A FEW GOOD SCENES – Recent Excursions

Memorial Boardwalk Brigantine April 2017

FINALLY! BACK TO ‘THE BRIG’ — Leed’s Eco-Trail

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NJWILDBEAUTY readers know how important weekend adventures are to me, –the essentiality of refilling the well, emptied daily in our work, saving the Planet.

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Leeds Point Classic Scene Fishing Village Brigantine early April 2017

And Beloved Leed’s Point, (near home of the Jersey Devil, whom I long to meet!)

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Some of you also know about February’s torn meniscus — healing enough that I’ve been back on the trails.  But p.t. takes hours daily, –some in private, some with kind, gentle, dedicated coaches.  There remains too little time for creativity with all this body-building.  The whole point of this work on “glutes, hamstrings and core” is to get back outside.  Come with me to recent restorative havens.

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Snowy Egret in Full Breeding Plumage, in WIND, The Brig

Snowy Egret Misty Brig Spring 2017

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Visitor Center, Purple Martin Houses, Perfect Clouds – The Brig

Visitor Cednter for Martins, for Humans Brig Spring 2017

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Spring Mimics Autumn – Swamp Maple, Waterlilies, The Brig

Spring Mimics Autumn at Brig 2017

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Essence of Spring – Geese and Goslings — The Brig

Goose Goslings Gander Brig Spring 2017

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Jeanette Hooban (Intrepid) Rights Horseshoe Crabs,

Fortescue, Delaware Bayshore

Jeanette Righting Fortescue Horseshoe Crabs Spring 2017

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High Tides Upset Horseshoe Crabs, Fortescue

Life and Death Fortescue Horseshoe Crabs and Eggs Mem. Day 2017

BEACH COBBLED WITH HORSESHOE CRABS — 2 weeks late for the Full Moon of May

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Primordial Drama Fortescue Horseshoe Crabs Spring 2017

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SACRED EGGS OF THE HORSESHOE CRABS 

But red knots and ruddy turnstones may have come and gone, ill-nourished, to Arctic

The Sacred Eggs Fortescue Horseshoe Crabs Mem. Day 2017

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Fortescue at Its Best — Late Light, Late Fishermen

Delaware Bay Day's End Fortescue Horseshoe Crabs 2017

“DAY IS DONE, GONE THE SUN” – Fortescue

For these scenes, these full days in the wild, all those intense hours of physical therapy, with John Walker of Princeton Orthopaedic Group; and of chiropractic with Brandon Osborne, D.C., are worth it.  Whatever it takes to give yourselves the wild, do it!

I dare to rephrase Thoreau:  “In wildness is the healing of the world.”

WHEN A DEAR FRIEND DIES — for Alan

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Alan MacIlroy and Tasha O’Neill birding foggy Brigantine on Christmas 2015

The news we always knew, but never believed, slashes out of morning, startling and impossible as thunder snow.

Although creativity is the heart of the matter in the home Alan MacIlroy has left for our true home, — neither words nor images come to my summons, as mourning descends upon me.

My dearest Tasha is widowed anew.  Alan’s ruddy car sits in their driveway with its subtle license reminding us of his priority:  TH JRNY.   Now he has embarked on the universal journey.

Over more years than I can tally, Tasha and Alan and I have shared priceless rituals, from fireside lobster in Maine to Christmas picnics at Brigantine Wildlife Refuge.

The day of our foggy Christmas feast, a peregrine falcon had stationed itself upon a speed limit sign — “15 mph” — just beyond the Brig’s northeast corner turn.  My camera does not do justice to this monarch holding court for a rosary of reverent automobiles immobilized upon the dike road.  Alan, Tasha and I quietly slid out of his Christmasy car to stand in silence, worshiping.

After a significant interval, Alan announced, “Let’s not go over to Scott’s Landing for our Christmas dinner.  How could we leave the peregrine?”

Only as I type this, do I realize, the word peregrine means wanderer.

Alan is the consummate mentor.  “Mr. Fix-It.”  Every problem solved, especially in advance, especially for his cherished Kingston church, and local businessmen and women.  Each wooded trail at their Maine home maintained.  Every lobster boat observed upon stormy or tranquil bay.  Each wood fire, kindled on a cooling summer’s night.  His dazzling, impeccable TR 4, shining on the driveway, ready for a jaunt.  He is each woodworking project magnificently accomplished, including caning two chairs for me, burnishing the Provencal olive wood cutting board that had dimmed since I lived there.  Grace, gentleness, generosity.   Smiles and that quiet voice we will no longer hear.  Alan was the essence of tranquility.  Alan is love.

