“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

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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!

 

 

“BLAZING DISCONTENT”

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Heavy, Heavy hang… conifer boughs in Lawrenceville, NJ

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

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

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

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

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

The Winter of Blazing Discontent Continues in the Arctic

By Brian Kahn

  • Published: February 6th, 2017

 

Weird. Strange. Extreme. Unprecedented.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

WINTER BIRDING AT THE BEACH ~ Sandy Hook, January 6

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

 

peroneus

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

DECEMBER BEACHCOMBING, NEW JERSEY STYLE

Who needs summer crowds, or even summer?  The original Intrepids (Bill Rawlyk, Jeanette Hooban, and I) literally basked along both bayside and oceanside of Island Beach last Sunday.

Silence.  Limitlessness.  Sea-borne treasures.  Elegant fishermen.  Ravenous seagull. Artemesia in winter.  Sundown like peach mousse upon a slate-blue plate.  Paradise enow…

Stroll with us.   We nearly took our shoes off!

 

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“Mermaid’s Purse” (skate egg case) and Fox Tracks like Roses Pressed into Sand

 

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December’s New Green Growth, Oceanside, Island Beach

 

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“Dusty Miller / Artemesia” — first seeds came ashore in wreckage from clipper ships! Now major dune stabilizers.

 

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Post-Sandy Boardwalk to the Sea

Can’t you just hear the cold jingle of these shells, as waves sip in and out?

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December Still-Life, Oceanside

 

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Alluring, Oceanside

 

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Seaside Success!

 

Remember that this pristine perfection exists because courageous and generous people knew to preserve it.  Do whatEVER it takes, and be generous with whatever land trusts speak to you, to extend preservation of open land, sand and water in our time.

 

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Gull’s Lunch – Probably Bunker

 

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Perfect Balance — December’s Oceanside Flycaster

 

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GAnnet-and-Long-Tailed-Duck Territory, Island Beach, December Waters

 

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Autumn Meets Winter, December Froth and Seaweed

 

 

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Crucial New Signs, Island Beach

Never forget — We ARE our fellow-creatures’ keepers.

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Our Land’s End — Below This is Barnegat Inlet, with ‘Old Barney’ Lighthouse on the Other Side

MARVELS OF THE WINTER BEACH, Phase 1

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that my favorite time to be almost anywhere is when most people aren’t.  Give me “too early”, “too late” and especially “out-of-season”!  Except, that –especially for the Intrepids — there is no “out of season” in New Jersey!

DECEMBER STILL LIFE — BARNEGAT BAY — REED’S ROAD — ISLAND BEACH

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Birds’ Restaurant – Last Leaves of Autumn, Ripe Fruit of Winter

Intrepids Jeanette Hooban and Bill Rawlyk and I met fine-art photographers Angela Previte and her husband, Bob, and the redoubtable Ray Yeager, last Sunday, for an extended Barnegat Bayside breakfast.  Fellowship reigned supreme, until our photographers “had promises to keep”

 

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Barnegat Bay Breakfast-Time, December

 

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Dock Outfitters with Cafe, Seaside Heights

 

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Barnegat-Bayside Table, Dock Outfitters, Seaside Heights, NJ

 

Jeanette, Bill and I set off to bird the day away.  Indeed, it was December, but there’s no better time to stroll Reed’s Road, just around the corner from Seaside Park, barely into Island Beach State Park.

 

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New Moss of December!

 

In no time, we were deep in a forested glade, silvery sugar sand underfoot, seemingly new moss burgeoning on both sides.  Beach heather, Hudsonia tomentosa, and lichens vied for our attention.

 

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Iconic Sugar Dand Trail, Reed’s ‘Road’, Island Beach State Park

 

There is nothing silkier than the normal, natural sand that forms Reed’s Road, nothing more alluring to the foot(e).  Although well into the twelfth month, autumn’s palette erupted first on one side, then another.

 

 

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October in December, Reed’s Road Forest, Island Beach, New Jersey

 

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Native, Natural Sugar Sand — LIGHT YEARS beyond Army-Corps-of-Engineers Imported Harsh Yellow Hideous Sand!

 

There is nothing more irresistible than the tranquillity of Barnegat Bay, like an enormous silver platter, beckoning, beckoning to the west.

