After three weeks of not walking so I could concentrate efforts on my project, we decided to take a little break on the day before Thanksgiving. In order to avoid holiday traffic we took a peaceful morning meander close to home, down at the beach. Little did I realize we would encounter a new life bird! I guessed it was a sandpiper but couldn’t figure out which kind… The good folks at the What’s This Bird? group helped me out.
There were about eight of them and the sun was behind them, of course, so the pictures aren’t that great. I disobeyed the “keep off the rocks” signs to get a little closer. (That was a first for me!)
Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima: Uncommon to fairly common (May) coastal migrant, and winter visitor to rocky shores, breakwaters, and jetties. ~ Frank Gallo (Birding in Connecticut)
A pot-bellied shorebird with a long, drooping bill, the Purple Sandpiper is a hardy species that specializes on rocky, wave-battered coastlines. These subdued, gray-and-white sandpipers nimbly explore seaweed-covered rocks as they search for mussels, crustaceans, and flies, flashing bright orange on the legs and bill. The common name refers to a seldom-seen purple sheen on some of the wing feathers. Purple Sandpipers breed on arctic tundra; they spend winters on North Atlantic shores, farther north than any other shorebird. ~ All About Birds webpage
It was a wonderful break, and then we had a good Thanksgiving, and now, back to work on my project!
Friday’s morning walk around the beach, estuary, lawn and ponds turned out to be exciting, with two new lifer birds encountered! It was foggy and cool, with no hint of the record-breaking heat that is supposed to be coming for the weekend.
Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis: Uncommon local breeder in scattered grasslands and agricultural areas. Common migrant September to October and fairly common April in farm and weedy fields, community gardens, and marsh edges. Uncommon in winter; a few of the pale “Ipswich” subspecies winter locally on coastal dunes. ~ Frank Gallo (Birding in Connecticut)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis: Fairly common statewide migrant and nesting species from April into September near water. Breeds along waterways in holes, drainpipes, crevices, riverbanks, often near bridges or old bridge foundations, and coastal retaining walls. ~ Frank Gallo (Birding in Connecticut)
I’m kind of surprised we saw so many birds. Eastern Point Beach was sponsoring a busy event, the starting line for a Ragnar Road team relay race. The 200-mile race will end today in Quincy, Massachusetts. Every once in a while a team would take off. Announcements and pop music came from a loudspeaker. This is how it works:
Teams of 12 run roughly 200 miles—from point A to point B—on city streets, country roads, sidewalks, and bike paths. You’ll run day, and night, and day again, sleeping (ha ha) in vans, grassy fields, or perhaps a high school gym (with the principal’s permission). Each teammate will run three separate legs of the race, with downtime in between, for a total of 11 to 24 miles per runner (twice that for ultra teams). After the final pass of the baton—er, slap bracelet—you’ll cross beneath the iconic orange arch together, dripping with … pride. ~ Ragnar Road website
It was an odd experience birdwatching and walking with music blaring at the beach! But one never knows how or when or where a new bird will turn up. And it certainly gave us a new topic for conversation. 😉
So, Tim & I were on our way home from the food co-op and decided to drive down by the Thames River. Much to our surprise, two cormorants were sitting on a rock in the water close to the riverbank. “Try to get your picture!” Tim encouraged. “When I open the door they will fly away,” I replied, but decided to try anyway, not expecting much.
Well, they didn’t fly away! As many of you know, I’ve been trying to get a decent picture of a cormorant for many years now. They are always just a little too far away to get the “perfect” picture. And I love my bird portraits and headshots. I have to say, I am finally satisfied!!!
So, we finally made it to the Watch Hill Lighthouse! I’ve been taking pictures of it from the distance from Napatree Point (see here) but now we have managed to see it up close. Sort of. It’s surrounded by a chain link fence and is closed to the public, but it sits at the end of a peninsula where we could take a nice long walk, surrounded by water on both sides. I was able to get pictures of it from a few slightly different angles.
The Watch Hill Lighthouse in Watch Hill, Rhode Island has served as a nautical beacon for ships since 1745, when the Rhode Island colonial government erected a watchtower and beacon during the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War. The original structure was destroyed in a 1781 storm, and plans were discussed to build a new lighthouse to mark the eastern entrance to Fishers Island Sound and to warn mariners of a dangerous reef southwest of Watch Hill. President Thomas Jefferson signed an act to build the lighthouse in 1806, and construction was completed in 1807. The first lighthouse stood 35 feet (11 m) tall. In 1827, a rotating light was installed to differentiate it from the Stonington Harbor Light in Connecticut. Erosion forced it to close in 1855 and move farther away from the bluff edge. The next lighthouse opened in 1856 and remains as the present structure, standing 45 feet (14 m) tall. ~ Watch Hill Lighthouse Keepers Association website
Of course, it didn’t take me long to locate some birds. They were on the other side of a large thicket, though. It took me some time to find a way aroud the thicket and down closer to the cormorants and eiders.
