WINTER BIRDING AT THE BEACH ~ Sandy Hook, January 6

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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…

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

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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

Never mind rocks.   Give me sand and snow!

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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:

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Green Heron, Brenda Jones

Where the great egret feeds on the incoming tide…

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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.

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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!

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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…

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

Oh, yes, and what birds did we find?

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

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Hooded Merganser, Ray Yeager

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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.

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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.

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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..

.

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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!

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Poison Ivy Still Life, November 2016

RARITIES IN RAIN — ISLAND BEACH IN NOR’EASTER

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I run to nature every chance I get.  Here is a (mostly) photo essay on being at Island Beach in a Nor’easter none of us realized was our fate.

It was a day of beauty, drama, and rarities.  But, above all, of fellowship, as Mary Penney’s picture of Jeanette Hooban and Bill Rawlyk attests.

Fellowship in Nor'easter by Mary Penney

Fellowship in Nor’easter by Mary Penney

This was taken at storm height on the Atlantic side, where we could barely stand some of the time.  However, above our heads, merlins headed over and over toward the highest waves, where wind was wildest.  These aerodynamic masters made abrupt U-turns over buffeted waves, then allowed themselves to be flung back across this exquisite barrier island.

The merlins were neither feeding nor forming for migration.  They were playing.  So were we!

Flags Whipping at Entry to Island Beach  Noreaster full blast

Flags Whipping at Entry to Island Beach == Noreaster full blast

Another title for this image is “O, Say Can You See?”  We could

(1) see tattered Old Glory;

(2) see increasingly occluded skies;

(3) see hundreds of swallows filling those skies;

4) barely see through our glasses or salt-coated optics, in fact barely see through our eyes.

Looking out rain-soaked car window to three friends heading out through tallest dunes at road's end

Looking out rain-soaked car window to three friends heading out through tallest dunes at road’s end

Two of the three are barely visible on either side of one of the warning posts.

GPS shows road's end at land's end

GPS shows road’s end at land’s end

I am a collector of land’s ends, and this is one of my favorites.

When you walk through these dunes on a normal day, Barnegat Light presides across its turbulent inlet, far in the distance.  Not this day!

Friends Return from Land's End Walk

Friends Return from Land’s End Walk

 

Heading Nor'east in the Nor'easter, toward the Atlantic with reputed ten-foot waves

Heading Nor’east in the Nor’easter, toward the Atlantic with reputed ten-foot waves

 

Note that boardwalk ends abruptly, having been chewed by Sandy.  All three of my friends righted Nor’easter-downed poles that mark the route of the proposed completion of boardwalk.

 

Compass Grass Draws Nor'easter Circles on the drenched sand

Compass Grass Draws Nor’easter Circles on the drenched sand

 

Artemesia - the Dune-Saver

Artemesia – the Dune-Saver

Seeds for this plant purportedly first arrived upon the sands of our country, having been carried in holds of clipper ships.  When ships foundered, boards floated ashore, carrying artemesia.  That was the Cape Cod story in ’70’s.

 

What Naturalists do in Nor'easters

What Naturalists do in Nor’easters

 

Survival Tactics

 

Nor'easter-whipped spume

 Spume, Wind-Driven, Rolls Down the Beach

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Contemplation of the Infinite

Contemplation of the Infinite

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Scant Protection at Extreme Northeast, Island Beach

Scant Protection at Extreme Northeast, Island Beach

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Boardwalk to Barnegat Bayside

Boardwalk to Barnegat Bayside

 

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No Personal Watercraft

No Personal Watercraft

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Barnegat Bay in Nor'easter

Barnegat Bay in Nor’easter

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Beach Access Reality

Beach Access Denied — Since Sandy

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Hunkered Down, Atlantic Side

Hunkered Down, Atlantic Side

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Bayberry Autumn, Atlantic Side

Bayberry Autumn, Atlantic Side

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Wild Rose Hips, Atlantic Side

Wild Rose Hips, Atlantic Side

 

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Hudsonia Grove, Atlantic Side

Hudsonia Grove, Atlantic Side

This is a very rare natural native beach plant that will have tiny yellow flowers in spring.  It is thriving in this storm.

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'Gimme Shelter' - Interpretive Center, Atlantic Side

‘Gimme Shelter’ – Interpretive Center, Atlantic Side

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Alone With the Storm

Alone With the Storm

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No Vehicles Past This Point

No Vehicles Past This Point

 

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Nor'easter Intrepids

The Intrepids

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As you can see, Island Beach, “The Natural”, New Jersey’s true “Jersey Strong”, is perfectly designed to withstand storms.

Sometimes, humans are, too.

