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.”

winter wanderings

1.22.23 ~ Leo Antonino Preserve, Groton, Connecticut
first brook crossing on the yellow trail

On a cold and cloudy winter morning we decided to explore a relatively new open space property pretty close to home. Leo Antonino Preserve was acquired by the Avalonia Land Conservancy in 2018. What a pleasant surprise we had as we meandered along the loop trail, so many twists and turns, ups and downs and bubbling brooks to cross. We haven’t had any accumulating snow this January, not even a coating. But the woods did smell like winter and the crisp cold air soon gave us rosy cheeks and runny noses.

spotted wintergreen

We were curious about this mysterious black stuff we saw on lots of the beech trees. Is it another symptom of beech bark disease?

The Leo Antonino Preserve is an unexpected tract of woods, wetland, rock outcroppings and erratics … The trail includes short sections of wide-open travel on packed earth and longer stretches of single-file trail that are rocky and rooty with elevation changes. The trail travels through areas of beech and oak and along vernal pools and active brooks. Erratics and upthrust sections of granite illustrate the geologic history of this section of Connecticut. Also illustrative of the history of this property, the yellow trail features the wreck of an old Chevy truck. The section of the yellow trail north of the Chevy is the most challenging with a scramble over a steep rocky ridge.
~ Avalonia Land Conservancy website

beech marcescence
very green mosses were everywhere

We made several crossings over a (or two?) brook. There were no bridges so we used the stepping stones, feeling grateful that we didn’t slip on the mosses!

another crossing
Tim left the trail, climbed the hill and then appeared from behind these erratics
yet another crossing
the wreck of an old Chevy truck
spotted wintergreen
a rusting metal circle hanging from a branch
ferns growing on top of a rock outcropping
lichen with moss
moss and lichen on different levels
sitting on top of a rocky ridge
American wintergreen
woodpecker work, I presume
???

Near the end of the trail we spotted these black lines on the path. I can’t help wondering if it’s the same black stuff we saw on the beeches…

I’ve been trying to be more selective and to include fewer pictures in my posts, but I had to make an exception for this one. When we started this hike I didn’t expect to take many pictures but it seemed like around every turn there was something interesting to notice. We’re looking forward to returning and trying the blue trail through these woods.

moss, raptors, skunk cabbage

1.18.23 ~ Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center

It’s hard to believe we haven’t been back to the nature center since June! For this nice walk we found lots of mosses to satisfy some craving for color. And we enjoyed seeing the latest patients in the outdoor rehab enclosures.

peregrine falcon
broad-winged hawks
the female is larger
broad-winged hawk
skunk cabbage emerging — too early?

Mosses are prolific under the moist shaded canopy of evergreens, often creating a dense carpet of green. But in deciduous forests, autumn makes the forest floor virtually uninhabitable by mosses, smothering them under a dark wet blanket of falling leaves. Mosses find a refuge from the drifting leaves on logs and stumps which rise above the forest floor like buttes above the plain. Mosses succeed by inhabiting places that trees cannot, hard, impermeable substrates such as rocks and cliff faces and bark of trees. But with elegant adaptation, mosses don’t suffer from this restriction, rather, they are the undisputed masters of their chosen environment.
~ Robin Wall Kimmerer
(Gathering Moss: A Natural & Cultural History of Mosses)

a rusted farm relic weathering by the pond

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!

moments of wonder and joy

1.7.23 ~ song sparrow at Moore Woodlands

Resuming our walks! When we arrived at Moore Woodlands the birds were singing and it sounded like spring. It was 44°F/7°C and cloudy on this warm-for-January day. As we started walking around the meadow a song sparrow came down to the bushes and started singing for us. This made my whole day!

standing out in the meadow
lone tree in the meadow
beech marcescence

It is not enough to weep for our lost landscapes; we have to put our hands in the earth to make ourselves whole again. Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.
~ Robin Wall Kimmerer
(Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge & The Teachings of Plants)

wondering what those rusty maroon blobs are growing with the reindeer moss
~ amber jelly roll mushrooms ~
(thanks to Eliza for the identification)

In the woods we found a great many eastern red cedar trees that must have come down in a storm. Where they fell across the trail they had been cut and moved off to the side. It was interesting seeing the redness of the freshly cut wood.

We also saw a lot of English ivy growing on the ground and climbing some of the trees. I did some research when I got home and learned that the ivy is invasive and greatly weakens the trees they climb, making them more likely to fall during strong winds. It looks like the Avalonia Land Conservancy has been working to remove the ivy from this patch of woodland. We also saw quite a few eastern white pine saplings.

