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

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HIKING NJ THE HEAT-WEEKS: An Essay on Shade

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My sister, Marilyn Weitzel, Janet Black and Betty Lies Bird the Sourland Mountain Preserve Trail off Greenwood Avenue in Hopewell

While every newspaper and television and Internet Weather Source has been warning absolutely everyone to stay inside, “Stay Safe”, [which smarmy phrase makes my flesh crawl], I’ve discovered something experientially that I’ve probably always known:  It’s a whole lot hotter in any parking lot, getting into or out of a vehicle, than it is in any of our nearby New Jersey forests!  I’ve decided, it’s dangerous to stay at home.  For, there, life can turn into a spectator sport.

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Pole Farm: “Abide With Me”: Shade in the Height of Summer

A Sunday ago, I hiked the Pole Farm at 8 a.m., actually about an hour too late to start, during these so-called Heat Emergencies.  Much beauty, great tranquillity, shade 9/10 of the way.  For a couple of hours, I was given gifts beyond measure.  There’s nothing on a screen, or in a newspaper or magazine to equal the elusive scent of fox, still apparent from morning trail-marking.  The cascade of field sparrows, the mew of catbird.  The pleasure of picking two wildflowers for Elaine Katz’s stone and bench – the woman who almost single-handedly insisted that this Lawrenceville (now-) Preserve was not to be a golf course or a series of intrusively spotlighted playing fields.

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Sourland Rocks Exhale Lenape Presence

A day or two later, and again a week later, starting at 5:15, I entered the Sourland Mountain Preserve off Greenwood Avenue in Hopewell.  Not a man-made sound, not even a plane, did I hear in those couple of deeply shaded hours.  Not a man-made anything did I see, except some essential drainage pipes and the entry road, then densely wooded trails I explored.  One distant frog’s thrumming was heartening.  Dragonflies popped about whatever flowers could bloom in sunlit groves.  For a long time, I sat on basalt boulders leftover from creation, surrounded by mixed forest and essence of Lenapes of long ago.  There’d been rain by the second excursion, so various streamlets were caroling as I crossed them.

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Intensities of Shade at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

The next night, when her work and mine were over for the day, Intrepid Jeanette Hooban picked me up in Lawrenceville, to glide over hill and down dale to the Delaware River, –silver in late light, purling below the Lambertville / New Hope Bridge.  Moments later, we were deep in Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve.  We decided to take four favorite trails:  Violet Trail off the access road; the old pond trail onto Fern Trail, alongside a flower-erupting former pond; and the ever-enticing Medicinal Trail, crossing the tough new bridges constructed or reconstructed after Hurricane Sandy.  Each of us has many demands made upon us in the so-called real world.  Each was a little jagged as we started out.  But, again, silence, flowers, dragonflies, hidden birds, and the murmur of Pidcock Creek gave us timeless gifts of memory.  Jeanette discovered a flaming spurt of cardinal flower, favorite of ruby-throated hummingbirds.  I could show her where to elusive snow trillium can emerge, yes, in snow, in March; where, in May, opulent yellow ladyslippers peek through heavy leaf cover to the left of the Fern Trail.  We examined the rocky edge of that Creek, for I’d found the Louisiana Waterthrush, first by song, then by habitat and behavior, a month ago with another friend.  There in the cucumber magnolia, I’d seen my first ever phoebe sing out his name over and over, while waters burbled busily below early one spring.  In heat-strafed July, shade was our gift at Bowman’s, enhanced by occasional water-cooled air.

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Abbott Marshlands: Spring Lake: First Willow Buds

A few days later, key birding buddy, Anne Zeman, picked me up at 7:30 a.m., so we could go to the Abbott Marshlands (in Trenton!), in quest of images for her entries for an upcoming fine-art juried exhibition: Voices for the Marsh.  New to us was the fact that Hurricane Sandy had taken down a quantity of the Marsh’s most majestic trees.  Youngsters that survived have burgeoned in the meantime, creating dense shade everywhere — 90-some percent of our walk was tree-cool, and much alongside water.  New patterns of light and shade have amplified the richesse of its fern groves, until we ran out of species names.  Not only tiny blue dragonflies, –half the size of needles–, but equally minuscule lipstick-red ones, zinged about on all sides.  Pickerel weed’s remarkable purple (hyacinth-like, but slimmer) stems rose here and there in Spring Lake and other wet areas.

