Assateague / Chincoteague — “Paradise Enow…”

“October’s bright blue weather” suffused Jeanette Hooban’s, Janet Black’s and my recent Chincoteague (Virginia) sojourn, start-to-finish.

Bare Fppt[romts om samds pf Assateague

Our first evening stroll on unpopulated Assateague, barrier island protecting Chincoteague from the mighty ocean, brought sunset-tinged seafoam and a beach upon which every footprint was a bare one!

In case you think, “Well, what else is new,” be aware of the season of our visit:

Bookstore Halloween ChincoteagueBookstore Book Pumpkin ChincoteagueA REAL bookstore, set for All Hallow’s Eve

Of course, most people go to Chincoteague for the ponies.  We dutifully admired them, from the water on a sunset small shallow boat tour, and from the land on a morning bus tour.

Ponies of Paradise at Sundown Assateague. jpg

Ponies at Sundown with SUPERB Cap’n. Dan — his tour worth our entire trip!

 

A Pony's Life - Forever Feeding AssateaguePony-life: Forever Feeding:  Ponies by land, Aassateague Nature Center Bus Tour

At nearly October-end, we were in the ocean, happily, eagerly, lengthily — especially Jeanette, who swam, swam, swam as wavelets turned pink around her. It was a mite cooler on the finer day, so beachcombing took over:

 

Jeanette Beachcombing Assateague

 

Janet Contentment AssateagueContentment Personified: Janet Black at Beach

We’re all avid readers.  We’d rented (and I’d actually bargained for them!) these sturdy chairs so we could read by the sea.  But we could barely lower our eyes to any page, given the sun’s many-colored-dreamcoat and those effects altering each wave.

Jeanette First Sunset Assateague Chincoteague Causeway

Jeanette and Irresistible Sunset(s) – on Bridge from Assateague back to Chincoteague

 

Edenic Morning Assateague

We, of course, were there for the birds — Egrets of Eden

Mornings were amazing — a series of early views:

Morning in Chincoteague Phragmites

First View of Each Day from my room at Assateague Inn, on Chincoteague

 

Dawn Picnic Site Assateague Inn and creek Chincoteague

Dawn Picnic Site, Creek and Marsh, Assateague Inn

Essence of Chincoteague at dawn

Essence of These Islands – Crab Shell of Dawn

 

Salicornia Ripening Chincoteague

Essence of Autumn in the Salt Marsh – Salicornia Ripening

 

Dawn at Assateague LIght October

Assateague Light House Outbuilding at Dawn

 

Leaf Calligraphy near Assateague LIghtAutumn’s Calligraphy at Assateague Light

 

October Blue Sky A Assateague LIghtOctober’s Bright Blue Weather Sets Off Assateague Light

 

Dawn LIght in Loblolly Pines AssateagueDawn Light in a Loblolly Forest

 

Not in Kansas..Assateague LIghthouse Keeper Home“Not in Kansas Any More…” Lighthouse–Keeper Dwelling

 

Assateague Memorial to Watermen

Barrier Island Realities

 

Sunset Feeders Assateague

Sunset Feeders, Assateague

 

Sunset Water Tour Assateague Chincoteague1

Cap’n. Dan’s Magical Mystery Tour at Sundown — Worth the Entire Trip

Best tour – Cap’n. Dan’s Sunset Cruise from Chincoteague Harbor

Best food – Bill’s Prime — three meals a day — one time we ate breakfast then dinner there — traditional and rare seafood, and remarkably personable service

Charm of Assateague Inn — quiet, on creek, with picnic table, silence, early light, little boardwalk, near Assateague Island, on quiet side of Chincoteague

Most famous food: Chincoteague oysters

Most people’s reason for being here: wild ponies, and Marguerite Henry’s “Misty of Chincoteague” and sequels

Favorite tour experience — Chincoteague Museum – this will appear in an entire blog to itself

Rarest animal: plump and saucy Delmarva Squirrel – one welcomed us in Assateague Light forest — but we are bedeviled enough by Princeton and Lawrenceville squirrels not to have appreciated its rarity until after the Nature Center bus tour.

 

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SUN-SEEKING, Literal and Metaphorical

Is it November, –or is it THIS November–, that renders sun a memory?

What images, what journeys hold light so crucial to me, ever more essential, every day?

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Autumn Along the Stony Brook, 2016, November

 

Key birding buddy, Mary Wood, and I ‘hiked the day down,’ –mostly wordlessly, often birdlessly–, after the election.  November surprised us with remnant vividness.

Walk with us.  Climb with us.

