BRIGANTINE WILDLIFE REFUGE — WHEN ICE RULES

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that my favorite haven in all of New Jersey is the Brigantine Wildlife Refuge, in the Pine Barrens, eerily slightly above Atlantic City.  Those of you who followed NJWILD, during all the years before the Packet abruptly ended their blogs, have seen ‘The Brig’, a.k.a. The Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, in all weathers.  Well, almost all:

OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER -- frozen impoundments at the Brig

OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER — frozen impoundments at the Brig

By this time, I figure everyone knows we go down there for the birds.  I nearly titled this post, “What birds?”  First of all because this Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge is frozen to such a degree that there is barely any open water.  In order to feed, most birds require water.

Runnel and Frozen Mud from Leeds Eco Trail

Runnel and Frozen Mud from Leeds Eco Trail

Low Tide, Leeds Eco-Trail

Low Tide, Leeds Eco-Trail

Nature as Sculptor, Leeds Eco-Trail

Nature as Sculptor, Leeds Eco-Trail

We had to be really bundled up out there, with a fierce wind out of the southwest.  Masefield was wrong.  It’s not “a warm wind, the west wind, full of birds’ cries”…

Bundled for March Winds, Lois and Lee Harrod, Leeds Eco-Trail

Bundled for March Winds, Lois and Lee Harrod, Leeds Eco-Trail

Fellow Cool Woman Poet, Lois Harrod, and her husband, Lee, both professors at The College of New Jersey, have been turned into avid birders by their very young, very advanced grandson, Will.  You can see how geared up we had to be, to be OUT there.  I nominate Lois and Lee now, to join Jeanette Hooban, Bill Rawlyk, and Mary Penney — The Intrepids.

Absedon Bay Frozen, Atlantic City on the Horizon

Absedon Bay Frozen, Atlantic City on the Horizon

Which is more unreal – a saltwater bay, The Absecon, frozen, or Atlantic City hovering there.  Lee Harrod yesterday and Rose Mary Clancy today, Lee in situ and Rosemary seeing this picture, pronounced Atlantic City “Oz.”

Wild Weeds in Wild March Wind, Absecon Bay, Atlantic City

Wild Weeds in Wild March Wind, Absecon Bay, Atlantic City

O, yes, birds.  Did we see any birds?  Indeed — they are the true Intrepids.  Ducks are in full breeding plumage now, and carrying on accordingly.  Some sort of natural magic sees to it that fertilization doesn’t take place until it’s o.k for eggs to form and be deposited soon. In the interim, the male ducks have never been more splendid.

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that my camera doesn’t do birds.  Here’s one — the least snazzy of all we saw.  This is the indigenous black duck, with his glorious red-orange legs, preening and prancing on the frozen impoundment, to the evident indifference of females.  What is sad, for the black duck males, is that their females prefer vivid mallards.  In this way, this natural way, we could see the end of black ducks in our time.  Meanwhile, he’s bravely doing the best he can.

Black Duck in Full Breeding Plumage, Waiting

Black Duck in Full Breeding Plumage, Waiting

Black and Blue -- Ducks and Ice

Black and Blue — Ducks and Ice

The black duck flock is huddled against the far shore, very typical behavior.  It is also all too typical for this camera to ignore the birds.  I threw OUT the lovely snap of the two mute swans, orange beaks gleaming.  They’re too far away — reduced practically to gulls.  I’m not insulting those noble swans by releasing that image.  You should know, however, that we saw a number of mutes; four handsome tundra swans, with their black beaks and yellow lores; and three trumpeter swans, two majestic ones in flight over an inlet that led toward Absecon Bay.  There’s nothing to equal the stately rowing of trumpeters on the wing.  No, they did not trumpet.  Maybe they were too cold.  And too far, for sure, for my camera.  But stunning.

Red-Tail, Immature, Digesting Lunch, atop a tree to the right after Jenn's Trail

Red-Tail, Immature, Digesting Lunch, atop a tree to the right after Jenn’s Trail

This is a test.  Can you find that bird?  You can see that snow still clots most trees down there, a day and a half after that terrible storm.  We found the bird because so many birders were out of their cars (rare any day at the Brig, but especially in this weather), huge lenses in hand.

