Archive for the ‘Migration’ Category
Cormorants Swim Where Brenda Jones and I Birded By Car…
NJ WILD readers know, if they know anything about me, how precious is the birding refuge, ‘The Brig’, A.K.A. Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge to me, as a birder, and far more profoundly, as a spiritual being.
It’s where I restore myself when “the world is too much with me”, more and more frequently these days. Far more important than I, however, ‘The Brig’ is a key stopover on the Atlantic Flyway, rich in rarities at all times. Perhaps never more precious than in winter, when winged creatures elsewhere can be scarce.
Duck Flight Before Storm, Brenda Jones
Everyone also knows that un-hurricaned Sandy destroyed great swathes of our beloved New Jersey’s three coastlines, especially The Shore, especially at and in and near Atlantic City.
One of the eeriest factors of being at ‘The Brig’ is that you see all those gambling towers through the migrant flocks. My happiest times at ‘The Brig’ are when I can’t see Atlantic City, because of fog or whatever.
I have been down at the Brig in fire, fog and ice. I can never believe that anyone would rather be in those towering prisons of glass, those cacophonous, frenzied places, rather than in the seamless peace of the marshy reaches of The Brigantine.
Great Egret, Great Peace of Brigantine Wildlife Refuge, Brenda Jones
I can’t drive it’s dike road any more, because it has been severed by uncategorized-storm-Sandy.
Cormorants swim where I used to bird by car.
All those carefully managed impoundments with their specific salinities, to nourish certain aquatic plants and shelter and feed certain waterfowl, are fouled. The Bay, –Absecon Bay, whatever its salinity in the storm and ever since–, has surged in. The Brig, as we know it, is no more.
Grebe Swallowing Frog, Brigantine Wildlife Refuge December Drama — Anne Zeman
I’m going down there for Christmas, ‘come hell or high water’. Certain walking trails are open, and birds don’t watch the Weather Channel. I’ll check out Leed’s Point, where the Jersey Devil was purportedly born and which thrives as a tiny old-world fishing village, at least until Sandy. Herons frequently soar in and land on Leed’s Point pilings. I’ll drive the bumpy sand road to and from Scott’s Landing, always remembering encountering hunters with their ‘bag’ of bloodied snow geese there, late one autumn. Odd, I’ve never read a recipe for snow goose. How neatly they were lined up along the sand… below the targets, silhouettes that teach hunters the differences among birds on the wing at various distances.
Snow Geese In Flight, Brenda Jones
How Snow Geese Look when they hear shots…. cfe
In the meantime, this is some of ‘The Brig’s’ reality. God KNOWS what’s happened at my other major havens - Island Beach, south of ruined Bay Head, Mantoloking, Seaside and so forth, and Sandy Hook, up by the Highlands and too many rivers….
Serenity and Tumult, Bay Head, Carolyn Foote Edelmann
NJ WILD BEAUTY, ISLAND BEACH Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Pristine Barnegat Bay, which rose to meet the Atlantic… Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Winter Realities, Normal Sandy Hook, Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Sandy Hook, Bay Side, After a Hard Winter Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Brigantine Serenity from Leed’s Eco-Trail Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Cloudscape, Summer, Brigantine Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Glossy Ibis and Marsh Mallow’s First Bloom, Brigantine Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Update as of Friday, December 7 at 10 a.m.: The Wildlife Drive in Galloway remains closed due to damage from Hurricane Sandy. The Songbird Trail, including the portion that uses the Wildlife Drive, will be closed December 10 through 14 due to a refuge hunt. Other hiking trails in Galloway are open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily, including the Akers Woodland Trail, Leed’s Eco-trail, and foot access to Gull Pond Tower.
The Visitor Information Center is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.weekends. All fees have been temporarily waived.
Scott’s Landing Boat Launch is open. Barnegat Observation Platform is open. The deCamp Wildlife Trail in Brick Township is open for the first 2000 feet. Holgate remains closed.
The Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, where more than 47,000 acres of southern New Jersey coastal habitats are actively protected and managed for migratory birds. Forsythe is one of more than 500 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The National Wildlife Refuge System is a network of lands and waters managed specifically for the protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat and represents the most comprehensive wildlife resource management program in the world. Units of the system stretch across the United States from northern Alaska to the Florida Keys, and include small islands in the Caribbean and South Pacific. The character of the Refuges is as diverse as the nation itself.
