SOMETIMES, BIRDERS STRIKE OUT – Intrepids in Quest of Sandhill Cranes

Jeanette Birding Near the Delaware & Raritan Canal

Jeanette Birding Near the Delaware & Raritan Canal

Friends had seen the cranes.  The SANDHILL cranes.  In nearby Franklin Township.

Friends had seen them two days in a row!

Jeanette Hooban (One of The Intrepids) and I have never seen a crane.

Now, admittedly, in the pictures sent by friends from cell phones, those birds didn’t look all that impressive. Rather dowdy, even dingy, lumpen, although on tall legs — they were not what Michelin (Guides to gastronomic shrines in France) calls “Worthy of the Journey.”

But then, we’d never seen a crane.

Well, except in (the film) Winged Migration, but sandhills are not the ones who starred in that epic.

So we devoted an overcast Sunday to going on a cranequest.

End of the Trail, Rose and Other Gardens of Colonial Park, NJ

End of the Trail, Rose and Other Gardens of Colonial Park, NJ

Odd back roads tumbled us out in one of the most nightmarish developments I had ever seen.  It was like those prophetic films, such as 2001, in which man irrevocably pays ultimate prices for progress.

Scraped earth, denuded of trees and even of crops, McMansion “TownHomes” everywhere, without a shrub, without even being alternated for privacy.  A moonscape, but I wouldn’t insult the moon.

Somewhere near what I mockingly called “an enclave”, and then it turns out that’s the name of that place, coupled with my treasured (nearby but by means visible) Delaware and Raritan Canal.

The road of the cranes was only slightly removed from destruction in the name of construction.

Cranes need slightly cropped ex-cornfields.

There was one.

As we drove along, Jeanette and I began to wonder if we’d even recognize a crane, if we came upon them.

She decided they MIGHT look something like great blue herons, and we well know those stately birds.

Heron Giving Voice Brenda Jones

GREAT BLUE HERON BY BRENDA JONES

So Jeanette drove with infinite patience, the patience of a brain surgeon, slowly down, then up, then down and up again, the road of the cranes.

There may be nothing emptier than cornrows where there ought to be birds.

Dark-eyedJunco-BaldpateMountain2-22-12DSC_3517

DARK-EYED JUNCO BY BRENDA JONES

Finally, we rejoiced to come upon, not in the corn, but in the natural weeds and scrub that bordered the croplands, some sparrows, a few juncoes, two mouning doves, all busily gleaning seeds flung down, not by a farmer on his tractor, but by the wind in the plants that belong on that field.

Song Sparrow from blind Brenda Jones

SONG SPARROW BY BRENDA JONES

So we drove away.

We thought we could find a back road along the backside of the cornfield.  Ha!  Everything up there belongs to those enclave developers.  And their hideosities are for sale “in the high $300,000s”, according to their industrial-strength sign, stuck in the bare earth.  A Mercedes turned into the Sales Office ahead of us, as we made our disbelieving way into this panorama of the future.

But Jeanette had stopped that car!  No, not to buy a condo.  To study a handsome, stately, piercingly gazing red-tailed hawk in a tree the developers had somehow overlooked.

With our magical optics, we could see the abruptly changed expression in that red-tail’s lemon-yellow eyes.  With a whoosh!, he was up and over, and o my! there was some forgotten grass on some lumpen ground.  The hawk ‘stooped’, (birder-language for zeroing on for the kill) and vanished behind a hummock.

red-tail lunch D&R Canal Princeton Brenda Jones

RED-TAILED HAWK BY BRENDA JONES

Jeanette said, impishly, “Shall we very slowly drive over there and watch it tear the prey from limb to limb?”

Listen, I’ll take any bird experience.

But before I could even nod, let alone verbalize, that hawk was back in the tree.

Raptorial fast food.

Because were there in the presence of his majesty, and there was no way we were leaving before he did, we then treated to a cloud of juncoes, flaring white petticoats.  And then, lo, bluebirds beyond counting!  They were so brightly blue and that almost-robin red, for they are cousins, and even the females so vivid, we decided they were halfway to indigo buntings.

BluebirdColdSoilRd3-10-12DSC_4449

BLUEBIRD IN WINTER BY BRENDA JONES

The aforesaid developers had put in a scraggly array of rather meagre trees.  I hope they did it in early fall, not in November.  But these trees did not look grounded.

And across the road, near the raptor feast site, an array of handsome, tall trees lay scattered, dirt balls facing the road and the $300,000+ mchouses.  They looked like toys abandoned by a petulant toddler. They did not look like they are going to survive January blasts and worse, without having been put in the ground in plenty of time to establish strong roots.  Even so, the few scraggly trees were fine for the bluebirds, who merrily filled them, like bright Christmas ornaments, then float-coasted down to the ground for seeds or whatever. There surely aren’t any insects or worms about in this vile weather we’ve been enduring.

Not only that, a merry mockingbird crowned the tree like an angel, then flew to the top of one of the mcroofs.

Mockingbird at Sunset in Winter

MOCKINGBIRD PUFFED BY WINTER COLD  BY BRENDA JONES

Just then, ‘our’ red-tail took off in a zoom, rising effortlessly toward something we hadn’t noticed.  God forbid a field or a habitat should be left to the mice and the voles and the butterflies and the bees and foxes and maybe even a coyote or two, and some skunks, some raccoons.  Trails, even, so the people can get out of those “little houses made of Ticky Tack” which Pete Seeger so scorned, Seeger-the-prophet.

Untitled

FOX OF ISLAND BEACH, IN DAYLIGHT, BY RAY YEAGER

(what SHOULD be happening in the fields of Franklin Park)

No, there isn’t a field.  Well, yes there IS, actually.