His quietly merry  spirit will be with us on every future excursion. Yet the glow of that luminous man has become memory.

Mary Elizabeth’s crystalline phrases echo as I find myself bereft of words.  May her inspiration be with NJWILDBEAUTY readers  — in this dire era, –in which too many days begin with yet another cancer call:

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.

 

I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;

 

I am not there. I did not die.

***

 

Brigantine Christmas PIcnic 2015

Tasha Prepares our 2015 Christmas Feast

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“How can we leave the peregrine?”     Now, our wanderer has left us…

Territorial Peregrine Brigantine Christmas 2015

BRIGANTINE WILDLIFE DRIVE NOW OPEN

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Northern Harrier Soaring, by Brenda Jones

 

Can you believe it?  This news came first to me from my Illinois sister, Marilyn:

The Brig, closed in September, is open again.  I’m trusting that the construction has ceased as declared, so that not only human, but also winged, visitors can return to the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge.

Get down there A.S.A. P. outside of Smithville and Oceanville, NJ, to see snow geese, where they belong, claiming their own refuge, along with every gorgeous complex winter duck!  And the resident peregrine.  And who knows, maybe even a harrier or two?

Every bird where it belongs – in preserved lands fully open to the public.                                                                                                                 (Notice from Friends of Forsythe)

WILDLIFE DRIVE IS NOW OPEN!
As of Friday, 2/10/17, Wildlife Drive has fully reopened!
We thank you for your patience during construction. To show our appreciation, there will not be an entrance fee until April 1st!
Wildlife Drive normal hours have resumed, sunrise to sunset 7 days a week.
The Visitor Center winter hours are Monday through Friday 10am-3pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am-3pm.

“BLAZING DISCONTENT”

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Heavy, Heavy hang… conifer boughs in Lawrenceville, NJ

i AM NOT THE ONLY ONE DRIVEN TO QUOTE SHAKESPEARE’S MOST SEVERE TRAGEDIES BY CURRENT EVENTS.  What brings the white fury to us, catalyzes apocalyptic melting in the Arctic.  See Climate Change on “the unprecedented”, below.

But Shakespeare well knew how brief is our little turn upon the stage.  However, the impacts of our actions and inactions have permanent effect.  Certain persons (the highly funded Climate Deniers, read Naomi Klein’s prize-winning non-fiction masterpiece: This Changes Everything!) would have us believe that catastrophic climate change is a myth.

Hike a receding marsh; walk a chewed beach; drive through Pine Barrens forests where sand always drained instantly, where standing water has become the norm, except in summer.

Climate Central is a tremendously valuable, non-partisan, Princeton-based group committed to climate truth.  Climate Change is worth following, meter-by-meter.  Read with me as this morning’s communique warns of “profound change.”  (www.climatecentral.org)

If you want the truth, here is where to find it.

The Winter of Blazing Discontent Continues in the Arctic

By Brian Kahn

  • Published: February 6th, 2017

 

Weird. Strange. Extreme. Unprecedented.

These are some of the words that describe what’s been happening in the Arctic over the past year as surge after surge of warm air has stalled, and at times reversed, sea ice pack growth. And the unfortunate string of superlatives is set to continue this week.

Arctic sea ice is already sitting at a record low for this time of year and a powerful North Atlantic storm is expected to open the flood gates and send more warmth pouring into the region from the lower latitudes. By Thursday, it could reach up to 50°F above normal. In absolute temperature, that’s near the freezing point and could further spur a decline in sea ice.

Abnormally warm air is expected to reach the North Pole by Thursday.
Credit: Climate Reanalyzer

Scientists have said the past year in the Arctic is “beyond even the extreme” as climate change remakes the region.

Sea ice hit a record low maximum last winter (for the second year in a row,  no less) and the second-lowest minimum ever recorded last fall. After a fairly rapid refreeze in late September, the region experienced a dramatic shift. Extraordinary warmth has been a recurring theme.

Sea ice growth reversed in November. Temperatures reached the melting point at the North Pole in December. Preliminary data from January indicates the Arctic was up to 35°F above normal in some locations, including a mid-January mild wave.

That brings us to early February, which is setting up for another bout of mild weather in the Arctic.

