Archive for the ‘native species’ Category
Spotters on the Cape May Bird Observatory Hawk Watch Platform cfe
Actually, it’s more like “Cape May For Two Days”! And yes, it was MORE than worth it.
Those two days centered upon the Cape May Bird Observatory [CMBO] Hawk Watch Platform.
After stopping at CMBO to renew my membership, and pick up a super-comfortable strap for my binoculars, I headed for the lighthouse and the Platform, even before checking into my motel room.
Helpful Cape May Bird Observatory Personnel on Hawk Watch Platform, cfe
CMBO maintains “counters”, “spotters” — professionals of highest caliber, who spot and count birds zooming past in autumn migration. The Platform fronts upon a pond. always graced by swans and frequently dive-bombed by peregrines.
Sunset Swan, Brenda Jones
I immediately recognized the silhouette and mellifluous voice of Pete Dunne, head of CMBO, author of wit, wisdom and experience, and yes, bon vivant. Also, natural teacher. So many facets of my birding knowledge have been inserted or polished by this man, over the years, at sunrise and sunset, and sometimes at 20 degrees with 20-mph-winds. I was overjoyed to reconnect, after my year plus of hurt-hip-induced absence. Pete, watching me walk, exulted, “We live in remarkable times.”
He went on to prove it by mentioning, “I was informed by phone about the nighthawks.”
Here and there, spotting scopes were trained on the skies.
But these pros of the Platform don’t need optics. A black spot miles away can be differentiated, as in Cooper’s or Sharp-Shinned Hawk, and they’ll even tell you how they can tell. Something to do with frequency of flapping. Pete: “It it were a Sharp-shinned, it would’ve flapped by now.”
Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Brenda Jones
But I say, these spotters, these CMBO mentors, are attached to birds by senses which have not even been defined, let alone located. Senses which go beyond eyes and even beyond Swarovskis.
Brilliance is a big part of being on the Platform. And fellowship. I hadn’t realized that (this concentration of) birders are family; that I had missed them to such a high degree.
There’s always humor, and even humility. At one point, Pete said, with a shrug in his voice, “Haven’t a clue….” There was a pregnant pause, followed by, “… bird.”
At the same time, in my two visits that day, early and latest, I was part of a bald-eagle count approaching 30. Even more importantly, –as I learned at early light the next day–, a 268- kestrel day.
There was a bare tree set among cedars, as studded with kestrels as a Christmas tree with ornaments. Every one vivid. Every one fluttering. These raptors swooped out, over and over, –not unlike flycatchers–, in quest of insects, one after another. And kestrels can hover — I never knew that. So vivid that they seemed iridescent, even spangled. What a privilege to be surrounded by them.
American kestrels have been ‘fewing and fewing’ in recent years. Their sacred edge habitat has been increasingly devoured by what others deem progress. I forgot to ask Pete, why there were/are so many right now. But this is one time when why doesn’t matter. Only beauty, power, rarity and presence.
Among the other numbers on Monday (departure day) morning were 109 osprey. Osprey were everywhere Sunday evening, often ‘packing a lunch’ - fish in talons, aerodynamically situated so as not to interfere with flight. 17 sharp-shins. 10 Coopers. 30 Merlin. 5 Peregrine Falcons. and so forth…
I even spotted a tern I didn’t recognize, which Erin-of-CMBO eagerly identified as a Forster’s. She trained the Swarovski scope on this single bird at the end of a wooden dock-like structure to our right. “Only Forster’s terns have that black eye patch now. They’re really fun to identify in autumn.” As David Allen Sibley puts it, “Black eye patch of non-breeding plumage distinctive.” This Platform is where Sibley ‘earned his wings’, with Pete and Clay Sutton, his co-authors of Hawks In Flight, about to be re-issued. All three will be at the Cape May Birding Weekend, to talk and sign this re-issue of Sibley’s first book, before his NYT best-sellers, The Sibley Guide to Birds, and The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior.
Usually, white shrubs and vines surrounding the Swarovski-sponsored Platform are filled with monarch butterflies this time of year. There were fewer than I’ve ever encountered of these orange-and-black long-distance fliers. Even so, I was welcomed to the Platform by one which nearly landed on the bridge of my nose.
Icy yellow, with a tinge of chartreuse, or key-lime pie, the cloudless sulphur butterflies seemed more in evidence here and among the bayberried dunes of Higbee Beach.
One of the butterfly magnet shrubs has the lovely name of High Tide Plant. Elder is another name for it. I’m sipping St. Germain liqueur, late this night, as I bring Cape May back to memory and to life. Pretending I’m a butterfly, nectaring on the elder plant from whose flowers this French specialty is crafted.
I hear Pete observe, “That eagle looks like he’s about to leave for Delaware.”
