tranquility and high hopes

12.15.21 ~ mallard on Avery Pond, Eastern Point
his green head looked blue in the sunlight

It had been a month since we took a walk at the beach, when it was a windy day and we didn’t stay long. Walking in the woods has been our first choice since then. But Wednesday we woke up to calm winds so I put on my thermal layers and we went for a nice long beach walk. It was 36°F/2°C. First stop, Avery Pond.

the reeds by the pond looked so pretty in the sunlight
peaceful Canada geese
mallard floating by

Someone had seen hooded mergansers on this pond but no luck for me this time. Onward to Eastern Point Beach. It was a sunny day but there was a big cloud out over the water of Long Island Sound. Things were quiet and we had the whole beach to ourselves.

winter by the sea
falling tide
unusual purple-red seaweed
unusual orange-pink seaweed
gull keeping an eye on me
stray oak leaf
weeds in dune grass
New London Ledge Light from behind the dune
pine cones
driftwood with barnacles

I didn’t shiver from the cold even once. Connecticut’s positivity rate was 7.15%. My sister and I finished decorating the tree for the grandchildren. (Forest birds and animals, nisse, stars, snowflakes, hearts.) I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we all stay healthy and test negative the day before they arrive. Everyone is fully vaccinated and boosted except for the three-year-old…

’tis the season for birds

12.13.21 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum

Not the greatest pictures I’ve ever taken, but I was thrilled to see more birds than usual on this winter walk. Interesting that we didn’t encounter another human being on this day. Maybe everyone is shopping for the holidays. Not us! It was a sunny day with light westerly winds, a relatively comfortable 44°F/7°C with a feels-like temperature of 39°F/4°C. Connecticut’s positivity rate yesterday was 8.16%.

back of an American robin
back of a blue jay
blue jay, way high up in the tree
female northern cardinal on the ground
female northern cardinal, collecting wood chips?
white-throated sparrow bathing behind the reeds
white-throated sparrow, it was a quick bath
American robin, sitting very still but obscured by many twigs
tulip tree bark
the arboretum pond
hooded mergansers, second sighting!
hooded merganser
the only mallards shot I could get
my beloved eastern hemlock seed cones
view from the gazebo where we rested

The Brain — is wider than the Sky —
For — put them side by side —
The one the other will contain
With ease — and You — beside —

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #598)

for all who enjoy them

12.3.21 ~ Pequot Woods, Groton, Connecticut

This was my first visit to this 140-acre park in our town, but Tim hiked here many years ago with one of his friends. The Pequots were the first people living here before the English colonized what is now the town of Groton and the village of Mystic.

The infamous Pequot Massacre occurred near here on May 26, 1637.

Capt. John Mason led English, Mohegan, and Narragansett warriors in an attack on the main fortified Pequot village on the site of modern-day Mystic, Connecticut. The Pequot were surprised but quickly mounted a spirited defense that almost led to an English defeat. Realizing that he could not defeat the Pequot in the close quarters of the palisade, Mason ordered their wigwams set afire; some 400 Pequot men, women, and children were burned alive or slaughtered when they tried to escape.
~ Encyclopædia Britannica

There have been archaeological digs conducted in this park, unearthing musket balls and arrowheads. But there are no memorials here to tell the terrible story.

trailhead

After the English took over, this land was cleared for farming, and today there are plenty of stone walls remaining from those days, before farms were abandoned and many people went out west. The woods came back. Now we have hiking trails, wildlife viewing and an abandoned farm pond.

rough map carved in wood
the things this glacial erratic must have witnessed…

We gauge what we think is possible by what we know from experience, and our acceptance of scientific insights, in particular, is incremental, gained one experience at a time.
~ Bernd Heinrich
(Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival)

lots of stone walls
beech marcescence
interesting composition
shelf mushroom overlooking farm pond
colonial stone slab bridge
princess pine, first sighting since January
hummocks in the man-made farm pond
pair of mallards

It was a partly cloudy day, very cold, 41°F/5°C, with a feels-like temperature of 33°F/1°C, due to a moderate wind from the northwest. We had a nice conversation about cameras with the man in the next picture. He was trying to get a picture of the mallards, too, and wondered about my telescopic lens. His mother has a camera like mine and he’s considering getting one, too.

rescued greyhound bundled up for the cold
the uneven terrain
birdhouse in the middle of the farm pond
another delightful princess pine encounter

As far as coronavirus pandemic statistics go, I’ve decided to chronicle Connecticut’s positivity rate to make my tracking simpler. Looks like we’re headed into yet another surge. On the day of this walk our positivity rate jumped to 6.32%, the highest it’s been since last January.

a long narrow hilltop

11.9.21 ~ Candlewood Ridge, climbing up to the ridge

Last week we revisited Candlewood Ridge, where we had an amazing walk in April 2020. This day we didn’t get as far as we did the last time because Tim’s back and hip were acting up, but it was interesting to see how different things were with the passing of time.

