“DUCKY DAY AT ISLAND BEACH”, JANUARY 2018

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

Merganser male Millstone Aqueduct Brenda Jones

Merganser Male, by Brenda Jones

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

***

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

common loon winter plumage from Internet

Common Loon, Winter Plumage by Elisa De Levis from Internet

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

common loon winter take-off from Internet

Loon Take-off from Internet by Dave Hawkins from Internet

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

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

smiling Common MerganserFemale Brenda Jones

Female Merganser by Brenda Jones

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

bufflehead Brenda JonesMale Bufflehead by Brenda Jones.

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

long-tailed ducks in flight from Internet Ken hoehn

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

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

female long-tailed duck from internet

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

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

male long-tailed duck from INternet

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

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

Brant Goose Drinking BarnegatBrant Feeding, by Brenda Jones

northern-shrike-from internet

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

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

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

Try winter trekking — surprises await!

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

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

 

 

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PRESERVED BY NATURE, Yet Again

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I have learned to flee the irretrievable past, especially on holidays.  Today, the day after Christmas, I had the privilege of guiding two friends, –Willing Hands with me at D&R Greenway,– on their first exploration of Plainsboro Preserve.  This day fulfilled my inexplicable passion for visiting summer places in winter.   Come with us — via Internet images, to a quarry that’s been turned into an unexpected haven.

Day is Done Plainsboro Preserve

My two favorite regions are its beechwood and the peninsula.

plainsboro-preserve snow scene from Internet

Deeper and deeper, –although so near Route 1–, we moved on glistening leaves into timelessness.  We had no snow today, rather ice crystals and iced puddles and ice-signatured ponds and ice stars caught in moss and ice swirled with milkiness as though in an art nouveau gallery!

Our long silent trek through that wilderness of chinchilla-grey trunks held mystery, allure palpable to all three of us.  A few nuthatches in the underbrush made no sound, save their soft rustling.  We were glad to be beech-surrounded, for it kept this weekend’s wild winds from cheeks and noses, everything else on each of us being fully protected from elements.

Normally, the beechwood, –being a microclimate–, is 10 – 12 degrees warmer than the rest of our region in winter; that much cooler in summer. For some reason – [but of course we are not to implicate global warming] this entire forest –with one or two welcome exceptions==, had dropped all leaves now.  As in maybe yesterday.  Not only dropped them, but turned them the pale thin cream color they usually attain right before mid-April drop.  April 15 is a long way off — when the trees need a burst of acid fertilizer to bring forth healthy crops of beech nuts.  What this early leaflessness means to squirrels and other forest dwellers, I do not know.  We did not really experience the temperature protection, possibly because this beechwood was bare.

Even so, off-season magic and beechwood magic persisted, enhanced as two white-tailed dear tiptoed just to our right, revealing no alarm at our very human presence.

DCIM101GOPRO

One is most aware of McCormack Lake, former quarry, almost step of one’s explorations of this unique Preserve.  Too near, lurk shopping centers and major organizational sites and whirring highways and too many condos and homes, and not enough farms.  But the lake rests in this forested setting, like the Hope Diamond.  I’d rather SEE this lake than the Hope Diamond.

Bufflehead Dapper Princeton Brenda Jones

The quarry lake was the deep smoky blue today of Maine’s October ocean.  Winds were ever-present, wrinkling its surface until it resembled the cotton plisse fabric of childhood.  We’d chosen the Preserve for the lake, , hoping to find winter ducks in abundance.  Perhaps six small distant ones could have been buffleheads in size and coloring (varying proportions of black and white.)  But ‘Buffies’ are diving ducks, and in all the time we walked the peninsula, we never saw them do anything but float like rubber duckies in a large blue bathtub.  But they were charming and winsome, and their very distance-blurred field marks added to the magic.

land's end Plainsboro Preserve peninsula onto quarry lake

[Tip of the Peninsula, recently ‘refreshed’, with welcome stone slab bench.  But this scoured look is not the norm for this Preserve.  Above our heads was a (seemingly never utilized) osprey platform.  I always fret and had told them in the Audubon office that ospreys require a smaller, lower feeding platform.  They do not eat their catch in the nest, for the scent could lure predators to their young.  No feeding platform — no active nest, in my experience…  Even so, it’s a magical place to sit and let the lake and all those unbroken reaches of forest speak to you.  This is not osprey season, anyway!]

