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!

I'll take Manhattan from Sandy Hook Windy Spring 2017 004

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

red throated tloon from Internet glamour_iandavies

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

(Internet Image)

Essential Tools Sandy Hook Jan 20167

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.

Where the Rabbit Trekked Sandy Hook Jan 201

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…

 

 

BIRDING ‘The Hook’ ~ Bombay, in Delaware

A ‘Life Bird’ for Carolyn, and most welcome to both of us — The Black-Necked Stilt of Bombay Hook

black-necked-stilt-from INternet

Bombay Hook Wildlife Refuge is half again as large as ‘The Brig’, and far more generously treed.  It’s managed this year for wading birds, and we were given two life birds before we’d been in there 20 minutes.

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Second Life Bird for Carolyn — Blue Grosbeak

NOTE THAT ALL BIRD CLOSE-UPS ARE FROM THE INTERNET, not via cfe camera

Mary Wood and I dared a Delaware jaunt last Sunday, because of the heat.  Both Refuges are mostly birding-by-car (the ideal ‘blind’ for the birds — our presence in those metal cocoons does not alarm our avian friends)  Both refuges, also, in summer, are notorious for greenhead flies — carnivorous, or at least sangiferous winged beings, whom we do not add to our ‘Lists’ for the day.

Egrets Unlimited Bombay Hook July

AN ABUNDANCE OF EGRETS, Snowy, that is…

Immediately inside the park, we came to a cluster of dead trees, absolutely studded with snowy egrets.  Picture a Christmas Tree decorated by a hoarder, every ornament alive, with wings!

Salt Marsh Primeval Bombay Hook JulyGREAT EGRET AND GREAT BLUE HERON, below snowy-egret-studded tree

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Founded in 1937, ‘The Hook’ is a vital link in the Atlantic Flyway’s chain, “extending from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.”  Urgent in both spring and fall migration, admittedly there are always bird riches among these impoundments and woods.  Wading birds (long-legged shorebirds) of some species are already beginning the southward journey.  Mary is already planning our next jaunt — hoping for godwits, frankly.

Refuge with Trees Bombay Hook JulyTREE-RICH BOMBAY HOOK, with brown-eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s lace

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Summer Perfection Bombay Hook JulySUMMER PERFECTION, BOMBAY HOOK, JULY

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Immature great_blue_heron from Internet

IMMATURE GREAT BLUE HERON — rarity for Mary and me   (Internet)

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EASTERN KINGBIRD SO NEAR — right beside car     (image from Internet)

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Goldfinch with Thistles Fredric-D-NisenholzGOLDFINCH OF HOME — ONLY THEIRS FED ON INDIAN GRASS — NO THISTLES!  (Internet)

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Eastern Phoebe w. nest material from Internet KK_APA_2011_19948_157974_AlbertoLopezEASTERN PHOEBE WITH NEST MATERIAL – OURS SLAM-DUNKED A GREEN GRASSHOPPER!      (Internet Image)

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Turks Cap Lily Seaside Goldenrod Bombay Hook July

EXCEEDING RARE TURK’S CAP LILY BLOOMS WITH SEASIDE GOLDENROD

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Perched Bombay Hook July 2017

PERCHED — EGRET RIGHT AT HOME AT ‘THE HOOK’

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Vultures Gather Bombay Hook July

AN OMINOSITY OF VULTURES AT ‘THE HOOK’

Mary and I ignored her GPS most of the way, choosing 295 South, to the end of our New Jersey, to zoom over the Delaware Memorial Bridge.  She’s named her navigator “Jeeves.”  His commanding voice directed us on Route 1 South and 13 South in various combinations.  Bombay Hook is near Smyrna, below historic New Castle.  Whitehall Neck Road took us into the Refuge.

At this point, Jeeves complained, “RECALCULATING”.  We had a good laugh, as I mused, “Mary, we have to remember, butlers don’t spend a lot of time in wildlife refuges.”

