February Sandy Hook: Fun in the Sun and the Sands

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Base of Sandy Hook Light

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I treasure winter along our magnificent Jersey coasts.  You may overlook the fact that we have three:  The Atlantic, The Delaware River; and Delaware Bay.  This is heaven for this Midwesterner, who never even saw saltwater until the summer between seventh and eighth grade.  This is troublous for one who is all too aware of sea-level rise in the twenty-first century.

Sandy Hook River-side Views with Tasha Fall 2017

Tasha O’Neill Looking Back at the Mainland from the Barrier Island that is Sandy Hook in HOT September!

Two friends willingly planned a Sandy Hook jaunt for yesterday, not really realizing that it was Valentine’s Day.  My companions that day were my former Packet editor, Ilene Dube, who insisted that I blog for her paper ages ago…, and my fine-art-photographer friend Tasha O’Neill.  I owe my first blog, NJWILD for the Packet, and its successor, NJWILDBEAUTY to Ilene – who insisted I do this, when I did not know what a blog was!

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Manhattan from Sandy Hook on a Windy Spring Day – North End of Barrier Island

We’d planned to visit Monmouth University first for three art exhibitions, especially James Fiorentino’s of Conserve Wildlife NJ.  But the sun burst out as we headed due east, and Sandy Hook won post position.Spermaceti Cove Sandy Hook Jan 2017

Spermaceti Cove and Boardwalk, High Tide, January 2017

Ilene had not known such New Jersey treasures as Little Silver and Colt’s Neck, let alone the equestrian paradise of Monmouth County.  Our drive through Rumson’s array of true mansions brought up amazing comparisons — Newport, Bar Harbor…  And then we were crossing the glinting Navesink River, the Atlantic Ocean stretching into infinity before us.  This Michigander can never believe that scene!

Verrazano and Light House Sandy Hook Spring 2017

Verrazano and Tip of Manhattan from Sandy Hook’s Northernmost Trail

January Birding Jim and Kathleen Amon Sandy Hook Salt Pond region Jan 20176

Birding Essentials: Kathleen and Jim Amon: January 2017

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Red-throated Loon in Winter Plumage on Pond for Amons and Me: Jan. 2017

(Internet Image)

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Essential Tools for Birding Anywhere, especially Sandy Hook, especially Winter: 

David Allen Sibley

There are no fees for ‘The Hook’ in winter, and never for birders (because you’ll be hiking, not swimming, not parking at crowded beach sites of summer).  I see us tumbling like children in our eagerness to get close enough to the waves.  The ocean was a pale and delicate hue, baby-boy-blanket-blue.

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Working Harbor in Winter, Across Navesink from Sandy Hook Preserve

No matter where we turned, everything was pristine and exquisite.  The few sounds included mutterings of gulls and whispering waves.

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Where the Rabbit Loped, January 2017

Later, on the wast side, we would be treated to the nature sound I cherish – murmurings among a flock of brant.  These small goose-like birds, ==whose shape in the water echoes small air-craft carriers–, have only just arrived at ‘the Hook.’  They swam in determined flotillas, more tourists than residents, –zipping first here, then there, as if renewing old ties.

Brant Goose Drinking Barnegat

Brant Sipping at Low Tide, by Brenda Jones

In peaceful water, toy-like buffleheads, quintessential diving ducks, bobbed up anddown, arrived and departed, vanished and materialized with characteristic merriment.

Male Bufflehead by Ray Yeager

Ray Yeager – Key Fine Art Photographer of Winter Ducks:  Male Bufflehead

Ilene was fascinated to see all the osprey nests — some on human-built platforms; some on the chimneys of venerable yellow-brick military dwellings.  Some platforms, especially at the hawk watch platform (north), had been emptied by recent storms.

Sandy Hook Jim Kathleen Amon Spermaceti Cove Boardwalk Jan 2017

Birding Spermaceti Cove in Winter — Seals on Skull Island off to our Left

Even though it was February, a heat haze of the most exquisite soft-slate-blue obscured not only the Verrazano Bridge, but also Manhattan’s Wall Street megaliths.  Only nature was in view from the platform that day.