A massive storm is swirling toward Europe. It’s a weather maker in itself, churning up waves as high as 46 feet and pressure dropping as low as is typical for a Category 4 hurricane as of Monday. The storm is to the southeast of Greenland and its massive comma shape has made for stunning satellite imagery. The storm is expected to weaken as it approaches Europe, but it will conspire with a high-pressure system over the continent to send a stream of warm air into the Arctic through the Greenland Sea.

Temperatures are forecast to reach the melting point in Svalbard, Norway, an island between the Greenland and Karas Seas. The North Pole could also approach the melting point on Thursday.

It’s just the latest signal that the Arctic is in the middle of a profound change. Sea ice extent has dropped precipitously as has the amount of old ice, which is less prone to breakup. Beyond sea ice, Greenland’s ice sheet is also melting awayand pushing sea levels higher, large fires are much more common and intense in boreal forests and other ecosystem changes are causing the earth to hyperventilate.

Together, these all indicate that the Arctic is in crisis. It’s the most dramatic example of how carbon pollution is reshaping the planet and scientists are racing to understand what comes next.

 

 

Some of you think what I’m writing is gloomy.  My level of desolation I would say has peaked, except I know there is far worse to come.  Some of you wish I would just enter pretty pictures of New Jersey’s spectacular nature.  SO DO I!

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Island Beach Boardwalk to Destruction – Nor’easter-scoured, Dunes Conquered

But I AM a Saggitarian, and truth is our middle name.  The reality is, everyone, WE ARE NOT GOING TO HAVE ANY WILD BEAUTY LEFT, –NOT ONLY IN NEW JERSEY–, SO LONG AS CATASTROPHIC CLIMATE CHANGE IS ALLOWED TO RUN AMUCK, LET ALONE BE EXACERBATED BY THOSE WHO WOULD PROFIT FROM IT.

We are the only state with three coastlines — The Jersey Shore; The Delaware River; The Delaware Bay.  New Jersey is being squeezed like an orange by Catastrophic  Climate Change’s generation of Sea-Level-Rise.  Get it!

 

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FOOT ACCESS ONLY — FOOT TRAILS OPEN – THE BRIG/FORSYTHE after Sandy

 

“NOW IS THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT”… and Antidotes

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Purported Wildlife Refuge — Waterfowl-Killing Guide and Flood Remnants, Scott’s Landing, near Smithville, NJ

 

Does it seem to anyone else as though the sun never shines?

Literally and metaphorically, I mean…

Seems as though every excursion planned with any of the Intrepids is either diminished or actually cancelled, by weather.

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How to Kill and Make a Killing, Scott’s Landing and Atlantic City, NJ

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that what I must do, [whether to flee personal tragedies beyond bearing, let alone the current political situation in this former “land of the free”], is to take intensive, day-long, nature pilgrimages.

On February 1, a dear friend and I took off for the Brigantine Wildlife Refute, above Atlantic City, on Absecon Bay.  To our intense shock, ‘reparations’ of the refuge are still proceeding — to the effect that we could not enter, nor drive even to Gull Tower #I nor Gull Tower #2.

A biologist, who required our identification of snow geese, regretfully but firmly did not allow us to proceed.  Enormous red trucks zoomed and roared everywhere.  The official revealed that the truckers complain to her, “Those PEOPLE [meaning birders] are CRAZY!” Yes, indeed.  Guilty as charged.  All who travel to the Brig are there to experience wildlife where the wild creatures had always been plentiful and safe!

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Crows and a VERY FEW Snow Geese, on a normal Brigantine Winter’s Jaunt

Leeds Eco-Trail, a ‘board’walk, was all that remained available in this shrine frequented by New Jersey’s most committed birders.  In winter, we make pilgrimage there for snow geese beyond counting, for tundra swans and sometimes even the rare trumpeter swans, and all the winter ducks.

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Bufflehead Male by Brenda Jones

We took our disgruntled selves down to Church Road in Absecon, where any number of  avocets had pranced and preened a year ago right now.  But, due to high water, the array of sandbars that had served those rare shorebirds had vanished absolutely.  All we could find on the unexpected lake were resident mallards, habituated to cars!  Squawking and demanding, the handsome green-headed ducks and their muted females surrounded us.

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Mr. and Mrs. Mallard in Full Breeding Plumage by Brenda Jones

 

Obviously, humans have not learned never to feed wild animals, since our food is junk food to them: As with the foxes of Island Beach, human food fills the stomachs of wildlings. But our offerings do not nourish appropriately; seriously subverting their immune systems.  In Absecon, very odd, almost comical hybrid ducks swam and begged with the traditional mallards.  I was too chagrined to take pictures.  Only Brenda can render mallards attention-getting!

