sandpiper, my gull friend

7.16.21 ~ Eastern Point

Ugh. Unrelenting tropical humidity… Last night we sat down on our bench at the beach and sweltered… I was hoping to see my gull friend because we hadn’t seen him since the end of June. I miss him sitting on the post in front of us… But it looked like we weren’t going to see any shorebirds so we watched the sailboats going by instead. They were coming in because a thunderstorm was rumbling in the distance.

When we couldn’t take the heat any longer we walked over to a bench in the shade on the other side of Tyler House, and looked out over the rocks and breakwaters. I spotted a tiny little bird way out and strained to make it out. It finally came a little closer.

spotted sandpiper

And, lucky for me, the robin-sized shorebird came even closer! The spotted sandpiper is a new one for me. 🙂

spotted sandpiper

After taking way too many pictures of the sandpiper, most of them blurry and deleted already, I sat down and felt grateful for the sea breeze finally starting to come in from the sound. And then The Captain flew by in front of us! He flew back to the other side of Tyler House and we followed, and sat down on our usual bench. But he wouldn’t come down to his fence post. He stayed up there on that ugly lamp post. There were no children running around this day so I wonder why he won’t come down.

We waited for a good while but he wouldn’t budge. So we started for the car. Looking back at him it looked like he was doing some stretching. Amazing his sense of balance up there!

Good night, dear summer friend! I hope to see you again soon.

gull, oystercatcher, willet

7.14.21 ~ Eastern Point, juvenile herring gull

So, last night we went down to the beach for a few minutes before getting back home for our scheduled video call with our son and daughter-in-law. The humid air was oppressive and Tim wouldn’t have lasted down there much longer anyway.

juvenile herring gull portrait

I was content to capture a few gull portraits, but then, out of the corner of my eye I spotted an oystercatcher way out on the breakwater. Zoomed out. I don’t think this one is related to the family group we’ve been seeing because it is banded.

banded American oystercatcher

While I was trying to get a clear picture of the oystercatcher I detected some movement near it and finally spotted a bird I’ve never seen at our beach before, a willet! (I think I may have seen them on Cape Cod, but never this close.) When it flew from the breakwater over to the rocks in front of us we could see a bold white and black stripe running the length of each wing. But once it landed on the rocks it walked all over them and didn’t fly again before we had to leave. We were mesmerized.

willet

And after that brief but exciting visit to the beach we got back home to the air conditioning and had a wonderful long video chat with the kiddos. 💙

after the storm

7.9.21 ~ Eastern Point, mouth of Thames River

Tropical Storm Elsa cleared up in time for us to have our supper down at the beach. Didn’t see any storm damage, although other parts of Connecticut got some flash flooding. We had 4 inches of rain. The winds weren’t too bad but it was still pretty breezy down by the water. The wildflowers on the rocks looked freshly showered.

We had two gulls to keep us company. They waited politely and posed for pictures but never got a bit of food from us.

ring-billed gull
herring gull
herring gull feet

After we ate we took a walk over to look at the island where we saw the great blue heron the other day but he wasn’t there. Instead, we saw a Canada goose hanging out with the American oystercatchers. If only I could get closer!

And as we passed by the song sparrow’s thicket we saw one of them. When he faced the sun and the wind he looked fine, and when he turned and faced away from the wind his feathers ruffled.

It was good to get out of the house. Still trying to wrap our minds around the latest COVID-19 news, that 4 million people have died of it worldwide. (Probably many more than that.) Even though things seem almost back to normal around here, the fact is that most of the world is still in a very precarious situation.

We worked on a jigsaw puzzle during the storm… Now it’s back to the heat and humidity and thunderstorms…

threatening weather

7.7.21 ~ Eastern Point
herring gull, second winter?

This morning we have woken up under a tropical storm warning. What’s left of Hurricane Elsa looks like it will come bother us after all. It’s been a wild week. Hot and humid with violent thunderstorms in the evenings. Last night we snuck down to the beach before one arrived, listening to the rumbles in the distance.