 

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Sugar Sand Trail to Barnegat Bay, Reed’s Road, Island Beach, NJ

 

There wasn’t a breath of wind.  Waves were delicate, hushed.  Black sparkling swathes of garnet particles beckoned, underfoot and underwater.  Off in the far distance, we could just peek at (but not photograph) Barnegat Light.

 

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Crushed Garnets in Barnegat Bay Wavelets and Foam

 

We could have found cedar waxwing and robin flocks, as many have on this trek in previous high winter walks.  Or pine warblers in early spring.  Or stately swans in other Novembers.  This day, our bird stars were the merry bobbing buffleheads, making us laugh out loud in delight.

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Spotting Buffleheads from Reed’s Road Trail

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Dapper Bufflehead Male by Brenda Jones (on Carnegie Lake!)

 

The maddening part of that excursion was that some officials in our misguided 21st Century equate slashing with trail maintenance.  We spent a long time picking up their debris, mourning over literal ‘greenstick fractures’ in towering native shrubs of all species on all sides, apologizing to nature yet again for man’s depredations.  We wanted to go straight to the State House with our fury, were it not that politicians have other issues on their minds right now.  Obviously shrubs’ and trees’ health, shrub and tree rights are very low on Trenton ‘totem poles’ of interest and respect.  Citizens’ rights don’t seem very far ahead in terms of honor.  WE THE PEOPLE have a right to our native species’ being protected everywhere, and MOST ESPECIALLY IN OUR STATE PARKS!

 

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Even the Weeds of Reeds Road Majestic, When Left to Their Own Devices!

 

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DAMAGE in the Guise of Trail Maintenance, Reed’s Road, Island Beach, NJ

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Pillage in the Wake of Trail “Maiantenance”, Reed’s Road, Island Beach State Park, New Jersey

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After Reed’s Road was “Maintained” by the Vicious

NJWILDBEAUTY readers have ‘heard’ me go on and on about reading “This Changes Evetything”, by today’s Rachel Carson: Naomi Klien.  She’s won the Sydney Peace Award from Australia, comparable to the Nobel — for her courageous expose of the multi-national, mega-funded organizations devoted to climate change denial. 

Central to the paradigm of these planet-destroyers is downright hatred of Nature, a vicious delight (obediently promulgated by the Weather Channel) in blaming every storm on so-called Mother Nature, terming even Hurricane Sandy – the anthropogenic disaster of all time — “Mother Nature’s Revenge.”  Face it, watchers and listeners.  These terms ascribing rage and revenge to the magnificent nature that surrounds us are utilized to justify destruction.  Get it!

NATURE IS EDEN.  WE ARE DRIVING OURSELVES OUT OF IT!

Meanwhile, back in Paradise:

Reed’s Road is home to proprietary pair of exquisite foxes, and sundry nocturnal raccoons.  Many the track did we follow.

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“Who Walketh Here?”

 

The animals have always known to ‘leave only footprints’.

 

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Inverse Tracks in Crushed Garnet Sand

 

Silence surrounded us, underfoot, overhead and out on the bay.  Beauty was everywhere, that had never been altered (until this brutal pruning session).  I am fond of saying that Island Beach has not been built on since initial development failed in the 1930’s Depression, and is pruned only by wind, sand and storms.  I’ll pretend that’s still true…

 

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Undisturbed Forest Floor, Reed’s Road, Island Beach State Park, New Jersey

 

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Pin Oak’s Last Gasp, Sugar Sand

 

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TRAIL GUIDES — superfluous!

 

REMEMBER, we can stroll these impeccable, usually unspoiled trails because this land has been preserved.  NEVER HAS IT BEEN MORE URGENT TO SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL AND NATIONAL LAND TRUSTS. 

See to it, with your memberships, that every possible wild inch of our sacred country is preserved in perpetuity, no matter who wields what power. 

“This land is your land.  This land is my land…” — but only due to our absolute constant courageous vigilance.

While you can, get out into the Parks of our beleaguered state, let their unspoilt magnificence seep into and restore your souls.

