February Sandy Hook: Fun in the Sun and the Sands

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Base of Sandy Hook Light

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I treasure winter along our magnificent Jersey coasts.  You may overlook the fact that we have three:  The Atlantic, The Delaware River; and Delaware Bay.  This is heaven for this Midwesterner, who never even saw saltwater until the summer between seventh and eighth grade.  This is troublous for one who is all too aware of sea-level rise in the twenty-first century.

Sandy Hook River-side Views with Tasha Fall 2017

Tasha O’Neill Looking Back at the Mainland from the Barrier Island that is Sandy Hook in HOT September!

Two friends willingly planned a Sandy Hook jaunt for yesterday, not really realizing that it was Valentine’s Day.  My companions that day were my former Packet editor, Ilene Dube, who insisted that I blog for her paper ages ago…, and my fine-art-photographer friend Tasha O’Neill.  I owe my first blog, NJWILD for the Packet, and its successor, NJWILDBEAUTY to Ilene – who insisted I do this, when I did not know what a blog was!

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Manhattan from Sandy Hook on a Windy Spring Day – North End of Barrier Island

We’d planned to visit Monmouth University first for three art exhibitions, especially James Fiorentino’s of Conserve Wildlife NJ.  But the sun burst out as we headed due east, and Sandy Hook won post position.Spermaceti Cove Sandy Hook Jan 2017

Spermaceti Cove and Boardwalk, High Tide, January 2017

Ilene had not known such New Jersey treasures as Little Silver and Colt’s Neck, let alone the equestrian paradise of Monmouth County.  Our drive through Rumson’s array of true mansions brought up amazing comparisons — Newport, Bar Harbor…  And then we were crossing the glinting Navesink River, the Atlantic Ocean stretching into infinity before us.  This Michigander can never believe that scene!

Verrazano and Light House Sandy Hook Spring 2017

Verrazano and Tip of Manhattan from Sandy Hook’s Northernmost Trail

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Birding Essentials: Kathleen and Jim Amon: January 2017

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Red-throated Loon in Winter Plumage on Pond for Amons and Me: Jan. 2017

(Internet Image)

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Essential Tools for Birding Anywhere, especially Sandy Hook, especially Winter: 

David Allen Sibley

There are no fees for ‘The Hook’ in winter, and never for birders (because you’ll be hiking, not swimming, not parking at crowded beach sites of summer).  I see us tumbling like children in our eagerness to get close enough to the waves.  The ocean was a pale and delicate hue, baby-boy-blanket-blue.

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Working Harbor in Winter, Across Navesink from Sandy Hook Preserve

No matter where we turned, everything was pristine and exquisite.  The few sounds included mutterings of gulls and whispering waves.

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Where the Rabbit Loped, January 2017

Later, on the wast side, we would be treated to the nature sound I cherish – murmurings among a flock of brant.  These small goose-like birds, ==whose shape in the water echoes small air-craft carriers–, have only just arrived at ‘the Hook.’  They swam in determined flotillas, more tourists than residents, –zipping first here, then there, as if renewing old ties.

Brant Goose Drinking Barnegat

Brant Sipping at Low Tide, by Brenda Jones

In peaceful water, toy-like buffleheads, quintessential diving ducks, bobbed up anddown, arrived and departed, vanished and materialized with characteristic merriment.

Male Bufflehead by Ray Yeager

Ray Yeager – Key Fine Art Photographer of Winter Ducks:  Male Bufflehead

Ilene was fascinated to see all the osprey nests — some on human-built platforms; some on the chimneys of venerable yellow-brick military dwellings.  Some platforms, especially at the hawk watch platform (north), had been emptied by recent storms.

Sandy Hook Jim Kathleen Amon Spermaceti Cove Boardwalk Jan 2017

Birding Spermaceti Cove in Winter — Seals on Skull Island off to our Left

Even though it was February, a heat haze of the most exquisite soft-slate-blue obscured not only the Verrazano Bridge, but also Manhattan’s Wall Street megaliths.  Only nature was in view from the platform that day.

