WHEN YOUR EASTER OUTFIT IS BIRDING GEAR…

Hold on to your Hat Jeanette Hooban at Cape May Hawk Watch Platform Easter 2017

“HOLD ONTO YOUR HAT!” – Intrepid Jeanette Hooban on Easter

Hawk Watch Platform, Cape May, New Jersey

Over the weekend, yours truly set off for New Jersey’s two birding meccas, –Cape May and ‘The Brig’/Forsythe Wildlife Refuge.  As usual, she was running away from Holidays that used to be magical, in quest of winged rarities.  This memorable journey unfolded after Intrepid Jeanette Hooban declared [some months ago], “Carolyn, Easter is YOURS!”

Cape May Hawk Watch Platform aster 2017

HAWK WATCH PLATFORM:  Support these courageous and generous donors, without whose work and words, people could still be slaughtering rare birds by the thousands, all along Sunset Boulevard.

The Climate Change that ‘doesn’t exist’ had other ideas.  Gale-winds had flags snapping almost to the tearing point.  Out of the SOUTH — the direction in which migrants need to be flying.  They may as well have faced a wall.

Wild Wind & Flags Cape May Easter 2017

NOTE THOSE WIND-WHIPPED FLAGS

Jeanette and I learned that only swans, osprey and a smattering of gulls were strong enough either day to surmount the mistral-like onslaught.

Mute Swan in Territorializing Posture Cape May Easter 2017

MUTE SWAN INSTITUTES TERRITORIALIZING POSTURE

We were given three oystercatchers at the Meadows at Cape May — walking around, seeking the ideal spot for the scrape they consider a nest.  Territorialzing was inevitable and amazingly raucous.  Get that verb though, “walking.”  At the Brig, –on the side of the renovated road, opposite Atlantic City–,  a pair of oystercatchers walked around on the pale gravelly substrate, nesting on their minds.  These could have been the pair I watched feeding one young a summer ago, in that same place, where Sandy had devoured the road.

There were a few great egrets in stunning breeding plumage.  They, also, were walking.  Terns wheeled and plunged.  A yellowlegs (I can’t tell greater from lesser unless they’re side-by-side) and some willets also tried to feed in low water, –feed on foot, not on wings.

So, right now, your NJ WILDBEAUTY Cape May activity report is being replaced this time by this poem.  It was written when the Dodge Poetry Festival was still held at Waterloo Village.  Joy Harjo, a feisty, eloquent Native American, magnificently conveyed her splendid multi-level poem, “She Had Some Horses.”

 

“SHE SAW SOME BIRDS”

                                                           (Hearing Joy Harjo at the  Dodge Poetry Festival)

 

she saw some birds who

were little and magical

and easily mistaken

— one for the other —

warbling in underbrush

and sporting, at the last moment

a red kiss

or a brassy crown or a

gold coin on a dark

rump, — and tiny, so tiny

really almost

invisible

 

she saw some birds who

were too high on a tree-

limb or a thermal

or above slate seas

and twisting — this

way and that –, hiding

their field marks

 

they could have been

peregrine or immature golden

against the noon sun but

no one can quite

make this call

 

she saw some birds

with distinctive bellies

plastered flat against

dark trunks which they were

excavating high and deep

where no one can climb

or raid or even — at the very

least — identify

 

she heard some birds

in the wide marsh

as the sun slipped

away from her and even

worse, from her birds

 

who had concealed

themselves among sere rushes

which they exactly matched

so she could not see but only

hear their rattle or click or whine

and wonder if this was her

rail, her shy bittern

 

the ones who so skillfully lose

themselves in the sedges as

she so longs to do in such

a setting,… everywhere

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

 

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Brigantine Return – Last of the Winter Birds

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that ‘The B rigantine’, or Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, near Smithville, New Jersey, has been closed to humans other than construction workers, since September.  I’ve now made two trips to the re-roaded, re-opened refuge.  I am happy to note that rarities are in residence, or in tourist mode, to a high degree.  This late March Saturday, we were treated to the last of the winter birds, and one life species for me — WHITE IBIS — two in a tree with a Great Egret, on the way to the Gull Pond Tower.  Most of these images are by my dear friend and superb bird artist, Brenda Jones.  All of them are wild nature, roaming free, thanks to far-sighted altruistic politicians of yesteryear.

A thousand thanks always to consummate birder, Mary Wood, who not only drives us in her silent Prius, which does not alarm the wildlings.  But who gave me her spectacular (second pair) of Swarovski binoculars, which finally allow me to see eye rings…

In case you wonder why people bird….

