Every year, Yang and I make a pilgrimage to the Cape to check out the migrating ducks. Usually we make the trip in mid-January or early February, not far from my birthday. This year, we went on January 15th, and we weren’t disappointed. We saw ruddy ducks, hooded and rust-breasted mergansers, a red-throated loon, swans, etc. However, at first I was a little let down because I didn’t see the annual flock of eiders bobbing on ocean waves. That disappointment disappeared as we moved further along the beach trail.
Yang and I saw some dark specks floating on rough seas not far from a jetty. The sun was in our eyes at first, so even with binoculars, we weren’t sure what we were seeing. Then, we got out to a place with better lighting, and there they were: my pals the eider ducks! I’m not sure if we are going to that jetty to see them every year or if they’re returning to get a peek at us! Anyway, it was a delight to watch them carried up and down by the waves, even swimming into a little cove of the jetty. As you can see, we were able to get pretty close.
A couple of duck were giving us the once over in these shots! Right in the center of the picture.
Especially interesting, I had never noticed that the males have a white stripe down the back of the black feathers on their heads. I’d also never noticed the greenish/yellowish/grey patch at the bottom of that black cap, either. Click on the photos here to get a closer look. Every year it’s something new. Do you think they noticed something different about Yang and I this year?
Significance of the subtitle: Remember the old joke? “How do you get down from and elephant? You don’t. You get down from a duck.” Eider down, right?
Enjoy the ducks in motion:
Way back in the ’90s, when I was first married and either working on my dissertation or teaching part time at UConn and Eastern Connecticut State University, Yang and I had a place we liked to visit that we called “The Secret Place.” The name didn’t quite fit because we would run into my students canoeing by or other walkers in nature. However, “The Secret Place” was not crowded with people and a little hard to get to. In fact, if you didn’t know it was there, you’d never think of going there. So what is this secret place and how did we ever find it?
Well, without giving away too many secrets, I’ll explain. We’ll go to the second part of the question first. Yang and I lived in the Mansfield/Wilimantic area in Connecticut while going to UConn. When driving one of the yellow-line-divided roads (no route number), we’d often pass over a bridge that let you look down into a lake made by a dam, with an abandoned asphalt road running alongside. It looked like such a cool place to walk, so Yang did some map snooping and found the road to take us there. That road in and of itself was almost a secret: a right that intersected the main road at such a sharp angle that taking it was almost like hooking a U-ie (non-New England translation: making a sharp U-Turn.). That brought you onto an old paved road tunneling through trees on both sides, a road slowly crumbling on the edges and being submerged by encroaching woods. A steel gate prevents vehicles from going more than about 1/2 mile down the road, but pedestrians are welcome. At one time this had been a route with houses following a river, but building the dam not only turned the river into a small lake but ended the status of the street.
The asphalt does continue through the woods and opens up along the body of water, ending in the dam. I have so many fond memories of coming here when the wild roses were blooming through the woods along the road, chickadees, titmice, and even Baltimore Orioles were flitting through the trees and brush, and all kinds of water fowl sailed along the lake, sometimes putting in at the many coves. I’d come here with Yang in all seasons to relax in nature, and even sometimes took a blanket and whatever books I was reading for my orals or dissertation and did my studying chilling in nature. What a wonderful place! But moving to Worcester and finding new places there and around the Northeast to explore, Yang and I put our thoughts of “The Secret Place” on the back burner – until the first week in March, when the good weather made us determined to explore something so old it was new again.
After a tasty breakfast at Bagel One in Windham – still the best bagels and cream cheese in my book! – we drove on down to find our Secret Place. This was not easy since we hadn’t been there in so long – and that entrance really hooks back from the road, making it difficult to see. But we found it! Our excitement grew as we drove down the old paved road through a tunnel of winter- denuded trees – it doesn’t take much to excite us. We found that metal gate and were surprised to see a sign calling the place a park – but a park with no name. I guess the state of Connecticut wants to keep it secret, too, sort of. We slipped through the gate and strolled in the sunny cold down the old road and found ourselves fascinated by stone walls and trees nature-crafted into twisted forms, which we’d never really noticed before. The bare bones of wild rose bushes tangled through the brush, but later in spring we knew they’d be bursting with sprays of white and soft pink tiny blossoms.
We emerged out of the tree-hugged road to see the lake sparkling silver-blue in the cold March sun. In days of yore, you couldn’t always follow the asphalt to the damn at the end because flooding would cover the road. You could still see the ghost of floods past in the scallops of dead plants and small debris across the road – nothing impassable, though! So, today, we were able to travel all the way to the dam, across an old bridge built in 1927. A place where in summer we would sit and watch fish and turtles take their leisure in the waters. And today, those waters sloshed over and under sheets of ice, hosting a variety of waterfowl: swans, golden eyes, mergansers, and the ubiquitous sea gulls!
The state has also now cleared and marked trails here that you can take through the woods. We circled back to the car over a roundabout route around coves (more ducks!) and up and down ridges. But they haven’t give the place a name. maybe they want to call it a “Secret Place,” too – but with well marked trails. Late spring and summer should bring us more beauty when we return – but, “Shhh! Don’t tell anybody!”
Here are some other neat shots:
January and February have become a tradition for us to go bird watching for ducks, geese, and other aquatic birds. This year has been an exceptionally good one for such adventures. We always head to the Cape and the Shining Sea Trail around my birthday for one of our biggest forays. This year we were not disappointed. Once more, we saw a large flock of Eider Ducks rafting on the rough January seas. The weather was so cold one of my knees started to seize up! Nevertheless, we saw a large flock that included the brown females, mature males startling in their contrast of black and white feathers, and the juvenile males that tended to a gradual graying into white in a less striking contrast. Did you ever notice that Eiders have a beak reminiscent of Bob Hope’s ski-slope schnozz – no disrespect to Eiders.
