Friday, September 7, 2012

Exploring the spartina at Gandy's Beach and Thompson's Beach

My Cumberland County jaunts always bring me to Bivalve and Shellpile, a phenomenon I explained in a post last December. This time, with Ivan on the trip, there were plenty more stops beyond my usuals.

After we finally escaped the local roads around Greenwich and got a quick lunch in Bridgeton, we headed east on 49 and then took Buckshutem Road southeast. In the past, I'd had variable results with that approach: sometimes I'd reach my intended destination, other times I'd get hopelessly lost. Ivan was navigating, and we were headed to his target birding areas, so I figured we were set. The worst thing that could happen is that we'd stay on Buckshutem and end up near Mauricetown. I could find my way to familiar roads from there, easy.

Signage was excellent, guiding us off Buckshutem and onto roads that would lead us to Gandy's Beach, Fortescue and, eventually, Port Norris. After a stop in Bivalve, it was then on to Thompson's Beach by the Heislerville WMA.

The self-proclaimed weakfish capital of the world, Fortescue deserves its own entry someday. It's Gandy's Beach and the farther-east Thompson's Beach that totally blew my mind. Both are protected natural areas and truly a sight to behold. Imagine acres and acres of spartina in various shades of green, interrupted only by the occasional cedar. I'm not much of an artist, but had I had oils and a canvas in the car, I would have stopped and attempted to capture the landscape. Even with an overcast sky, I felt a strong feeling of rightness, of being in the right place at the right time.

Our visit unfortunately came near high tide, so beaches (at Gandy's) were slim strips of sand, trails (at Thompson's) were impassable and the shorebirds Ivan wanted to see had nowhere to land, but we got other treats instead. Easily a dozen osprey were visible at both beaches, as were a large number of egrets of various ilk. At Gandy's Beach, two harriers glided playfully over a clump of cedars; Ivan supposed they were a parent and a juvenile still in the training phase.

On the more frustrating side at Thompson's Beach, secretive clapper rails called noisily, as close as the spartina surrounding the elevated observation platform. These guys, like the ever-elusive yet vocal marsh wren, obviously believe in being heard but not seen, which in the wren's case, had me cursing out random birds for well over a year before laying eyes on one. Had I not already lifed a rather brave rail that had walked onto a mud flat at Brig, I'd probably have held the same grudge with the clappers, too.

The rails at Thompson's sounded so close that I was tempted to wade into the sogginess and part the grass to find them. Instead, I silently listened to their cacophonous calls, smiling at the thought of the sheer numbers of them in the surrounding marsh. Clapping was a suitable reaction to the natural beauty of both sights, and a tribute to the happenstance that prevented the Delaware Bayshore from being developed. It's hard not to look at these broad expanses without wondering if this is how even a small part of the Meadowlands looked before the hand of man interfered.

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