Sandy Hook Vista North Spring 2017

View from Hawk Watch Platform on Windy Spring Day

Grasses at Spermaceti Cove looked as though they’d been repeatedly beaten into submission by a glacier, not simply by recent high tides.  Glistening mud of the inlet’s banks was spattered with deep raccoon ‘hand’-prints, where these nocturnal mammals had washed recent foods before eating.

Fall and Winter Sandy Hook Salt Pond Region Jan 2017

Sandy Hook Marsh Grasses, January 2017

I am a realist. We are nowhere near the vernal equinox.  But, yes, days are lengthening, amazingly at both ends.

Christmas on Sandy Hook Bay Bahrs Jan. 2017

Christmas on the Navesink River from Bahrs

Yes, every once in awhile, a balminess arrives.  When three friends can celebrate together, even to feasting at Bahrs, the 100-year-old Highlands seafood restaurant high above the Navesink.  Where we could down Delaware Bay oysters and other rare treats, before taking in all three art exhibits in three different buildings at Monmouth University, without wearing coats.  Then drive home in golden light, through the Battlefield of Monmouth, without which we would not have a country.

Gastronomic Haven by the Sea Bahrs Jan. 2017

 

Birders at Bahrs Jan. 2017

When Birders Lunch at Bahrs

I cannot help wondering what our colonial heroes would think of the country they fought and many died to save, in so many New Jersey battles.  But our is a noble history.  Their pledging and/or giving their lives, their fortunes, but never their sacred honor, cannot be for naught.

Patriots' Flag Chestnut Neck Revolutionary War Monument Winter 2017

Patriots’ Flag at Site of Battle of Chestnut Neck, in Pine Barrens

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From start to finish, Mother Nature herself had given Ilene, Tasha and me treasured Valentines.  The red and white, however, decorated Sandy Hook’s Storied Light, rather than hearts.  Lighthouses and 13-Star Flags, however, always warm MY heart.  I hope they warm YOURS!

Try beaches in winter!

Lifesavers' Station darkened

Sandy Hook’s Heroic Lifesaving Station

And preserve every inch of open and historic space in magnificent New Jersey!

 

Tasha Carolyn Bahrs Sandy Hook April

Tasha and I on her COLD April Birthday — at Bahrs, Sandy Hook Behind Us…

 

 

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

SEA and SEASIDE VISTAS of Cape Cod — Through Henry Beston’s ‘eyes’ – “The Outermost House…”

Cover, Henry Beston's "Outermost House" on Nauset Beach

Cover, Henry Beston’s “Outermost House” on Nauset Beach

Perhaps the most enticing phrase in Henry Beston’s Outermost House (just re-read for easily the 15th time, during and after our Cape Cod sojourn) is “I like the seven windows of my larger room.”  Those of you who know me know I spent 5 yes perilous years in a Canal-side, forest-surrounded apartment, which had barely any windows and less light.  I am free of that situation now, but seven windows in one room would be more precious to me than diamonds, even without the Atlantic Ocean or Nantucket Sound or Cape Cod Bay within listening distance.

Henry's Nauset Retreat before 1978 Blizzard

Henry’s Nauset Retreat before 1978 Blizzard

Because of his views from the Eastham beach house, Henry could exult, “Into the bright, vast days I go.”  Carolyn Yoder, Jeanette Hooban and I also poured ourselves into bright vast days.  Unlike Henry, we did not trek the midnight beach, no matter the weather, preferring the luxury of snap/crackling fires and favorite films instead.

Vastness was particularly rewarding below Chatham Light, where seals beyond counting were basking and humming (! I kid you not!) on a Chatham bar — sandbar, just beyond our reach.

