Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Birds!!!! The Birds!!!!

31 July 2016

Yesterday, my sister-in-law took me out to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.

I had never heard of this place.  And despite growing up in New York, not too terribly far away, I really never knew that the southern New Jersey coast was a series of barrier islands and a huge swath of wetlands.

The Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge is a huge preserve, more than 47,000 acres of coastal habitat and wetlands, protected and managed for wildlife.  It was established in 1939, and expanded in 1967 to include the Barnegat region, though the entire area was renamed in 1984 after the late Congressman Edwin B. Forstythe.

This region is mostly salt marsh - low, flat, muddy marshes where fresh water washes down from the mainland, and saltwater comes in from the bays and canals that separate the mainland and the barrier islands.  Which means the water level changes with the tides.

Several varieties of grasses and flowers have adapted to the half-fresh-half-saltwater environment.  Fish swim in and out, there are turtles, and muskrats, beavers, all kinds of woodland creatures, and of course wonderful birds.

The refuge has several hiking trails through the woods, but it was a hot day and this is the season of the green-head flies.  Which are the local biting horse fly.  Yeah, we skipped the hiking trails.

The alternative is an eight mile drive out along causeways that link a couple of tiny islands, and surround much of the water in this small section.  There are a few places to stop and walk along a boardwalk over the marsh, to look at birds and turtles and fish, as well as the plants growing in this special environment.  

There are also places to just pull over and watch the birds.

Plus a lookout tower to climb, with wonderful views of the seabirds who live here, and come to dive for fish or forage along the beaches and mudflats.

The drive is marked by signs that are in the shape of flying geese, which correspond to various places of interest on the map.  Turtle Cove, the lookout tower, the boardwalk, the inner pool, and so on.  I just really liked the sign's shape!

Best of all, there are platforms for nesting peregrine falcons and osprey!  These large birds of prey, especially the osprey, build gigantic nests and lay a couple of eggs.  We thought perhaps the platforms help prevent muskrats from finding and eating the eggs or very young birds.  There were very few trees in the salt marsh, so the park rangers have built these platforms for the birds.

It was so interesting!  We drove slowly, stopping constantly to walk around, watch the birds, climb the tower, take photos.  I think my favorite were the families of osprey, especially this one with a young osprey looking as if he's testing his wings and thinking about flying.  Mom or dad osprey was sitting on a post nearby, waiting to see if junior was ready to take the plunge.  Junior never did.  Just balanced on the side of the nest, looking like a young child standing on the high dive platform and rethinking the wisdom of this move.

We saw a variety of hawks.  All kinds of seagulls, which are remarkably noisy and argumentative.  Barn swallows and tree swallows swooping over the grasses and water, hopefully eating all the mosquitoes and flies.  Stately and majestic egrets and herons, flapping their huge wings leisurely or walking around on their stilts of legs, looking for dinner.  Plus a few glossy ibis flew by, dark and shiny, with their signature long curving beaks.  (I had no idea we had ibis in this part of the world!)

There are occasional bald eagles, but we didn't see any.  Or swans, who migrate through.  We did see Canada geese, ducks, and cormorants paddling around in the water.

It was wonderful!  Quiet and tranquil, inhabited solely by all these wonderful birds, and large expanses of just water and grasses and pink flowers.  (And that's Atlantic City on the island in the distance, on the other side of the bay.)  We had a fabulous time!

It was sunny, but the breeze from the bay and the ocean beyond made it comfortable, and kept the insects away.  The fact that we saw so many nesting osprey was incredible, especially since they are still considered an endangered or threatened species.  They seem to have made a remarkable comeback, at least here at this refuge.

If you ever get to New Jersey, this is definitely a place to visit!!!


Friday, July 29, 2016

Summertime and the Living is Kitschy

29 July 2016

Summer is a good time to be relaxed and maybe even a little lazy.  Especially when the temperatures are in the high 90s F (high 30s C), and so humid the windows steam up.  It's difficult to be energetic when the climate is saying slow down!

Richard took his medications to kill his Guatemalan hitchhikers, and we visited his doctor again.  He should be over the parasite reaction by now, but isn't quite fully back to normal.  The doctor said we probably need to do more testing to see if the little guys are all gone or if something else is going on, but since we head west to Washington state on Monday, we should hold off and do the testing there.  So he's sort of on hold, hoping the little creepie crawlies are dead and not partying.  We'll get our medical person in Bellingham to talk to the doctor here, and figure out what happens next.  More meds, more tests, whatever.  

We've been doing a few things, seeing the next two generations - nieces, nephews, great or grand nieces and nephews.  Always a joy to see the little ones, who of course get bigger every year.  (Imagine that!)  It always seems as if they grow and age more rapidly than we do, right?  I still feel about 16 or 20 years old inside!  Hard to believe that we're now heading into being the older generation!!!

I spent some time with a few cousins who were out, but Richard wasn't up to going out that day.  In fact, I ended up going off with two friends to somewhere in the Brandywine Valley - I think that's sort of in southern Pennsylvania, though we went through Delaware to get there.  We visited the Brandywine River Museum of Art, which features artwork by the Wyeth family (N.C., Andrew, and the kids and an in-law or two) who lived in the area.  Had a great time and it was a beautiful day, plus the museum is built right along a river with lovely green views.  The art was amazing, plus they had a special exhibit of illustrations for children's books, always a delight!  I don't have photos, but some are available at the museum's website:

I also visited Lucy, who is a New Jersey landmark.  Lucy is a giant elephant, actually a building in the shape of an elephant.  Absolutely kitschy in a totally bizarre and surreal way!  I love Lucy, she's so funny and Twilight Zone at the same time!  I mean, the window under her tail?  Really?  Who thinks of things like that?  

You can buy a ticket to go inside Lucy - seriously!  And I guess come out and sit up top in her little pagoda sitting area!  Anyway, Lucy is an institution on the New Jersey, as insane as it sounds!  (Check out the sign - she may be running for President!)

Lucy, who actually is patented, was built in 1881, and has been kept up and repainted.  A celebration of her 135th birthday was held on 23 July!  There's a whole long story, which you can read at her web page:
And then we spent an afternoon or two in Atlantic City, with a visit to a casino (one visit went quite well, with both of us winning; the second visit wasn't as good, but wasn't disastrous) as well as the boardwalk.  The boardwalk is exactly that, a wide walkway built of wooden boards, so that people can walk parallel to the shore without walking through the sand dunes.  There are all kinds of shops, eateries, arcades, rides, and such along the boardwalk.  Sort of a place to see and be seen.

And kitsch.  Lucy is the Queen of Kitsch.  But the ice cream cone chairs, table, and umbrellas are running a close second!

Don't you love it?


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

We're Fine - Just BUSY!

20 July 2016 

Subtitled:  Goodbye Guatemala, Hello USA

I know, I realize it has been nearly a month since I posted a blog.  So much has been going on, and sometimes life needs to be lived, right?  

We spent two enjoyable weeks in Guatemala City.  We stayed in Zona 10, which is one of the safer areas of the city.  Also oriented toward tourists, but we look like tourists even though we consider ourselves to be travellers.  Anyway, we had a view of the volcanoes that are off to one side of the city.  (I'm not sure which direction.)  The volcanoes are apparently part of the city's symbol, as seen on one of the many manhole covers we found.  All the same design, with the city crest featuring the three smoking volcanoes.

Part of our neighborhood had what looks like jade covered sidewalks!  Absolutely amazing, and gorgeous!  Though slick in the rain, and not good for worn-down tread on the soles of our shoes - we were slip-sliding away on rainy days.  We talked to some young men at a cafĂ©, and they said it looks like jade but isn't, it's a less precious stone.  Not of the same crystalline quality as jade.  But a similar color.  They didn't know the name in English, so we still have no idea what kind of stone this is.  

Plus there are areas where the stones, cut square or rectangular and about an inch thick, are LOOSE!  I picked one up to show the guys, and told them this was my souvenir!  Of course, they laughed and we had fun with that idea.  But I'm sure there are tourists who seriously think about taking one of these sidewalk stones home.  They really are beautiful!

We did our usual wandering around, finding little places we liked and going back often enough that the staff recognized us.  Striking up conversations in either English or Spanish, so we could find out a little more about the country and the city.  Visiting the nearest artisans' market to buy gifts for family and friends, and chatting with people there.  Having our usual fun.

However, Richard wasn't feeling great, and seemed to be suffering from traveller's tummy.  Or La Turista.  Or Montezuma's Revenge.  So he stayed close to the hotel, as needed.  We finally saw a doctor, who took some samples and came up with a "yes you have something, take this antibiotic."  It seemed to help a bit, but not fully.

I went off on my own a bit - got a great haircut, visited a mall that had a double-decker carousel (have you ever even heard of such a thing???  I hadn't!!!), and of course I went for a ride on this wonderful carousel!

Plus I starting to sketch again.  I stumbled on a website:  

Their motto or tagline or whatever is:  "Seeing the world one drawing at a time."  This is an international organization of people who draw where they are, where they travel, and share their sketches.  I was so inspired, I bought a sketchbook, aquarelle pencils, and a few paintbrushes - and started another blog to share my drawings as we travel.  The site: if you want to check it out.

Anyway, we flew back to the US, planning a visit to our usual spots in the northeast region.  But Richard's stomach thing seemed to get worse, so we figured it was time to get serious about getting this resolved.  

This turned into one of those farces you wouldn't believe if you saw it in a movie.  The walk-in medical facility couldn't do the kind of testing needed, so they sent us to the emergency room.  We spent a full morning there, with various specimens drawn or produced, and all kinds of tests.  But they don't do follow-up, so they sent us to a doctor to tell us what was going on.  Of course, we had to wait a day for the test results, and then saw the doctor.  Tests were inconclusive, more tests had to be done, the orders for the testing were wrong and had to be on hold while the lab contacted the doctor and got the right info - it dragged on and on.  For over a week!

Today we have a diagnosis.  Parasites.  Yeah, creepy.  However, the medication isn't readily available and had to be ordered by the pharmacy.  We can get the meds tomorrow.  So, well, we've been spending time hanging with Richard's brother and sister-in-law, who are very calm and kind about us being here for so long.  We're not able to go off and do much, because the parasites aren't cooperative that way.  But we're hoping the meds will kill off the little creeps, and all will be well.  With a follow-up visit next week, because apparently these are persistent little things.  (All I can say is, wear shoes in developing countries!)

We've postponed our visits to other parts of the NE US.  And we're sorry we haven't been able to catch up with everyone we'd like to see.  Richard has been long overdue for a travel-related illness, though I've certainly seen more than my share of hospitals in various locations.  Just part of being a rolling luggager, I guess.

Here's the updated map for our travels in Guatemala.  We had a great time, other than Richard getting these little hitchhikers.  Really a wonderful country with beautiful scenery, an incredible history, friendly people, and gorgeous textiles and arts and crafts.  

Just wear shoes!