The first day of October, Yang and I journeyed to Windsor Locks for one of our favorite bicycle trails. It’s shorter than many of the ones we ride (about 9 miles round trip); however, the surrounding trees, along the Connecticut River on one side and the canal on the other, provided plenty of natural beauty-including natural habit for lots of interesting critters.
We wanted to make sure we got in a ride before too late in the season because the trail officially closes from November to April while the resident bald-eagle couple nest and raise their young. Sometimes they nest earlier than usual, so we lose out on a fall ride. The swift-flowing Connecticut River on one side and its attendant canal on the other provide them with plenty of fish and other tasty treats. As this picture shows, the nest is close enough to the trail for the eagles to be disturbed by passersby. Anyway, take a gander at that nest. Enormous, isn’t it?
As we started off at the trail head, I noticed that the lock gate had been held open by a log washed down into the canal. All the recent rain must have swollen the river so that it drove much debris down river and some over the dam to the canal. You can still see the canal wending beyond and banked by trees that we later found filled with Cedar Waxwings, Chickadees, Robins, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Those warblers must get some teasing with a name like that. Yet that rump is a lovely bight shade of yellow! Not my photo, though. The little guys move way to fast for us to photograph! This was my first ever sighting!
Here’s how the trail looked as we were starting off. You can see the leaves subtly shifting from green to soft autumn yellow. At the beginning of the trail, they created an almost chilly canopy, but not too cold. It was a gorgeous, sunny fall day, with bright sunlight and a soft blue sky. The perfect day for a bicycle ride! There were also hints of red sumac and orange maple splashing through the green and yellow, creating beautiful early-autumn accents. You can see the river and the opposite bank through the trees as well. Don’t these berries also add a wonderful dash of contrasting color?
Those berries were not only attractive to us! We saw fleets of Cedar Waxwings dashing from tree to tree, hopping about to snack on these and other berries. They are one of Yang’s favorite birds with their slick buff-colored feathers, crests, triangular black masks, and bright yellow borders on their tails. Apparently, these guys may sometimes feast on berries that have fermented, and then you never know who might stagger about the trees! Again, they moved way too fast and were too distant for us to take pictures. However, as with the Yellow-rumped Warblers, our trusty binoculars gave us a nifty view of them, even if we couldn’t capture them on film. Fortunately this site did.
We did see lots of neat critters that day, though we couldn’t always get a shot for one reason or another. I did get this picture of a beaver’s den on the bank of the opposite side of the canal. There were at least two of three of them along the way. Apparently the beavers are starting a development here. We also saw a majestic Great Blue Heron on the canal banks opposite, lots of Mallard’s hanging out, turtles basking in the sun on logs, and even a Cormorant scanning for fish from a dead tree extruding into the canal.
There was another neat creature whom I barely avoided hitting with my bike as he was stretched across the road.
Trigger warning- and I’m not referring to Roy Rogers’ horse- if you’re askeerd of SNAKES, scroll right past this paragraph.
I thought this guy was pretty cool! He extended nearly half way across the road, even semi-coiled. I think this is similar to one we saw in the marsh on the Kingston, RI trail. Is it a black snake? He seemed to just chill for a bit while Yang and I watched him, then WHOOSH! he was across the road, down the bank, and headed for water. I bet he’s glad that the eagles aren’t back yet, because they find guys like him pretty tasty.
Yang says so long to the snake.
I thought that now I’ll just drop some lovely images from the trail on you. Isn’t it beautiful the way the canal reflects the changing colors in the trees and brush?
I love this image of the power lines extending to a tower across the river. You can see some of the changing colors in the plantation and the beauty of the river and the soft blue skies dashed with clouds, their white shadowed with slatey blue.
I love the way the bitter-sweet-yellow leaves and softening greenery embrace and curve about the rusty maroon of the railroad bridge here.
The gorgeous brown-stone banks across the Connecticut ripple horizontally above the river.
There’s almost a Lovecraftian touch to the exposed roots of ancient trees snaking through and over the red rock on the other side of the canal- as if they were something sentient. Heh, heh, heh.
