Friday, August 27, 2010

Gull appreciation

The last couple of days I have been walking the sands of Milford, thinking and trying to stop thinking, and in the early evening light everything looks beautiful. Even gulls, which my eye too often used to pass over. So pure-white. So bold. So loud. But so quiet as the day fades.

When I got to Silver Sands, the grassy dune by the side of the boardwalk had hundreds, if not thousands, of dragonflies hovering above it. I have never seen so many, like tiny silent helicopters.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The last days of summer

Snowy Egret, John J. Audubon
The last days of summer are too precious to waste. As the sun sets, I am drawn to the beach. There are not many birds to speak of, but the white sails of the yachts glow pink in the dying light, and there is a breeze on my skin that is warm but holds the promise of autumn. A Golden Retriever puppy jumps up and licks the end of my binoculars. Now I really will have to clean them like I always say I'm going to. The shorebirds know to make the most not only of the last days of summer but the final minutes of every summer's day. At the water's edge they are trying for one last fish, one last mollusc. Gulls fly high to drop shells on the rocks, over and over until they crack open just enough to allow bills in to winkle out their salty treasure. A young Snowy Egret--its legs and bill still pale--does its dance, wiggling its foot in the sand to stir up . . . yes, a little fish, which it swallows down in a snap. If time could pause at this perfect moment, I would not complain.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Raptor beauty

Raptors have an other-worldly quality: Finely tuned hunting machines, they have skills that are so foreign to me as a human. I saw the White-tailed Kite just as we pulled up at Stratford Point late one day this week. It was flying right above us, and as I jumped out of the car, it began hovering high over the tall grass. To me, it was a beautiful display of raptor skill. To an unsuspecting vole, it was a Very Bad Thing Indeed. The bird scooped its wings back and forth oh so quickly through the air, staring at the ground, then swoop, it plummeted down like an arrow . . . and shot back into the air, a limp vole clutched in its talons.

It looked like a precision tracking and killing machine for whom this was no effort at all. When I looked at its ghostly charcoal-rimmed eyes through my binoculars after it ate the rodent in the top of a tree, I could impart all kinds of perceptions, skills, talents to that bird. But these were just human fantasies that say more about the qualities I wish I had: It turned out that other people had been watching the bird hunting unsuccessfully for hours, lucklessly scouring the fields for prey. We just happened to arrive at its moment of glory. To the kite, catching a vole was no spectacular aerobatic feat, just an act of basic survival. It just looked so much more impressive than when I cruise the aisles of the supermarket.

Incredible photos thanks to Frank Gallo.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

New life, and death ... and White-tailed Kite pictures

It always seems to happen, and yet it always seems to surprise me, that when I fail to see what I set out to see, I experience something wonderful. 

The White-tailed Kite that surprised everyone by suddenly showing up in coastal Connecticut, at least a thousand miles from its home, has been hanging around now for a couple of days. I want to see its wings slicing through the air again, see it hovering looking for prey, so this evening I went down to Milford Point, where it had spent much of the day. By the time I got there, the tide had risen and the bird had flown from the sandbar where it had previously been sitting eating some small creature.

There was no rare bird, but there was the sky. There was green grass growing in the salt water. Terns, plovers, American Oystercatchers.

I walked by the water's edge, and came upon a black blob. Just a starling, I thought. But hang on, there was something different. I put up my binoculars. It was fuzzy -- oh, a chick on gawkily long legs. I sunk down on my knees on the sand, and this black fluffy chick came right up to me and walked by. I don't think it was even aware I was there.

It was a clapper rail, Frank tells me, who's glad to discover that they're breeding at Milford Point. It's not a rare bird, but there was something about being there on the sand, just me and this little chick, that was just as special as seeing that glorious White-tailed Kite.

Looking at this vulnerable chick exposed on the beach, life seemed more fragile and beautiful than ever. That seems -- I can't quite find the word . . . pathetic? -- now that I've just learned that today in a different Connecticut town nine people lost their lives in another workplace shooting. But this was before my stomach had sunk at that news. Then, I was simply relieved when that chick scuttled on those stilt legs up into the long grass, where it was hidden from view, though still cheeping cheeping cheeping.

More White-tailed Kite Pics
Because I, along with every birder in New England, am still quite obsessed with the White-tailed Kite, I am savoring some more pictures that Frank Gallo took...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Day of the White-tailed Kite

I just circled today's date in the calendar and named it The Day of the White-tailed Kite. This truly amazing bird was spotted at least a thousand miles from home, in Stratford Point -- the first documented sighting in Connecticut, and one of the only times it's been seen in all of New England. Who knows how or why this bird arrived, or how long it will stay -- it's normally found in Florida and the Gulf states, or on the West Coast and in some Southwestern states. It perched in a tree in the meadow, flew sorties around the point, and hovered searching for mammal snacks, looking to my eyes like some kind of predator angel.

These photos are by Frank Gallo, director of the Connecticut Audubon Society's Coastal Center at Milford Point -- a man who runs like the wind when there is a rare bird to be snapped.

The calls went out, the crowd soon gathered.