Chatham Light

Chatham Light

Seals at Rest on Chatham Bar

Seals at Rest on Chatham Bar — “the long grey line” -=- of HUMMING Seals

"into the vast bright days we went" -- Race Point Beach, Provincetown

“into the vast bright days we went” — Race Point Beach, Provincetown

Bright healthy beach pea thriving on unspoiled protected Provincetown's Race Point Beach

Bright healthy beach pea thriving on unspoiled protected Provincetown’s Race Point Beach

Spouting Whale as Drawn in Provincetown Race Point Sand, by our predecessors on that beach

Spouting Whale as Drawn in Provincetown Race Point Sand, by our predecessors on that beach

Sun Creating Our "Vast, Bright Days", drawn by predecessors in Race Point Sand

Sun Creating Our “Vast, Bright Days”, drawn by predecessors in Race Point Sand

Shorebird Signatures and Dune Grass, Race Point, Provincetown

Shorebird Signatures and Dune Grass, Race Point, Provincetown

Barefoot October Surfcaster, Provincetown, Race Point Beach

Barefoot October Surfcaster, Provincetown, Race Point Beach

right whale as seen from Race Point Beach (photo from INternet)

right whale as seen from Race Point Beach (photo from INternet)

Tail of Right Whale as seen by us from Race Point Beach - Feeding in Enormous Circle -- Photo from Internet

Tail of Right Whale as seen by us from Race Point Beach – Feeding in Enormous Circle — Photo from Internet

And Carolyn Yoder, who held the glasses at that  moment, saw this very rare, calm, powerful creature spout.

Fragile Leopard Crab, Race Point, shell whole despite powerful waves

Fragile Leopard Crab, Race Point, shell whole despite powerful waves — see all the colors of authentic Provincetown sand!

Sea-Washed Stones, Race Point -- far more stones than shells!

Sea-Washed Stones, Race Point — far more stones than shells!

I select scenes from our various sea-side treks, gllmpses that convey our time, not in an Outermost House (which the Blizzard of ’78 washed out to sea anyway), but a Marsh-side, pond-side house in South Chatham.

Explore with us.  Experience the pristine beauties of the Cape, saved by President Kennedy not long before his death.  He, –man of Hyannis–, well knew the Cape’s value and its peril.  He braved the wrath of many forms of financiers during his tenure, –not the least of whom were those who would develop/destroy the sacred essential sands from just above Chatham to and beyond Provincetown.

Land's End, or Beginning, Provincetown

Land’s End, or Beginning, Provincetown

"Vast, Bright Brewster Beach"

“Vast, Bright Brewster Beach”

Raptor Alert, Alarmed Gulls, Brewster Beach

Raptor Alert, Alarmed Gulls, Brewster Beach

Tide-Dislodged Peat Clump, "primordial ooze" and the dune grass that creates it, Brewster Beach

Tide-Dislodged Peat Clump, “primordial ooze” and the dune grass that creates it, Brewster Beach

Jeanette Skips Out into Low-Tide Revealed Sandbars and Marshes

Jeanette Skips Out into Low-Tide Revealed Sandbars and Marshes

Henry Beston, in one of his countless memorable paragraphs, writes of “the restless sea and the mutable land.”

In Cape Cod, land is still principally mutated by wind, sand, sea and its tides.  Thanks to severe preservation measures in the 1960, under our soon-to-be-martyred President Kennedy, Cape Cod is a paradise of the natural.

Preserve whatever you can in your territory, wherever it is!

RARITIES IN RAIN — ISLAND BEACH IN NOR’EASTER

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I run to nature every chance I get.  Here is a (mostly) photo essay on being at Island Beach in a Nor’easter none of us realized was our fate.

It was a day of beauty, drama, and rarities.  But, above all, of fellowship, as Mary Penney’s picture of Jeanette Hooban and Bill Rawlyk attests.

Fellowship in Nor'easter by Mary Penney

Fellowship in Nor’easter by Mary Penney

This was taken at storm height on the Atlantic side, where we could barely stand some of the time.  However, above our heads, merlins headed over and over toward the highest waves, where wind was wildest.  These aerodynamic masters made abrupt U-turns over buffeted waves, then allowed themselves to be flung back across this exquisite barrier island.

