“CONFLUENCE” – Poem on Rivers, (for once, not the Delaware)

 

Written some years ago, this poem resurrects a winter trip to Pere Marquette State Park with my sister, Marilyn, to southern Illinois.  We stayed in Pere Marquette Lodge, which echoes Yellowstone’s and Yosemite’s.  It is sited at the point where three rivers (Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi) course as one, –keeping the waters open, blessing the birds    The rangers at Pere Marquette State Park told us at our dawn confluence (of naturalists), “Every black dot is an eagle.”

 

CONFLUENCE

 

this wild connection

proves turbulent as two rivers

 

–Illinois, Missouri –

coursing, writhing

between blonde flanks

of tower-rocks

that funneled Pere Marquette

in his frail bark

smack into the Mississippi

 

here eagles cry and joust

for winter fish

–all smaller tributaries

marble-hard

releasing no nourishment

 

two tumultuous rivers

crest, fling spray

scour their own depths

 

til scale-silvered life

meets fate

in gilded beaks and talons

 

–two voluminous rivers roiling

until fish take wing

 

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

 

Brigantine Return – Last of the Winter Birds

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that ‘The B rigantine’, or Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, near Smithville, New Jersey, has been closed to humans other than construction workers, since September.  I’ve now made two trips to the re-roaded, re-opened refuge.  I am happy to note that rarities are in residence, or in tourist mode, to a high degree.  This late March Saturday, we were treated to the last of the winter birds, and one life species for me — WHITE IBIS — two in a tree with a Great Egret, on the way to the Gull Pond Tower.  Most of these images are by my dear friend and superb bird artist, Brenda Jones.  All of them are wild nature, roaming free, thanks to far-sighted altruistic politicians of yesteryear.

A thousand thanks always to consummate birder, Mary Wood, who not only drives us in her silent Prius, which does not alarm the wildlings.  But who gave me her spectacular (second pair) of Swarovski binoculars, which finally allow me to see eye rings…

In case you wonder why people bird….

 

White_ibises_feature

Imagine Two White Ibis in One Tree — (Internet Image)   We left before they did...

Great Egret Brigantine Forsythe Brenda Jones 2

Great Egret – We also saw this one wading about (a first for us!) in sparkling Absecon Bay

bufflehead Brenda Jones

Brenda’s Serene Male Bufflehead — We had three females, two males.

Female Bufflehead Bull's Island Stockton NJ Brenda Jones

Brenda’s Intricate Female Bufflehead

Mute swan Brenda Jones

At one point, we had the mute swan and the 5 buffleheads ‘in one glass’

(meaning we could see all without moving our optics)

Osprey on winter tree Brenda Jones

We were this close to the first returned male osprey, — serene, imperious on his nest.  His mate is due to return in about two weeks. 

Green-Winged Teal Brenda Jones

We had green-winged teal beyond counting, at the inlet from Absecon Bay

snow_goose_laura_frazier_blackwaternationalwildliferefuge_cambridge_md from internet

We were given snow geese in numbers of this magnitude – Laura Frazier at Blackwater Wildlife Refuge in Maryland, from Internet — our were at rest upon the waters, serenading us with that musical murmur before departing for cooler climes…

Female Harrier Comin' In on a Wing Brenda Jones

Brenda’s Spectacular Female Harrier – I also spied “The Grey Ghost,” the elusive silvery male northern harrier, coasting along the tree line in a field to the west of Route 206, before we’d even turned into the Pine Barrens.

Song Sparrow from blind Brenda Jones

We heard, but did not see, the song sparrow at the northeast corner of the Refuge.

black brant in water from Internet

Internet Image of Black Brant in Water — We were given flocks on both sides, –bay and impoundment — and overhead in elegant waves.

Chickadee with Berry Brenda Jones

We frequently heard and ‘almost saw’ chickadees.

Red-winged Blackbird Brenda Jones

We heard and saw newly returned red-winged blackbirds.