 

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Imagine Two White Ibis in One Tree — (Internet Image)   We left before they did...

Great Egret Brigantine Forsythe Brenda Jones 2

Great Egret – We also saw this one wading about (a first for us!) in sparkling Absecon Bay

bufflehead Brenda Jones

Brenda’s Serene Male Bufflehead — We had three females, two males.

Female Bufflehead Bull's Island Stockton NJ Brenda Jones

Brenda’s Intricate Female Bufflehead

Mute swan Brenda Jones

At one point, we had the mute swan and the 5 buffleheads ‘in one glass’

(meaning we could see all without moving our optics)

Osprey on winter tree Brenda Jones

We were this close to the first returned male osprey, — serene, imperious on his nest.  His mate is due to return in about two weeks. 

Green-Winged Teal Brenda Jones

We had green-winged teal beyond counting, at the inlet from Absecon Bay

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We were given snow geese in numbers of this magnitude – Laura Frazier at Blackwater Wildlife Refuge in Maryland, from Internet — our were at rest upon the waters, serenading us with that musical murmur before departing for cooler climes…

Female Harrier Comin' In on a Wing Brenda Jones

Brenda’s Spectacular Female Harrier – I also spied “The Grey Ghost,” the elusive silvery male northern harrier, coasting along the tree line in a field to the west of Route 206, before we’d even turned into the Pine Barrens.

Song Sparrow from blind Brenda Jones

We heard, but did not see, the song sparrow at the northeast corner of the Refuge.

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Internet Image of Black Brant in Water — We were given flocks on both sides, –bay and impoundment — and overhead in elegant waves.

Chickadee with Berry Brenda Jones

We frequently heard and ‘almost saw’ chickadees.

Red-winged Blackbird Brenda Jones

We heard and saw newly returned red-winged blackbirds.

Our finale bird at the Brig was an American Bald Eagle hiding out, disguising its imperious white head and diagnostic white tail in a black and white paper birch overlooking the final pond.

Eagle perched Brenda Jones new camera

WINTER BIRDING AT THE BEACH ~ Sandy Hook, January 6

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Sandy Hook, Sandy Hook Bay, Spermaceti Cove on our  January Birding Day

Epiphany, indeed!   Actually, multiple epiphanies on the purported day of the Three Kings’ visit to the manger…

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Two Seasons, near Salt Pond, Sandy Hook, January 6, 2017

O.K., it snowed all night.  Who cares?

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Where The Rabbit Ran… near Salt Pond, Sandy Hook, January 6, 2017

There is nothing more thrilling than finding first tracks in fresh snow or upon tide-compressed sand.

And, yes, it’s cold and windy — so much the BETTER!

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The King of the Foxes — Where the Fox Sips, Spermaceti Cove, Sandy Hook, January

I’m beginning to think that winter is the BEST time for adventures!

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Kathleen and Jim Amon, Studying Buffleheads, Mergansers, Brant and a Lone Red-Breasted Loon in Winter Plumage

Come with Kathleen and Jim Amon, of Lambertville, (and me).  These friends are key birders, both fine artists — Jim with a one-man exhibition into early February at D&R Greenway of his magnificent butterfly studies.  Jim is my former colleague (Director of Stewardship at D&R Greenway Land Trust).  He also supports the Sourlands Conservancy, and writes marvelous nature articles under the heading, “Seeing the Sourlands.” Both are also impassioned about food, which you know key to my nature quests.

Yes, stroll with us along the northernmost barrier beach of New Jersey early on a January Friday morning.

As you can see from my intent friends above, –wild winds, recent snow, a nearby bay, and a few salt ponds over which increasing gusts were gusting, mean nothing.

Gear is essential.  Fashion is not.  Windproofed everything is worth its weight in gold.

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Essential ‘Gear’ for Birding in All Seasons – David Alan Sibley’s Masterworks

O, yes, and having memorized most of the texts of these books, and possessing decent optics.  As NJWILDBEAUTY readers know, an amazing friend recently gave me her second set of Swarovski binoculars.  Kathleen Amon had just purchased the identical ‘species’.  Here she is using them for the first time, astounded by subtleties revealed.  These ‘glasses’ are beyond price.  No gift of my life, (including rare jewels from my ex-husband) surpasses them in importance.

At my bird-feeder at home, my amazing Swarovskis, I swear, let me absorb the personality and character of feeding goldfinches from the look in their eyes!