SNAKE TRIGGER WARNING AGAIN!
“I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DemIlle!”
Yellow-rumped Warbler: https://www.borealbirds.org/bird/yellow-rumped-warbler
Category Archives: herons
Birding with the Yangs
These past few weeks, Yang and I have had some wonderful bird sightings, sometimes, literally, in our own back yard. Case in point, one Friday, Natasha was meowing at the door all day. Then Rosalind was in the pantry window bird-chattering away, while I worked on my novel in the dining room. I stopped and suddenly became aware that I’d been hearing a high-pitched hawkish call. I got up and looked out the window in the dining room, and what did I see in the patch of sea roses, but two Merlins! One flew away, while the other hung out for some time – before attacking a sparrow who out-smarted him. I got these pictures through the window because I was afraid going outside would drive my visitor off. Hence, it’s much blurrier than I’d like. What do you think of this new guy? I haven’t seen him since, but I did find an ominous splash of tiny white bird feathers on the nearby back porch.
Our bird feeders have returned to us the usual suspects. Lots of Titmice and some Chickadees battle four pushy Blue Jays. We also have two male and one female Cardinal visiting. One of the males is pretty aggressive. While he’s fine with the little birds, he’ll go after the Blue Jays and drive them off! We also have Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Goldfinches wearing their winter buff, and even a Yellow-bellied Woodpecker. One day, a Carolina Wren gave me such a scolding when I came too near the juniper bush!
On a visit with friends on the Cape, we came across one of my favorite, but rarely seen, birds. At first, seeing the creature head on, I perceived a bird with a brownish head and chest with a white belly forming a “v” into the brown chest. I claimed I’d never seen such a bird before, until he took flight and I saw the luscious blue. Bluebirds! A good-sized flock of them! I noted in my Peterson’s that Bluebirds are usually found year round in New England mainly on the Cape. How appropriate! The Bluebird was one of my “must see” birds for the year. I still need to see an Indigo Bunting, a Piliated Woodpecker, and a Scarlet Tanager. It’s probably too late in the year for the first and last, but I’m holding onto hope for that Pterodactyl-sized woodpecker. The Bluebird photos are courtesy of Andrea Krammer.
Today, when we took a morning walk (about 7:00) on the Blackstone River Trail, we saw some interesting birds. A Great Blue Heron and a black Cormorant were fishing in the same part of the river. Then, atop a tall dead tree, we saw a bald eagle. We watched as he sat there majestically for some time before he soared off away from us and the river. We didn’t have the means to get a picture, so I’m borrowing this one below.
I can’t wait to see what the remainder of the year brings!
Source eagle image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eagle_on_roots_-_crop_3_(430008061).jpg
A Visit to the Connecticut Shore
In the midst of all that God-awful rain last week, we had a day full of sun and warmth on Tuesday. So we hopped in our car and headed for the Connecticut shoreline and some of our old haunts! First, we stopped at Bill’s seafood for our annual (and more often if we can!) fix of lobster rolls! Mmm, Bill’s has the best, with a handy helping of crisp and hearty french fries and cole slaw with a nice tang. You can see Yang enjoys his repast!
As usual, we sat on the deck, which is next to a river and salt marsh flowing to the sea. We especially love to do that because you always see loads of seabirds there. This time, we could espy teenage ospreys in their platform next out in the marsh, while wild cries overhead alerted us to their hunting parents flying overhead. We couldn’t take pictures because the platform was too far out, but we’d remembered to bring binoculars. so, we got a good look at the young osprey.
We also had the pleasure of seeing some less fierce feathered critters. We got a few pictures of some American Black Ducks, as you can see here.
There was also a mamma Mallard with her three babies scooting around. It was cute to watch her leisurely paddling while her kiddos worked those webbed feet furiously to keep up! Someone commented that this must be her second clutch, since they were so little so late in the season.