Our finale bird at the Brig was an American Bald Eagle hiding out, disguising its imperious white head and diagnostic white tail in a black and white paper birch overlooking the final pond.

Eagle perched Brenda Jones new camera

MARTIN MIRACLES — Purple, That is!

First Martins On Wing Above Phrabmites

First Martins On the Wing, Dark Phragmites Roost Site, Maurice River at Sundown

Would you believe 500,000 to 700,000 purple martins filling the sky, above the phragmites marshes of the Maurice River?  That waterway, literally designated “Wild and Scenic”, is never more dramatic than when the martins gather prior to migration, every August.  If you’re lucky, you have tickets with dear birding friends, aboard watercraft chosen by Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River (and its Tributaries), to carry you toward a sunset miracle.  (https://www.cumauriceriver.org/)  (https://www.cumauriceriver.org/pages/maurice.html)  (http://www.mauricerivertwp.org/purplemartin.html)

There are a couple of more sailing — use the third link above to become martin-dazzled!

All Aboard ! Bonanza Martin Fesitval August 2016

My Birding Buddies Board Bonanza II on Purple Martinquest

The Maurice empties into our Delaware Bay.  Recall/realize that New Jersey is the only state with three coastlines — The Shore, The Delaware River, and the Delaware Bay.  Revolutionary Battles were fought in the vicinity of the Maurice — “Peak of the Moon” and the grisly Hancock House massacre. In Greenwich (pronounced Green Witch), there is an actual monument to the tea burners of that town, celebrated for daring to defy the British.  Several trials were mounted, not one of them successful in convicting a single burner of tea.  The names on that stone are the proudest items in Greenwich, right up there with that very early, venerable Quaker Meeting House.

Citizens United Martin Fesitval August 2016

Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and Its Tributaries

Preservation battles are increasingly being undertaken in the region — for Philadelphia “developers” — let’s face it, they’re destroyers! — would pave over the entire area that earned New Jersey its Garden State honorific.  Think tomatoes.  Think Campbell’s soup and Heinz ketchup.  They put ketchup on their breakfasts down there.  Neighbors realize you’re not local when you look surprised that they bring you Heinz’s glory for your bacon and eggs.

Maurice River Craft

Maurice River Scene

The Maurice and the Cohansey are wide and shimmery, soft, even lazy.  Silence is the norm in either Salem/Cumberland County river.  A few fishing boats mutter along.  Various signs of legendary shipbuilding of yesterday become apparent as your boat carries you martin-ward on the well staffed Bonanza II.

Maritime Realities Maurice River

Maurice River Commerce

You’ll have counted 8 mature American bald eagles and more than a few immatures before you’re even settled into your viewing post in the prow.  Great blue herons lift off with dignity.  Black-crowned night herons are already at roost in the heart of dark evergreens and shrubs.  These white football-shaped herons always seem to be scowling, but they’re very happy with the undisturbed habitat provided by the Maurice in August.

Black-crowned night heron Brenda Jones

Black-crowned Night Heron on Roost for Evening and Night by BRENDA JONES

Your boat is filled with people from many states, and birding experts who specialize in martins.  The birds themselves will float in from four states, but not until the sun has nearly set behind those towering reeds.  We don’t know each other, but birders are never strangers for long.  The air is steamy but not oppressive.  Wavelets whisper and it’s quiet enough to hear them.  Inside the excursion boat, desserts of sweet and fruits await, and plenty of soft drinks and essential cold water.  Binoculars are everywhere.   Expectation high.

American Eagle Millstone Aqueduct 2011 brenda jones

American Bald Eagle in Flight by BRENDA JONES

Legendary martin expert, –who modestly disclaims his introduction–, Allen Jackson, speaks on the microphone, then comes down to eager participants on the prow.  All evening long, he softly answers seemingly endless questions.  We learn that these martins eat in those other states, returning nightly now to the Maurice to roost in seemingly endless phragmites.  That the sky will fill with them, as with passenger pigeons long ago.  That their migratory flight could start next week, with the first northwest wind to speed them southward.  That insects are their food of choice and Brazil their 4000-miles-away destination.

