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.

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BIRDING ‘THE BRIG’ AS ‘MARCH WIND DOTH BLOW’

 

As a child, we recited this nursery rhyme — “The North wind doth blow, and we shall have snow, and what shall poor robin do then, poor thing? But sit in the barn, to keep himself warm, and hide his head under his wing, poor thing.” 

Which just goes to show you that there were barns all over the place in my own childhood, as well as in the childhood of whoever wrote that jingle.

However, robins are not frequenters of barns.  I’m glad I didn’t realize that as a little girl and spoil the rhyme.  You’ll see them hopping all over lawns again now that spring is nearly here.  And you needn’t worry about frozen worms – as there is a significant period in each robin’s life each year in which his/her entire system switches to fructivore.

But I’m after more than robins:  Tomorrow morning, I’ll pick up one birding buddy in Princeton and meet another in Smithville, at our beloved “Bakery”.  We’ll have real farm eggs and hand-made sausage patties, and one might have French toast, in a room rich in artifacts from sailing and farming days of yore, that were given to The Bakery by neighbors and friends.  My favorite sign says “Victuals” – it once graced a place that provisioned sailing ships about to leave South Jersey for points round the world.

Then we’ll head over into the Brigantine Wildlife Refuge, otherwise known as the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, alongside Lily Lake, slightly above Atlantic City.

I explored ‘The Brig’ a week ago, with a very determined fellow birder.  Wind or no wind, no birds save swans were “hiding their heads under their wings, poor things.”  They were all busily up and about, seriously feeding on every side.

The 8-mile dike road took us the better part of a day to circumnavigate, Of course, we were ‘after’ the snowy owls — to be gifted with two:  one almost to the second gull tower, and one 2/3 of the way along the final stretch of roadway. 

Snowies barely move – in fact that’s one of the ways you know you’re seeing one.  Even a plastic bag ripples around in these winds – but the snowy stays impassive.  Finally a very subtle turning of the head, a sleepy (for they ARE nocturnal) blink of a golden eye, and the white lump alone in a gold field reveals itself to be the object of your quest.  The pictures are hilarious — a chip like a broken fingernail on a gold field — a shape only a birder could love. 

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?  Snowies could have left for Arctic reaches, if their brilliant inner radar alerts them to open water and enough small prey along the way, and home.

My favorite birding last week came as I followed Northern harrier after Northern harrier.  They’re scarcer and scarcer in New Jersey because of sea level rise.  That’s the unrealized, unrecognized, unadmitted facet of catastrophic climage change.  It’s taking the harriers’ nest sites in marshlands — often cruelly waiting until the birds have mated and nested and laid eggs, before washing all away. 

We may have seen five females, and no one flies more elegantly, more irresistibly.  The females are larger than the ‘grey ghost’ males.  They are identified by large white rump spots, revealed as they circle low and, yes, harry their prey.  I told my companion, watching Harrier Number One, “it was worth the entire drive just for this.”

I am not only not a lister, but could be called vigilantly anti-list.  However, the Brig’s welcome shop had new colorful multi-paged printed lists, by species category, with boxes to check.  So we checked away, all day.

Under Swans, Geese, Ducks, we exulted in snow geese, brant, Canada geese, mute swans with their diagnostic Princeton-orange beaks helpfully visible, American wigeon, American black ducks, mallards, a mallard/black duck (male) hybrid, the bright orange and green Northern shovelers, saucy/dapper Northern pintails, elegant green-winged Teal, the merry bobbing buffleheads, arresting hooded Mergansers, so-called common mergansers, and a rare (to us) red-breasted merganser, whose white ovals along the dark back identified this beauty.  We were blessed with sun, so all these colors and shapes stood out vividly, even when the dabbling ducks were upside-down in wintry water.

A very special gift was the tiny horned grebe, all alone on Absecon Bay.  How incongruous this little one, so elegant, so rare, looked against Atlantic City’s blinding towers.

Assorted other winners were stately great blue herons, Turkey Vultures insouciantly riding thermals higher and higher, a merry flotilla of tiny, toy-like American Coot.  And that master speedster, the peregrine falcon.

Tomorrow morning, this new group will pick up new colorful list pamphlets in the welcome center, eager to tally whatever surprises ever-generous Nature has in store for eager birders.

You can bird right here in Princeton, I must admit.  Great blue herons have been seen by the Dam on Carnegie Lake, even in our recent blizzards.  And our beloved American bald eagles are assiduously and healthily tending eggs in their curiously shaped (like an oriole or a hummingbird, long and deep, not wide and flat like eagles) nest.   They have been officially observed as “performing incubation exchanges.”

All you really need to bird here is the desire, two feet, and our D&R towpath.  Herons and eagles don’t even require optics.

Good birding!