Wish me well on my Christmas pilgrimage. Far More Important, wish the birds well no matter man’s depredations.
Do whatever you can, wherever you are, even in those 90 countries who, for some reason, read NJ WILD about our dear state, to preserve refuges in your region.
And pay attention to catastrophic climate change. It’s no myth. It’s not a subject for believe. We have seen, to borrow the Pogo line, catastrophic climate change, and it is us.
What Sandy did was dress rehearsal. Sandy scrawled the signature of inevitable sea level rise for all the world to see. Sandy was not a one-time event. Sea level rise will not undo itself, as do hurricanes in time. Although not in damage.
Our world is changed forever.
Sandy didn’t change it.
What are you doing about it?
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.”
Black Skimmer Aloft, Cape May, by Brenda Jones
What do you do when your favorite Motel, even weeks ahead, only has one night in which to welcome you? It’ll be nearly three hours down, ditto back.
But the birds are migrating.
And the ocean beckons.
Shimmering Beachwalk, Cape May cfe
And I haven’t been on the Hawk Watch Platform since a year ago Easter, since this has been ‘The Year of the Hip.’
But my legs work now. I can carry my suitcase upstairs to my sea-facing room. I can walk on sand again.
My camera is not exactly rusting from disuse, but close.
Cape May Hawk Watch Platform after 2009 Blizzard cfe
The Hawk Watch Platform of Cape May Bird Observatory is officially open. Raptors are soaring. Shore birds staging. Monarchs might be nestled throughout the ivory blossoms of the high tide plant.
I have two good books, in a field new to me, food philosophy.
Seaside Seafood Supper, Inside Jetty Motel cfe
There won’t be enough time for all my favorite restaurants. But I’ll literally make a stab at it.
Osprey of May in Cape May, over CMBO Hawk Watch Platform cfe
And Monday morning, before turning north, I’ll be on the Skimmer again. This is a flat-bottomed craft that noses in and out of Back-Bay Cape May. Its knowledgeable Captain and Mate know where all the rare birds wait. Whether or not the ospreys have left, they’ll know how many young each nest produced. They’ll use delicate dip nets to introduce us to marshwater creatures, tenderly returning them as soon as we’ve memorized the names.
Everything will be shimmering.
And I’ll have new reasons to be glad of having endured this mightily successful hip replacement.
In a way, I’ll be migrating, for a too-brief interval.
Cape May vistas new and old will fill my treasury for the months ahead.
How Cape May Light Looks in Winter - CMBO image from Hawk Watch Platform
And probably, I’ll return, as is my wont, for Christmas.
The Jetty Motel is my favorite — go there. You’ll be made to feel like family. And, offshore, this time of year, hordes of black white and orange skimmers wait somehow, coming in for landings at sunrise, like the breakfast flock in Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Only vivid.
Make Cape May YOUR own…
Whale Watchers, Cape May, Brenda Jones
Pine Barrens Peat Water, Mullica River cfe
Between drought and development, it is hard for others, even for New Jersey natives, to credit our slogan, “The Garden State.”
NJ WILD readers know, I celebrate New Jersey’s wild beauty wherever and whenever I can find it, even right in my own (near Rocky Hill) rocky hilly foresty yard.
But sometimes, I must go far afield, gulp great ‘draughts’ of New Jersey Beauty.
As. recently, to and from my cherished ‘Brigantine’ - Wildlife Refuge, otherwise known as Edwin B. Forsythe.
The blessings of visiting ‘the Brig’ are beyond measure, starting with the long silent even winding drive through the Pine Barrens to Smithville and Oceanville. Due east of those tiny pre-Revolutionary towns stretches the 8-mile dike drive among bays and impoundments, rare birds at all times and in all seasons.
Come along with me on last week’s spur-of-the-moment, if not even desperate, flight to beauty.
