Monday, September 10, 2012

Bivalve: not quite a shell of its past

A trip to the Delaware Bayshore isn't complete without a visit to Bivalve and Shellpile, and I wanted to share both locations with Ivan, who hadn't been there before.

On my last visit, most of the Bayshore Discovery Project museum wasn't open, so I was very happy to see that the exhibit rooms were unlocked and prime for wandering this time. We were there about two minutes before a bunch of people showed up with a guide leading the way. Oops... I guess we were supposed to check in before we wandered around.

Housed in an old packing shed, the Delaware Bay Museum Folk Life Center's exhibits focus on the lives, work and tools of the people who once called the community home. It's chock full of artifacts, including a long-handled oyster rake, shucking implements, a big old captains wheel and a section of post office boxes where residents could pick up their mail when they were in town. A set of shelves held oyster cans in a variety of sizes from household to institutional, labeled with different brand names. Our fellow visitors pored over the old photos arrayed in the exhibit, recognizing some of the people in them as parents and grandparents of friends.
bivalve NJ
Old vessels on the Bivalve docks lend authenticity
to the legends of this fascinating and historic place.

When we'd seen what the museum had to offer, we walked out back, to a covered dock area with three or four bays. One still held a sunken vessel whose bow and exhaust stack barely breached the water's surface. A hundred yards or so across the gentle waters of the Maurice River, we could see a few geese wading about on a spit of land.

We were there around 3 p.m., after the small restaurant had closed up for the day, but from the menu accessible from the Bayshore Discovery homepage it looks like a good place to get a seafood snack on the weekends. It's good to see life coming back to the waterfront there, even a tiny bit.

As we walked back out to the car, we ran into the guide who'd staffed the museum earlier. We got to chatting with him about life there and the potential for decent birding nearby. Mentioning the boardwalks and platforms PSE&G had built in the nearby estuary area, he advised us to drive past the big shell pile and the shellfish processing facilities, which would bring us within an easy stroll of the walkways. I had my doubts, based on prior experience, but okay.

Here's why I had my doubts: I know something about that shell pile. Four years ago, almost to the day, I visited Bivalve and made the video below. Check it out to see what I mean:



What this video doesn't mention is the souvenir I brought home: the rank stench that ended up on my vehicle. The drive to the shell pile was paved with crushed shell and pockmarked with potholes brimming with shellfish leachate. Even at a crawl, my tires kicked up some of the stench-laden water and transferred it to the undercarriage of my car. It tracked me all the way home, forcing me to make an unplanned visit to the car wash.

Despite having had that experience, I was willing to check it out for the sake of finding a few shorebirds. I was set to draw the line if I saw a lot of standing water in our path, but it appeared that the owners had worked on the road a bit in the four years since I took that video. We drove through a few thready puddles, but I wasn't overly concerned. 

I parked near the end of the road, and Ivan and I simultaneously opened our doors to step outside. Almost immediately, and absolutely simultaneously, we shut them again. UUUUUUGGGGGGG!!!!!!!! In those few seconds, the foul odor of decaying bivalves had invaded the cabin and our olfactory organs. We had to leave the area immediately to air out the car and our noses.

Well, maybe not immediately, because the shell pile was rife with birds. Gulls and shorebirds of various extractions... even a few snowy egrets were picking around the clam carcasses. Where else in heck do you see snowy egrets doing that? Where was my video camera this time around? 

The sheer volume of birds was impressive, but alas there were no remarkable finds, and we were soon on our way to find sweeter air. I'm disappointed, because the potential stories would have been great. Imagine the post to the bird boards: "XYZ Tern at Bivalve shell pile, foraging with several other terns and gulls. Drive carefully and do not open your doors or windows."


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