waterbirds in the tidal marsh

1.30.23 ~ Waterford Beach Park

It was a rare day with calm winds so, even though it was cloudy, we went to walk along a tidal marsh by the sea. The first thing to catch my eye was a gorgeous little oak tree, still hanging on to its leaves. Then I spotted a pair of hooded mergansers in the distance, so these pictures are heavily cropped. The female kept diving for food but the male seemed to be resting.

female hooded merganser
male hooded merganser

A tidal creek runs through the marsh.

trees reflected in the water in the tidal creek

A solitary herring gull was floating around aimlessly, slowly drifting in my direction. Wondering where all the others have gone. They always seem willing to pose for me.

Somewhat disappointed by the lack of bird sightings we were on our way back to the car when I spotted a great blue heron on the other side of the marsh. Just as I got into a good position to photograph him, he took off! Frustrating… But, lucky for me he was just headed for a spot even closer to me and the other birds. Yay!

great blue heron, hunting
noticing something in the water
getting ready to strike
making a stab at it
oh well, not this time

I’ve been getting pictures of great blue herons for a few years now and this was the first time I’ve had one facing the camera. I had never noticed that pretty pattern running down the front of its neck before! It’s not even illustrated in my field guide. So I’m very excited about my new “discovery.”

kinds of bark, a water view

1.15.23 ~ Town’s End

After a couple of years we finally made it back to this little 6-acre nature preserve, again in the winter. We really must try to get back here in a different season. The property is tucked between houses, a highway and Beebe Cove. Things are very drab this time of year so we took advantage of the new tree identification signs and enjoyed looking more closely at the different kinds of tree bark found in our neck of the woods.

I climbed up on the huge boulder this time and Tim took this picture of me with his cell phone. Last time we came he climbed up and I took the picture. You can see those pictures here.

view from the top, looking down on the trail leading to a tidal marsh and Beebe Cove
glacial erratic sitting on top of the boulder
view from below the boulder

I’ve seen many sassafras saplings over the past couple of years on our walks in the woods. I recognize them from their three differently shaped leaves. I wonder how many full grown trees I’ve walked by, not recognizing them. I was delighted to find myself in a small grove of them here, maybe 20 mature sassafras trees very close to the cove. Note to self: come back in other seasons to see what they look like leafed out in the spring and summer and in fall colors.

Beebe Cove

On this day it was 36°F/2°C and cloudy with a bit of a north wind. Today it was too cold and wet to go outside, for us anyway, so this morning I did some yoga for the first time in months. It felt so good!

neon green and long plumes

4.22.22 ~ Bride Brook Salt Marsh, Rocky Neck State Park

It’s breeding season at the salt marsh. All these pictures were of great egrets who were close enough to photograph. We also saw ospreys flying on and off their nests, Canada geese honking up a storm and quite a few ducks paddling around, but out of reach from my camera, even with the tripod which Tim lugged around for me. 💙

The pristinely white Great Egret gets even more dressed up for the breeding season. A patch of skin on its face turns neon green, and long plumes grow from its back. Called aigrettes, those plumes were the bane of egrets in the late nineteenth century, when such adornments were prized for ladies’ hats.
~ All About Birds website


After enjoying our birdwatching at the salt marsh we drove over to the nature center to check on mama goose. Monday night we had a nor’easter with lots of wind and rain so we checked on her Tuesday morning. She had turned around in the nest. When we checked again on Friday (pictures below) she was still in Tuesday’s position so we had to walk part way around the pond to get some pictures of her. Papa goose was there on Tuesday but nowhere to be found on Friday. We don’t know if we should be concerned or not.

4.22.22 ~ Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center

Earlier this week the dishwasher died. It was buzzing and when I went to turn it off I got a shock. Our condo was built in the 1970s so it has aluminum wiring. We’ve always had electrical problems with the dishwasher connection and have gone through quite a few since we moved in here nearly twenty-nine years ago. The last one died in 2018. Even though the technicians installing them assure me that the goop they use to connect the aluminum wiring to the dishwasher wiring is safe and effective, I refuse to believe it any more. And so I have decided this time there will not be a new dishwasher.

skunk cabbages are flourishing

I feel surprisingly zen about it. I thought of my grandmother who enjoyed doing her dishes by hand for her whole life. I remember her telling me it was her favorite household chore. As a child I disliked the task intensely and was utterly fascinated by her revelation. But now I’m finding the time spent doing dishes by hand meditative and mindful.

???