Sandy Hook Vista North Spring 2017

View from Hawk Watch Platform on Windy Spring Day

Grasses at Spermaceti Cove looked as though they’d been repeatedly beaten into submission by a glacier, not simply by recent high tides.  Glistening mud of the inlet’s banks was spattered with deep raccoon ‘hand’-prints, where these nocturnal mammals had washed recent foods before eating.

Fall and Winter Sandy Hook Salt Pond Region Jan 2017

Sandy Hook Marsh Grasses, January 2017

I am a realist. We are nowhere near the vernal equinox.  But, yes, days are lengthening, amazingly at both ends.

Christmas on Sandy Hook Bay Bahrs Jan. 2017

Christmas on the Navesink River from Bahrs

Yes, every once in awhile, a balminess arrives.  When three friends can celebrate together, even to feasting at Bahrs, the 100-year-old Highlands seafood restaurant high above the Navesink.  Where we could down Delaware Bay oysters and other rare treats, before taking in all three art exhibits in three different buildings at Monmouth University, without wearing coats.  Then drive home in golden light, through the Battlefield of Monmouth, without which we would not have a country.

Gastronomic Haven by the Sea Bahrs Jan. 2017

 

Birders at Bahrs Jan. 2017

When Birders Lunch at Bahrs

I cannot help wondering what our colonial heroes would think of the country they fought and many died to save, in so many New Jersey battles.  But our is a noble history.  Their pledging and/or giving their lives, their fortunes, but never their sacred honor, cannot be for naught.

Patriots' Flag Chestnut Neck Revolutionary War Monument Winter 2017

Patriots’ Flag at Site of Battle of Chestnut Neck, in Pine Barrens

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From start to finish, Mother Nature herself had given Ilene, Tasha and me treasured Valentines.  The red and white, however, decorated Sandy Hook’s Storied Light, rather than hearts.  Lighthouses and 13-Star Flags, however, always warm MY heart.  I hope they warm YOURS!

Try beaches in winter!

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Sandy Hook’s Heroic Lifesaving Station

And preserve every inch of open and historic space in magnificent New Jersey!

 

Tasha Carolyn Bahrs Sandy Hook April

Tasha and I on her COLD April Birthday — at Bahrs, Sandy Hook Behind Us…

 

 

WINTER BIRDING AT THE BEACH ~ Sandy Hook, January 6

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Sandy Hook, Sandy Hook Bay, Spermaceti Cove on our  January Birding Day

Epiphany, indeed!   Actually, multiple epiphanies on the purported day of the Three Kings’ visit to the manger…

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Two Seasons, near Salt Pond, Sandy Hook, January 6, 2017

O.K., it snowed all night.  Who cares?

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Where The Rabbit Ran… near Salt Pond, Sandy Hook, January 6, 2017

There is nothing more thrilling than finding first tracks in fresh snow or upon tide-compressed sand.

And, yes, it’s cold and windy — so much the BETTER!

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The King of the Foxes — Where the Fox Sips, Spermaceti Cove, Sandy Hook, January

I’m beginning to think that winter is the BEST time for adventures!

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Kathleen and Jim Amon, Studying Buffleheads, Mergansers, Brant and a Lone Red-Breasted Loon in Winter Plumage

Come with Kathleen and Jim Amon, of Lambertville, (and me).  These friends are key birders, both fine artists — Jim with a one-man exhibition into early February at D&R Greenway of his magnificent butterfly studies.  Jim is my former colleague (Director of Stewardship at D&R Greenway Land Trust).  He also supports the Sourlands Conservancy, and writes marvelous nature articles under the heading, “Seeing the Sourlands.” Both are also impassioned about food, which you know key to my nature quests.

Yes, stroll with us along the northernmost barrier beach of New Jersey early on a January Friday morning.

As you can see from my intent friends above, –wild winds, recent snow, a nearby bay, and a few salt ponds over which increasing gusts were gusting, mean nothing.

