“DUCKY DAY AT ISLAND BEACH”, JANUARY 2018

This post features a series of images of rare birds found with good friends, on last weekend’s Island Beach hikes.  Yes, it was January.  Yes, there’s been wild weather.  Know that part of the lure in winter hiking lies in defying the elements, –being OUT THERE with Nature, no matter what!  And, besides, with such friendships of this magnitude, only the highest good unfurls.

Merganser male Millstone Aqueduct Brenda Jones

Merganser Male, by Brenda Jones

A series of Internet scenes of our rarities awaits — so you can see why it really didn’t matter that we did not fulfill our snowy-owl-quest this time.

***

So long as I’ve been writing about nature, I’ve been ‘on my soapbox’ that Nature does not ring down her curtain on or around Labor Day.  Those of you who hike with me know that possibly my FAVORITE season to be outdoors is winter.  It hasn’t been easy lately, but NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that we had a glorious day-long exploration of Plainsboro Preserve not long ago, threading our way among glorious arrays of ice.

common loon winter plumage from Internet

Common Loon, Winter Plumage by Elisa De Levis from Internet

This past weekend, Ray Yeager, Angela Previte (superb nature photographers who live near Island Beach); Angela’s husband, Bob, -avid birder and extremely knowledge about all aspects of photography; ‘my” Intrepids, Jeanette Hooban and Bill Rawlyk and I met at the entry of Island Beach for a mid-day-long snowy owl quest.

common loon winter take-off from Internet

Loon Take-off from Internet by Dave Hawkins from Internet

Despite our January reality, a handy aspect of I.B. treks is that, –on windy and wintry days–, you can ‘hike sideways’.  I.e., get out of the wind by taking various oceanside and bayside trails, protected from gusts by dunes or forest or both .  If you Google Island Beach, on NJWILSBEAUTY, you’ll find Bill, Jeanette, Mary Penney and me down there, in an autumn nor’easter about which none of us had somehow been warned.  That storm grew more and more fierce, as we and a flock of playful merlins headed as far east as we possibly could.   Those merlins were beating their way right into the height of those terrific winds.  They executed abrupt and daring turns, to be intentionally blown back westward , right out over the bay.  No sooner did the merlins vanish than they reappeared.  We had no idea that birds, raptors, let alone merlins, PLAYED.  In that same torrent of winds, and, yes, rain, hundreds of swallows were staging for migration.  If we hadn’t been out in the elements, think what we’d’ve missed!

It didn’t take us long last weekend to discover that snowy owls do not like warmth, let alone snowlessness.

smiling Common MerganserFemale Brenda Jones

Female Merganser by Brenda Jones

Instead, we were given, –at the first bathing pavilion’s short boardwalk–.  a smooth, rotund, swelling ocean, afloat with winter ducks of many species, all in dazzling winter plumage, otherwise known as full=breeding.  Species after species of wild birds rose and fell upon voluminous swells.  Each had the dignity of a monarch en route to or from coronation,.  These birds were not feeding.  They were not even interacting.  Few were flying, though some did regularly join their relatives on that sea of molten jade.    Hundreds rode the pillowy waves, which seemed almost determined not to crest or break.  Mesmerized by the variety and serenity of these avian crowds, we paced back and forth on the warm solid sand for nearly an hour, enthralled.

bufflehead Brenda JonesMale Bufflehead by Brenda Jones.

I’m going to shock and/or let down a great many people when I say I had no need of a snowy owl that day.

long-tailed ducks in flight from Internet Ken hoehn

Long-tailed ducks coming in for a landing by Ken Hoehn – papillophotos.com

We talked about the probability that the bird seen by naturalist Bill Rawlyk at entry may well have been a northern shrike, feeding at the crest of a laden bayberry shrub.  Some years ago, at this identical spot, I had discovered this unique creature, being at I.B. then on a Bohemian waxwing quest.  I had no idea what that ‘masked mocking bird’ could be. Calling Audubon when I returned home, describing the scrubby evergreens and bountiful bayberries, I was congratulated upon having found a northeren shrike.  It happened again the next year at the same spot.  Each time, the Audubon person asked my permission to list my find on the hot-line.  Of course, this amateur birder gave a very pleased assent  This weekend, Bill remarked on a certain intensity in the bird — slightly heftier, a bit whiter, an arrogance not seen in mockers.  But it was the bayberry bush that decided us — major winter food for (otherwise almost chillingly carnivorous) shrikes..    Part of the fun of being with this merry crew of enthusiasts  is playing the identification game.

