A couple of weeks back, at the invitation of my NJ birder friend, Claus, I drove down to visit a couple of beaches on Raritan Bay. The plan was to search for horseshoe crabs and the red knots that rely on the crabs’ eggs to fatten up for the annual trip to their Arctic breeding grounds.
Horseshoe crabs are such cool creatures. They look prehistoric and, in essence, they really are. Physically, they are virtually unchanged for the past 300 million(!) years and some scientists feel that they have similarities to trilobites, these days only to be seen in fossil form. They’re also not really crabs but are more closely related to spiders and scorpions. They look intimidating but are harmless. One set of eyes is visible at the top of the helmet-shaped shell and they have light receptors all around it as well.
On the move, and they're surprisingly quick underwater...
I remember years ago walking along the beach with some other kids and, coming upon a dead crab, one of the boys said that he would use it as football helmet. Another one basically said not likely and turned it over to reveal the “business side.” We were all slightly revolted and kept going. Alive, if a crab is turned on its back, it can right itself using it’s scary-looking but harmless tail. If you see one upside down and struggling, you can help it by picking it up by the shell only (you can hurt it if you pick it up by the tail) and setting it to rights.
What's left of the business side of a horseshoe crab
May into early June is the time of year when they emerge from deeper waters to mate and lay their eggs on the beach. The largest concentration occurs at the Delaware Bay but NJ beaches see their fair share of these busy critters. At same time, red knots have made their way from their wintering territory from as far south as Tierra del Fuego in South America to stop and gorge on the eggs at these beaches. Studies of red knots indicate a serious decline in their numbers, partly due to over harvesting of the horseshoe crabs.
Red Knot at Nickerson Beach, NY, August 2008
On our trip last weekend, we saw several crabs in both locations we visited but unfortunately no knots. We figured that they’d already continued on their way north. Quite a few dead crabs littered the beach but others were busy doing their thing at the water’s edge or in the shallows. I learned later that we would have seen a lot more of them had we gone after sundown as the darkness offers them safety while spawning.
"From Here to Eternity" for horseshoe crabs?
We had a good day, nonetheless. On the path through the salt marsh to the beach at Ocean Beach, a bunch of marsh wrens were busily singing at each other. Wrens amaze me; they are so small but so loud! They’re also good at knowing when they have a camera pointed at them and flew away each time I got my lens on one.
I also saw my first Seaside sparrow from a great distance, too far away for my camera’s capability. The usual assortment of gulls scattered around the beach, including Bonaparte’s gulls. Some of the gulls seemed to appreciate the crabs as pedestals in the shallow water.
There was a nice variety of shorebirds in breeding plumage. White-rumped sandpipers were my second lifer of the day and joining them were pretty ruddy turnstones, dunlins, pectoral sandpipers and a willet.
A willet is at the back left, dunlin is just to his right, the smaller birds are semipalmated sandpipers
I like how the picture above illustrates the different sizes of these shorebirds. The willet in the back is much larger than the surrounding semipalmated sandpipers.
A nice addition was a pair of Black skimmers at the beach in South Amboy. I’m accustomed to seeing them do their skimming behavior in the ocean off one of the Long Island beaches. Watching them skim in the shallow water so close to shore was an almost intimate experience.
A few more random images from the day are below. My thanks to Claus and Hadas for letting me tag along with them. I love visiting new places and was not disappointed, despite the lack of red knots. Hopefully I’ll see catch them at the beach later in the summer when they’re on their 9000 mile journey down south.
Another type of bird (Semper Fi!)
I spent a fairly underwhelming morning this past weekend at the movie theater watching X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I’d already read quite a few negative reviews about this film. As such, I went into it not expecting much and was grateful for that preparation. This film falls alongside the many expensive and average adventure movies that have preceded it. It aspires to reveal the origins and motivations of one of the most popular of Marvel superheroes, Logan, aka Wolverine, but simply meanders from one explosive exploit to the next with the barest insight into the personalities of this character or his comrades and adversaries.