Gear is essential.  Fashion is not.  Windproofed everything is worth its weight in gold.

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Essential ‘Gear’ for Birding in All Seasons – David Alan Sibley’s Masterworks

O, yes, and having memorized most of the texts of these books, and possessing decent optics.  As NJWILDBEAUTY readers know, an amazing friend recently gave me her second set of Swarovski binoculars.  Kathleen Amon had just purchased the identical ‘species’.  Here she is using them for the first time, astounded by subtleties revealed.  These ‘glasses’ are beyond price.  No gift of my life, (including rare jewels from my ex-husband) surpasses them in importance.

At my bird-feeder at home, my amazing Swarovskis, I swear, let me absorb the personality and character of feeding goldfinches from the look in their eyes!

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Female American Goldfinch (NJ STATE BIRD) on Seed Sack by Fine Art Photographer, Friend: Brenda Jones

Other essentials, — which I am sure all my NJWILDBEAUTY readers possess, include curiosity, passion, enthusiasm, persistence, courage, and a certain level of fitness – which as you know Peroneus Longus  (that pesky left-leg tendon) does not always provide.

‘Perry’ was a brat last week at Island Beach.  But we worked him into cooperation any number of times.  At Sandy Hook, –taped anew by my legendary chiropractor, Brandon Osborne of Hopewell– Peroneus behaved like a perfect gentleman.  So he moved into Jim Amon’s league…

O, yes, the ankle tape this week is the color of tomato soup before you add milk.  It sports white writing all over everywhere, shouting “ROCK TAPE”, over and over and over.

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Jim and Kathleen Amon, intent upon buffleheads, Spermaceti Cove, at Sandy Hook, January 6, 2017

Never mind rocks.   Give me sand and snow!

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Brooding Wetland, Spermaceti Cove, Sandy Hook in January

The purpose of our jaunt, which we’d determined to take come rain or snow or sleet or hail, — well, almost… — was to acquaint Jim and Kathleen with all the bird ops at Sandy Hook.

To show them where the green heron lurks in summer:

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Green Heron, Brenda Jones

Where the great egret feeds on the incoming tide…

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Great Egret by Brenda Jones

Where the ospreys soar, court, mate, build nests, raise hefty young, and perform impressive exchanges, as both parents tend first eggs, then chicks.

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Osprey by Brenda Jones

Well, you get the idea.

Every time I introduce anyone to Sandy Hook, there is great attraction to, and concern for, the yellow houses left from “the Hook’s” military past.  Time has had its way with them.

Sandy, the Storm, was doubly merciless — waves crashing in from the Atlantic and others rising with menace from all-too-near Sandy Hook Bay.

These houses, upon whose chimneys ospreys delight to nest and successfully raise young, are finally being restored!

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Restoration of the Yellow Houses

Everyone muses, in the presence of the battered yellow house, upon stories these dwellings could tell.

Three of these haunting structures had become impeccable, after all these ruinous decades. The northernmost restoration now sports a FOR RENT sign in its front window.  The one beyond that had its door open, a workman in a hard hat entering with urgency.  Across from their porches, one faces Sandy Hook Bay, bird-rich, to be sure.  Also frequently crossed by the ferry to Manhattan…

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New Ad for Yellow Houses, up near North Beach and Hawk Watch Platform

Oh, yes, and what birds did we find?

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Common Merganser Female by Fine Art Photographer/Friend, Ray Yeager

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Hooded Merganser, Ray Yeager

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Male Bufflehead, Ray Yeager

Brant Goose Drinking Barnegat

Brant, by Brenda Jones

What did we see that we did not expect?  I had jokingly mentioned, as we faced salt ponds awash in the dapper and compelling ducks of winter, “With any luck, we’ll have a red-throated loon in winter plumage…   Of course, that means he won’t have a red throat.”

This is just one of the many complexities of the birder’s life.  If you cannot stand contradictions (such as the black-bellied plover in winter plumage who has white belly), don’t bird.