 

“Extreme Environmentalist” Confronts Sarah Palin – Poem by Carolyn Foote Edelmann, June 2010, after Gulf Oil Disaster

Because I will be birding pristine Island Beach this Sunday, –with five other intense bird-lovers, two of whom are the well known fine art nature photographers, Ray Yeager (of Ray Yeager Photography.com) and Angela Previte, (of Simple Life at the Shore Nature Blog), I am expecting to be in the company of gannets.  There is no more elegant, no more spectaculara shore bird in my world, especially when gannets are feeding.  We may also be gifted with long-tailed ducks, out beyond the third waves.  Island Beach remains  as impeccable as gannets, –still serene, shrubby, wind-blown and un-BUILT since creation, thanks to PRESERVATIONISTS.  We six have the sense that we must relish this magnitude, this nature at her peak, while we still can…

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Northern Gannet Plunging, From Internet

Most of the time, dear NJWILDBEAUTY readers, I have managed to keep politics out of NJWILDBEAUTY.  Even though, as we all know, politicians threaten most if not all of the wild beauty of our (most populous, never forget it!) state; and, increasingly, of the Planet itself.

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Gannet on Rocks in Healthy Habitat

Even though I dared once refer to this state’s so-called governor as ‘our Caligula’, in these ‘pages’; and termed then-newly-nominated presidential candidate ‘the new Hitler.’

I have not revised my opinion, by the way.

Although I try to concentrate on nature instead of politics in these ‘pages.’

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Oiled Gannet on Beach from Internet

Now enormous confrontation looms, in which politics will do all in its power to to destroy nature.  One of their cohorts, now, –Sarah Palin–, is mentioned as Cabinet material.

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Oiled Gannet Face, From Internet

Long ago, my poem, (in the form of a letter to Ms. Palin) –before appearing in NJWILD, which Ilene Dube asked me to launch for Princeton Packet Publications–, had won internet publication by a clean water group asking for poems about the seemingly insuperable, and now mostly overlooked, Gulf Oil disaster.  You may recall whom Sarah Palin blamed…

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BP OIL DISASTER, from Internet, which everyone continues to refer to as a “SPILL”, including internet title to this image

No one who cares about birds has forgotten the BP explosion, which was originally reported as emitting 200 barrels of oil per day.  Do note that, –even in the caption for this photo on the Internet–, the ceaseless explosions and outpourings are simply termed ‘a spill.’

I did write, in NJWILD, “If you believe that gallon estimate, you’ll believe anything.”

We all know that far more than birds was ruined in those terrible months — especially the way of life of people of Louisiana who had fished and shrimped and boated for generations.

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Oiled Human Protestor in Gulf during BP Disaster

You may have forgotten that Sarah and her ilk blamed the disaster (which means “torn from the stars!”), on “extreme environmentalists.”  I proudly accepted then, –and even more insistently now–, rejoice in that title.  The result was the poem below.

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The Livelihood of Gulf Fishermen because of BP Disaster

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ICON of BP DISASTER – Oiled Pelicans

Today, I mailed the poem to my my professor daughter to read it to her Literature class at a California college.  I dared challenge this formidable young woman and ardent feminist to suggest that her students have their pictures taken HUGGING A TREE, to promulgate on Facebook.  To show the shuddering world that not everyone in America agrees with its most outrageous current spokesman.  To demonstrate that the guardians of the future know what really matters.

Everyone reading this can do so, letting our allies know that some of us do have planetary consciousness.

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We Need to Become a Nation, a World, of TREE-HUGGERS

WHAT REALLY MATTERS:

Liberty

Nature

The Planet

 

PLEASE SHARE THIS WITH EVERYONE YOU KNOW —

Remember, Margaret Mead insists, “A small group of people can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

And Edwin Burke:  “All that it takes for evil to happen is for good men (PEOPLE) to do nothing.”