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Fox Face, Close-Up, by Fine Art Photographer Brenda Jones

Again, we remembered where  Clyde Quin and Warren Liebensperger had shown us the five-entried fox den.  On both sides of the trail, majestic yews revealed a former dwelling in that wilderness.  Not far from there, Clyde and Warren knew to look for owls in daytime.  There’s not so much silence in the Marsh, because horrific highways are all too near, spinning out a ceaseless drone of ‘the real world’.  But after awhile, one absorbed that sound, until lapping water or locusts warming up or the sacred luffing of swans wings topped every other impression.

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Marsh: Hurricane Sandy Damage to Iconic Beech, Spring Scene

Each walk, alone and with others, proved that Heat Emergency consciousness can be overdone.  People can turn into couch potatoes out of fear.

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Beaver Close-Up by Fine Art Photographer, Brenda Jones

Beauteous preserves, rich in wildlife, await on all sides of Princeton.  There’s the thickly treed Community Park North off 206.  There’s Herrontown Woods, off Snowden Lane, and the nearby Autumn Hill.  Plainsboro Preserve beckons on the other side of Route 1, with its monoculture forest of beeches — guaranteed 12 to 15 degrees cooler in summer, warmer in winter.

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Beckoning Path, Plainsboro Preserve

Turn off the screens.  Grab a hat and water and natural insect repellant (a wonderful rosemary-based one is available at the Hopewell Pharmacy) and get out there.  Don’t be someone Richard Louv will have to describe as The Last (Child) in the Woods.

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Microclimate Beechwood Forest, Plainsboro Preserve

 

 

 

 

 

HOW GREEN WAS OUR VALLEY, — The Delaware Valley

When I reflect on the spring nearly past, all I see is grey  — in skies and clouds, in ceaseless chill rains, in blinding fogs, and in my own imprisoned mood.  However, there were excursions, stolen between the raindrops, which reveal the incredible bounty of the Delaware Valley.

Thanks to courageous women, this preserve was saved for all time, to showcase the rarest wildflowers which belong in all the woods and all along the banks of our beloved Delaware River.

BOWMAN’S HILL WILDFLOWER PRESERVE

below New Hope, PA

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Toad Trillium Among the Bluebells, Bowman’s, April 2016

Celandine and Bluebells by the Creek

Celandine and Bluebells line trail along PIdcock Creek

Stroll with me on the well-tended trails, beautifully restored after Hurricane Sandy’s depredations — so very far from the sea of its birth.  Open all your senses, as the work week, this techno-century rarely permit.  Inhale the very fecundity of the good earth, celebrated so brilliantly by Pennsylvania’s Pearl S. Buck.  Let your ears learn your first phoebe!, phoebe!; the purrrrrr of red-bellied woodpeckers in healthily aged trees; the scree! of a single red-tailed hawk high above the almost leafed-out canopy.  Absorb quintessential tranquillity, where the creek’s murmurs and whispers call you ever more deeply into the sacred woods.Bluebell Sea

Bluebell Sea, Where I Usually Begin my Bowman’s Explorations

It’s worth doing Bowman’s for the Medicinal Trail alone.  There I first heard and almost saw the pileated woodpecker dive from tree to tree.  There a young boy, –thrilled as I to watch spring’s first garter snakes unwind from winter’s tangle–, splashed into the creek to save a snake who’d tumbled in.  Along the creek, forest monarchs rest, Sandy-felled, roots taller than two or three humans standing on one another’s shoulders.  I always thank their majesties for their time here.

On the Medicinal Trail’s Bridge, a man and woman told me they’d just seen the (can it be?!) Louisiana Waterthrush.  All three of us watched a slender dark furry being curl and curve above the rocks, along the bank.  It was so at home, so sure in its hunting.  And we remained unsure whether it was mink or marten.  Above all, Medicinal Trail holds trillium of many hues and funny names.  No one can ever explain the name of the tight red one above (which never opens farther), somehow christened “Toad”.