A playing field.

With towering bleachers and blinding shiny metal poles taller then anything in the enclave, each one studded with equally blinding shiny metal hooded lights, that will ruin the nights of the people who attempt to sleep in the enclave.  Who have no idea how blinding such lights can be in the dark, nor how loudly players and fans will carry on under those lights…

Well, the hawk was nothing if not an opportunist.  No tree in New Jersey that I’ve ever seen is as tall as those lightning-blinding metal poles.  Straight to the top he flew, master of all he surveyed.  No prey would be missed by this master.

Jeanette and I went on over to the Colonial Park Rose Garden, to see what it’s like for roses in winter.

Entrance Rose Garden Colonial Park January 2015

ROY ANDRES DE GOOT MEMORIAL ROSE GARDEN

Unusual.  Strangely beautiful.  Gripping sometimes, especially among fragrant herbs, some still green:Winter Green  Roses at Rose Garden Colonial Park January 2015

Winterberry Bounty Rose Garden Colonial Park January 2015

WINTERBERRY BOUNTY

Julia Child Roses in Winter Rose Garden Colonial Park January 2015

THIS ONE’S FOR FOOD WRITERS PAT TANNER AND FAITH BAHADURIAN AND POET BETTY LIES —

MY CO-JULIA-FANS

Roses in Winter Rose Garden Colonial Park January 2015

THE LONG VIEW

But for this preservationist, who spends the majority of her time trying to convince people to appreciate and save natural New Jersey, it was winter in my heart.

Sure-footed mammal tracks Rose Garden Colonial Park January 2015

SURE-FOOTED MAMMAL IN HERB GARDEN – PROBABLY SKUNK

Opossum Track Rose Garden Colonial Park January 2015

DETERMINED OPOSSUM

When I beg you to do whatever you can to save wild New Jersey, on land and on water and in the air, I am NOT KIDDING!  Even though D&R Greenway has managed to save around 19,000 acres, folks, it is not enough.

We didn’t find cranes.

Our fear is that, next year at the time when their inner navigational systems compel them to that cornfield, it will have more $300,000+ dwellings and poor pitiful trees, and no nutrients for cranes!

Lawrenceville Fire Company, Perennial Gift to the Community

As NJWILDBEAUTY readers know, I have recently moved to Lawrenceville, to a peaceful community called Society Hill, tucked up and away from the tiny town, and named for the Society of Friends.  As in Quakers, who filled this region and served it well, back even before our Revolution.

On voting days, I can walk to our polls, in the Lawrenceville Fire Company’s building .  Station 23 it is, and 23 is the number of my house.  Good omen.  203 was my number at Canal Pointe, and 2003 all my high school years on Northwood Boulevard in Royal Oak Michigan.

It’s always festive when I vote in my new place, because it takes place among these true friends, those who protect our community by day and by night, who polish up their phenomenal trucks and other vehicles, and stand them, gleaming, outside as we arrive to cast our ballots.

I wasn’t even well on the most recent voting day.  I thought I might not even be able to utilize that phenomenal rite, for which our Founding Fathers, often deliberating here and near here, pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

Feeble as I felt, mid-morning I asked myself, for some reason, “well who are you, what defines you?”

One answer turned out to be that I write a blog about New Jersey and nature.  So I did that, that morning.

And what else am I, who else am I?

An American who votes.

So I went down to The Lawrenceville Fire Company and chose, among others, Bonnie Watson Coleman, whose splendid brother, Jay, is our vice president at D&R Greenway Land Trust, saving nature in New Jersey.

Who else am I?

A photographer.

So while I was down at the fire station, I took pictures.  Below is the Fire Company’s own picture.  I urge you to think of them now, at Christmastime.  Think how they leap into the fray, whenever flames appear — and how they advise us about such things as fire extinguishers and generously watering the Christmas tree. Think and get out your checkbook, and write them a thank you check.

Meanwhile, I think their vehicles look like Christmas.  Enjoy!

Lawrenceville Antique Fire EngineLawrenceville Fire Company
Mercer County Station 23
Address: 64 Phillips Ave, 08648
Phone: (609) 896-0972
“Protecting the North Since 1915”

Welcoming Doorway, Lawrenceville Fire Company

Welcoming Doorway, Lawrenceville Fire Company

A safe and honorable place to bring tattered flags

A safe and honorable place to bring tattered flags

We've come a long way with firefighting equipment

We’ve come a long way with firefighting equipment

Water rescue equipment

Water rescue equipment

Insignia of Honor

Insignia of Honor

Brush 23

Brush 23

The latest and the greatest...

The latest and the greatest…

How It Used To Be

How It Used To Be

Honorable Uniform, Ever at the Ready

Honorable Uniform, Ever at the Ready

Lawrencevillie Station 23

Lawrencevillie Station 23

Pride and Joy of the Crew

Pride and Joy of the Crew

Ready for Anything

Ready for Anything

RESCUE

RESCUE

Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

Badge of Heroism

Badge of Heroism  re 9/11

The Power and The Glory

The Power and The Glory

God is in the Details

God is in the Details

This Simple Plaque Tells Their Story

Lawrenceville Fire Department 010

The first time I voted here, the department was called to a fire.  Here we all were, voting away, and there came the men, calmly hurrying, dashing into those uniforms we came to revere over and over during 9/11, climbing on to the polished trucks that had been all out on the sidewalk for us to admire.  Silently, surely, they whooshed away.

I asked, “Do you do this every time we vote?”

Smiles all around.

That day and this healing day, of capturing their luminous equipment, I felt so very proud to be American.