Thinking about all that is happening in Ukraine I feel grateful to simply have some dishes to do. Connecticut’s covid positivity rate was climbing all week, and reached 8% on Friday. Sigh… Looks like we need more practice living with uncertainty.

sunlight by the sea

10.15.21 ~ Waterford Beach Park

This is my second annual Walktober post with Robin over at breezes at dawn. If you would like to, click the link to learn more about it and perhaps join us. Everyone is welcome! 🍂

great blue heron

For our walk I decided to visit a place my Birding in Connecticut book suggested. We had never been to Waterford Beach Park before. There was a long path through a wooded area and then through a salt marsh and then over a dune to get to the beach. And then we had a pleasant walk up and down the scenic beach on Long Island Sound, although the sand flies were pretty bad that day. It was also unseasonably warm. A few people were arriving with beach chairs as we were leaving.

great egret

Great blue herons stay here for the winter. I thought great egrets flew south but apparently during mild years they stay as far north as Massachusetts. The summer ones in Groton are gone, maybe they come over here for the winter. 🙂 Or maybe the warm weather has merely postponed their departure. Tim noticed the interspecies friendship moment in the picture below.

great blue heron and great egret together
(taken from the John A. Scillieri, Jr. Overlook Wetlands path)

Waterford Beach Park offers nearly 1/4 mile long stretch of sandy beach and an extensive tidal marsh. Visitors have the rare opportunity to experience an unmodified natural beach with outstanding views of Long Island Sound.
~ Town of Waterford website

path over the tidal marsh and dune, leading to the beach

I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.

~ Wendell Berry
(The Peace of Wild Things)

tidal creek coming from Alewife Cove
beach roses

The beach views took our breaths away! A friendly town employee greeted us and when we told him we had never been there before he kindly filled us in on all sorts of events held there. A summer pass is quite expensive though, so I suspect all our visits will be off-season when there is no entrance fee.

looking west

Since we started looking for nature walks when the pandemic began we still keep finding “new” places near home that we’ve never been to before. It’s a good thing, though, since our health problems keep us from traveling too far away from our nest.

squabbling gulls

We spent quite a bit of time watching the gulls at the west end of the beach. They were having a feast. I can’t figure out if they are juvenile herring gulls or juvenile great black-backed gulls. And I don’t know what kind of creature they were eating inside those shells.

(?) the gulls were feasting on these
this calm one must have finished eating
looking east
slipper shell
art in the sand
beach rose and sand, summer lingering…

As we headed back through the marsh we could see out past Alewife Cove to the lighthouse we usually see from our beach. From our beach it has nothing but the water of Long Island Sound behind it. I’m not sure what the land mass is behind it from this vantage point. I’m going to try to find a map to study…

New London Ledge Light from tidal marsh at Waterford Town Beach

It looks like our fall colors are arriving later this year. We’ve been avoiding the woods because of the mosquitoes, of which we’ve had a bumper crop. I didn’t appreciate it at the time but last year’s drought kept the mosquitoes away and made all those autumn walks in the woods possible. May a first frost arrive here soon!

Thank you, Robin, for hosting Walktober! 🍂

a castle by the river

6.23.21 ~ Gillette Castle State Park
East Haddam, Connecticut

Another gorgeous day of mild temperatures and low humidity presented itself on Wednesday, so off we went to visit a small castle in Connecticut. The last time we were there was in 1981, when the gypsy moth infestation was in full swing. 40 years ago — where does the time go? My memories are of trees stripped of their leaves and our three-year old son stomping on every single caterpillar in his path. And there were many. It was slow going…

Wiliam Gillette as Sherlock Holmes lithograph
1900 Library of Congress Collection

The castle sits high above the Connecticut River. It was designed by William Gillette (1853-1937), an American stage actor who famously portrayed Sherlock Holmes in multiple productions. He lived in his castle from 1919 until his death. We couldn’t get any indoor pictures but it was a very enjoyable and informative tour. (We were required to wear masks inside the castle and the visitor center.) The man owned 15 cats and had designed many built-in features to entertain them, like a round table with wooden toys dangling off the edge.

Connecticut River, viewed from the castle

Looking at the river we spotted the ferry crossing from Hadlyme to Chester, which brought back another memory. One day when the caterpillar crusher was a teenager he wanted to visit a certain obscure comic book store, far from home and on the other side of the river. We went by the interstate but I decided we would take a side trip on the way home to locate an ancestor’s gravestone at a cemetery on this side of the river, and that we would take the car over the river on the little ferry. It was an adventure!

