SOMETIMES, BIRDERS STRIKE OUT – Intrepids in Quest of Sandhill Cranes

Jeanette Birding Near the Delaware & Raritan Canal

Jeanette Birding Near the Delaware & Raritan Canal

Friends had seen the cranes.  The SANDHILL cranes.  In nearby Franklin Township.

Friends had seen them two days in a row!

Jeanette Hooban (One of The Intrepids) and I have never seen a crane.

Now, admittedly, in the pictures sent by friends from cell phones, those birds didn’t look all that impressive. Rather dowdy, even dingy, lumpen, although on tall legs — they were not what Michelin (Guides to gastronomic shrines in France) calls “Worthy of the Journey.”

But then, we’d never seen a crane.

Well, except in (the film) Winged Migration, but sandhills are not the ones who starred in that epic.

So we devoted an overcast Sunday to going on a cranequest.

End of the Trail, Rose and Other Gardens of Colonial Park, NJ

End of the Trail, Rose and Other Gardens of Colonial Park, NJ

Odd back roads tumbled us out in one of the most nightmarish developments I had ever seen.  It was like those prophetic films, such as 2001, in which man irrevocably pays ultimate prices for progress.

Scraped earth, denuded of trees and even of crops, McMansion “TownHomes” everywhere, without a shrub, without even being alternated for privacy.  A moonscape, but I wouldn’t insult the moon.

Somewhere near what I mockingly called “an enclave”, and then it turns out that’s the name of that place, coupled with my treasured (nearby but by means visible) Delaware and Raritan Canal.

The road of the cranes was only slightly removed from destruction in the name of construction.

Cranes need slightly cropped ex-cornfields.

There was one.

As we drove along, Jeanette and I began to wonder if we’d even recognize a crane, if we came upon them.

She decided they MIGHT look something like great blue herons, and we well know those stately birds.

Heron Giving Voice Brenda Jones

GREAT BLUE HERON BY BRENDA JONES

So Jeanette drove with infinite patience, the patience of a brain surgeon, slowly down, then up, then down and up again, the road of the cranes.

There may be nothing emptier than cornrows where there ought to be birds.

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DARK-EYED JUNCO BY BRENDA JONES

Finally, we rejoiced to come upon, not in the corn, but in the natural weeds and scrub that bordered the croplands, some sparrows, a few juncoes, two mouning doves, all busily gleaning seeds flung down, not by a farmer on his tractor, but by the wind in the plants that belong on that field.

Song Sparrow from blind Brenda Jones

SONG SPARROW BY BRENDA JONES

So we drove away.

We thought we could find a back road along the backside of the cornfield.  Ha!  Everything up there belongs to those enclave developers.  And their hideosities are for sale “in the high $300,000s”, according to their industrial-strength sign, stuck in the bare earth.  A Mercedes turned into the Sales Office ahead of us, as we made our disbelieving way into this panorama of the future.

But Jeanette had stopped that car!  No, not to buy a condo.  To study a handsome, stately, piercingly gazing red-tailed hawk in a tree the developers had somehow overlooked.

With our magical optics, we could see the abruptly changed expression in that red-tail’s lemon-yellow eyes.  With a whoosh!, he was up and over, and o my! there was some forgotten grass on some lumpen ground.  The hawk ‘stooped’, (birder-language for zeroing on for the kill) and vanished behind a hummock.

red-tail lunch D&R Canal Princeton Brenda Jones

RED-TAILED HAWK BY BRENDA JONES

Jeanette said, impishly, “Shall we very slowly drive over there and watch it tear the prey from limb to limb?”

Listen, I’ll take any bird experience.

But before I could even nod, let alone verbalize, that hawk was back in the tree.

Raptorial fast food.

Because were there in the presence of his majesty, and there was no way we were leaving before he did, we then treated to a cloud of juncoes, flaring white petticoats.  And then, lo, bluebirds beyond counting!  They were so brightly blue and that almost-robin red, for they are cousins, and even the females so vivid, we decided they were halfway to indigo buntings.

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BLUEBIRD IN WINTER BY BRENDA JONES

The aforesaid developers had put in a scraggly array of rather meagre trees.  I hope they did it in early fall, not in November.  But these trees did not look grounded.

