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

Lavendering in Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Lavender Ripe for the Harvest, Carousel Lavender Farm, Summer, 2015

Lavender Ripe for the Harvest, Carousel Lavender Farm, Summer, 2015

Most of my friends know my passion for lavender, — essential since that first trip to France in 1964.  The attuned know to travel for lavender apotheosis, –in this country–, to Carousel Farm, Mechanicsville, near Doylestown, in bucolic Bucks County, PA.

Bucks County's Exquisite Setting for Carousel Lavender F arm

Bucks County’s Exquisite Setting for Carousel Lavender F arm

This haven from 21st-Century stress is rich in beauty, and so carefully tended by passionate owners

Jeanette and Carousel Lavender Farm Cosmos

Jeanette Hooban Admires Carousel Farm Cosmos

Caroulsel Lavender Farm proffers outstanding products that not only have the authentic scent, but actually work as cremes, lotions and potions, emollients, air-and-linen sweeteners, and moth prevention.  There are hefty bags of culinary lavender and superbly effective candles — one has lavender flowers embedded in the wax.  The other’s floral fragrance is blended with cucumbers, to lift leftover aromas in kitchen and elsewhere, refreshing as they burn.

Dried French Lavender, Sachet, Lavender Oil, and the Two Candles

Dried French Lavender, Sachet, Lavender Oil, and the Two Candles

Here are recent scenes of this summer’s visit, just after the main harvest, but enough blossoms remaining to fascinate us and nourish assorted butterflies and bees.

Rare Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly on Lavender ready for harvest

Rare Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly on Lavender ready for harvest

Carousel Farm is only open on Saturdays from 9 til 5, but, as Michelin would say, it is definitely worthy of the journey.

Carousel Farm Barn

Carousel Farm Barn

This is their description from the Internet:   (bolds mine, for obvious reasons…)

The Carousel Farm is located in historic Bucks County PA, just outside of the Delaware River town of New Hope (90 minutes from NYC, and 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia).

The Carousel Farm, first established in 1748, has had many lives over the centuries, once a dairy farm, later a horse farm and, in the mid-20th century, an exotic animal farm. When we moved to the farm in 2000, our challenge was to put our unique imprint on the farm, maintaining its rural beauty, yet enhancing it with something beyond.

Carousel Farm Sign

Carousel Farm Sign

The inspiration for Carousel Farm Lavender came when we were traveling through the beautiful Provence countryside, where the rolling hills are graced with old grape vines and lavender fields, against a stunning backdrop of centuries-old fieldstone barns and farmhouses. Our farm, with its fieldstone farmhouse, 18th century stone barn and rolling fields broken only by fieldstone walls, seemed the perfect place to replicate the South of France.

Distant View, Carousel Farm

Distant View, Carousel Farm

Our fields, now over eight years old, are nothing short of amazing. Despite our initial worry that the harsh Northeast climate might not be ideal for the project, after testing the soil we carefully selected  four varieties of plants, both French and English, and the plants are flourishing. We have over 15,000 plants, each one planted, pruned and harvested by hand.

Lavender Fields Forever

Lavender Fields Forever

The beauty of our fields is attested to by the many of local painters and photographers who spend their days drawing inspiration from the fields. There is a store located on the property where we sell our lavender products and accessories that complement the lavender.

Venerable Window

Venerable Window

As you can tell, we are proud of our lavender fields, but perhaps we are most proud that, despite the striking natural beauty of Bucks County, we  have found a way to enhance this historic community with something at once rural, beautiful, and unique.

Open Saturday 9 til 5 but splendid products available on-line

http://www.carouselfarmlavender.com/contact-us.html

5966 Mechanicsville RD, Mechanicsville PA 18934 near Doylestown     (917) 837- 6903

Jeanette, In Her Element

Jeanette, In Her Element

Dare I mention that some of us began our Christmas shopping in that lavender-infused shop in the venerable farm building…

Tools of yesteryear adorn the grounds, as well as lamas, donkeys and assorted birds of great intrigue – but we’d forgotten our binoculars!

Toll of Yesteryear

Toll of Yesteryear

Yesterday's Essential

Yesterday’s Essential

Lavender Harvest with Tractor

Lavender Harvest with Tractor

Childhood Summers — Michigan

The lovely weather of recent weeks allows me to keep windows and doors open, so that not only light, but also air, nature sounds, and fragrances waft into my ‘new’ Lawrenceville apartment.

This morning, the departure of a small plane, –purring like the aircraft of my Michigan childhood –, thrust me right back into the silken grass of our smoothly rounded ditch in front of our little red brick house.  It was newly built by my parents, in the tiny town of Lathrup, well outside Detroit.  Hardly anyone drove down ‘California Drive’ except neighbors, guests, and the bakery truck.

There was nothing in Lathrup, not even a post office — we were officially ‘Birmingham.’  If we needed food, my father would have to drive us to ‘the store’, in the NEXT town.  ‘Store’ meant grocer.  He stood behind a weathered counter, near a worn butcher’s block.  A huge wheel of real cheddar, which we called ‘store cheese’, rested under glass to the right of the cash register.  Which was shiny black and now we’d say, ‘had all the bells and whistles,’ especially bells.  I’d give him my Mother’s list, and he’d have to go all over the tiny store and up and down a rickety ladder, to bring provisions to us.  When my father moved us here, his German mother wept:  “You are moving to the wilderness.”