For one thing, we remembered spotting a glacial erratic across the ravine but there was so much vegetation now that we couldn’t even see the other side of the ravine. So we walked north along the trail at the top of the ridge and spotted an erratic that Tim had stood next to last time. The brush was so thick we couldn’t get close to it.

I put a picture of Tim by it last time below. Nature is always changing the scenery!

4.17.20 ~ Tim with the same boulder a year and seven months ago
so many orbs

After we got to the erratic above we decided to turn back. But when we got to the side trail to go back down to the car I spotted another erratic farther south on the ridge, in the direction we hadn’t taken last time. So we found a spot for Tim to sit and rest and I took off on my own to get some pictures. Little did I know I was in for a good scare.

front of the huge glacial erratic

I took pictures of the front and then went around to the back of it and took some more.

back of the huge glacial erratic

As I was taking pictures of the back I became aware of the sound of panting approaching from behind me pretty quickly. I froze, and before I knew it a loose dog appeared. I have an intense fear of large and medium size dogs so it was all I could do to keep myself from panicking. I forced myself to remember Cesar Millan’s advice, “no touch, no talk, no eye contact.” I was glad I had the camera in my hands, for some reason it made me feel less vulnerable. The dog seemed uninterested in me and kept a respectable distance, although it did circle around me a few times.

side of the huge glacial erratic

I moved to the side of the erratic and kept taking pictures, ignoring the dog. I didn’t realize he got in two of the pictures! Then I decided to start walking back to Tim, followed by the dog. After I got within earshot I called him, calmly, and asked him to come to me. Meanwhile another dog came along the path, and then about the time Tim and I met the dogs’ owner came along, too. Phew! She continued north on the trail and we took the path down to the car. My heart was pounding.

path down from the ridge

Instead of heading straight home we took another autumn drive and wound up near the Mystic River. Mallard photo op!

And berry tangles!

Like a tide it comes in,
wave after wave of foliage and fruit,
the nurtured and the wild,
out of the light to this shore.
In its extravagance we shape
the strenuous outline of enough.

~ Wendell Berry
(The Arrival)

For some reason the berries and twigs made me think of calico cloth or old-fashioned wallpaper. Autumn lingers…

a walk in the park

8.4.21 ~ Wilcox Park, Westerly, Rhode Island

For our walk on Wednesday we went to Wilcox Park to enjoy another nice weather day. It was cloudy but not humid yet — yay! (And no poison ivy!)

nonbreeding male mallard

“The people shall have a park.” So saying, in 1898 Harriet Wilcox purchased and donated to the Memorial and Library association the seven acre Rowse Babcock estate in the heart of Westerly’s business district. Established as a memorial to her husband Stephen Wilcox, the moving force behind the building of the library, the park was expanded through several smaller additions until 1905. At this time, the purchase of the adjacent nine acre Brown estate essentially fixed the park’s boundaries as we know them today. … Wilcox Park features a beautiful landscape defined by an open meadow area with surrounding trees, a fish pond, monuments and perennial gardens.
~ Wilcox Park website

very old white oak

This white oak, above and below, is the oldest tree in Wilcox Park. The second picture is taken from the top of a hill. We climbed many granite steps to get to the top of the hill on the steep side, and then followed a path down the more sloping other side.

white oak from top of hill
a sugar maple with personality

This solitary little pink water lily caught my eye from a distance. When we got close to the pond to take its picture we were subjected to a disturbing tirade from a windbag pontificating against masks and vaccines. Talk about shattering a peaceful scene. Ignoring the know-it-all, we quickly moved on to the other end of the park.

back at the fish pond
fading rose
I don’t know what this is…
…but I fell in love with it

I don’t think we were the only ones who had fled the scene. There were lots more people strolling around near the lovely gardens where we ended up.


On the way home from the park we could see an osprey sitting in a nest on the osprey platform in the marsh in Paffard Woods, a preserve of the Avalonia Land Conservancy. By the time we pulled safely off the road it had flown away but we waited a while and then the osprey came back. My camera’s poor zoom lens was maxed out and overworked again!

8.4.21 ~ Paffard Woods, Stonington, Connecticut

In the last picture it looks to me like it’s trying to decide if another stick with moss on it is needed to finish off the project. A much more pleasant ending to our outing.

high tide with storm surge

2.1.21 ~ my river birch during the snowstorm
from my kitchen window

So, on Monday we got 10 inches of snow before it turned to sleet. Snow is fun, sleet is not. On Tuesday, Groundhog Day, we drove down to the beach around noon but didn’t stay too long. The gale was lingering with a storm surge at high tide and the wind was still howling. There were no shadows, therefore, according to tradition, spring will come early. Yay!

