Photographers Ray Yeager and Angela Previte, and Antela’s equally avid birder husband, Bob.  If anyone knows where the snowy owls are hiding, Ray and Angela do.  Here’s a poem written when I first came to know Ray:

WINGED GIFTS

 

there is a man who sends me bluebirds

foxes, with snow on their noses

intense raptors arrowing through

otherwise void skies

and snowy owls beyond counting

 

some sleepy

some coy

one descends like the Holy Ghost

one laughts, and the inside

of that fierce beak

is pink

 

snowies from the front, the back

at first light

and last

and one rising relentlessly

for the hunt

 

many go in search of snowies

in irruption years

 

few have seen them move

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

Winter, 2015

Advantage of Taking a Wrong Turn — Poem on Cape May and Wildwoods

Willet (Tringa semipalmata) Bird, Morro Strand State Beach, MorrWhat about the rest of you, NJWILDBEAUTY readers???  I am really feeling a horse-in-a spring-barn restlessness, day after gelid day

it’s intriguing going back over poems of other years when I cannot really go anywhere.  Tomorrow’s beach walk at Bay Head has been indefinitely postponed.  Here’s a Cape May situation where lemonade gradually emerged out of the lemon of taking a wrong turn

HEADING OUT

 

if you make the wrong turn

leaving Cape May, as I

have, you may find yourself

 

on a series

of delicate bridges

arching high over clam boats

 

alongside fish factories

where sinuous cormorants

stretch and preen upon dark pilings

 

the pewter-hued roadway

stitches hillocks to tussocks

carrying you through new marshlands

where shorebirds strut

and willets cry their own sharp name

 

road like a rainbow

heads you now toward

the Wildwoods

where all the woods

are gone, of course

 

but there remain other

definitions of Wild

and Stone Harbor rookeries

beckon

 

you may find in your lostness

that radiant marshes

are where you’d really

been heading out

all the while

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Let there be light…”