Assateague / Chincoteague — “Paradise Enow…”

“October’s bright blue weather” suffused Jeanette Hooban’s, Janet Black’s and my recent Chincoteague (Virginia) sojourn, start-to-finish.

Bare Fppt[romts om samds pf Assateague

Our first evening stroll on unpopulated Assateague, barrier island protecting Chincoteague from the mighty ocean, brought sunset-tinged seafoam and a beach upon which every footprint was a bare one!

In case you think, “Well, what else is new,” be aware of the season of our visit:

Bookstore Halloween ChincoteagueBookstore Book Pumpkin ChincoteagueA REAL bookstore, set for All Hallow’s Eve

Of course, most people go to Chincoteague for the ponies.  We dutifully admired them, from the water on a sunset small shallow boat tour, and from the land on a morning bus tour.

Ponies of Paradise at Sundown Assateague. jpg

Ponies at Sundown with SUPERB Cap’n. Dan — his tour worth our entire trip!

 

A Pony's Life - Forever Feeding AssateaguePony-life: Forever Feeding:  Ponies by land, Aassateague Nature Center Bus Tour

At nearly October-end, we were in the ocean, happily, eagerly, lengthily — especially Jeanette, who swam, swam, swam as wavelets turned pink around her. It was a mite cooler on the finer day, so beachcombing took over:

 

Jeanette Beachcombing Assateague

 

Janet Contentment AssateagueContentment Personified: Janet Black at Beach

We’re all avid readers.  We’d rented (and I’d actually bargained for them!) these sturdy chairs so we could read by the sea.  But we could barely lower our eyes to any page, given the sun’s many-colored-dreamcoat and those effects altering each wave.

Jeanette First Sunset Assateague Chincoteague Causeway

Jeanette and Irresistible Sunset(s) – on Bridge from Assateague back to Chincoteague

 

Edenic Morning Assateague

We, of course, were there for the birds — Egrets of Eden

Mornings were amazing — a series of early views:

Morning in Chincoteague Phragmites

First View of Each Day from my room at Assateague Inn, on Chincoteague

 

Dawn Picnic Site Assateague Inn and creek Chincoteague

Dawn Picnic Site, Creek and Marsh, Assateague Inn

Essence of Chincoteague at dawn

Essence of These Islands – Crab Shell of Dawn

 

Salicornia Ripening Chincoteague

Essence of Autumn in the Salt Marsh – Salicornia Ripening

 

Dawn at Assateague LIght October

Assateague Light House Outbuilding at Dawn

 

Leaf Calligraphy near Assateague LIghtAutumn’s Calligraphy at Assateague Light

 

October Blue Sky A Assateague LIghtOctober’s Bright Blue Weather Sets Off Assateague Light

 

Dawn LIght in Loblolly Pines AssateagueDawn Light in a Loblolly Forest

 

Not in Kansas..Assateague LIghthouse Keeper Home“Not in Kansas Any More…” Lighthouse–Keeper Dwelling

 

Assateague Memorial to Watermen

Barrier Island Realities

 

Sunset Feeders Assateague

Sunset Feeders, Assateague

 

Sunset Water Tour Assateague Chincoteague1

Cap’n. Dan’s Magical Mystery Tour at Sundown — Worth the Entire Trip

Best tour – Cap’n. Dan’s Sunset Cruise from Chincoteague Harbor

Best food – Bill’s Prime — three meals a day — one time we ate breakfast then dinner there — traditional and rare seafood, and remarkably personable service

Charm of Assateague Inn — quiet, on creek, with picnic table, silence, early light, little boardwalk, near Assateague Island, on quiet side of Chincoteague

Most famous food: Chincoteague oysters

Most people’s reason for being here: wild ponies, and Marguerite Henry’s “Misty of Chincoteague” and sequels

Favorite tour experience — Chincoteague Museum – this will appear in an entire blog to itself

Rarest animal: plump and saucy Delmarva Squirrel – one welcomed us in Assateague Light forest — but we are bedeviled enough by Princeton and Lawrenceville squirrels not to have appreciated its rarity until after the Nature Center bus tour.