After Bill’s, it was off to Old Lyme to visit Joan Bennett at the Pleasant View Cemetery. there used to be a riding academy and horse-boarding farm across the street, so I used to think that Joan, who was a rider, would have found that view pleasant, indeed. Today, the grass wasn’t too bad in the cemetery, and it was filled with butterflies. I saw a Monarch, the Black Swallow Tail in this picture (thanks to Charmaine Kinton for the i.d.) and a beautiful bright yellow butterfly (no, not a Tiger Swallow Tail). I know Joan loved yellow and butterflies are symbols of the soul. Do you think she was saying “hi” to me? I also noticed that there was a sign for a house for sale on the street. should we all chip and buy it so that we visit our friend more easily – and keep the grass trimmed? I also noticed that Joan had a cousin, Patricia Morrison (not the actress), who died very young. Does anyone know the story there?
Anyway, we checked ourselves for ticks before we got in the car – we were in Lyme- then went off to Rocky Neck State Park. This park is a wonderful place to hit the beach or take hikes along trails. Once more, we saw several nesting platforms for ospreys with young ospreys in them. There was one that had a nest not as thick as the others, so we thought it was unfinished or abandoned. We found out later we were wrong. Once again, thank God for binoculars! We also saw many Cattle Egrets and Great Egrets, as well as a Kildeer! Yang even managed to get this shot of a Green Heron! So, in case you’re still wondering, what was the deal with the underdeveloped platform nest? Well, we were checking it out with the binoculars when a red-tailed hawk came sailing in. The hawk kept looking at something in the nest that we couldn’t see, but we suspect it was his/her family. Thanks to the binoculars, we got a great closeup of the bird’s enormous eyes, powerful hooked beak, and beautiful feather patterns. A formidable creature, indeed!
Finally, we moved on to the beach and then up to the huge, field stone pavilion that had been built in the 1930s as a WPA project. The building was one of the reasons Yang had wanted to come here. He’d been reading the draft of my third novel, Always Play the Dark Horse, and its description of the setting whetted his appetite to return to one of our favorite places to go walking. The pavilion is a long building with beautiful hard wood floors inside. Couldn’t you just picture a big band playing there, and people dancing on a summer’s eve with a tangy salt breeze cooling off all those hot cats and kittens? It turns out you can rent it for $3,750 for a gathering of under 200 people. A larger number is less expensive. Any one want to GoFund a swing night there – and I mean swing dancing!
There are also some beautiful views of the ocean from the pavilion.
Then we closed out the day with dinner at The Main Street Grille in Niantic – well, not exactly. We also went for a 30 minute walk on the boardwalk in town as well. No wonder I was limping on Wednesday and Thursday. Nevertheless, I was recovered enough to jitterbug, cha-cha, rhumba, and fox trot to Dan Gabel and the Abletones at Moseley on the Charles on Friday. Good bless heating pads and Advil!
Autumnal Woodlawn Cemetery – No Blinking!
Three years ago, Yang and I took an autumnal visit to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. This was our second visit. Our first was in the summer, and we took many photos of the gorgeous sepulchres with their ornate carvings of lions and sphinxes, as well as beautiful stained glass inside. This time, with the fall leaves beginning their metamorphoses into vivid colors, we concentrated on the outdoor imagery. I love the way this angel is framed by the flaming curve of the branch and leaves above it.
I also found this figure fascinating, straining for freedom, emerging from his marble prison – perhaps to burst the bonds of the body’s clay and fly away on the sharp wind of the north to eternity.
We found this image especially beautiful, the soft orange of the tree leaves providing a brilliant background contrast to the soft grey/white of the stone and the gentle and flowing draperies of woman portrayed here.
This woman draped meltingly over the tomb stone in her anguish was a deliciously melancholy image to ponder. I actually manged to find a piece similar to this monument from Toscano to add to my own Halloween graveyard in my front yard this year.
I’m fascinated by this monument. My guess is that the chap memorialized in Roman senatorial garb must have been a judge or a high political figure. I hope he met a better end than Julius Caesar! I thought the warm orange of the tree behind his imposing statue made an appealing contrast. Stern but not harsh features on this chap.
