“DUCKY DAY AT ISLAND BEACH”, JANUARY 2018

This post features a series of images of rare birds found with good friends, on last weekend’s Island Beach hikes.  Yes, it was January.  Yes, there’s been wild weather.  Know that part of the lure in winter hiking lies in defying the elements, –being OUT THERE with Nature, no matter what!  And, besides, with such friendships of this magnitude, only the highest good unfurls.

Merganser male Millstone Aqueduct Brenda Jones

Merganser Male, by Brenda Jones

A series of Internet scenes of our rarities awaits — so you can see why it really didn’t matter that we did not fulfill our snowy-owl-quest this time.

***

So long as I’ve been writing about nature, I’ve been ‘on my soapbox’ that Nature does not ring down her curtain on or around Labor Day.  Those of you who hike with me know that possibly my FAVORITE season to be outdoors is winter.  It hasn’t been easy lately, but NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that we had a glorious day-long exploration of Plainsboro Preserve not long ago, threading our way among glorious arrays of ice.

common loon winter plumage from Internet

Common Loon, Winter Plumage by Elisa De Levis from Internet

This past weekend, Ray Yeager, Angela Previte (superb nature photographers who live near Island Beach); Angela’s husband, Bob, -avid birder and extremely knowledge about all aspects of photography; ‘my” Intrepids, Jeanette Hooban and Bill Rawlyk and I met at the entry of Island Beach for a mid-day-long snowy owl quest.

common loon winter take-off from Internet

Loon Take-off from Internet by Dave Hawkins from Internet

Despite our January reality, a handy aspect of I.B. treks is that, –on windy and wintry days–, you can ‘hike sideways’.  I.e., get out of the wind by taking various oceanside and bayside trails, protected from gusts by dunes or forest or both .  If you Google Island Beach, on NJWILSBEAUTY, you’ll find Bill, Jeanette, Mary Penney and me down there, in an autumn nor’easter about which none of us had somehow been warned.  That storm grew more and more fierce, as we and a flock of playful merlins headed as far east as we possibly could.   Those merlins were beating their way right into the height of those terrific winds.  They executed abrupt and daring turns, to be intentionally blown back westward , right out over the bay.  No sooner did the merlins vanish than they reappeared.  We had no idea that birds, raptors, let alone merlins, PLAYED.  In that same torrent of winds, and, yes, rain, hundreds of swallows were staging for migration.  If we hadn’t been out in the elements, think what we’d’ve missed!

It didn’t take us long last weekend to discover that snowy owls do not like warmth, let alone snowlessness.

smiling Common MerganserFemale Brenda Jones

Female Merganser by Brenda Jones

Instead, we were given, –at the first bathing pavilion’s short boardwalk–.  a smooth, rotund, swelling ocean, afloat with winter ducks of many species, all in dazzling winter plumage, otherwise known as full=breeding.  Species after species of wild birds rose and fell upon voluminous swells.  Each had the dignity of a monarch en route to or from coronation,.  These birds were not feeding.  They were not even interacting.  Few were flying, though some did regularly join their relatives on that sea of molten jade.    Hundreds rode the pillowy waves, which seemed almost determined not to crest or break.  Mesmerized by the variety and serenity of these avian crowds, we paced back and forth on the warm solid sand for nearly an hour, enthralled.

bufflehead Brenda JonesMale Bufflehead by Brenda Jones.

I’m going to shock and/or let down a great many people when I say I had no need of a snowy owl that day.

long-tailed ducks in flight from Internet Ken hoehn

Long-tailed ducks coming in for a landing by Ken Hoehn – papillophotos.com

We talked about the probability that the bird seen by naturalist Bill Rawlyk at entry may well have been a northern shrike, feeding at the crest of a laden bayberry shrub.  Some years ago, at this identical spot, I had discovered this unique creature, being at I.B. then on a Bohemian waxwing quest.  I had no idea what that ‘masked mocking bird’ could be. Calling Audubon when I returned home, describing the scrubby evergreens and bountiful bayberries, I was congratulated upon having found a northeren shrike.  It happened again the next year at the same spot.  Each time, the Audubon person asked my permission to list my find on the hot-line.  Of course, this amateur birder gave a very pleased assent  This weekend, Bill remarked on a certain intensity in the bird — slightly heftier, a bit whiter, an arrogance not seen in mockers.  But it was the bayberry bush that decided us — major winter food for (otherwise almost chillingly carnivorous) shrikes..    Part of the fun of being with this merry crew of enthusiasts  is playing the identification game.