Swallows Play in the Nor'easter

Swallows Play in the Nor’easter

My camera is not powerful enough to point out all those tree swallows.  But they were everywhere in the air, like pepper on a roast.

Remember that barrier beaches were meant to be barriers, not dwelling-places!

This preserve was saved by farsighted people, after the Great Depression wrote ‘fini’ to major resort development.

Preserve every bit of open New Jersey space.  Our future, and that of the planet, depends upon open space.

“PAX” — WHEN STORM IS NORM

Snowbound

Snow Incarceration

“PAX”– WHEN STORM IS NORM

A single vulture wildly wheels past my study window.  We are in the midst of worsening onslaughts of our latest named storm, ironically titled “Pax”.  If vultures rise and ride the winds, this may mean we are in a mid-day hiatus, for which I am profoundly grateful.

I deal with ordeals by journaling, by day and by night.  This post is a constellation of journal entries, as snow wraps us yet again in worry and wonder.

What Storm Pax has accomplished in my yard is the near disappearance of a table and two chairs.  Because of snow mounded high on chair seats, I can no longer see the metal table top.  The storm before this amazed me as snow hats on table and chairs grew to the hight of my father’s Knox hat boxes on the front-hall-closet shelf.  Pax-snow on top of Knox snow is simply astonishing.

Maybe the climate is trying to teach those of us who have ruined it — be astonished.  And act to end catastrophic climate change.

“My back is up” because of a Weather Channel pundit.  After after showing us, in Atlanta, a ruined historic building [– ice had vanquished its roof, which fell, taking several walls with it –], she blithely blamed this destruction upon Mother Nature.  I turned it off in a huff, convinced that they are ordered to do so.

It’s not Mother Nature, folks, it is we who are ruining climate and planet.

As a poet, I am among the first to see beauty in snow.  As someone who works (four days a week at D&R Greenway Land Trust to save the New Jersey part of the planet), I am almost brutally aware of snow’s perils.  Even as one who avidly skiied, who survived and even thrived throughout Michigan and Minnesota winters, I recoil before these severities.

Everyone should.  Everyone should wake up.

What is oddest about Snowstorm Pax (mispronounced by experts who seem not to get irony of Pax’s meaning — peace) is that these ceaseless flakes fall upon and stick to to snows from yesterdays.  Meaning that snow no longer melts between storms.

Deciduous trees in this forest are striped more relentlessly than skunks.  Upper branches are Pax-clotted.  Even though these trees are now swaying with mid-day winds, they do not divest themselves of vertical stripes.  Only one pine tree, –the largest–, shivered and shuddered and shrugged off its snow burdens.  All our other evergreens are white, never green.

Beneath the snowed table is a hollow, this storm’s lair.  On various shoveling-excursions, I hear the storm changing its tune.  Mutters lead on to snarls, then growls.

I experience “Pax” as a wild beast, shaking all of us in its maw, feverish glints in narrowed eyes.  The beast begins to spit – as snow itself becomes audible, almost crackling, it sticks like white chewing gum to vertical walls of this house.

In the night, I could watch snow change form by porchlight.  It went from cascades of table salt to Wondra flour.  Then, suddenly, flakes and clumps.  It became impossible to see into the forest. What began to fall seemed like powdered sugar sifted by a mad cook, unsing a sifters with squeezable handle.  Over and over.  Faster and faster.

Visibility became myth, something vaguely remembered.

Snow increasingly stuck to the house walls, like hundreds like hundreds of cottonballs glued there by some mad craftsperson.

Snow became Lux flakes, torn doilies.

It landed on my head with uncomfortable clumps, clots in my hair, dripping down onto my shoulders and neck, making me shiver like the large pine.

I am reading “Saving Italy” by Robert Edsle, author of “Monuments Men.”  I’m slogging through northern Italy, near the end of the war, hunting for Nazi caches of the most legendary art of civilisation.  Throughout this book and these storms, I feel under siege — blitzkrieg without air raid sirens.  We become victims and refugees.  Some die. Historic buildings collapse.

Now my front door is a mosaic of water droplets.  I decide they are the tears of the Planet.

Petrochemical excess is the reason for our ceaseless storms, and those of Asia, and of Europe and the overflowing rivers of Britain.  Face it, everyone. 

The Weather Channel’s ascribing these terrors to Mother Nature is like the tobacco industry using doctors to promote smoking, –turning everyone’s heads away from cancer of the lungs and cancer of the bladder – their enormous secret.

We are causing cancer of the climate.  Wake up!  Turn this around.  Now

We are not meant to live in a world where Storm is the Norm.

1 A blizzard deer feeding 2014

Deer Tries to Feed in Storm