Paul and I have been to Silver Sands State Park in Milford a few times now, and we always have a great time there. Recently, we made it our goal to get out to Charles Island, which is connected to the park's shore by a half-mile-long sandbar that appears only at low tide. The island is closed to visitors during the summer, to protect the herons and other birds that nest there, but it re-opened in mid-September. So I learned how to read tide charts, and this past Sunday afternoon (a couple of days before the New Moon, when low tide is at its lowest), we set out on our adventure!
We started seeing interesting things before we even got down to the beach. This gorgeous Green Heron, for instance, was hunting tiny silver fish in the marsh right next to the boardwalk:
It's been many years since I last saw a Green Heron, and I'd forgotten how small they are. Compared to the Great Blue Herons I'm used to seeing, this creature was positively dainty, and he/she moved slowly and carefully through the water on those long legs.
At another part of the boardwalk, we leaned over to watch a colony of Fiddler Crabs (I don't know the exact species) moving in and out of their holes and feeding in the mud. This male crab seems to be waving up at us with his giant claw (or perhaps he was warning us to keep away from the nearby female):
We got down to the beach just as the final sliver of the sandbar was surfacing above the water, about an hour before low tide:
And by the time we were half-way out, the water had receded enough to leave a nice wide path to the island:
There were lots of gulls around, but not a lot of other shore birds. Picking among rocks along the sandbar's shoreline, however, was maybe one of the most adorable sandpipers I've ever seen:
It was so tiny -- think of a sparrow with a long beak and long legs -- and it was so intent on foraging for food that it let me sneak up quite close to it. It didn't seem very concerned about my presence at all, really:
My identification skills are still greatly lacking when it comes to shore birds, but between the yellow legs and the very small size, I'm almost certain that this is a Least Sandpiper. I just love that pristine russet pattern on this bird's back:
As the water receded, it revealed rocks positively shaggy with algae, like bright-green mops of hair:
Paul pointed out that this rock seems to be showing signs of male-pattern baldness:
When we made it onto the island, we still had some time before low tide, so we decided to explore. The interior of the island was fenced off to protect the wildlife (with signs telling people to keep out) -- we found several places where the fence had fallen, but we didn't push our way into the path-less tangle of bushes and vines beyond. We saw a few signs of ruined buildings, remnants of old attempts to make the island habitable (attempts that were doomed to failure because of a centuries-old curse, according to some stories I've read online).
We walked through lovely stretches of tall marsh grass as we made our way around the outside of the island, and we kept up a pretty stiff pace. (I was afraid we'd miss the tide if we didn't move....) Cormorants fished from the rocks just off-shore, and small birds flitted in and out of the island's interior. This is the best view I got of a tiny Marsh Wren, as it hid expertly among the waist-high grass:
So we made it all the way around the island and we didn't even get trapped by the tide! (As it turns out, we had plenty of time, but better safe than sorry.) As we finished our loop, we watched several small fish flinging themselves above the surface of the water -- perhaps escaping from something below? By random chance, I happened to get a picture of one of these sea-creatures just as it became airborne:
And then our fun adventure was over, and we made our way back across the sandbar toward more reliable land:
I'm sure we'll be at Silver Sands State Park again sometime in the future, but perhaps not until next spring or summer. And we'll need to do another round of careful planning if we ever want to return to Charles Island. I'm game!