It also looks like the land conservancy is starting to identify the trees with little tags! I’d like to get more familiar with our local trees and welcome this new aid. This was a lovely first walk for the new year. 🙂

walking clockwise instead

12.18.22 ~ Cognitive Garden at Avery Point

Whenever we take a walk at Avery Point we start out on the path that follows the sea wall to the lighthouse and then we go up a little hill and return to the parking lot by cutting across the UConn campus. But, with the thought of keeping the sun out of our eyes on the return, we decided to do the opposite this time, going clockwise instead of counterclockwise around our usual loop. Things looked so different!

There wasn’t much to see in the Cognitive Garden…

logs standing at attention
a cement orb lying in the grass, a little moon
perfect spot for a gnome to sit and contemplate
lamppost sandwiched between two trees

After crossing the campus we came to the top of the little hill and were surprised to see a view of the lighthouse from higher up. A whole new perspective…

Avery Point Light
lantern room and cupola
light shining through from the other side
— what on earth is hanging inside there?
winter sun softened by the clouds
lichen Tim spotted on a post
a cairn on top of the sea wall
meteorological tower
shriveled beach rose hip
Tyler House on Eastern Point
Black Rock (where the cormorants hang out
about 200 yards south of our beach)
& New London Harbor Light

As we rounded the point for the final stretch to the parking lot we encountered a biting northwest wind and dramatically increased our pace. I was glad to have on my layers and my Norwegian wool hat — the best souvenir from our trip to Norway — but I had forgotten my thermal gloves. Maybe by our next walk I will remember to bring everything needed.

in the fields of the commonplace

12.9.22 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway

It was time to dust off the camera and resume taking our walks again. The big project is, for all intents and purposes, finally completed. But, I haven’t figured out how to write about it yet, so that long story will have to wait until after the holidays. Now to prepare for the coming visit of our darling grandchildren!

I added a layer of thermal leggings under my jeans for the first time this season and then we enjoyed the winter scenery along the Poquonnock River Walkway. We might be getting a coating of snow this afternoon. I love the cloudy light before snowstorms.

But the winter sun was shining brightly for the day of our walk, illuminating the tops of the reeds in a magical way.

Let us dig our furrow in the fields of the commonplace … and leave to others, more favoured by fortune, the job of explaining the world’s mechanism, if the spirit moves them.
~ Jean-Henri Fabre
(The Life of the Fly: With Which are Interspersed Some Chapters of Autobiography)

We came across a large flock of house sparrows flitting around in the bushes along the boardwalk — how commonplace can it get? But a couple of them actually stayed put long enough to get their portraits taken.

It felt very good getting out of the house again and enjoying the ordinary, simple things the natural world has to offer.

wintering purple sandpipers

11.23.22 ~ Eastern Point

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.

purple sandpiper, #75

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

clam shell with polka dots?
a gull stretching its left wing and left foot
gull footprints through the garnet sand
the long winter shadow of an oak leaf
cormorant silhouettes and the lighthouse
sand fences ready for winter

It was a wonderful break, and then we had a good Thanksgiving, and now, back to work on my project!

solitary boulders, stranded here and there

11.2.22 ~ a trail at Bluff Point State Park & Coastal Reserve

Hello, November! Taking an afternoon walk instead of our usual morning saunter proved to be invigorating — we went on for an hour and a half! There are many side trails at Bluff Point and we took a couple of them, finding some summery greens, a few fall colors and many bare trees, ready for winter. And of course, glacial erratics at every turn.

dried up browned ferns surround a glacial erratic
birch leaf

As we were walking along we were surprised to witness the silent flight of an owl. We did not see or hear it swoop down to catch its prey, but we suddenly heard the moment of capture, a rustling of the dry leaves on the ground, and then saw it fly up and away, soundlessly, carrying its squirrel-sized victim.

dense woodland behind old stone wall
sunlit maple leaves

The entire Connecticut landscape is a gift of the glacier. … Our safe harbors, historic mill sites and early farm economy were made possible by an ice sheet that oozed down from Canada between 25,000 and 15,000 years ago. The ice sheet also gave us fertile lowlands along our large rivers, gracefully curved upland pastures, gravel riffles in trout streams, verdant marshes fronting shoreline villages, a patchwork of stone walls, bricks for colonial buildings and solitary boulders, stranded here and there as if they were hillside shipwrecks. All of these are glacier gifts.
~ Robert Thorson
(“Connecticut’s Glacial Gifts”, Hartford Courant, August 31, 2003)

American wintergreen

We also saw a woodpecker and a nuthatch, but couldn’t get a decent picture of either of them. It was loads of fun navigating all the side trails weaving through the woods, deciding which fork to take several times. It was almost like a maze and we did backtrack a few times when we seemed to be going in the wrong direction.

sassafras leaf
a squirrel for Linda

When we got back to the parking lot a man was feeding a couple of squirrels. I think he must be doing it regularly because the squirrels were hanging out there very close to him. There were a few birds scolding this squirrel, impatient to have at some of those seeds he was sitting on. It was such a pleasure to be deep in the woods on a warm and lovely November afternoon.