PRESERVED BY NATURE, Yet Again

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I have learned to flee the irretrievable past, especially on holidays.  Today, the day after Christmas, I had the privilege of guiding two friends, –Willing Hands with me at D&R Greenway,– on their first exploration of Plainsboro Preserve.  This day fulfilled my inexplicable passion for visiting summer places in winter.   Come with us — via Internet images, to a quarry that’s been turned into an unexpected haven.

Day is Done Plainsboro Preserve

My two favorite regions are its beechwood and the peninsula.

plainsboro-preserve snow scene from Internet

Deeper and deeper, –although so near Route 1–, we moved on glistening leaves into timelessness.  We had no snow today, rather ice crystals and iced puddles and ice-signatured ponds and ice stars caught in moss and ice swirled with milkiness as though in an art nouveau gallery!

Our long silent trek through that wilderness of chinchilla-grey trunks held mystery, allure palpable to all three of us.  A few nuthatches in the underbrush made no sound, save their soft rustling.  We were glad to be beech-surrounded, for it kept this weekend’s wild winds from cheeks and noses, everything else on each of us being fully protected from elements.

Normally, the beechwood, –being a microclimate–, is 10 – 12 degrees warmer than the rest of our region in winter; that much cooler in summer. For some reason – [but of course we are not to implicate global warming] this entire forest –with one or two welcome exceptions==, had dropped all leaves now.  As in maybe yesterday.  Not only dropped them, but turned them the pale thin cream color they usually attain right before mid-April drop.  April 15 is a long way off — when the trees need a burst of acid fertilizer to bring forth healthy crops of beech nuts.  What this early leaflessness means to squirrels and other forest dwellers, I do not know.  We did not really experience the temperature protection, possibly because this beechwood was bare.

Even so, off-season magic and beechwood magic persisted, enhanced as two white-tailed dear tiptoed just to our right, revealing no alarm at our very human presence.

DCIM101GOPRO

One is most aware of McCormack Lake, former quarry, almost step of one’s explorations of this unique Preserve.  Too near, lurk shopping centers and major organizational sites and whirring highways and too many condos and homes, and not enough farms.  But the lake rests in this forested setting, like the Hope Diamond.  I’d rather SEE this lake than the Hope Diamond.

Bufflehead Dapper Princeton Brenda Jones

The quarry lake was the deep smoky blue today of Maine’s October ocean.  Winds were ever-present, wrinkling its surface until it resembled the cotton plisse fabric of childhood.  We’d chosen the Preserve for the lake, , hoping to find winter ducks in abundance.  Perhaps six small distant ones could have been buffleheads in size and coloring (varying proportions of black and white.)  But ‘Buffies’ are diving ducks, and in all the time we walked the peninsula, we never saw them do anything but float like rubber duckies in a large blue bathtub.  But they were charming and winsome, and their very distance-blurred field marks added to the magic.

land's end Plainsboro Preserve peninsula onto quarry lake

[Tip of the Peninsula, recently ‘refreshed’, with welcome stone slab bench.  But this scoured look is not the norm for this Preserve.  Above our heads was a (seemingly never utilized) osprey platform.  I always fret and had told them in the Audubon office that ospreys require a smaller, lower feeding platform.  They do not eat their catch in the nest, for the scent could lure predators to their young.  No feeding platform — no active nest, in my experience…  Even so, it’s a magical place to sit and let the lake and all those unbroken reaches of forest speak to you.  This is not osprey season, anyway!]

Beaver Brenda Jones

Brenda Jones’ Beaver in D&R Canal Near the Fishing Bridge

The most exciting part about the peninsula to me is that it preserves Pine Barrens flora on both sides of what is now “Maggie’s Trail.”  Crusty lichen, cushy bitter green moss, cinnamon-hued oak leaves, paling sands.  Think of roadsides in Island Beach, and you have that cushioned crustiness on both sides along Maggie’s Trail.  Today, we had to deal with oddly ever-present sweet gum balls.  Not only not Pinelands, but also way ahead of schedule.  Hard to walk on – more difficult than on acorns peppering Berkshire trails in autumn.   Sweet gum balls normally drop around Washington’s Birthday.

beaver close-up Brenda Jones

Brenda Jones Beaver Close-Up, Millstone Aqueduct

Everywhere we looked, along the main entry road and all the way to the tip of that peninsula, there was fresh beaver activity.  Cascades of golden curled chips seemed still to be quivering after beavers’ midnight snacking.  Everything from whip-thin birch saplings to hefty white oaks with burnt-sienna leaves lay strewn like jackstraws on either side of Maggie’s Trail.  Some trees had lost only a few smidgens of bark.  We wondered whether parents bring young to teach them to gnaw a few bark inches at a time.  Then the creatures with the largest incisors take over.  Of course, we didn’t see them, because beavers are nocturnal and we’re not!