Beaver Brenda Jones

Brenda Jones’ Beaver in D&R Canal Near the Fishing Bridge

The most exciting part about the peninsula to me is that it preserves Pine Barrens flora on both sides of what is now “Maggie’s Trail.”  Crusty lichen, cushy bitter green moss, cinnamon-hued oak leaves, paling sands.  Think of roadsides in Island Beach, and you have that cushioned crustiness on both sides along Maggie’s Trail.  Today, we had to deal with oddly ever-present sweet gum balls.  Not only not Pinelands, but also way ahead of schedule.  Hard to walk on – more difficult than on acorns peppering Berkshire trails in autumn.   Sweet gum balls normally drop around Washington’s Birthday.

beaver close-up Brenda Jones

Brenda Jones Beaver Close-Up, Millstone Aqueduct

Everywhere we looked, along the main entry road and all the way to the tip of that peninsula, there was fresh beaver activity.  Cascades of golden curled chips seemed still to be quivering after beavers’ midnight snacking.  Everything from whip-thin birch saplings to hefty white oaks with burnt-sienna leaves lay strewn like jackstraws on either side of Maggie’s Trail.  Some trees had lost only a few smidgens of bark.  We wondered whether parents bring young to teach them to gnaw a few bark inches at a time.  Then the creatures with the largest incisors take over.  Of course, we didn’t see them, because beavers are nocturnal and we’re not!

Plainsboro Preserve Trail early spring

For most of our trek, there was no sight nor sound of anything human — quite literally, my idea of heaven.  Soughing, –the voice of wind in treetops–, was our companion throughout — somewhere between whispering and humming.  Occasionally, a distant train whistle reminded us that centuries exist — not exactly the 21st.

Ice was everywhere — in the leaves, under the leaves, within the moss, turning puddles on the main road into a gallery of art nouveau and art deco designs.  I had no camera this day, knowing I would need both hands for trekking poles with the ground itself that frozen.  Sometimes, the absolute silence was broken by tinkle-crackling of invisible ice beneath leaves.

Plainsboro Preserve Fulness of the Empty Season

These pictures I have culled from the Internet, therefore.  I hope they convey some sense of this haven lying so near to U.S.1 and Scudder’s Mill Road: (left on Dey, left on Scott’s Corner Road.)   Enjoy them and let them lure you over to Plainsboro’s gem.  There are wondrous child-centric programs through NJ Audubon at the handsome center.  And a worthwhile nature-item gift shop.  Bird feeders attract backyard birds near the building.  Bluebird houses and what seem to be owl houses stud the landscape hither and yon.

Plainsboro Preserve Leaflessness and Lake

MIddlesex County provides this history – I remember far more exciting realities about the former quarry, and something about space, and quarrels with locals who did not want to give up hunting and fishing rights.  I provide this for those who need logistical information.

Tranquillity Base, PlnsPrsrv credot Harrington

But for me, microclimate effect or no, Plainsboro Preserve is a journey of the spirit.  I could hardly believe the temperature on my front door as I returned this afternoon — less than twenty degrees.  For all those hours, we’d been warmed in ways that have nothing to do with mercury…

 Plainsboro Preserve in Early Summer via Middlesex County Site:
A scenic view of the lake located within the Plainsboro Preserve.

​The Plainsboro Preserve is a cooperative project between the County of Middlesex, Township of Plainsboro and New Jersey Audubon Society.   In 1999, 530 acres of land formerly owned by the Turkey Island Corporation and Walker Gordon Laboratory Company were acquired by the County and Township.  Middlesex County purchased and owns 401 acres and provided a grant to the Township of Plainsboro for the purchase of an additional 126 acres.  In 2003, the County purchased 126 acres of the former Perrine Tract to add to the Preserve.   The Township added additional land to grow the Preserve and currently maintains responsibility for management of the County-owned portions.