 

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Birding Platform Over the Wetlands

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Map – Charles Rogers Refuge – off Alexander, near Princeton Canoe and Kayak Rentals

 

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Likely Birds – Red-wing Heaven in Springtime

 

We owe this lovely restoration to Winnie (Hughes) and Fred Spar, and Tom Poole.  I know Winnie through U.S. 1 Poets, and Fred and Tom through D&R Greenway Land Trust, where I work.

Finding these images on this gloomy day reminds that all that matters in my life is preservation, — of nature, of beauty, of wild spaces.

Oh, yes, and freedom.  For the wildlings and for us.

Winnie and Fred, in their fine new signs, give honor to legendary birder, quintessential birdwalk leader, Lou Beck, of Washington Crossing Audubon.

We all give credit to everyone who reaches out, through whatever non-profits, to save the wild while we can.  Thoreau was right, you know:  “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

 

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Restored Wetlands — Note Return of the Cattails, and Purple Martin House and Gourds

 

remnants-rogers-refuge-november

“September, we’ll remember…”

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Upside-Down is Better than Right-Side Up

 

 

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Finale, Rogers Refuge and the Stony Brook

 

autumnal-tapestry-rogers-refuge-stony-brook-november

“From Both Sides Now”

 

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November Tapestry in the Stony Brook

Memories of this refuge especially include green herons.  Not this day, not this season — but often.  Sometimes, kayaking nearby, one spots green herons mincing along the banks of the (D&R, of course) canal, then lofting up into Refuge trees.

 

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Green Heron by Brenda Jones

 

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Spring Species, Rogers Refuge

 

Spring brings not only winged miracles. This refuge is yellow-flag and blue-flag Central in May.  Wild iris of the most vivid hues, The Rogers is worthy of a journey for ‘flags’ alone.

 

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Blue Flags from Versicolor on Interniet

 

Invasive species had driven out cattails essential to territorializing red-winged blackbirds.

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Male Redwinged Blackbird, Territorializing, by Brenda Jones

Seemingly inescapable phragmites, — bush-tailed grasses beloved of decorators–, are too frail to support the weight of males, ruffling scarlet epaulets, vocalizing welcome to females and banishment to rivals, in these woods and wetlands.

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Phragmites Height from Internet

Restoration, a key facet of preservation, is visible in the final scene of Mary’s and my November walk.

return-of-the-cattails-rogers-refuge-november

Late Light in the Cattails

Deserting New Jersey

Seaside Broom, Reed's Road, Island Beach, NJ

Seaside Broom, Reed’s Road, Island Beach, NJ

A few images from exquisite Island Beach, an au revoir for a week on Cape Cod with two of The Intrepids — Jeanette Hooban and Carolyn Yoder,  Leaving at dawn – have not been at the Cape since the late 1980’s.  Used to spend seven weeks each summer in Chatham with my girls, a barefoot existence, where nature itself compelled me to become a birder,  Hudsonian Godwits used to prance around our beach blankets at Harding’s Beach, looking across the Sound to Nantucket and the Vineyard.  A red-necked phalarope whirled in the water, and a long-tailed jaeger perfectly imitated his image in my brand new Roger Tory Peterson – because the girls kept asking, “Mom, what’s THAT?”

Spizzle Creek Bird Blind, Island Beach, NJ

Spizzle Creek Bird Blind, Island Beach, NJ

Island Beach brought us kinglets everywhere, swallows, sparrows, a great blue heron or two, osprey nests.

Osprey Neighbors, Barnegat Bay, Island Beach

Osprey Neighbors, Barnegat Bay, Island Beach

As usual, my camera does not do birds — but it does like the plants of IB – so here are some samples of last weekend.

Clouds Caught in Wetlands, Bayside of Island Beach

Clouds Caught in Wetlands, Bayside of Island Beach

A la prochaine — until the next time.

Whirling Grass (wild winds) and Fox Tracks, Island Beach

Whirling Grass (wild winds) and Fox Tracks, Island Beach

Oceanside, Island Beach, October

Oceanside, Island Beach, October

Carolyn

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

Sun Shines on New Jersey – Thanksgiving Birding, 2014

On Thanksgiving Day, one of ‘The Intrepids’, Jeanette Hooban, and I chose many birds over one.

This seems radical to many.

Come along with us, and draw your own conclusions.

Entering 'The Brig' -- Lily Lake Road

Entering ‘The Brig’ — Lily Lake Road

It was snowing when we left Lawrenceville, –like the light, powdery beautiful flakes that swirl around in snow globes.  This was the scene as we drove Lily Lake Road off Route 9, below Smithville, at Oceanville.