female long-tailed duck from internet

Female long-tailed duck in winter/full-breeding plumage from Internet

Other trails that lured us that long sunny afternoon were the Judge’s Shack (#12) and Spizzle Creek.  In no time, we had tucked our jackets, hats and gloves back into the cars.  Most were beginning to regret not having remembered our sun block — all but the two professional photographersg us.  Ray and Angela were having a field day with their immense legends, capturing so many species so gently afloat.  I’ll let them share their masterpieces on Facebook and Ray’s RayYeagerPhotographyBlog.  I’ll give you the Internet:

male long-tailed duck from INternet

Male long-tailed duck in winter plumage, full-breeding plumage, from Internet

Snow was rare.  Ice intriguing.  At Spizzle Creek, we were all acutely missing ‘our’ osprey, egrets and herons of other seasons.  Our gift there, though, was the presence of handsome brant.  In our experience lately, brant sightings have become scarce.  Certain essential grasses are not doing well along our coasts, which also happened during the Great Depression years — nearly depriving us of this handsome species.

Brant Goose Drinking BarnegatBrant Feeding, by Brenda Jones

northern-shrike-from internet

Deceptively sweet northern shrike probably seen by Bill Rawlyk on Bayberry at Island Beach entry — image from Internet: (RD)

When I tell people about our January beachwalks, my listeners seem puzzled-to-skeptical.  We couldn’t have had better weather.  Fellowship was at peak throughout.  Angela’s husband, Bob, kindly served as sentinel for all the camera-wielders — alerting all as tide-thrust waves threatened to drown our footgear.  Warm we were, but not even Jeanette was barefoot this time.

Angela and Ray knew exactly where to seek 1918’s array of snowy owls.  But, after that all-star cast adrift upon molten silver waves,  snowies had become “the last thing on our minds.”

Try winter trekking — surprises await!

Always remember, these rare species could not be here without the powerful advocacy of determined preservationists.  Even though I work for D&R Greenway Land Trust, I’m very clear that the saving of our waterways is every bit as important.

In fact, I take the stand that, in our New Jersey, with its unique three (count them!) coastlines, the well-being of water is a thousand times more crucialUnder NO CIRCUMSTANCES must even one oil well take its place off our Shores!

 

 

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SERENITY, SPIRITUALITY AND SUN: Remembering Santa Fe & Taos

Brooding Santa Fe Museum of Indian Arts and Culture

Santa Fe Indian Museum, New Mexico Skies

Sometimes, I am compelled to take NJWILDBEAUTY readers into my ‘memory bank’, especially on gloomy New Jersey days.  The entire sky this morning is filmed with grey, –somewhere between fog and soot.   It’s hard for me even to remember sun. But it was ever-present in Santa Fe and Taos in the spring.

StoryTeller Santa Fe Museum of Indian Arts & Culture

STORYTELLER, BY A. E. HOUSER, Santa Fe Indian Museum

Two of ‘my’ Intrepids and I, as you know, undertook a Georgia O’Keefe pilgrimage in Santa Fe and Taos.  Janet Black and Jeanette Hooban were part of this quest. Carolyn Yoder is the fourth — not present in O’Keeffe Country at that time.  Sometimes we call ourselves The Four Musketeers — Janet (of Manhattan) being d’Artagnan; as in not always near enough to partake of every challenge.  All for one and one for all, and always seeking — art, history, courage..

In Houser’s “Storyteller” above, a man’s image of a strong woman inspires us, “stiffens our spines” in the urgent causes on every side in thus 21st Century.

Motherhood Pearl Buck Estate July 2017

Motherhood statue at Pearl S. Buck Estate — Buck adopted six children of mixed race, spent her lifetime insisting  upon honoring what we now call ‘diversity’

Pearl Buck Grave July 2017

“Gone, but Not Forgotten” — Pearl S. Buck’s being and ideals

Here, she rests in her beloved Bucks County, PA,

surrounded by bamboo and lilies.

All four of us, as you well know, require regular doses of strong women, Eleanor (Roosevelt, of course) above all.  Abigail Adams.  Pearl S. Buck.  And Georgia, always Georgia, — modern in art and dress and life, before there was much ‘modern’ in the United States.  As this interweaving of strong women unfolds this morning, I sense that each, that all, would insistently approve of the motto of Al Gore’s splendid new film on climate change: “BE INCONVENIENT!”  (This has become my motto for my upcoming birthday year.”

All of these women lived by strong and high ideals.  Each engendered practical change, against all odds, from the 1700s through the 20th Century.  They stood against prejudice and insularity, for compassion and courage.  They took bold actions; wrote strong words; painted reverberant works to convey the truths by which they lived.  We honor them, especially by visiting their sites, for courage, for being the original Intrepids.