female long-tailed duck from internet

Female long-tailed duck in winter/full-breeding plumage from Internet

Other trails that lured us that long sunny afternoon were the Judge’s Shack (#12) and Spizzle Creek.  In no time, we had tucked our jackets, hats and gloves back into the cars.  Most were beginning to regret not having remembered our sun block — all but the two professional photographersg us.  Ray and Angela were having a field day with their immense legends, capturing so many species so gently afloat.  I’ll let them share their masterpieces on Facebook and Ray’s RayYeagerPhotographyBlog.  I’ll give you the Internet:

male long-tailed duck from INternet

Male long-tailed duck in winter plumage, full-breeding plumage, from Internet

Snow was rare.  Ice intriguing.  At Spizzle Creek, we were all acutely missing ‘our’ osprey, egrets and herons of other seasons.  Our gift there, though, was the presence of handsome brant.  In our experience lately, brant sightings have become scarce.  Certain essential grasses are not doing well along our coasts, which also happened during the Great Depression years — nearly depriving us of this handsome species.

Brant Goose Drinking BarnegatBrant Feeding, by Brenda Jones

northern-shrike-from internet

Deceptively sweet northern shrike probably seen by Bill Rawlyk on Bayberry at Island Beach entry — image from Internet: (RD)

When I tell people about our January beachwalks, my listeners seem puzzled-to-skeptical.  We couldn’t have had better weather.  Fellowship was at peak throughout.  Angela’s husband, Bob, kindly served as sentinel for all the camera-wielders — alerting all as tide-thrust waves threatened to drown our footgear.  Warm we were, but not even Jeanette was barefoot this time.

Angela and Ray knew exactly where to seek 1918’s array of snowy owls.  But, after that all-star cast adrift upon molten silver waves,  snowies had become “the last thing on our minds.”

Try winter trekking — surprises await!

Always remember, these rare species could not be here without the powerful advocacy of determined preservationists.  Even though I work for D&R Greenway Land Trust, I’m very clear that the saving of our waterways is every bit as important.

In fact, I take the stand that, in our New Jersey, with its unique three (count them!) coastlines, the well-being of water is a thousand times more crucialUnder NO CIRCUMSTANCES must even one oil well take its place off our Shores!

 

 

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DECEMBER BEACHCOMBING, NEW JERSEY STYLE

Who needs summer crowds, or even summer?  The original Intrepids (Bill Rawlyk, Jeanette Hooban, and I) literally basked along both bayside and oceanside of Island Beach last Sunday.

Silence.  Limitlessness.  Sea-borne treasures.  Elegant fishermen.  Ravenous seagull. Artemesia in winter.  Sundown like peach mousse upon a slate-blue plate.  Paradise enow…

Stroll with us.   We nearly took our shoes off!

 

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“Mermaid’s Purse” (skate egg case) and Fox Tracks like Roses Pressed into Sand

 

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December’s New Green Growth, Oceanside, Island Beach

 

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“Dusty Miller / Artemesia” — first seeds came ashore in wreckage from clipper ships! Now major dune stabilizers.

 

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Post-Sandy Boardwalk to the Sea

Can’t you just hear the cold jingle of these shells, as waves sip in and out?

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December Still-Life, Oceanside

 

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Alluring, Oceanside

 

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Seaside Success!

 

Remember that this pristine perfection exists because courageous and generous people knew to preserve it.  Do whatEVER it takes, and be generous with whatever land trusts speak to you, to extend preservation of open land, sand and water in our time.

 

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Gull’s Lunch – Probably Bunker

 

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Perfect Balance — December’s Oceanside Flycaster

 

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GAnnet-and-Long-Tailed-Duck Territory, Island Beach, December Waters

 

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Autumn Meets Winter, December Froth and Seaweed

 

 

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Crucial New Signs, Island Beach

Never forget — We ARE our fellow-creatures’ keepers.

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Our Land’s End — Below This is Barnegat Inlet, with ‘Old Barney’ Lighthouse on the Other Side

SALEM AND CUMBERLAND COUNTY BIRDING – ECSTASY CENTRAL

Land's End, Delaware Bay NJLand’s End, Delaware Bay, New Jersey:

I could name this post, “Air-conditioned Birding.”

