“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

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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

SUN-SEEKING, Literal and Metaphorical

Is it November, –or is it THIS November–, that renders sun a memory?

What images, what journeys hold light so crucial to me, ever more essential, every day?

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Autumn Along the Stony Brook, 2016, November

 

Key birding buddy, Mary Wood, and I ‘hiked the day down,’ –mostly wordlessly, often birdlessly–, after the election.  November surprised us with remnant vividness.

Walk with us.  Climb with us.

 

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Birding Platform Over the Wetlands

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Map – Charles Rogers Refuge – off Alexander, near Princeton Canoe and Kayak Rentals

 

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Likely Birds – Red-wing Heaven in Springtime

 

We owe this lovely restoration to Winnie (Hughes) and Fred Spar, and Tom Poole.  I know Winnie through U.S. 1 Poets, and Fred and Tom through D&R Greenway Land Trust, where I work.

Finding these images on this gloomy day reminds that all that matters in my life is preservation, — of nature, of beauty, of wild spaces.

Oh, yes, and freedom.  For the wildlings and for us.

Winnie and Fred, in their fine new signs, give honor to legendary birder, quintessential birdwalk leader, Lou Beck, of Washington Crossing Audubon.

We all give credit to everyone who reaches out, through whatever non-profits, to save the wild while we can.  Thoreau was right, you know:  “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

 

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Restored Wetlands — Note Return of the Cattails, and Purple Martin House and Gourds

 

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“September, we’ll remember…”

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Upside-Down is Better than Right-Side Up

 

 

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Finale, Rogers Refuge and the Stony Brook

 

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“From Both Sides Now”

 

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November Tapestry in the Stony Brook

Memories of this refuge especially include green herons.  Not this day, not this season — but often.  Sometimes, kayaking nearby, one spots green herons mincing along the banks of the (D&R, of course) canal, then lofting up into Refuge trees.

 

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Green Heron by Brenda Jones

 

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Spring Species, Rogers Refuge

 

Spring brings not only winged miracles. This refuge is yellow-flag and blue-flag Central in May.  Wild iris of the most vivid hues, The Rogers is worthy of a journey for ‘flags’ alone.

 

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Blue Flags from Versicolor on Interniet

 

Invasive species had driven out cattails essential to territorializing red-winged blackbirds.

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Male Redwinged Blackbird, Territorializing, by Brenda Jones

Seemingly inescapable phragmites, — bush-tailed grasses beloved of decorators–, are too frail to support the weight of males, ruffling scarlet epaulets, vocalizing welcome to females and banishment to rivals, in these woods and wetlands.

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Phragmites Height from Internet

Restoration, a key facet of preservation, is visible in the final scene of Mary’s and my November walk.

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Late Light in the Cattails

O! To be in Cape May, Now That the Wind is Right!

…Note basically birdless skies, waters and sands, yet fellowship rendered it all sublime!

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Checking for Brant Return: Cape May Back Bay Birding on “The Skimmer”

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that the Intrepids spent a week in Cape May, in quest of their avian counterparts.  However, for birds especially (and, therefore, for us) the wind was the ‘wrongest’ it could possibly be.  Surging UP from the SOUTHEAST, it stalled most winged creatures wherever they were, unable to proceed on their critical autumnal southeast migration in the face of fierce headwinds.  At one point, the flags were flying UP!

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Great Egrets Staging, Feeding for Migration, Back Bay Cape May, from “The Skimmer”

Now, reading birding hotlines from Sandy Hook,  Cape May and Hawk Mountain, it’s clear that the wind is in the right quarter, and raptors are surging south as they’re supposed to.  However, the two-legged Intrepids are back at their desks.

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Star Bird: Whimbrel! — a Month Late — Cape May Back Bay from “The Skimmer”

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Empty Platform, Empty Skies at Cape May Point

This is a kaleidoscope of Cape May images from our “wind-grieved” sojourn, so that others may proceed on migrations, in following winds, to experience nature’s miracles.

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Cape May Hawk Watch Platform Tally of Migrant Birds

Realize that neither the Intrepids NOR the birds would frequent these (here empty) sites, had they not been preserved by far-sighted, persistent, even heroic people.  Be among that fellowship, EVERYONE!  Support your favorite land trusts, –locally and nationally–, so that wild lands may increasingly attract wild creatures.  Vote accordingly.

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Birding Trail, Cape May Point, leading to lake full of Mute Swans

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Autumn Remnants, Cape May Point

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Where Nature Rules, Cape May Point

 

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First Light Cape May Town Beach

“Day is done…   Gone the sun…  From the lakes…  From the hills…  From the sky…

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Last Light, Town Beach, Cape May, Same Day

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

MARTIN MIRACLES — Purple, That is!