Chester/Hadlyme Ferry

Gillette also designed a short-line, narrow gauge train with three miles of track on the grounds of his 184-acre estate.

From the 1920s through the ‘30s, Gillette’s personal railroad amused visiting dignitaries from Albert Einstein to Calvin Coolidge as it carried them across bridges, trestles, and through a tunnel Gillette designed himself. The 18-inch-gauge railroad included electric- and steam-powered locomotives, two Pullman cars, and an observation car. In the 1940s the tracks and train engines were sold to Lake Compounce in Bristol. They were donated back in the 1990s and a restored passenger car is currently on display at the castle’s visitor center.
~ Connecticut History website

“Grand Central Station”
???mysterious substance hanging from ceiling of train station???
looking out from the train station towards the river
Gillette Castle from a different angle
stone wall along a driveway
entrance to ???
stone wall along a walkway

Tim spotted a bird high up in a tall tree and I did the best I could with the telephoto lens and no tripod! My first pictures of an indigo bunting!!! A lovely way to end the visit.

indigo bunting

But that wasn’t the end of the outing. On our way to the castle I had spotted a picturesque body of water and Tim had spotted a place where we could pull off the road to look at it. So on the way back we stopped. There were no signs so it took a bit of investigating when I got home to identify it.

6.23.21 ~ Whalebone Cove
Lyme, Connecticut
freshwater tidal marsh
dome-shaped beaver lodge of sticks and wood
lovely summer colors
more summer colors

And then I spotted what looked to be part of the bark on that dying tree in the first picture above. But when I zoomed in it turned out to be a bird! The bird never moved, except to turn its head, the whole time we were there. Flitting around it were two other birds who never landed for more than a second, but I managed to get the last picture below of one of them. I was able to steady my arms by leaning on the car. With help from the good folks at the What’s This Bird? Facebook group it seems to be a fledgling barn swallow and its parents.

juvenile barn swallow
barn swallow

We stopped at our favorite restaurant on our way home again and wondered how many more of these delightful days we will have before the heat and humidity return and settle in…

salt marsh, forest and scrubland

3.30.21 ~ Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, Connecticut

Recently my blogging friend Linda, over at Walkin’, Writin’, Wit & Whimsy, has been posting about her visit to the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, and this inspired me to finally visit Connecticut’s own national wildlife refuge. I’ve lived in Connecticut most of my life and had never been! We decided to start with the Salt Meadow Unit in Westbrook, closest to home.

visitor center

Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge is comprised of 10 units stretched across 70 miles of Connecticut’s coastline. It was established in 1972 and was originally called Salt Meadow National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was renamed in 1987 to honor the late U.S. Congressman Stewart B. McKinney, who was instrumental in expanding it.
~ Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge website

welcoming start of the Loop (Green) Trail
a spent heart leaf dangling in the forest
the trail was wide and well maintained
young and old
wildlife viewing platform

We were very excited to reach the wildlife viewing platform overlooking the salt marsh. Unfortunately, though, we did not see a single waterbird, even though we waited patiently for a while. Wrong time of year or maybe wrong time of day…

the Menunketesuck River runs through the Salt Meadow
looking south
looking down ~ mud
signs of human habitation in the past

I was surprised to find an andromeda bush (on the right) in the woods. Perhaps it originated in the garden of Esther Lape & Elizabeth Read, who owned the property and donated it to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 1972.

andromeda aka lily-of-the-valley bush
someone planted hundreds of bulbs along the trail
rotting tree trunk
a little dollop of sunshine
squiggle art
twisty art
new green
chionodoxa

Looking forward to returning some day to take the Marsh (Blue) and Woodcock (Orange) Trails. And maybe to see some birds!

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.

midwinter in self-quarantine

12.21.20 ~ 7:11 am, foggy winter solstice sunrise

After nine months in self-quarantine life still seems pretty bizarre. The coronavirus pandemic still rages and is getting worse with every day. Our fervent hope is that getting everyone vaccinated will turn things around sooner than later. Two of our elderly relatives-in-law have caught it, one is still fighting for his life in the hospital and the other is still sick and isolating at home. Some of Tim’s friends have lost loved ones. These are truly dark days.

Since I took a sunset picture for the summer solstice in June I decided to take a sunrise picture for the winter one. But we had fog and clouds on solstice morning, not even a hint of daybreak in the sky. There was a travel advisory for black ice on the roads so we stayed home and I took the picture from an upstairs window.