At over 1,000 acres, the Preserve supports a diverse array of habitats and the 50-acre McCormak Lake, with over five miles of hiking trails for hikers, birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.  The New Jersey Audubon Society manages the Preserve and a 6500 square-foot environmental education center, providing year-round environmental education opportunities. 
For more information on hours and programs, please visit the New Jersey Audubon Society at their website.

The Plainsboro Preserve is adjacent to the Scotts Corner Conservation Area that provides hiking, bird-watching, photography and nature study opportunities.

Location: 80 Scotts Corner Road, Cranbury, NJ  08512
GPS Coordinates:  DMS 40° 20′ 57.28″ N; 74° 33′ 25.53″ W
Facilities: NJ Audubon Environmental Education Center; Parking Area; Bathrooms; Hiking Trails  
Plainsboro Preserve Sign courtesy of Novo Nordisk 

Princeton Alumni Weekly on Allegra Lovejoy and D&R Greenway’s Capital City Farm

Capital City Farm Allegra and Derrick

U.S.1 Cover Story on Allegra and the Farm:  https://capitalcityfarm.org/2017/07/21/us-1-capital-city-goes-jersey-fresh-green/

use this to see splendid pictures of this miraculous farm manager and her loyal crew of helpers, employees and volunteers…    cfe 

 

IN case any of you wonder why I continue to work at this advanced age at a non-profit dedicated to preserving scarce New Jersey land, here is but one reason.  

Years ago, Princeton Alumni Weekly wrote me, after I’d sent in the poem on Catherine’s graduation, “We love your poem, ‘Hands’ and would like to publish it on the first year anniversary of this ceremony.”  They paid me $100 for the poem, plus seemingly unlimited copies of the issue.  When I read from my first book, Gatherings, on the QEII, in the autumn of 1987, ‘Hands’ was the favorite work of that roomful of listeners and purchasers.

Now, Princeton Alumni Weekly superbly evokes the spirit of our wondrous Allegra in her management and inspirational role at D&R Greenway’s Capital City Farm.  Read on…   Marvel.   And support your local land trust!

To Trenton’s postindustrial cityscape comes 2 acres of urban farm…

Some of Allegra Lovejoy ’14’s  fondest childhood memories are of trips to the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket in Brooklyn, N.Y. Twenty years later, Lovejoy finds herself on the other side of the farm stand as the manager at Capital City Farm, an urban farm in Trenton, N.J.

Located less than a mile from the highway (Route 1) in East Trenton — one of the city’s most blighted neighborhoods — Capital City Farm was an overgrown lot before community activists heard about plans to turn it into a junkyard for vehicles. The activists contacted D&R Greenway Land Trust — an organization dedicated to preserving natural areas in New Jersey — which, with other local groups, raised funds to officially preserve the property as an open space. In late 2015, Lovejoy joined D&R as a project fellow and a farm-and-volunteer coordinator to help ready the lot for agriculture and chart its future. The following spring, she was promoted to manager, responsible for transforming the neglected property into a functioning 2-acre farm.

Lovejoy was no stranger to farming, thanks to her foray into community gardening the year before with The Food Project in Boston. That job introduced her to all aspects of farm management and even required her to design and build an irrigation system.

“There are [so] many challenging aspects to farming, including site planning; water engineering; and fertility, pest and disease, and labor management,” Lovejoy says. “I had to learn all of those on the job. It made for a challenging year.”

At Capital City Farm, Lovejoy has made community involvement a priority. She and her staff of two set up shop at farmers markets in Trenton twice a week during the summer and donate about half of the farm’s produce to a nearby food pantry and to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. The farm also sells its harvest to local restaurants.

“We’ve chosen to keep the food in the city as a part of our mission,” Lovejoy says. “We’re not here trying to take resources from Trenton. We want to keep it all here.”

“We grow food in solidarity and support of the low-income communities that surround us and are open to any means to get that food into their kitchens.”

