• Skimmers and a gull keep each other company in the marsh. Photo by Pat Foster-Turley/For the News-Leader
  • A National Wildlife Refuge outside Atlantic City, N.J., attracts skimmers, gulls, terns, and egrets with the city and windmills in the background. Photo by Pat Foster-Turley/For the News-Leader

Nature along the road trip

There’s nothing like a leisurely road trip to give me glimpses of nature outside my normal home range. And my friends, keeping my interest in wildlife in mind, gave me lots to see during my solo two-week trip through the Middle Atlantic States.

My first stop – Asheville, N.C. – set the bar high for my future nature viewing. From the deck of the home of my friends, Sue and Genece, I watched solitary bees sipping nectar from a beautiful blooming rose-of-Sharon while a flock of wild turkeys paraded through their yard. Meanwhile, cardinals, titmice and sparrows worked one nearby bird feeder and hummingbirds worked another. Wildlife watching never gets much easier than this!

Scenic views count as nature too, and I had some great vantage points as I drove slowly along the Blue Ridge Parkway in and out of the clouds. At Nancy and Marie’s Central Pennsylvania home, the vistas continued as we drove, then walked, to the top of a local mountain to view miles of groomed farmland from above, and walked back down, looking for wild blackberries along the wooded track. We spent much of the day driving around their area and seeing disparate sights, including dark expanses of coal strip mines and company homes in rows surrounded by vast areas of natural woodlands and fields and roadsides covered in wildflowers of all descriptions.

Another stop along my way – the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house “Falling-water” – was all about nature too. This famous house was built over a rushing stream that could be entered from stairs inside the house. A huge boulder on the site was left in place to form the fireplace hearth and the kitchen counter, with the rest of the boulder outside the house. All decks and terraces were cantilevered, thus enabling open views of the surrounding woods and stream without visible supports to obstruct the natural scenes.

And who would imagine that I would have nature in the cities I visited too. In Philadelphia, visiting my brother Ken and his wife Mary, I watched bumblebees feeding on flowers on a lone Joe Pyle weed on a balcony far from other nectar plants. Later, to feed my interest in nature, we went to a new exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, showcasing the stunning wildlife photography of Michael Nichols, featuring elephants, tigers, lions, gorillas, and other “charismatic megavertebrates” in distant corners of the world. A few days later, in the Takoma, Md. suburb of Washington, D.C., I was surprised to see another large vertebrate – a deer – feeding nonchalantly on shrubs in my friend Alicia’s front yard next to her parked car.

But the most exciting wildlife sightings of all happened for me in my home state of New Jersey. I grew up in the “armpit” of New Jersey – Hudson County, the most populous, and, in my day, the most polluted part of the state, nothing resembling the Garden State, as it is called. But South Jersey, where I visited my old childhood friend Patty and her husband Peter, was a far different story.

Patty and I began our day having lunch with another old childhood chum, Dorothy, who has also relocated to South Jersey. At the Seaside Heights boardwalk, we three watched brave sunbathers entering the 70-degree ocean – nothing like the warm water we are used to. And nothing I felt interested in challenging, just watching from afar.

But the best nature watching was still to come. My friend Patty is an avid wildlife photographer, and together we visited the B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge just outside Atlantic City. While I photographed snapshots for this column with my small camera and cell phone, she took the task more seriously with art photos in mind.

And wow, was the area good for both projects! I was thrilled by the marsh, the bird life and the looming presence of Atlantic City and a windmill or two thrown in for good measure. We photographed black-backed skimmers doing their thing, skimming along the surface with beaks open, searching for small fish. It was fun to see these birds in their breeding grounds, not their wintering grounds when we see them on our beaches here.

The area was also full of gulls, terns, great egrets, red-winged blackbirds, various warblers and even one elusive glossy ibis. We could have stayed there for hours except for two problems: Biting flies were in abundance too, and it was nearly dinnertime!


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