We had tried to take a walk on Saturday but found a sheet of ice on top of the snow making it too hazardous to continue. So instead of attempting another trek out on Monday I put Grandfather Frost out on our balcony, hoping to catch him casting the longest shadow of the year at noon. At first there was no sun and no shadow but by some miracle the bright star came out from the clouds right at solar noon for just a quick minute! I took the picture and then it disappeared again. (If I had known where the railing shadows would fall I would have located him standing fully in the sunshine!)

12.21.20 ~ 11:46 am, solar noon
longest shadow of the year!

A year indoors is a journey along a paper calendar; a year in outer nature is the accomplishment of a tremendous ritual. To share in it, one must have a knowledge of the pilgrimages of the sun, and something of that natural sense of him and feeling for him which made even the most primitive people mark the summer limits of his advance and the last December ebb of his decline. All these autumn weeks I have watched the great disk going south along the horizon of moorlands beyond the marsh, now sinking behind this field, now behind this leafless tree, now behind this sedgy hillock dappled with thin snow. We lose a great deal, I think, when we lose this sense and feeling for the sun. When all has been said, the adventure of the sun is the great natural drama by which we live, and not to have joy in it and awe of it, not to share in it, is to close a dull door on nature’s sustaining and poetic spirit.
~ Henry Beston
(The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod)

12.21.20 ~ yule tree

We kept trying to get a decent picture of our lovely “snowball and icicle” tree but our cameras refused to focus — at least you can get a vague impression of it from this one. I suspect the camera doesn’t know what to do with the little lights and glass reflections. Then again, I’ve never mastered the art of indoor photography. Outdoor light is my friend. I tried to get a few close-ups of ornaments with mixed results. The best ones follow….

May your holidays be merry and bright and full of blessings and gratitude. As the light returns and as our days grow longer may the coming year sparkle with hope, love and peace. 🌲

reflections

12.11.20 ~ Barn Island Wildlife Management Area
Pawcatuck, Connecticut

Somehow a week passed between our walks and I was feeling the definite lack of my regular endorphin boost. How did that happen? Some of the time was spent decorating our tree, which is almost done. I’m waiting on a mail order of ornament hooks. For some reason I ran out of them before all the pretty glass icicles made it onto the tree. But mostly I’ve been puttering around aimlessly.

Barn Island is the largest coastal wildlife management area in the state. It has about 1,000 acres of deciduous forest and tidal saltmarshes and lovely views of Little Narragansett Bay. The area supports “at least 9 State-listed avian species.”

clouds reflected in a tidal creek

I love it here, even if we didn’t see any birds this time. That might be because several couples were there walking their dogs. One couple was even letting their two large rambunctious dogs off the leash, putting them on the leashes when they saw us and then letting them go again after they had passed. Infuriating!

After a still winter night I awoke with the impression that some question had been put to me, which I had been endeavoring in vain to answer in my sleep, as what — how — when — where?
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Walden)

I’m missing my grandchildren. Most of the time I don’t dwell on it because I’m so grateful that we’re all safe and have incomes and food and roofs over our heads, the basics that so many Americans have lost or are losing soon. But recently, on a video call, Finn, age 2, called me Grammy for the first time, and the sound of his little voice coming into his own tugged at my heart.

Little Narragansett Bay in the distance
tidal creek

And then there was the evening that Katherine, age 6, created a solar system model out of Play-Doh. I watched for about an hour as she told me about the different planets and that the first four were rocky and the last four were gaseous. I was captivated.

spotted wintergreen
moss and lichen

Another morning I got a phone call, Katherine wanted to know if I still had the Barbie Animal Rescuer set she played with here over a year ago. Yes! It is waiting right here in the living room for her next visit. When she visited us that November (2019) I meant for her to take it home with her but she said no, it was to stay at Grammy’s to be played with here. We had such fun playing with it together and I had wondered if she would remember that, and she did.

tidal creek

Katherine has lost four of her baby teeth. And Finn, an agile little guy who loves speeding around on his scooter with the greatest of ease, wound up tripping over his bean bag chair in the middle of the night, hitting and cutting his lip with his tooth on the bedframe and getting 7 stitches! But it’s healing up well and the scar is almost invisible.

trees reflected in tidal creek

The beauty of the earth answers exactly to your demand and appreciation.
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Journal, November 2, 1858)

I trust that the walkers of the present day are conscious of the blessings which they enjoy in the comparative freedom with which they can ramble over the country and enjoy the landscape.
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Journal, February 12, 1851)