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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“THE GIRL WITH THE CHARTREUSE ANKLE” ~ Island Beach New Year’s Day

Winter Still-Life, Island Beach, New Year’s Day

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New Year’s Morning Wrack Line, Island Beach

 

So it’s come to this:  In order to walk Island Beach and Sandy Hook, –especially twice in one winter week, as currently planned –, I turn to my splendid chiropractor, — Brandon Osborne, D.C., of Hopewell, New Jersey.  On the heels of that nearly significant recent birthday, new ministrations are suddenly required to sustain my sometimes rebellious body.

 

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Peroneus Longus – who can bark, “Don’t Mess With Me!”

 

The peroneus longus, –which one possesses, whether one wants one or not–, on the outside of each leg, leads down to the ankle bone.  My left Peroneus, (rhymes with Polonius), gravely dislikes soft sand, — especially dune trails leading up and down in order to get to the sea.

 

After P’s last rebellion, Brandon insisted, laughing, “The best medicine for Peroneus is more soft sand.”  Multi-faceted workouts engendered thereby actually stress Peroneus, rendering him stronger each time.  Brandon has me weave new leg-buttressing routines, among my yoga postures.  And he’s come up with a fine plan — move my appointments to the nights before beach-days, and he will protect my recalcitrant foot(e).  He will tape the offending tendon.

 

Behind me, Brandon asked what color I prefer, –of a pretty short list.  I blithely answer “green”.  (never far from work at D&R Greenway; never far from being a very “green” person.                  I expected the color of winter pine trees.          Wrong:

 

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Yoga-Ready, New Year’s Morning, 2017

 

This development had me literally laughing out loud, since my motto for this significant year, is “OUTRAGEOUS!”   (Exclamation point included.)    I do yoga for an hour to an hour and a half each day, holidays included But there’s a little more to it than soft sweet grace:

 

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Final Yoga Moments, New Year’s Day, 2017

 

I tend to do whatever Brandon suggests-to-insists so I can be outdoors as much as possible. New upright exercises involve standing high on toes for longish periods, legs together, then legs farther apart.  In the beginning, doing 30 of each seemed impossible.  Now it’s only the last six or so that weary me/us (Peroneus and me).  But they do not hurt.

 

Seeing that wild ankle decor Thursday, I marveled, “But, I feel like an athlete, taped for the fray.”  Brandon abruptly asserted, “You ARE an athlete!”  This is the person who had been felled by rheumatic fever at seven.  From then on, tennis, biking around the block, all jumproping – [and I had been the star], and roller skating were forbidden for life.  After which swimming to the end of the dock at camp became impossible.  (Until my 2011 hip replacement p.t., I had not set foot(e) in a gym, and was absolutely terrified to begin.)  Well, better late than never.

Brandon’s other prescription involves that very soft sand.  The picture below proves this morning’s obedience to his mandate:   You are coming with us along Reed’s Road to Barnegat Bay — first stop on my every I.B. pilgrimage.

 

Realize that this is the original sugar sand for which New Jersey’s Pine Barrens are famous.  Be very aware that this delicate, even exquisite pale grey substance is light years beyond the dingy practically ochre grunge dredged up and brought in (especially in Sandy-battered Mantoloking) by the infamous, Nature-negating Army Corps of Engineers.

 

Island Beach sand feels like superfine sugar.  Its chinchilla hue plays off the tawnyness of beach grass, to say nothing of cinnamon-stick brown jettisoned bayberry leaves.  Walking winter sand trails, it is as though Cezanne himself had been orchestrating the palette of each trail.

 

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Soft Sand, As Prescribed, Bayside, Island Beach

 

Island Beach is a ten-mile stretch of pristine beauty, about which you’ve read and read in these electronic pages.  The landscape/dunescape could be Wellfleet and Truto leading into wildest stretches of Cape Cod’s Provincetown.

 

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Spring-Green Dune Trail, Island Beach Ocean Side, by Angela Previte

 

Why it’s worthwhile for me to do whatever Brandon Osborne, D.C., directs —  long-tailed rarities of the winter sea:

 

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Long-tailed duck, Female, December Sea, Island Beach, by Angela Previte

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Long-tailed Drake, Winter Sea, Island Beach, by Angela Previte

 

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Rare Snow Buntings of Late December, by Angela Previte

 

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Snowy Owl 2016 by Angela Previte

 

Rarities arrive, of course, at Island Beach, because it has been preserved.  Support your local, state and national land trusts, so that wild nature can thrive in our time.

 

Island Beach’s ten miles were to have been developed, as you’ve learned from me before.  The Great Depression put a stop to almost all building.  Magnificence remains at every turn.

 

Mostly (until recent brutal trail maintenance on Reed’s and other roads and trails  — this will be a blog unto itself later), the State Park’s trees, shrubs and grasses have not been pruned, –save by wind, sand and storm.

 

Rare birds coast overhead; court and build nests; dive through waves of ocean and bay; madly fish — especially Northern gannets, who create geysers as they plunge.  Most amazingly, merlins and swallows play exuberantly during Nor’easters — going as northeast as they can into the very teeth of the gale.

Wind has other effects.  See its creative partnership with remarkable compass grass:

 

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Compass Grass Does its Thing in Strong Northwest Wind

Even the weeds turn into artists in the hands of the wind:

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“Artist-in-Residence” – Compass Grass on the Oceanside, Island Beach, New Year’s Morning

The sea itself has been busy sculpting — all we need is a sphinx:

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Sea As Sculptor, New Year’s Eve Morning, Island Beach

 

This day I shared this beach with dear friends, Angela and Bob Previte.  You know her fine art, stunning portraits of New Jersey’s winged miracles, from her own blog, “Simple Life at the Shore.”  (Which see!  Which FOLLOW!)  Delightful hours have been spent with her, with them, in recent months, in the park that serves their back yard.

 

We hiked merrily for hours, though they were concerned about Peroneus.  Angela had witnessed its giving out after a particular steep trek in summertime, [see green dunescape above.]  Even so, at Trail 7A, we skimmed along the boardwalk; trudged dutifully through the softest sand, –arriving in a particular ecstasy upon firmness created by winter’s high tide .

 

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First Day of the New Year in Stunning, Impeccable New Jersey

 

We were not the only ones on the sands, this day.  Everyone we meet was simply blissed out by the perfection that we shared. We’d congratulate one another on knowing what to do with a New Year’s Day.

EXCEPTION!

All except the woman  walking boldly and illegally atop a dune.  This person asserted to Angela that she was not doing exactly what she was even then doing.  I’ve experienced many forms of denial in my life, but this was egregious.  We tried to beckon the transgressor away from making those deeply destructive footprints, to no avail.

 

I’m in don’t-mess-with-me mode, in my OUTRAGEOUS! year.  So I called over to her — “You are breaking the fine roots essential to the grasses that hold these dunes in place!”  She moved defiantly onward…

 

But, everyone else, I would describe as almost reverent this day.

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Fellowship and Solitude, Walking South along Island Beach Sands

Our own fellowship today was profound.  It will be repeated, –“take often as needed.”  Maybe I should thank Peroneus for Brandon’s prescription…

 

In the Year 2000, a great love was granted me along these unspoilt sands.  The picture below seems to represent the mighty ocean in whisper mode, hinting of secrets…

 

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Atlantic Whispers, Island Beach, January 1, 2017

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