First White Trilliujm

Virginal White Trillium

I’m always so pleased with the wondrous work of Staff and energetic, consummately generous Bowman’s volunteers.  Most invasives have been mastered.  Trails are well marked, well tended, pretty and inviting.  Boardwalks lead over (increasingly) wet spots.  Their gift shop is tasteful, gift-wise, and irresistible book-wise.  Whoever’s at the desk, usually a volunteer, is always happy to see each visitor and eager to serve.

White Trillium Close-Up

Shy Trillium

My only quarrel is that there is no sign on the Medicinal Trail, instructing the un-knowing, such as I, in what each rarity was used to treat — most likely discovered by local Lenapes, long before the concept of fenced preservation came into being.

Take yourself to Bowman’s in all seasons.  Ideal habitat for birds, for plants from anemone and twinleaf and bloodroot to prickly pear; and for voyagers, seeking an idyllic world – such as all of America was before we arrived, carrying with us the Anthropocene and all its losses and perils.

Become a Bowman’s member.  Join their invasive-pulling volunteers.  Attend their black tie and muck boots spring gala.  And murmur thanks to those wise early women who knew that saving beauty of this magnitude is essential to the human spirit.

NEW PHOTOS SENT FOR BLOG FROM BRENDA JONES, Fine Art Photographer

My dear friend and superb photographer, Brenda Jones, sends these images of a mink and a waterthrush, found nearby (to Princeton), and therefore likely at Bowman’s.  Enjoy her unique artistry!

Waterthrush with larvae by Brenda Jones

Waterthrush with Larvae by Brenda Jones

 

MinkMillstoneAqueduct by Brenda Jones

Mink, Millstone Aqueduct, by Brenda Jones

STILL SEEKING SPRING — AVIAN SURPRISE

Spring 2015 defeats me.  I have stopped looking for its arrival in natural settings.  When an entire week goes by without wearing my ski jacket. the new season will have arrived.

Here is a photo essay of a recent bi-state excursion to find the vernal:

View from Footebridge from NJ to PA at Bull's Island below Frenchtown

View from Footbridge from NJ to PA at Bull’s Island below Frenchtown

Last week, in quest of spring, I spent more than three [but fewer than four] hours at Bowman’s Hill Wildlife Preserve, below New Hope, Pennsylvania.  You know from my recent post that most of the world in that exquisite refuge was brown, with some courageous and welcome exceptions.

That Delaware view was taken mid-river that same day.  I walked west from Bull’s Island over the Delaware, because interstate walking is a rare past-time for someone from Michigan.

As you can see, on the New Jersey and the Pennsylvania sides, most trees remain bare.

Beautiful Bridge Structure, Empty Trees

Beautiful Bridge Structure, Empty Trees

Spring on the Delaware River Footbridge at Bull's Island

Spring on the Delaware River Footbridge at Bull’s Island

Ultimately, on the footbridge, the winds were so fierce, I did not set Foote in Pennsylvania.  My mother would say, “You turned tail and ran!”

However, NJWILDBEAUTY readers who know me in person remember that I tend to ask, perhaps too often for some, “Where is the Gift?”

Come with me on the Bull’s Island Towpath and answer this question in mid-April in New Jersey/Pennsylvania.

Emptiness of Spring -- Bull's Island Towpath mid-April 2015

Emptiness of Spring — Bull’s Island Towpath mid-April 2015

Alluvial Plain near Bull's Island Towpath Trail

Alluvial Plain near Bull’s Island Towpath Trail

Mile Marker 21 - Bull's Island Towpath Trail

Mile Marker 21 – Bull’s Island Towpath Trail

House in Empty Woods Bull's Island mid-April 2015

Farmhouse Opposite Bull’s Island Towpath Trail

Alluvial Plain Adjacent to Bull's Island -- When the Delaware Floods, This is Where She Goes, What She Nourishes

Alluvial Plain Adjacent to Bull’s Island — When the Delaware Floods, This is Where She Goes, What She Nourishes

Endangered Species Ahead

Endangered Species Ahead

Eagle on Nest Bull's Island Towpath Hike 2015 Spring

American Bald Eagle on Nest, in sycamore – a first for me:

6/10 Mile Below Bull’s Island Sign

That tiny head is pure white, in person.  See for yourselves!