My friend, Fay Lachmann, and I took ourselves next to Scott’s Landing, where NJWILDBEAUTY readers well know that Tasha and Alan and I spend many a merry Christmas.  Those magical days are rich in fellowship first; birding second; and Tasha’s elegant picnics, in sun (whatever THAT is) and new snow, among rare winged creatures, often beyond counting.

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Bleakness of February, 2017, Scott’s Landing, looking south.

 

February 2017 finds Scott’s Landing a wasteland; a travesty of the concept of refuge.  It’s always a shock, in hunting season, to see all those flat wooden images of various winged fowl, with numbers as to the size and shape of ducks and geese at so many yards. “The better to shoot you, my dear…”

It’s harder yet to come upon successful hunters at Scott’s Landing, triumphantly laying out bloodied prey upon these sandy, wood-rimmed stretches that pass for the driving area of the Landing.

When Tasha and Alan and I are there at Christmas, our ‘guests’  include elegant great egrets, all white and gold and sheer nobility; as well as stately, ashen ‘blue’ herons.  At dusk in warmer times, Scott’s Landing is ideal for rails; even bitterns.  In this season, we should have seen hordes of snow geese and heard their mellifluous ‘chattering’.

At Scott’s Landing, Fay and I saw no living creature.

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Blue Crab Remnants, Scott’s Landing

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Flood Remnants, Scott’s Landing

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Flood Detritus, Scott’s Landing

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Flood-scoured Scott’s Landing — Water does NOT Belong Inside These Barricades!

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Flood-Chewed Scott’s Landing — this is the LAND side of the barricade...

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Sea-level Rise Alters Scott’s Landing

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How Scott’s Landing Looked the Christmas after Hurricane Sandy

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Tasha O’Neill with our Christmas Picnic, the year of Sandy – note sunlight...

The Brig, (Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge) after Sandy was a far, far better refuge/antidote than was our recent experience.  In the picture below, note that post-Sandy sign announcing: TRAILS ARE OPEN. 

For Fay and me, not only were no trails open on February 1, 2017.  Even along the too-brief Leeds Eco-Trail, we could see but a smattering of snow geese settling onto nearby grasses.  And not the wing of a single other bird, in this renowned bird refuge.  I lay those empty skies and grasslands to all the disruption, since I received the notice: “Wildlife Drive Closures Begin Monday, September 12th.”  “WORK IS EXPECTED TO TAKE SEVERAL MONTHS TO COMPLETE.”

Purported road repairs (never evident so far) and major building are the norm at Forsythe “Refuge” now. And the truckdrivers wonder why ‘those people’ are ‘crazy’…

Post-Sandy — Far Better Than Now

foot-access-only-brigantine-after-sandy-12-25-2012

FOOT ACCESS ONLY — FOOT TRAILS ARE OPEN – THE BRIG after Sandy

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Snow Geese and Blue Skies and White Clouds!!! in normal times

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Snow Geese Undisturbed, The Brig in Normal Times

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Fed Up with Spring –Give Me Brigantine Winter!

Morning Has Broken Brig Winter 2016

“,Morning Has Broken” – Brigantine Dawn, Winter 2016

Personally, I am sick of insufficient spring.  A million trees in flower do not DO it for me!

Give me sun and light and brilliance and wilderness, crispness and clarity, and rare wild birds.  Give me bays and impoundments, tidal marshes.  Give me the Brigantine Wildlife Refuge in winter, with all its magnificences and quirks.  End my day with gustatory perfection and a sunset right out of Mark Rothko.  Give me perfection, in our New Jersey!

Beauty, Beauty Everywhere Brig Winter 2016

Beauty, Beauty, Everywhere – ‘The Brig’ Winter 2016

All's Well Brig Winter 2016

La Tranquillite — Brig Entry Winter 2016

Snow Geese Brig Winter 2016

Snow Geese Brig Winter 2016

Refuge Brig Winter 2016

Ding Darling Trademark Sign for National Wildlife Refuges

Goose Knows the Way Brig Winter 2016

“The Goose Knows the Way” – Ding Darling NWR Motif as Weathervane on Brig Visitors’ Center

Washed Out Road Brig Winter 2016

Washed-Out Road, Absecon Bay, Brig, Winter 2016 – Why Brig is closed during week and barely open on weekends right now

