Nature Notes: Early Spring on Sandy Hook

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Birding on Sandy Hook, Highlands, New Jersey

Birding on Sandy Hook, Highlands, New Jersey

Today, I enjoyed a beautiful, warm and sunny, early spring day on Sandy Hook in Highlands, New Jersey. After the winter we had, today seemed like a long awaited miracle.

I chose to spend my morning and early afternoon birding with a friend. We joined Monmouth County Audubon Society‘s walk and saw a ton of early spring migrants!

The most exciting moment of the walk was when a large group of gulls on the Bay took off flying and cleared the sand bar they were sitting on. A few seconds later, soaring through the sky, came an immature Bald Eagle! The leaders of the walk estimated that the eagle was about three years old.

Gulls on the move before an immature Bald Eagle flew over the Bay.

Gulls on the move before an immature Bald Eagle flew over the Bay.

Today also brought three new additions to my life list! The Black-crowned Night-Herons we saw sitting in a tree above Nike Pond, the male Northern Harrier (known to birders as the “Gray Ghost”) flying over our group and the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers my friend and I saw on a later walk to North Beach were all life birds for me.

"Gray Ghost" Male Northern Harrier

“Gray Ghost” Male Northern Harrier

We estimated at least twenty ospreys have returned to Sandy Hook, many were carrying fish in their talcons and some were carrying sticks to do some “housekeeping” on their nests. We saw a number of Northern Gannets diving offshore as well.

Northern Gannet by Gavin Shand on Vimeo

Northern Gannet by Gavin Shand on Vimeo

A full list of the birds that we saw today:

Birds of Monmouth County Checklist

Birds of Monmouth County Checklist

  • American Crow
  • American Kestrel
  • American Oystercatcher
  • American Robin
  • Bald Eagle
  • Black Scoter
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Brant
  • Bufflehead
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Fish Crow
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Horned Grebe
  • Laughing Gull
  • Long-tailed Duck
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Flicker
  • Northern Gannet
  • Northern Harrier
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Osprey
  • Piping Plover
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Sanderling
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Song Sparrow
  • Surf Scoter
  • Tree Swallow
  • Turkey Vulture

Walks led by local Audubon Society chapters are great for beginning birders! I would recommend them to any 20-something environmentalist looking to learn more about birds. Find a chapter near you!

Nature Notes: Birding on Sandy Hook

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Fields Near an Old Tennis Court on Sandy Hook

Fields Near an Old Tennis Court on Sandy Hook

The bird nerd that I am, I decided to join a New Jersey Audubon field trip on Halloween today. It was a cold and overcast morning as we walked along the fields and trails of Sandy Hook.

New Jersey Audubon does a great job of providing every birder (regardless of skill level) with an excellent, informative program. I highly recommend their guided walks for any beginner (like me). The community of birders, in my experience, has always been extremely welcoming and energized by a new person on their walks. I learned so much about identifying different types of sparrows, warblers and other song birds from everyone in our group.

Today, we saw a wide array of species. Dark-eyed Juncos and both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets were out in high numbers. The crowd favorite was a Winter Wren. Usually, Winter Wrens are heard but not seen because they hide in brush and at the base of trees. We were able to see one up-close along the wall of an abandoned building.

Winter Wren Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org

Winter Wren Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org

The Kinglets were my personal favorite. They are the second smallest type of bird (hummingbirds are the smallest) and were adorable hopping around in the fields and trees.

Golden-crowned Kinglet Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Golden-crowned Kinglet Photo Credit: Wikipedia

ruby_crowned_kinglet_1

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org

I do know all birders love making lists, so here’s one of all the birds I saw today:

  • American Kestrel
  • Black Phoebe
  • Brown Creeper
  • Canada Goose
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Common Loon
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • European Starling
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Gray Catbird
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Mallard
  • Merlin
  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Gannet
  • Northern Harrier
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Song Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Winter Wren
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler

Keeping the ‘Garden’ in ‘Garden State’

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Sea Bright One Year Ago

Today is a weird day.  I feel thankful, blessed, guilty and angry all at the same time.  It is the year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy.  I rent an apartment on one of the Barrier Islands in New Jersey – a small shore town 3 miles long – called Sea Bright.

One year ago today I evacuated from Sea Bright back to my parents in North Jersey.  Safe and sound, without power but among family and friends, I anxiously awaited my return to the shore.  I had just moved to Sea Bright three weeks before the storm and was beginning to make the town my own.  I had met a few locals who took me, The Benny, under their wings and showed me the ropes.  I couldn’t wait to go back.  I didn’t think Sandy would be that bad; all I did to ‘prepare’ was buy two bottles of wine.