If any of you still wonder, why preserve?  The above hint of an eagle sighting is our answer.

This parent is strong, serene, vivid.  She faces our benevolent yet powerful, and yes, fish-ful Delaware River.   This eagle pair is likely to raise healthy young, so there will be more eagles on more nests in our riverine future.

Never forget that, in the 1970’s, there was but one eagle nest, at Bear Swamp, near the Delaware Bay, and it was unsuccessful.  DDT thinned their eggs, which therefore cracked and could not hatch.  Brilliant and committed people, beginning with Rachel Carson in her seminal, earth-changing “Silent Spring”, turned this around.  Naturalists in New Jersey went to the Chesapeake for healthy eggs.  They gingerly carried these treasures to the Bear Swamp nest.  Those unknowingly surrogate parents raised and fledged young, who returned to the area.  So the eagle Renaissance of New Jersey began.

This day, of Bowman’s followed by Bull’s Island followed by Lambertville, [through the spotting scope set up at Homestead  Farm Market (across from the CVS and Rago)], then to ‘our’ Princeton Mapleton eagle’s nest, brought me three eagles on three nests in three towns in three hours. 

The Lambertville eagle nest is on a power tower in the River, visible from the toll bridge when driving to PA from NJ.   The other two are in preserves.

I suddenly realize, if those Bull’s Island trees had been leafed out for this person longing for spring, I might never have spotted the nest, for the warning sign came south of the impressive  nest…

WHY PRESERVE!

Princeton's Eagle Nest, Mapleton Avenue, Above the D&R Canal State Park

Princeton’s Eagle Nest, Mapleton Avenue, Above the D&R Canal State Park

WHEN SPRING TIPTOES – Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in Mid-April

“Spring Green” — right?    Wrong.

In the year 2015, spring has been mostly brown.  Here is a photo essay of last Friday’s trip to my beloved Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve below New Hope, Pennsylvania.  I’ve written elsewhere, as in the Time of Trenton, that Bowman’s is Spring Central.  And it is.  Except the palette this year is that of an unexpected artist — Paul Cezanne!  Stroll with me.

Autumn and Spring, Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve

Autumn and Spring, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

Spring Herald

Spring Herald

Newcomers on the Civilian Conservation Corps Bridge

Newcomers on the Civilian Conservation Corps Bridge

Spring Shadows

Spring Shadows

Between Fall and Spring, Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve

Between Fall and Spring, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

Spring Beauty, Autumn Background

Spring Beauty, Autumn Background

First Canada Mayflower Leaf

First Canada Mayflower Leaf

You really have to be determined to find spring.

Overhead vistas were stunning.

Evergreen Canopy

Evergreen Canopy

Deciduous Canopy

Deciduous Canopy

Straight ahead was stunning – a favorite scene for me always is the shadow of beech leaves on beech bark.

Beech Shadow

Beech Shadows

Azalea Sign, No Azalea Blossoms

Azalea Sign, No Azalea Blossoms

Fungus Flower

Fungus Flower

Skunk Cabbage Apotheosis by the Old Pond

Skunk Cabbage Apotheosis by the Old Pond

Downed Tree Returning to Earth

Downed Tree Returning to Earth

Tiptoe Through the Bluebells, Parry Trail

Tiptoe Through the Bluebells, Parry Trail

Spring's First Flower, Up by the Twinleaf Shop at Bowman's

Spring’s First Flower, Up by the Twinleaf Shop at Bowman’s

And Bowman’s greatest gift, a flower I have not seen in at least five years there, and one that should by no means be around in April – the Snow Trillium.  A bad picture, because of high winds, but worth studying, nonetheless.