First Martins On Wing Above Phrabmites

First Martins On the Wing, Dark Phragmites Roost Site, Maurice River at Sundown

Would you believe 500,000 to 700,000 purple martins filling the sky, above the phragmites marshes of the Maurice River?  That waterway, literally designated “Wild and Scenic”, is never more dramatic than when the martins gather prior to migration, every August.  If you’re lucky, you have tickets with dear birding friends, aboard watercraft chosen by Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River (and its Tributaries), to carry you toward a sunset miracle.  (https://www.cumauriceriver.org/)  (https://www.cumauriceriver.org/pages/maurice.html)  (http://www.mauricerivertwp.org/purplemartin.html)

There are a couple of more sailing — use the third link above to become martin-dazzled!

All Aboard ! Bonanza Martin Fesitval August 2016

My Birding Buddies Board Bonanza II on Purple Martinquest

The Maurice empties into our Delaware Bay.  Recall/realize that New Jersey is the only state with three coastlines — The Shore, The Delaware River, and the Delaware Bay.  Revolutionary Battles were fought in the vicinity of the Maurice — “Peak of the Moon” and the grisly Hancock House massacre. In Greenwich (pronounced Green Witch), there is an actual monument to the tea burners of that town, celebrated for daring to defy the British.  Several trials were mounted, not one of them successful in convicting a single burner of tea.  The names on that stone are the proudest items in Greenwich, right up there with that very early, venerable Quaker Meeting House.

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Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and Its Tributaries

Preservation battles are increasingly being undertaken in the region — for Philadelphia “developers” — let’s face it, they’re destroyers! — would pave over the entire area that earned New Jersey its Garden State honorific.  Think tomatoes.  Think Campbell’s soup and Heinz ketchup.  They put ketchup on their breakfasts down there.  Neighbors realize you’re not local when you look surprised that they bring you Heinz’s glory for your bacon and eggs.

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Maurice River Scene

The Maurice and the Cohansey are wide and shimmery, soft, even lazy.  Silence is the norm in either Salem/Cumberland County river.  A few fishing boats mutter along.  Various signs of legendary shipbuilding of yesterday become apparent as your boat carries you martin-ward on the well staffed Bonanza II.

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Maurice River Commerce

You’ll have counted 8 mature American bald eagles and more than a few immatures before you’re even settled into your viewing post in the prow.  Great blue herons lift off with dignity.  Black-crowned night herons are already at roost in the heart of dark evergreens and shrubs.  These white football-shaped herons always seem to be scowling, but they’re very happy with the undisturbed habitat provided by the Maurice in August.

Black-crowned night heron Brenda Jones

Black-crowned Night Heron on Roost for Evening and Night by BRENDA JONES

Your boat is filled with people from many states, and birding experts who specialize in martins.  The birds themselves will float in from four states, but not until the sun has nearly set behind those towering reeds.  We don’t know each other, but birders are never strangers for long.  The air is steamy but not oppressive.  Wavelets whisper and it’s quiet enough to hear them.  Inside the excursion boat, desserts of sweet and fruits await, and plenty of soft drinks and essential cold water.  Binoculars are everywhere.   Expectation high.

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American Bald Eagle in Flight by BRENDA JONES

Legendary martin expert, –who modestly disclaims his introduction–, Allen Jackson, speaks on the microphone, then comes down to eager participants on the prow.  All evening long, he softly answers seemingly endless questions.  We learn that these martins eat in those other states, returning nightly now to the Maurice to roost in seemingly endless phragmites.  That the sky will fill with them, as with passenger pigeons long ago.  That their migratory flight could start next week, with the first northwest wind to speed them southward.  That insects are their food of choice and Brazil their 4000-miles-away destination.

Osprey on High Sandy Hook, Brenda Jones

Osprey in Flight by BRENDA JONES

The river turns from wet slate to mercury.  The sun goes from yellow to orange to pink tones, then copper.  It resembles a cauldron, spilling molten copper across the water’s dimpled surface.  On the other side of the boat, the half-or-so moon is yellow, then gold, then orange.  Yet its water signature is silver.

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Red-Winged Blackbird Singing by BRENDA JONES

Ospreys are everywhere, –young on the nest, matures in the air, skillfully, skillfully fishing.  We don’t see any of legendary competitions between eagles and osprey, perhaps because all have had a good day on the Maurice.  Red-winged blackbirds ripple overhead like avian rivers, males and females together, feeding intensively.  Grackles perch on a complex telephone pole, and we all want them to be martins.

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Purple Martin in Flight from Internet

Then Allen softly alerts us to a single martin on high. A handful.  A gathering.  A cluster.  A swarm.  As the river turns the color of smoke from a fresh campfire, phragmites reaches become the color of charcoal.  I must admit, we’re not seeing the purple of the ever increasing circling birds who choose sundown for their autumnal drama.  Charcoal-feathers-to-charcoal reeds, they soar and circle, consider landing, land, then rise again.  No longer can we count birds – until some0ne comes up with the old joke:  “Count the legs and divide by two!”