Then Sandy hit.

Though the two bottles of wine did come in handy, in retrospect, a few other preparations, like filling my car with gas, would have been helpful.  The house I rent out of took ten feet of water in the basement, but my landlord was able to fix what needed to be fixed and I moved back within three weeks of the storm.

I immediately began volunteering in town.  I felt guilty that I was able to return to my apartment, while families who had lived and worked and owned businesses in Sea Bright for generations were displaced, their homes and livelihoods forever changed.  And I was angry at the bureaucratic processes that my fellow New Jerseyans had to go through to get help.

National Guard - 'Tent City' in Sea Bright one year ago

The National Guard – ‘Tent City’ in Sea Bright

I’m not sure what I expected volunteering in town to be like right after the storm, but what I experienced was unbelievable.  The National Guard had posted up in Sea Bright, making the town look like a war zone.  Trailers of supplies were in rows for folks to take what they needed or to drop off what they didn’t. Sea Bright was busy: police officers, the National Guard, volunteers from all over the US, locals trying to rebuild their lives, the press, and elected officials all attempting to navigate their way around town.

I learned that despite what aid comes in from the local, state and federal level; New Jerseyans and Sea Brighters take care of their own.  Like my Sea Bright Rising sweatshirt says, we were “Neighbors Helping Neighbors.”  Even among the confusion, anger, and bewilderment of everyone in town, Sea Bright residents came together and formed their own support network through community.  Tough times don’t last, tough people do.  I felt good energy in town and I felt that slowly but surely Sea Bright would be okay.

A year later, 40% of Sea Bright residents still have not returned home after Superstorm Sandy.  This holds true for many other towns throughout the coastal community up and down the Jersey Shore.

If you would like to help the Jersey Shore’s ongoing recovery process, check out volunteer opportunities with Occupy Sandy NJ or Coastal Habitat for Humanity.

So what do we do now?  What have we learned?  How do we prepare for the next storm?

A lot of folks are talking about talking about rebuilding more resiliently and sustainably to keep New Jerseyans safe from the next storm.  Many of these discussions focus on Barrier Island towns like Sea Bright.  Do we retreat and let the land be reclaimed by nature?  Did we have a right to build on Barrier Islands in the first place?  Should we all migrate inland?  Now, I am extremely biased because I love Sea Bright, but I think there are solid points on both sides of this controversial argument.

All folks should be able to make their own decision about where they choose to live, raise a family or own a business.  However, I think in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, it is vital for everyone to understand the risks of living in a flood plain and the vulnerabilities of the New Jersey coastline.  It is especially important for folks to understand these risks as they relate to climate change and sea level rise.  The climate system is changing and will continue to change as humans continue to interact with it.

For more information about climate change and sea level rise in your area, check out ClimateCentral.org and resources from the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance.

A lot of these issues; climate change, sea level rise, responsible recovery, land use planning, resiliency and so on were raised at a conference I attended today.

The topic of buyouts came up in every session of the day.  Regardless of your opinion on where folks should or should not live, state acquisitions of properties in certain floodways that are prone to flood or storm damage could help New Jersey prepare for the next storm.  I’m certainly not saying that every resident on the Barrier Islands should retreat so that the land can return to nature or that we should all migrate inland tomorrow, I am merely entertaining the idea of buyouts because I know that climate change and sea level rise are occurring.  As a 20-something environmentalist, it is important for me to keep track of these trends so that I can prepare myself for the years to come and to plan for my own future.

Moving on to a less controversial topic along the same lines…

Open Space in Monmouth County, NJ

Open Space in Monmouth County, NJ

More natural buffers, like marshlands, could help mitigate floodwater from future storm events.  Increased plots of open space in North Jersey could help reduce pollution runoff into local waterways and ultimately the ocean.  Less impervious surfaces could help rainwater to be absorbed back into the groundwater table and reduce local flooding from smaller storm events.  Farmland and sustainable farming practices could also reduce soil compaction.   Creating areas of open space that support native plants could help to filter runoff and slow down the rate of flooding events, all the while filtering toxins out of rainwater before it recharges the groundwater table, and therefore the water that we drink.

Sounds great, right?  Except…New Jersey currently has no money for new projects like these.  All of the open space funds from the last voter approved ballot measure in 2009 have been allocated completely.  The Assembly has not held a hearing that would allow for voters to choose to renew funding for open space, farmland and historic preservation programs.

New Jerseyans: Call your two State Assembly representatives and tell them that open space, farmland, and historic preservation are important to you. 