What was it then? What did it mean? Could things thrust their hands up and grip one; could the blade cut; the fist grasp? Was there no safety? No learning by heart of the ways of the world? No guide, no shelter, but all was miracle, and leaping from the pinnacle of a tower into the air? Could it be, even for elderly people, that this was life? — startling, unexpected, unknown? ~ Virginia Woolf (To the Lighthouse)
It was a pleasant day for a walk by the sea. We found the walk-in entrance to another public beach to the east of the peninsula and will probably try to visit that one on another visit. It will be fun to photograph the lighthouse from that direction!
On our way to the beach for a walk I spotted a great blue heron perched on a stone in Avery Pond. Had to get out of the car and walk down the road to find a spot without vegetation blocking my view.
At the beach we found lots of cormorants on the breakwaters again. Since there were very few people down on the sand we walked the length of the beach and I was able to get a picture with some of this cormorant’s markings more visible.
Lots of gulls were enjoying the sun, sand and sea. This time of year they can hang out on the beach in peace. I know I take too many pictures of gulls but I think they are so beautiful and photogenic.
I’ve seen very few laughing gulls this year. I almost didn’t notice these two.
When we headed over to the estuary I saw a bee on a goldenrod plant growing up through the cement and rocks on the edge of the parking lot. The last place I expected to see something cool to photograph!
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day. Never lose a holy curiosity. ~ Albert Einstein (Life, May 2, 1955)
Another cormorant was out on a rock in the estuary, and still another one was swimming around fishing. It was high tide. My camera was finally able to capture some of their coloring subtleties. It’s amazing what a little sunlight will reveal.
I love my little beach, especially this time of year.
Another nice day Tuesday. After Labor Day the beach is “closed.” No lifeguards, concession stand or restrooms open. Fewer people to navigate through. Great for a morning walk. Got closer to a cormorant than I’ve ever been before, but as luck would have it, the sun was behind him and he came out as mostly a silhouette.
The gift for this morning was spotting four immature male common eiders hanging out in the estuary. I’ve only seen a female common eider once, last summer. New England is in the southernmost part of their range. I was enchanted.
A bird of the cold north with a warm reputation, the Common Eider is famous for the insulating quality of its down (typically harvested from nests without harming the birds). Breeding males are sharp white and black, with pistachio green accents on the neck. Females are barred with warm brown and black. These largest of all Northern Hemisphere ducks gather along rocky ocean shores, diving for mussels and other shellfish, which they pry from rocks using long, chisel-like bills. Males court females throughout the year with gentle, crooning calls. ~ All About Birds website
The coronavirus pandemic rages on, surging especially among the unvaccinated. But the fully vaccinated are getting sick, too, which gave us pause and led to our postponing our trip to North Carolina to see our grandchildren until we can get our third dose of vaccine. We don’t even want to get the “mild” version of COVID-19. We’re back to wearing double masks in the grocery store. And because we’re super cautious we stopped going inside anywhere else. Avoiding crowded outdoor places, too. Masks at the farmers market.
My sister reports from Connecticut College that on Monday, 20 students who were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and some of their friends were tested. Through contact tracing, it was determined that the students who had contracted the virus had been socializing without masks in cars, in friends’ rooms or apartments, at parties or in bars. Tuesday morning the test results showed an additional 34 students had tested positive. All were moved to isolation housing.
Connecticut College requires all students and staff to be fully vaccinated (and to wear masks indoors) so these are breakthrough cases. Beverly spent one week with us but is now teaching remotely from her home and probably won’t be back here for the semester. 🙁 I’m just glad we were able to see each other a few times this summer before this new social distancing period seems prudent. Sigh.
It’s been a while since I’ve made note of our local coronavirus statistics. We have had 3,014 detected cases in our town. Connecticut has had 376,747 confirmed cases and 8,395 deaths. We’re coming close to the 8,500 number of estimated deaths we had in the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. On September 8th we had 403 new cases. Overall, 2,368,830 people or 66% of Connecticut’s population has been fully vaccinated.
And now CNN is reporting that 1 in 4 new cases of COVID-19 are in children.
It’s nowhere near over.
Update: As of Thursday 107 students have now tested positive. Many are going home instead of quarantining on campus. Seems like that would not help to contain the spread.
The morning after the heat wave was over we couldn’t wait to get out of the house and take a walk at the beach. I’m done with hiking in the woods for the summer. I managed to get poison ivy again last week, even after being very very careful on our last ramble. I swear it floats in the air in June. Fortunately this outbreak is not as bad as the one I had last year.
Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed. ~ Mary Oliver (It Was Early)
I was very surprised to see a couple of mourning doves on the breakwater. I’ve never seen them at the beach before. And I only saw the one herring gull, looking like he might be in the middle of molting. Later on the walk we saw an abundance of feathers on the rocks and floating in the water. On this day, too, there seemed to be a colorful seaweed salad floating just under the surface of the water.
The belief that nature is an Other, a separate realm defiled by the unnatural mark of humans, is a denial of our own wild being. ~ David George Haskell (The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors)
While we were noticing everything and anything in the water we heard a familiar bird call in the distance and then a couple of American oystercatchers flew into view!!! No pictures because they kept flying in circles around the area and whenever they went to land they disappeared behind the rocks. I do hope they are going to make a nest there like they did back in 2014. That was the last and only summer we saw them here. Click here if you’d like to see the pictures: oystercatchers!
The light must have been just right and my arm must have been steadier than usual because for some reason I got some halfway decent pictures of a cormorant. Which isn’t saying much. They’re too far away and have frustrated my attempts to photograph them for years. This one had a bit of a personality and seemed different than the others.
I have started on a new drug to manage my radiation proctocolitis symptoms and am hopeful it will make things easier for me, perhaps even get me to the point where I will feel comfortable traveling to visit our grandchildren. We’ll see. My wonderful gastroenterologist is retiring. 🙁 I will see her one last time in July. She assures me, though, that she is leaving me in good hands.
Had a wonderful weekend visiting with my sister — the talking went on forever. 🙂 I hadn’t seen her in person since December, and that was on a walk outside, six feet apart, and with masks on. What a blessing to lounge around the house and catch up. Living in the present moment.
And the grandchildren are planning another trip up here in August!!!
On the weekend we finally got a break from the heat and humidity and when we went down to the beach early Sunday morning I was very surprised to see some very tiny shorebirds on the rocks. After careful investigation I believe they are two different kinds of sandpipers because of some small differences in size and beak shape. The smaller one in front with the yellow legs and the slightly curved bill is a least sandpiper. The slightly larger one in back with the black legs (legs seen in following pictures) and a stouter bill is a semipalmated sandpiper.
They were a little difficult to capture with my camera, but in the picture above you can see the semipalmated’s (lower left) black legs. The least sandpiper (upper right) is only slightly larger than a sparrow.
Least Sandpipers breed in tundra and boreal forests across the extreme northern regions of North America. They nest in coastal wetlands, bogs, sedge meadows, and tussock heaths. At the southern reaches of their breeding range, in Nova Scotia and British Columbia, they also nest in sand dunes. During migration they stop on coastal mudflats, rocky shorelines, and inland habitats including wet meadows, flooded fields, and muddy edges of lakes, ponds, and ditches. They winter from the southern United States through the northern half of South America in lagoons, mangrove forests, wet ditches, swamps, wet fields, mudflats, saltmarshes, tidal sloughs, and the edges of lakes, ponds, and rivers. ~ All About Birds webpage
My guess is that this flock is migrating south and stopped on our “rocky shoreline.” The “All About Birds” webpage also says they flock with other shorebirds during fall migration, including with the semipalmated sandpipers.
The Semipalmated Sandpiper has three North American breeding populations: western (Alaska), central (western Canadian Arctic), and eastern (eastern Canadian Arctic). A 2012 study estimated a total population of 2.26 million breeding birds, with 1.45 million in the western population, and 810,000 in the central and eastern populations. Population trends have fluctuated over the last several decades. Overall, it appears that the Alaskan and central populations are currently stable, with possible increases in some areas, and the eastern population is declining. Semipalmated Sandpiper is on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, which lists bird species that are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without conservation action. ~ All About Birds webpage
There were fewer semipalmated sandpipers in the flock than the least sandpipers, which makes sense if they are declining. It seems this little guy flew here from the eastern Canadian Arctic. Good luck on the rest of your journey, little one!
As I was oohing and aahing over the sandpipers a herring gull came over, wondering why I wasn’t taking his picture…
As we continued our walk we tried to make a Marco Polo video message of ourselves for Katherine and Finn. We love it when they send us one. 🙂 I hope it came out all right. We want them to remember the beach. It was just over a year ago that they were here!
There was an unusually large group of cormorants gathered on the breakwater. Just a tad closer to me than normal, but not quite close enough to get the “perfect” picture I dream about.
I’m pretty sure the ducks below are mallards.
On the way home we saw a large flock of Canada geese resting and preening on logs in Beach Pond, which seems to have a little more water in it from a recent rainstorm. Not sure where the logs came from.
We drove through the Avery Point campus looking for American oystercatchers that someone spotted a few days ago. Didn’t see any, just a group of crows.
An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day. ~ Henry David Thoreau (Journal, April 20, 1840)