800px-WLA_amart_Adams_Memorial

Augustus St. Gauden’s Statue in Washington D.C., which comforted Eleanor in her travails.

Riverside Park Statue Eleanor Rroosevelt-

Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial, Riverside Park, NYC

Prayer Santa Fe Indian Museum

Prayer, by A. E. Houser: Santa Fe Indian Museum

When I began this blog, I thought it was going to be about wallowing in the wild, complex, ever-changing sunlight on the mountains and adobes of New Mexico.

Adobe Outbuilding Santa Fe Museum of Indian Arts & Culture

Sun on Simple Adobe, so very Georgia! (Indian Museum, Santa Fe)

The Universe had other ideas.  I need to enshroud myself with strength and courage.

fig. 78: Alfred Stieglitz

Iconic Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz from Internet

The world as we know it is being altered exponentially, by political forces seemingly beyond our control.  I’ve ‘been there’ before,   as Hitler, Mussolini and the Japanese sought to rearrange the world.  I never understood how the Germans or the Italians could go along with those tyrants.

It never occurred to me that our own country could be usurped and taken in directions with which most of us do not agree.  Politically and climactically, we are poised to lose everything we hold dear.

Abigail and Eleanor and Pearl and Georgia stood firm against currents of their time.  For women, for freedoms, for children of other lands, for art, for feminine dress itself, in Georgia’s time, and against prejudice..

It’s up to us to do likewise.

Abigail Adams Portrait from Internet

“John, remember the women,” Abigail Adams 1770’s –As Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, were being composed…

In the lexicon of Alfred Stieglitz, publicizing all art, especially Georgia’s, ” The spiritual was opposed to material and modern art was materialism’s antidote,” insists the catalogue from “Georgia O’Keeffe, Living Modern”, [Brooklyn Museum exhibition].  Brilliantly authored by Wanda M. Corn, it goes on to assert that “Stieglitz described his artists, not as ordinary beings, but as gifted modern seers.” He found their avant-garde work “healing and therapeutic for those living in an age dominated by commerce and business.”  

Realize that Stieglitz and O’Keefe’s first command of the art stage took place in the 1920’s!

As the values of our Founding Fathers and Mothers, our powerful authors, out iconic artists are increasingly trampeled, “BE INCONVENIENT!?

The Harsh Southwestern Landscape seems a breeding ground for strength:

Late Afternoon Santa Fe Indian Museum

Clearing After Storm — Bennington, Vermont; Green Mountains; Apple Barn

As New Jersey skies increasingly disappoint me, –resembling the inside of a vacuum cleaner bag–, my heart and memory leap back to the Berkshires and the Green Mountains.  OK, I’m this big New Jersey booster, but I’ve had it with gloom.

This is how Vermont skies looked, immediately on the heels of a Nor’easter.  Deb and I headed over to Bennington from the Cozy Corner Motel, along Route 7.  The Apple Barn is a key ritual of my trips to this region — for a cozy family place, with unbelievable vistas, and the best aged Vermont cheddar of my life.  Ditto mountain apples.  Baked goods aren’t bad, and the maple syrup is worth of the journey.

However, I’m giving you a feast for the eyes:

Clearing after Storm, Apple Barn, Bennington VT

Clearing after Storm, Apple Barn, Bennington VT

Apple Barn Crops

Apple Barn Crops

Apple Barn Picnic Table

Apple Barn Picnic Table

To the left, at another picnic table, a family was having a lovely outdoor feast, when the rain had hardly dried upon our windshield.

Bear and First Peeks of Sun

Bear and First Peeks of Sun

Monarch of the Apple Barn

Monarch of the Apple Barn

Spent Sunflower, Magnificent Even in Death

Spent Sunflower, Magnificent Even in Death

Harvest Time

Harvest Time

"Nothin' but Blue Skies, From Now On..."

“Nothin’ but Blue Skies, From Now On…”

"The Party's Over..."

“The Party’s Over…”

"Who Has Seen the Moose, Neither You Nor I..."

“Who Has Seen the Moose, Neither You Nor I…”

One time, when I was alone at Cozy Corner and at a corner cafe in Bennington, I was the only person in there who had not seen the moose.

They do to moose what Hopewell just did to oxen:

Moose of Route 7

Moose of Route 7

A few moments later, at a mansion near the Bennington Monument, we came upon this artistry.

Bennington Spectre Awaits Hallowe'en

Bennington Spectre Awaits Hallowe’en

Even the gloomy isn’t gloomy in this neck of the woods.

Can you see why I feel, it’s always beautiful in the Berkshires and Bennington?