By no means was Lathrup wilderness.  But we did have woods nearby, a side yard (which turned into a skating rink in winter, thanks to my father), and a ‘vacant lot’ which became a Victory Garden during the war.  (WWII)  As I wrote in an early poem, “one year the fathers, gardens overrun, waged cucumber war.”

There wasn’t much privacy in our childhood.  One of the few places where I wasn’t pursued by the grown-ups, — not even the kindly ones–, was that silky ditch.  In summer, I’d lie back into its welcoming contours, and watch blue skies hatch clouds.  I pretended that God had a cloud pipe, puffed them into existence.  Then I would seriously study, trying to find out what creatures were billowing into existence overhead.

Planes were so rare then, although we were not far, as the crow flies, from Willow Run (where Lindbergh was running wartime plane production – so we’d’ve been prime Hitler targets, had he been able to turn out sufficient transatlantic planes).  Any time one of these little miracles (I remember especially biplanes) would come into view, I could not take my eyes nor my ears away from that phenomenon.

There were bees then.  One of the key memories of lying in the ditch was hearing bees, yes, busy, in all that short white clover.  It was ceaseless, seemed deafening.

My sister liked to be out in, even to run away into, the deep woods.  I preferred the vacant lot with its myriad of wildflowers.  The colors of summer in Michigan were white Queen Anne’s lace, spiky blue chicory, and the glare and blare of gold/orange brown-eyed Susans.  The dark centers of the ‘lace’ looked far more like insects to me than the only true flower of that weed.  It never did any good to bring the ‘lace’ inside for bouquets to set in Mother’s antique pewter — the little white parts shriveled, as though shocked, into something a little thicker than dust, tumbling all over the maple tables.

The chicory always seemed to be struggling.  Towering above me in the ditch, it seemed faded, as though just giving up in summer’s heat, always closing early.  Later I would learn that Indians could tell time by the opening and closing of chicory’s washed-out blue stiff blooms, even on cloudy days.

Our mother didn’t like to cook, really, and especially turned her back on gardening.  A few spring iris grew spikily behind the house, but turned hideous as soon as each bloom twirled shut.  A few raucous marigolds, and sometimes multicolored portulaca, made up the flowers of the yard.  Everything in the side yard, especially the minuscule ‘Chinese lanterns’,  was far more fascinating to me.

As August appeared, the wild weeds put forth a parched yet spicy fragrance.  That, along with almost deafening crickets of the Fourth of July, and locusts not long thereafter, meant summer was already rolling to a close.

We knew nothing of wilderness in those days.  My sister and I had never heard of preserves, where she in Illinois and I in New Jersey, spend key nature hours in all seasons.  Nobody gave us a bird book, let alone binoculars.  When we try to remember, we ‘see’ jays, robins everywhere (the Michigan state bird), hefty crows in and around our yards.  Mallards swam in cemetery ponds.  Gulls called loud and clear as we would reach first the ferry, then the BRIDGE, to the Upper Peninsula, our absolute favorite place to be.  Never was there a gull anywhere but Northern Michigan.  And, once, above the Tahquamenon River, an eagle coursed above us on the root-beer-hued waters.

There must have been butterflies.  If so, they ‘were all monarchs’.  No fireflies in Michigan.  Each summer, we’d poke holes in Mason jar lids, fill the jars with grass, catch fireflies in Ohio and bring them back home in the back seat of one of the Pontiacs, whose hood ornaments my father resembled.  As an adult, here in Princeton, someone revealed, re lightning bugs, “Carolyn, only one sex lights.”

We’d keep summer Crayolas in the refrigerator, so they would not melt when we used them on the screened-in back porch.  Totally lacking needlework skill, I nevertheless had crocheted long strands which my father attached on the outside of the screens.  I planted blue morning glory (his nickname for me) seeds, and they exuberantly twined all the way to the top of the screens.  We colored all summer in a blue haze.  As I would write in a much later poem, there were, of course, houseflies, “bumping, disgruntled, against the tall porch screens.”

Re-experiencing “ditch days” now, in the 21st Century, my clearest memory –beyond the small planes, the huge clouds– is the sound of all those bees, singing as they worked the clover.

“Create a Meadow in Your Own Yard” at D&R Greenway Feb. 26

NJWILDBEAUTY readers may know that I work at D&R Greenway Land Trust most days, determined to save New Jersey Land.  For reasons beyond counting, actually.

A key purpose in this quest is to create and maintain and even restore habitat for wild creatures.

On February 26, the public may attend a meadow program at D&R Greenway — to nourish wild beauty in your very own yard:

D&R Greenway Land Trust offers a presentation on forming your own wildflower meadow, by Conservation Biologist, Diana Raichel, Wednesday, February 26 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.  Jim Springer of the North American Butterfly Association and Dan Cariveau, native bee expert with Rutgers University, will join Ms. Raichel.  Together they create meadows on D&R Greenway preserves.

Titled “Creating a Meadow in Your Own Yard,” this program presents techniques to transform the  home yard into a welcome site for bees, butterflies and birds.  The program is free.  Call 609-924-4646 to enroll, or rsvp@drgeenway.org.  D&R Greenway is located at One Preservation Place, off Rosedale Road, Princeton, 08540.  6:30 to 8:30 p.m.  Suitable for teens and older.