And across the road, near the raptor feast site, an array of handsome, tall trees lay scattered, dirt balls facing the road and the $300,000+ mchouses.  They looked like toys abandoned by a petulant toddler. They did not look like they are going to survive January blasts and worse, without having been put in the ground in plenty of time to establish strong roots.  Even so, the few scraggly trees were fine for the bluebirds, who merrily filled them, like bright Christmas ornaments, then float-coasted down to the ground for seeds or whatever. There surely aren’t any insects or worms about in this vile weather we’ve been enduring.

Not only that, a merry mockingbird crowned the tree like an angel, then flew to the top of one of the mcroofs.

Mockingbird at Sunset in Winter

MOCKINGBIRD PUFFED BY WINTER COLD  BY BRENDA JONES

Just then, ‘our’ red-tail took off in a zoom, rising effortlessly toward something we hadn’t noticed.  God forbid a field or a habitat should be left to the mice and the voles and the butterflies and the bees and foxes and maybe even a coyote or two, and some skunks, some raccoons.  Trails, even, so the people can get out of those “little houses made of Ticky Tack” which Pete Seeger so scorned, Seeger-the-prophet.

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FOX OF ISLAND BEACH, IN DAYLIGHT, BY RAY YEAGER

(what SHOULD be happening in the fields of Franklin Park)

No, there isn’t a field.  Well, yes there IS, actually.

A playing field.

With towering bleachers and blinding shiny metal poles taller then anything in the enclave, each one studded with equally blinding shiny metal hooded lights, that will ruin the nights of the people who attempt to sleep in the enclave.  Who have no idea how blinding such lights can be in the dark, nor how loudly players and fans will carry on under those lights…

Well, the hawk was nothing if not an opportunist.  No tree in New Jersey that I’ve ever seen is as tall as those lightning-blinding metal poles.  Straight to the top he flew, master of all he surveyed.  No prey would be missed by this master.

Jeanette and I went on over to the Colonial Park Rose Garden, to see what it’s like for roses in winter.

Entrance Rose Garden Colonial Park January 2015

ROY ANDRES DE GOOT MEMORIAL ROSE GARDEN

Unusual.  Strangely beautiful.  Gripping sometimes, especially among fragrant herbs, some still green:Winter Green  Roses at Rose Garden Colonial Park January 2015

Winterberry Bounty Rose Garden Colonial Park January 2015

WINTERBERRY BOUNTY

Julia Child Roses in Winter Rose Garden Colonial Park January 2015

THIS ONE’S FOR FOOD WRITERS PAT TANNER AND FAITH BAHADURIAN AND POET BETTY LIES —

MY CO-JULIA-FANS

Roses in Winter Rose Garden Colonial Park January 2015

THE LONG VIEW

But for this preservationist, who spends the majority of her time trying to convince people to appreciate and save natural New Jersey, it was winter in my heart.

Sure-footed mammal tracks Rose Garden Colonial Park January 2015

SURE-FOOTED MAMMAL IN HERB GARDEN – PROBABLY SKUNK

Opossum Track Rose Garden Colonial Park January 2015

DETERMINED OPOSSUM

When I beg you to do whatever you can to save wild New Jersey, on land and on water and in the air, I am NOT KIDDING!  Even though D&R Greenway has managed to save around 19,000 acres, folks, it is not enough.

We didn’t find cranes.

Our fear is that, next year at the time when their inner navigational systems compel them to that cornfield, it will have more $300,000+ dwellings and poor pitiful trees, and no nutrients for cranes!

SANDY HOOK, Imperiled, Defended by Michele Byers, of NJ Conservation Foundation

View from Hawk Watch Platform, North Beach

Wild View from Hawk Watch Platform, North Beach, Sandy Hook

Tell the National Park Service to restore, not destroy, the maritime forest at Sandy Hook! Letters can be sent to the Office of the Superintendent, Gateway National Recreation Area, 210 New York Ave., Staten Island, N.Y., 10305.

Jeanette Hooban in quest of migrant warblers, Lifesaving Station of Sandy Hook in Background

Jeanette Hooban in quest of migrant warblers, Lifesaving Station of Sandy Hook in Background — A priceless segment of Sandy Hook’s Maritime Forest

NJWILDBEAUTY readers well know my passion for the wild in general, for New Jersey’s in particular, especially the Brigantine Wildlife Refute, beloved Island Beach (see NJWB on Island Beach in Nor’easter) and cherished Sandy Hook, also covered well in NJWB.)

