“DUCKY DAY AT ISLAND BEACH”, JANUARY 2018

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

Merganser male Millstone Aqueduct Brenda Jones

Merganser Male, by Brenda Jones

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

***

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

common loon winter plumage from Internet

Common Loon, Winter Plumage by Elisa De Levis from Internet

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

common loon winter take-off from Internet

Loon Take-off from Internet by Dave Hawkins from Internet

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

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

smiling Common MerganserFemale Brenda Jones

Female Merganser by Brenda Jones

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

bufflehead Brenda JonesMale Bufflehead by Brenda Jones.

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

long-tailed ducks in flight from Internet Ken hoehn

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

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

female long-tailed duck from internet

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

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

male long-tailed duck from INternet

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

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

Brant Goose Drinking BarnegatBrant Feeding, by Brenda Jones

northern-shrike-from internet

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

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

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

Try winter trekking — surprises await!

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

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

 

 

The Intrepids Bird Sandy Hook

Jeanette Hooban in quest of migrant warblers, Lifesaving Station of Sandy Hook in Background

Jeanette Hooban in quest of migrant warblers, Lifesaving Station of Sandy Hook in Background

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I recently relished the glories of Island Beach in a Nor’easter, with three friends I have come to name “The Intrepids”.  Three-quarters of us hit Sandy Hook this week, on a day when gales were predicted, though not rain.  We lunched, as ever, at Bahrs, on splendid seafood, with the barrier island otherwise known as “The Hook” shimmering like Shangri La off to our right.

Quintessential Fresh Seafood Lunch at Bahrs

Quintessential Fresh Seafood Lunch at Bahrs

The Navesink and the Shrewsbury Rivers come together at Rumson.  (I always wonder if it was named in rum-running days.)  The combined flow passes below our table at Bahrs, brushing ‘The Hook’ on its way to the Atlantic.

Where the River Meets the Sea, Sandy Hook on Horizon

Where the River Meets the Sea, Sandy Hook on Horizon

Usually, birdwatching at table is pretty spectacular.  But, for some reason, the serious fishing aspect of that marina seems overwhelmed by fancier pursuits.  In France, they distinguish between “port du pesce” and “port du plaisance”.  Pesce/fish seems to have lost.  Morning’s catch was always being cleaned, just below our Bahrs windows, the remnants thrown into the air and the river, with ravenous birds making the most of it.

Working Fishing Harbor, Bahrs, Sandy Hook

Working Fishing Harbor, Bahrs, Sandy Hook

Even so, we had a fine time, then set out for the glories of Sandy Hook.

Onion Soup, Bahrs

Onion Soup, Bahrs

Fried Oysters BAHRS Late Summere 2014 009

But First, Fried Oysters and Yuengling!

Sandy Hook, too, had been scoured by the ironically named Sandy.  Like Island Beach, –that other sacred New Jersey barrier island–, Sandy Hook prevailed because it is natural,  It is another sterling example of the real Jersey Strong.

Sandy-shattered Officers' Houses, facing the River, Sandy Hook

Sandy-shattered Officers’ Houses, facing the River, Sandy Hook

Sandy's Signatures, Entire Row of Officers' Houses facing river

Sandy’s Signatures, Entire Row of Officers’ Houses facing river

What was hurt on ‘the Hook’ was the roadway, macadam, not natural.  The military establishment.  No comment.  The storied, even haunted houses, which line the river side and are in dire condition.  Some rehabilitation has taken place, for the first time in decades.  One wonders what will come of these structures.  They are evocative, mysterious, compelling.  They seem to be undergoing a slow renaissance.

One Restored Officer's House

One Restored Officer’s House

Birds have made the most of these structures.  Birds such as osprey, who used the abandoned chimneys as nest sites, decorating roofs and facades with “whitewash.”  (Use your imagination.)   All summer, we watched ospreys’ parenting, seemingly very successful.  The young were feisty and eager to test their wings, the last time I was there — test them, but not use them, not quite yet.

Osprey Corps of Engineers -- one of many

Osprey Corps of Engineers — one of many

Now all the nests are empty.  But the structures remain, bird-architecture seeming more formidable than human now at Sandy Hook.

Perhaps Sandy Funds Paid to Repaint Sandy Hook Lighthouse

Perhaps Sandy Funds Paid to Repaint Sandy Hook Lighthouse

It is a joy to see the Sandy Hook Light, the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in America, spiffy again.  Warblers were everywhere in shrubbery around this structure, and broad-winged hawks flew over on a precise schedule, as in one per minute, coasting on the wild sea winds.