WHAT WILL YOU DO?

the poem of June 2010:

DEAR SARAH PALIN,

 

I understand it’s all my fault

–this Gulf oil disaster, I mean–

not only all that fire

bodies catapulted into air

then drowned

soon likely shark bait

but also this volcano of oil

spewing interminably

into our blue mantle

 

Sarah, you say

I did this

all of this and more

now some six weeks ago

with no end in sight

 

and no businessman

politician not even a general

let alone you, Sarah Palin,

knows how to stop

this tornado of oil

 

it’s also my fault, the oiled birds

— Northern gannets —

pristine as Josephine

in her Empire gown

frail white silk

adorned with gold

though not quite bees

dark eyes snapping

as each becomes increasingly encased

in ‘my’ oil

more abruptly than all those mastodons

in La Brea’s tar pits

 

now slender cormorants

who, everyone is sure, are drowning

as they swim along

neck barely afloat

no one realizing

the genius of cormorants

who can fly/swim 30 miles an hour

underwater

when they are not oiled

 

about the mpg of my car

my old car

for the ownership of which

I am quite guilty

for the replacement of which

I have no means

 

cormorants

must wave both wings

after every dive

to dry them

so that they may

dive and dive again

–no wave strong enough

to shake off ceaseless poison weight

of oil

 

it’s my fault, the reddish egrets

you know his own epitaph

–written by photographer Ted Cross

for his own recent death–

describing his multi-faceted self

on the Other Side

“still searching for the perfect photograph

of the reddish egret”

 

Ted did not have in mind

this soiled oiled specimen

trying, unsuccessfully

to lift newly leaden

legs wings and feet

out of Gulf mud muck and oil

 

it’s all my fault

and not because I use the wrong lightbulbs

in a couple of fixtures

nor because I do turn on the heat.

inside, in winter, sometimes

although I’ve been doing without air

conditioning so far this troubled year

 

it’s my fault

because I am an “extreme environmentalist”

because I think there should never be any more

drilling for oil in our country

because I deplore petrotyrrany

the privatization of profits

socialization of poverty

because I think we should start with the auto companies

 

well, what do you expect, Sarah?

I grew up in Detroit

 

I’ve never seen a wolf in the wild

as you do and deplore.

These beings you condemn to bloody deaths

I would embrace

 

nor have I encountered

a single polar bear

let alone a starving female trying to find food

for her new brood

attempting to swim with them

toward vanishing ice floes

but that’s o.k. with you

Sarah

it makes the hunting

easier

 

it’s my fault, Sarah

for I am quite literally

a tree-hugger

 

I believe that greed should end

America return to her original nobility

where people pledged lives

fortunes

sacred honor

remember sacred honor?

— ah, well, probably not, Sarah

 

I believe we are our Planet’s

keepers

 

Sarah – who are you?

Carolyn Foote Edelmann

June 2010

“This is not an environmental disaster, and I will say that again and again.”
– Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) speaking about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

 

 

 

RAINY-DAY BIRDING – ISLAND BEACH, NOVEMBER

View from the Coast Gard Watch Window, Island Beach, Rainy November Day

View from the Coast Gard Watch Window, Island Beach, Rainy November Day

NJWILDBEAUTY readers surely know by now, to borrow from Coleridge, Nature does not “fold up her tent like an Arab, and as silently steal away” after Labor Day. Quite the contrary!

These few images recreate Nature’s fulness, despite rain, last Saturday, November 7.

Drama, beauty, even miracles awaited us, as we tugged on our slickers and headed out on the beach.

"Down to the Sea Again" -- Fishermen Head to the Beach

“Down to the Sea Again” — Fishermen Head to the Beach

The Weather Guides had insisted there was only a 30% chance of rain for the Island Beach region.  But, as my urologist husband used to insist re surgery percentages, “For my patient, it’s 100%.”

For Jeanette and Me, 100 percent!

For Jeanette and Me, 100 percent!

For Jeanette Hooban and me, rain was indeed 100%, sometimes more ‘percentier’ than others.

"The Intrepid" Wades the Atlantic Merrily, November, 2015

“The Intrepid” Wades the Atlantic Merrily, November, 2015

Fishermen to the South of Us

Fishermen to the South of Us

The Day of Calm Fishermen

The Day of Calm Fishermen

Where the Pole Was

Where the Pole Was

The Track of the Fishermen

The Track of the Fishermen

"Could they be gannets?" - Jeanette Intent

“Could they be gannets?” – Jeanette Intent

We were welcomed by foxes.  You can either mentally zoom and crop on my terrible images, or just Google Ray Yeager Photography Blog to see (probably our very foxes that very day) his fine art superb images of the ruddy regals of Island Beach.  Thanks, Ray, for beauty, majesty, and everything from sleeping, leaping to fighting.

