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  When it seems every molecule of water has been withdrawn, and all that is left of the marshes is shimmer, an egret will be doubled in that sheen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

RARITIES IN RAIN — ISLAND BEACH IN NOR’EASTER

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I run to nature every chance I get.  Here is a (mostly) photo essay on being at Island Beach in a Nor’easter none of us realized was our fate.

It was a day of beauty, drama, and rarities.  But, above all, of fellowship, as Mary Penney’s picture of Jeanette Hooban and Bill Rawlyk attests.

Fellowship in Nor'easter by Mary Penney

Fellowship in Nor’easter by Mary Penney

This was taken at storm height on the Atlantic side, where we could barely stand some of the time.  However, above our heads, merlins headed over and over toward the highest waves, where wind was wildest.  These aerodynamic masters made abrupt U-turns over buffeted waves, then allowed themselves to be flung back across this exquisite barrier island.

The merlins were neither feeding nor forming for migration.  They were playing.  So were we!

Flags Whipping at Entry to Island Beach  Noreaster full blast

Flags Whipping at Entry to Island Beach == Noreaster full blast

Another title for this image is “O, Say Can You See?”  We could

(1) see tattered Old Glory;

(2) see increasingly occluded skies;

(3) see hundreds of swallows filling those skies;

4) barely see through our glasses or salt-coated optics, in fact barely see through our eyes.

Looking out rain-soaked car window to three friends heading out through tallest dunes at road's end

Looking out rain-soaked car window to three friends heading out through tallest dunes at road’s end

Two of the three are barely visible on either side of one of the warning posts.

GPS shows road's end at land's end

GPS shows road’s end at land’s end

I am a collector of land’s ends, and this is one of my favorites.

When you walk through these dunes on a normal day, Barnegat Light presides across its turbulent inlet, far in the distance.  Not this day!

Friends Return from Land's End Walk

Friends Return from Land’s End Walk

 

Heading Nor'east in the Nor'easter, toward the Atlantic with reputed ten-foot waves

Heading Nor’east in the Nor’easter, toward the Atlantic with reputed ten-foot waves

 

Note that boardwalk ends abruptly, having been chewed by Sandy.  All three of my friends righted Nor’easter-downed poles that mark the route of the proposed completion of boardwalk.

 

Compass Grass Draws Nor'easter Circles on the drenched sand

Compass Grass Draws Nor’easter Circles on the drenched sand

 

Artemesia - the Dune-Saver

Artemesia – the Dune-Saver

Seeds for this plant purportedly first arrived upon the sands of our country, having been carried in holds of clipper ships.  When ships foundered, boards floated ashore, carrying artemesia.  That was the Cape Cod story in ’70’s.

 

What Naturalists do in Nor'easters

What Naturalists do in Nor’easters

 

Survival Tactics

 

Nor'easter-whipped spume

 Spume, Wind-Driven, Rolls Down the Beach

*

Contemplation of the Infinite

Contemplation of the Infinite

*

 

Scant Protection at Extreme Northeast, Island Beach

Scant Protection at Extreme Northeast, Island Beach

*

 

Boardwalk to Barnegat Bayside

Boardwalk to Barnegat Bayside

 

*

No Personal Watercraft

No Personal Watercraft

*

 

Barnegat Bay in Nor'easter

Barnegat Bay in Nor’easter

*

 

Beach Access Reality

Beach Access Denied — Since Sandy

*

Hunkered Down, Atlantic Side

Hunkered Down, Atlantic Side

*

 

Bayberry Autumn, Atlantic Side

Bayberry Autumn, Atlantic Side

*

 

Wild Rose Hips, Atlantic Side

Wild Rose Hips, Atlantic Side

 

*

Hudsonia Grove, Atlantic Side

Hudsonia Grove, Atlantic Side

This is a very rare natural native beach plant that will have tiny yellow flowers in spring.  It is thriving in this storm.

*

 

'Gimme Shelter' - Interpretive Center, Atlantic Side

‘Gimme Shelter’ – Interpretive Center, Atlantic Side

*

 

Alone With the Storm

Alone With the Storm

*

 

No Vehicles Past This Point

No Vehicles Past This Point

 

*


Nor'easter Intrepids

The Intrepids

*

As you can see, Island Beach, “The Natural”, New Jersey’s true “Jersey Strong”, is perfectly designed to withstand storms.

Sometimes, humans are, too.

Swallows Play in the Nor'easter

Swallows Play in the Nor’easter

My camera is not powerful enough to point out all those tree swallows.  But they were everywhere in the air, like pepper on a roast.

Remember that barrier beaches were meant to be barriers, not dwelling-places!

This preserve was saved by farsighted people, after the Great Depression wrote ‘fini’ to major resort development.

Preserve every bit of open New Jersey space.  Our future, and that of the planet, depends upon open space.