Swimming separately in the same bay were other interesting aquatic birds. Here are a pair of Common Golden Eyes. I thought they were Ring-Necked Ducks at first; but, no, they are Golden Eyes. Anyway, they were fun to watch surfing the waves, diving for lunch, and popping up goodness knows where. We also had the good fortune to catch sight of a Horned Grebe. I can’t remember the last time I saw one. He also was a little charmer with his unexpected dives and equally surprising reappearances. I hope these guys caught some snacks – pace to the Atlantic fish.
We scooted over to a pond in Falmouth and got a gander (sorry, couldn’t resist) at some Canada Geese, Hooded Mergansers, and a Swan. Here’s a group shot.
Here’s a flotilla of Hooded Mergansers. Just click on the photo to get a clearer view.
Our next adventure was at the Charles River in Needham Heights, where we saw not only Mallards but the Common Merganser. This guy was so beautiful, with his green/black head and contrasting pure white chest and underside. Also on display were more Hooded Mergansers. I love to watch these guys. Where the other ducks and geese serenely loiter across the waters, these guys surge along like mini speed boats, white crests proclaiming their presence!
Third stop: Rocky Neck, Ct. Here we saw quite a few interesting water birds. Once again, the proud and speedy little Hooded Mergansers powered their way across the marsh water. We also saw several other types of birds as well. There were Gadwall Ducks, Blue Herons, gulls and even a Common Loon. The Loon was not in this same marsh, but in the ocean, in a cove by the jetty. Many of these critters were pointed out to us by two lovely people who were also birding fans. Thanks to their kind advice! Check out some of the images below.
A closeup of the Hooded Merganser.
Who you lookin’ at?
A different type of Loon. The Sharon Bird on her migratory peregrinations in search of feathered friends at the beach. Note the winter plumage.
Saturday gave us a brief break in the frigid January temperatures, so we made haste to the Cape for some bird watching along one of the shore rail trails. We’d come here about the same time last year, give a take a couple of weeks, and made some splendid sightings, thanks to the migration habits of ducks. Coming earlier this year proved smart, for we saw even more of some of the beautiful winter vacationing ducks we’d seen last year.
Of course the traditional mallards were there. Here is a lovely couple we saw serenely paddling about a marsh pond. We also sighted some more exotic types: Buffleheads, Common Mergansers, Redbreasted Mergansers, American Black Ducks (and the Mottled subspecies), Wood Ducks, and Swans. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get close enough for pictures of those unique sorts. Still, this close up of the male mallard that Yang took captures his (the duck’s) brilliant emerald head feathers.
We also got some wonderful pictures of of the rather unique vacationers. There were loads of Eider Ducks. Last year we only got pictures of a pair of Eiders, but this time Yang got several great shots. First, we saw a few males floating near the shore. The contrast of their white and black feathers is gorgeous. Could they be art deco ducks? They certainly didn’t seem terribly camera shy when Yang snapped their pictures.
Later, we saw the eiders in a flock of males and females in the water. The females are dark brown with a beautiful white band just above their beaks. It looks like the shadow roll that race horses wear. We had quite a number to see. We also saw large groups of Common Golden Eyes and Great Scaups. What I found especially interesting is that the flocks of two or three different ducks would all be grouped together, floating nonchalantly along, no one fighting for food or ascendancy. I wish people could get along so well. But who knows what the ducks got up to once my back was turned. I especially like this picture of the male Eider and the male Common Golden Eye just chillin’ together.
After almost two hours of enjoying the fresh sea air and checking out the ducks, we found that the temperature was dropping. So, we hopped in the car and proceeded to the Dunbar Tea Room for lunch – and some great tea! People may love the Cape in the summer, but in the off-season, it can be a bird watcher’s delight!
I had originally wanted to post these pictures much earlier – like back in Winter when Yang and I took them. However, the semester has been brutal, and I just didn’t have time to do all the editing necessary. So, here they are!
The weekend after my birthday, there was a slight warming spell, so Yang and I made an expedition to Falmouth. After a hearty tea luncheon at the Dunbar Tea House – love that Ice Wine Tea! – we did some bird watching on the nearby rail trail. In one of the ponds, we saw the beautiful swans above.
Also in this pond, we were able to see a flock of Mergansers. Here is one chap swimming solo, with his lovely feathery mane.
Later, I was surprised to see a whole flock of males and females swimming happily in the ocean. I never realized this duck was an ocean as well as fresh-water critter! You’ll have to forgive the fact that the photos are a bit blurry. It’s not easy to get near these guys – especially with a cold ocean separating you. Still, if you click on the picture, you’ll be able to get a decent look at the ducks.
We also saw some of the ever-popular Mallards. A happy pair celebrating an anniversary, no doubt, with an afternoon out on the ocean. These ducks are pretty common around New England, so I normally wouldn’t photograph them. But they posed so beautifully, Yang couldn’t resist. Also, some of my other bird-loving followers might not have these guys in their necks of the woods – or ponds.
We also saw a pair of Eider ducks. I know they are a little blurry, but, again, there’s that pesky ocean in the way. Do you think the Eiders are funky enough to want to get down? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
And, in a different pond, more swans!
But here’s where things get really weird. Driving through the town of Falmouth, we had to stop for some feathered pedestrians.