The merlins were neither feeding nor forming for migration.  They were playing.  So were we!

Flags Whipping at Entry to Island Beach  Noreaster full blast

Flags Whipping at Entry to Island Beach == Noreaster full blast

Another title for this image is “O, Say Can You See?”  We could

(1) see tattered Old Glory;

(2) see increasingly occluded skies;

(3) see hundreds of swallows filling those skies;

4) barely see through our glasses or salt-coated optics, in fact barely see through our eyes.

Looking out rain-soaked car window to three friends heading out through tallest dunes at road's end

Looking out rain-soaked car window to three friends heading out through tallest dunes at road’s end

Two of the three are barely visible on either side of one of the warning posts.

GPS shows road's end at land's end

GPS shows road’s end at land’s end

I am a collector of land’s ends, and this is one of my favorites.

When you walk through these dunes on a normal day, Barnegat Light presides across its turbulent inlet, far in the distance.  Not this day!

Friends Return from Land's End Walk

Friends Return from Land’s End Walk

 

Heading Nor'east in the Nor'easter, toward the Atlantic with reputed ten-foot waves

Heading Nor’east in the Nor’easter, toward the Atlantic with reputed ten-foot waves

 

Note that boardwalk ends abruptly, having been chewed by Sandy.  All three of my friends righted Nor’easter-downed poles that mark the route of the proposed completion of boardwalk.

 

Compass Grass Draws Nor'easter Circles on the drenched sand

Compass Grass Draws Nor’easter Circles on the drenched sand

 

Artemesia - the Dune-Saver

Artemesia – the Dune-Saver

Seeds for this plant purportedly first arrived upon the sands of our country, having been carried in holds of clipper ships.  When ships foundered, boards floated ashore, carrying artemesia.  That was the Cape Cod story in ’70’s.

 

What Naturalists do in Nor'easters

What Naturalists do in Nor’easters

 

Survival Tactics

 

Nor'easter-whipped spume

 Spume, Wind-Driven, Rolls Down the Beach

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Contemplation of the Infinite

Contemplation of the Infinite

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Scant Protection at Extreme Northeast, Island Beach

Scant Protection at Extreme Northeast, Island Beach

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Boardwalk to Barnegat Bayside

Boardwalk to Barnegat Bayside

 

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No Personal Watercraft

No Personal Watercraft

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Barnegat Bay in Nor'easter

Barnegat Bay in Nor’easter

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Beach Access Reality

Beach Access Denied — Since Sandy

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Hunkered Down, Atlantic Side

Hunkered Down, Atlantic Side

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Bayberry Autumn, Atlantic Side

Bayberry Autumn, Atlantic Side

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Wild Rose Hips, Atlantic Side

Wild Rose Hips, Atlantic Side

 

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Hudsonia Grove, Atlantic Side

Hudsonia Grove, Atlantic Side

This is a very rare natural native beach plant that will have tiny yellow flowers in spring.  It is thriving in this storm.

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'Gimme Shelter' - Interpretive Center, Atlantic Side

‘Gimme Shelter’ – Interpretive Center, Atlantic Side

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Alone With the Storm

Alone With the Storm

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No Vehicles Past This Point

No Vehicles Past This Point

 

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Nor'easter Intrepids

The Intrepids

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As you can see, Island Beach, “The Natural”, New Jersey’s true “Jersey Strong”, is perfectly designed to withstand storms.

Sometimes, humans are, too.

Swallows Play in the Nor'easter

Swallows Play in the Nor’easter

My camera is not powerful enough to point out all those tree swallows.  But they were everywhere in the air, like pepper on a roast.

Remember that barrier beaches were meant to be barriers, not dwelling-places!

This preserve was saved by farsighted people, after the Great Depression wrote ‘fini’ to major resort development.

Preserve every bit of open New Jersey space.  Our future, and that of the planet, depends upon open space.