— Allegra Lovejoy ’14

After two growing seasons, the former abandoned lot has been completely transformed. In the summer, an acre of wildflowers bursting with zinnias, Queen Anne’s lace, and black-eyed Susans can be seen by passersby on the farm’s south side; a greenhouse brimming with green and red tomatoes alongside the farm’s equipment sits farther back from the street; and rows of radishes, beets, and greens fill out the farm’s other acre.

Lovejoy, a Woodrow Wilson School major, became interested in urban farming while writing a paper on the effects of climate change in Bangladesh.

“It was so striking to learn that globally, there’s a major trend of civil wars being preceded by drought and famines,” Lovejoy said. “I wanted to get firsthand experience of working with people who are doing community-based work with agriculture and reconnecting to the land.”

Lovejoy will be doing just that when she heads east at the end of this year to teach sustainability practices at a farming community and retreat center at the foothills of India’s Sahyadhri Mountains. Afterward, she’ll return to New Jersey to start work as a program coordinator for the state’s Northeast Organic Farming Association.

Lovejoy says that while the Trenton farm relies on nonprofit funding and sales of its harvest to operate, staff sometimes give away produce to poor and homeless people in the area: “We want people to eat,” she says. “We grow food in solidarity and support of the low-income communities that surround us and are open to any means to get that food into their kitchens.” Both members of her staff are Trenton residents; one was raised across the street from the farm lot.

“For people growing up in an entirely man-made environment, developing a connection to nature is no small thing,” she says. “That connection has been very transformative for me, and I’ve seen its impact on others — we set up and manage the farm with that intention.”

“Haut les coeurs!” — High the Hearts!, from the French… The Role of Beauty in These Times

When I lived in Cannes, my neighbors of the villa taught me a slogan they were utilizing to get them through their dire campaign involving Le Pen – for which they had to vote three times in the departement of their births, which meant leaving the haven of Provence.

“Haut les coeurs!”, [sounds like “o, liqueurs!”] conveys the sustaining command to hold high our hearts, no matter what.  The French are masters of this art, as their revolutionary scene of Marianne in the midst of the battle, hearteningly conveys.

 

https://i2.wp.com/resources3.news.com.au/images/2013/10/25/1226746/604343-liberty-leading-the-people-marianne.jpg

 

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that my own heart has been leaden, so that I have not been able summon the Muse to craft new blogs.  A certain level of joie de vivre is essential to these ‘pages’, a joie seriously lacking.  My heart does not even  feel red any longer — rather, the grey/yellow-green of this morning’s discouraging sky.

 

willow-weep-for-me-1-abbott-marshlands

“Willow, Weep For Me”, Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands, January 20, 2017

 

A British friend writes us, warning that we not “fall into the Slough of Despond.”  A kind of “Pilgrim’s Progress” is our plan this day, although it’s too late about the falling.  My friend’s warning is timely and urgent – that we not descend further; above all that we do not wallow.  Attention to the beautiful and the wild, she urges, has never been more important.  I’m considering this, considering…

 

beckoning-tree-spring-lake-abbott-marshlands-1-20-17

Beckoning Tree, Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands, January 20, 2017

 

France’s Marianne, with her brave, billowing Tricoleur [flag] sustains me in these times.  Although we choose somewhat different garb, her spirit is required now.  We of this young country would call it “The Spirit of ’76”.

All my life, I’ve carried the spirit of our true Patriots, our Founding Fathers and Mothers.

But now — this recent scene in Trenton’s Abbott Marshlands is the world I deplore and dread — sheer desecration of our wild and sacred spaces:  We can expect far more than this — the visible and the invisible — as with pipelines beyond counting.

 

how-the-world-will-look-in-this-regime-abbott-marshlands

Present, at the Marsh.   Future, as we move on from this day.  Note small sign honoring habitat and the creatures whom we stand to lose…

And, to forge my way out of the Slough of Despond, I begin balancing images from this Abbott Marshlands pilgrimage upon “Inauguration” Day.  You’ll see that even in an overcast time, even when muddy trails greet hikers, beauty prevails.