Resting Raptor, Sandy Hook

Resting Raptor, Sandy Hook

Come with us.  See what “The Intrepids” discovered, on a November day as benevolent as summertime, the polar opposite of our Island Beach experience.

Birding on North Beach, Merry Mary Penney, Jubilant Jeanette Hooban

Birding on North Beach, Merry Mary Penney, Jubilant Jeanette Hooban

It was a day of black and white birds — beginning with a black and white warbler where we parked our car; rafts of dashing brant too far to see clearly when we first arrived, then spread all over a protected cove, murmuring and murmuring, on the river side.  Yes, one batch of Canada geese.  One osprey, looking very propietary, and not atall migratory.  THREE northern shrikes — life birds for Mary and Jeanette.  Those broadwings were just streaks of black, thicker than Van Gogh’s crow in that final Auvers cornfield.

Autumn, Consummate Artist, Manhattan in background: Battery, Wall Street, Verrazano Bridge all dwarfed by Nature

Autumn, Consummate Artist, Manhattan in background: Battery, Wall Street, Verrazano Bridge all dwarfed by Nature

We climbed the hawk watch platform, eager for raptors.  Ironically, it was the only birdless site of the entire day.  But look at that view!

View from Hawk Watch Platform, North Beach

View from Hawk Watch Platform, North Beach

Our key black-and-white bird of the day may very well have been the first snowy owl of this season.  If so, between the platform and the sea, here, is where the snowy (ies?) hung out last year.

Compass Grass and Bird Tracks, North Beach

Compass Grass and Bird Tracks, North Beach

Other creatures besides the winged were out on these reaches before us.

Rabbit Track, North Beach hike

Rabbit Track, North Beach hike

Fox Trail, North Beach

Fox Trail, North Beach

Beauty of this magnitude does not exist in our most populous state by accident.  It happens because land was preserved.  Rejoice, each of you, and congratulate yourselves, for having voted yes for the permanent funding of open space preservation in New Jersey.  Yes, full disclosure, I am the Community Relations Associate of D&R Greenway Land Trust, –responsible for media releases; the Willing Hands, who put on all our events; Curator of the Olivia Rainbow Student Art Gallery; the poetry and art liaison throughout the year, events or no.  Nothing matters more to me than the preservation of Nature.  Nothing should matter more to YOU, either.

Summer's Last Sunflowers in November

Summer’s Last Sunflowers in November

Just think, where the rabbit hopped, the fox stalked, the sunflowers erupt, could all have been a housing development or a shopping mall or an oil tanker station.  Don’t LET THEM add structures to this prime birding habitat, structures which will necessitate killing plants, trees, and therefore insects, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.  There are many ruined stretches, even here, even at Sandy Hook.  If someone has to have structures, use the ones that already exist.  Birds are paramount!

No Pets, No Kites -- Protecting the Piping Plovers of Sandy Hook

No Pets, No Kites — Protecting the Piping Plovers of Sandy Hook

“No Pets!  No Kites!”  No dogs, nor cats, nor vehicles, nor strolling humans — this is sacred Piping Plover Territory.

Bunkers of Yesteryear

Bunkers of Yesteryear

This is what happens to human structures on barrier beaches.  We need no MORE RUINATION.

Military Remnants

Military Remnants

What happens to the works of man, over time, on a barrier beach.

Nature and Man, Sandy Hook, Verrazano Narrows

Nature and Man, Sandy Hook, Verrazano Narrows

Even Manhattan is diminished by the works of Nature.

Determined Jeanette finds two female harriers doing last hunting over the grasses on the ocean side

Determined Jeanette finds two female harriers doing last hunting over the grasses on the ocean side

Last Light, Early November

Last Light, Early November

Gibbous Moon -- Time to Depart

Gibbous Moon — Time to Depart

Mary usually creates a bird list for us — and she is a pro at this, being head of Bucks County Audubon, just north of New Hope.  If she does, I’ll share it with you.

Meanwhile, bird your own neighborhoods, and any D&R Greenway preserve, especially St. Michaels Farm Preserve in Hopewell.  Take yourselves to the sea at Island Beach and Sandy Hook, and get to know Salem and Cumberland Counties on the Delaware Bayshores, where eagles are about to begin courting.

Above all, support all land trusts in your own regions — keep the green green, for the sake of the birds, for all the wild creatures.