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Red-throated Loon in Winter Plumage from Internet: Cornell Ornithology Lab

What had we expected to find, but didn’t have enough time on the ocean side?

Long-tailed ducks out beyond the third waves…

Ray Yeager is a master at finding and immortalizing long-tails, so this image will have to do for all of us.

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Lon-tailed duck, male, by Ray Yeager

What do I remember from my November visit, [that did not happen in January]– every brant on the salt ponds catapulted into the air by horrific military noise from two officious helicopters.

‘The Hook’ has been military since the War of 1812, even though “no shot has been fired in anger”, as they say, along those splendid sands.

I’m supposed to feel secure and protected in the presence of the military, but the opposite is my truth.  Such intrusions cannot be good for the birds..

.

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All the Brant of Sandy Hook’s Salt Pond, Fleeing Cacophonous Helicopters, November 2016

Sandy Hook is so special, even the poison ivy is beautiful.  This November scene reminds us

(1) Winter Birding is full of riches, worth all the risks and potential discomforts.

(2) Rejoice that these preserves exist.  Do everything in your power to see that they persist, for the wild creatures above all, and for human epiphanies!

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Poison Ivy Still Life, November 2016

SANDY HOOK NATURE MIRACLES, IN FALL MIGRATION TIME

Mary Wood and I, –who shared Bahrs beauty and savory food, by the water, in the previous blog post–, spent the rest of that November day, right up to sundown. surrounded by extraordinary beauty.  We birded among dunes, alongside shrubbery, on a boardwalk, near the hawk platform, below the Lighthouse, down shadowy lanes, ever alert for anything with wings.  But autumn took center stage.

Ultimately, ‘the gestalt’ of the day surpassed all avian happenings — a sojourn that ceaselessly glowed, no matter where we trekked.  Come WITH us:

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Spermaceti Cove Boardwalk at Sandy Hook, facing west

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Glories of the Salt Marsh 

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Perfection of Fox Tracks 

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Newly Arrived Brant Fleeing Military Helicopters — a Major Disturbance!   

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November’s Windsurfers over Salt Pond 

 

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THIS IS NEW JERSEY! – Windsurfers over Bay, looking North to Wall Street, The Battery  

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Poison Ivy Perfection, November Afternoon 

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Sandy Hook LIght, November Sky, –oldest continuously operating lighthouse in our country 

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Former Life-Saving Station, on Atlantic Ocean, Sandy Hook 

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Wild Grasses of November, Sandy Hook 

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Sandy Hook Autumn Glow, Verrazano Bridge 

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Woodbine Adornment, Abandoned Building of Sandy Hook 

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Weathered Fence Post at North Beach 

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Why Yellow? 

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Season’s Finale 

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What Stories These Walls Could Convey!

FIRST BIRTHDAY SCENES – NOVEMBER 2016 BAHRS-BY-THE-BAY

SONG WITHOUT WORDS

 

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November Shadows 2016 Atlantic Highlands NJ

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Bahrs Harvest November 2016

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Autumn-By-the-Sea

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Skyscape – Bahrs – November 2016

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Weathered Sign

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Navesink Steamers — The Best

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Tableside – Bahrs for the Birthday

summer-folds

Wrapped

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Fried

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“Dining” — Bahrs

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Lobster

…AND THE DAYS DWINDLE DOWN…

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Poison Ivy Turned for Fall, Sandy Hook

It’s rough when a season is so laggard that one is forced to turn to poison ivy for color.  Vines alter to let migrant birds know their fruits are ripe, ready to fuel those southern journeys.  Have YOU seen the scarlet or crimson of ivy or woodbine anywhere yet?

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Autumnal Lichen and Oak Leaves, Brigantine Wildlife Refuge Forest Floor

September used to mean fall, and there were songs to prove it.  But are there songs about October?  For that is the most difficult of the autumnal offerings for me — darker, ever darker, without the blessing of the snows…   Walking in woods becomes mysterious-to-hazardous, as sun plunges not only earlier and earlier, but more and more rapidly.