Sky Peppered with Martins August 2016

Sky Peppered with Martins — We had 100s to each one before dark

Allen is rapt, gently reminding us to look right, look left, look carefully over the reeds, and, above all, gaze at the sky.  Those miraculous birds are as closely packed as pepper on pastrami, and still more are streaming in.  Two tiny boats and ours still their motors.  We are gifted with the musical chatter of the gatherers.  And then the sun seems to drop like toast pulled into a toaster, and it’s all over until tomorrow.

By next week, Allen announces, there could be a million.  They will roost on both sides of the Maurice then, awaiting that weather front, that essential northwest wind that begins their migration, and ends martin miracles in New Jersey for another year.

Never forget, as I remind and remind you re land in our state — neither the martins nor the humans would have had this night’s experience, were it not for dedicated preservationists.  Support Citizens United to Save the Maurice River.  Support your local land trusts, wherever you live.

Nature is paramount.  Nature herself is endangered.  Do everything you can to keep her, and her magnificent creatures. safe.

Preliminaries to the skyful of martins:

Oyster Shipping Bivalve

Bivalve, where there were more millionaires per block than anywhere in the world, because of oysters

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Oyster Heyday Images As We Prepared to Board the Bonanza II

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The Oyster Cracker Cafe, Port Norris, NJ

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Restored RR Car That Carried the Oysters Very Far from Bivalve, NJ

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Trawl Tank at Bivalve/Port Norris

Gulls' Bivalves Martin Fesitval August 2016

Gulls’ Bivalve Experience

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Gull Lift-Off at Bivalve – probably spooked by a raptor

Nautical Still Life Port Norris

Nautical Still Life: Port Norris/Bivalve Dock

 

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Great Blue Heron by BRENDA JONES — The Heron in Winter…

 

 

 

 

 

 

HIKING NJ THE HEAT-WEEKS: An Essay on Shade

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My sister, Marilyn Weitzel, Janet Black and Betty Lies Bird the Sourland Mountain Preserve Trail off Greenwood Avenue in Hopewell

While every newspaper and television and Internet Weather Source has been warning absolutely everyone to stay inside, “Stay Safe”, [which smarmy phrase makes my flesh crawl], I’ve discovered something experientially that I’ve probably always known:  It’s a whole lot hotter in any parking lot, getting into or out of a vehicle, than it is in any of our nearby New Jersey forests!  I’ve decided, it’s dangerous to stay at home.  For, there, life can turn into a spectator sport.

Abide With Me   Pole Farm

Pole Farm: “Abide With Me”: Shade in the Height of Summer

A Sunday ago, I hiked the Pole Farm at 8 a.m., actually about an hour too late to start, during these so-called Heat Emergencies.  Much beauty, great tranquillity, shade 9/10 of the way.  For a couple of hours, I was given gifts beyond measure.  There’s nothing on a screen, or in a newspaper or magazine to equal the elusive scent of fox, still apparent from morning trail-marking.  The cascade of field sparrows, the mew of catbird.  The pleasure of picking two wildflowers for Elaine Katz’s stone and bench – the woman who almost single-handedly insisted that this Lawrenceville (now-) Preserve was not to be a golf course or a series of intrusively spotlighted playing fields.

Sourlands Rocks 08 08

Sourland Rocks Exhale Lenape Presence

A day or two later, and again a week later, starting at 5:15, I entered the Sourland Mountain Preserve off Greenwood Avenue in Hopewell.  Not a man-made sound, not even a plane, did I hear in those couple of deeply shaded hours.  Not a man-made anything did I see, except some essential drainage pipes and the entry road, then densely wooded trails I explored.  One distant frog’s thrumming was heartening.  Dragonflies popped about whatever flowers could bloom in sunlit groves.  For a long time, I sat on basalt boulders leftover from creation, surrounded by mixed forest and essence of Lenapes of long ago.  There’d been rain by the second excursion, so various streamlets were caroling as I crossed them.

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Intensities of Shade at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

The next night, when her work and mine were over for the day, Intrepid Jeanette Hooban picked me up in Lawrenceville, to glide over hill and down dale to the Delaware River, –silver in late light, purling below the Lambertville / New Hope Bridge.  Moments later, we were deep in Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve.  We decided to take four favorite trails:  Violet Trail off the access road; the old pond trail onto Fern Trail, alongside a flower-erupting former pond; and the ever-enticing Medicinal Trail, crossing the tough new bridges constructed or reconstructed after Hurricane Sandy.  Each of us has many demands made upon us in the so-called real world.  Each was a little jagged as we started out.  But, again, silence, flowers, dragonflies, hidden birds, and the murmur of Pidcock Creek gave us timeless gifts of memory.  Jeanette discovered a flaming spurt of cardinal flower, favorite of ruby-throated hummingbirds.  I could show her where to elusive snow trillium can emerge, yes, in snow, in March; where, in May, opulent yellow ladyslippers peek through heavy leaf cover to the left of the Fern Trail.  We examined the rocky edge of that Creek, for I’d found the Louisiana Waterthrush, first by song, then by habitat and behavior, a month ago with another friend.  There in the cucumber magnolia, I’d seen my first ever phoebe sing out his name over and over, while waters burbled busily below early one spring.  In heat-strafed July, shade was our gift at Bowman’s, enhanced by occasional water-cooled air.