Osprey on High Sandy Hook, Brenda Jones

Osprey in Flight by BRENDA JONES

The river turns from wet slate to mercury.  The sun goes from yellow to orange to pink tones, then copper.  It resembles a cauldron, spilling molten copper across the water’s dimpled surface.  On the other side of the boat, the half-or-so moon is yellow, then gold, then orange.  Yet its water signature is silver.

redwing sunset Pole Farm Brenda Jones

Red-Winged Blackbird Singing by BRENDA JONES

Ospreys are everywhere, –young on the nest, matures in the air, skillfully, skillfully fishing.  We don’t see any of legendary competitions between eagles and osprey, perhaps because all have had a good day on the Maurice.  Red-winged blackbirds ripple overhead like avian rivers, males and females together, feeding intensively.  Grackles perch on a complex telephone pole, and we all want them to be martins.

900-37865474-purple-martin-in-flight

Purple Martin in Flight from Internet

Then Allen softly alerts us to a single martin on high. A handful.  A gathering.  A cluster.  A swarm.  As the river turns the color of smoke from a fresh campfire, phragmites reaches become the color of charcoal.  I must admit, we’re not seeing the purple of the ever increasing circling birds who choose sundown for their autumnal drama.  Charcoal-feathers-to-charcoal reeds, they soar and circle, consider landing, land, then rise again.  No longer can we count birds – until some0ne comes up with the old joke:  “Count the legs and divide by two!”

Sky Peppered with Martins August 2016

Sky Peppered with Martins — We had 100s to each one before dark

Allen is rapt, gently reminding us to look right, look left, look carefully over the reeds, and, above all, gaze at the sky.  Those miraculous birds are as closely packed as pepper on pastrami, and still more are streaming in.  Two tiny boats and ours still their motors.  We are gifted with the musical chatter of the gatherers.  And then the sun seems to drop like toast pulled into a toaster, and it’s all over until tomorrow.

By next week, Allen announces, there could be a million.  They will roost on both sides of the Maurice then, awaiting that weather front, that essential northwest wind that begins their migration, and ends martin miracles in New Jersey for another year.

Never forget, as I remind and remind you re land in our state — neither the martins nor the humans would have had this night’s experience, were it not for dedicated preservationists.  Support Citizens United to Save the Maurice River.  Support your local land trusts, wherever you live.

Nature is paramount.  Nature herself is endangered.  Do everything you can to keep her, and her magnificent creatures. safe.

Preliminaries to the skyful of martins:

Oyster Shipping Bivalve

Bivalve, where there were more millionaires per block than anywhere in the world, because of oysters

Oyster Shipping Sheds Bivalve

Oyster Heyday Images As We Prepared to Board the Bonanza II

Oyster Cracker Cafe Port Norris

The Oyster Cracker Cafe, Port Norris, NJ

RR Car Port Norris NJ

Restored RR Car That Carried the Oysters Very Far from Bivalve, NJ

Trawl Tank Port Norris

Trawl Tank at Bivalve/Port Norris

Gulls' Bivalves Martin Fesitval August 2016

Gulls’ Bivalve Experience

Lift-Off Port Norris

Gull Lift-Off at Bivalve – probably spooked by a raptor

Nautical Still Life Port Norris

Nautical Still Life: Port Norris/Bivalve Dock

 

HeronMillstoneSNOW1-17-11DSC_5656

Great Blue Heron by BRENDA JONES — The Heron in Winter…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

STILL SEEKING SPRING — AVIAN SURPRISE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful Bridge Structure, Empty Trees

Beautiful Bridge Structure, Empty Trees

Spring on the Delaware River Footbridge at Bull's Island

Spring on the Delaware River Footbridge at Bull’s Island

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

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

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

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

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

Alluvial Plain near Bull's Island Towpath Trail

Alluvial Plain near Bull’s Island Towpath Trail

Mile Marker 21 - Bull's Island Towpath Trail

Mile Marker 21 – Bull’s Island Towpath Trail

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

Farmhouse Opposite Bull’s Island Towpath Trail

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

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

Endangered Species Ahead

Endangered Species Ahead

Eagle on Nest Bull's Island Towpath Hike 2015 Spring

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

6/10 Mile Below Bull’s Island Sign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHY PRESERVE!