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Autumnal Glory, Prallsville Mills, Canal, –Normal Fall Color

 

Most Octobers, we have the most sublime compensation — colors like bonfires erupting in all deciduous trees, many vines, certain ‘weeds’, and even rare migrant birds arrowing overhead on their way south.

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Geese Migrating Past the Moon by BRENDA JONES, Fine Art Photographer

Not this fall.  Wherever I look, at home, at work, in the car, even when we drove four hours north to Connecticut recently, everything is the relentless, face it — boring, dark green of summer.

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Connecticut Proof of Autumn

Do I have any autumn scenes to remind me of how it ought to be?

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Canal Walk in Autumn, Delaware River near Prallsville Mills

Can looking at yesterday’s pictures make up for today’s monochrome palette?

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Brigantine Wildlife Pine and Oak Forest Still Life in Autumn

I’m never again going to take a colored leaf for granted — not EVEN brown!

 

 

 

Sandy Hook June Scenes with Jeanette-the-Intrepid

We go to the Shore to cool off, right?  Not last Saturday!  Sandy Hook was as steamy and stifling as Manhattan, despite intense winds that had the flags in whipping/ripping full-out mode.  Nonetheless, Jeanette Hooban (the original Intrepid) and I made the most of our day there on Saturday.

You should know that The Powers That Be want to desecrate / destroy forested areas of Sandy Hook, in order to construct buildings to house vehicles.  Any chance you get to protest this travesty, take it.  Sandy Hook is a key segment of the Atlantic Flyway, essential to birds in migration in spring and autumn.  Nests of rare, threatened, endangered species are everywhere.  Write editors and congresspeople, insisting they honor habitat, for once facilitating the lives and hatchings of these spectacular birds!

 

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Black Skimmer Skimming, from Internet

Star of the day was either the black skimmer skimming on the ocean side (they usually prefer bays and impoundments), or the strutting oystercatcher, also on the ocean side, so near hordes of New Yorkers screaming in the surf.

American_Oystercatcher_Strutting from Internet

Oystercatcher Strutting, from Internet

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Great Egret Landing, from Internet

The winds were so high that all water surfaces were pleated like the cotton plisse of childhood summer pajamas.  Neither the ospreys nor the egrets could see into the water to fish.  Seven egrets surrounded an oxbow pond, beside the Shrewsbury River.  It seemed that they were stabbing blindly in quest of lunch.

osprey-with-bass from Internet

“Osprey Packing a Lunch” from Internet

That entire day, –and we confirmed this with other birders–, we only saw one osprey ‘packing a lunch,’ the waters were so turbulent.  This one was flying practically from the entry toll booths (it’s free to bird there!) to a nest on a chimney of the officers’ (ruined) houses, where his mate searched plaintively.  We told her, “He’s on his way.  He’s having a bad day at the office.”

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Osprey Nest on Officer’s House Chimney, Sandy Hook

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Ruined Officers’ Houses 2 Years Ago – they look exponentially worse now!

Prickly Pear in Bloom Sandy Hook

Prickly Pear Cactus in Bloom, June 2016, Sandy Hook

Salt Spray Rose Sandy Hook June 2016

Salt Spray Rose in Bloom, June 2016, Sandy Hook

Mysterious House Sandy Hook

Mysterious Officer’s Mansion, Sandy Hook

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Extremely Hazardous Area – Old Battery near North Beach, Sandy Hook

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Sandy-Rearranged Bricks, Officers’ Houses

Jeanette Meets the Atlantic Sandy Hook June 2016

Jeanette Merrily Wades in the June Atlantic, Sandy Hook

Impressionist View New Yorkers in Atlantic at Sandy Hook

Impressionist Scene, New Yorkers Streaming to, Screaming in, the Surf

QUICK! Where Am I?

NJWILDBEAUTY readers are accustomed to my voyaging far and wide, mostly in New Jersey, in search of Nature at her finest.  Many of these trips take this former Michigander to the ocean, which reminds her of the Great Lakes.

