Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Seashore Sights in Irene's Wake

We got our visit from Hurricane Irene (actually more of a tropical storm by that point) on Sunday morning. There was a lot of rain and wind, but it wasn't as bad as the weather people had been predicting, and we were lucky enough to not have any lasting damage to our apartment. By Sunday afternoon, when the rain had stopped (but not the wind), Paul and I got tired of sitting around with no power, so we decided to go on an adventure... to the beach!

We chose Silver Sands State Park as our destination, even though we had heard that Connecticut's state parks would be closed due to the hurricane. Sure enough, the road into the park was blocked off when we arrived, but several other people were parking outside the gate and walking in right past a seemingly unconcerned ranger, so we did the same. This all seemed like such an insane idea -- is immediately-post-hurricane really the best time to hang out in an open space with wind and waves? As it turns out, the answer seems to be "yes"! There were so many things to see, and we had a completely awesome time.

One of the first creatures we saw was also one of the most exciting. After we'd walked only a short distance down the road into the park, we came upon this Red Fox watching us calmly from an adjoining road:

This is the first fox I've seen in Connecticut, and something about this creature gave me the impression of a teenager -- it's something in the face, I think, and in the overall lankiness -- although I couldn't say for sure whether this is actually a juvenile. The storm, it seems, was not kind to this fellow, and that looks like a pretty bad scrape on its front right leg. After a minute or so of staring at us, however, the fox bounded off into the woods, so hopefully he or she will be OK. These are such impressive creatures, and it was cool to get to see one of these guys.

I didn't see any "hurricane" birds while we were there -- rare birds that would have been blown far north of their normal range by the storm -- but I did see some cool birds that were completely new to me. (As I've said before, I don't know shore birds very well.)

This juvenile Forster's Tern was really something to watch, as it sliced its way through the battering winds with those razor wings:

There were several small sandpipers scurrying around in the sand (I still can't figure out exact identifications with these guys), and with them a few Semipalmated Plovers:

I think these birds are just too cute, so dinky and plump. They looked like they were in danger of being blown away by the wind as they rushed around on their stick legs:


Here's a wacky bird that I've never seen in real life before: a Black Skimmer, hanging out in a flock of Ring-billed Gulls. It's a juvenile, so its beak isn't quite as remarkably strange as that of a full-grown skimmer, but it's still pretty crazy-looking, with that big lower mandible perfect for snatching fish as it skims the surface of the water:

We happened to arrive at the beach during low tide, and the storm's waves had brought all sorts of interesting shells and living ocean creatures up onto the shore. Several of these colonies of what I think are Common Slipper Shells (Crepidula fornicata, is that a great name or what), for instance, dotted the sand:

For more on Crepidula fornicata and its fascinating sex life, check out this post from another nature blog, Sandy Wildlife.

There were so many colors in the sand, like this blue/purple mussel:

And this orange/red formation, which was soft and porous and suggested a sponge:

It was definitely worth braving the after-effects of the storm to go on this adventure. I'm starting to appreciate the seashore more and more, and we already have our next trip tentatively planned. Such cool things to be found in the sand and surf!


  1. Morning Elizabeth. Glad you and yours OK after the storm. Great time to head for the coast for beach-combing to see what's blown ashore. Super bird shots; I'm planning to get my shorebird id up to muster in October when I visit the coast. I especially like the tern. and that young skimmer does look as if its beak is malformed doesn't it? Plovers are just cute.
    And thanks for the link. Busy here this week, so best dash off to hit the rush-hour. Mel

  2. Thanks, Mel! I think the skimmer is about to open or close its beak in this picture, so that adds to some of the weirdness, but the lower mandible is definitely supposed to be bigger than the upper mandible -- totally weird, and yeah it definitely screams "malformed" among all those "normal" gulls!