2.2.21 ~ young great black-backed gull, Eastern Point

It turned out to be a nice day for photographing gulls. 🙂 They love to pose.

another young great black-backed gull
which side is better?
a friendly ring-billed gull came over when I asked him to
he turned to listen to me talking to him
very high tide ~ waves past the lifeguard chairs
churning sea
storm surge almost higher than the breakwater

After marveling at the high water we drove up the road along the Thames River.

flooded marsh across the street from the beach
brant in Thames River
a pair of mallards very intent on something tasty in the flooded grass
they never lifted their heads and my fingers were freezing
another mallard landed nearby in the snow to investigate

And then we left, shivering but still happy to have gotten out for a short while! I didn’t see the song sparrows but then again, I didn’t wade through the soggy grass to get to their thicket. I hope they’re all right. The water was almost up to their home. It’s amazing how birds survive the storms.

winter-patience

1.13.21 ~ Stoddard Hill State Park
Ledyard, Connecticut

Several weeks after our first visit to this state park we returned to hike up the hill to the lookout, 183 feet (56 meters) above the river. The leaf-covered path started behind the cemetery and was much more steep than we had anticipated.

looking towards the Thames River from behind Stoddard Cemetery

It wasn’t long before I covered the camera lens and grabbed two strong walking sticks to steady myself. Tim already had his walking stick and was more steady on his feet, but had to stop frequently to catch his breath. I was starting to question the wisdom of embarking on this expedition! Especially when we lost the trail and decided to just keep going up…

several kinds of moss and lichen on a rotting log

When things leveled off a bit I got a few pictures…

mushroom
princess pine trying to poke through the layers of leaves

Near the top we turned around near this ledge and saw the cemetery way down below…

Stoddard Cemetery from high above

At last we could see an opening in the woods and views of the river, trees and railroad tracks below. Tim said it was a good thing we came in the winter because the leaves on the trees would have blocked these lovely scenes. Keep in mind, under these ridges is that jumble of glacial erratics pictured in the last post. We didn’t go close enough to the edge to peek down there.

even way up here there were a few dead fish

Only with winter-patience can we bring
The deep-desired, long-awaited spring.

~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh
(The Unicorn & Other Poems)

We found the trail again and managed to follow it all the way back down to the cemetery. I’m pleased to report that neither of us fell! I slipped a couple of feet once but my sticks saved me. 🙂 That’s probably enough of steep climbs for us!

hairy woodpecker, telephoto lens
same hairy woodpecker
mallards on Stoddard Cove, also telephoto lens
thin ice on Stoddard Cove

It was nice to finally stand on level ground and take a couple of bird pictures. Phew!

migrating sandpipers

8.16.20 ~ two kinds of sandpipers, Eastern Point

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 sandpiper

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.

semipalmated sandpiper

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…

herring gull

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.

pair of double-crested cormorants

I’m pretty sure the ducks below are mallards.

mallard
mallard looking out to sea

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.

Canada geese in Beach Pond

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)

crow walking along a seawall at Avery Point

It was definitely a bird walk!

misty hibiscus palustris

8.4.20 ~ Beach Pond

Before Tropical Storm Isaias arrived on Tuesday, and after filling the car with gas and dropping off our mail-in primary ballots, we went down to the beach and the turtle pond for an early morning walk. We never lost power here, in spite of the high winds, but I see on the news the rest of Connecticut was hit much harder.

swamp rose-mallow and common cattail

Unfortunately the storm didn’t bring much rain here, which we could have used because we’ve had so little this summer. In these pictures you can see that Beach Pond is almost dried up, all that remains are puddles and mud. Normally there would be lots of blue-gray water behind these wildflowers.

swamp rose-mallow and common cattail

My heart always skips a beat when I see the swamp rose-mallows are blooming! They seem to be a perfect shade of pink. When I was little, pink was my favorite color. My parents even let me paint my bedroom walls pink. Blue has replaced it as my favorite color in adulthood, although I think you could call the muted shade on my current living room walls a dusty rose.

purple loosestrife
pickerelweed
swamp rose-mallow (hibiscus palustris)
8.4.20 ~ Eastern Point
rabbit-foot clover

Down at the beach I noticed these curious tiny puffy pale pink flowers (above) growing between the rocks. And there was a solitary gull (below) letting the waves wash over his feet. You can tell the wind was just starting to pick up from his ruffled feathers.

ring-billed gull

After taking the online Joy of Birdwatching course at The Cornell Lab Bird Academy, I took their suggestion and joined the “Connecticut Birds” Facebook group. It’s a private group with about 6,500 members and you cannot share the beautiful pictures other members submit. What a treasure trove! And the members are so helpful when you need assistance identifying a bird.

non-breeding male or juvenile mallard

Even if you don’t know you need guidance! Back on June 24 I saw a solitary eider swimming in the river and honestly thought it looked like a juvenile loon. But someone in the group suggested it was a female common eider and that she had never seen one before! I looked it up and agree with her identification. At first I thought this bird was another common eider but now I’m going with a non-breeding male, or a juvenile, mallard, unless I get corrected again. 🙂