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.
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.
Salem and Cumberland are unknown havens, where it seems every black dot in the sky is either an eagle or an osprey!
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 When it seems every molecule of water has been withdrawn, and all that is left of the marshes is shimmer, an egret will be doubled in that sheen
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’re always glad to get back into the cool car, but we never want to leave those eagles!
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.
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!)
crows and vultures
unidentified raptor zooming into a yard
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)
3 great egrets
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!
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
[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 Black-Crowned Night Herons by Geoff Coe of Fort Myers, Florida
East Point Lighthouse
(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….!