The geniuses who are all aquiver to destroy our sacred NJ Wild coastline, want to turn parts of of the priceless Sandy Hook bird sanctuary over to buildings, often impossibly inflated into a term I personally despise, “Infrastructure.”

Michele Byers has the knowledge, experience and clout to fight these destroyers in the name of developers.  Do likewise, READERS.  

Comment on Michele’s blogs and write your congressmen and women.  

Sandy Hook is essential to birds — it is the Atlantic Flyway.  It’s required in spring and fall for migration, and other seasons for breeding and nesting, as in the so very imperiled piping plover.

Nothing mus happen to impinge upon any inch of Sandy Hook’s vital habitat.  Not now.  Not ever!

Determined Jeanette finds two female harriers doing last hunting over the grasses on the ocean side

Determined Jeanette finds two female harriers doing last hunting over the grasses on the ocean side

O yes, and by the way, the developers’ plans for oil ports and the like will very likely harm humans.

Somehow, even the fate of humans matters naught to those who would impinge upon our sanctuaries.

Note their clever warping or the English language, these destroyer/developers:  “resiliency project.”

Especially note that the machines are more important than birds, habitat or humans.

Read Michele, and line up behind her!

Carolyn

Last Light, Early November

Last Light, Early November, Pristine Reaches of Sandy Hook

By Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

It’s been two years since Superstorm Sandy. Up and down the coast, ceremonies marked the state’s progress in rebuilding homes, businesses and infrastructure destroyed by Sandy – and increasing our capacity to weather future storms.

But one ill-advised proposal in particular is being advanced in the name of “resiliency.” The National Park Service’s Sandy Hook Unit proposes to build a large maintenance facility in the midst of a heavily wooded section of Gateway National Recreation Area on Sandy Hook.

The National Park Service is calling it a “resiliency” project, since it would move vehicles and equipment to higher ground and reduce the risk of their being damaged in future floods. But the wooded site is the worst possible location!

The six-mile-long Sandy Hook peninsula is a critical stop along the Atlantic Flyway for millions of migrating birds. In addition to tidal wetlands and dune habitats, it contains significant maritime forest, characterized by fruiting trees and bushes like American holly, hackberry, black gum, bayberry, sassafras, beach plum, red cedar, serviceberry, poison ivy and Virginia creeper.

(Yes, READERS, Poison Ivy — high in fats essential for the multi-thousand-mile migratory journeys of everything from the smallest warbler to the most menacing, seemingly formidable raptor.  Bayberry, ditto.  Next step after Sandy Hook, –assuming the developer-destroyers have appropriated all the natural species that feed those avian voyagers–, is Wall Street and Manhattan.  Not a lot of nourishment there. cfe)

Almost all of New Jersey’s maritime forests have been wiped out by development, leaving only a few places for migrating woodland birds to rest and refuel. You can count these forests on one hand – Sandy Hook, Island Beach State Park, Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, and western Cape May.

Just as New Jersey’s beaches are filled to capacity by humans on hot summer days, these scarce maritime forests are filled to capacity as birds hopscotch along the coastline during their spring and fall migrations.

Migrating birds travel thousands of miles from their wintering grounds in the south to their summer breeding grounds in the north, and back again, using the Atlantic coast as their map. Insects, spiders and especially fruits growing in maritime forests are essential to their ability to survive the rigors of migration.

There’s already not enough forest habitat to support the birds during their migration,” says Dr. Emile DeVito, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s staff biologist. “If you take away more maritime forest, birds will die – it’s as simple as that. There’s no substitute for this forest; there’s no other place for them to go.”

Birders have counted 348 bird species at Sandy Hook. About 100 species are forest birds, and some are in serious decline. Among the rare woodland birds that have been spotted at Sandy Hook are golden-winged warblers, Bicknell’s thrushes and saw-whet owls.

When you think about it, the maritime forest at Sandy Hook was actually created by birds to supply their exact needs, DeVito pointed out. “It’s a spit of sand in the ocean, and virtually every woody forest plant arrived there as seeds dispersed by bird droppings,” he said.

Although the area of Sandy Hook being eyed for a maintenance facility contains a few derelict buildings, it is dominated by forests of fruiting trees, vines and shrubs. Rather than looking to destroy this Garden of Eden for migrating birds, the National Park Service should tear down the abandoned buildings and plant more trees to re-create an unbroken forest. This would also make the forest more resilient to future storms.

