When your eyes are tired the world is tired also. When your vision has gone no part of the world can find you. Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own. There you can be sure you are not beyond love. The dark will be your womb tonight. The night will give you a horizon further than you can see. You must learn one thing: the world was meant to be free in. Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn that anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you... ~David Whyte
... I had an exceptional chance to watch... The select company was "one little Turnstone and I," the latter armed with binoculars, the former too busy to notice intruders. He was a fine gentleman, dressed in the gaudiest calico possible for the fall fashions, yet not too proud to work for his supper. His method was not unlike that of the proverbial bull in the china shop, for he trotted about, tossing nearly everything that came in his way. Inserting the wedge of his bill under a pebble, a shell, or what not, he would give a real toss of his imperious head, and flop over it would go. His efforts seemed to be well rewarded, for he fed there for some time. It is in search of such prey that the turner of stones operates, a cog in the wheel of the system of nature, which decrees that every possible corner and crevice of the great system shall have its guardian, even the tiny spot of ground beneath the pebble on the beach.
Info from Birds of America, first published in 1917 and which includes color plates of Louis Agassiz Fuertes' paintings. Said book made for good company this evening.
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The Turnstones were not so much trotting about as they were, instead, slip-sliding along the jetty rocks yesterday while they fed. There were no stones to be turned; in fact I wondered just what they were finding edible among the waves.
A return trip today to Barnegat Light with the Monmouth County Audubon Society was graced by many of the same species as last week's visit, plus a new one!
This harbor seal had hauled itself up onto the rocks of a small jetty behind the lighthouse to rest and soak up some sun, much to our delight. They're fairly common here in winter, but this is the closest I've ever seen one. They have small rounded heads and whiskered snouts, but it's their huge and soulful eyes that establish the resemblance with a more blubbery version of man's best friend.
Click for whisker views!
It was really sweet to watch it nearly tipping off the rocks as it napped! The seal seemed well aware of, yet unconcerned with the group of admirers that had gathered at the base of the lighthouse to watch it.
High tide and a heavy surf had rearranged the sea ducks and shorebirds in new patterns. The jetty was impossibly dangerous today... so hardly any harlequins were within view, but the crashing waves beyond the jetty were black with ducks!
There were big numbers of long-tails and lots of scoters (black and surf) close within the inlet, disappearing and reappearing behind the swells... a real treat! I also saw quite a few common eiders looking just like the field guides say they should... sweet!
(Of course there's no pictures... I wasn't about to climb up on the jetty and get soaking wet or worse.)
The purple sandpipers, dunlin, ruddy turnstones and a lone sanderling were mostly feeding on the lee side of the jetty... out of the wind and the crashing waves. They're all so inconspicuous somehow, looking like nothing more than jetty rock, until you realize that the rocks are moving and alive with birds.
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I often wonder why in the world I do this... why I stand out in the cold until my hands and lips are numb... just to see birds that I've seen any number of times before in much less awful conditions? It's mostly ritual, I think, like waiting for woodcock in an early spring dusk or estimating the number of swallows that might rise from the phragmites at North Pond on a late summer dawn.
What's not often mentioned among birders is the time spent scanning the horizon, that distant magic place where sky and sea or sky and land converge to ignite the imagination. The time spent looking at nothing. You have to be patient when you look there. You might not see anything new... or see anything at all, but you have to look and wait, just in case.
Some people don't ever want to look into that distance. Some people won't tolerate the discomfort of it.
Sometimes the best thing I find while scanning that distance is inside me, anyway.
Were I still a girl scout, these are the badges I might've earned so far in life...
Family living skills
Write all about it
Dollars and sense
High on life
Working it out
Plants and animals
Listening to the past
The lure of language
From shore to sea
Your outdoor surroundings
All about birds
And some I haven't quite met the requirements for yet...
Ready for tomorrow
Finding your way
Making it matter
Math, maps and more
Art in the home
Let's get cooking
Writing for real
I quit going to girl scouts about the time I started being embarrassed to wear the uniform to school... besides softball was more fun anyway. My big brothers were scouts and got to do the cool stuff, like real camping and hiking and getting dirty... not sissy sewing and camping in a *lodge* around the lake. Lucky for me, I got to go along on a few of those neat trips my brothers participated in... tho I was sorta left out for being the kid sister and all.
Some more pics that might've been included in yesterday's post...
Beth and her friend Kathy traveled all the way from Pa. and had HAD ENOUGH by the time we met in the parking lot at midday. While the weather was beautiful... usually I think of Barnegat Light as the coldest place on earth... the brisk wind had brought out the apples on sweet Beth's cheeks.
This would, I think, make a nice quiz photo for those, like me, who are terror-stricken by shorebirds. At least in wintertime, the possibilities are somewhat limited.
Sleepy dunlin (I think... though I was at first convinced they were purple sandpipers), an orange-legged ruddy turnstone, and a sweet spotty-flanked black-belly plover.
(Take all those ID's with a grain of salt, of course.)
I love how tame shorebirds can be in winter and am amazed with how they find comfort together on these wind-swept jetties.
Harlequins... what sweet little sea ducks!
They weren't close in to the lighthouse this time, like they usually are...
Instead they were feeding way out at the end of the jetty, with a happy group of photographers closeby.
(I was a wimp and walked along the sand, instead of on those treacherous rocks.)