Snow Trillium off the Fern Trail

Snow Trillium off the Fern Trail

To get to Bowman’s, take the old green bridge from Lambertville over my beloved Delaware River.  Turn left at the first light in New Hope, and drive along through woods and past spring wildflowers on the banks and steeps on either side.  Bowman’s is on the right, before an old stone bridge.  There is a small admission fee — a pittance compared to the treasures that await you there.

Afterwards, eat at Bowman’s Tavern.  Superb food, quite avant-garde for a post-hike treat, and gracious welcome.

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve members earn a 10% discount at the Tavern, but you must remind hostess and waitress.

“Emerging Signs of Spring” — recent Times of Trenton Article

Brave Skunk Cabbage in March, Bowman's

Brave Skunk Cabbage in March, Bowman’s

My NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I am always avid for signs of the coming season, no matter what it may be — including winter.

Rich Rein of US 1 (Business) Newspaper, published my account of being impatient for the spare beauties, –especially the true sculptural form of trees–, of that approaching season.

At the same time, The Times of Trenton kindly accepted my article on the importance of prolonged cold for the full health of wild creatures.

Last week, The Times presented the story I’d titled “Where is Spring?”  They honored me with the title of Guest Columnist, and again blessed my story with a handsome photograph by fine artist Michael Mancuso, who is masquerading as a journalist.

Salamander in hand, early April 2015, by Michael Mancuso of the Times of Trenton

Salamander in hand, early April 2015, by Michael Mancuso of the Times of Trenton

“Emerging Signs of Spring”, Guest Columnist, Carolyn Foote Edelmann

 

This year, not even naturalists can find spring.

We have been taught that the season arrives with the vernal equinox, when day and night are virtually equal; and that equinox leads to lengthening sunlight. Longer days, we have. But where is spring?

Each naturalist has his or her own proof of spring.

For one, it is the blooming of witch hazel. Good, because last night I saw a witch hazel tree in Lawrence in full, brassy bloom. They can blossom in December and January. Does blooming witch hazel make a spring? .

For many home gardeners, spring means snowdrops, which can pop through January drifts. Last week’s snowdrops at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton were up, but they looked frail and drained, as though their journey through snow and ice had sapped them of all energy.

For many, spring means the bird-like chirping of tiny frogs called peepers. A colleague at work heard both peepers and wood frogs in Hopewell a week ago Friday. Although I know well where to look and listen, I have not heard a single trill. Peepers do not begin their incessant chorus until it’s been above freezing for at least three nights. Which it hasn’t.

March 27, Jenn Rogers, our merry Mercer County naturalist, led a troupe of brave souls out into dusk and darkness at Hopewell’s St. Michaels Farm Preserve. Rogers and confreres had set out on an “Owl Prowl.” Not an owl was heard nor seen. But the group was treated to the full dance and aural phenomena of woodcocks, over and over, until full dark. When woodcocks rise, it’s spring.

These fortunate explorers, under Rogers’ tutelage, were then able to see and hold female and male salamanders, moving from winter quarters to their spring egg-laying waters. The group also encountered a number of frogs, still, yet ready for action, visible beneath skim ice on the vernal ponds. If salamanders have made their historic night-time journeys, it’s spring.

Near Greenwich, where New Jersey’s legendary tea burning taught the British we would no longer submit to the crown’s dictates, we could not leave a female American kestrel flitting in and out of a long line of bare trees. Nearby, a spurt or two of crocus, some dark purple mini-iris and one effusion of daffodils seemed to certify spring.

A flutter of vivid bluebirds under the leafless shrubs of Stow Creek, eagle central, seemed more important, dare I say it, than that site’s legendary eagles.

Last Sunday, I spent significant time in Salem and Cumberland counties, where America’s avian symbol is everywhere right now. We studied eagles on nests, incubating eggs, performing nest exchanges and feeding hatchlings down near the Delaware Bay. Eagle spring comes earlier than that of other species. However, regional naturalists are concerned that many Delaware Valley eagles are not yet on the nest. Timing is everything with the eagle family. Much more delay and it will become too hot for the young with all those insulating feathers. Hard to believe in “hot” right now.