It begins somewhere in Canada in the mid-1800′s when Wolverine is a young boy named Jim and on the verge of the revelation about his “condition” (claws which, at this time, are extensions of his bones.) He also learns that his friend, Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber), is actually his older brother and he, too, is a mutant whose fingernails extend like cat’s claws. The two of them also have powerful healing abilities that, other than decapitation, prevent them from succumbing to fatal injuries. We then learn via a black and white slow-motion montage (why is slo-mo so overused as a method of weight and emphasis?) through war to war, from the Civil War through Vietnam. Sometime thereafter, he and Victor find themselves working for a government agent named William Stryker (Danny Huston) in a black ops-type of group populated by other mutants with a variety of useful gifts. Aside from the 1990s X-Men TV cartoon, I’m not all that familiar with the X-Men canon but I do understand that Wolverine was famous for his berseker rage. We do see a couple of justifiably emotional outbursts but the rage is only hinted at a couple of times and never truly comes to fruition. Instead, it’s Victor who grows increasingly brutal, seemingly savoring each of his kills. Disagreeing with Victor’s behavior and disaffected by Stryker’s methods, leaves the ops for a quieter life as a lumberjack in Canada. After Victor kills his beloved Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins), the story sets him on a course of revenge against his brother. He’s lured into Stryker’s Weapon X program and acquires his adamantium claws and skeleton which leave him nearly invulnerable. He’s betrayed a number of times and, ultimately, loses his memory (this had been established in the prior X-Men installments).
Hugh Jackman on the Kate and Leopold set, 2001 (I liked this film better)
The writer of this film gives us little reason to care about any of the characters. They are basically shifted from one fight to the next and very little else happens. We really don’t get a good appreciation of Deadpool, Stryker’s big bad. I liked his creepy look and think Deadpool could have been a decent opponent to Wolverine. Unfortunately, we don’t get enough of him in this film to judge. About all of those fights: as brutal as these characters are supposed to be, there is absolutely no blood. I have no great need to see a lot of gore but how can Victor murder one of the characters by inserting his hand inside the victim’s torso and pull it out looking as it did before it went in? Did the poor guy not have any bodily fluids? There is a lot of slashing and stabbing of characters who do not have healing abilities but little evidence of the injuries beyond the claw marks.
The effects in general, which sometimes seem to be the “reason” for a film like this, looked really cheap. I understand this film was more expensive than the other better X-Men films but it’s difficult to tell. In one scene set in a Nigerian village at night, I could see the little puffs of smoke made by the smoke machine used to create the foggy background. In another scene where Wolverine examines his new adamantium claws, there is obvious CGI evidence where the claws emerge from his knuckles. I could comment on how awful Victor’s mode of movement on all fours like an animal looks like something out of a TV movie or the terrible computer created backgrounds but there’s no need.
As far as the actors are concerned, all of the lead actors did a decent job. Liev Schreiber was effective as a merciless animal and Hugh Jackman, always one of my favorite actors, did his best as the title character. Danny Huston was sufficiently driven as in his role of Stryker and the mercenaries, including Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas and Meriadoc Brandybuck himself, Dominic Monaghan, were fine as well.
In short, I’m grateful to AMC’s pre-noon matinee weekend ticket prices. Had I paid the full $12.50 ticket price, I may have been really annoyed. At $6.50, I didn’t hate X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I was merely underwhelmed.
Yet another person dips her toe into the blogosphere. Is it really necessary? Who knows? I do know that I’d like to exercise my long-atrophied writing skills. Having tried a number of times, I’ve learned that I’m not much of a diarist. However, the power of a blog to include photos with text offers a really enjoyable way of looking at the world. (Take a look at my sidebar. I have been reading these blogs with great enjoyment for a couple of years now; they are fun to read and so informative. Their accompanying images truly enrichen the experience even more). Perhaps it’ll prompt me to engage in my photography habit even more than I do so now. I expect to post my musings on birds, photography outings, movies, New York stuff, travel – whatever strikes my creative fancy.
Please comment at will. I hope readers will find this interesting, informative and perhaps provocative but I am also really interested in the perspective of others. Please enjoy your time here!
South bank of the Thames, London. March 2007