Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Monday, March 28, 2016

My Cathedral of the Pines

I wish I could make you hear the quiet I heard the other Saturday when I was standing in the middle of this pine grove at Rancocas Nature Center. I wish you could smell the fresh piney air.

The only thing that would've made this grove better would have been a few pine warblers calling their sweet trills, as there were the first time we came to Rancocas and stood in this grove six years before.

Pine grove, Rancocas, NJ (R.E.Berg-Andersson)

Rancocas is in Westhampton, N.J., abutting the much larger Rancocas State Forest. The nature center was once part of New Jersey Audubon but NJ Audubon went through one of its frequent financial shudders and closed down or gave up several of its nature centers, claiming not enough people were visiting. Rancocas is in central Jersey, so compared with the north Jersey location of NJ Audubon headquarters, it must've seemed on the other side of the Earth.

(Another center NJ Audubon shut down - the one on Sandy Hook, one of the best areas for birding in the state but rather elongated, so perhaps not as many folk got to the northern part where the office was located.)

This pine grove is interesting because the trees were planted in straight rows. However, the saplings were never thinned and so all the trees grew straight and tall, competing with each other for the light. "Forestry management" is what the pros call thinning out the trees. So if you look at the trees at eye level you can walk from one end to the other and not run into a tree. (You can't see it as well in this picture looking up at the sky.)

MH and I drove here one other time before Saturday, years ago, and found the placed gated shut. It was after NJ Audubon left. However, it didn't sit shut long - the site is now run by Burlington County and several groups, including the Friends of Rancocas Nature Center, which runs the visitor/education center.

Owls are here, and warblers and robins and woodpeckers of various types. There are trails through woods, marshes and uplands. But what I like about Rancocas is what made NJ Audubon give it up -- not many people were around. Hence the quiet.

In our travels MH and I were once driving in NH, near Rindge to be exact, and there was a sign for "Cathedral of the Pines." I made him take the exit to investigate. It turned out to be an actual, ecumenical church, open to the skies in some areas, enclosed buildings elsewhere.  

We did not stop but I remember being disappointed that it wasn't just a large grove for silent contemplation.

I am glad to say that many years later I found my Cathedral of the Pines in central New Jersey, at Rancocas.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Dazed and Confused

In my part of the U.S., it was 70 degrees F at Christmas 2015. Everyone loved it, except people like me who knew that being warmer in New Jersey than it was in Daytona, Fla., was not normal.

snow from another year (Margo D. Beller)
Today, on the first day of Spring 2016, I write as it is 35 degrees outside, cloudy, snow and a nor'easter off the coast and the house heat on. I wear fingerless gloves as I type.

 I could go on about this abnormal weather and global warming and such, but right now I am wondering about the birds.

When we had warmer than usual temperatures last week, I saw many reports of first migrants arriving - phoebes, pine warblers, redwinged blackbirds. (I have seen two out of three; no pine warblers.) There were lots of bugs and the flowers were opening. Forsythia, daffodils. The iris is starting to grow, the crocus and snowdrops are finished. Magnolias and cherry trees have started flowering. The garden stores have started selling fruit trees and pansies for the color deprived and early vegetables for those itching to start their plots.

I would hope these store plants have been covered because the cold must be a shock to the system.

pine warbler (Margo D. Beller)
Same with the birds. They came up on southwestern winds and found a feast of bugs (aside from my feeders - I rarely get migrants at the feeders for some reason). Now they have come face to face with a cold front. What do they do? Turn around and head south again? Head north and hope for the best? Die?

I don't know the answers. I do know the yardbirds have been visiting the feeders a lot, and they've been singing territorial songs. With the clock now set ahead an hour, it is just light when I rise. Outside I can hear singing song sparrows, titmice, cardinals and American and fish crows. But these are not the migrants.

We birders can only hope that when the warm weather returns, so will the migratory birds.