Fox Couple of Reed's Road - Right at Home, and the Rain didn't Bother Them, Either

Fox Couple of Reed’s Road – Right at Home, and the Rain didn’t Bother Them, Either

This Healthy Fox Was That Close to my Car - but my hands were shaking...

This Healthy Fox Was That Close to my Car – but my hands were shaking…

The foxes opened our outdoors day.  Whales were our finale.

As we turned to leave the fishermen’s beach, we took one last, reluctant look at the serene, majestic Atlantic.  Take the image below and multiply it by twenty or more.  All flowing south, just beyond the third waves.  A little larger than dolphins, but making that same loopy motion.  Not so frolicsome.  Very sure.  A singleton.  A threesome.   Four side-by-side.  The longer we looked, the more we saw.  As relaxed in their journey as our fishermen — who stopped everything to watch.

Later, in the Coast Guard Building, –newly opened and you can go upstairs to see what those heroes saw as they watched through storms–, the men painting the front room told us they were probably minkes, definitely on migration south.  They spend most of their lives on Island Beach.  This is the time they might be seen  But there was awe in the men’s voices, as they advised, “That was really special…”

Single Minke Whale, from Internet

Single Minke Whale, from Internet

Lavallette is not far above Island Beach.  We’d stood so very long in the rain, mesmerized by whales, that we decided rewards were in order:

Compensation

Compensation

A craft brew, with a Pennsylvania name, possibly Nockamixon.  Rather metallic.  Good with

Rainy Day Rewards at the Crab's Claw in Lavallette

Rainy Day Rewards at the Crab’s Claw in Lavallette

The oysters on the right are Delaware Bay — a miracle of resurrection.  Once there were more millionaires per block in and around Shellpile and Bivalve, NJ, because of oysters, than anywhere in the world.

Then MSX (multinucleated sphere unknown) wiped out the industry, the oystermen, the millionaires.  But New Jersey and Rutgers have undertaken heroic efforts to bring these hefty, meaty bivalves back to our (almost unknown) Delaware Bay and to our plates  They were divine.

Those on the left are Virginia oysters.  Not so large as Chincoteague, to be sure, but savory, briny and electrifying.

Hearty Virginia Oysters, Crab's Claw, Lavallette

Hearty Virginia Oysters, Crab’s Claw, Lavallette

Flounder with Lemon and Capers, Crab's Claw, Lavallette

Flounder with Lemon and Capers, Crab’s Claw, Lavallette

Our beautiful entrees were so delicate, probably only moments out of the sea.  They often mention, on their menu, the day’s special as “whatever is running.”  Meaning whatever fish are off-shore that day.  I always get the child’s view of a fish running on its little tail.

As NJWILDBEAUTY readers can experience, here, with Jeanette and me, Not fall nor rain, winter nor snow, can keep us from our appointed rounds, reveling in Nature, letting her bestow her countless gifts.

Remember, the Nature part of our excursion (and most if not all of them) could never happen without preservation.  Support your local land trust.

Deserting New Jersey

Seaside Broom, Reed's Road, Island Beach, NJ

Seaside Broom, Reed’s Road, Island Beach, NJ

A few images from exquisite Island Beach, an au revoir for a week on Cape Cod with two of The Intrepids — Jeanette Hooban and Carolyn Yoder,  Leaving at dawn – have not been at the Cape since the late 1980’s.  Used to spend seven weeks each summer in Chatham with my girls, a barefoot existence, where nature itself compelled me to become a birder,  Hudsonian Godwits used to prance around our beach blankets at Harding’s Beach, looking across the Sound to Nantucket and the Vineyard.  A red-necked phalarope whirled in the water, and a long-tailed jaeger perfectly imitated his image in my brand new Roger Tory Peterson – because the girls kept asking, “Mom, what’s THAT?”

Spizzle Creek Bird Blind, Island Beach, NJ

Spizzle Creek Bird Blind, Island Beach, NJ

Island Beach brought us kinglets everywhere, swallows, sparrows, a great blue heron or two, osprey nests.