Our incontrovertible spring proof may have been the osprey on its unlikely nest alongside Route 55 near Millville. Ospreys winter separately, returning to the same nest on the same day. When ospreys are reunited, spring is here.

If you need to certify spring, go straight over to Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, below New Hope, Pa. Return every weekend, until the forest canopy leafs out. Spring’s ephemerals, irrefutable proof of the new season, will be blanketing the ground. In the woods, spicebush shrubs sport tiny chartreuse flowers, almost the color of fireflies. Their twigs, scraped with a fingernail, give off the healing aroma of benzoin, part of this spring herald’s Latin name.

Signage, flower maps and informed volunteers in their Twinleaf shop will lead you to hepatica, twinleaf, bloodroot, spring beauty, trout lily and early saxifrage (rock-breaker). Bowman’s grounds will soon resemble a studio floor, continuously spattered by some errant artist.

In wettest places, an unmistakable spring herald rises — skunk cabbage. This waxy plant emerges like a monk in a cowl, colors swirling from burgundy to bright green. Skunk cabbage can melt ice, as its flower generates 60 degrees of heat. Its rotting meat scent is purportedly irresistible to pollinators. Which, frankly, are what spring is all about.

Above all, remember: Spring is inevitable. Even when trees remain black and brown. Even under skies that Henry David Thoreau described as “stern” back in his laggard spring in the 1800s. For him, as for us, this season must emerge.

Use all your senses. Watch for pollinators, even houseflies. Listen for wood frogs and peepers. Try to scent spicebush and the loamy perfume of awakening earth. Touch the soft green tips of emergent daffodil or narcissus leaves. Even when everything seems brown and grey and black and taupe, know that spring is being born.

Carolyn Foote Edelmann, a poet, naturalist and community relations associate for the Delaware and Raritan Greenway Land Trust, writes and photographs for NJWildBeauty nature blog (njwildbeauty.wordpress.com).

 

Searching for Spring – Ephemerals take Center Stage – US 1 Article on Springquest

First Flower of Spring --  Skunk Cabbage at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve

First Flower of Spring —
Skunk Cabbage at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

It’s a very interesting process, proposing, waiting for acceptance, and finally writing articles for newspapers in our region.  Waiting for answers and results is similar to waiting for spring, sometimes in a cold and snowy time.

First Spurt of Spring, Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve

First Spurt of Spring, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I recently had a story on trying to justify or find gifts in extreme cold turn into an op ed in the Times of Trenton.  You can search for this a few posts ago on this blog. On line, they used Brenda Jones’ superb photo of a fox scampering across Carnegie Lake.  In the Times itself, they used my unmet friend, Michael Mancuso’s, outstanding scene of people by a completely ice-clotted Delaware River. I owe this op-ed breakthrough to Michael, who said my feeble attempt to justify prolonged cold (it kills microbes that cause mange in foxes) deserved a Letter to the Editor to the Times.  He was right, only the Letters Editor chose to move it to Op Ed with images.

[I’ll use a couple of Brenda’s photos in this blog, one of Anne Zeman’s beautiful hand, do not have access to Michael’s frozen Delaware, and the rest are mine during desperate springquests at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve below New Hope.]

Miracle of Skunk Cabbage at Bowman's

Miracle of First Skunk Cabbage. the Melter, at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

What readers never see is all the proposals that are ignored, sometimes not even acknowledged.

Every once in awhile, an idea strikes home, as with Rich Rein and Recognizing Spring, published yesterday in US 1 Business Newspaper.  My response is parallel to finding first ferns at Bowman’s.

Desperate for Spring, Bowman's

Desperate for Spring, Bowman’s — 

Fern emergence at the fern trail, despite snow everywhere at Bowman’s, proves that spring is inevitable.

