Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Redpolls! And Other Foggy Shore Sights

Today was full of surprises. First, I had planned to head out to the beach this morning, but then I woke up to find an unexpectedly thick fog outside. And I mean thick -- the weather forecast said visibility was at 0.2 miles, but I think it might have been less than that at some points. Even so, I was eager to get outside and take advantage of the brief warmth (today's high was over 50 degrees), so after some waffling, I grabbed my chance and set off into the fog. I had another off-putting surprise, however, when I reached my planned destination, Silver Sands State Park, only to find the park's gates closed. Well, OK then!

As a final attempt to get to the shore, I headed off next to Milford Point, and as it turned out, that was the perfect place to be. Even though the day started with two unfortunate surprises, it was all good surprises from then on -- walking in the quiet, enveloping fog was a great experience, and there were a ton of very active creatures around. And the best surprise came as soon as I got out of my car. What are all those little birds hopping around in the weeds on the edge of the parking lot? Oh! Redpolls!

Common Redpolls are one of those species of northern finches that venture south into our area in the winter, but only in certain years. This happens to be one of those years, but even so, redpolls are fairly uncommon in Connecticut, and this was the first time I'd ever seen them. So I was very happy to get to watch these little stripey birds as they sought out tiny seeds among dried stems:

These redpolls were incredibly bold, too -- they would startle and fly up into the trees every once in a while, but then they'd come right back down to forage within a few feet of me. The whole situation was very cool. And can I just say, I love the outfits on these birds. The males had an extra rosy pink wash down their chests (unfortunately, none of the boys wanted to sit still to have their pictures taken), but the females were gorgeous, too, with those perfect velvety caps (what a fantastic color!) and black goatees -- and is that a tiny blush of pink on this girl's cheeks?

Yes, you are a very pretty little bird. I hope you're enjoying those seeds!

What a great start to this morning's adventure! I spent quite a bit of time with the redpolls (who knows when I'm going to get to see them again), and watched several other small birds foraging in the same area. This Song Sparrow must've been picking through the mud, if that large brown glob on its beak is any indication:

Finally, though, I tore myself away from the parking lot and headed down to the beach, where the fog made much more of a presence. It felt distinctly weird to see the shore fading away into nothing:

(Also weird: ice on the beach! That isn't something I expected to see.)

Large flocks of geese, ducks, and other shorebirds filled the area -- they kept emerging from the fog as I walked, and I could hear the sounds of many more birds out there than I could see. This group of Canada Geese and Brant seemed to be floating in space, with no horizon in sight:

It was cool to see these two types of geese side by side, their similar patterns of dark and light making interesting shapes in the fog (the Brant are the smaller birds in the front):

It still seems strange to me, actually, to see Canada Geese hanging out on the beach, but there you go:

Several large flocks of small shorebirds kept flying up and down the shoreline, and one flock of Dunlin (one of Connecticut's more common dippy winter shorebirds) cruised right by me:

I caught up with some of these guys later on, and I got to marvel at their funky profiles:

And then they flew off again. Dunlin butts!

At one point, the wind started to pick up, and the fog lifted for a few minutes to reveal some stunning views across the marsh:

I really just cannot get over that marsh grass and its fire-like glow. OK, just one more picture before the thick fog descends again:

In the end, I'm very glad that I ended up going for an adventure on this foggy, wondrous day. And I'll close with one last sight.... Out of the thick fog, a strange creature emerges:

(At least, that's how I see it. I suppose it could also be a branch.)

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