But birding is why we are here.  Susan Burns, –indispensable Willing Hands (volunteer) at D&R Greenway events–, does so to save habitat, for birds in particular.  Here, she’s memorizing subtle gadwalls; dapper northern pintails, merry black and white coots; interspersed with jazzy orange, forest green and new-snow-white shovelers, — the rare ducks of winter — on waterways of the Marsh. 

 

susan-burns-intent-upon-gadwalls-abbott-marshlands

Susan Burns Intent Upon Rare Winter Ducks at Abbott Marshlands

 

Regarding the next image, Susan and (other birding friends and) I never know whose side we’re on.   “Nature raw in tooth and claw” is why we SAVE wildlands!  That balancing act, where everything cycles into use and blessing for everything else.  She and I conclude that this raptor must have been a great horned owl…  These clusters punctuate our waterside trail, followed by lacings of “whitewash” — excretions — typical of owls.  Of course, we’ll never know.  But without this preserved wild natural habitat, neither owls nor prey could survive.

 

the-way-of-the-wild-abbott-marshlands

The Way of the Wild, Abbott Marshlands

 

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Beavers’ Breakfast, Abbott Marshlands

 

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Beaver Point, on the Yellow Trail, Abbott Marshlands

 

In the Marsh, Nature’ processes, –almost invisible, way beyond time–, are at work on every side.  Here we marvel at the splendid tapestry of fungus performing its slow transformative service upon the majestic felled beech.  Susan and I insist, — yes, aloud, yes, to the tree — “You are beautiful, imposing, arresting, even in death!”

 

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Beech Fungus, felled beech, Abbott Marshlands

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Beech Fungus at Work near Beaver Point

 

Preservationists “pay any price, bear any burden” [JFK Inauguration] to save land and water to foster slow and sacred processes in force since before time itself.

Historians now grant Dr. Charles Conrad Abbott every honor for realizing and daring to state that artifacts he discovered in this Marsh give evidence of Lenape presence and use for 10,000 years and more! 

But Nature’s actions and interactions have been dynamically present here far far far far longer.  Who are WE to intrude, let alone arrest or destroy>

 

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Weeds Evoke my Mood, Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands

 

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Weeds Surpass my Mood, Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands

 

natures-mourning-abbott-marshlands

Nature’s Mourning

 

We are told that the Lenapes named this Spring Lake in their own far more beautiful language, because it was born of a spring.  We are also told that the beavers were the engineers…

In its center, though invisible to my camera, are coots, gadwalls, pintails, shovelers and a plethora of gulls.  Over our heads here and at another watery site deep into our journey, we were circled and circled by an enormous mute swan.  It may be mating season — he sure acts like it.  We decided that this swan, circling us at least six times, was a teen-ager in a white convertible, cruising as did my best friends and I along Detroit’s Woodward Avenue in our teens.  That swan was simply displaying how spectacular he is, how absolutely irresistible.

It is so still in the Marsh, that we were overwhelmed by the irreplaceable whisper/roar [a kind of ‘whuff whuff whuff’] of air in the mute swan’s wings.

 

all-will-be-well-spring-lake-abbott-marshlands

“All will be well. All manner of things will be well.” Julian of Norwich — Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands

WINTER BIRDING AT THE BEACH ~ Sandy Hook, January 6

spermaceti-cove-sandy-hook-jan-2017

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!

january-birding-jim-and-kathleen-amon-sandy-hook-salt-pond-region-jan-20176

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.

essential-tools-sandy-hook-jan-20167

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!

femalegoldfinch-a-happy-feeder-brenda-jones

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

“THE GIRL WITH THE CHARTREUSE ANKLE” ~ Island Beach New Year’s Day

Winter Still-Life, Island Beach, New Year’s Day

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New Year’s Morning Wrack Line, Island Beach

 

So it’s come to this:  In order to walk Island Beach and Sandy Hook, –especially twice in one winter week, as currently planned –, I turn to my splendid chiropractor, — Brandon Osborne, D.C., of Hopewell, New Jersey.  On the heels of that nearly significant recent birthday, new ministrations are suddenly required to sustain my sometimes rebellious body.

