February Sandy Hook: Fun in the Sun and the Sands


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!

I'll take Manhattan from Sandy Hook Windy Spring 2017 004

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

January Birding Jim and Kathleen Amon Sandy Hook Salt Pond region Jan 20176

Birding Essentials: Kathleen and Jim Amon: January 2017

red throated tloon from Internet glamour_iandavies

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

(Internet Image)

Essential Tools Sandy Hook Jan 20167

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.

Reflections of a Working Harbor Bahrs Jan. 2017 012

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.

Where the Rabbit Trekked Sandy Hook Jan 201

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


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!

Lifesavers' Station darkened

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…



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.