As we took our time along the dike road, we were treated to saucy pintails, imposing hooded mergansers, silly bobbing buffleheads, ring-necked gulls. either three female harriers, or one female three times, a sharp-shinned hawk back at the entry, angle-zipping low alongside the woods, all those swans, no snow geese, some Canada geese, mallards and black ducks and that’s about it.  No snowy owls when the ground’s that frozen — mice and voles being inaccessible.  The ever-present gift of female northern harriers thrilled throughout the day.

Wild Rabbits' Journey, near Leeds Eco-Trail

Wild Rabbits’ Journey, near Leeds Eco-Trail

Human Journey, Leeds Eco-Trail

Human Journey, Leeds Eco-Trail

Love, Peace and Memory --Leeds Eco-Trail

Love, Peace and Memory –Leeds Eco-Trail

Sinuosities, Frozen Impoundment

Sinuosities, Frozen Impoundment

Scarce Open Water -- bad for birds

Scarce Open Water — bad for birds

Two-Way Vista

Two-Way Vista

Wild Weeds, Wild Wind

Wild Weeds, Wild Wind

Cezanne Palette

Cezanne Palette

Bluestem Glory

Bluestem Glory

Frozen Impoundment, Looking Back West

Frozen Impoundment, Looking Back West

Wild Tracks

Wild Tracks

Pine Barrens Vista Brigantine March

Pine Barrens landscape, which incredible beauty was ours for 2/3 of Saturday’s journey.

Beneath this magnificence is a 17-trillion-gallon aquifer.  Once New Jersey knew enough to prevent the legendary Wharton’s draining it to fill his pockets and water Philadelphia.  Our jewel in the crown, Pine Barrens peatwater filled Pine Barrens white cedar casques, when they were not filled with Pine Barrens cranberries to stave off scurvy.  This healthy water lasted for three-year whaling voyages.  It is beyond price, and the Pine Barrens Preservation Commission was formed to protect it and the noble pines and oaks and understory above.

Now an egregious act, the stacking of the Pine Barrens Commission, stand to permit a PIPELINE in this INTERNATIONAL BIOSPHERE PRESERVE.  Government “of the people, by the people and for the people” has been banished from New Jersey.

Wherever you are, in person, by letter, on social media, on links to Audubon, Sierra, NJ Conservation Foundation, wherever — do all in your power to keep poisonous pipelines our of New Jersey.

Nowhere is this more important than in the Pine Barrens.

Water may prove a more priceless resource than oil in the climate-destroyed years that are our fate at this time.

Even preserved land is not immune to PIPELINES.

STOP THEM!

 

DEEP FREEZE BIRDING — BRIGANTINE in QUEST of SNOWY OWL Jan. 2015

The ranks are swelling, of intrepid birders, willing to go out in all weathers to find winged miracles.

Tomorrow morning, despite near-zero temperatures lately, Jeanette Hooban and I will set out on the trail of sandhill cranes in Somerset County.  Somewhere near Mettlers Lane, past the Rose Garden, at the north end of Canal Road and beyond.  Neither of us has ever seen a crane.  Stay tuned…

Thursday, an uncharacteristic day off, Mary Wood, Cathy Cullinan and I left Lawrenceville at 8 a.m., for the Bakery in Smithville, then the birds of the Brig — especially the newly reported snowy owl.

The Bakery, Smithville, New Jersey, off route 9, just before the turn to the Brigantine/Forsythe Refuge at Oceanville

The Bakery, Smithville, New Jersey, off route 9, just before the turn to the Brigantine/Forsythe Refuge at Oceanville

Glowing Interior, Bounty of Healthy Real Local Food, at the Bakery, Smithville, NJ

Glowing Interior, Bounty of Healthy Real Local Food, at the Bakery, Smithville, NJ

Hearty Birder's Breakfast, The Bakery, Smithville

Hearty Birder’s Breakfast, The Bakery, Smithville

Old Mill, without the Mill Wheel, Smithville

Old Mill, without the Mill Wheel, Smithville

Sinuosities - virtually the only open water, The Brig, January 8, 2015

Sinuosities – virtually the only open water, The Brig, January 8, 2015

Horseshoe Crab and New Snow, January 8 2015

Horseshoe Crab and New Snow, January 8 2015

Frozen Geese, Heads Tucked In so No White nor Black shows, Atlantic City in the Background

Frozen Geese, Heads Tucked In so No White nor Black shows, Atlantic City in the Background

Miserable Great Egrets -- January Deep Freeze, Brigantine, January 8, 2015

Miserable Great Egrets — January Deep Freeze, Brigantine, January 8, 2015

There Has to Be a Snowy Out there, Somewhere!