American Bald Eagle, Brenda Jones
Delaware is very near, here where our River meets the ocean, and the Cape May Lewes ferry carries cars, birders, bicyclists, hikers and just plain tourists from one state to another. The ferry is a grand place for seeking out seabirds who “come to land only when nesting.” (Sibley)
I reluctantly leave the Platform because it’s time to walk The Point. Newly crafted ‘boardwalks’ (they’re not real board) lift birders off the marsh-scape, into the realm of warblers and other treasures. Somehow, they’ve conquered phragmites to an enormous degree, those towering invasive rushes that drive out all the native plants the birds need, not only in migration. In the place of reeds is a meadow or a prairie of New Jersey wildflowers. The air is fragrant with (the invasive) autumn clematis, tiny white starflowers spun along tangles of vines. It’s more interesting than honeysuckle, with mimosa ‘notes’.
Colors on all sides of me include a pinkish bronze (wool grass, which is really a sedge); purple asters; white asters; seaside goldenrod, white ‘rose’ mallows, white boneset, pink marsh mallow, white dotted smartweed, mistflower, wild ageratum, purple gerardia, etc. etc. etc.
I don’t know all these plants - a fine naturalist, the plant equivalent of Pete Dunne, was sitting on a bench and eager to teach me every single species, in English and in Latin. Carl Anderson. He explained that the bayberry-like plants were wax myrtle and hybrids of wax myrtle and bayberry — the leaves on the latter are broader and darker, and bayberries were definitely in the minority. Bayberries are essential fat/fuel to migrant birds. I felt like Alice In Wonderland, having drunk whatever and shrunk to be smaller than most of these flowers.
Birds were few, because it was mid-day. Fish crows ringed the beige lighthouse like a crown of thorns. A single egret minced about the edge of a pond. A sound I never knew, or maybe ever heard, turned out to be a single kestrel in a naked tree just above my head. The closest I’ve ever been to a kestrel.
Kestrel at the Pole Farm, Brenda Jones
Morning dawned with a beach walk among black skimmers beyond counting, followed by another couple of hours on the Hawk Watch Platform.
Black Skimmers in Flight, Brenda Jones
Sky Full of Skimmers, the Jetty, Cape May cfe
From ten to twelve thirty, Monday, I floated on the boat, The Skimmer, among Cape May marshes. We were in quest of rare birds there, too. What I best remember is a series of large turtle heads in Turtle Creek, and a very rare Tri-colored Heron before we turned back to the dock.
Leaving for home was almost unbearable.
All the way north on the Parkway, I would hear those Platform phrases, “Over the cedars.” “Really soaring.” “Got ‘im!”
The line I’ll remember most is Pete Dunne’s description of yesterday, to a fellow ’spotter’ who also writes a blog: “Here’s the first line for your blog, Mike. If you weren’t here yesterday, slay yourself now.”
Eagle and Sculler, Lake Carnegie, by Brenda Jones
My NJ WILD readers know that my key reason for hip replacement was to get into (and OUT of) a kayak, as often as i like, to paddle as long as I like. Thanks to Dr. Thomas Gutowski, this impossible dream has been realized.
The first return took place at dusk on Lake Carnegie, thanks to the generosity of a new friend who carried the kayaks on his head high over the arched footbridge to the still lake. Now I have kayaked, alone and with others, five or six times on the D&R Canal south of Alexander. (www.canoe.nj.com)
A major blessing of all these sojourns, –beyond no longer being crippled–, is solitude. Each morning south of Alexander, whether alone or with friends, ours are the first prows on the water. For the Lake Carnegie idyll, although Saturday evening, there wasn’t another human in sight until we returned to the put-in. Our sole companion was a majestic great blue heron, mincing along in shadowed undergrowth to our right for the entire journey. Kayaks render one nearly invisible to wildlife. Even basking turtles don’t unbask as we pass.
Basking Turtles, D&R Canal, Brenda Jones
The D&R Canal and Towpath are right here in the middle of Princeton. For seven years, I worked with people at a College Road East firm, who would ask over and over, “Now where IS that canal, anyway?” Stunned, I’d reply, “Well you can’t really get into town without crossing it.” Sad to say, corporate types don’t have nature and history antennae out as they go about their daily rounds. They’d usually follow my answer with, “You go there ALONE?!”
Those who do possess and use antennae, know that this haven for walkers, paddlers and rowers exists, thanks to preservationists, –an eastern hem to the fabric of our town. Rich in natural beauty and significant human and industrial history, that canal was the reason for the founding and thriving of many New Jersey municipalities. It also provides drinking water for those not blessed with wells in our region.
Long ago, in a poem, I described the Canal and Towpath as “nurse, haven and muse.” She’s far more than that now, once I’ve learned to know her by water. It’s a treat to be dwarfed by her flowers, to skiddle along beside her turtles or pause so as not to disturb the swimming water snake. It’s birders’ heaven in spring, when warblers and other rarities territorialize along through the Institute Woods. And sometimes, near the Aqueduct, one sees ‘our’ American bald eagles, dashing osprey and gilded orioles doubled in still water.