Osprey Neighbors, Barnegat Bay, Island Beach

Osprey Neighbors, Barnegat Bay, Island Beach

As usual, my camera does not do birds — but it does like the plants of IB – so here are some samples of last weekend.

Clouds Caught in Wetlands, Bayside of Island Beach

Clouds Caught in Wetlands, Bayside of Island Beach

A la prochaine — until the next time.

Whirling Grass (wild winds) and Fox Tracks, Island Beach

Whirling Grass (wild winds) and Fox Tracks, Island Beach

Oceanside, Island Beach, October

Oceanside, Island Beach, October

Carolyn

QUICK! Where Am I?

NJWILDBEAUTY readers are accustomed to my voyaging far and wide, mostly in New Jersey, in search of Nature at her finest.  Many of these trips take this former Michigander to the ocean, which reminds her of the Great Lakes.

Deserted Beach Sandy Hook October 2015

Can you guess the location of my Columbus Day excursion?

Deserted (NJ) Beach 1

Deserted (NJ) Beach 1

Sacred Solitude

Deserted Beach 2 Sandy Hook October 2015

In this collage. see how many scenes you need to discover the answer.

Deserted Beach 3 Sandy Hook October 2015

Can You Guess?

Deserted Beach 4 Sandy Hook October 2015

Are You Thinking Caribbean?

Deserted Beach Sandy Hook October 2015

Manhattan Lurks Beyond Those Trees

Deserted Sandy Hook, Populous Highlands, October

Emptiness vs. Fulness

Horseshoe Crab Shell Near Salicornia

Horseshoe Crab Shell Near Salicornia

Leaflets Three - Let It Be -- Poison Ivy, Key Nourishment for Migratory Birds in Autumn

Leaflets Three – Let It Be — Poison Ivy, Key Nourishment for Migratory Birds in Autumn

Leopard Crab Shell in the Wrack Line

Leopard Crab Shell in the Wrack Line

Prey and Predator Tracks

Prey and Predator Tracks

Ancient Peat Moss Carried In by HIgh Tide

Ancient Peat Carried In by HIgh Tide

Anne Zeman and I think the black dots in this picture are actually winkles, a specialite of course, in France, to be eaten raw with the assistance of tiny pins, in Bretagne et Normandie, especially near Gaugin’s Pont Aven.  They’re a key feature of their ‘l’assiette du coquillage’ — plate of shellfish.  One time in Paris, near the Gare du Nord, ordering this feast for myself at lunch, I asked the Parisian couple to my right, “How do YOU eat these?”  (Then, I could say it in French – “comment on mange ceci?”  Their answers were in concert, their equivalent of, “Are you kidding?  We NEVER order that!”       (It was divine, all of it, of course…especially the winkles.)

Our Robinson Crusoe Moment -- Remember, this is October!

Our Robinson Crusoe Moment — Remember, this is October!

Bittersweet Abundance, October, 2015

Bittersweet Abundance, October, 2015

Newborn Sumac

Newborn Sumac

Red Seaweed and its 'Holdfast'

Fresh  Seaweed and its ‘Holdfast’

Raccoon Tracks at High Tide Near Spermaceti Cove

Raccoon Tracks at High Tide Near Spermaceti Cove

Autumn Palette by the Sea

Autumn Palette by the Sea

Seaside Goldenrod and its Sharp Shadow

Seaside Goldenrod and its Sharp Shadow

Protecting Shore Birds

Protecting Shore Birds

Immature Turtle (Terrapin?) Crosses Our Trail

Immature Turtle (Terrapin?) Crosses Our Trail

One of Three Mocking Birds That Day, Singing Its Heart Out

One of Three Mocking Birds That Day, Singing Its Heart Out

Still Life of October

Still Life of October

Give Up?

This series recreates one of two recent outings at Sandy Hook, New Jersey’s ultimate barrier beach, so near Wall Street, the former World Trade Center Towers, the unspellable Verrazanno Bridge, and so forth.  It’s luminous there, pristine in many places, and should be replete with migratory birds this time of year.

Ha!  I’d be surprised if we had a dozen species either trip.

Today (Sunday, October 18), –returning sunburnt. windblown and quite amazed at avian bounty by comparison, I would say Karen Linder and I had more birds in our first hour. sauntering Island Beach (another barrier beach, unspoilt since creation, in our southern reaches) walking Reed’s Road, to Barmegat Bay.