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

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

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

Brave Skunk Cabbage in March, Bowman's

Brave Skunk Cabbage in March, Bowman’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This year, not even naturalists can find spring.

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

Each naturalist has his or her own proof of spring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Salem and Cumberland Counties — the New Jersey Nobody Knows

East Point Light at Dusk: "O Say, Can You See?"

East Point Light at Dusk: “O Say, Can You See?”

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I’m always in quest of the wild.  Mostly in New Jersey.  Especially in parts so remote that 99% of the people in the world won’t even believe me when I unfurl these images of this week’s 12-hour journey to Salem and Cumberland Counties on the Delaware Bayshore.

You also know I work as Community Relations (read, Media and Events and Art) Associate at D&R Greenway Land Trust.  The people of these two counties reach out us, increasingly, to save this sacred land, for which our state was named The Garden State.  Think tomatoes of Heinz.  Think legendary limas.  I just bought some, fresh from the pod — this feast will be a first for me.  My mother was frozen food all the way…  Philadelphia would like Salem and Cumberland to be their bedroom community.  D&R Greenway and the farmers and fishermen and hunters and welders and car mechanics and historians of this region, would like it to remain unspoiled.  We’re especially interested in making Salem and Cumberland safe for eagle nests in perpetuity.

Come with me.  Wordlessly.  See the magic of our state.  Go down 295 to Pennsville then east and see for yourselves!

Fortescue: Fishing the Delaware Bay

Fortescue: Fishing the Delaware Bay

Where People Live By the Seasons and the Tides

Beach Reparations, East Point

Beach Reparations, East Point

 

"The Last Horseshoe Crab" -- East Point

“The Last Horseshoe Crab” — East Point

Saving Horseshoe Crab Habitat Saves Red Knots, Ruddy Turnstones, other Endangered Shorebirds

Farm Stand - Self Serve -- Put Money into Locked Container

Farm Stand – Self Serve — Put Money into Locked Container

Money for Self-Service Food Stands Goes into Locked Container

It doesn’t get any more local than this!

High Tide in Turkey Point Wetlands

High Tide in Turkey Point Wetlands

This Used to be Harrier-Central  — Sea-Level Rise takes Nests and Eggs Most Springs Now

Why Most People Come to Turkey Point - to Bird

Why Most People Come to Turkey Point – to Bird

Where We Found the Mature Yellow-Crowned Night Heron and Two Young

Crabber exults not only over blue crab bounty, but incomparable beauty and many unknown (to him) birds at Turkey Point

Crabber exults not only over blue crab bounty, but incomparable beauty and many unknown (to him) birds at Turkey Point

This Man Not Only Catches Blue Crabs — He Makes His Own ‘Red Sauce’ – a family secret from Mama

Turkey Point approach -- Safe Haven for Great Egrets

Turkey Point approach — Safe Haven for Great Egrets

Above These Egrets, and Everywhere That Day — Eagles, Mature and Immature

Save Habitat, Save Endangered Species

Where People Live by the Seasons and the Tides

Where People Live by the Seasons and the Tides

 

"Let Evening Come" on the waterways of Salem and Cumberland -- this is Heislerville at its marina

“Let Evening Come” on the waterways of Salem and Cumberland — this is Heislerville at its marina

 

Every Tree on Heislerville Island is studded with Cormorants

Every Tree on Heislerville Island is studded with Cormorants

 

Kayak Heaven, Heislerville

Kayak Heaven, Heislerville