Eagles and Ospreys on Easter Friday

The past two Fridays have been great for eagle spotting. On Good Friday, I took beautiful shots of an adult bald eagle hunting at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. I’m calling this one my Good Friday eagle. This past Friday, I returned to Forsythe and had two more interesting eagle encounters. 

First, I photographed an adult bald eagle flying by with a fish grasped in its talons. This is my first capture of a bald eagle with its prey. I’m calling this one my Easter Friday Eagle, a fitting bookend to my encounter the previous week.

An adult bald eagle flying with a captured fish at Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge
Bald Eagle with Fish (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

And for a bonus, I next witnessed an adult bald eagle being driven off by a feisty pair of ospreys. This was further along Wildlife Drive, and I don’t believe it was the eagle I saw earlier with the fish. I spotted this bald eagle on the same tree growing on a little island in the bay where I photographed my eagle encounter last April. I was able to take many shots of that one last year because the eagle sat perched for a while before taking off. It also hovered above me when it heard my camera clicking.

This particular eagle didn’t have time to perch on the tree very long. The ospreys were intent on driving it off. They won their point, and the eagle took off towards Atlantic City. This was fortuitous for me because it passed close to me and fairly low, enabling me to take one of my best shots of an adult bald eagle. 

A close-up of an adult bald eagle in flight at Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge
Close-up of Flying Eagle (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

The altercation also attracted the attention of a few other visitors. One man initially thought the ospreys were juvenile bald eagles. Another woman recognized them as ospreys, stopping her car to exclaim: “Was that an osprey driving away an eagle? That was a treat!” 

Benjamin Franklin once criticized the bald eagle for stealing prey from ospreys, calling it “a Bird of bad moral Character” and praising the osprey as a “diligent Bird,” depicting eagles as “too lazy to fish for himself” in contrast to the “Labour of the Fishing Hawk.” I imagine he would be surprised and pleased at how this pair of osprey defended their territory.

A Good Friday Eagle to Mark the Easter Triduum

Happy Easter! It’s my custom to take the day off for Good Friday. This year I spent about an hour hiking at Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge. Along Wildlife Drive, I got some great photos of a hunting bald eagle that I’m calling my Good Friday Eagle. It was the first eagle I saw at Forsythe this year and these are the best shots of an adult bald eagle that I have taken to date. I also saw a juvenile, but it was too far and soaring too high for decent photos.

Adult Bald Eagle hunting at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge on Good Friday 2022
Good Friday Hunting (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

I noticed species of birds that spend the winter in warmer climates returning for nesting season. I spotted snowy egrets, glossy ibis, and laughing gulls for the first time this year. Ospreys started returning a few weeks ago, and I photographed one with freshly captured fish. I also took this shot of a great egret coming into breeding plumage with green appearing around its bill and long plumes in back.

Great Egret showing breeding plumage at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge on Good Friday 2022
Great Egret on Good Friday (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

Celebrating Easter in Brigantine and the Pine Barrens

Before visiting Forsythe on Friday, I spent some time in Egg Harbor City. I stopped at Nancy’s Country Kitchen for lunch, a roadside breakfast cafe along the White Horse Pike with a small lunch menu. Then I visited Egg Harbor Lake Park to take some photos for an upcoming post.  Before heading home, I stopped in Brigantine for the Good Friday Service at St. Thomas’s, my former parish. Good Friday is part of the Easter Triduum, a period of time starting the evening of Holy Thursday and completing with Easter.

I started off Easter Sunday with early morning Mass at Christ the Redeemer, my current parish in Waterford. Christ the Redeemer, which formed from the merger of several different parishes in 2010, actually holds services at three different worship sites: Assumption Church, Sacred Heart Church, and St. Anthony’s Church, a small country chapel very near the border of Wharton State Forest. The rest of my day was spent visiting family in Sicklerville and Absecon before having dinner with friends in Shamong. I hope everyone else was able to spend Easter with good friends and family!

Celebrating the Past and Shaping the Future in Galloway

Across the bay from Brigantine Island lies the township of Galloway, one of my favorite places near the shore and in the Pine Barrens. As the reputed birthplace of the legendary Jersey Devil, Galloway is steeped in the bygone folklore of the Pines but is also the home of Stockton University, a relatively new but thriving center of learning. When I lived in Brigantine, I used to ride at Split Elm Equestrian Center located less than 10 minutes from the main campus and the base of Stockton’s Equestrian Team

Last month I was in Galloway again for two days devoted to the Pine Barrens at Stockton’s main campus. On Saturday, March 12th, Stockton held the 33rd Annual Pinelands Short Course described as “a daylong event featuring educational presentations that explore the unique history, ecology, and culture of the Pinelands.”  