After my first Sandy Hook day of few birds, I dared title my autumnal assignment for the Packet, “Bad Day at Sandy Hook?”  Read it below and see if you agree.

The key to all three excursions, however, is that what really matters is never the birds!

It’s fellowship, friendship, what the wise French term, “l’amitie“!  Thank you, Anne, Karen and Mary, always!

PACKET PUBLICATIONS:

Bad day at Sandy Hook? Autumn Questing in Monmouth County’s Gateway Recreation Area

  • By Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Updated Sep 24, 2015

For birders, fall begins in late July, with the first southward shorebird migrations. Naturalists travel like detectives, seeking early clues to the new season. Heading for Sandy Hook, a seven-mile stretch of a barrier peninsula, in late August, we dared hope to find autumn via Hudsonian godwits clustering on its storied shores.

At ‘the Hook’ (meaning a spit of land) in autumn, there is always the osprey question — who’s departed, who remains? With any luck, there might be eagles. Green herons lurk in hidden pools. Fall’s raptors could be coursing overhead. Oh yes, there are renowned beaches with limitless sea vistas. One follows sharp-shinned hawks pouring overhead on one side, with the Verrazano Bridge arcing to the left. Beneath it rises a tiny water-surrounded lighthouse. Across from the Hawk Watch Platform looms the site of where the World Trade Center used to stand.

A fort from the 1800s and the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in America also preside on Sandy Hook proper. But this park holds nature miracles few suspect, as in 300-plus species of birds. Hudsonian godwits would be particularly appropriate, as ‘The Hook’ was discovered by Henry Hudson in the 1600’s.

Mary Wood and I set out on the last August Friday, binoculars at the ready. There’s free entry for birders to ‘The Hook”, otherwise known as the Gateway National Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service. Entry is free for all between Labor Day and Memorial Day Weekend. It always stuns Mary of Minnesota, and Carolyn of Michigan to encounter the Atlantic Ocean after a mere hour-and-a-half drive north and east. We frankly gasped on that futuristic highway bridge over the Shrewsbury, facing the sea’s patchwork of cerulean, slate, teal and Prussian blue.

The guard merrily waved us in. We parked at once, crossing the four-lane road to enter dense shrubbery, where Roger Tory Peterson’s famous ‘confusing fall warblers’ should have been everywhere. Bayberry and poison ivy are laden this autumn, which may presage another intense wintertime. Their fruits provide all essential migration fuels, especially long-lasting fats. Hearty, bountiful seaside goldenrod is burgeoning on all sides, key food for monarch butterflies. In Augusts past, at ‘the Hook’ these butterflies turned all gold plants orange. But, for us, that Friday, not a wing. Not even a butterfly’s. Well, at least we weren’t confused.

Our disappointment disappeared, however, as we were brushed by broad wing shadow. One keen-eyed male osprey was checking us out. We were elated to raise optics to follow this soaring raptor out over the Shrewsbury estuary. Deciding to skip warblers for now, Mary headed us over to Fort Hancock for more osprey. That end of the park holds military buildings and official dwellings, most of which have seen better days. Last year, a week or two earlier, their generous chimneys had been Osprey Central. Some of these hurricane-strafed houses are now undergoing desultory restoration. Most seem tragic — hinting of long-ago intrigues and even ghosts. This year, nests are less welcome than ghosts. White pipes rise from most chimneys. Only a few reveal nests of determined birds, who had deftly woven in and around obstructive plastic tubes. Not one nest held a resident.

Visitors bent on a day of surf and sand may be startled to come upon missiles and fences, bunkers and closed gates, barricades and a battery named “Potter.” The United States Army utilized the fort as the Sandy Hook Proving Ground, from the Civil War through 1919. It is now part of Fort Hancock Memorial Park. The National Park Service “is soliciting proposals for renovation and use to the more than 35 buildings in the fort complex.”

No ospreys? Let’s get back to warblers. We turned this way and that, each knowing exactly where to find rich forests that should be sheltering and nourishing these feisty little travelers on their way south. We found more ROAD CLOSED signs than birds. “No problem,” I assured Mary. “We’ll just get go up to the lighthouse and turn left.” Wrong. We could reach the oldest continuously operating coastal light in the United States. But orange cones blocked the left turn to ‘my’ warbler forest.