Plainsboro Preserve Trail early spring

For most of our trek, there was no sight nor sound of anything human — quite literally, my idea of heaven.  Soughing, –the voice of wind in treetops–, was our companion throughout — somewhere between whispering and humming.  Occasionally, a distant train whistle reminded us that centuries exist — not exactly the 21st.

Ice was everywhere — in the leaves, under the leaves, within the moss, turning puddles on the main road into a gallery of art nouveau and art deco designs.  I had no camera this day, knowing I would need both hands for trekking poles with the ground itself that frozen.  Sometimes, the absolute silence was broken by tinkle-crackling of invisible ice beneath leaves.

Plainsboro Preserve Fulness of the Empty Season

These pictures I have culled from the Internet, therefore.  I hope they convey some sense of this haven lying so near to U.S.1 and Scudder’s Mill Road: (left on Dey, left on Scott’s Corner Road.)   Enjoy them and let them lure you over to Plainsboro’s gem.  There are wondrous child-centric programs through NJ Audubon at the handsome center.  And a worthwhile nature-item gift shop.  Bird feeders attract backyard birds near the building.  Bluebird houses and what seem to be owl houses stud the landscape hither and yon.

Plainsboro Preserve Leaflessness and Lake

MIddlesex County provides this history – I remember far more exciting realities about the former quarry, and something about space, and quarrels with locals who did not want to give up hunting and fishing rights.  I provide this for those who need logistical information.

Tranquillity Base, PlnsPrsrv credot Harrington

But for me, microclimate effect or no, Plainsboro Preserve is a journey of the spirit.  I could hardly believe the temperature on my front door as I returned this afternoon — less than twenty degrees.  For all those hours, we’d been warmed in ways that have nothing to do with mercury…

 Plainsboro Preserve in Early Summer via Middlesex County Site:
A scenic view of the lake located within the Plainsboro Preserve.

​The Plainsboro Preserve is a cooperative project between the County of Middlesex, Township of Plainsboro and New Jersey Audubon Society.   In 1999, 530 acres of land formerly owned by the Turkey Island Corporation and Walker Gordon Laboratory Company were acquired by the County and Township.  Middlesex County purchased and owns 401 acres and provided a grant to the Township of Plainsboro for the purchase of an additional 126 acres.  In 2003, the County purchased 126 acres of the former Perrine Tract to add to the Preserve.   The Township added additional land to grow the Preserve and currently maintains responsibility for management of the County-owned portions.

At over 1,000 acres, the Preserve supports a diverse array of habitats and the 50-acre McCormak Lake, with over five miles of hiking trails for hikers, birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.  The New Jersey Audubon Society manages the Preserve and a 6500 square-foot environmental education center, providing year-round environmental education opportunities. 
For more information on hours and programs, please visit the New Jersey Audubon Society at their website.

The Plainsboro Preserve is adjacent to the Scotts Corner Conservation Area that provides hiking, bird-watching, photography and nature study opportunities.

Location: 80 Scotts Corner Road, Cranbury, NJ  08512
GPS Coordinates:  DMS 40° 20′ 57.28″ N; 74° 33′ 25.53″ W
Facilities: NJ Audubon Environmental Education Center; Parking Area; Bathrooms; Hiking Trails  
Plainsboro Preserve Sign courtesy of Novo Nordisk 
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PURPLE MARTINING — MAURICE RIVER, Cumberland County, New Jersey

Martins by Joseph Smith martinmigration

Purple Martin Migration in Texas, Joseph Smith, from Internet: Typical Numbers of Martins over Maurice River in New Jersey, for Autumnal Migration

Major memories were granted last night, on the Bonanza II, on the Maurice River, in Shellpile, Cumberland County, New Jersey.    Come cruise with us, as we awaited dusk (martin-coalescence time).  And, –even more important, in the night’s exceptionally high tidewater–, see if we could get UNDER the Maurice River Bridge at Mauricetown.

Citizens United Purple Martin Cruise

Devoted Preservationists Purple Martin Cruise

Citizens United to Save the Maurice River and Its Tributaries:

Devoted Preservationists – Cruise Sponsors, Educators, Heroes and Heroines

Experts on board predicted “a million and a quarter”, if recent-night tallies were to be repeated.  What no one would predict was whether that exceptionally high tide, –swamping the boards of the docking area as we boarded–, would permit us to go under the Maurice River Bridge.  This year’s martins have been gathering about a half-mile north of that structure.