 

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Peroneus Longus – who can bark, “Don’t Mess With Me!”

 

The peroneus longus, –which one possesses, whether one wants one or not–, on the outside of each leg, leads down to the ankle bone.  My left Peroneus, (rhymes with Polonius), gravely dislikes soft sand, — especially dune trails leading up and down in order to get to the sea.

 

After P’s last rebellion, Brandon insisted, laughing, “The best medicine for Peroneus is more soft sand.”  Multi-faceted workouts engendered thereby actually stress Peroneus, rendering him stronger each time.  Brandon has me weave new leg-buttressing routines, among my yoga postures.  And he’s come up with a fine plan — move my appointments to the nights before beach-days, and he will protect my recalcitrant foot(e).  He will tape the offending tendon.

 

Behind me, Brandon asked what color I prefer, –of a pretty short list.  I blithely answer “green”.  (never far from work at D&R Greenway; never far from being a very “green” person.                  I expected the color of winter pine trees.          Wrong:

 

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Yoga-Ready, New Year’s Morning, 2017

 

This development had me literally laughing out loud, since my motto for this significant year, is “OUTRAGEOUS!”   (Exclamation point included.)    I do yoga for an hour to an hour and a half each day, holidays included But there’s a little more to it than soft sweet grace:

 

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Final Yoga Moments, New Year’s Day, 2017

 

I tend to do whatever Brandon suggests-to-insists so I can be outdoors as much as possible. New upright exercises involve standing high on toes for longish periods, legs together, then legs farther apart.  In the beginning, doing 30 of each seemed impossible.  Now it’s only the last six or so that weary me/us (Peroneus and me).  But they do not hurt.

 

Seeing that wild ankle decor Thursday, I marveled, “But, I feel like an athlete, taped for the fray.”  Brandon abruptly asserted, “You ARE an athlete!”  This is the person who had been felled by rheumatic fever at seven.  From then on, tennis, biking around the block, all jumproping – [and I had been the star], and roller skating were forbidden for life.  After which swimming to the end of the dock at camp became impossible.  (Until my 2011 hip replacement p.t., I had not set foot(e) in a gym, and was absolutely terrified to begin.)  Well, better late than never.

Brandon’s other prescription involves that very soft sand.  The picture below proves this morning’s obedience to his mandate:   You are coming with us along Reed’s Road to Barnegat Bay — first stop on my every I.B. pilgrimage.

 

Realize that this is the original sugar sand for which New Jersey’s Pine Barrens are famous.  Be very aware that this delicate, even exquisite pale grey substance is light years beyond the dingy practically ochre grunge dredged up and brought in (especially in Sandy-battered Mantoloking) by the infamous, Nature-negating Army Corps of Engineers.

 

Island Beach sand feels like superfine sugar.  Its chinchilla hue plays off the tawnyness of beach grass, to say nothing of cinnamon-stick brown jettisoned bayberry leaves.  Walking winter sand trails, it is as though Cezanne himself had been orchestrating the palette of each trail.

 

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Soft Sand, As Prescribed, Bayside, Island Beach

 

Island Beach is a ten-mile stretch of pristine beauty, about which you’ve read and read in these electronic pages.  The landscape/dunescape could be Wellfleet and Truto leading into wildest stretches of Cape Cod’s Provincetown.

 

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Spring-Green Dune Trail, Island Beach Ocean Side, by Angela Previte

 

Why it’s worthwhile for me to do whatever Brandon Osborne, D.C., directs —  long-tailed rarities of the winter sea:

 

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Long-tailed duck, Female, December Sea, Island Beach, by Angela Previte

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Long-tailed Drake, Winter Sea, Island Beach, by Angela Previte

 

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Rare Snow Buntings of Late December, by Angela Previte

 

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Snowy Owl 2016 by Angela Previte

 

Rarities arrive, of course, at Island Beach, because it has been preserved.  Support your local, state and national land trusts, so that wild nature can thrive in our time.

 

Island Beach’s ten miles were to have been developed, as you’ve learned from me before.  The Great Depression put a stop to almost all building.  Magnificence remains at every turn.