When it’s too hot to hike (as this morning proved, though I completed it, barely…), there are two ideal NJ places to bird in the air-conditioned car:  Brigantine/Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, near Atlantic City; and Salem and Cumberland Counties.

Sunset Bridge, Salem County Winter

Sunset Bridge, Salem County Winter

Pat and Clay Sutton’s super-complete guide to Birding Cumberland taught me these sites, and will guide you expertly.

Mary Wood and I spent a 12-hour day of coolness, last weekend, in watery reaches near the Delaware Bay, my favorite landscape on earth.

Come with us, to the wide waters, limitless “meadows of grass,” to glint of sun on ever-changing rivers and creeks and spits and bays.

Glide with us along dike roads between impoundments, through woodlands, alongside Dividing Creek to boardwalks at Bivalve’s Strawberry Lane to Pete Dunne’s Turkey Point, site of hidden herons.

Osprey Flight at Nest, by Brenda Jones

Osprey Flight at Nest, by Brenda Jones

Salem and Cumberland are unknown havens, where it seems every black dot in the sky is either an eagle or an osprey!

Majestic Eagle by Brenda Jones

Majestic Eagle by Brenda Jones

Tides are ever present, altering everything.  When it seems every molecule of water has been withdrawn, and all that is left of the marshes is shimmer, an egret will be doubled in that sheen

Great Egret Fishing, by Brenda Jones

Great Egret Fishing, by Brenda Jones

In between lands’ ends, –where the shorebirds hunt–, one moves between fields dotted with the bright faces of the best of summer’s wildflowers.  Marsh mallows quivering near water (not food, but hibiscus-like flowers); sunflowers grinning; Joe Pye Weed reaching for the sky and filling with butterflies.

Cabbage White Butterflies Nectaring, by Brenda Jones

Cabbage White Butterflies Nectaring, by Brenda Jones

Quirky names enliven the day’s intensive drives — Husted’s Landing, Nibbock’s Pork Store, Bunker and Blood Worms, Clams & Tackle, shedders and oysters.  We’re not in Kansas any more…

Preserved Farm, Salem County

Preserved Farm, Salem County

All the farms are prosperous, most of them multi-generational.  There is a strong preservation ethic in the Delaware Bayshores.  Our people at D&R Greenway have been involved literally at the grass roots level.  One of the Intrepids, Bill Rawlyk, can name everyone in most families, and identify their proud crops.  Soybeans are knee-high.  Corn is not to the elephant’s level, but every bit fully tasseled out.  In a distant field, a combine raises archangels of dust as it makes its ponderous way among the rows.  Out behind a venerable red barn, bright laundry snaps in the morning air.

Small town houses are quirky as the signs, narrow and shingled, weathered, survivors with skinny chimneys.  Farmhouses tend toward the palatial, solidity itself.  The American Dream — it’s real, in Salem and Cumberland.

Mannington Farmhouse

Mannington Farmhouse

Out toward the landings, marinas, and beaches, we are forever treated to the sinuous flight of dark cormorants, the billowing wingbeats of egrets.  At mean low tide, at Strawberry Lane, every tussock resembles and upside-down cast-iron cooking pot.  And each one holds a gleaming, almost blinding, turtle in the sun.  Our feet make hollow sounds on the boardwalk, interspersed with whisper/chatter of darting swallows, the lazy hum of bees.

Cormorant with Lunch, By Brenda Jones

Cormorant with Lunch, By Brenda Jones

A statue of a Holstein crowns the roof of the Frozen Custard stand.  Nurseries are EVERYwhere, bursting with vibrant stock.  Silver Queen corn is for sale on a broad earthen driveway, honor box for your cash.

Flags are important down here.  They are bought and raised by individual homeowners, who are proud of this land — not to flap ceaselessly in the wind over Japanese car dealers.  There aren’t any car dealers — but many repairers.  WELDING is a normal sign, and PUMPS for sale, and DRILLING.

Welcome to Fortescue

Welcome to Fortescue

Out of the tiny towns and back at the lands’ ends, we are treated to the rattley chatter of marsh wrens, hovering over marsh shrubs that support their amazing vertical foot-ball shaped nests.  En route to Heislerville and at Strawberry Lane, eagle and osprey nests are everywhere.  Once in awhile, we’re given the Tinkerbell-light voice of a vigilant osprey.  One eagle nest is so enormous, we name it ‘a McNest.’  All are occupied.  At one point we had two eagle nests in one glass, and a slight change in perspective brought the osprey nest into the lens.

