Serendipity (noun): An aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident; good fortune; luck. (dictionary.com) The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. (Google dictionary)
Serendipity is one of my favorite words. It sounds like a sand dune; soft and supple, rising and falling in peaks and dips. Serendipity.
When you are looking for something good, and find something unexpected that’s even better, that’s serendipity. Happens in nature all the time.
Take my trip to Cape May Point State Park with Colleen back in January. Cape May is known for birds during migrations; in winter, not so much. We hoped to see a few interesting birds, but that wasn’t what we went for. Nope, we went for the plants.
Specifically, the dried flowers and fruits of winter. Like the fuzzy capsules of the Rose Mallow, Hibiscus palustris.
Or these strange seed pods. We loved the square shape and wondered what they were.
At home that evening, I was pleased I was able to identify from my photos, using a book about wildflowers in winter.
It’s called Seedbox, Ludwigia alternifolia, and the dried flowers do indeed look like little boxes with seeds inside.
Oh, look, a bird! Northern Mockingbirds, common year-round, but one perched in front of a bright blue sky? Serendipity.
Along the path, we met a friendly gentleman out to look at birds. “Have you been to the Avalon Seawatch?” he asked. “You MUST go. There are all kinds of sea ducks that have been seen there – Harlequins, Longtailed Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, Greater Scaup, Common and King Eiders, Loons and all three Scoters. Oh, and there’s a Snowy Owl that’s been hanging out there.”
“Maybe if we have time,” we thought, and continued on the path.
The ponds behind the dunes held a cornucopia of ducks – I counted seven different species – as well as Canada Geese and Mute Swans. One Ring-necked Duck was showing off for his girlfriend; I just happened to catch him in the act. Serendipity.
Along the beach I found a sea urchin. Sea urchins share the phylum Echinodermata with sea stars and sand dollars. They have hard shells with fivefold symmetry, covered in spines. I’ve never seen one before. Definitely not something I expected. Serendipity.
There was still plenty of daylight left, so Colleen and I made the unplanned drive to the northern tip of Avalon. We grabbed our cameras and binoculars, ready for some sea ducks. As we made our way through the dunes, Colleen in front, I remembered something.
“Keep an eye out for that Snowy Owl; he’ll be hard to spot in the all the grass on the dunes.”
“There’s an owl on the beach. Right there.”
“Ha ha, Colleen, very funny. That’s a plastic – WHAT?!!!?”
“That” was NOT a plastic bag, THAT was a Snowy Owl! In the center of the wide expanse of beach, no vegetation hiding him, beautiful late afternoon light.
And we had him all to ourselves!
The winter of 2017-2018 was an irruption year for Snowy Owls.Their Arctic prey, lemmings, undergo a population boom and bust cycle every few years. Lots of lemmings equals lots of baby owls, which means Snowies, mostly young owls, come south in large numbers.
Though the Internet was abuzz with news of owls all over New Jersey, I hadn’t made an effort to look for one. Yet here we were, on a trip to photograph plants, for gosh sakes, face to face with a magnificent Snowy Owl.
This Snowy Owl was not budging from his spot. He was sitting on something, which we later identified by the pink feet as a Herring Gull. Lunch.
He was aware of us and watched us as we moved around the beach at a respectful distance. I tried for a variety of backgrounds, since he didn’t seem to have a variety of poses. In fact, except for that swiveling head, he never moved a muscle.
Maybe he was looking at the cloud of Dunlin that swirled over the ocean.
I got distracted for a moment by a Common Loon on the water.
Just for a moment. Those eyes drew me back, drew me in, as the afternoon drew to a close.
And so, reluctantly, we bid adieu to our Snowy friend. We left him deep in contemplation. How lucky were we to find this beautiful creature so unexpectedly, in the middle of a beach we hadn’t planned on visiting.
Guess what I named the owl?