 

Mostly (until recent brutal trail maintenance on Reed’s and other roads and trails  — this will be a blog unto itself later), the State Park’s trees, shrubs and grasses have not been pruned, –save by wind, sand and storm.

 

Rare birds coast overhead; court and build nests; dive through waves of ocean and bay; madly fish — especially Northern gannets, who create geysers as they plunge.  Most amazingly, merlins and swallows play exuberantly during Nor’easters — going as northeast as they can into the very teeth of the gale.

Wind has other effects.  See its creative partnership with remarkable compass grass:

 

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Compass Grass Does its Thing in Strong Northwest Wind

Even the weeds turn into artists in the hands of the wind:

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“Artist-in-Residence” – Compass Grass on the Oceanside, Island Beach, New Year’s Morning

The sea itself has been busy sculpting — all we need is a sphinx:

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Sea As Sculptor, New Year’s Eve Morning, Island Beach

 

This day I shared this beach with dear friends, Angela and Bob Previte.  You know her fine art, stunning portraits of New Jersey’s winged miracles, from her own blog, “Simple Life at the Shore.”  (Which see!  Which FOLLOW!)  Delightful hours have been spent with her, with them, in recent months, in the park that serves their back yard.

 

We hiked merrily for hours, though they were concerned about Peroneus.  Angela had witnessed its giving out after a particular steep trek in summertime, [see green dunescape above.]  Even so, at Trail 7A, we skimmed along the boardwalk; trudged dutifully through the softest sand, –arriving in a particular ecstasy upon firmness created by winter’s high tide .

 

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First Day of the New Year in Stunning, Impeccable New Jersey

 

We were not the only ones on the sands, this day.  Everyone we meet was simply blissed out by the perfection that we shared. We’d congratulate one another on knowing what to do with a New Year’s Day.

EXCEPTION!

All except the woman  walking boldly and illegally atop a dune.  This person asserted to Angela that she was not doing exactly what she was even then doing.  I’ve experienced many forms of denial in my life, but this was egregious.  We tried to beckon the transgressor away from making those deeply destructive footprints, to no avail.

 

I’m in don’t-mess-with-me mode, in my OUTRAGEOUS! year.  So I called over to her — “You are breaking the fine roots essential to the grasses that hold these dunes in place!”  She moved defiantly onward…

 

But, everyone else, I would describe as almost reverent this day.

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Fellowship and Solitude, Walking South along Island Beach Sands

Our own fellowship today was profound.  It will be repeated, –“take often as needed.”  Maybe I should thank Peroneus for Brandon’s prescription…

 

In the Year 2000, a great love was granted me along these unspoilt sands.  The picture below seems to represent the mighty ocean in whisper mode, hinting of secrets…

 

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Atlantic Whispers, Island Beach, January 1, 2017

LA DOLCE FAR NIENTE – “The Sweetness of Doing Nothing”

Provence used to be Italian.  Many foods, customs, and sayings remain from that time – which ended by plebiscite in the 1860’s.  One of the dearest, and most challenging to this Type A American, phrases is the Italian concept of “La dolce far niente”, — the sweetness of doing nothing.

I didn’t know how un-Provencal, how un-Italian, how un-far-niente I was until my first Thanksgiving in Cannes.  I decided to do something very un-American on that day, –since I couldn’t find any cranberries anywhere.    I went strolling all along La Croisette. 

 

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Aerial View, La Croisette Boulevard, Cannes, Provence, France

 

If you care about the Cannes Film Festival [developed to magnetize tourists during the rainy month of May], you’ll have read about all sorts of stars out upon La Croisette, — dressed and not-so-dressed, singly and together, by day and by night.   And some, –like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward–, being robbed of their passports the year I was there .  I used to picture the border-crossing guards as one headed into real Italy at La Bordighera,  — laid-back uniformed men studying Paul’s and Joanne’s passports, passing those clever thieves right on through with languid waves of the hand.