Deserted Beach Sandy Hook October 2015

Can you guess the location of my Columbus Day excursion?

Deserted (NJ) Beach 1

Deserted (NJ) Beach 1

Sacred Solitude

Deserted Beach 2 Sandy Hook October 2015

In this collage. see how many scenes you need to discover the answer.

Deserted Beach 3 Sandy Hook October 2015

Can You Guess?

Deserted Beach 4 Sandy Hook October 2015

Are You Thinking Caribbean?

Deserted Beach Sandy Hook October 2015

Manhattan Lurks Beyond Those Trees

Deserted Sandy Hook, Populous Highlands, October

Emptiness vs. Fulness

Horseshoe Crab Shell Near Salicornia

Horseshoe Crab Shell Near Salicornia

Leaflets Three - Let It Be -- Poison Ivy, Key Nourishment for Migratory Birds in Autumn

Leaflets Three – Let It Be — Poison Ivy, Key Nourishment for Migratory Birds in Autumn

Leopard Crab Shell in the Wrack Line

Leopard Crab Shell in the Wrack Line

Prey and Predator Tracks

Prey and Predator Tracks

Ancient Peat Moss Carried In by HIgh Tide

Ancient Peat Carried In by HIgh Tide

Anne Zeman and I think the black dots in this picture are actually winkles, a specialite of course, in France, to be eaten raw with the assistance of tiny pins, in Bretagne et Normandie, especially near Gaugin’s Pont Aven.  They’re a key feature of their ‘l’assiette du coquillage’ — plate of shellfish.  One time in Paris, near the Gare du Nord, ordering this feast for myself at lunch, I asked the Parisian couple to my right, “How do YOU eat these?”  (Then, I could say it in French – “comment on mange ceci?”  Their answers were in concert, their equivalent of, “Are you kidding?  We NEVER order that!”       (It was divine, all of it, of course…especially the winkles.)

Our Robinson Crusoe Moment -- Remember, this is October!

Our Robinson Crusoe Moment — Remember, this is October!

Bittersweet Abundance, October, 2015

Bittersweet Abundance, October, 2015

Newborn Sumac

Newborn Sumac

Red Seaweed and its 'Holdfast'

Fresh  Seaweed and its ‘Holdfast’

Raccoon Tracks at High Tide Near Spermaceti Cove

Raccoon Tracks at High Tide Near Spermaceti Cove

Autumn Palette by the Sea

Autumn Palette by the Sea

Seaside Goldenrod and its Sharp Shadow

Seaside Goldenrod and its Sharp Shadow

Protecting Shore Birds

Protecting Shore Birds

Immature Turtle (Terrapin?) Crosses Our Trail

Immature Turtle (Terrapin?) Crosses Our Trail

One of Three Mocking Birds That Day, Singing Its Heart Out

One of Three Mocking Birds That Day, Singing Its Heart Out

Still Life of October

Still Life of October

Give Up?

This series recreates one of two recent outings at Sandy Hook, New Jersey’s ultimate barrier beach, so near Wall Street, the former World Trade Center Towers, the unspellable Verrazanno Bridge, and so forth.  It’s luminous there, pristine in many places, and should be replete with migratory birds this time of year.

Ha!  I’d be surprised if we had a dozen species either trip.

Today (Sunday, October 18), –returning sunburnt. windblown and quite amazed at avian bounty by comparison, I would say Karen Linder and I had more birds in our first hour. sauntering Island Beach (another barrier beach, unspoilt since creation, in our southern reaches) walking Reed’s Road, to Barmegat Bay.

After my first Sandy Hook day of few birds, I dared title my autumnal assignment for the Packet, “Bad Day at Sandy Hook?”  Read it below and see if you agree.

The key to all three excursions, however, is that what really matters is never the birds!

It’s fellowship, friendship, what the wise French term, “l’amitie“!  Thank you, Anne, Karen and Mary, always!