Marsh First Willows 2013

Abbott Marshlands: Spring Lake: First Willow Buds

A few days later, key birding buddy, Anne Zeman, picked me up at 7:30 a.m., so we could go to the Abbott Marshlands (in Trenton!), in quest of images for her entries for an upcoming fine-art juried exhibition: Voices for the Marsh.  New to us was the fact that Hurricane Sandy had taken down a quantity of the Marsh’s most majestic trees.  Youngsters that survived have burgeoned in the meantime, creating dense shade everywhere — 90-some percent of our walk was tree-cool, and much alongside water.  New patterns of light and shade have amplified the richesse of its fern groves, until we ran out of species names.  Not only tiny blue dragonflies, –half the size of needles–, but equally minuscule lipstick-red ones, zinged about on all sides.  Pickerel weed’s remarkable purple (hyacinth-like, but slimmer) stems rose here and there in Spring Lake and other wet areas.

fox face close-up Brenda Jones

Fox Face, Close-Up, by Fine Art Photographer Brenda Jones

Again, we remembered where  Clyde Quin and Warren Liebensperger had shown us the five-entried fox den.  On both sides of the trail, majestic yews revealed a former dwelling in that wilderness.  Not far from there, Clyde and Warren knew to look for owls in daytime.  There’s not so much silence in the Marsh, because horrific highways are all too near, spinning out a ceaseless drone of ‘the real world’.  But after awhile, one absorbed that sound, until lapping water or locusts warming up or the sacred luffing of swans wings topped every other impression.

Marsh Sandy Damage 2013

Marsh: Hurricane Sandy Damage to Iconic Beech, Spring Scene

Each walk, alone and with others, proved that Heat Emergency consciousness can be overdone.  People can turn into couch potatoes out of fear.

beaver close-up Brenda Jones

Beaver Close-Up by Fine Art Photographer, Brenda Jones

Beauteous preserves, rich in wildlife, await on all sides of Princeton.  There’s the thickly treed Community Park North off 206.  There’s Herrontown Woods, off Snowden Lane, and the nearby Autumn Hill.  Plainsboro Preserve beckons on the other side of Route 1, with its monoculture forest of beeches — guaranteed 12 to 15 degrees cooler in summer, warmer in winter.

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Beckoning Path, Plainsboro Preserve

Turn off the screens.  Grab a hat and water and natural insect repellant (a wonderful rosemary-based one is available at the Hopewell Pharmacy) and get out there.  Don’t be someone Richard Louv will have to describe as The Last (Child) in the Woods.

Beechwood Forest Stream Pl Prsrv

Microclimate Beechwood Forest, Plainsboro Preserve

 

 

 

 

 

SUNNY MEMORIES: Brewster Beach Walk, Cape Cod

Once upon a time, it was October.  Jeanette Hooban, Carolyn Yoder and I were hiking a dunescape near Brewster on Cape Cod.  Virginia Creeper was at its peak.

Woodbine Brewster 'Wing' Trail to Island

Full-moon tides had barely seeped away to allow us access to a beckoning island.

Walking the Plank at Low Tide through Brewster 'Marsh's Wing' Trail

 

High Tide Plant at Low Tide Brewster 'Wing' Trail to Island

High Tide Plant shows us how far the sea can reach.

Compass Grass Drawing its Circles at Brewster 'Wing' Trail to Island

Compass plant scrawls its unique signature in sugary sand.

Autumnal Glory Salt Marsh Brewster 'Wing' Trail to Island

Hallowe’en is very late for peak color.

Low Tide at Cape Cod Bay Brewster 'Wing' Trail to Island

Oyster farmers arrive to gather their succulent harvest.

 

Hawk Tree Brewster 'Wing' Trail to Island

A sentinel tree beckons raptors.

 

Rose Hips Brewster 'Wing' Trail to Island

The last rose hips of summer.

Out of focus, but who has seen gold poison ivy?

Golden Poison Ivy at Brewster 'Wing' Trail to Island

“I must go down to the sea again, the lonely sea and the sky…”      (forever Masefield…)

Low Tide Oyster Harvesters at Brewster 'Wing' Trail to Island