In March 2020, the 31st annual short course was canceled just as the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping the nation. I had been registered that year for a field trip at nearby Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge that would have been “a tour of the Refuge’s eight-mile wildlife drive, where earthen dikes have created fresh- and brackishwater marsh that is an ideal habitat for a variety of bird species.” Instead, I visited the refuge later that fall when it reopened.

In April 2021, the 32nd annual Pinelands Short Course took place virtually as a “short discussion” on Zoom hosted by Paul Leakan and Joel Mott from the Pinelands Commission and featuring John Volpa, retired teacher, former Director of Education at Pinelands Adventures, and founder of the Black Run Preserve. In 2020, John had been scheduled to present Serendipity: John McPhee’s The Pine Barrens before the event was canceled. That program focuses on author John McPhee’s famous book about the Pine Barrens. Instead, John presented an online version of this for Pinelands Adventures and the Pinelands Commission. His presentation can still be viewed on the Pinelands Commission’s Youtube channel. Other participants last year included:

  • Ted Gordon, Botanist and Historian
  • Terry O’Leary, Retired NJ Park and Forest Service Educator
  • Becky Laboy, Education Outreach Specialist, Ocean County Soil Conservation District
  • Samuel Moore, Cranberry Farmer and Retired NJ Forest Fire Service Warden

The short course was back in its regular format this year. I registered and attended three presentations: Atlantic County’s Ghost Railroad: The Brigantine Railroad and Trolley System; Water and Wildlife: Pine Barrens and Barnegat Bay; and the Stockton Campus Birding Walk. Unfortunately, the weather was terrible with cold drenching rain in the morning switching over to a wintry mix later in the day.  

Atlantic County’s Ghost Railroad

My first program of the day was Atlantic County’s Ghost Railroad: The Brigantine Railroad and Trolley System. Presented by Norman Goos, librarian for the Atlantic County Historical Society, this program delved into the history of the Brigantine Beach Railroad. From 1890 to 1910, the railroad connected Pomona in Galloway to the then sparsely populated island of Brigantine. Unfortunately, the railroad was short-lived. Plagued by storm damage, accidents, and labor issues, the rail company went out of business. Goos described how most of the tracks were removed for scrap during World War I. I described this presentation in more detail in a separate post: The Ghost Train of Brigantine.

Barnegat Bay

Next was Water and Wildlife: Pine Barrens and Barnegat Bay. This program was presented by Karen Walzer, Public Outreach Coordinator at Barnegat Bay Partnership. Karen described Barnegat Bay as a series of barrier islands, which are really “giant sandbars,” where the freshwater of the pinelands mingled with the salt water of the Atlantic ocean, creating a brackish ecosystem of tidal wetlands and salt marshes. Noting the threat of rising sea level, she highlighted the importance of wetlands as a buffer between the bay and nearby homes, protecting them from flooding and storm surge.

She also discussed the impact of pollution caused by overdevelopment and fertilizer runoff. Algae blooms, unhealthy growth of algae fueled by pollution, killed sea life. The end of Karen’s presentation focused on ways to protect and restore Barnegat Bay. Rain barrels, rain gardens, and green infrastructure mimicking nature help protect against runoff. Because shellfish such as scallops, oysters, and clams filter and clean water, efforts to control overharvesting, restore oyster reefs, and increase populations are underway

I was particularly interested in this program because of Barnegat Bay’s ecological similarity to the backwaters of Brigantine, an area I’ve been familiar with since childhood. These coves, thoroughfares and channels are connected to Great Bay. Both Barnegat Bay and Great Bay are vital estuaries on the Jersey Shore. I cover Karen’s presentation in a separate post in the context of the importance of estuaries and how Great Bay escaped some of the issues with pollution that threaten Barnegat Bay: Estuaries: Where Beach Meets Barrens.

Best Birding Locations

Because of the freezing wet winter weather, the Birding Walk was switched to an indoor presentation of best birding locations in and around the Pine Barrens. The presenter was Joshua M. Gant, a park naturalist with Ocean County Parks and Recreation. I list Joshua’s recommended spots with links to each for more information in a separate post: Where are the Best Birding Spots in South Jersey?

A Presentation of Best Birding Spots in South Jersey at 2022 Stockton University Pine Barrens Short Course
A Presentation of Best Birding Spots in South Jersey (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

Rancocas Creek Farm Birding Walks, Historical Harrisville, and More

Representatives of Pinelands Adventures, an initiative of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA) offering paddling trips, hikes and educational tours, also participated in the short course. I spoke to Krissy Raudys, who took charge of Pinelands Adventures last year as the new director. According to her bio on the Pinelands Adventures site, “Krissy’s enthusiasm for adventure and passion for the outdoors brought her to the heart of The Pinelands. With years of experience leading trips and developing programs in many different outdoor industries, her expertise and creative ideas are a welcome addition to the Pinelands Adventures team. Coming equipped with an adventure degree, naturally she spends her free time in other outdoor pursuits playing with nature and gravity.” 

Krissy and I discussed Birding in the Pines, a two-hour birding walk through the PPA’s 72-acre Rancocas Creek Farm led by birding expert and guide Steve Sobocinski. I joined Steve on the walk last autumn and published a blog post about the various species we encountered. I’m looking forward to participating in the walk again this summer when many migratory species will return. Krissy said they hoped to begin offering the walk on a monthly basis this year. Pinelands Adventures opened for the season this past weekend on April 9th. 

In spite of the torrential rain, Jeff Larson, Pinelands Adventures’ most experienced tour guide and long-time Pine Barrens resident, led a bus tour of the historical ruins of Harrisville. A graduate of Stockton with a degree in business, Jeff told me that he designed and has conducted this tour for the short course since “about 2015” with the exception of the two years lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Originally called Ghosts of the Wading River, this year the program was renamed Harrisville: 19th Century Life on the Wading River. According to the description, this trip gives participants “a glimpse into what life was like along the Wading River in the Pine Barrens during the 1800’s. In this three-hour excursion, participants will explore the ruins in and around the former town of Harrisville and surrounding area.” 

Jeff also includes a stop at Harrisville on his Industries in the Pines tour at Pinelands Adventures, which I covered in another post last year. In that trip, Jeff explains how paper manufacturing became an important industry in the Pine Barrens. This led Richard Harris to purchase a papermill and expand a town near the Wading River, which became known as Harrisville. 

Pinelands Adventures also offers Jeff’s Harrisville tour on their guided trip calendar. You can register for the June 12th excursion at 10 AM at this link. Cost is $30 per person. In addition, Jeff also designed and leads the Into the Woods ecological tour, formerly known as the Pine Barrens Habitats tour.

Lines on the Pines

The 15th annual Lines on the Pines took place the following day, Sunday, March 13th, also at Stockton’s Main Campus. Billed as “an annual gathering of artists, authors and artisans whose passion is the Pines,” the event was free and open to the public. 

Linda Stanton started Lines on the Pines in 2006 after reading several books about the Pine Barrens. The first event was held at Sweetwater Casino where it remained until 2008. After a fire destroyed Sweetwater Casino, the event moved to various venues from 2009 and 2017 throughout Atlantic County, including the Frog Rock Golf and Country Club and Kerri Brooke Caterers in Hammonton as well as Vienna Inn and Renault Winery in Egg Harbor City. In 2018, the event moved to its current home at Stockton University. I attended for the first time in 2019. As with the short course, the 2020 and 2021 events were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I’ve always been curious about the name of the event and reached out to Linda to find out what inspired it. “When I started the event it was to be a salute to authors who wrote about  the Pine Barrens,” Linda explained. “Writing is lines, the topic is pines so I called it Lines on the Pines. This event is sponsored by my nonprofit: It’s a Sign of the Pines.” 

Author and friend Barbara Solem has participated in Lines on the Pines every year the event has taken place since its inception.  I visited Barbara’s table this year where she offered her books for sale, including:

Barbara is also a member of the Batsto Citizen Committee and gives tours of historic Batsto Village. She was kind enough to give me a tour of the village in 2020 when it partially reopened during the pandemic. In addition, she gives tours of historic Atsion Mansion in Shamong and used to lead the popular Ghost Towns tour (based on her book) and John McPhee’s Pine Barrens tour for Pinelands Adventures, frequently with Jeff Larson as her driver. Barbara told me that she and Jeff were planning a tour of Atsion Village on June 4th at 1 p.m. Cost is $45 per person.

Jeff, who attended Lines on the Pines this year, participated in the event in 2008 as a musician. A professional guitarist and music teacher, Jeff composed two albums of music with a Pine Barrens theme: Leeds Devil Blues and The Barrens

At the table next to Barbara’s was Allison Hartman representing Pinelands Adventures. Allison started as assistant director last year. According to Allison’s bio, she “runs the day to day operations of Pinelands Adventures. Allison is a beach kid who feels like she’s won the job lottery: she’s made paddling into a career. She’s a South Jersey native and has been leading kayak and paddleboard tours through the salt marshes for more than ten years. Allison is a graduate of Stockton University’s Marine Science program and a senior fellow in the Environmental Leadership Program Fellowship.” Allison will be teaching kayak lessons this year. The class fee is $60 per person. Dates currently on the calendar include June 5th and 26th at 10 a.m. 

Many more groups were represented, filling several rooms and drawing a large crowd. Overall, the return of Lines on the Pines appeared to be a great success and made for a fun day! Here are some more highlights.

Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge

The Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge, “a 171-acre wildlife refuge, wildlife rehabilitation hospital, and nature center” in Medford, had one of their resident Great Horned Owls with them to meet the public. Cedar Run is one of my favorite organizations, and I’m proud to volunteer for them in a grant writing capacity.

One of Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge's resident Great Horned Owls at the 2022 Lines on the Pines
Cedar Run’s Great Horned Owl (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

Pine Barrens Diamonds

Paul Evans Pederson, Jr. is a local artisan who creates jewelry from glass found around the Pine Barrens left over from the days when glass factories were in operation. He calls his work “Pine Barrens Diamonds” and notes on his business card that he keeps South Jersey “glass-making traditions alive, using hand-made, hand-tooled” South Jersey glass.  I mentioned to Paul that I lived in Atco, which had a glass factory in the past. He said he finds a lot of glass in Atco. I already have a pair of purple Pine Barrens Diamonds earrings purchased at a PPA event. Paul pointed out that purple was a rare color. I bought another pair of earrings made from multi-colored, opal-like glass. 

Dr. James Still

Representatives from the Dr. James Still Historic Office Site and Education Center were on hand to discuss the mission of the center, which focuses on “teaching, restoring and preserving the Legacy” of the man known as ‘‘The Black Doctor of the Pines.” Dr. Still was a 19th century physician who built a successful medical practice in the Pine Barrens despite the racism and prejudice he faced. The center, located in Medford on the site of Dr. Still’s office is “the first African American Historic Site preserved by the state of New Jersey.” It will open on the first and third Sundays of each month from noon to 4 p.m. Books about Dr. Still available for purchase at the center include:

  • Early Recollections and Life of Dr. James Still by Dr. James Still
  • The Underground Railroad by William Still
  • The Kidnapped and the Ransomed: The Narrative of Peter and Visa Still after Forty Years of Slavery by Kate E.R. Pickard.

Pine Barrens Photography

In addition to authors, musicians, and artisans, Lines on the Pines draws photographers such as Rich Lewis, whose work focuses on the Pine Barrens, particularly landscape photos. I met Rich once before on a photo “safari” at Franklin Parker Preserve with the Bog Iron Outdoors Facebook group. Rich offers photography tours and workshops and published a book entitled The Ultimate Pine Barrens Photography Guide Book. 

Rich also co-chairs the Pinelands Juried Photographic Competition and Exhibition committee, an annual event sponsored by the PPA. The 2022 exhibit is currently open to the public until April 29th and can be viewed at the PPA’s headquarters in Southampton Township.

Lines on the Pines in 2023

Linda told me that next year’s topic for Lines on the Pines will be horses. Her organization is going to release a short book about horses in the Pine Barrens, and she invited me to contribute. As an equestrian, I’m excited for the opportunity and can’t wait to see everyone’s contributions! I’m looking forward to next year’s Pinelands Short Course and Lines on the Pines!

The Ghost Train of Brigantine

When Stockton University announced its 33rd Annual Pinelands Short Course, which was held last month on March 12th, the first program I registered for was Atlantic County’s Ghost Railroad: The Brigantine Railroad and Trolley System. Although I grew up in Brigantine, I never heard that a train and trolley line once ran on the island, and I was eager to learn more.

Presented by Norman Goos, librarian for the Atlantic County Historical Society, the program delved into the history of the Brigantine Beach Railroad. From 1890 to 1910, the railroad connected Pomona in Galloway to the then sparsely populated island of Brigantine. Much to my surprise, I learned that the railroad’s terminal in Brigantine was located at Roosevelt Boulevard. Roosevelt Boulevard is the road that runs next to the street where my house was located and leads from the beach back to the bay where the Brigantine Golf Links lies. The railroad traveled through what is now the golf course to reach the terminal. 

According to Goos, after three previous railroad plans failed, the Brigantine Beach Railroad, announced in 1887 was finally built. The Brigantine Beach Railroad trackbed began near the White Horse Pike and crossed what is today the Atlantic City Line track and Garden State Parkway. The trackbed then ran along Great Creek Road, which was built for this railroad. It angled off today’s Jimmie Leeds Road, crossed Shore Road, and went down Lily Lake Road. It then traveled along what is now part of Wildlife Drive in the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (Brigantine Division). From there, a big trestle and gallows drawbridges crossed Grassy Bay and marshland into Brigantine. 

Unfortunately, the railroad was short-lived. Plagued by storm damage, accidents, and labor issues, the rail company went out of business. Goos described how most of the tracks were removed for scrap during World War I. After that, the railroad faded from memory, like many of the ghost towns and other ghost railroads of South Jersey.

Wildlife Drive where the Brigantine Railroad Ran with Brigantine in the Background (Photo by Beach and Barrens)