Destruction or Preservation Brig Winter 2016

Destruction/Desecration or Preservation? – Brig Winter 2016

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Track of the Cat — Too-Prevalent Changes at Brig/Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, Winter 2016

Fellow Visitor Brig Winter 2016

Fellow Visitor – Brig – Winter 2016

Beware of the Locals Brig Winter 2016

“Beware of the Locals” — Mott’s Creek, near Brig Winter 2016

Dusk and Controlled Burn Brig Winter 2016

“Fire in the Pines” – from Leeds Point near Brig, Winter 2016

Lunch, Anyone Brig Winter 2016

LUNCH – We’re not in Kansas any more.. Oyster Creek Inn, Leeds Point near Brig

Winter Hours Brig Winter 2016

“Winter Hours” Oyster Creek Inn Leeds Point near Brig Winter 2016

Leeds Point Marshlands from Deck of Oyster Creek Inn Brig Winter 2016

Leeds Point Fishing Village and Tidal Marshlands from Deck of Oyster Creek Inn near Brig. Wintertime 2016

Oyster Creek Welcome Brig Winter 2016

Oyster Creek Welcome, Leeds Point, NJ   NOTE SANDY WATER LINE 2012

Oysters of Oyster Creek Brig Winter 2016

Oyster Creek’s Specialty, Winter 2016

Tuckerton Sunset after Brig Winter 2016

Tuckerton Sunset, near Jacques Yves Cousteau Society

Last Glimpse of Winter Sun Brig Winter 2016

Last Glimpse of This Day’s Light, Tuckerton, End of Seven Bridges Road, north of Brig off Route 9

WINTER BIRDING: Brigantine Excursion(s)

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.

Eagle on the Osprey at Brigantine Christmas 2015

Brigantine Fog Christmas Day: Eagle Thinks He’s Safe on Osprey Nest Near Dike Road

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!

Christmas Fog Brig Tasha Alan 2015

Tasha and Alan, Christmas Fog, the Brig — Note Obvious Warmth…

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?

Christmas Goose Brig 2015

Christmas Goose (Geese) of the Brig

Bedecked Goose Marker in Christmas Fog

Ding Darling Goose Sign in Christmas Hat and Scarf — All the Ding-Darling-Designed Goose Signs Wore Someone’s Handiwork

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.

Territorial Peregrine Brigantine Christmas 2015

Territorial Peregrine of Christmas

Tasha at work in Christmas fog

Tasha, Fine Art Photographer, At Work in the Fog

Snow Geese of Christmas

The Christmas Goose — well, GEESE, Snow, of Course!

Brigantine Christmas PIcnic 2015

Tasha’s Christmas Picnic, Which Alan Insisted we eat in the Brig, “Because, how can we leave the Peregrine?”

Bon Appetit Christmas

Bon Appetit, Tasha-Style

 

Tasty Treats of Christmas

Tasty Treats, including Home-Made Tomato Soup in Heated Mugs

 

Sneak Boat Disguises Hunters off Brigantine Refuge Christmas Morning

Sneak Boat Hunting at the Edge of the Refuge, shots audible, Christmas Day

Snow Geese Forever at Brig

Snow Geese Forever as the Fog Begins to Lift

Christmas Fog begins to lift 2015

“Blue Skies Smiling”, as We Prepare to Depart

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.

Yes, haven.

 

 

 

TRUMPETER SWANS FOR THANKSGIVING

Perfection Brigantine Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving Perfection – Brigantine/Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I run away from holidays.  Thanksgiving was no exception.  Key birder, Mary Wood, and I set out for long empty Pinelands roads which lead past bogs and to ‘the B rig’ (Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge near Smithville.)

Pinelands Beckons at Brigantine Thanksgiving 2015

Brigantine Forest Trail – Sugar Sand and Pine Duff – on Thanksgiving

Just below Chatsworth (“The Heart of the Pines”) we came upon bogs being plowed and replanted, probably with berries that don’t ripen when all the other cranberries do.  Sand has its own beauty, and we were grateful for that, and for wild tracks – one probably coyote, one definitely fox, amidst the sugar sand.

New Planting New Drainage Chatsworth 2015

Preparing for new cranberry varieties

Preparing to Replant Cranberry Bogs 2015

Pine Barrens Sugar Sands near Chatsworth Bogs

Sugar Sand Track

Fox Claims Trail 2015

Wild Track

Pine Island Cranberry Company 2015

Legendary Haines Pine Island Cranberry Company near Chatsworth

Little did we know that the day’s highlight was just ahead.  Against the far shore, on a tiny gin-clear lake, we found not one but four trumpeter swans.