 

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Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward Image from Internet

 

That Thanksgiving Day, moving right along, Mediterranean to my left, towering palm trees casting flickering shade, the Pailais (Palace) of the film festival dead ahead, I heard a most unpleasant sound.  I stopped and looked around.  The sound stopped.  I set out again.  So did the sound.  It was my rapid American feet on the broad wave-splashed sidewalk.

Nobody else walks fast.  They have a verb I was never taught at St. Mary of the Woods College — “se flaner”.  It means “to stroll.”    We didn’t stroll in Detroit, let alone when I moved to Manhattan.  But that’s another story.

 

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Not Strolling, but a good American clip — and definitely not on La Croisette

 

Today, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, I am doing nothing.  None of the tasks of the season, not even the tasks of the bill-basket.  And certainly not the tasks of the marketplace.

 

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French Marketplace Scene — See, Even Here, They Emphasize Sitting, Relaxing, Doing NOTHING!

 

I am languishing with a superb history of FDR as Politician Par Excellence — H. W. Brands’  stirring Traitor to His Class.  Chapter-by-chapter, I am tugging us through World War II and learning more than ever before about strategies and justifications, –in Franklin, in Winston, in the brilliant George Marshall, in Harriman, and even in De Gaulle and Stalin.  This is not anything I need to know, but I cannot get enough of it.  Sheer luxury.

 

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Traitor to His Class, H. W. Brands

 

In between, –in my ever-present journal–, I am taking notes on the politics of yesteryear and the same field, if you can call it that, now.  In 1942, FDR insisted upon raising all taxes, –especially upon the wealthy, especially those who were being enriched by the war–, “so that the sacrifices demanded by the war would be shared equitably.”  Imagine..  But that’s another story.

 

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Frank Capra’s Iconic D-Day Image – June 6, 1944, Normandy, France — A Day That Will Life in … HONOR

 

On my Retreat Day, I am neither making nor taking phone calls.  I am not initiating e-mails — although a few prove irresistible.  I certainly am not going near Facebook.

I make two delightful meals, and eat them at a table rich in items Provencal, because I never get enough France, but you already know that.

At 3 p.m., I walk outside on my tiny patio with bare feet.  I sit on a white ice-cream chair, tug slacks up over my knees, shove turtleneck sleeves halfway up my arms, and face the sun.  I do all the sitting yoga and p.t. exercises that normally take up morning hours, there on that chair, in that hot sun.

 

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Ice Cream Chair, Tiny Patio, in another season                                                                       Cups in Plants Courtesy of Sociopathic Upstairs Neighbors…  But that’s another story…

The grass is silken and of an aggressive green suitable for Easter.

There isn’t a sound – not a car; not a voice; not a jet; not a team shouting on Lawrenceville playing fields so far away except auditorially; not the mew of a cat or a catbird; not the caw of imperious crows.

A small miracle is that I can sit here, gently exercising, while ‘my’ goldfinches nourish themselves daintily at the thistle seed.  Not even they are murmuring.  But these small, seasonally muted birds are usually so skittish.  If I move fast, inside my study, behind my monitor, they, outside on their thistle socks, all explode away into the sheltering ash tree. Not today. We are all outdoors here together.

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Goldfinches on Thistle Sock (Breeding Plumage)

What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s not Easter.

It’s Christmas Day.

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For Unto Us A Son Is Given

Ice caps and ice sheets are melting, and nobody in power gives a damn.

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MELTING – 21st Century Reality

I spend many hours, when I’m not saving New Jersey at D&R Greenway Land Trust, signing urgent protests about the plight of the Planet.  Not today.

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21st-Century Reality – Does No One Care but Bill McKibben?

 

Today I am remembering La Croisette, before I’d ever even heard of Catastrophic Climate Change, and it was supposed to be warm on Thanksgiving, on Christmas.

 

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Along the Boulevard

 

Today, Christmas 2016, I learn that I possess resources for this level of solitude.  Worth knowing…  One of the major lessons of my own Year in Provence.

 

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Flaneurs Along La Croisette in Earlier Times

 

Tonight, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, on December 25, 2016, I am sunburnt — proof that I have practiced “la dolce far niente” this day.