The day was ended near Manahawkin with hopes for short-eared owls hunting like butterflies over the marsh at dusk.
There were none, but that matters little, really. For all the frigid sunsets I've lingered in to spot one with no success... the couple times I have seen them in the low-slanted light of a winter afternoon serve my memory well enough that the hope of them keeps me coming back to wait, just in case.
Once past the terror of the jetty rocks, a rush of wind and an expanse of space... and ducks.
Birders caught in a quandry about the identity of the long-tailed (or are they pin-tailed?) ducks paddling and diving along the inlet at Old Barney's feet.
(A good enough reason for me to continue calling them oldsquaw... politically incorrect or no...)
The oddly painted costume of the harlequin duck is distinct and well worth the hours long drive to see them.
Random teeterings and dawdlings of dunlin, turnstone and purple sandpiper.
Tears that come at the memory of another visit here, a lifetime ago. I turn around confounded by the wall of wind... heedless of how fast and far I've come.
I try to imagine this place in summer, as most would know it... waves glitter a thousand small suns, the long rhythm of the surf, a herring gull's call like a rusty pulley, the clatter and crunch of periwinkles, scallops and skate egg casings, the sight of a black skimmer slitting the seam between two worlds.
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See any good birds yourself this weekend?
Oh... and I ran into Beth out ogling the harlequins! Small world...
My plans for the weekend involve a blanket and a book or two.
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I'm a committed non-fiction reader; resistant, for whatever reason, to the suspension of reality necessary to enjoy most novels. Sure there's the occasional story that grabs and holds me, but more often than not I leave them half-read and only half-enjoyed.
Sometime before the holidays I read the debut novel by Lisa Genova which was recommended to me by the owner of a little bookstore I found here in town.
(As a side note: How wonderful is it to have someone, anyone, employed in a bookstore actually be familiar enough with the inventory to be able to recommend something based on one's favorite authors?)
Still Alice tells the story of a Harvard professor diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. A sad story, sure, but unique in that it's told from Alice's point of view and thereby offers insight into the painful descent into dementia.
One of my most favorite parts of the novel occurs toward the end; Alice has been invited to deliver the keynote at a national conference for Alzheimer's care professionals. She makes a plea to not be forgotten and written off or limited by her disease saying, "... My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment. Some tomorrow soon, I'll forget that I stood before you and gave this speech. But just because I'll forget it some tomorrow doesn't mean that I didn't live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that doesn't mean that today didn't matter."
A worthy credo for any of us, I think.
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So... any good books this weekend to stay warm with?
2009 was a good year for birds: I added twelve new species to my life list, give or take one or two that I'm probably making up or remembering wrong.
I don't believe that increasing one's life list has anything much to do with skill; in fact, I've found that over the years as my skills have improved, I've whittled my list down by quite a few birds that were questionable in my memory. Did I really see that Baird's Sandpiper or was I just part of a group that did? Would I know it when I saw it again?
Most certainly not.
So I don't count the Goshawk that flew over our van in the Adirondacks years ago or half of the gulls I could. I've seen them, yeah, but I recognize now that I still don't know them. I was probably a little too generous with myself as a beginner and my life list reflected that.
As it stands, the number hovers a few over 300, which is respectable, I think, considering that I hadn't traveled much to see birds until this past year. Adding new life birds at this point is about money and travel and getting up the courage to do a pelagic trip. Considering how close I am to the ocean, it's almost shameful that I don't know shorebirds well or have many seabirds. Gulls are still beyond me and that's still a point of pride that I'm not prepared to surrender, yet.
My first life bird of 2009 was close to home; a sweet Orange-Crowned Warbler that I saw with a sweet friend at Sandy Hook in January.
April's trip with The Flock to the New River Birding and Nature Festival netted me three warblers: Swainson's, Cerulean and Yellow-Throated. I most wanted Cerulean on that trip and was glad to get it, though the light was horrible and rainy and I still hope to see one whose color matches the sky like they say it does.
Late June found me, on a whim, in Michigan for Kirtland's Warbler. Most would consider this a once-in-a-lifetime bird and I was lucky enough to stand among a small group of them singing and feeding young on a summer day.
I spent a couple days with crazy dream birds, like this Roseate Spoonbill, flying over my head while I wondered how anyone could possibly concentrate on anything else!
Huge pink birds with ridiculously-shaped bills... just crazy.
Mind you, there was a Spoonbill here in NJ at about the same time, but nothing could've compared to the sight of groups of them, mixed with Wood Storks and White Ibis floating over in the unbearable heat.
The Brown Pelicans on that trip nearly drove me to distraction, too. And fits of uncontrollable laughter.
There was also a less-than-satisfying look at a Loggerhead Shrike and what I remember to be a Common Moorhen.
Probably I'm making that last one up, though I do somehow remember a purplish bird that reminded me of a chicken.
Probably I shouldn't count that one yet, right?
The last life bird of the year was sort of a nemesis bird for me: a Golden Eagle. There'd been a couple speck sightings of them through the years, mostly at the hawkwatch at Cape May, but nothing I ever felt really comfortable counting. This one, flying over the road in late October I'll count for now, until I spot one out west somewhere, perched close enough that I can see the wash of gold across its shoulders.
So... what birds did you add to your life list last year? Which are you hoping to add in 2010?