We didn’t see The Captain but I had fun taking pictures of plants and an assortment of gulls passing the time on the rocks and fence posts. Much as I love my gulls I do have a terrible time trying to figure out what year they are!

herring gull, breeding adult
ring-billed gull cooling off with a drink
rabbit-foot clover

After walking around the property I spotted a great blue heron out on the island where the cormorants usually position themselves. Never seen one at our beach before! He was pretty far away but I did the best I could.

great blue heron
great blue heron
great blue heron

I heard a song sparrow and then Tim spotted it way up at the top of a tree. (I usually see them in the thicket…)

song sparrow

I think another invasive species has arrived in our area. the European water chestnut is a freshwater aquatic plant released inadvertently into waters of the Northeast in the late 1800s. As of 2014 it hadn’t been seen in Connecticut but it is here now and has overtaken Avery Pond. It completely covers the water. Sigh… It’s very sad to see. Beach Pond, which I think is a salt pond, has not been affected.

dead water chestnut leaf?

Time to batten down the hatches!

my gull friend and oystercatchers

6.29.21 ~ The Captain is back!!! ~ Eastern Point

The weather has been brutal here, heat advisories, oppressive humidity, air quality alerts… What a relief that pandemic restrictions at the beach have been lifted, for the most part, so we can get out of the house for supper there, a tradition we had to skip last summer. And joy of all joys, on our first evening out, my gull friend with the mangled leg showed up!!!

He did a couple of flybys but didn’t land on the post in front of our bench. Perhaps he doesn’t remember us. It’s been a couple of years. But, more likely, it was because of a human family picnicking on the lawn. They were encouraging their children to toss food to the gulls (against the beach rules) and to then chase them, shouting and screaming at them, when they tried to get the food. If my friend had landed on his usual post he would have been pursued. I hope that family won’t be there the next time we go.

The Captain surveyed the situation from the top of a tall lamp post and I did manage to get a couple of pictures of him. I’m a little concerned because he was keeping his mouth open, a behavior I’ve not seen before. Tim thinks perhaps he was cooling off from the heat. I did some research and that does seem to be the case. Poor overheated gull.

For my newer readers who may be wondering who The Captain is… Back on August 27, 2011, almost ten years ago, I met him at our beach while we were waiting for Hurricane Irene to arrive. We’ve been friends ever since. When Tim & I have supper at the beach in the summer he will often come perch on the pole in front of our bench and keep us company while we’re eating. We never feed him so I like to think he has no agenda besides friendship. If you click on “The Captain” tag at the end of this post you will see all the posts tracing our history.

As I turned to leave my friend I heard the unmistakable calls of American oystercatchers. There was a family of five on the rocks, plucking hermit crabs out of the water, the parents teaching their young ones how to feed themselves. It was only a few weeks ago when we saw the parents flying around the rocks and so it looks like they did settle here this year, like they did seven years ago. Needless to say, I was walking on air!

The youngsters have the dark-tipped bills.
The adult bills are bright orange-red.

This juvenile was paying close attention to its parent’s demonstration.

American Oystercatchers probe sandy and stony areas for clams, oysters, and other mollusks, which they open by cutting or smashing. Much of their day is spent resting in roosts during high tide. They are vigorous, and very loud, during courtship displays, territorial conflicts, and interactions with intruders.
~ All About Birds website

The first hint to their presence is often their whistling call, which can be heard from a mile away.
~ All About Birds website

shells, seaweed, feathers

6.10.21 ~ herring gull, second year ~ Eastern Point

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)

mourning dove

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.

growing out of a crack in the rock

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.

double-crested cormorant

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!!!

forty years of birding

5.23.21 ~ Avery Point ~ killdeer

Sunday we took a walk at Avery Point on a hot day, the temperature was way above average for this time of year, but we can park on campus without a permit on the weekends so we decided to give it a try. A nice sea breeze made it bearable.

curious killdeer

A killdeer surprised me by standing very still, as curious about me as I was about him/her. Because the 30th anniversary of my mother’s death is coming up on Thursday, Mom and her love of birdwatching have been much on my mind. At home I decided to pull out her well-worn 1947 edition of A Field Guide to the Birds by Roger Tory Peterson, including her life list. She first saw a killdeer on March 17, 1951. She was 19 years old.

one last comment before scooting off

It looks like she started birding in earnest that year. There are a few birds marked with a check, which she probably remembered seeing before she started to keep a record. Lots of Florida birds were spotted in the 1960s, when I was a child and we made many trips down there to visit relatives. The last new bird she noted was a red-breasted nuthatch on December 20, 1989, 17 months before she died at the age of 59.

ants visiting a beach rose
I adore beach roses
beach rosebud
I only saw this one herring gull this day

Mom recorded 5 kinds of gulls: great black-backed, herring, California, ring-billed, and laughing.

not sure what this pretty bush is
still more new life late in the spring
bee collecting pollen
another beach rosebud
song sparrow

Mom recorded her song sparrow on March 20, 1951. This one was singing such a pretty song, the moment filled my heart with joy.

sunlit copper beech leaves
allium
allium?
daisy
salvia?

