WINTER BIRDING AT THE BEACH ~ Sandy Hook, January 6

spermaceti-cove-sandy-hook-jan-2017

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…

fall-and-winter-sandy-hook-salt-pond-region-jan-2017

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

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

where-the-rabbit-trekked-sandy-hook-jan-201

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!

the-king-of-the-foxes-sandy-hook-spermaceti-cove-jan-2017

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!

january-birding-jim-and-kathleen-amon-sandy-hook-salt-pond-region-jan-20176

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.

essential-tools-sandy-hook-jan-20167

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!

femalegoldfinch-a-happy-feeder-brenda-jones

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.

sandy-hook-jim-kathleen-amon-spermaceti-cove-boardwalk-jan-2017

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

Never mind rocks.   Give me sand and snow!

january-reflectons-spermaceti-cove-sandy-hook-jan-2017

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:

green-heron-brenda-jones

Green Heron, Brenda Jones

Where the great egret feeds on the incoming tide…

egretwingstretchmillstonebrenda-jones

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.

ospreymillstoneaqueduct-brenda-jones

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!

restored-houses-for-rent-sandy-hook-2017

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…

location-sandy-hook-jan-2017

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

Oh, yes, and what birds did we find?

common-merganser-female-by-ray-yeager

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

hooded-merganser-by-ray-yeager

Hooded Merganser, Ray Yeager

male-bufflehead-by-ray-yeager

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.

red-throated-tloon-from-internet-glamour_iandavies

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.

long-tailed-duck-maile-by-ray-yeager

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..

.

brant-fleeing-helicopters-sandy-hook-november

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!

poison-ivy-still-life-sandy-hook-november

Poison Ivy Still Life, November 2016

SOURLANDS HIKE – Non-Technology Walk

The Smiling Rock, Sourlands Trail off Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell

The Smiling Rock, Sourlands Trail off Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell

Every once in awhile, I give myself the mandate to walk a trail without technology.

This is an interesting challenge, even though I NEVER use a cell phone on a trail!

Today’s Sourlands Technology-less mandate extends to my other addictions — the camera and my binoculars.  I found it really hard to leave them behind.  As in ‘at home’, so I was not tempted to weaken at the last minute.

The images here were taken, I think in the 20th Century, I include these two scenes to give you the flavor of the Sourlands Preserve experience.  This post relies on words, not photographs.

Intriguing question — am I addicted to my camera and my optics?  I did feel, initially, quite naked without them.  Almost instantly, however, I became aware of heightened senses, as though my entire being were a sounding board, an enormous lens, a fragrance-detector.  Without peering through anything, focusing anything, I had become a force field of antennae.  Everything was grist to my mill.

Anyone who hikes in the Sourland Mountains knows that there are boulders everywhere.  I was 1000 x more aware of these ‘diagnostic’ basalt beings, than through lenses!  Some do have almost human, and some powerful reptilian fissures.  But my reaction today went far beyond resemblances.

The aura of Sourlands rocks speaks, in oracular tones, when one is opened by the absence of technology to the gestalt of the walk.

Dappled light.  Threatening skies.  Instant solitude, silence, refuge indeed!

The beechwood forest has just leafed out.  There is no light to equal that flickering through new beech leaves, as NJWILDBEAUTY readers know from the first Berkshire images from last week.  The forest floor is as awash as it will be in autumn, only with pink-brown-to-pale beech leaves, just relinquished.  This process, which brings acid nourishment to the beeches to ensure the nut harvest, usually occurs in mid-April.  It’s almost the end of May.

Ovenbirds overhead fill the forest with eee-errr, eee-errr, eee-err!  My theory is that they’re high in the trees to draw predator attention far from their forest-floor, oven-shaped nests.

The long long trail is lined at the outset with airy pale magenta wild phlox, flat blossoms on frail stems.  Each burst is harshly tugged by surprisingly strong windbursts for May.

The path is far gentler than I remember.  Softer, and more rarely interlaced with roots or studded with rocks.  This response on my part could just be the difference between walking the Sourland Mountains and hiking last week’s Berkshire and Green mountain trails.

Perhaps the deer management of the Sourlands is beginning to work — a result devoutly desired by all who cherish birds and flowers.  Our deer infestation has removed the forest understory throughout this wild region.  These powerful basalt boulders protected this region from most farming and most developing, but cannot fend off deer.