Winter Aconite, Hopewell

Winter Aconite, Hopewell — another very early spring miracle, The Midas Touch

Awhile ago, Rich Rein, Editor and FOUNDER of US 1 Business Newspaper, asked me, at his generous thank you party for their writers, for a piece on finding spring.  I agreed, of course.  Wrote it in the midst of consummate ice and snow, and secured my dear friend Anne Zeman’s images for Rich, in a potpourri of portraits of the tiniest, most elusive, most delicate spring blooms.

fern still life

You wait and you wait.  Then the answer is yes.  Then there’s uncertainty about timing, about images.  And then it comes out a week earlier than you’d expected, with only one of Anne’s pictures.

Beech Drops in a Beechwood at Bowman's, against Anne Zeman's lovely hand

Beech Drops in a Beechwood at Bowman’s, against Anne Zeman’s lovely hand

Instead of being a Field Guide to Early Spring, with all that delicate beauty Anne had captured so skillfully, the piece showed one barren scene of a tough skunk cabbage.

... of cabbages and kings, Bowman's

… of cabbages and kings, Bowman’s

Being a writer, especially a journalist, is like being a gambler,  And the money cannot matter.  You toss your ideas into the atmosphere, and they swirl about and create new patterns, often those you never expected.

Waterfall Swirls, Pidcodk Creek, Bowman's Hill Wildlife Preserve

Waterfall Swirls, Pidcodk Creek, Bowman’s Hill Wildlife Preserve

I’m thrilled that it came out yesterday, so I’ll block and copy for you, urging you to seek spring in your own neighborhood.  You can use the COMMENT feature on NJWILDBEAUTY to let me know how YOU know spring is indeed here.

Commencement of Marsh Marigold

Commencement of Marsh Marigold

One skunk cabbage does not a spring make!

Brave Skunk Cabbage in March, Bowman's

Brave Skunk Cabbage in March, Bowman’s

Reprinted from the March 18, 2015, issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper
Hail the Shy Harbingers of Spring
by Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Snow or no snow, chill or no chill, spring is inevitable. There’s no gainsaying the vernal equinox. Days lengthen. Ground thaws. Spring’s exquisite ephemerals (flowers that bloom only so long as the forest canopy is not leafed out) will soon be everywhere.
Bluebell Emergence, Bowman's

Bluebell Emergence, Bowman’s

One of the privileges of hanging out with naturalists is that they know where to find first signs of spring.

One of the disadvantages is that they know the names of everything, leaving you wondering if you’ll keep the difference between twinleaf and bloodroot this year.

Bloodroot and New Leaf Fall, Bowman's

Bloodroot and New Leaf Fall, Bowman’s

If you’re lucky enough to have naturalist/photographer friends, your lessons will be a merry marriage of art and science.

If not, you may use these images as a field guide to earliest ephemerals.

One of my favorite nature-questers is Anne Zeman of Kingston. Consummate birder and fine art photographer, she is one of the most alert to signs of changes of seasons. Recently, in a white world, we motored to Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve (just south of New Hope). We required a sighting of the truest, earliest spring herald — skunk cabbage. We know where this hideously named flower pierces ice, melting its way to light and first pollinators. The plants pungency attracts flies, thinking it’s carrion. Because it can achieve 60-degree “furnace” inside those waxen red/green leaves, skunk cabbage has been known to erupt in January.

Drift of Ancient Princess Pine

Drift of Ancient Princess Pine

On our day, we were hindered by snow and ice. Anne and I could make it as far as the Civilian Conservation Corps stone bridge,. Despite serious hiking gear, we could not pass on to Azalea Trail or Violet Trail, let alone achieve the old pond where the skunk cabbage waits. Pidcock Creek chortled at these two nature-deprived humans, desperate for spring. But you can maneuver Bowman’s Trails now and find spring heralds of many hues and moods.

Pidcock Creek Bridge Built by Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression

Pidcock Creek Bridge Built by Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression

On the road leading down into Bowman’s from the parking lot, spicebush awaits. In “just spring,” or maybe even before ee cummings’ version of this season, petite blossoms the hue of key limes spurt, acting as spring signals even deep in the forest. Bowman’s has an identifying sign below this shrub by the roadway. Scrape a ruddy spicebush twig with a thumbnail, then inhale deeply . A pungent healing fragrance pierces your nostrils, that of benzoin, part of spicebush’s formal name.