Osprey Over Millstone Aqueduct, Brenda Jones
Last week’s kayaking began by renting a ‘loon’ at Princeton Canoe and Kayak at Alexander Road by the Turning Basin. After a work week assailed by interruptions, there was nothing more refreshing and essential than the absolute silence, which descended like incense, or an invisible cloak, as soon as I moved beyond the swallows of the Alexander Bridge. As their wings literally part my hair, I am alerted to the reality that I was in a new dimension.
Each time I emerge from bridge shadow, escaping tire whirr and creosote pungency, I bless the magic of my new (yes!) kayaker’s hip: “You may find you like it better than the original,” mused my miraculous surgeon.
Beauty and nature are my major lures on the canal. Timelessness is tied with these two factors/ I am entirely under my own power. No one cares when I return. I can sally or dally or bend at the waist and plunge forward or coast beneath tree dapple or sit still under an oriole.
Baltimore Oriole, Cloudless Sky, near D&R Canal, Brenda Jones
On first trips, I made sure to dip my right hand into that canal water and baptize that scar, as I had done at the Delaware River on Bull’s Island. I was letting that leg know, at hip’s entry, “You, who carried me to beauty, nature and history times beyond counting, are restored to full function and new adventures.”
My professional life can tip me over too much into the quantitative, the numeric and the scheduled. I suspect I am not alone in this.
Kayak time counters those tendencies, restores me to my primal most vital self.
Last week’s kayak experience, for example, at first disappointed by its constellation of absences. Yes, my hair was parted by swallows under the bridge. But, after that traditional beginning, there was no bird song, and no sightings until the ubiquitous territoriality of the common yellowthroat, claiming the middle of my route.
Not a spurt of cardinal flower, –crimson as the bird or the prelates for which it is named, awaited me in any of its usual shadowed nooks. I suspect the scouring removals of Irene and Lee.
Veery in Spring Greenery, Brenda Jones
No wood thrush at entry or turnaround. Even the red-winged blackbirds were silent. And those usual scolds, the jays.
It’s too soon for white and pink fluted blooms of marsh mallow, and all that remains of blue and yellow flags are pointy tall green spires of their sheltering leaves. Everything was green, green, green.
The emptiness was so all-permeating that I was forced to acknowledge that absence was the gift of that day’s canal drift.
Just then, a shrub to my right began moving in an uncharacteristic way. As though birds were fighting in it — but we’re beyond breeding season for most save goldfinches. Suddenly, I realized I was seeing graceful legs, rounded buttocks, and that diagnostic white flag tail of deer. Right down by the water, she was blissfully and purposefully breakfasting. I was near enough to see the shine on her planted hooves.
Doe, a deer… Brenda Jones
That day brought no herons, neither green nor blue. Nor the oven bird’s ‘teacher teacher teacher’ — most treasured gift of the Institute Woods, if I’m early or lalte enough.
Not even Constable clouds filled the canal — to be cleaved by the slender prow.
I turned around, (partly because of griddle heat), deciding to see how many strokes I could paddle without stopping. All these months, I realized, I’d been taking it easy out there, because of the so-called ’surgical leg’. I was way up into the 100s, when I had to speak to careless canoeists — in order to discover on which side of them I might safely progress. So I forget my tally, but it was impressive, and it didn’t hurt me, not then, not ever.
We are so blessed to live in a canaled town. Just cross the Delaware and look at that rooty, clunky, uneven towpath, alongside Pennsylvania’s empty canal, strewn with rocks and weeds.
I don’t know why New Jersey knew enough to preserve and sustain its canal, although D&R Greenway where I work, was a major part of that (before my time). I only know I’m deeply grateful.
Canal time fills memory’s treasure chest, for sustenance throughout the weeks ahead.
Wordsworth said it best, about daffodils:
“For oft, when on my couch I lie / in vague or pensive mood / and gaze upon that inward eye / which is the bliss of solitude / and then my heart with rapture fills / and dances…”
Your heart, too, can dance upon canal waters. Just show up at Princeton Canoe and Kayak and set OUT.
North from the turning basin goes under the Dinky tracks and all the way to and through the aqueduct at Mapleton and beyond. It’s the busy way, with walkers, bikers, other water craft, and sometimes ‘our’ eagles. South is the quiet way, most likely, but not guaranteed, to provide nature’s rarities.
Full or empty, creature-wise, canal-time fills the soul.
Grebe Swallowing Frog, Brigantine, by Anne Zeman
Natural End for Frog - Nourishing Another Species
NJ WILD readers remember that, when Ilene Dube insisted I begin this nature blog for the Packet, she urged the presence of poetry.
You also know that the focus of my life is preservation, carried out professionally at D&R Greenway Land Trust. It has taken us 23 years to save 23 New Jersey miles.
