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

“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

“Haut les coeurs!” — High the Hearts!, from the French… The Role of Beauty in These Times

When I lived in Cannes, my neighbors of the villa taught me a slogan they were utilizing to get them through their dire campaign involving Le Pen – for which they had to vote three times in the departement of their births, which meant leaving the haven of Provence.

“Haut les coeurs!”, [sounds like “o, liqueurs!”] conveys the sustaining command to hold high our hearts, no matter what.  The French are masters of this art, as their revolutionary scene of Marianne in the midst of the battle, hearteningly conveys.

 

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NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that my own heart has been leaden, so that I have not been able summon the Muse to craft new blogs.  A certain level of joie de vivre is essential to these ‘pages’, a joie seriously lacking.  My heart does not even  feel red any longer — rather, the grey/yellow-green of this morning’s discouraging sky.

 

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“Willow, Weep For Me”, Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands, January 20, 2017

 

A British friend writes us, warning that we not “fall into the Slough of Despond.”  A kind of “Pilgrim’s Progress” is our plan this day, although it’s too late about the falling.  My friend’s warning is timely and urgent – that we not descend further; above all that we do not wallow.  Attention to the beautiful and the wild, she urges, has never been more important.  I’m considering this, considering…

 

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Beckoning Tree, Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands, January 20, 2017

 

France’s Marianne, with her brave, billowing Tricoleur [flag] sustains me in these times.  Although we choose somewhat different garb, her spirit is required now.  We of this young country would call it “The Spirit of ’76”.

All my life, I’ve carried the spirit of our true Patriots, our Founding Fathers and Mothers.

But now — this recent scene in Trenton’s Abbott Marshlands is the world I deplore and dread — sheer desecration of our wild and sacred spaces:  We can expect far more than this — the visible and the invisible — as with pipelines beyond counting.

 

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Present, at the Marsh.   Future, as we move on from this day.  Note small sign honoring habitat and the creatures whom we stand to lose…

And, to forge my way out of the Slough of Despond, I begin balancing images from this Abbott Marshlands pilgrimage upon “Inauguration” Day.  You’ll see that even in an overcast time, even when muddy trails greet hikers, beauty prevails.

But birding is why we are here.  Susan Burns, –indispensable Willing Hands (volunteer) at D&R Greenway events–, does so to save habitat, for birds in particular.  Here, she’s memorizing subtle gadwalls; dapper northern pintails, merry black and white coots; interspersed with jazzy orange, forest green and new-snow-white shovelers, — the rare ducks of winter — on waterways of the Marsh. 

 

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Susan Burns Intent Upon Rare Winter Ducks at Abbott Marshlands

 

Regarding the next image, Susan and (other birding friends and) I never know whose side we’re on.   “Nature raw in tooth and claw” is why we SAVE wildlands!  That balancing act, where everything cycles into use and blessing for everything else.  She and I conclude that this raptor must have been a great horned owl…  These clusters punctuate our waterside trail, followed by lacings of “whitewash” — excretions — typical of owls.  Of course, we’ll never know.  But without this preserved wild natural habitat, neither owls nor prey could survive.

 

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The Way of the Wild, Abbott Marshlands

 

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Beavers’ Breakfast, Abbott Marshlands

 

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Beaver Point, on the Yellow Trail, Abbott Marshlands

 

In the Marsh, Nature’ processes, –almost invisible, way beyond time–, are at work on every side.  Here we marvel at the splendid tapestry of fungus performing its slow transformative service upon the majestic felled beech.  Susan and I insist, — yes, aloud, yes, to the tree — “You are beautiful, imposing, arresting, even in death!”

 

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Beech Fungus, felled beech, Abbott Marshlands

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Beech Fungus at Work near Beaver Point

 

Preservationists “pay any price, bear any burden” [JFK Inauguration] to save land and water to foster slow and sacred processes in force since before time itself.

Historians now grant Dr. Charles Conrad Abbott every honor for realizing and daring to state that artifacts he discovered in this Marsh give evidence of Lenape presence and use for 10,000 years and more! 

But Nature’s actions and interactions have been dynamically present here far far far far longer.  Who are WE to intrude, let alone arrest or destroy>

 

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Weeds Evoke my Mood, Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands

 

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Weeds Surpass my Mood, Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands

 

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Nature’s Mourning

 

We are told that the Lenapes named this Spring Lake in their own far more beautiful language, because it was born of a spring.  We are also told that the beavers were the engineers…

In its center, though invisible to my camera, are coots, gadwalls, pintails, shovelers and a plethora of gulls.  Over our heads here and at another watery site deep into our journey, we were circled and circled by an enormous mute swan.  It may be mating season — he sure acts like it.  We decided that this swan, circling us at least six times, was a teen-ager in a white convertible, cruising as did my best friends and I along Detroit’s Woodward Avenue in our teens.  That swan was simply displaying how spectacular he is, how absolutely irresistible.

It is so still in the Marsh, that we were overwhelmed by the irreplaceable whisper/roar [a kind of ‘whuff whuff whuff’] of air in the mute swan’s wings.

 

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“All will be well. All manner of things will be well.” Julian of Norwich — Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands

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

SANDY HOOK NATURE MIRACLES, IN FALL MIGRATION TIME

Mary Wood and I, –who shared Bahrs beauty and savory food, by the water, in the previous blog post–, spent the rest of that November day, right up to sundown. surrounded by extraordinary beauty.  We birded among dunes, alongside shrubbery, on a boardwalk, near the hawk platform, below the Lighthouse, down shadowy lanes, ever alert for anything with wings.  But autumn took center stage.

Ultimately, ‘the gestalt’ of the day surpassed all avian happenings — a sojourn that ceaselessly glowed, no matter where we trekked.  Come WITH us:

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Spermaceti Cove Boardwalk at Sandy Hook, facing west

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Glories of the Salt Marsh 

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Perfection of Fox Tracks 

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Newly Arrived Brant Fleeing Military Helicopters — a Major Disturbance!   

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November’s Windsurfers over Salt Pond 

 

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THIS IS NEW JERSEY! – Windsurfers over Bay, looking North to Wall Street, The Battery  

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Poison Ivy Perfection, November Afternoon 

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Sandy Hook LIght, November Sky, –oldest continuously operating lighthouse in our country 

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Former Life-Saving Station, on Atlantic Ocean, Sandy Hook 

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Wild Grasses of November, Sandy Hook 

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Sandy Hook Autumn Glow, Verrazano Bridge 

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Woodbine Adornment, Abandoned Building of Sandy Hook 

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Weathered Fence Post at North Beach 

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Why Yellow? 

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Season’s Finale 

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What Stories These Walls Could Convey!

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