Queen Anne’s Lace, Mullica River, Pine Barrens cfe
Beyond the dock, fortunate kayakers make their way up the Mullica, without whose Revolutionary waters and watermen, we wouldn’t have a nation:
Mullica Kayakers, cfe
Cloud-Studded Salinity-Managed Waters of Brigantine cfe
FIDDLER CRABS, OUT FOR LOW-TIDE LUNCH, Brig cfe
NEW JERSEY BEAUTY - CLOUD MAJESTY Brig cfe
There were great egrets everywhere, like archangels at the Nativity, as well as black-bellied and American golden plovers, ibis beyond counting, a few skimmers not skimming, and osprey families everywhere we looked — some feeding young, one ‘mantling ‘ - waving mature wings to cool the immature!
Successful Osprey Family, The Brig cfe
Duck and First Marsh Mallows of the Season cfe
Glossy Ibis and Marsh Mallow, Brig cfe
Wild Flowers (water lilies and Sagittaria) and Cranberry Bogs Near Chatsworth, #563,
The Empty, Beauty-Bracketed Route Home cfe
As you can see, beauty and wildness are with you every step of the way to and from ‘The Brig.’
(”The Pretty Way” will have no cars to speak of, even on major holidays. Route 1 South to 295 South to Columbus Exit to 206 South to Carranza Road/Tabernacle to 532 (stop at Russo’s for fresh-made cider doughnuts and very local produce). 532 east to 563 South to (I forget the number -[579?]) left to New Gretna below Chatsworth Route 9 South, moments on GSP, Exit 48 Smithville, back onto Route 9 South below Smithville to left turn to Forsythe Wildlife Refuge after fire station, Lily Lake Road. See Noyes Museum of Art while down there. Eat breakfast at The Bakery in Smithville; any time at Smithville Inn, and Oyster Creek Inn at Leeds Point, if it’s open when you’re there…)
Pied-Billed Grebe Swallowing Frog, January 3, 2012, by Anne Zeman
NJ WILD readers know that my favorite non-Princeton excursion is to the Brigantine Wildlife Refuge (a.k.a. Forsythe), near Smithville and (arrgghh!) Atlantic City. ‘The Brig’ has served as my own wild refuge since I discovered it somewhere in the 1990’s.
Bays and impoundments are threaded by firm sand roads (actually dikes), so drivers may bird in all seasons, in all weathers. Differing salinities allow different plants to grow, providing nourishment and shelter for wild birds. The refuge is supported by duck stamps.
I’ve literally been at ‘the Brig’ in fire and in ice. Fire being controlled burns, to keep dread phragmites (towering blinding reeds that destroy foods and shelter required by wild birds); and ice which sometimes even closes ‘the Brig.’ So I go over to Scott’s Landing and up to Tuckerton, off the Garden State Parkway, but there is nothing like ‘the Brig’.
On the first Monday of 2012, I was given my first post-hip-op trip to this haven with dear friend and consummate birder, (co-founder and co-sustainer of Kingston Christmas Bird Count), Anne Zeman. Her astounding picture opens this post.
No one can ever declare “best local birding day”, but it was definitely a contender. In terms of quality and quantity of sightings, that day was as though we had taken seven trips ’round, instead of the single one my recent surgery dictated.
Great Blue Heron in Snow, Brenda Jones
Before we even reached the Gull Pond Tower, we had a first. We became aware of three great blue herons in water, and one perched overhead (that tree in other seasons holds black-crowned night herons). This primordial scene was right across Gull Pond after our turn. Suddenly, all birds took off as one, arrowing over our car as though shot by Hiawatha. Something significant had spooked these birds who are usually the essence of calm.
With her superb optics, Anne found the reason - a fox, in daytime, prancing toward the pond among shrubs and some debris of fallen trees. Anne has never seen a fox at the Brig - though they sip from her Kingston pond… When I’d stay overnight down there, to be first car in before dawn, and/or last car out, I could follow foxes down woods-enclosed roadways. But, even for me, it’s been a long time between foxes.
Fox Close-Up, Brenda Jones
Anne Zeman, and her husband Mark Peel, are the type of birders who travel avidly to other states and other lands in search of new species. Even so, they remain super-loyal to New Jersey, in particularly their own Kingston, and ‘the Brig’.
Looking back on our day, Mark and Anne remain most amazed by our having found ten species of winter ducks. But this is a contest we cannot call, what was the most astounding.
Our immediate next bird was a pied-billed grebe. This tiny member of the duck family, in water beside the car, [and we still weren't even at the tower], was calmly swallowing an enormous frog. Its prey seemed quite alive - legs kicking and all that. Anne hopes frog was ’still in winter torpor.’ I remain astonished that any cold-blooded creature was ‘findable’ on the second day of January. That saucy little elegant grebe was as matter-of-fact about his brunch as though it were a mere canape. He sailed immediately off, afterwards, in quest of other delicacies.
I’m not going to be able to recreate that day for NJ WILD. It would take seven posts. So I’ll just list our species in order. And you can go see for yourself.
Here’s my secret route, upon which even on major holidays, we are mostly the only car on Pine Barrens roads. US 1 South to 295 South to the Columbus Exit. Go toward town, take 206 (left jughandle) exit (South) and proceed past Contes Farm Market at 70 Traffic Circle. Left (south) on Carranza Road. Left (east) at Russo’s Farm Market onto 532. Right (south) in Chatsworth onto 563. Left (east) onto 679 into New Gretna. South (right) onto 9 which takes you onto Garden State Parkway over Mullica River for moments. Off at exit 48 for Smithville. Back onto 9 South, to Lily Lake Road and Forsythe Wildlife Refuge. Keep these directions for Fourth of July and Labor Day - you won’t believe your solitude, as you meander through the heart of cranberry country to the heart of New Jersey birding in all seasons.
Species list, January 2, 2012 [bolds are duck species]
Bufflehead, Brenda Jones
Red-winged blackbirds, first-year
Red-Winged Blackbird in Usual Season, Brenda Jones
Great blue herons and Anne says yellow-crowned but I couldn’t see crown
PIED-GILLED GREBE EATING FROG
Shovelers - when tipped, legs bright breeding orange
Coots - not only in water but walking on grasses like guinea hens
(notes in here re slate-blue water, opened window allows ‘eau de fox’ to bless us)
oh, yes, American Bald Eagle soaring flapless over Absecon Bay, never moving a feather, out of sight
Northern harrier, harrying grasses with Atlantic City in background
(note - window open, duck laughter makes me jump!)
Green-winged teal — green blindingly vivid as they turned toward eastern light
(window open - familiar cherished sound… could it be… YES!)
Snow geese, like mounds of snow, all over grasses between us and bay and casinos. Their half murmur, half bark alerted us to a few on high. Then more, and more, until the sky was FULL of snow geese. Possibly tens of thousands of them. Muttering, almost meowing, their communication blessed every moment of the rest of our circuit. Overhead, they seemed to be asking of their myriad of relatives on the grass, “Request permission to come ashore.”
Hundreds of shorebirds, doing their flying-as-one-creature routine, then settling and settling onto water - probably dowitchers. Very very far from us, no matter which turn of the road we might be on.
Great black-backed gulls
oh, yes, and robins beyond counting back in woods and lawns at the gate
As we reluctantly finished our exploration, we recounted our day - starting with fox/heron and grebe before even reaching Gull Pond Tower.
“spit full of snow geese.” quipped Anne.
“The queens of today — female mergansers.”
“All those shorebirds”
I, on doctor’s orders, had to walk every thirty minutes. So “walking with the coots was a first.”
“A preponderance of coots” - perhaps most we’ve seen in entire lives…
“A day of shoveler legs”
“Benediction of herons”
“The eagle — a thousand thousand times more important than Atlantic City”
At which point, of all things, on the last bridge between two waters, a fox came prancing right along the side of the road, all dappled in shrub shadow, bright-eyed and literally bushy-tailed, and not at all upset by these human visitors. Anne either saw one fox twice, or two in one day. I saw this one - he seemed to be there for formal farewell.
We called the fox our finale.
Fox Listening for Winter Prey, Brenda Jones
Upon reading “Her Idea of a Beautiful Day”, in My Story As Told By Water, my first thought was, ‘Well, what would be MY idea of a beautiful day?’ Its subjunctive question immediately appeared - ‘What is YOURs?‘ – readers of and cherished commentors upon NJ WILD–, what renders a day beautiful in your life, at this moment in time?
My Story as Told By Water is a riverine memoir by David James Duncan. This man is a modern bard, in prose and diatribe, of the endangered American West, –particularly its rivers, especially of its salmon. Over and over, Duncan teaches, “As salmon go, so go the rivers.” And the indigenous people whose lives since time immemorial have depended upon the rivers and their creatures. With salmon and salmon people go the state, the region, the nation and ultimately the globe. Especially here in the east, we do not GET it about the peril of and the implications of industrial murder of salmon.
Sunfish, Baldpate Mountain Pond, Brenda Jones
Edward Abbey taught us first the evil of dams. David James Duncan blows on Abbey coals. My Story As Told By Water is my favorite title of the genre, the way Dickens’ “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is my favorite opening line of any novel. Young Duncan fell in love with water using a garden hose in his childhood driveway. His first love was abruptly relinquished for the real thing, when the boy fell INTO his first trout stream, discovering crawdads and fish. Duncan’s chapters tango between ever increasing passion for natural waterways, and fury at all who would destroy them. His rage and eloquence increase exponentially in our era of greed-enthronement.
The boy describes having been stunned by his grandmother’s rabid devotion to her job as a real estate agent: “Her idea of a beautiful day was one that increased the likelihood of her selling a house.” Nature, to Duncan’s grandmother, “had an unwashed, unsaved ring to it.”
Needless to say, “a beautiful day” to this author involves water, usually fresh, with the promise of fish. David James Duncan forces me to consider my own definition of a beautiful day. The instant answer is any day with friends, sharing nature with the perfect blend of passion, knowledge, and curiosity. Remarkable food is often involved, and frequently art. But if I had to choose but one factor for “my beautiful day”? NATURE.
I was frankly stunned to discover that “my beautiful day” need not be fair. “A beautiful day” to me is something that hardly ever happens any more — a time of long soft soaking rain. Gentle in quality and quantity, lowering a scrim over the harsh world. Rain that whispers, at most sizzles. This precipitation is neither so white and stiff as was my bridal veil, nor so dense and weighty as Jacqueline Kennedy’s widow’s veil — which cast a pall over my life, and was first worn in the impossible aftermath of this very day, November 22, in 1963. The most beautiful day to me now, in New Jersey, in the year 2008, is rain that tiptoes along the thirsty earth. It simply nourishes seeds, –without dislodging soil, let alone removing pebbles. A beautiful day’s rain never topples trees because of both quantity and intensity, without even factoring in damaging wind. What I require now is rain as it was before global warming.
Lately, as NJ WILD readers know, I’ve learned to be out in what the Brits call “a mizzle of rain.” There’s a blessing in it — tactile, even spiritual. I may prefer the days of rain and fog because they soften the impossible harshnesses of the 21st Century. You also know, nature is my church, and the Towpath and Canal in particular. David James Duncan says it better: “Church became a place where I waited for rain.”
“Pine Drops” hold the rain, by Lauren Curtis
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
NJ Wild readers have ‘heard’ me at length on the perils of endangered species, of which red knots and ruddy turnstones are among my favorites, my gravest concerns.
Ruddy Turnstone, Cornell Ornithology Lab
Their migration from winter in South America to breeding in Alaska funnels through slivers of beaches, especially Reed’s and some at Fortescue, along the Delaware Bayshore. Overharvesting of horseshoe crabs has deprived these two species and other shorebirds and laughing gulls of the usual opulent ice-green feast of fertilized crab eggs buried and unearthed along those fragile strands of sand.
Red Knots by the late, lamented, ‘incroyable!’ Ted Cross
Most of you know this on many levels. Here’s an update on the situation.
Do whatever it takes to urge your political representatives to err on the side of caution with (1) Horseshoe Crabs and (2) shorebirds, especially knots and turnstones. Their numbers are reported at hideous lows, from which I don’t see how their populations can ever recover.
Hordes such as these Semipalmated Sandpipers, of Knots and Turnstones, used to be nourished
by the Delaware Bay’s Horseshoe Crab Egg Bountiful Harvest
The following is a news release from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission:
Horseshoe Crabs at Beaches such as Reed’s, Crowding Ashore to Lay Eggs
Horseshoe Crab Board Initiates Addendum VII to Implement Adaptive Management
Horseshoe Crab, Molting
Alexandria, VA - The Commission’s Horseshoe Crab Management Board voted to initiate Addendum VII to implement the Adaptive Resource Management framework. The framework, under development since 2007, will incorporate both shorebird and horseshoe crab abundance levels when considering the optimized horseshoe crab harvest level for the Delaware Bay area. The ARM framework was developed by the Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Geological Survey in recognition of the importance of horseshoe crab eggs to shorebirds in the Delaware Bay Region and was peer-reviewed in 2009.
Horseshoe Crab Eggs - Pearls of Great Price…
The Draft Addendum will additionally address allocation of the ARM harvest output among the four states of New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland that harvest horseshoe crabs from the Delaware Bay population. The allocation is based upon multiple decision options, including the proportion of horseshoe crabs harvested that originate from Delaware Bay and a potential harvest cap for Virginia and Maryland to protect crabs that do not originate from Delaware Bay.
The Board had received input on the allocation options from the Delaware Bay Ecosystem Technical Committee at the March 2011 meeting, and from the Horseshoe Crab and the Shorebird Advisory Panels at today’s meeting. All options considered by the committee and panels will be included as options in the Draft Addendum. After review by the Board, the draft Addendum will be available for public comment.
In additional business, the Board approved formation of an ad-hoc working group, made up of technical committee members and biomedical representatives, to develop best management practices to minimize coastwide mortality from the practice of collecting horseshoe crab blood for worldwide biomedical uses. The Board recognizes the important health impacts of the biomedical industry as well as the regional differences that can exist among companies. The working group will report back to the Board on its findings. For more information, please Danielle Brzezinski, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, at email@example.com or 703.842.0740.
ASMFC Vision: Healthy, self-sustaining populations for all Atlantic coast fish species or successful restoration well in progress by the year 2015.
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
Dike Road to Infinity, by Sharon Olds, Brigantine/Forsythe Wildlife Refuge
Multiple Views to South, Brigantine/Forsythe — Sharon Olds
See bottom of article re this week’s osprey chick rescue, thanks to Citizens United, re Fortescue on Delaware Bayshores. If any of you are at ‘the Brig’ this week, I wish you’d report to me in comments on its many osprey nests.
Vigilant Osprey, Brigantine in May, cfe
NJ WILD readers know I used to write nature articles for the Packet, US 1, West Windsor-Plainsboro News, Jersey Sierran and New Jersey Countryside magazine. For the magazine, an article,”Pinelands by Secret Roads”, was accompanied by a ‘box’ with the following information concerning birding gear.
If you’re nature-starved, as I am, as America fries this climate-changed July, one ideal jaunt is the Brigantine Wildlife Refuge, also called Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, at Smithville, north of Atlantic City. It’s ideal in this heat-wave because you can, in fact - for the birds’ sake, are encouraged to, STAY IN YOUR CAR. You’ll be treated to rarities, from my most recent first sandhill-crane spotting to migratory flocks, –yes, certain long-legged shorebirds already flocking, to these protected reaches crucial to the Atlantic Flyway.
‘The Brig’ provides a shimmering eight-mile excursion, taken at 10 to 15 mph, along dike roads between impoundments of varying salinities. The waters are managed so that aquatic plants can grow which provide nourishment and shelter for specific species of water birds. ‘The Brig’ is particularly significant in spring and fall migration (the latter of which starts now.)
Across Absecon Bay, Atlantic City rises like Atlantis, and sometimes mercifully disappears in fog or blizzard… remember blizzards? Next to it is the inexplicable ever-whirring wind farm, smack in the middle of birds’ essential flyways.
Great Egret taking off at Brigantine, by Brenda Jones
Let Atlantic City jolt you into remembering the urgency of land preservation in our state.
Besides being beautiful, ‘The Brig’ is healthy and safe for birds on their critical journeys. It will provide ideal habitat for you, too, in what Europeans call ‘The Dog Days.’ Turn them into ‘The Bird Days’ and watch rare shorebirds, ducks, waders and brilliant fliers such as the northern harrier, from the air-conditioned comfort of your car.
Even in the car, however, staying hydrated is key. The hiker’s maxim is, “A pint an hour under 90; a quart an hour, over.”
Snowy Egret feeding at Brigantine, by Brenda Jones
When you are birding outdoors - the norm - (although I can now find the Princeton eagles from my car), here is the list of gear requested by New Jersey Countryside Magazine:
(the idea is comfort, safety and information/knowledge)
Binoculars or monocular; scope, if your lucky. Light-gathering optics are ideal in early light and last…
Guidebooks: Roger Tory Peterson’s, Audubon Guides, all David Allen Sibley
Water: 1 pt./hour under 90 degrees; 1 quart/hr. over
Hat with beak (hides our eyes from the birds, remember – we appear to them as predators); hat also essential where ticks abide, as they can drop from trees. Hat crucial in searing heat.
Muted clothing that does not rustle or squeak
Wind jacket, wind pants useful to have on hand - but that’s more crucial in winter birding.
Comfortable supportive water-resistant shoes/boots
“Wicking” socks with special padding at heel and foot
Long sleeves, left down (re ticks/Lyme disease)
Long pants tucked in to high socks (ditto)
Excellent insect repellant
Good regional maps - the best is available at Marilyn Schmidt’s Buzby’s General Store, at crossroads of 532 and 563 in Chatsworth, the heart of the Pine Barrens. My dear friend, Marilyn designed and publishes this map of South Jersey/Pinelands, and it’s taught me everything I know about back roads. Her shop is full of guides to birds, plants, foods, lingo, history, churches and gravestones, the Jersey Devil, and so forth. It is also for sale, so here’s your chance to leave hurly-burly behind and live in an historic haven. (It’s on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.)
BIRDING SITES in Pinelands
Brigantine, Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge
Route 47 around Goshen for eagles
Whitesbog bogs for herons, egrets, willets; winter’s tundra swans and snow geese
BEGINNER BIRDS to look for in the Pinelands
Great blue heron – tall, gangly, blue-grey, wades in water, swallows fish and other prey alive, head first
Egrets – rangy, tall, graceful, similar to herons, also wade, also swallow fish whole
Osprey – “fish hawk”– masked, look for untidy osprey nests on platforms; dives, grasps prey in talons, flies off with it, often carries to mate, to chicks, good luck to see “osprey packing a lunch”
Red-tailed hawk – raptor of edges – likes tall trees, broad fields, high flight and strong ‘stoops’ (swoops onto prey) look for sunlight in red tail
Brant – goose-like, elegant, black with white necklace, lovely murmuring sound
Ducks – every color, size, shape and variety at Brig and Smithville ponds, year-round
Osprey in flight, by Brenda Jones
FROM CITIZENS UNITED:
Sometimes your day doesn’t go quite as planned. For Brian Johnson, CU member and Preserve Manager at the Natural Land Trust’s Glades Wildlife Refuge, today was one of those days.
Last night’s high winds led to reports of downed osprey nests in Fortescue which led to a flurry of phone calls and emails, and Brian happened to be closest to the action. He found the fallen natural nest, slogged over 800 yards through the marsh on foot, and was able to retrieve two healthy medium sized chicks. Working with others, Brian identified two foster nests, where he skillfully relocated the birds to new families.
Brian has offered to keep an eye on the nest, as this pair of adults has a propensity to build too large. He can downsize it when they are wintering in South America. We aren’t sure who is responsible for this nest but are thrilled with Brian’s willingness to help.
Many thanks to those who helped on the ground and with ideas and information, especially Ben Wurst of Conserve Wildlife Foundation, who provided a great deal of guidance. As it happened, Jane Morton Galetto was at an Endangered and Nongame Species Advisory Committee meeting when she recieved word from CU Trustee Tony Klock who had read about the fallen nests on Facebook in a post by CU member Steve Byrne. Jane conferred about fostering the birds to other nests with Kathy Clark of the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife and Veterinarian Erica Miller of Tri State Bird Rescue, also a CU member, who were at the same meeting. Tony remained in contact with Brian as he rescued the birds and helped identify foster nests.
Thank you for your heroic efforts, Brian, and thanks again to all involved.