Every day, all over our state, carnage of this magnitude is taking place, often in the guise of restoration, as at the Pole Farm - although no mention is made upon their signs of the importance of this ‘new habitat’ for wild creatures.
Sometimes my rage takes the form of verse. This, in my world, represents a heightening of fury — prose mere distillation. See what YOU think..
naturalists alert me
that this very week, at midnight,
crept out of winter
left glistening egg clusters
ripening like grapes
in old furrows and new ponds
I know where the frogs spawn
throughout these fields and woods
but heartless engineers
have studded nature’s nurseries
with rip-rap and coarse gravels
torn earth gapes
raw treads scar refuge trails
The Pole Farm has become
yesteryear’s moist furrows
sacred vernal ponds
reduced to memory
CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN
Canal Scene at Millstone Aqueduct, Brenda Jones
near first post-op kayaking on Lake Carnegie, near new eagle nest and feeding tree…
NJ Wild readers know that I have been on a healing journey. since total hip replacement on November 9. Most of the time, I write of its miracles. But I must admit, the voyage is long and sometimes gruelling. It involves a great deal of spiritual work, as well as lengthy nightly exercise, not only of ‘the surgical leg.’
It won’t surprise NJ WILD that, for me, key spiritual healing happen OUTDOORS, in nature, in New Jersey, especially on or near Princeton’s D&R Canal and Towpath. Of course, that region was particularly effective that day I was taken kayaking for the first time, post-op, this April, on Carnegie Lake.
This week, for example, I felt far less alone as I unexpectedly encountered ‘our’ American bald eagle in the top of a deciduous tree right across the Lake Carnegie dam. This bird, as Brenda’s below, was most staunch, ’stiffening my spine’ to continue the sometimes invisible progress.
Eagle Perched, by Brenda Jones
as in deciduous tree across Lake Carnegie Dam from Towpath
Last night, a red fox, right out of The Little Prince, was sitting next to my white begonias, shining in starlight. Picture this alert creature clouded by darkness, surrounded by white petals. He gazed and gazed deep into my eyes, and I had to leave before he did. “…and you will sit a little closer to me, every day…”
Fox Close-Up, Brenda Jones
A significant portion of my spiritual healing takes place meditatively. Right now, it is, when I am most blessed, in the company of wolves. The wolf phalanx headed by Jasmine, a timber wolf I met in real life at New Jersey’s stunning Lakota Wolf Preserve, up near the Water Gap. Jasmine has since passed to the spiritual realms, but shewas very real, welcoming Tasha O’Neill and me to that wild place, although Jasmine emerged from pale roses.
Jasmine, of Lakota Wolf Preserve
Here is a new poem about the wolves, the comfort, sustenance and protection they provide me. Being ‘torn from sanctuary’ refers particularly to having to perform healing contortions in public in a cacophonous place otherwise known as ‘physical therapy.’ I would rather be home with the wolves…
Here is one of the new poems, gift of the Muse who returned at the hospital on the day of my hip surgery:
Lakota Wolf by Tasha O’Neill, with whom I met Jasmine…
JASMINE AND THE PHALANX
finally, it is time
to lie down with the wolves
this phalanx sent daily
to expand my healing
– the silver, the noir –
only one is named
but all are ready
– hushed, puissant
I first met sweet calm
in wolf eyes
when exquisite Jasmine
emerged from her rose bower
in the place named Lakota
my wolves lope
wherever I must go
especially as I am torn and torn
pelts, stiff yet soft
over perfect bones
I do not share
then pour recovery
into this strafed body
horizontal and free
I sink into the hush
of wolf breathing
light in wolf fur
supple power radiating
like the moon’s corona
at full eclipse
CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN
“…unreconstructed and necessary wildness…” Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire
Enraged Osprey of Carnegie Lake, Brenda Jones
Michael Pollan in general, and his Botany of Desire, in particular, is one of those authors everyone means to read. I hear protestations of intention all the time, always tinged with a kind of wistfulness. Recently, Public Television gave people a visual taste of this man’s paradigm. For me, the visual alone never suffices.
I’ll go so far as to insist that Pollan is an author to re-read. His subject matter is so unexpected (apples and ‘cyder’, marijuana, tulips and potatoes) and his thinking so original. It’s worth taking Pollan in hand, even if you don’t give a fig about nature. Just for the privilege of journeying with him.
Fierce Flight (Great Blue Heron), Brenda Jones
And savoring his pithy phrases, such as “Plants are the true alchemists.” His lament that now, “It is as though nature is something that happens outside,… as if we are gazing at nature across a gulf.” As he sets out in a canoe in quest of Johnny Appleseed’s seminal (couldn’t resist) journeys, Pollan relishes trusting in the river to take him wherever he wants to go.
WILD DELAWARE RIVER, Brenda Jones
In my case, re-reading The Botany of Desire reveals a delicious (pun intended) emphasis upon the WILD.