There Has to Be a Snowy Out there, Somewhere!

There IS a Snowy Owl in this Expanse, tucked underneath turf, the same size as every snow clump

There IS a Snowy Owl in this Expanse, tucked underneath turf, the same size as every snow clump

YES, we DID find the SNOWY.  No, my camera will not show it to you.  But this is the landscape in which we seek them, and the whiteness they require.

Fox Tracks in New Snow, Brigantine/Forsythe, January 8, 2015

Fox Tracks in New Snow, Brigantine/Forsythe, January 8, 2015

FROZEN BIRDERS:  There has to be a snowy out here someplace!

Frozen Birders  Can That Be the Snowy Jan 8 2015

Persimmons on High, Await Hungry Birds near the Experimental Pond

Persimmons on High, Await Hungry Birds near the Experimental Pond

OK, now I set the scenes in which we hunted, so to speak, for the snowy owl and other rarities.

That snowy, in Cathy Cullinan’s splendid picture, is no larger than my little fingernail.  It was parallel to the bank on the northeast corner of the dike road, breast not visible, so we don’t know whether it had the black distinctive marks of the female, or the mostly white feathers of the male.  It was as miserable as we were, out of the car, in that fierce southwest wind that daunted even those Canada geese.  It did not change position, in all the time we spent in its presence.  Occasionally we were more or less aware of the golden eyes, but I would NOT say we saw it actually blink.  Yes, it was worth the entire trip, to honor the presence of this new visitor.

However, as NJWILDBEAUTY readers know, I cannot photograph most birds with this camera.  And the miracles that were ours that day remain only in our hearts and memories.  Here they are, not necessarily in order of appearance.

Great egrets / Canada geese / buffleheads / hooded mergansers / tundra swans / snow geese / great blue herons / a peregrine, imperious upon an evergreen bough across the Gull Pond / gulls, including one very late great black-backed gull / no crows / no brant / the snowy owl / snow geese / one very late female red-winged blackbird / we don’t know whether salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrows – but tiny birds gleaning sides on and immediately off the dike roads / ring-necked ducks / mallards / blue jay / flock of robins / American bald eagles everywhere – including over ABSECON BAY! – but not intense, not fiercely fishing — I would say playing, kettles of eagles, relaxed, merry, sure of themselves   one immature who may be the electronically monitored nearby youngster named Nacote / no bluebirds / no Northern pintails / no shovelers

Well, you see, the Brig was mostly frozen.  Cathy, –tne burgeoning birder of our trio, who has hawk eyes, eagle eyes, snowy-owl eyes now — described what we were seeing:  “It’s as though the tide froze, and somehow went out, and everything collapsed.”  Huge plates of ice, zigging and zagging, careened, juxtaposed, oddly blued by the pale sky, were everywhere.  Barely any open water for birds, and inescapable winds.  Temperatures in the teens.

Harriers were on all sides, probably all females — possibly one ‘grey ghost’ male, but we can’t be sure — now THEY were intense, intent, hunting madly over the grasses, ‘great display’ over and over, white rump spots almost blinding.

The egrets looked the most miserable, the eagles most insouciant.

Cathy revealed that the snowy was the first owl she’d ever seen out of captivity:  “Nothing like starting at the top of the line!:

I really hand it to Mary and Cathy, out of the warm car, scanning every snow lump, trying to find that snowy or freeze in the attempt. Mary set up the scope with frozen fingers, over and over that day.

We spent most of the day there, very very slowly making our way along the dike road and between impoundments and the Bay.  Beauty everywhere, birds or no birds.  Wildness prevailed.

Nature’s kingdom, and we mere courtiers.

Remember, the Brig/Forsythe is a preserve, a national one.  All preserves are sacred, and all need your constant donations to non-profits, your constant vigilance and letters to senators and representatives and especially in OUR state, the Governor — so that these wild reaches continue to welcome and sustain wild creatures in this Anthropocene era of ours, hurtling toward the Sixth Extinction.

Go to the Brig.  Let her creatures inspire you.  Do what you can, every single day, for their preservation and that of their crucial habitat in all seasons.

BIRDING ‘THE BRIG’ AS ‘MARCH WIND DOTH BLOW’

 

As a child, we recited this nursery rhyme — “The North wind doth blow, and we shall have snow, and what shall poor robin do then, poor thing? But sit in the barn, to keep himself warm, and hide his head under his wing, poor thing.” 