  • Ask them to urge the Assembly Speaker to post the open space funding bill, ACR 205, for a vote before the end of this year so that you can have a chance to vote to renew open space funding in the November 2014 election.
  • Then, please call Speaker Oliver directly and ask her to schedule the open space bill, ACR 205, for a vote this year.  Find your legislators here.

For more information about the critical need for a stable source of open space funding and to keep the ‘garden’ in ‘Garden State,’ please check out New Jersey Keep It Green.

Filling an Empty Page

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“A writer is a person with the courage to fill an empty page,” Chris Satullo told a group of concerned citizens, including myself, in one of the conference rooms at Ocean County College a few Saturdays ago.  I had found myself in a breakout session at the first of three events in a series organized by The Citizens Campaign called Citizen Journalism: How the Internet Will Cover the Next Superstorm.  Mr. Satullo, vice president for news at WHYY/NewsWorks had me hanging on his every word.

The first event in the series entitled Information Matters: Getting the Real Story took place a few Saturdays ago and featured expert presenters leading sessions on Newswriting 101, Factfinding and Reporting, Photojournalism and Engaging the Community.

Photo Credit: The Citizens Campaign

Photo Credit: The Citizens Campaign

One of my favorite sessions was Newswriting 101 with Chris Satullo.  He encouraged us to not only fill an empty page but to fill it with well-written language that will command attention.  He explained that in his field—radio—he is constantly looking for ‘the driveway moment.’ The driveway moment is when a listener has pulled into their driveway, but is in park with the radio on because the content is too compelling to be turned off.

He taught us to paint a vivid mental picture with our writing and told us to “make him feel how the weather was.”  As a blogger, I found this session extremely helpful and have tried to incorporate Satullo’s “Seven Tips on Writing Well” into my work.

Here are his tips:

  1. Writing is scary; never forget that, but never let that scare you.
  2. Don’t let anybody else see it until you’ve read it aloud to yourself.
  3. Show, don’t tell.
  4. Use simple, powerful words, and respect their power.
  5. Kill the little darlings.
  6. Don’t be “passive” – get active.
  7. To write well, read, read, read people who write well.

Mr. Satullo said that sometimes the best question to ask as a citizen journalist in an interview is simply “tell me what happened.”  In another session, I was privileged to meet someone who has done just that, over and over again, until he cultivated his own audience of over 200,000 readers.

Photo Credit: Lindsay McNamara

Photo Credit: Lindsay McNamara

Justin Auciello, editor and founder of Jersey Shore Hurricane News, a bottom-up, two-way news outlet, led a session on Factfinding and Reporting, where he spoke specifically about covering the recent Seaside boardwalk fire.  A lifelong resident of South Seaside Park, Mr. Auciello tried to explain how it felt watching his “childhood literally go up in flames” while he was reporting.  He said that despite all of his feelings, he had to remind himself of his responsibility as a citizen journalist and an objective observer.  Even when he could see with his own eyes that the fire appeared to be spreading, he waited until he received confirmation from local officials to post an update.  Mr. Auciello spoke about his passion for reporting the facts and his desire to not create added fear or panic among the people.

Despite not having a formal background in journalism, he told all of us who attended the session about how is passion for reporting started at a young age.  He used to jump on his bike whenever he heard the sirens as a child to go see what was happening.   Mr. Auciello spoke with humility about the 200,000+ followers of Jersey Shore Hurricane News and said that “all of the sudden everyone is listening to me.”  He was funny, relatable and knew his stuff, and showed us the tools he used to successfully report on breaking news, traffic and weather at the Jersey Shore.

One of the handouts from Information Matters: Getting the Real Story had a quote about citizen journalism that stuck with me.  Jay Rosen said, “When the people, formerly known as the audience, employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another,” that’s citizen journalism.

All of us are an expert of something!  Pick your topic and start writing!

The goal of the series Citizen Journalism: How the Internet Will Cover the Next Superstorm is to prepare people to become community reporters.

To learn more about Citizen Journalism, attend the next event Its Takes a Village: Working Together Online on Saturday, November 2nd from 8:30 am – 1:00 pm at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, NJ.  For more information and to RSVP, click here.

If you choose to attend, you will be given more information and resources for:

  • Where can to post your news and pictures
  • Key questions to ask local officials, nonprofit groups and citizens
  • Tips for better visuals
  • How to cover a breaking news event as a citizen journalist
  • Basic tools for real-time reporting

The final event in the series Eyewitness Reports: Are We Ready or Not? will be held on Saturday, November 16th from 8:30 am – 1:00 pm at Middlesex County College in Edison, NJ.  For more information and to RSVP, click here.

Photo Credit: The Citizens Campaign

Photo Credit: The Citizens Campaign