PACKET PUBLICATIONS:

Bad day at Sandy Hook? Autumn Questing in Monmouth County’s Gateway Recreation Area

  • By Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Updated Sep 24, 2015

For birders, fall begins in late July, with the first southward shorebird migrations. Naturalists travel like detectives, seeking early clues to the new season. Heading for Sandy Hook, a seven-mile stretch of a barrier peninsula, in late August, we dared hope to find autumn via Hudsonian godwits clustering on its storied shores.

At ‘the Hook’ (meaning a spit of land) in autumn, there is always the osprey question — who’s departed, who remains? With any luck, there might be eagles. Green herons lurk in hidden pools. Fall’s raptors could be coursing overhead. Oh yes, there are renowned beaches with limitless sea vistas. One follows sharp-shinned hawks pouring overhead on one side, with the Verrazano Bridge arcing to the left. Beneath it rises a tiny water-surrounded lighthouse. Across from the Hawk Watch Platform looms the site of where the World Trade Center used to stand.

A fort from the 1800s and the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in America also preside on Sandy Hook proper. But this park holds nature miracles few suspect, as in 300-plus species of birds. Hudsonian godwits would be particularly appropriate, as ‘The Hook’ was discovered by Henry Hudson in the 1600’s.

Mary Wood and I set out on the last August Friday, binoculars at the ready. There’s free entry for birders to ‘The Hook”, otherwise known as the Gateway National Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service. Entry is free for all between Labor Day and Memorial Day Weekend. It always stuns Mary of Minnesota, and Carolyn of Michigan to encounter the Atlantic Ocean after a mere hour-and-a-half drive north and east. We frankly gasped on that futuristic highway bridge over the Shrewsbury, facing the sea’s patchwork of cerulean, slate, teal and Prussian blue.

The guard merrily waved us in. We parked at once, crossing the four-lane road to enter dense shrubbery, where Roger Tory Peterson’s famous ‘confusing fall warblers’ should have been everywhere. Bayberry and poison ivy are laden this autumn, which may presage another intense wintertime. Their fruits provide all essential migration fuels, especially long-lasting fats. Hearty, bountiful seaside goldenrod is burgeoning on all sides, key food for monarch butterflies. In Augusts past, at ‘the Hook’ these butterflies turned all gold plants orange. But, for us, that Friday, not a wing. Not even a butterfly’s. Well, at least we weren’t confused.

Our disappointment disappeared, however, as we were brushed by broad wing shadow. One keen-eyed male osprey was checking us out. We were elated to raise optics to follow this soaring raptor out over the Shrewsbury estuary. Deciding to skip warblers for now, Mary headed us over to Fort Hancock for more osprey. That end of the park holds military buildings and official dwellings, most of which have seen better days. Last year, a week or two earlier, their generous chimneys had been Osprey Central. Some of these hurricane-strafed houses are now undergoing desultory restoration. Most seem tragic — hinting of long-ago intrigues and even ghosts. This year, nests are less welcome than ghosts. White pipes rise from most chimneys. Only a few reveal nests of determined birds, who had deftly woven in and around obstructive plastic tubes. Not one nest held a resident.

Visitors bent on a day of surf and sand may be startled to come upon missiles and fences, bunkers and closed gates, barricades and a battery named “Potter.” The United States Army utilized the fort as the Sandy Hook Proving Ground, from the Civil War through 1919. It is now part of Fort Hancock Memorial Park. The National Park Service “is soliciting proposals for renovation and use to the more than 35 buildings in the fort complex.”

No ospreys? Let’s get back to warblers. We turned this way and that, each knowing exactly where to find rich forests that should be sheltering and nourishing these feisty little travelers on their way south. We found more ROAD CLOSED signs than birds. “No problem,” I assured Mary. “We’ll just get go up to the lighthouse and turn left.” Wrong. We could reach the oldest continuously operating coastal light in the United States. But orange cones blocked the left turn to ‘my’ warbler forest.