Only deer management, yes, HUNTING, can do this.  It is essential.  Deer herds devour native plants that evolved with our birds and pollinators.  This gives carte blanche to the invasives, which have no insect holes in them, because they feed no insects.  Therefore, breeding birds and seeking pollinators cannot find the essentials with which they have evolved over centuries.  “NO INSECTS — NO BIRDS” — It’s as simple as that, as Sharyn McGee, President of Washington Crossing Audubon, taught us in Jared Fleshers prize-winning, straight-talking, beautiful and even powerful Sourlands Film.

True Solomon’s seal emerges alongside the trail, ‘ringing’ its tiny pale bells.  Later on, in a different configuration of forest, I’ll find false Solomon’s seal, its finial creamy bloom like a puff of smoke.

Big healthy clumps of violet leaves, –like nosegays prepared by My Fair Lady, only lacking the purple blossoms–, hearten me as I climb.

Small ordinary yellow blossoms appear.  Later, in deeper woods, near a stream, I will find rarer ones.  Both are the hue and glossiness of buttercups.  The ordinary one has five round petals and fat leaves like geraniums.  The extraordinary one has six leaves, pointed like daisies.  It’s very tiny, its tall pointy leaves like grass someone forgot to mow.

I pass several stretches of wetlands on the main trail, normally echoing with frog chorus.  If I hear a single frog today, it’s more of a cough than a croak.  The so-called wetlands resemble messy deserts.

High on the left, a phoebe calls out its name with a certain pitifulness, though it IS territorializing, and will be in the same place exactly on my way back.

There should be wood thrushes in forest this deep.  Deer destroying understory removes safe sites for their lives, as well as for ovenbirds.  Ovenbird nests may be a bit safer, because often tucked into strong tree roots.

Dark Christmas ferns are tall and strong in shady stretches; hay-scented fern delicate, airy and much less vivid green, in splashes of sunlight.

Here and there on the path are tulip tree ‘tulip’ flowers, all bright orange (brighter than Princeton) and wild chartreuse.  Indians used these very straight sun-seeking trees to make dug-out canoes, there being a decided dearth of birches hereabouts.  If you need birches, as Frost did, as I do, try Berkshires or Northern Michigan.

Probable rose-breasted grosbeak overhead in this stretch — identified by mellifluousness.

Silent robins on the trail.

Duelling pileated woodpeckers call attention to their ownership of territory on either side of the path.

The mutter or purr of red-bellied woodpecker, suffuses another part of the forest.

This is a place so dense that I am glad of every bit of teaching to bird by ear, by naturalists and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and long-ago tapes..

Sourlands Rocks in Preserve off Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell

Sourlands Rocks in Preserve off Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell

The presence of basalt megaliths increases on both sides.  I’m keeping an eye out on the left for blue blazes, leading to what I call ‘Council Rocks’.  Yellow blazes off to the right lead to a stream-side trail I will take after I reach my goal, ‘Table Rock’.

Now, on the blue trail, silence increases to empty-cathedral level.  The hush is overpowering.  Reverence is mandated.

I am in the domain of ferns as understory and trees on every side:  upright, slanted, crooked, split, and felled.  Sandy-shattered trees are tattooed all over with turkey-tail fungus, paled by severe winter conditions.

The blue trail, however, belongs to the rocks.  If I stood on the shoulders of the tallest man I know (who would NEVER permit such familiarity), we would still not be able to reach the top of these leftovers of volcanic activity.  Spewed eons ago, they are being weathered incessantly into rounded and fissured shapes.

Among these entities, presence, even majesty reigns.  Awe is essential; even worship.

These rock-entities, though so imposing, are generous.  They accept my praise and welcome my ingress.

In my tightly tied sturdiest shoes, with trekking poles used like pendulums for balance, I make my way between deities with broad shoulders. The one I call “Table Rock’ welcomes me.  I sit a long time, studying the Council Rocks where no Indians are visible, but so many are palpable.

Now, I can walk back to the car, the technology that brought me to my non-technology walk site.  For these hours, all my senses have been engaged.  I have been and felt hundreds of miles from civilization, even though Princeton and Philadelphia and New York are all too near.

All along the route, every two or three hundred paces, I have received the gift of a whiff of fox scent.  ‘Eau de renard’... Nothing wilder.  Nothing more precious!

This walk exists because of preservation.  Keep it going, at all costs.  Nothing more vital to our state and its citizens.

My sister, Marilyn Weitzel of Illinois, and my friends Janet Black, then of Kingston and Betty Lies of Montgomery Township, New Jersey, try to find Sourlands birds in dense canopy:

<y sister as Lookout for Birds of the Sourlands