This is the largest martin-staging (for migration) area on the entire East Coast.  Endless phragmites marshes, and their abundant insects, call these swallow-relatives year upon year, to fatten for long, essenttial journeys to winter feeding grounds.

I carefully warned that night’s Intrepids — Anne Zeman, Mark Peel, Karen Linder, Mike Brill, Mary Wood and Susan Burns — that the trouble with this night would be that we would never be able to describe it, convey its magnitude, to others.

Shell Pile of Shell Pile NJ on Purple Martin Cruise night 2017

Shell Piles, of Shell Pile and Port Norris, Cumberland County, New Jersey

In earliest days, shell piles here and in Tuckerton were so tall, they served as landmarks guiding ships at sea.  In these tiny towns, there were more millionaires per block than anywhere in the world, due to the thriving oyster industry.   A nearby town was named Caviar for the abundance of that project, but that tragedy is another story…  MSX (multi-nucleated sphere unknown) equaled or surpassed biblical plagues in terms of the bivalves of Bivalve.  Now, this sleepy region stirs anew, as Rutgers-sponsored science brings resistant and succulent New Jersey oysters back to an expanding market.  My favorites are Cape May Salts, but a myriad of musical names heralds the resurgence of native oysters in our time.

Bonanza II High Tide Purple Martin Cruise

Bonanza II, at Exceptionally High Tide – due to prospective hurricanes and eclipse

 

Cruise Night Weather Purple Martin trip

Cruise Night Weather

Birders and preservationists will “pay any price, bear any burden” to see the objects of their passion.  So, I admit, –we who filled this boat this night, and others during pre-martin-departure weeks, would be scorned by Sarah Palin as “extreme environmentalists.”  Many in that group, if not most, spend serious constellations of hours doing whatever it takes to save habitats and species.

You ‘hear me’ prating of courage often in NJWILDBEAUTY.  Frequently, I call for these qualities anew, those embodied by our Founding Fathers and Mothers.  These Maurice River and purple martin and rare bird aficionados are right up there with those who caused our American Revolution to succeed.  Everything from science to publicity to education to hands-on- heroism – building and cleaning their homes each year;  martin-feeding (buying and tossing them crickets in a time of insect famine) and banding which reveals ‘our’ martins in faraway places, has been practiced by the group on board last night.

My camera does not do justice to small birds.  Therefore, enjoy Texas flight above for a sense of numbers arriving, descending, rising, feeding, interacting with one another, circling the boat, all the while half-muttering, half-singing, as dusk won its nightly victory   Bear with my feeble words in trying to bring the magic to all of you.

Feeding Frenzy Gulls Purple Martin Cruise

Gull Frenzy, Dusk, Shellpile NJ Dock

Gulls on HIgh Purple Martin Cruise

Gulls on High

Peak 'o' The Moon Battle site Purple Martin Cruise AugustPEAK O’ THE MOON, REVOLUTIONARY BATTLE-SITE on the Maurice River

This is my favorite battleground name in all history.  Trouble is, no one can ever tell us who won!

Awaiting Tidal Change Purple Martin Cruise

AWAITING TIDAL CHANGE ON THE BONANZA II —

Can we fit under the bridge…..????

 

Where Eagles Watched Purple Martin Cruise

WHERE EAGLES, PERCHED, OBSERVED BIRDWATCHERS, AFLOAT

Eagles were present, as were osprey and osprey nests – even natural ones, i.e., not on platforms  But they all took second billing, as we waited for martins to gather and swirl.

Clammers Return Purple Martin Cruise

“DAY IS DONE” — CLAMMERS’ RETURN ON THE MAURICE

 

When Systems Collide Purple Martin Cruise

WHEN SYSTEMS COLLIDE

Do not lose sight of the fact, NJWB Readers, that these wild weathers are the fall-out of climate change.  That those vanishing floorboards in the boarding/docking area, under strange moon tides, are not only climate-change generated, but visual proof of sea-level rise.  Let NO one try to convince you that this is a myth.  It is no myth, but an enormous threat, in New Jersey, the only state with three coasts.