Immature American Bald Eagles by Brenda Jones

Immature American Bald Eagles by Brenda Jones

We’re always glad to get back into the cool car, but we never want to leave those eagles!

Pristine Dunes of Fortescue -- where horseshoe crabs congregate in May

Pristine Dunes of Fortescue — where horseshoe crabs congregate in May

Walking through (new, since Sandy) dunes, opening to the Delaware Bay itself, which seems limitless, marvelous tough blinding green holdfasts keep that sand in place.  We don’t know the plant names, but some even bear minuscule white flowers.  [The picture above was taken in spring, before bright green protective spurts emerged.]

Overhead, we hear moan of fish crow and squawk of heron.

Great Blue Heron Take-off, by Brenda Jones

Great Blue Heron Take-off, by Brenda Jones

We delight at a tree full of (rare to us) cliff swallows in the Glades, a gossiping crew whose collected voices feel like fresh water droplets cascading over us.  We tear ourselves from swallows, to revere a tri-colored heron, calmly preening as though there were not two intense humans holding something odd to their eyes, fastened on every ruffle of feather.

“Salem and Cumberland”, I find written in my journal:  “Luminosity everywhere!”

But let Mary tell it, with her careful notes:

(this is what avid birders do when they’re NOT driving…

gardens are obviously also important to Mary!)

red-tailed hawk

crows and vultures

unidentified raptor zooming into a yard

crape myrtle

mimosa

“TERMITES!” (sign)

skunk smell

kettle of vultures (‘takes two to kettle’ – swirl of vultures riding thermal air currents)

OYSTERS of Fortescue

houses on stilts

cinder-block house with cinder blocks out front to sit on

immature herring gull

six or seven eagles (we had become this casual)

laughing gulls

3 great egrets

blooming roses

black-eyed Susans

tree swallows

Barn Swallow, Sunset, By Brenda Jones

Barn Swallow, Sunset, By Brenda Jones

first swallows ‘lining up’ – preparing for migration, on power line

2 mocking birds

great blue herons, great egrets, snowy egrets, osprey adult and young, tri-colored heron, cliff swallows filling tree, marsh wrens, laughing gulls learning to hover, people crabbing on Turkey Point bridge, squawk of black-crowned night herons hidden in underbrush, and (learned from her birding app, a sound that turned out to be) THE GRUNTING OUTBURST OF A CLAPPER RAIL!

Black-crowned night heron, from web

Black-crowned night heron, from web

bald eagle in tree the entire time we were at Strawberry Lane boardwalk; ditto osprey, in a different tree

immature American bald eagle practicing soaring, quite expert, overhead, heading toward ‘McNest’

cacophony of marsh wrens

turtles on tussocks

unidentified shorebirds [on wing, white/black, white/black, extremely determined,beginning migration (!)]

flock of least terns over dike road leading from Heislerville

Heislerville Rookery from internet

[ruined] rookery at Heislerville: many double-crested cormorants [in trees, air and water], black-crowned night herons

(mature, immature), and three in water at island edge

immature BCNH by Geoff Coe Ft. Myers FL001

Immature Black-Crowned Night Herons by Geoff Coe of Fort Myers, Florida

East Point Lighthouse

East Point Light with Storm Coming

East Point Light with Storm Coming

(no sign from approach road — “Bike Trail”)

Forster’s Tern Least Tern  — side-by-side on old dock pilings

single white-rumped sandpiper — [feeding right at our feet!]

single great cormorant, flying low and ponderously

4 red knots, no longer in breeding plumage

flocks of uniform shorebirds [zeroing around the point, intent migrants]

osprey nest with one young and two parents

great black-backed gull at dumpster at Mauricetown Diner !  [these are saltwater birds!]

osprey nest [alongside highway   47?  or 55?  not far beyond diner]

first robin of the day

***

We started this post in dire heat, and I am typing it in same, on the last day of July.  Here’s a picture of intent birder Mary Wood (who even works weekly to rehabilitate birds and hurt animals in the Animal Shelter south of Lambertville.)  It could’ve been 20 that day, on the boardwalk at Strawberry Lane.  Sun was obviously leaving.  But there was always one last bird….!

Great Ducks of Sundown Cumberland County March 2015