Trenton’s Apple Bounty, cfe
People can and do tease me for prating of the WILD in New Jersey. In the first segment of The Botany of Desire, Pollan takes an even more unlikely tack — seeking the wild, as did Thoreau, through apples. One of his theses is that Appleseed’s success came because he was not peddling mere fruit, but ‘cyder’ to the pioneers.
West Windsor’s Apple Bounty — cfe
Michael sets the tone with phrases such as “A handful of wild apples came with me” (on his Johnny-Appleseed-Quest.) He insists that “sowers of wild seeds are to be prized.”
Cedar Ridge Preserve Meadow, cfe
Cedar Ridge Wild Mushrooms — cfe
Pollan laments that “we live in a world where the wild places where wild plants live are dwindling.” You’ve heard this line from me in ‘posts’ beyond counting, coupled with urgings to support your local land trusts, especially D&R Greenway, to preserve New Jersey’s wild remnants and to plant New Jersey Natives wherever we can.
Baldpate View, Ted Stiles Preserve, Brenda Jones
Let Michael define “the best of all possible worlds”: “WE’D BE PRESERVING THE WILD PLACES THEMSELVES.”
The next best possible world: “ONE THAT PRESERVES THE QUALITY OF WILDNESS ITSELF.”
Female Harrier Aloft, Pole Farm, Brenda Jones
Male Harrier, “The Grey Ghost”, in ice at Pole Farm — Brenda Jones
The generating thesis of NJ WILD is that the wild exists right in our own back yards:
Wild erupts with the whiff of fox along mown paths of The Griggstown Grasslands. This lovely lofty set of trails, with its compelling Sourlands and Watchung views, awaits but a mile or two north of me on Canal Road, before/beside Griggstown’s Causeway.
Fox Alert, Griggstown Grasslands, Brenda Jones
The wild surprised me last week In burgeonings of wildflowers, deep in the duff of the forest floor, on Bull’s Island in the Delaware. These petite fleurs lifted up the blinding waxy yellow of buttercups. 8 to 10 petals rayed out from yellow centers. These premature spring heralds were nevertheless inviting pollinators. On my hike, they seemed like pieces of eight flung onto the leaf-strewn forest floor.
Why call a delicate plant WILD? Because they arrived there on their own, blooming despite winter on the calendar, pushing through flood detritus that resembled the graphite dust of Thoreau’s pencils. A key quality of the wild is RESILIENCE — New Jersey specialty!
Sourland Mountain Rocks and Water, Brenda Jones
WILD in New Jersey, for me, requires Lenni Lenapes. The land was tended by these peaceful tribes, at least 10,000 years ago. Their vanished presence is palpable on many of my hikes, most especially among Sourlands boulders. Also on trails near Mountain Lakes House, and at Ringing Rocks just across Delaware at Upper Black Eddy. In each case, majestic boulders that render Stonehenge puny rest exactly where they were revealed by water wind and time, before time. The huge stones are frequently encountered in a massive ring. I FEEL Indian councils there, planning tribal actions for the season about to begin. Seasons which, for Lenni Lenapes, triggered travel either to or from hunting to gathering.
Mink at Play, Brenda Jones
In the Hamilton/Trenton/Bordentown Marsh, the Lenapes convened with selected other tribes, before leaving central Jersey hunting grounds for Shore gatherings. This journey and the seasonal constellation of other indigenous peoples was triggered by natural phenomena. Spring’s took place when pickerel weed pierced still waters like arrows.
New Jersey’s Apple Bounty, cfe
Michael Pollan plants a wild tree in his own home garden. His hope - “that such a tree will bear witness to unreconstructed and necessary wildness.”
What can you do about wildness right now, as elusive winter gives way to spring?
Go in search of it.
Buy only native NJ species for your gardens.
Read Michael Pollan
well, you know….
REMEMBER, WILD IS ALL ABOUT HABITAT!
Rare Box Turtle, Camouflaged in Natural Habitat - Cedar Ridge cfe
Generously support D&R Greenway and other Land Trusts, preserving New Jersey’s wild wherever it exist.
Autumn Shadows, Sandy Hook
NJ WILD readers will understand that I thought I drove through Monmouth County thoroughbreds to Sandy Hook in quest of birds in November of 2010. Mother Nature had other ideas.
Winds were wild and birds were few. Actually, I saw more birders than birds. Some I questioned concerning two nearly motionless grey and white raptors late in the day had been ‘at it’, as I often have, since dawn. They hadn’t seen ‘my’ hawks, and my descriptions weren’t useful enough for Scott Barnes to assist. He did merrily remember the April day Tasha O’Neill and I had spent on their hawk watch platform when he and his deeply experienced sidekick could not keep UP with the sharp-shin count!
What high winds and higher sun did to autumn colors surpassed my life experiences, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and even in Vermont.
Autumn’s Fence, Ocean,Sandy Hook
Yet, when the day’s photographs were studied, my favorites turned out to have to do with shadows.