What birders do when they can’t find birds is to reminisce about rarities of yesteryear. “That woods was full of vireos” “Golden-crowned kinglets gleaned insects from cobwebs all along these bricks.” “There’s the dead tree where the scissor-tailed flycatcher posed forever.”

”No problem,” I foolishly repeated. “We’ll just head for the hawk watch platform. Could be broad-wings.” Instead of the wide trail to the platform where we used to see the World Trade Center towers, as well as spring or fall raptors too many to count, we met a United States Government official. “Oh, did you want to take pictures?,” he asked with regret. Not only was the trail closed. The hawk watch platform had been demolished—safety issues, but it’s being rebuilt, the official promised.

When we were sure he wasn’t looking, we departed North Beach for the minuscule parking lot for overnight campers. One non-camper parking space remained, so we pulled in. Mary remembered, “This is where we found the wood thrushes with Anne Zeman.” “Yes!,” I exulted, “and the cedar waxwing flock flew out of that tree!” Across the road, on the west side, is a gentle, waveless freshwater beach, with rich saltwater marshland across from a trail plus mini-boardwalk. “Here Betty Lies stood transfixed as the great egret, examining the incoming tide, scooped fish like a skimmer.”

Mary found what we hoped was a kingfisher, posing on one arm of an empty (man-supported) osprey nest. We spent a long time watching this patient bird as it scanned as intently as had the Fort batteries when in use. Too far away for us to tell whether the bird sported the female’s rust belt, that bird kept us mesmerized. It finally zoomed in that downward loop. We were not treated to its remarkable rattley call.

”I’ll settle for a kingfisher, any day” Mary observed, as she turned us back toward the entry, but first, Spermaceti Cove. Its boardwalk had been pulverized to toothpicks by Sandy. We discovered a new walkway — half walking, half running along resounding ‘boards.’

Leaning over very solid railings, we examined high-tide-strafed mudflats, the ‘headlines’ of the night. Colonies of scurrying fiddler crabs lifted golden defensive claws, as they backed into dark round holes. Intriguing raccoon tracks threaded down to gently coursing waters. We were relieved that this very recent and sorely needed restoration had not driven away the wild creatures.

At the culmination of the boardwalk, solid benches awaited. We steadied binoculars on the broad railing, in the face of a rising wind. On sandbars across the flowing water, we found double-crested cormorants, lined up like a black picket fence. Strutting around between them was the rarity of our day, a black-bellied plover still in breeding plumage. In no time, his eponymous belly will be white for winter, and identification will be somewhat trickier, and, yes, “confusing”. Laughing gulls in eclipse plumage baffled us at first, for they no longer sported their vintage burgundy beaks. We’d watch that plover pose and posture, then sit to relish absolute silence, on this peninsula from which Battery Park and Wall Street are visible. Even the waves were whispers on the west side.

There’s no such thing as a “Bad Day at Sandy Hook,” although ours came close.

I was asked to describe our “pretty route”, which is too complex for a story. You could direct your GPS to take you to Rumson, cross the Shrewsbury River and turn left/north onto 36 into the Park.

Our trick is to head always for Bahrs Landing, legendary seafood house far above the Shrewsbury in the Highlands. Have any of their seafood specialties (simple ones, don’t try anything fancy), also knowing that the rare “belly clams” relished by my friend, food critic Faith Bahadurian, are available on the dinner menu.

Yes there is outdoor seating now. While you make up your mind, you can watch proprietary gulls pilfer new clam hauls from docked fishing boats, then crack the shells on weathered docks for their own lunch. Beer is sparklier indoors and outdoors at Bahrs, with the Shrewsbury winking behind it, Sandy Hook beckoning over the bridge. Between your GPS’s instructions to Bahrs and your own cheery waitress, they’ll point you back over that bridge to birding or hiking or biking, or, yes, swimming. Then, whether it’s a bad day or a good day is up to you.

Sandy Hook’s official address is 58 Magruder Road, Highlands. For more information, go towww.nps.gov/gate/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm.