By Fran Pelham
Nature presented me with a gift on this steaming-hot August morning on a drive to meet kids and grandkids for breakfast on the bay in Beach Haven. A caravan of sea gulls glided across the horizon. From a preserve sanctuary at Island’s end — a chorus of lively birds whistled and chirped. Wild clematis and rosebay scattered on the dunes perfumed the air. Mixed in with the pungent scent of salt breeze wafting in from low tide this heady scent distracted my hunger pangs.
Reaching my destination at the end of Dock Road, I joined my family seated outdoors at Polly’s Dock. We sat patiently awaiting scrambled eggs and sausage, when suddenly I became aware of a colorful blurb of plumage that had landed nearby. Abruptly, I dropped my coffee spoon, grabbed my camera, and cautiously approached. Sitting atop a piling was a beautiful creature, a black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax). Gingerly, I advanced toward this marvelous bird. Its beady red eyes stared back at me. I turned to my family who were greedily consuming the long-awaited breakfast and waved them toward me. Their forks continued in motion. I tip-toed closer, the heron did not move a feather. Strangely, he seemed to say, “Come closer, my dear.” So, I did.
The beauty and power of the seascape makes contemplatives of us all. The experience of an early morning drive along an ocean boulevard summons one to look at the hidden places in the heart and draws out a powerful sense of the miracles of creation.
The black-crowned night heron, known to be calm, almost lethargic, sat hunched in his customary position ready to dive for a tasty minnow snack into the bay below. The early morning sun highlighted the bird’s striking plumage of black, blue-gray, and white. Two long white plumes accentuated his black cap.
Russell McGregor, professor of history at James Cook University in Australia in a recent internet article wrote, “Bird watchers know that if we are to conserve nature, we need the expertise of science, but we also need an emotional affinity with the living things around us.” This idea seems similar to Pope Francis’ call to preserve creation for future generations. Another author, Jonathan Rosen refers to birds as “The life of the skies,” in his book with the same title.
I tapped the OFF button on my camera as the graceful bird flapped its elegant wings and headed to the wetlands for lunch. Just one more miracle on our Long Beach Island.