Funny thing was, I was hoping to find a Canada goose family with goslings, but we didn’t see any. People have been posting pictures of them in the beach’s Facebook group. Oh well. Encountering the killdeer was a welcome blessing, an even better experience. Another lesson in flexibility and living in the present moment. And it was nice that the killdeer led me to take a peek back into one of my mother’s life’s passions.

Mom first saw a mourning dove on May 23, 1951. A little synchronicity there. This walk was taken on May 23, 2021, seventy years later. Ever since my mother died I’ve been comforted by the mourning doves who keep coming to my garden and my balcony, as they keep reminding me of her presence and love.

waves, shorebirds, plants

9.21.20 ~ beach rose hips
Napatree Point Conservation Area, Watch Hill, Rhode Island

Now that summer is giving way to autumn we decided to go to Napatree Point again. An added incentive was the promise of big waves from Hurricane Teddy, churning away out at sea. It was lovely to walk and breathe in the sea air. The tide was coming in and the waves were bigger than usual, 6.5′ according to a surfing website. I even brought a blanket so I could sit on the beach for a while, and soak up the earth’s energy.

first glimpse of the sea from the dune
big waves breaking
fishing from the breakwater
one view from my blanket
Watch Hill Lighthouse
spectacular waves
the sound was stirring and calming at once
so much beauty

And then, much to my delight, two tiny birds flew in off the water and landed in front of us. We watched them for the longest time as they were feeding by the wrack line, and as they ran back and forth between the waves. If I’m making correct identifications, the larger one in front is a semipalmated plover and the smaller one in back is a semipalmated sandpiper. It was fun getting pictures from a sitting position.

shorebirds
semipalmated sandpiper (6″ long)
semipalmated sandpiper (15 cm long)
feathers stuck in the wrack line
semipalmated plover (7″ long)
semipalmated plover (18 cm long)
goldenrod, a classic sign of autumn
beach rose hoping for a little more summer
along the path
lots of things grow on the dunes
herring gull heading out for a swim in the bay

What a wonderful morning!

waning summer

9.13.20 ~ Eastern Point

Beach season ended with Labor Day weekend. We took a walk down there the following weekend and were greeted by this solitary gull on the rocks.

On the ocean, gulls are good luck. Gulls are strong, brave, commanding. They are harbingers of land, of fish just below the surface, of a coming storm. Legend has it they hold the souls of drowned sailors and fishermen, so killing one is bad luck.
~ Sara Anne Donnelly
(Yankee, July/August 2020)

nonbreeding adult laughing gulls

When we got down to the sand we found a large gathering of gulls hanging out. They have reclaimed the beach! I was delighted because the tiny laughing gulls were actually on the sand, which is a much more appealing backdrop than the asphalt parking lot where I usually see them. There was quite an assortment of sizes and colors.

juvenile laughing gull and nonbreeding adult herring gull
laughing gull, second winter and nonbreeding adult herring gull
juvenile laughing gull
nonbreeding adult laughing gull
nonbreeding adult ring-billed gull
laughing gull and herring gull, both nonbreeding adults
these two seemed to be great friends
At first I thought the large one might be a great black-backed gull because he seems pretty huge, but he doesn’t quite fit the description. I dusted off my “Gulls of the Americas” reference book and discovered that there has been some cross-breeding between the great black-backed and herring gulls. Maybe that’s what’s going on here…
perhaps a version of yoga tree pose
nonbreeding adult ring-billed gull
juvenile laughing gull
waning summer
weed and post art
jellyfish!

There really is a kind of insane beauty around us all the time. It’s just a question of learning to slow down, take a deep breath, and meet the moment.
~ Graham Nash
(Eye to Eye: Photographs)

It was fascinating watching this creature propelling itself through the murky water. It moves so fast I was surpised that some of the pictures actually came out!

The bars are still closed in Connecticut and now that the beach gate is open I’m sure it won’t be long before people start returning to the beach to socialize, bringing their dogs and leaving their trash, cigarette butts, and empty beer bottles. We will probably return to the woods soon, and try to do a better job of avoiding the poison ivy. Enjoying the autumn weather!