Woodbine Shadows, North Lookout
It was a day of whitecaps on the tidal river, drawing parasailers and windsurfers, what I first witnessed in Provence and learned of as ‘planche a voile’. Plank with sail. Winter may be in the wings, enough that I had my down ‘cardigan’ zipped to the chin. Yet hardy waterpersons were nearly stripping, then slipping into glossy wet suits, from first light til last.
It was a day of blessed solitude, every pore open to Mother Nature’s gifts.
It was a day of dazzlement.
And yet, and yet, this afternoon, re-living Sandy Hook, bright shadows carried the day.
TRIUMPH OF SHADOW, NORTH BEACH
Dear NJ WILD Readers: In the weeks ahead, you’ll be re-seeing posts of the past, before my hip required the surgery I will undergo tomorrow. Our remarkable fine art photographer, Brenda Jones, chose this one to launch the Reminiscence Series.
ENJOY - and HIKE FOR ME
Cezanne-like Ruin at Sandy Hook
NJ WILD readers know the catalyst for most of my New Jersey expeditions — birds.
I thought I went to Sandy Hook for autumn migrants. The Muse had other ideas.
Looking back on my runaway-day, I see that I found more birders than birds. But that’s o.k. I cherish the company of birders. (seeing them as ‘real’ birders, as opposed to this eager amateur.) I treasure birders when not even they can identify the pale mystery hawks over the N.J. Audubon Center on the river side of Sandy Hook.
Up on the North Beach platform, there was more talk of birds than birds. Memories of other days, other seasons. Souvenirs of northbound flights when the experts couldn’t keep up with the sharp-shin count. The day Anne Zeman and I happened to be there for the scissor-tailed flycatcher. Memories of World Trade Center towers, once so visible from those boards, now no more than memory.
We had one desultory red-tail, but Scott Barnes had identified this one last April as resident, not migrant. A string of double-crested cormorants flew low over invisible water. I’m pretty sure we heard yellow-rumped warblers in shrubbery all around the platform. I had to soothe other ‘watchers’ in that they couldn’t see cormorant crests, not even one, let alone double. Bird books annoyingly inform us, concerning those defining field marks, that they are ‘visible only in breeding season.’ Which October definitely isn’t. Not for birds, anyway.
Sometimes, I don’t know what my adventure was about until I download the pictures. Which is how I found out that this journey was about light, not birds. Light and form. Declining light, which somehow magnified form. Even the bunkers were beautiful.
Bunker Bedecked with Woodbine
That day’s paling sun brought new gifts, highlighting structures to which I’ve evidently been oblivious until now. I’ve driven and walked that North Beach area more times than I can count, in all weathers. Most memorably in February, with Sandy Hook Rangers who bear magical keys to secret ‘gardens’ along reaches otherwise verboten. The wrack line is particularly glistening in winter; bunkers even more stark. I try to comfort my pacifist self with the fact that no shot hath been fired at Sandy Hook in anger.
What the sun revealed last weekend was a ruin right out of Cezanne!
I zoomed into a parking place, oblivious to any other drivers as though a peregrine was winging overhead. But this wasn’t about falcons.
It was about light. Light that would not only change, but (as NJ WILD readers know too well about me, this time of year), light that will LEAVE. Abandon us. Plunge us into the underworld for months on end and I will have to remember to stay very far from pomegranates or I’ll NEVER get back to the light.
The Beauty of Ruins
I was hopping all around that building, reaching here, crouching there. — The way my sister and I did that cold April at the Wetlands Institute, where the purple gallinule remained most effectively in hiding for all his vividness. That fauve bird had been seen by experts and amateurs all week, all morning, and would be seen again that evening, but not while Marilyn and I were there. And, I promise you, we left no leaf unturned. Neither of us had seen one in our lives, put together. And we still hadn’t. Crouching, rising, turning returning — that Cezanne Studio look-alike called forth my most assiduous birding behaviors.
Ruined Door, Autumn Hues, Cezanne Door, Sandy Hook Ruin
The color of the door to Cezanne’s studio in Aix is splashed into my soul — exactly the tone of the door above, taken, –yes, in New Jersey.
I’ve lingered at the door of Cezanne’s studio times beyond measure. With my husband on history-wine-and-art pilgrimages. With the Friends of the Art Museum (Princeton) in 1978, on our Romanesque France tour de Provence with legendary Hyatt Mayor, Curator of Drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 1981, I’d walked those leafy grounds above A, staring at Cezanne’s own views, wishing they’d let me photograph that spill of dried fruit along a windowsill. I did this with my elder daughter, Diane, and our Princeton friends, Hope and Valerie in January. In pivotal 1984, I’d learned that this was the site to which Cher Maitre Paul had returned from painting his iconic Mte. Ste. Victoire, already breeding the cold that would kill this unparalleled artist. That trip involved Diane again, and her younger sister, Catherine. Both lived abroad that year of the strong dollar, one in Paris, one in Bergamo. That time, we shared our beloved South of France with Charlie and Rose Mary, whom I’d introduced that spring. They’d fallen in love, come with us on their ninth date. This year they took me to dinner at Eno Terra to celebrate that 26 years-ago meeting. They’re still glad I did it!