Happily, we found a wonderful living denizen in the cemetery. Woodlawn also contains a beautiful reflecting lake, and this Great Egret found it just the ticket! Of course, he was probably more up to fishing than reflecting – a bird’s got to eat!
There were other typical Victorian monuments, wonderfully complemented by the fall colors. Here is a mother with her children. One hopes this is not a comment on the high mother/child mortality rate but rather a celebration of deep feelings between parent and children.
I was intrigued by this praying woman, high atop her monument. She almost has an aspect of the Catholic Virgin Mary, not what you would expect in a seemingly predominantly Protestant cemetery. Again, the autumn trees provide a pleasurable contrast to the cool white and grey-aged stone.
This cemetery is indeed a pleasure to stroll through, just be sure to bring your camera – whatever season you visit!
Here’s a link that gives you a virtual tour.
Birds and Beasts at Mt. Auburn Cemetery
A Walk in the Sterling Woods
Millerton Rail Trail Birding Adventure
So, our first bicycle ride on the Harlem River Valley Trail, starting in Millerton, NY, was a wonderful trip! We started off after a delightful lunch at Harney and Sons tea outlet – and my buying out most of the store! Must have my Keemun and Breakfast Supreme!
The day was absolutely perfect for a bicycle ride: not too hot but sunny and clear. We saw a plethora of the most wonderful critters! I increased my count of birds seen this year with some unique additions. Unfortunately, they moved too fast for me to get any good pictures, so I’ll have to rely on other sources for illustration. When riding past the big pond in the cattle pasture along the trail, I saw this heron flash by over the water. He was too small for a Great Blue Heron –– and didn’t have a crest. But he wasn’t the right color for a Green Heron; he was a dark, slatey blue. He reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of the Little Blue Heron, and when I checked several sites on line I discovered that’s exactly what I’d seen. Here’s a picture courtesy of Dario Sanches via Wikkipedia. Interestingly, these birds usually aren’t seen this far north. However, some have been sighted in New York and New Jersey. So, my conjecture as to his identity seems to be right on the money.
(Photo from Wikkipedia: By Dario Sanches from São Paulo, Brazil – GARÇA-AZUL (Egretta caerulea; uploaded by Snowmanradio, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12106836)
Yang and I also noted two almost Robin-sized birds cruising over and through the underbrush by the side of the trail. But they flashed white feathers on the backs of their tails –– definitely not a Robin trait. Still, I did see rusty red and black on them, but not really in a Robin-design. My guess was either Redstarts or Rufous-sided Towhees. We dismounted our bikes; approached cautiously for a good look; and, yep, they definitely seemed to be Towhees. These guys aggressively hopped around in and kicked up the mat of dead leaves looking for insect-type treats. There was a male and female. The male had contrasting black and rusty-red coloring, with a white tummy, while the female was mostly all a lovely rusty reddish brown. I tried to get some shots, but I don’t think they came out very good. Here are the photographs by Bill Thompson and Ken Thomas, respectively, on Wikkipedia
(1)Male By Bill Thompson of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region – Photo of the Week – Male eastern towhee at the Quabbin Reservoir (MA)Uploaded by Snowmanradio, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15297291 (2) female (Photo from Wikkipedia, By Ken Thomas – KenThomas.us (personal website of photographer), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3423294; 2.
I may also have seen a Red-eyed Vireo. I’m not sure what color his eyes were; he was too far away, and he was wearing shades. We also saw tons of red-winged Blackbirds, Catbirds, Grackles, and Robins. We were treated to some lovely bird song from all these feathered critters.
Vireo image: On Wikkipedia, by Dario Sanches – originally posted to Flickr as JURUVIARA (Vireo olivaceus), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8792302)
What four legged beasts did we come across? Lots of rabbits, a garter snake, and chipmunks. We even saw baby chipmunks that were really tiny. Only gray squirrels showed this day, though I have seen red ones here in the past. And the funniest thing was to see a groundhog galloping through the woods below us. Those suckers may be plump but they move fast. Better here than anywhere near my garden –– or my friend Amber’s, if they know what’s good for them!