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Female American Goldfinch (NJ STATE BIRD) on Seed Sack by Fine Art Photographer, Friend: Brenda Jones

Other essentials, — which I am sure all my NJWILDBEAUTY readers possess, include curiosity, passion, enthusiasm, persistence, courage, and a certain level of fitness – which as you know Peroneus Longus  (that pesky left-leg tendon) does not always provide.

‘Perry’ was a brat last week at Island Beach.  But we worked him into cooperation any number of times.  At Sandy Hook, –taped anew by my legendary chiropractor, Brandon Osborne of Hopewell– Peroneus behaved like a perfect gentleman.  So he moved into Jim Amon’s league…

O, yes, the ankle tape this week is the color of tomato soup before you add milk.  It sports white writing all over everywhere, shouting “ROCK TAPE”, over and over and over.

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Jim and Kathleen Amon, intent upon buffleheads, Spermaceti Cove, at Sandy Hook, January 6, 2017

Never mind rocks.   Give me sand and snow!

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Brooding Wetland, Spermaceti Cove, Sandy Hook in January

The purpose of our jaunt, which we’d determined to take come rain or snow or sleet or hail, — well, almost… — was to acquaint Jim and Kathleen with all the bird ops at Sandy Hook.

To show them where the green heron lurks in summer:

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Green Heron, Brenda Jones

Where the great egret feeds on the incoming tide…

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Great Egret by Brenda Jones

Where the ospreys soar, court, mate, build nests, raise hefty young, and perform impressive exchanges, as both parents tend first eggs, then chicks.

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Osprey by Brenda Jones

Well, you get the idea.

Every time I introduce anyone to Sandy Hook, there is great attraction to, and concern for, the yellow houses left from “the Hook’s” military past.  Time has had its way with them.

Sandy, the Storm, was doubly merciless — waves crashing in from the Atlantic and others rising with menace from all-too-near Sandy Hook Bay.

These houses, upon whose chimneys ospreys delight to nest and successfully raise young, are finally being restored!

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Restoration of the Yellow Houses

Everyone muses, in the presence of the battered yellow house, upon stories these dwellings could tell.

Three of these haunting structures had become impeccable, after all these ruinous decades. The northernmost restoration now sports a FOR RENT sign in its front window.  The one beyond that had its door open, a workman in a hard hat entering with urgency.  Across from their porches, one faces Sandy Hook Bay, bird-rich, to be sure.  Also frequently crossed by the ferry to Manhattan…

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New Ad for Yellow Houses, up near North Beach and Hawk Watch Platform

Oh, yes, and what birds did we find?

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Common Merganser Female by Fine Art Photographer/Friend, Ray Yeager

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Hooded Merganser, Ray Yeager

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Male Bufflehead, Ray Yeager

Brant Goose Drinking Barnegat

Brant, by Brenda Jones

What did we see that we did not expect?  I had jokingly mentioned, as we faced salt ponds awash in the dapper and compelling ducks of winter, “With any luck, we’ll have a red-throated loon in winter plumage…   Of course, that means he won’t have a red throat.”

This is just one of the many complexities of the birder’s life.  If you cannot stand contradictions (such as the black-bellied plover in winter plumage who has white belly), don’t bird.

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Red-throated Loon in Winter Plumage from Internet: Cornell Ornithology Lab

What had we expected to find, but didn’t have enough time on the ocean side?

Long-tailed ducks out beyond the third waves…

Ray Yeager is a master at finding and immortalizing long-tails, so this image will have to do for all of us.

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Lon-tailed duck, male, by Ray Yeager

What do I remember from my November visit, [that did not happen in January]– every brant on the salt ponds catapulted into the air by horrific military noise from two officious helicopters.

‘The Hook’ has been military since the War of 1812, even though “no shot has been fired in anger”, as they say, along those splendid sands.

I’m supposed to feel secure and protected in the presence of the military, but the opposite is my truth.  Such intrusions cannot be good for the birds..

.

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All the Brant of Sandy Hook’s Salt Pond, Fleeing Cacophonous Helicopters, November 2016

Sandy Hook is so special, even the poison ivy is beautiful.  This November scene reminds us

(1) Winter Birding is full of riches, worth all the risks and potential discomforts.

(2) Rejoice that these preserves exist.  Do everything in your power to see that they persist, for the wild creatures above all, and for human epiphanies!

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Poison Ivy Still Life, November 2016

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