We couldn’t believe the swiftness of the ride, nor the mostly green beauty on 295 and the preponderance of 1 and 13.  (Admittedly, Delaware’s fringes leading to the bridge are exercises in tackiness, –but briefly.)  At one point we drove through blue-green just-tasseled corn on both sides of the road — “high as an elephant’s eye”.

I’ll do another blog on New Castle for our (very late) lunch — in Jessop’s pub, whose building is 300 years old.  I was served Thomas Jefferson Ale in a stone mug, and a sumptuous Colonial crab pot pie…, by a ‘serving wench’ in the garb of the era.  In the church next door, Lafayette had given the bride away…

Thomas Jefferson Ale Jessop's Tavern New Castle Delaware 2017‘PARADISE ENOW’

 

A FEW GOOD SCENES – Recent Excursions

Memorial Boardwalk Brigantine April 2017

FINALLY! BACK TO ‘THE BRIG’ — Leed’s Eco-Trail

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NJWILDBEAUTY readers know how important weekend adventures are to me, –the essentiality of refilling the well, emptied daily in our work, saving the Planet.

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Leeds Point Classic Scene Fishing Village Brigantine early April 2017

And Beloved Leed’s Point, (near home of the Jersey Devil, whom I long to meet!)

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Some of you also know about February’s torn meniscus — healing enough that I’ve been back on the trails.  But p.t. takes hours daily, –some in private, some with kind, gentle, dedicated coaches.  There remains too little time for creativity with all this body-building.  The whole point of this work on “glutes, hamstrings and core” is to get back outside.  Come with me to recent restorative havens.

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Snowy Egret in Full Breeding Plumage, in WIND, The Brig

Snowy Egret Misty Brig Spring 2017

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Visitor Center, Purple Martin Houses, Perfect Clouds – The Brig

Visitor Cednter for Martins, for Humans Brig Spring 2017

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Spring Mimics Autumn – Swamp Maple, Waterlilies, The Brig

Spring Mimics Autumn at Brig 2017

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Essence of Spring – Geese and Goslings — The Brig

Goose Goslings Gander Brig Spring 2017

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Jeanette Hooban (Intrepid) Rights Horseshoe Crabs,

Fortescue, Delaware Bayshore

Jeanette Righting Fortescue Horseshoe Crabs Spring 2017

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High Tides Upset Horseshoe Crabs, Fortescue

Life and Death Fortescue Horseshoe Crabs and Eggs Mem. Day 2017

BEACH COBBLED WITH HORSESHOE CRABS — 2 weeks late for the Full Moon of May

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Primordial Drama Fortescue Horseshoe Crabs Spring 2017

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SACRED EGGS OF THE HORSESHOE CRABS 

But red knots and ruddy turnstones may have come and gone, ill-nourished, to Arctic

The Sacred Eggs Fortescue Horseshoe Crabs Mem. Day 2017

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Fortescue at Its Best — Late Light, Late Fishermen

Delaware Bay Day's End Fortescue Horseshoe Crabs 2017

“DAY IS DONE, GONE THE SUN” – Fortescue

For these scenes, these full days in the wild, all those intense hours of physical therapy, with John Walker of Princeton Orthopaedic Group; and of chiropractic with Brandon Osborne, D.C., are worth it.  Whatever it takes to give yourselves the wild, do it!

I dare to rephrase Thoreau:  “In wildness is the healing of the world.”

WHEN YOUR EASTER OUTFIT IS BIRDING GEAR…

Hold on to your Hat Jeanette Hooban at Cape May Hawk Watch Platform Easter 2017

“HOLD ONTO YOUR HAT!” – Intrepid Jeanette Hooban on Easter

Hawk Watch Platform, Cape May, New Jersey

Over the weekend, yours truly set off for New Jersey’s two birding meccas, –Cape May and ‘The Brig’/Forsythe Wildlife Refuge.  As usual, she was running away from Holidays that used to be magical, in quest of winged rarities.  This memorable journey unfolded after Intrepid Jeanette Hooban declared [some months ago], “Carolyn, Easter is YOURS!”