Ducks to the Right of us, Ducks to Our Left

Ducks to the Right of us, Ducks to Our Left

Where Mergansers and Buffleheads Play

Where Mergansers and Buffleheads Play

The water to the left of the Brig’s entry bridge is where I saw my first truly wild mute swans, my first gadwall, and, this day, our major quests — hooded mergansers and their smaller look-alikes, buffleheads.  NJWILDBEAUTY readers know my camera doesn’t do well with birds.  So you’ll have to take our word for the fact that these black and white wonders are in this scene.

Leed's Eco-Trail Memorial 'Board'walk

Leed’s Eco-Trail Memorial ‘Board’walk

Water, Water Everywhere, Leeds Eco-Trail

Water, Water Everywhere, Leeds Eco-Trail

From the Leeds Eco-Trail, we watched a commanding great blue heron masterfully prowl his domain, successfully catching and swallowing more fish than we can count.  On the trail’s railing, a female belted kingfisher carried on in similar fashion.  A tardy osprey coasted above, lord of all he surveyed.  A massive and graceful female harrier patrolled the lower reaches.  We hadn’t even been in the Brig a quarter of an hour.

My Favorite Landscape, Preserved Wetlands

My Favorite Landscape, Preserved Wetlands

Great Blue Heron, Study in Alertness

Great Blue Heron, Study in Alertness

We took the all-too-short forested trail off Leeds Eco, which used to be complete all the way ’round, before sea-level rise, sustained too-high tides, all-too-frequent Nor’easters, full moon tides and hurricanes.

Lone Unknown Track, Forest Trail near Leeds Eco-

Lone Unknown Track, Forest Trail near Leeds Eco-

Sneak Boats with Rifles, off the Brig, in Absecon Bay

Sneak Boats with Rifles, off the Brig, in Absecon Bay

One of two sneakboats, a Tuckerton specialty of aeons ago, bristling with rifles, right off the refuge.  Atlantic City is behind this boat.  There was not a single bird, not even a gull, on this side of ‘The Brig.’  It is formally named the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge.

The birds were brilliant — hiding out on the opposite side.

Brant Hiding on North Side of Refuge, far from Sneakboats and Rifles and Death

Brant Hiding on North Side of Refuge, far from Sneakboats and Rifles and Death

The Dike Road Stretching East, toward Brigantine Island

The Dike Road Stretching East, toward Brigantine Island

This road was severely devoured by Hurricane Sandy, in two places.  It has been renewed, but with what I call Army Corps of Engineer Sand — a ghastly color, thick and coarse.  It is already washing away in clusters of runnels on two sides of the observation tower.  As though the sea, having once had its way with the Brig, is determined to return…

Inside the Refuge, we were also given one trumpeter swan – enormous wingspread, thoroughly black beak, no yellow lores; some tundra swans — smaller in wing, yellow lores, in a flock; and about a hundred snow geese, silent and grounded but thrilling.  This was one of those days when the entire beauty of the Refuge took us over, scene after scene.  The bird tally would not be kept.  The beauty tally is here.

We always go over to Scott’s Landing, near Leeds Point, after ‘Brigging’.  Here are some of the miracles of that stretch, part of Forsythe, but mostly accessible only by watercraft.

Nature's Artistry Scotts Landing Nov. 2014 015

Nature’s Artistry at Scott’s Landing

Dockside Grasses Scotts Landing Nov. 2014 016

Heaven and Haven for Waterflowl Scotts Landing Nov. 2014 017

Rail Central at Scott's Landing, though none on Thanksgiving

Rail Central at Scott’s Landing, though none on Thanksgiving

Jeanette Hooban Studies How to Shoot Ducks at Scotts Landing

Jeanette Hooban Studies How to Shoot Ducks at Scotts Landing

Tranquillity Base, Scotts Landing

Tranquillity Base, Scotts Landing

Scots Landing Timeless Waterways

Scots Landing Timeless Waterways

Last Rays Scotts Landing -- A Place Beyond Time

Last Rays Scotts Landing — A Place Beyond Time

Why Preserve

Why Preserve

Then we take a short, slow ride to Leeds Point, a true fishing village to this day.  Clams and crabs are the order of the day.  The Oyster Creek Inn, at this Point, knows how to cook fish and shellfish in the simple ancient ways, in a place that bustles in summer.  Not on Thanksgiving.

Sundown, Thanksgiving, Leeds Point

Sundown, Thanksgiving, Leeds Point

“Day is done, gone the sun…”

The moral of these pictures is, preserve every inch of open space in our beleaguered New Jersey, especially the watery inches!