Which just goes to show you that there were barns all over the place in my own childhood, as well as in the childhood of whoever wrote that jingle.

However, robins are not frequenters of barns.  I’m glad I didn’t realize that as a little girl and spoil the rhyme.  You’ll see them hopping all over lawns again now that spring is nearly here.  And you needn’t worry about frozen worms – as there is a significant period in each robin’s life each year in which his/her entire system switches to fructivore.

But I’m after more than robins:  Tomorrow morning, I’ll pick up one birding buddy in Princeton and meet another in Smithville, at our beloved “Bakery”.  We’ll have real farm eggs and hand-made sausage patties, and one might have French toast, in a room rich in artifacts from sailing and farming days of yore, that were given to The Bakery by neighbors and friends.  My favorite sign says “Victuals” – it once graced a place that provisioned sailing ships about to leave South Jersey for points round the world.

Then we’ll head over into the Brigantine Wildlife Refuge, otherwise known as the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, alongside Lily Lake, slightly above Atlantic City.

I explored ‘The Brig’ a week ago, with a very determined fellow birder.  Wind or no wind, no birds save swans were “hiding their heads under their wings, poor things.”  They were all busily up and about, seriously feeding on every side.

The 8-mile dike road took us the better part of a day to circumnavigate, Of course, we were ‘after’ the snowy owls — to be gifted with two:  one almost to the second gull tower, and one 2/3 of the way along the final stretch of roadway. 

Snowies barely move – in fact that’s one of the ways you know you’re seeing one.  Even a plastic bag ripples around in these winds – but the snowy stays impassive.  Finally a very subtle turning of the head, a sleepy (for they ARE nocturnal) blink of a golden eye, and the white lump alone in a gold field reveals itself to be the object of your quest.  The pictures are hilarious — a chip like a broken fingernail on a gold field — a shape only a birder could love. 

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?  Snowies could have left for Arctic reaches, if their brilliant inner radar alerts them to open water and enough small prey along the way, and home.

My favorite birding last week came as I followed Northern harrier after Northern harrier.  They’re scarcer and scarcer in New Jersey because of sea level rise.  That’s the unrealized, unrecognized, unadmitted facet of catastrophic climage change.  It’s taking the harriers’ nest sites in marshlands — often cruelly waiting until the birds have mated and nested and laid eggs, before washing all away. 

We may have seen five females, and no one flies more elegantly, more irresistibly.  The females are larger than the ‘grey ghost’ males.  They are identified by large white rump spots, revealed as they circle low and, yes, harry their prey.  I told my companion, watching Harrier Number One, “it was worth the entire drive just for this.”

I am not only not a lister, but could be called vigilantly anti-list.  However, the Brig’s welcome shop had new colorful multi-paged printed lists, by species category, with boxes to check.  So we checked away, all day.

Under Swans, Geese, Ducks, we exulted in snow geese, brant, Canada geese, mute swans with their diagnostic Princeton-orange beaks helpfully visible, American wigeon, American black ducks, mallards, a mallard/black duck (male) hybrid, the bright orange and green Northern shovelers, saucy/dapper Northern pintails, elegant green-winged Teal, the merry bobbing buffleheads, arresting hooded Mergansers, so-called common mergansers, and a rare (to us) red-breasted merganser, whose white ovals along the dark back identified this beauty.  We were blessed with sun, so all these colors and shapes stood out vividly, even when the dabbling ducks were upside-down in wintry water.

A very special gift was the tiny horned grebe, all alone on Absecon Bay.  How incongruous this little one, so elegant, so rare, looked against Atlantic City’s blinding towers.

Assorted other winners were stately great blue herons, Turkey Vultures insouciantly riding thermals higher and higher, a merry flotilla of tiny, toy-like American Coot.  And that master speedster, the peregrine falcon.

Tomorrow morning, this new group will pick up new colorful list pamphlets in the welcome center, eager to tally whatever surprises ever-generous Nature has in store for eager birders.

You can bird right here in Princeton, I must admit.  Great blue herons have been seen by the Dam on Carnegie Lake, even in our recent blizzards.  And our beloved American bald eagles are assiduously and healthily tending eggs in their curiously shaped (like an oriole or a hummingbird, long and deep, not wide and flat like eagles) nest.   They have been officially observed as “performing incubation exchanges.”

All you really need to bird here is the desire, two feet, and our D&R towpath.  Herons and eagles don’t even require optics.

Good birding!