Cape May Hawk Watch Platform aster 2017

HAWK WATCH PLATFORM:  Support these courageous and generous donors, without whose work and words, people could still be slaughtering rare birds by the thousands, all along Sunset Boulevard.

The Climate Change that ‘doesn’t exist’ had other ideas.  Gale-winds had flags snapping almost to the tearing point.  Out of the SOUTH — the direction in which migrants need to be flying.  They may as well have faced a wall.

Wild Wind & Flags Cape May Easter 2017

NOTE THOSE WIND-WHIPPED FLAGS

Jeanette and I learned that only swans, osprey and a smattering of gulls were strong enough either day to surmount the mistral-like onslaught.

Mute Swan in Territorializing Posture Cape May Easter 2017

MUTE SWAN INSTITUTES TERRITORIALIZING POSTURE

We were given three oystercatchers at the Meadows at Cape May — walking around, seeking the ideal spot for the scrape they consider a nest.  Territorialzing was inevitable and amazingly raucous.  Get that verb though, “walking.”  At the Brig, –on the side of the renovated road, opposite Atlantic City–,  a pair of oystercatchers walked around on the pale gravelly substrate, nesting on their minds.  These could have been the pair I watched feeding one young a summer ago, in that same place, where Sandy had devoured the road.

There were a few great egrets in stunning breeding plumage.  They, also, were walking.  Terns wheeled and plunged.  A yellowlegs (I can’t tell greater from lesser unless they’re side-by-side) and some willets also tried to feed in low water, –feed on foot, not on wings.

So, right now, your NJ WILDBEAUTY Cape May activity report is being replaced this time by this poem.  It was written when the Dodge Poetry Festival was still held at Waterloo Village.  Joy Harjo, a feisty, eloquent Native American, magnificently conveyed her splendid multi-level poem, “She Had Some Horses.”

 

“SHE SAW SOME BIRDS”

                                                           (Hearing Joy Harjo at the  Dodge Poetry Festival)

 

she saw some birds who

were little and magical

and easily mistaken

— one for the other —

warbling in underbrush

and sporting, at the last moment

a red kiss

or a brassy crown or a

gold coin on a dark

rump, — and tiny, so tiny

really almost

invisible

 

she saw some birds who

were too high on a tree-

limb or a thermal

or above slate seas

and twisting — this

way and that –, hiding

their field marks

 

they could have been

peregrine or immature golden

against the noon sun but

no one can quite

make this call

 

she saw some birds

with distinctive bellies

plastered flat against

dark trunks which they were

excavating high and deep

where no one can climb

or raid or even — at the very

least — identify

 

she heard some birds

in the wide marsh

as the sun slipped

away from her and even

worse, from her birds

 

who had concealed

themselves among sere rushes

which they exactly matched

so she could not see but only

hear their rattle or click or whine

and wonder if this was her

rail, her shy bittern

 

the ones who so skillfully lose

themselves in the sedges as

she so longs to do in such

a setting,… everywhere

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

 

“BLAZING DISCONTENT”

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Heavy, Heavy hang… conifer boughs in Lawrenceville, NJ

i AM NOT THE ONLY ONE DRIVEN TO QUOTE SHAKESPEARE’S MOST SEVERE TRAGEDIES BY CURRENT EVENTS.  What brings the white fury to us, catalyzes apocalyptic melting in the Arctic.  See Climate Change on “the unprecedented”, below.

But Shakespeare well knew how brief is our little turn upon the stage.  However, the impacts of our actions and inactions have permanent effect.  Certain persons (the highly funded Climate Deniers, read Naomi Klein’s prize-winning non-fiction masterpiece: This Changes Everything!) would have us believe that catastrophic climate change is a myth.

