Monday, June 19, 2006

Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge

Today's hike was out to the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge. Mostly it's known for being a prime viewing place for some unusual Winter birds, most notably Harlequin Ducks. But there's a lot more to the place than that. It's also a great place to see Brown-Headed Cowbirds and Yellow Warblers, a variety of hawks, Short-eared Owls, and in the Winter you can even find a Snowy Owl or two. And deer, rabbits, and all manner of small animals.

But for me the best feature of the Refuge is the meadows. Just look at that shot above left. Daisies, Black Mustard, Sheep Sorrel, various cereal grasses, and even some Broom up there at the back just to the right of the center. And that's just what's current for this time in the Summer. Not in this particular shot are other flowers like Daisy Fleabane, Yarrow, Multiflora Roses (and they have a rare pink variant of the Multiflora at the Refuge). Later there'll be Calico Asters, Tansy, Spotted Knapweed, Queen Anne's Lace... Yeah, I like to drag people out here!

I saw and heard plenty of Cowbirds and Yellow Warblers today but didn't get any decent shots of them. I did get a good one of a Catbird, which you can see on my WunderPhotos page (link to the right). But the Warblers were warbling to me from behind the banks of roses lining the trails, and the Cowbirds were moving too much - all the shots I got were out of focus.

Like Ballard Park, the primary smell is Multiflora Rose; there are banks of them here, too. There's also going to be a bounty crop of Blackberries. But unlike Ballard Park, there's no shade here. Most of Ballard Park is woodland; most of the Wildlife Refuge is field. I got burnt to a crisp today! Days like this are the reason why Mama Gaiea created Aloe.

Tomorrow I'll go back down to Ballard Park and Gooseneck Cove. Wednesday is the Summer Solstice but I have to work that day, so I'll be doing my usual personal Solstice things tomorrow instead. And since Gooseneck Cove is my spiritual home that's where I do things like that. I'll take pictures, too, and record my impressions tomorrow night.

Pictures of the Day

On the way to the Wildlife Refuge I dropped by the Big Pond (officially named Easton's Pond) behind First Beach on the Newport - Middletown border. While walking around I noticed that the Water Lilies are blooming. Not the patches on Big Pond itself - those are still just getting to the bud stage. But just to the East of the Pond, between the Pond itself and the businesses that face onto Aquidneck Ave., there a smaller body of water full of Lilies, and that's where these are. To the left is one of the more picturesque patches, and to the right is a close-up of a bloom.

Okay everybody. Enjoy your day, and I'll talk to you again Tuesday night.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Summer Approaches

Hmmm... Two months since my last entry. Well, things have been kinda busy, mostly a new job with a steep learning curve. I'll try to be better at keeping this blog at least relatively up to date.

Summer is definitely rapidly approaching. Newport is lushly green - a rainy Spring didn't hurt - and little critters like that Goldfinch to the left are everywhere. On my days off I may not have been keeping this blog up to date but I can assure you that I was busy with the camera, and the best results of that you can see for yourself at my WunderPhotos page (the link for that is over there to the right).

Yesterday I hiked through Ballard Park, then down to Gooseneck Cove, and then over to my "country lane" loop over behind the Swiss Village Heritage Breeds farm, and finally down to King Park at the south end of Newport Harbor. In Ballard Park the Multiflora Roses, those small white roses with the yellow centers, were profuse and scenting the entire park. The wild fruit crop looks to be plentiful - lots of blossoms on the Blackberry bushes and Black and Pin Cherry trees. So come August I can have fresh fruit for desert after my tunafish sandwich for lunch during my hikes. Provided the birds leave me enough!

Over at the intersection of Hammersmith Rd. and Beacon Hill Rd. behind the Swiss Village Farm I stalked a pair of Cedar Waxwings without ever being able to get a decent shot of them, just the back of one, and that was blurry. Too much foliage for them to hide behind; that foliage also tends to be what the camera focuses on rather than the bird, hence the blurriness. There was a Yellow Warbler making a lot of noise in the same place, but the same foliage kept me from getting a decent shot of him as well. But it was a great hike through that area. No hawks sighted, though. That's a great area for hawks. I've actually photographed several Red Tails there, and I've seen a couple of Sharp-Shinneds and a Cooper's, and I'l swear I saw a Peregrine Falcon in the area earlier this Spring. It's a great environment for hawks - rolling meadows fringed with high trees and dotted with stands of Red Cedar.

The payoff of yesterday's hike came in King Park. There was a Great Egret there, and I stalked him for a good 10 or 15 minutes, getting a lot of good shots. But the best shot came when he finally got annoyed with my presence and flew off - I got him just as he left the water on the way up. the pic is below in the "Pictures of the Day".

Next Wednesday is the Summer Solstice. It's odd that in these modern times we consider that to be the first day of Summer. Pre-20th Century Europeans and Americans called it Midsummer Day. By June 21 the crops are not only planted but well on the way to ripening, it's been warm for quite a while, and there are even some "first fruits" to help liven up the festivities. It seems kinda odd to call it the first day of Summer with all that going on. The same thing goes for the Winter Solstice - we've usually already had freezing weather and snow, yet we still call it the first day of Winter. The Spring and Fall equinoxes make more sense - Spring really doesn't hit until after March 21, and the leaves generally don't start turning until after September 21. The lod 'uns had more sense than we do - May Day was considered the beginning of Summer, and Samhain (now Halloween) the beginning of Winter. Those dates make a lot more sense given the usual weather conditions.

Pictures of the Day

Two pictures this time, to catch up (in a symbolic way) with my long silence. This one to the left I took last month in Ballard Park; I took it with my 250D macro lens. This little'un was only about 1/16th of an inch (about 2mm) and looked green to the naked eye, but seen close up and magnified she turned into a rainbow. In WunderPhotos I titled this one "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" after the children's song. I've since wondered if "Tiny Dancer" wouldn't have been a better title; it was a breezy day and this little lady, or at least her web, was waving around a bit. It took me almost 10 minutes with a lot of waiting between gusts to get just two shots, and this one was the better shot.

And this, of course, is the shot of the Great Egret taking flight that I talked about above. Probably one of the luckiest shots of my life. My reflexes aren't the best, so my finger clicked on the shutter button almost accidentally just at the right second. LOL!!! It's a miracle it wasn't blurred beyond recognition!