What birders do when they can’t find birds is to reminisce about rarities of yesteryear. “That woods was full of vireos” “Golden-crowned kinglets gleaned insects from cobwebs all along these bricks.” “There’s the dead tree where the scissor-tailed flycatcher posed forever.”

”No problem,” I foolishly repeated. “We’ll just head for the hawk watch platform. Could be broad-wings.” Instead of the wide trail to the platform where we used to see the World Trade Center towers, as well as spring or fall raptors too many to count, we met a United States Government official. “Oh, did you want to take pictures?,” he asked with regret. Not only was the trail closed. The hawk watch platform had been demolished—safety issues, but it’s being rebuilt, the official promised.

When we were sure he wasn’t looking, we departed North Beach for the minuscule parking lot for overnight campers. One non-camper parking space remained, so we pulled in. Mary remembered, “This is where we found the wood thrushes with Anne Zeman.” “Yes!,” I exulted, “and the cedar waxwing flock flew out of that tree!” Across the road, on the west side, is a gentle, waveless freshwater beach, with rich saltwater marshland across from a trail plus mini-boardwalk. “Here Betty Lies stood transfixed as the great egret, examining the incoming tide, scooped fish like a skimmer.”

Mary found what we hoped was a kingfisher, posing on one arm of an empty (man-supported) osprey nest. We spent a long time watching this patient bird as it scanned as intently as had the Fort batteries when in use. Too far away for us to tell whether the bird sported the female’s rust belt, that bird kept us mesmerized. It finally zoomed in that downward loop. We were not treated to its remarkable rattley call.

”I’ll settle for a kingfisher, any day” Mary observed, as she turned us back toward the entry, but first, Spermaceti Cove. Its boardwalk had been pulverized to toothpicks by Sandy. We discovered a new walkway — half walking, half running along resounding ‘boards.’

Leaning over very solid railings, we examined high-tide-strafed mudflats, the ‘headlines’ of the night. Colonies of scurrying fiddler crabs lifted golden defensive claws, as they backed into dark round holes. Intriguing raccoon tracks threaded down to gently coursing waters. We were relieved that this very recent and sorely needed restoration had not driven away the wild creatures.

At the culmination of the boardwalk, solid benches awaited. We steadied binoculars on the broad railing, in the face of a rising wind. On sandbars across the flowing water, we found double-crested cormorants, lined up like a black picket fence. Strutting around between them was the rarity of our day, a black-bellied plover still in breeding plumage. In no time, his eponymous belly will be white for winter, and identification will be somewhat trickier, and, yes, “confusing”. Laughing gulls in eclipse plumage baffled us at first, for they no longer sported their vintage burgundy beaks. We’d watch that plover pose and posture, then sit to relish absolute silence, on this peninsula from which Battery Park and Wall Street are visible. Even the waves were whispers on the west side.

There’s no such thing as a “Bad Day at Sandy Hook,” although ours came close.

I was asked to describe our “pretty route”, which is too complex for a story. You could direct your GPS to take you to Rumson, cross the Shrewsbury River and turn left/north onto 36 into the Park.

Our trick is to head always for Bahrs Landing, legendary seafood house far above the Shrewsbury in the Highlands. Have any of their seafood specialties (simple ones, don’t try anything fancy), also knowing that the rare “belly clams” relished by my friend, food critic Faith Bahadurian, are available on the dinner menu.

Yes there is outdoor seating now. While you make up your mind, you can watch proprietary gulls pilfer new clam hauls from docked fishing boats, then crack the shells on weathered docks for their own lunch. Beer is sparklier indoors and outdoors at Bahrs, with the Shrewsbury winking behind it, Sandy Hook beckoning over the bridge. Between your GPS’s instructions to Bahrs and your own cheery waitress, they’ll point you back over that bridge to birding or hiking or biking, or, yes, swimming. Then, whether it’s a bad day or a good day is up to you.

Sandy Hook’s official address is 58 Magruder Road, Highlands. For more information, go towww.nps.gov/gate/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm.