Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Return to Joisy

There is a thing known as "I and the Bird". This I & B is a creation of the blogosphere; the spawn of the boom of social sharing via the Internet. I had heard of it, and the attendant phenomenon known as a "Blog Carnival", but through no fault of my own. As nature-based blogs have increased exponentially - there are now 970 of them indexed on the Nature Blog Network - this sort of thing becomes inevitable.

I am not too hip to this stuff. Even though I've had a "blog" long before the term was coined - remember "Angelfire"? - I pretty much remain stuffed in my little corner of the World Wide Web.

But, not now! My friend, Laura of Somewhere in NJ, has tagged me, among others, to provide fodder for her blog carnival. And that's what this post is - fuel for Laura's carnival. She has coerced me into poking out from my sheltered Internet existence, with promises of riches and great fame. And, since she is from New Jersey, one of the Union's most misunderstood and least appreciated states, I can use this chance to try and shed some of the misconceptions of the Garden State.

Lighthouse at Barnegat Light, NJ, a spectacular birding spot.

New Jersey is much more than greasy-haired Guidos and their shrill-voiced tarts with hair piled high. It isn't just about Mafioso and casinos; seedy seaside resort towns full of semi-delapidated summer cottages adorned with pink flamingos and other tacky lawn ormamentation; rusty old Buicks whacked hard with the full brunt of salt-laden air; and the odd moralistic rantings of their favorite Native Son, Bruce Springsteen.

Oh yes, pinched between the great states of New York and Pennsylvania, Jersey is the proverbial annoying pebble in the shoe; a long-running butt of jokes for East Coast sophisticados. Ohio has West Virginia to dish on, New York has New Jersey. But, we shouldn't be put off by the state's rep as a a toxic dumping ground and pollution-spewing industrial wasteland - I mean, this is the place that birthed the Sopranos.

Believe it or not, for the natural history buff, NJ is one of the major MUST SEE right coast destinations. At least parts thereof. I've dipped into the files from December 2006, so that we may return to the salty waters lapping the Jersey shore and visit two of the extraordinary beasts that brave the New Jersey winter.

Looking seaward from the summit of Barnegat's lighthouse. And please, before my New Jersey friends dispatch "Big Benny" to measure me for cement overshoes, I really do love the state and have made multiple visits. And can't wait to return, if they can overlook all of my jokes in poor taste at their expense.

Ground level and walking out the massive jetty that spikes seaward from the lighthouse. Watch your step! The cracks between the massive limestone slabs are deep, and wide. Famous is the story of a birder who, in an inattentive moment, tripped and got wedged in one of these fissures, headfirst with only feet sticking out. Fortunately, he was extricated before the gulls got him.

Braving the rocks and cold winds of the Barnegat jetty is well worth it for the birder. A winter visit will produce lots of goodies such as Long-tailed Duck, scoters, Common Eider, Great Cormorant, Snowy Owl and much more.

Perhaps Barnegat's most famous feathered visitors, Harlequin Ducks. They're a breeze to see here, and often at exceedingly close range. These chaps were only 20 or 30 feet from my lens, and not overly concerned. Like the result of some mad paint by numbers project, the drakes are an impossible mixture of dots and dashes on a canvass of slate blue and chestnut. I would think that even the most hardened Jersey shore gel-caked Guido slathered in Fake Bake tan oil would be impressed.

A bit the chauvinists, these Harlequin Ducks, I happened to notice. When pressed by an unknown threat, like me, the males would condense into a tight little group. There were hens with the boys, but when push came to shove, and potential dangered loomed, the girls were pushed to the outside of the protective flock. Sort of the duck version of the settlers circling the wagon train to guard against the marauding Indians, except the Harlequins toss their women outside the circle. When they are assured all is well, the males invite the females back into the fold. So Jersey!

A few Harlequin hens here - much less gaudy than the highly ornamented drakes. These ducks thrive in dangerous habitats, living their lives in crashing sea surf and the torrents of rushing rivers. Theirs is a niche not exploited by others, and one that is full of crustaceon treats, if you are tough enough to survive. The ocean is relentless, bludgeoning the rocky shores with nonstop pile-driving waves, creating forceful eddies and swirls that would suck you or I to sea in the blink of an eye, were we to fall in. Not even all of the Harlequins emerge unscathed. Apparently many museum specimens have fractured bones, stark evidence of the perils of life at the interface of sea and rock.

Purple Sandpiper, the world's toughest shorebird. Barnegat Light in New Jersey is their Floridian vacation. Most sandpipers retreat to tropical haunts for the winter, where the sun beats down and keeps the mud soft. Not so with the purples, and most of them winter on northern Atlantic sea coasts in weather that could kill an Eskimo. Tame as house cats, the purples virtually scamper at your feet here, delighting onlookers with their yellow feet and bill, and dumpy proportions.

If, for some reason, you find New Jersey looming on the horizon, make a stop at Barnegat Light.

1 comment:

Dawn Fine said...

You are quite the writer..well i always knew you were a good writer..
You are numerous and fun..and full of knowledge!
Great post sir Jim.