Trumpeter Swans first view near Chatsworth 2015

Oler Lake Holds Trumpeters near Chatsworth 2015

Oler Lake was Swan Lake — see white dots in distance

Mary set up the scope and we spent about a half hour with these dignified beauties.

Trumpeter Swan Families from Internet

Tundra Swan Images from Internet

Her splendid optics revealed jet black beaks, not a glimmer of yellow lore that would have identified tundra swans.  They swam in such unison that the four created one thin wake.  One of the three was an immature, the grey of chinchilla fur, and every bit as dignified and splendid as those matures.  No ‘ugly ducklings’ here!

We drove between glistening pitch pines, and gleaming blackjack oaks – shrublike oaks that retain their cinnamon-hued leaves until April.  Sand softened the roadway, and barely human appeared.

Soon, ‘the Brig’ beckoned, equally shining in Thanksgiving light.

Silence had surrounded us all the way down, and was almost audible in the Refuge.  Peace was the order of the day, and impeccable beauty.

1 Swan a-Swimming Brigantine Thanksgiving 2015

Mary and the Mute Swan, near Gull Tower

Mute swans swam singly or in couples, swirling here, circling there — no family groups and no thin wake here.  Tiger-orange beaks shouting their presence, identifying this slightly smaller noble member of the swan family.

We were given hundreds of tundra swans, thousands of snow geese.  This internet picture will do for you what my camera will not.  I have been at the brig when the sky was whitened with snow geese; a blizzard, and every flake a snow goose here for the winter.

Snow Geese On the Wing from Internet

We were so warm, we set up and used the scope for great swathes of time, in light jackets, then shirtsleeves.

Mary Wood Setting the Scope Brigantine Thanksgiving 2015

One of the stars of the day was a solo boat-tailed grackle.  These pictures from the Internet give you some idea of their dignity.  We could barely tear ourselves away from this heroic bird.

His breast was awash in every tone of blue on black the color of wet jet.  Each minuscule movement created aurora-borealis-like shiftings and glowing along that dark expanse.  Behind him shimmered limitless reaches of impoundments of varying salinities, peppered with black ducks and Northern pintails, shovelers and mallards beyond counting.

Boat-Tailed Grackle Close-Up from Internet

Boat-Tailed Grackle full shot from Internet

A walk in a forest brought glorious oversized leaves, cushiony pine needles everywhere, light slicing through woods, and adorable yellow-rumped warblers.

Yellow-rumped Warbler from Internet

Yellow-rumped warbler from Internet

Huge Oak Leaf Brigantine Thanksgiving 2015

Oversized Oak Leaf, Brigantine Pine Forest

Even the mud was beautiful!

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud Brigantine Thanksgiving 2015

Mud near Leeds Eco-Trail

We had jokingly gone to the Brig to find the hot-line-reported scissor-tailed flycatcher.  I’d seen one at Sandy Hook, one at Cape May, in my entire life.  We did see and hear some unusual birds in shrubs and deciduous trees along the impoundments.  Here’s what we should have found, but were unable to discover.

Scissorf-tailed Flycatcher we did not see, from Internet

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher from Internet

Day’s Stars – Trumpeter Swans from Internet

trumpeter_swan Internet

The monarchs of this kingdom proved to be those trumpeter swans — not only hither and yon throughout Brig waters, in small trim family groups.  But also, at the end, the pond where we’d hoped for buffleheads, two coursing overhead in silent flight, and yet we could hear the air passing through those solid, stately wings.

trumpeter swans on the wing from Internet

Trumpeter Swans from Internet

Running away from holidays holds so many miracles.  It was almost a day without turkeys, until Mary spotted a few stately, dark and noble gobblers scurrying through a remote stretch of those legendary, eponymous Pines.  O, and come to think of it, we began the day in the cranberry bogs!

I will say again, a plethora of pipelines is poised to puncture the Pinelands.  Highly flammable fuels will roar through those pipes, threatening not only that highly flammable forest, but also the sacred Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer of 17 trillion gallons of the healthiest water in America.  Pipeline people insist that citizens have no choice.  Wherever you are, prove the Pipeline people wrong!  Write editors.  Protest.  Put up Signs.  Write Congresspeople.  Pipeline people have no concept of HABITAT!

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