“DUCKY DAY AT ISLAND BEACH”, JANUARY 2018

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

Merganser male Millstone Aqueduct Brenda Jones

Merganser Male, by Brenda Jones

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

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

common loon winter plumage from Internet

Common Loon, Winter Plumage by Elisa De Levis from Internet

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

common loon winter take-off from Internet

Loon Take-off from Internet by Dave Hawkins from Internet

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

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

smiling Common MerganserFemale Brenda Jones

Female Merganser by Brenda Jones

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

bufflehead Brenda JonesMale Bufflehead by Brenda Jones.

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

long-tailed ducks in flight from Internet Ken hoehn

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

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

female long-tailed duck from internet

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

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

male long-tailed duck from INternet

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

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

Brant Goose Drinking BarnegatBrant Feeding, by Brenda Jones

northern-shrike-from internet

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

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

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

Try winter trekking — surprises await!

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

CONFLUENCE

 

this wild connection

proves turbulent as two rivers

 

–Illinois, Missouri –

coursing, writhing

between blonde flanks

of tower-rocks

that funneled Pere Marquette

in his frail bark

smack into the Mississippi

 

here eagles cry and joust

for winter fish

–all smaller tributaries

marble-hard

releasing no nourishment

 

two tumultuous rivers

crest, fling spray

scour their own depths

 

til scale-silvered life

meets fate

in gilded beaks and talons

 

–two voluminous rivers roiling

until fish take wing

 

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

 

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.

BIRDING ‘The Hook’ ~ Bombay, in Delaware

A ‘Life Bird’ for Carolyn, and most welcome to both of us — The Black-Necked Stilt of Bombay Hook

black-necked-stilt-from INternet

Bombay Hook Wildlife Refuge is half again as large as ‘The Brig’, and far more generously treed.  It’s managed this year for wading birds, and we were given two life birds before we’d been in there 20 minutes.

Blue_Grosbeak_from INternet jpg

Second Life Bird for Carolyn — Blue Grosbeak

NOTE THAT ALL BIRD CLOSE-UPS ARE FROM THE INTERNET, not via cfe camera

Mary Wood and I dared a Delaware jaunt last Sunday, because of the heat.  Both Refuges are mostly birding-by-car (the ideal ‘blind’ for the birds — our presence in those metal cocoons does not alarm our avian friends)  Both refuges, also, in summer, are notorious for greenhead flies — carnivorous, or at least sangiferous winged beings, whom we do not add to our ‘Lists’ for the day.

Egrets Unlimited Bombay Hook July

AN ABUNDANCE OF EGRETS, Snowy, that is…

Immediately inside the park, we came to a cluster of dead trees, absolutely studded with snowy egrets.  Picture a Christmas Tree decorated by a hoarder, every ornament alive, with wings!

Salt Marsh Primeval Bombay Hook JulyGREAT EGRET AND GREAT BLUE HERON, below snowy-egret-studded tree

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Founded in 1937, ‘The Hook’ is a vital link in the Atlantic Flyway’s chain, “extending from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.”  Urgent in both spring and fall migration, admittedly there are always bird riches among these impoundments and woods.  Wading birds (long-legged shorebirds) of some species are already beginning the southward journey.  Mary is already planning our next jaunt — hoping for godwits, frankly.

Refuge with Trees Bombay Hook JulyTREE-RICH BOMBAY HOOK, with brown-eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s lace

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Summer Perfection Bombay Hook JulySUMMER PERFECTION, BOMBAY HOOK, JULY

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Immature great_blue_heron from Internet

IMMATURE GREAT BLUE HERON — rarity for Mary and me   (Internet)

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eastern-kingbird-michael-woodruff from Internet

EASTERN KINGBIRD SO NEAR — right beside car     (image from Internet)

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Goldfinch with Thistles Fredric-D-NisenholzGOLDFINCH OF HOME — ONLY THEIRS FED ON INDIAN GRASS — NO THISTLES!  (Internet)

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Eastern Phoebe w. nest material from Internet KK_APA_2011_19948_157974_AlbertoLopezEASTERN PHOEBE WITH NEST MATERIAL – OURS SLAM-DUNKED A GREEN GRASSHOPPER!      (Internet Image)

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Turks Cap Lily Seaside Goldenrod Bombay Hook July

EXCEEDING RARE TURK’S CAP LILY BLOOMS WITH SEASIDE GOLDENROD

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Perched Bombay Hook July 2017

PERCHED — EGRET RIGHT AT HOME AT ‘THE HOOK’

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Vultures Gather Bombay Hook July

AN OMINOSITY OF VULTURES AT ‘THE HOOK’

Mary and I ignored her GPS most of the way, choosing 295 South, to the end of our New Jersey, to zoom over the Delaware Memorial Bridge.  She’s named her navigator “Jeeves.”  His commanding voice directed us on Route 1 South and 13 South in various combinations.  Bombay Hook is near Smyrna, below historic New Castle.  Whitehall Neck Road took us into the Refuge.

At this point, Jeeves complained, “RECALCULATING”.  We had a good laugh, as I mused, “Mary, we have to remember, butlers don’t spend a lot of time in wildlife refuges.”

We couldn’t believe the swiftness of the ride, nor the mostly green beauty on 295 and the preponderance of 1 and 13.  (Admittedly, Delaware’s fringes leading to the bridge are exercises in tackiness, –but briefly.)  At one point we drove through blue-green just-tasseled corn on both sides of the road — “high as an elephant’s eye”.

I’ll do another blog on New Castle for our (very late) lunch — in Jessop’s pub, whose building is 300 years old.  I was served Thomas Jefferson Ale in a stone mug, and a sumptuous Colonial crab pot pie…, by a ‘serving wench’ in the garb of the era.  In the church next door, Lafayette had given the bride away…

Thomas Jefferson Ale Jessop's Tavern New Castle Delaware 2017‘PARADISE ENOW’