 

BIRDING ‘The Hook’ ~ Bombay, in Delaware

A ‘Life Bird’ for Carolyn, and most welcome to both of us — The Black-Necked Stilt of Bombay Hook

black-necked-stilt-from INternet

Bombay Hook Wildlife Refuge is half again as large as ‘The Brig’, and far more generously treed.  It’s managed this year for wading birds, and we were given two life birds before we’d been in there 20 minutes.

Blue_Grosbeak_from INternet jpg

Second Life Bird for Carolyn — Blue Grosbeak

NOTE THAT ALL BIRD CLOSE-UPS ARE FROM THE INTERNET, not via cfe camera

Mary Wood and I dared a Delaware jaunt last Sunday, because of the heat.  Both Refuges are mostly birding-by-car (the ideal ‘blind’ for the birds — our presence in those metal cocoons does not alarm our avian friends)  Both refuges, also, in summer, are notorious for greenhead flies — carnivorous, or at least sangiferous winged beings, whom we do not add to our ‘Lists’ for the day.

Egrets Unlimited Bombay Hook July

AN ABUNDANCE OF EGRETS, Snowy, that is…

Immediately inside the park, we came to a cluster of dead trees, absolutely studded with snowy egrets.  Picture a Christmas Tree decorated by a hoarder, every ornament alive, with wings!

Salt Marsh Primeval Bombay Hook JulyGREAT EGRET AND GREAT BLUE HERON, below snowy-egret-studded tree

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Founded in 1937, ‘The Hook’ is a vital link in the Atlantic Flyway’s chain, “extending from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.”  Urgent in both spring and fall migration, admittedly there are always bird riches among these impoundments and woods.  Wading birds (long-legged shorebirds) of some species are already beginning the southward journey.  Mary is already planning our next jaunt — hoping for godwits, frankly.

Refuge with Trees Bombay Hook JulyTREE-RICH BOMBAY HOOK, with brown-eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s lace

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Summer Perfection Bombay Hook JulySUMMER PERFECTION, BOMBAY HOOK, JULY

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Immature great_blue_heron from Internet

IMMATURE GREAT BLUE HERON — rarity for Mary and me   (Internet)

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eastern-kingbird-michael-woodruff from Internet

EASTERN KINGBIRD SO NEAR — right beside car     (image from Internet)

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Goldfinch with Thistles Fredric-D-NisenholzGOLDFINCH OF HOME — ONLY THEIRS FED ON INDIAN GRASS — NO THISTLES!  (Internet)

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Eastern Phoebe w. nest material from Internet KK_APA_2011_19948_157974_AlbertoLopezEASTERN PHOEBE WITH NEST MATERIAL – OURS SLAM-DUNKED A GREEN GRASSHOPPER!      (Internet Image)

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Turks Cap Lily Seaside Goldenrod Bombay Hook July

EXCEEDING RARE TURK’S CAP LILY BLOOMS WITH SEASIDE GOLDENROD

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Perched Bombay Hook July 2017

PERCHED — EGRET RIGHT AT HOME AT ‘THE HOOK’

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Vultures Gather Bombay Hook July

AN OMINOSITY OF VULTURES AT ‘THE HOOK’

Mary and I ignored her GPS most of the way, choosing 295 South, to the end of our New Jersey, to zoom over the Delaware Memorial Bridge.  She’s named her navigator “Jeeves.”  His commanding voice directed us on Route 1 South and 13 South in various combinations.  Bombay Hook is near Smyrna, below historic New Castle.  Whitehall Neck Road took us into the Refuge.

At this point, Jeeves complained, “RECALCULATING”.  We had a good laugh, as I mused, “Mary, we have to remember, butlers don’t spend a lot of time in wildlife refuges.”

We couldn’t believe the swiftness of the ride, nor the mostly green beauty on 295 and the preponderance of 1 and 13.  (Admittedly, Delaware’s fringes leading to the bridge are exercises in tackiness, –but briefly.)  At one point we drove through blue-green just-tasseled corn on both sides of the road — “high as an elephant’s eye”.

I’ll do another blog on New Castle for our (very late) lunch — in Jessop’s pub, whose building is 300 years old.  I was served Thomas Jefferson Ale in a stone mug, and a sumptuous Colonial crab pot pie…, by a ‘serving wench’ in the garb of the era.  In the church next door, Lafayette had given the bride away…

Thomas Jefferson Ale Jessop's Tavern New Castle Delaware 2017‘PARADISE ENOW’

 

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

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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