During 1987 and 88, I introduced my Provence (native French who wintered in Cannes) neighbors-of-the-villa, over and over to places in their own land that they did not know, especially Cezanne-territory. All American friends who braved Provence with me, although I’d only had those two years of meagre college French, made pilgrimage with me to Matisse’s chapel. And to Fondation Maeght. But always to Cezanne, and the Restaurant Deux Garcons which mattered so much to M.F.K. Fisher and her two daughters.
So I know the color of Cezanne’s door. It’s exactly the tone of the door above, taken one week ago.
Shadowed Ruin, North Beach, Sandy Hook
Just as on Cezanne’s studio — even the shadows on this building were arresting in beauty and sharpness.
Cezanne-Look-Alike with Woodbine
Finally I tore myself from the structure, and the cascade of Provence memories it had ignited.
I remembered, after all, you’re this Jersey Girl. You’re here to celebrate our own back yard. What else is calling out to you this day?
NORTH BEACH NATIVE SPECIES: Autumn, 2010
If Cezanne had seen what seems like NJ native wild asparagus, aglow, he’d've turned into a Fauve.
What Cezanne would never have seen, is this hot yellow fireplug. Now I ask you, why? But isn’t it merry?
Fire Safety, North Beach, Sandy Hook, New Jersey
Red-winged Blackbird, Sunset, by Brenda Jones
NJ WILD readers know that the catalyst for all my nature experiences is birding. You may not know that I’ve been barred from it, increasingly, this year, by a mysteriously deteriorating hip.
On Wednesday, November 9, that hip will be replaced with something shiny, smooth and functional. My orthopedist insists, “We’re going to be very aggressive re rehab, because we want to get you back in the kayak and out on the trail.” And that means new stories for all of you — 1000 to 1200 per week - always a miracle to me, and greatly appreciated.
NJ WILD readers also know that D&R Greenway Land Trust preserved the St. Michael’s (Orphanage) land in Hopewell, 300+ acres that would by now hold 1200 houses, had we not raised what I recall as thirteen million dollars by the Ides of March that year. Bill Flemer, IV, of the legendary Princeton Nursery family, works for D&R Greenway now, managing the farm preserve.
The New York Times recently wrote at length about our native plant seed project there, under Bill’s, as well as Jared Rosenbaum’s, of our Native Plant Nursery. We are growing hundreds of native wildflowers there for their seed. It will be taken, in partnership with New York City’s Department of Parks and Restoration, to re-seed, reclaim the direly named Fresh Kills. You may realize that World Trade Center debris was taken to that site. Because of preservation and stewardship in your own back yard, flowers will bloom there, and blow in the wind. Flowers that belong, that will seed themselves in the sea wind…
Support your local land trust wherever you are, especially D&R Greenway.
Mockingbird Singing, by Brenda Jones
And rejoice at this recent e-bird list, thanks to Jim Amon, our Director of Stewardship, for this good news, reminding me that there are birds in our world.
St.Michael’s, Mercer, US-NJ
Canada Goose 10
Coursing Waters, Brenda Jones
The most impactful response I have seen to Hurricane Irene comes from Jim Waltman, Executive Director of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. Since 1949, this farsighted, crusading organization has assiduously and effectively taught us about the power, importance and threatened condition of water in our region. They have taken giant steps at every possible level to safeguard our waterways.
Now, due to accelerated climate change, it could be seen as ironic that Jim has to teach us how to protect ourselves from water!
I wrote Jim Waltman, immediately upon seeing his “Lessons from Hurricane Irene” in a number of print publications. He graciously gave me permission to share it with NJ WILD readers here and abroad. At the last tally, people are reading of nature in our region in ninety countries. Jim and the Watershed Association are masters at communication, so it is an honor to be able to extend their reach somewhat on this urgent issue.
With Jim Waltman’s kind permission. [bolds mine cfe]
Your water. Your environment. Your voice.
Lessons from Hurricane Irene
A message from the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association
By: Jim Waltman, Executive Director
By any measure, Hurricane Irene was a monster. Like much of New Jersey, our watershed was hammered by rain, wind, power outages and flooding. Damages from flooding occurred in almost every corner of our 265-square-mile watershed, and in all 26 towns within our region of central New Jersey. The boroughs were hit particularly hard, with large portions of Manville, Millstone and Hightstown under literally feet of water.
The Millstone River and Stony Brook both reached all-time record high levels in various places, each merging with the Delaware & Raritan Canal for a portion of their journeys, and numerous lakes spilled over their banks. Our hearts go out to the thousands of people who lost property, businesses or, worst of all, loved ones in this storm.