Hike a receding marsh; walk a chewed beach; drive through Pine Barrens forests where sand always drained instantly, where standing water has become the norm, except in summer.

Climate Central is a tremendously valuable, non-partisan, Princeton-based group committed to climate truth.  Climate Change is worth following, meter-by-meter.  Read with me as this morning’s communique warns of “profound change.”  (www.climatecentral.org)

If you want the truth, here is where to find it.

The Winter of Blazing Discontent Continues in the Arctic

By Brian Kahn

  • Published: February 6th, 2017

 

Weird. Strange. Extreme. Unprecedented.

These are some of the words that describe what’s been happening in the Arctic over the past year as surge after surge of warm air has stalled, and at times reversed, sea ice pack growth. And the unfortunate string of superlatives is set to continue this week.

Arctic sea ice is already sitting at a record low for this time of year and a powerful North Atlantic storm is expected to open the flood gates and send more warmth pouring into the region from the lower latitudes. By Thursday, it could reach up to 50°F above normal. In absolute temperature, that’s near the freezing point and could further spur a decline in sea ice.

Abnormally warm air is expected to reach the North Pole by Thursday.
Credit: Climate Reanalyzer

Scientists have said the past year in the Arctic is “beyond even the extreme” as climate change remakes the region.

Sea ice hit a record low maximum last winter (for the second year in a row,  no less) and the second-lowest minimum ever recorded last fall. After a fairly rapid refreeze in late September, the region experienced a dramatic shift. Extraordinary warmth has been a recurring theme.

Sea ice growth reversed in November. Temperatures reached the melting point at the North Pole in December. Preliminary data from January indicates the Arctic was up to 35°F above normal in some locations, including a mid-January mild wave.

That brings us to early February, which is setting up for another bout of mild weather in the Arctic.

A massive storm is swirling toward Europe. It’s a weather maker in itself, churning up waves as high as 46 feet and pressure dropping as low as is typical for a Category 4 hurricane as of Monday. The storm is to the southeast of Greenland and its massive comma shape has made for stunning satellite imagery. The storm is expected to weaken as it approaches Europe, but it will conspire with a high-pressure system over the continent to send a stream of warm air into the Arctic through the Greenland Sea.

Temperatures are forecast to reach the melting point in Svalbard, Norway, an island between the Greenland and Karas Seas. The North Pole could also approach the melting point on Thursday.

It’s just the latest signal that the Arctic is in the middle of a profound change. Sea ice extent has dropped precipitously as has the amount of old ice, which is less prone to breakup. Beyond sea ice, Greenland’s ice sheet is also melting awayand pushing sea levels higher, large fires are much more common and intense in boreal forests and other ecosystem changes are causing the earth to hyperventilate.

Together, these all indicate that the Arctic is in crisis. It’s the most dramatic example of how carbon pollution is reshaping the planet and scientists are racing to understand what comes next.

 

 

Some of you think what I’m writing is gloomy.  My level of desolation I would say has peaked, except I know there is far worse to come.  Some of you wish I would just enter pretty pictures of New Jersey’s spectacular nature.  SO DO I!

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Island Beach Boardwalk to Destruction – Nor’easter-scoured, Dunes Conquered

But I AM a Saggitarian, and truth is our middle name.  The reality is, everyone, WE ARE NOT GOING TO HAVE ANY WILD BEAUTY LEFT, –NOT ONLY IN NEW JERSEY–, SO LONG AS CATASTROPHIC CLIMATE CHANGE IS ALLOWED TO RUN AMUCK, LET ALONE BE EXACERBATED BY THOSE WHO WOULD PROFIT FROM IT.

We are the only state with three coastlines — The Jersey Shore; The Delaware River; The Delaware Bay.  New Jersey is being squeezed like an orange by Catastrophic  Climate Change’s generation of Sea-Level-Rise.  Get it!

 

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FOOT ACCESS ONLY — FOOT TRAILS OPEN – THE BRIG/FORSYTHE after Sandy

 

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

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