I am watching the white gannets
blaze down into the water
with the power of blunt spears
and a stunning accuracy–
even though the sea is riled and boiling
and gray with fog
and the fish are nowhere to be seen,
they fall, they explode into the water
like white gloves,
then they vanish,
then they climb out again,
from the cliff of the wave,
like white flowers–

from Gannets by Mary Oliver

A glimpse over the sea wall at a huge group of gannets feeding close to shore brought me back onto the beach at Sea Bright yesterday. It was a good thing that my camera battery gave out from the cold, or I might’ve stood there watching long enough to turn into a popsicle stick.

Even the fishermen were complaining of the bitter wind!

Gannets are a treat to see and there’s some mystery of weather I don’t understand that brings them close to shore. Whatever it is, fishermen react to the same call of wind and tide or whatever and were out in numbers yesterday too.

Searching for a Snowy

No I didn’t find the owl, but the searching is half the fun, see? Today was my volunteer day at Sandy Hook Bird Observatory and one benefit of sitting there by myself most days is that I get to take calls about good birds people are seeing in the area.

A park ranger showed up today to report a Snowy Owl! Now… I’ve seen Snowy Owls a couple times, and it was pretty cold and the wind was at gale-level on the bay almost, but I couldn’t resist having a look for it. The directions I got were responsibly vague and there’s a lot of dune edge to search through at Gunnison Beach.

I decided to walk north following what I assumed were the ranger’s tire tracks in the sand. She hadn’t found the owl on foot in the ridiculous cold today, but in her warm four-wheel drive truck. Pfft. Of course, this also meant walking into the biting wind that was blowing sand in my eyes and mouth.

Good birders have something like a search image in their minds when recognizing birds, right? With snowy owls it’s pretty simple – big and whitish. The problem comes in when you’re all excited and feverish with the hunt and your lips and fingers are numb with the cold and your eyes are full of sand from the wind… well, you start to see things.

Every bit of white in the dunes calls your attention and you imagine everything to be that Snowy Owl you’re searching for. Of course you also want to be responsible and not get too close, but that only adds to the tricks that your eyes and mind play on you.

This particular white blob looked very promising and had me imagining my victorious phone call to a friend; I could even hear myself mumbling through numb lips, “I found it! I found it!”

Crawling closer on hands and knees, peeking over the top of the dune from a different angle revealed the truth… the rare and elusive white plastic jug owl. That as opposed to the usual white plastic bag owl that is most frequently mistaken for a snowy.

I did, however, find a little flock of Snow Buntings. I wonder what they find to eat in the sand? Someone reported a flock of 200-300 the day before yesterday. I know you’re thinking they look like plain old sparrows, but trust me! I didn’t imagine them, I don’t think.

The return walk to my car had the wind at my back, finally, and this nice view of Sandy Hook Light. The shoreline has changed enough over the years that the lighthouse is at least a mile inland now.

Back on the bayside, the setting sun was putting on a nice show for my drive home, as was this line of gulls kiting in the wind over the breaking waves. Not sure what that was about. I hardly made it off Sandy Hook before I was sidetracked back onto the beach and into the cold again. I’ll save those pics for another day when I’ve thawed out some.

Count the night herons

night herons
It was getting late and I’d been frustrated with all the pretty ducks on the far shore of the pond avoiding my camera when another birder casually mentioned a Eurasian Wigeon on the other side of the little island in front of me.

I made my may to the opposite shore and sorted through the wigeon – not finding the eurasian – and looked up to see a sleepy-eyed night heron stepping among the sleepy-eyed mallards at the edge of the island. Widening my glance I saw the above panorama which included at least fifteen others amid the tangles of bittersweet. Even more were deeper in the scrubby bushes! Most were immatures, but if you count the things that look like pale footballs with legs, you’ll get the idea.

I stitched the pics together, but the file is too large for Blogger. The pic links to photobucket where maybe you can enlarge it. I wonder how many times I’ve driven past this daytime roost and missed these birds entirely.


The walls here are mostly bare; something I’ve never gotten around to or found good enough taste to do anything with…


but in the landing to the basement, just inside the back door, is this growing collection of vintage metal signs. They advertise things like fishing lures and shotgun shells and duck stamps. They’re quirky and often off-color.

I like them anyway.

To answer your question

“You know how it feels,
wanting to walk into
the rain and disappear–
wanting to feel your life
brighten and grow weightless
as a leaf in the fall.
And sometimes, for a moment,
you feel it beginning–the sense
of escape sharp as a knife-blade
hangs over the dark field
of your body, and your soul
waits just under the skin
to leap away over the water.
But the blade,
at the last minute, hesitates
and does not fall,
and the body does not open,
and you are what you are–
trapped, heavy and visible
under the rain, only your vision
delicate as old leaves skimming
over the mounds of the seasons,
the limits of everything,
the few shaped bones of time.”

Mary Oliver, At Blackwater Pond

I know I’ve made you all wonder what the question was, but that doesn’t matter, really. This poem is what came to mind and is what distracted me from my own fumbling train of thought and clumsy words. Funny how poems or music so often do that for me; describe in carefully crafted images what my heart knows is true but can’t easily put to pen.

S(no)w geese

Just so you don’t think I’ve completely forgotten about birds… there were a half dozen snow geese in this cornfield on my way to work the other day. I veered and stopped before realizing I didn’t have the camera with me. A nice surprise so close to home, anyway.

I’m in the habit of driving slowly along this stretch of road as the apple and peach orchards tend to draw hungry deer into the road. I’d probably have missed the snow geese if I hadn’t been driving so slowly… even though they stuck out like a few sore thumbs among the canadas.

The sky and clouds were gorgeous enough for a photo today. I like the bit of color visible on the young apple trees in the distance, too.

All that glitters

It must be some sort of record that there’s a tree in my house before December. It’s only half-decorated, but I’m hoping early for some of the magic of the lights and baubles to improve what is lately a hard time of year for me.

At some point, the holidays became less about magic and hope and celebration and more about rushing around and obligations and ridiculous expectations. I feel terribly selfish for it, but I almost want to just skip the whole production.

Scandalous, I know.

The DH has had his radio tuned to the *24 hour-round-the-clock-make-you-insane-all-Christmas-music-all-the-time* radio station for two weeks now. I’ve growled at him often enough that he just quietly changes it to something less offensive in my presence. He reminded me the other day that we practically wore out a tape of favorite Christmas music on our honeymoon. Our Christmastime wedding, all hollyberries and seasonal cheer, guarantees that I should forever have the Christmas spirit, right?


I’m less confused by my change of heart than he, but can’t easily explain the tarnish that’s come over the season. There’s a lot less innocent belief, less love for the ritual, less hope for the power of one day on the calendar to make things what we wish them to be.

What’s left feels false. And forced. And not at all golden.

This horribly depressing post brought to you courtesy of days of rain and gray gloom. Rather than the twinkly lights of a Xmas tree… I think I may need a raging bonfire to improve my mood… or a short vacation to the tropics.