Normal Autumn Waters, Brenda Jones
As we near the end of yet another wet week, those of us at the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, central New Jersey’s first environmental group, feel an even greater than usual urgency.
While Hurricane Irene was a true “outlier,” –an enormous storm that would have caused massive flooding and damage no matter what we did to prevent it–, climate scientists are telling us that our region is most likely going to continue to get wetter and wetter (except of course during periods of prolonged drought, which are also likely to become more severe). This means that, –unless we change our mindset, behaviors and policies–, we may be living our future.
However, hope is not lost. Together we can make a difference:
First, we need to stop making the problem worse. Ill-conceived developments near streams and within wetlands, not only damage our supply of clean water and destroy important wildlife habitat, they also dramatically increase the risk of flood damage to homes and businesses.
‘Our’ Towpath After an August Deluge cfe
Since 1949, the Watershed Association has sought to reverse that tide. In Cranbury, we are working closely with the Township Committee, Planning Board and Environmental Commission to secure a new ordinance to prohibit new development and [prevent] the clearing of native vegetation near streams. We are working with Hopewell Township to secure a new ordinance to protect our forests, which help absorb and slowly release rain and snow, and hold soil in place with deep root systems that stabilize streambanks and reduce erosion.
We also need to recommit ourselves to preserving open space along stream corridors and steep slopes as a means of both reducing floodwaters and keeping people out of harm’s way from future Irenes.
Water Fury, Brenda Jones
Second, we need to start fixing the mistakes of the past. Developments built before any significant regulation to contain stormwater can be retrofitted to retain runoff and allow it to percolate into our water supply. For example, the redevelopment of the Princeton Junction train station in West Windsor offers the opportunity to fix flooding issues there caused by acres and acres of impervious paved parking.
Peaceful Skies, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association Trail Walk, cfe
In nearby Princeton we are working to investigate what can be done to reduce the flooding of Harry’s Brook. It’s not too late to correct past mistakes.
We also need to recognize that it makes sense to move or remove some structures that were built near water bodies and have been repeatedly damaged by flooding. The state’s “Blue Acres” program, a cousin of the more familiar Green Acres Program, provides funding to purchase such flood prone properties. With bold action, we can prevent unmitigated development from contaminating and depleting our surface and ground water, and creating additional flood hazards.
We wish those still suffering the aftermath of Hurricane Irene a quick and full recovery.
Interviews with Executive Director Jim Waltman are available upon request.
firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange an interview.
The Hobbit Tree - Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association Trail Walk cfe
The Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association is central New Jersey’s first environmental group, protecting clean water and the environment through conservation, advocacy, science and education.
NJ WILD readers know that, –long ago, when Ilene Dube of the Packet, insisted I create a blog for their publication–, it include nature, New Jersey, Preservation and Poetry.
That last facet has been all too often overlooked, as the urgency of preservation takes over the world and, therefore, my own creative and professional life.
I remember ‘meeting’ wild rice at the Marsh with my dear friend Mary Leck, Botanist of Rider and forever student of/teacher about the Hamilton/Trenton/Bordentown Marsh. It never ceases to amaze me that wild rice is an annual grass, growing to 8 to 10 feet of height each season.
Mary and Charlie Leck, her husband, Ornithologist of Rutgers, –my treasured guides on so many nature walks–, teach me that wild rice is red-winged blackbirds’ favorite food.
Red-Winged Blackbird, Brenda Jones
When D&R Greenway Land Trust was fortunate enough to bring David Allen Sibley to our side, –to share this legendary bird artist and author with donors, trustees and landowners–, David knew to follow the wild rice as we wandered our Marsh in autumn migration-time. We found red-wings beyond counting, bouncing ecstatically upon the laden stalks.
All of this is earth-reasoning, justification if you will, for giving you my wild rice poem.
When it came to me, the sensations were tactile, visceral, auditory, hyper-real. I could hear the water whisper-slipping under the canoe, which was only of birch bark, and therefore not in New Jersey but probably in my native Michigan or my early-marriage Minnesota. I knew the sound of rice falling onto birchbark, as though I had heard it a thousand thousand times. I could feel the silken grains, cascading on all sides.
Picture the autumn nearly upon us.
Settle into your own canoes, of whatever construction.
Look high at first changing leaves, and reach, reach for the wild rice:
I seek a canoe
still on the silk shore
of some broad Minnesota lake
spice on the air
red-gold bittersweet twining
high among lakeside pines
water more green than blue
stiff/supple grasses parting
as we nose our silent way
to that center to which ancestors were led
by Grandfather Sky/Grandmother Moon
we make no sound
in whisper water
every clump of grass
bending in seasonal submission
my paddle enters the lake
noiseless as the sharpest knife
as my partner thrashes grasses
they bend to right/to left
filling his sweet lap
then our entire canoe
with brown black heads of rices
that have never been anything