Protecting and restoring Sandy Hook’s maritime forest should be a National Park Service priority, given its mission: “The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.”

Yes, there’s a need protect trucks and equipment. But the National Park Service can and should find an alternative location outside the maritime forest in one of the many derelict sites on Sandy Hook or on nearby high ground in Monmouth County.

The National Park Service is now preparing an environmental assessment that should be released in the spring. Let’s hope that those in charge realize the irreplaceable value of Sandy Hook’s maritime forest, for both wildlife habitat and coastal resiliency. Because of Sandy Hook’s geography, a single tree in its forest is a hundred times more important to birds – if not a thousand! – than an identical tree in the middle of Pennsylvania.

Tell the National Park Service to restore, not destroy, the maritime forest at Sandy Hook! Letters can be sent to the Office of the Superintendent, Gateway National Recreation Area, 210 New York Ave., Staten Island, N.Y., 10305.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Butterscotch Days — Goat Hill Hike as Autumn Exits

Recent hikes have catalyzed an unexpected childhood memory – that of butterscotch candies with sun shining through.

Autumn’s woodlands are drenched now in butterscotch and honey, maple syrup, and occasional runnels of cranberry.  A recent hike up Goat Hill (on the NJ side of the Delaware River) surrounded Fay Lachmann and me with feasts for the eye that triggered taste memory.

Gilded Grove, Goat Hill Trail

Gilded Grove, Goat Hill Trail

Another hue on every side was that of cinnamon sticks.  When I’m in art-mode, of course, I say it’s pure Cezanne.

Basalt and Last Leaves, Goat Hill Trail

Basalt and Last Leaves, Goat Hill Trail

In the Delaware River Valley, we are blessed with outcroppings of basalt, direct connections to the beginnings of earth, of time.

Goat Hill's Weathered Gateway

Goat Hill’s Weathered Gateway

This time-worn gateway beckons.  Come, hike with us.

"A Long, Long Trail a-Winding..."

“A Long, Long Trail a-Winding…”

It’s a broad trail, a leaf-cushioned trek, a soundless journey.

The Spirit of the Rock

The Spirit of the Rock

Indians insist that rocks are alive, hold spirit, offer gifts to us.  I could really feel the deity in this one.

But let me tell you where Goat Hill is.  Over above the Delaware, on preserved land that will soon hold many additional fascinating trails.  Off 29, onto Valley Road (look up Howell Living History Farm for directions — you’ll pass it on the way to the trails..)  Left on Goat Hill Road, a winding drive that holds its own remarkable beauty. Left on George Washington Road.  Park and walk.  There are two picnic tables at the crest — bring bread to break with others, as you feast upon that view!

George Washington is said to have surveyed the river and enemy movements from this pinnacle, as did Lord Cornwallis.

The Delaware seems to stretch forever, a shimmering silk scarf dropped by a diva.

Our Delaware River from Goat Hill crest

Our Delaware River from Goat Hill crest

Delaware looking North, across New Hope Bridge

Delaware looking North, across New Hope Bridge

Devekioer;s Dream -- Conservationists' Nightmare -- ruination of Delaware banks

Developer’s Dream — Conservationists’ Nightmare — ruination of Delaware banks

Why D&R Greenway and all our other regional non-profits work night and day to save nature!

Solitude -- Goat Hill Crest

Solitude — Goat Hill Crest

This couple sat, rapt, upon this boulder, all the while we were exploring, the two of them high and silent above the river’s mellifluous rapids.

Other delicious sounds were that of crisp leaves underfoot, and whisper wind in leaves still on boughs overhead.  One of the greatest gifts of this journey, however, was absolute silence.

Twinings

Twinings

I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear these vines at their twining.

New Hope and Bucks County, looking west

New Hope and Bucks County, looking west

Sleeping Beauty - Goat Hill Crest

Sleeping Beauty – Goat Hill Crest

Trees Past Peak Reveal Vistas at New Outcroppings

Trees Past Peak Reveal Vistas at New Outcroppings

These are not ‘the trails less traveled by’.  Softly trodden trail tendrils lead in a number of directions from and at the crest.  Views reward every exploration.

Three Sentinels at the Gate

Three Sentinels at the Gate

Three sentinels bid farewell.

This remarkable November trek is a fruit of preservation.  Do everything you can to expand the reach of your own non-profits, so that wild nature can persist.