Purple Martin Cruise August 2017 008

LOVLIEST BIRDER — INTREPID ANNE ZEMAN ON OSPREYS

No-Wake Zone Purple Martin Cruise

NO-WAKE ZONE ON THE MAURICE

 

Quahogggers Return Purple Martin Cruise

QUAHOGGERS’ RETURN FROM DELAWARE BAY

 

Impressionism Maurice River Purple Martin Cruise

BIRTH OF IMPRESSIONISISM — ON NEW JERSEY’S MAURICE RIVER

(Monet’s initially scorned masterpiece, however, was titled “Impression Soleil Levant” — Impression – Sun, Rising.  Ours was definitely “Soleil Couchant” — Sun Sinking, or ‘going to bed’, as the French naturally call it.

Where the Martins Roost Cruise

WHERE THE MARTINS ROOST — MAURICE RIVER PHRAGMITIES MARSHLANDS

 

Whistler Nocturne Maurice River Bridge Purple Martin Cruise

WHISTLER NOCTURNE – MAURICE RIVER BRIDGE

Sometimes I attempt to describe that sky obscured by martin hordes as resembling herbes de provence pressed into a leg of lamb.

Sometimes, I refer to skies banishing behind martins as giving us the lost esperience of tumblings and torrents of passenger pigeons, before we drove all of them into extinction.

Even last night’s experts balk at conveying this miracle to those who have not experienced it.  Next year, early on, contact Citizens United to Save the Maurice River and Its Tributaries, and be on board one of their (now six) dusk cruises into transcendance.

“Paradise enow…”: Wells Mills Preserve / Pine Barrens

It’s always a treat when someone says, “Carolyn, I have a place I’d like to take YOU to hike!”  Fay Lachmann, –British-born–, has proven her friendship in a myriad of ways.  Many of them had to do with various rescues around the hip operation, and in other challenging times.  My first post-op Thanksgiving meal…  “Carolyn, it’s not about the sheets,” as she helped this unbendable one make the bed Friday after Friady.  Last week, Fay insisted on going right back to Wells Mills together, when she had only just taken her own hiking group there the day before.

Fay’s voice held uncharacteristic wispy notes, as she tried to explain why.  Finally, she simply stated, “Well, it’s about laurel.”

 

Laurel and Old Cedar Wells Mills

 

I could probably end this blog post right here.  The mountain laurel is at peak in the New Jersey Pine Barrens right now.  Even though there isn’t a mountain for miles.

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Fay Lachmann Cedar Woods Wells Mills early June 2017

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“The woods are lovely, dark and deep…”  Some of the other lines from Frost’s masterpiece were also true, as in “.,..miles to go before I sleep…”  Enchanted miles in a woods that comprised almost totally of Atlantic White Cedar.

This wood was everywhere in South Jersey when that land was discovered by whalers settling Cape May in the 1500s.  Other explorers were naming shore areas Egg Harbor, for example, because beaches were covered with shore bird eggs.  In the 1700s, white cedar was used for shingles — as house siding and for roofs; for fence posts; and most urgently for casks carrying the tannic Pine Barrens teak water on whaling voyages.  In cedar, teak water stayed fresh for three years.  White cedar casks also protected wild cranberries for sailors, who otherwise would have perished from scurvy.  Such usefulness doomed cedar back when we were East Jersey and West Jersey, except in Wells Mills.

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Laurel and Cedar and Pine Wells Mills

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Towering cedars raised their lacy greenery, inky against fresh clouds.  Frail laurel blossoms leapt for the sky.  Here and there, a rough-trunked pitch pine announced to the forest primeval just exactly whose forest this is, anyhow.  A pine cone or two on the sugar sand trails foretold the probable future.

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Canoeists on Wells Mills Lake

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Silent canoeists hugged the far shore, of a tranquil lake that resembled finely pleated silver lame.  Anything or anyone could’ve emerged out of it, — a mermaid or The Lady of the Lake of Arthurian days.

A single dazzling swan sailed just out of reach of the paddlers.  A family of geese included a huge pale barnyard goose in the middle of five young — a switch on the Ugly Duckling Story.

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Rarities at Wells Mills early June

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Exceedingly rare plants burgeoned at points where peatwater streamlets entered the glistening lake.  If I am understanding my Audubon Field Guide to North American Wildflowers correctly, this is (misleadingly named) Common pipewort.  “Bog or aquatic herbs with crowded head of tiny flowers and long, leafless stalk.”

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Rarity Wells Mills

And this is purportedly Northern Pitcher Plant:  “a carnivorous plant with a large, purplish-red flower.”  Audubon does speak of “an umbrella-like structure.”

Laurel at Peak Wells Mills June 2017

But mountain laurel carried the day — laurel and friendship.