Apotheosis of Spice Bush

Apotheosis of Spice Bush, Bowman’s

There is no more incontrovertible sign of spring than courting eagles. In Salem and Cumberland counties, near Turkey Point and along Stow Creek, particularly, American bald eagles begin courting in January. We can watch our `own’ eagles, soaring with straight-winged majesty over Carnegie Lake. If you’re lucky, you might even hear them caroling their surprisingly light songs of love. Princetonians can see eagles carrying enormous branches to restore their 2014 nest. By now, they are very likely performing nest exchanges, keeping new eggs warm. It’s even more important to eagles that Carnegie Lake thaw, for fish are the mainstay of their diet. If you’re very lucky, usually near the dam or the fishing bridge, you can marvel at an eagle’s shining meal deftly clenched in bright talons.

Juvenile American Bald Eagle with Fish by Brenda Jones

Juvenile American Bald Eagle with Fish by Brenda Jones

In Princeton, start your spring quest along our towpath. Spring Beauty will soon blanket its banks, — tiny, white and frail. They actually shiver as we may in the search. But when sun rays reach these silken blooms, they are teased open to reveal thinnest stripes of strawberry/pink. It’s as though someone painted them with a brush of only one hair. These bright accents serve as illuminated runways for pollinators, which is what spring is all about.

Phoebe by Brenda Jones

Phoebe by Brenda Jones  One of Spring’s Audible Heralds

A shy harbinger of spring will be early saxifrage. The marvelous name means `rockbreaker’. Fragile as it looks, saxifrage can force its way through stony soil, as over at Bowman’s Hill, as inevitably as skunk cabbage pierces ice.

Early Saxifrage Breaks Through

Early Saxifrage Breaks Through

Cut-leafed Toothwort, Bowman's

Cut-leafed Toothwort, Bowman’s

My candidate for the ephemeral with the ugliest name is cutleaf toothwort. This dainty one blankets the sharp edges of Bowman’s steep trail from their Twinleaf Shop, where one pays nominal admission. This trail has been newly strengthened, post-Sandy, so that it is easily negotiated, down to the site that will be awash in bluebells a month from now. Meanwhile, Dutchmen’s breeches, squirrel corn, and cutleaf toothwort keep the hiker occupied in early spring.

Plants with `wort’ in their name hearken back to the Old English. `Wort’ implies medicinal usage. Maybe this delicate beauty was useful for toothache. Wikipedia asserts, “the first part of the word denoting the complaint against which it might be specially efficacious.” Toothwort is pale, seemingly white, but in certain lights there is a roseate quality, and sometimes even a hint of lavender.

The most famous medicinal plant of early spring could well be hepatica. Obviously, in ancient times, anything with `hepatic’ in its name was significant for liver ailments. I find this a somewhat heavy association for one of the most delicate plants.

Hepaticas thrive at Bowman’s. You can read wall maps and hand maps, and inquire of wise volunteers in their Twin Leaf Shop, The miracle of this hepatica is that these fragile blossoms emerge first. Finding a swathe of hepatica poking through last autumn’s leaves always seems a mirage.

Round-leafed hepatica and the other flowers that bloom until the forest canopy leafs out, work their spring magic, year upon year, wherever humans are wise enough to preserve the habitat they require.

Emergent Dutchman's Britches

Emergent Dutchman’s Britches

Take yourself to the towpath, to Bowman’s, to the Abbott Marshlands, the Pole Farm in Lawrenceville (off Cold Soil Road), the Institute Woods, the Griggstown Grasslands.

False Hellebore Extravaganza, Bowman's

False Hellebore Extravaganza, Bowman’s

Meanwhile, you will be assisted in your quest by Anne Zeman’s splendid photographs, in her upcoming book on the wildflowers of New Jersey.

Edelmann, a poet and naturalist, is also community relations associate with D&R Greenway Land Trust. She writes and photographs for the nature blog, njwildbeauty.wordpress.com

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