Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What to do at Plum Island when the beaches are closed and the ponds are iced over

View from Hellcat dike, Plum Island, Newburyport, MA

Second day of spring break. Ah, perhaps today I can get some scholarly work done.
The doorbell rings.
--Hi. We're going to be landscaping your neighbor's yard today. I just wanted to let you know that we'll fix any damage we do to your lawn.
I hear the roar of a bobcat as it grinds up the hill right outside my office window. A day full of construction noise to look forward to or... That's it. I'm gone. (Was I just looking for an excuse?)

I chose Plum Island because it is an effortless script for me now and I hadn't been there since November. I planned to hit Sandy Point first (horned lark opportunities) and then work my way backward to Hellcat.

As I drove down Plum Island Turnpike I noticed that there was still a lot of ice on the water. Uh oh. When I got to the gate I realized my plan was dead. ALL BEACHES CLOSED. There was a major sewage treatment plant malfunction recently and millions of little e. coli coated discs have washed up on the beaches all over the North Shore. The boardwalks to the beaches were roped off (even the observation decks) and the dirt road to Sandy Point gated.
Here's the closest I would get to seeing the ocean today.
So where to find interest on Plum Island when the ocean is inaccessible and the iced-over pools keep the ducks far far away (and me without a scope)? I stopped at Hellcat. Would I make this a Ludlow Griscom-themed day, and visit the Sudbury Valley on my way home? Would I take photos of intriguing lichen?
Should I take photos of interesting boardwalk scat? (Yes, though I'll spare you the actual images.) Record especially fabulous song sparrow tunes? (Yes, though the recordings have too much wind noise.)

As I slowly made my way along the Marsh Trail, I realized that the restrictions today were a blessing in disguise. Instead of furiously moving from place to place on Plum Island, trying to cover it all, here was a chance to hang at Hellcat--for as long as I wanted.

I could spend some quality time with the red-winged blackbirds.
Today's realization: their chattery alarm flight is reminiscent of an orchard oriole or a bobolink, if less musical.

I could offer my farewells to the tree sparrows.
See you in the fall!

I could sit at the "old blind" and watch the distant ducks circle and land, circle and land.
There's nothing quite like pintails in tight formation.

It was so quiet today (most visitors had turned around and left when they discovered the beaches were closed) that I felt I could hear every leaf rustle. That's how I spied my first woodcock of the season (I forget how small they are). And that's how I discovered the twittering redpolls, a few dozen of them. The highlight of the day.
I don't know redpolls very well. The great 2011 influx, reported all over Massachusetts, never reached my corner of Needham. So here was my chance to soak in redpoll, as they gathered on the ground near the trail, bathing in puddles, feeding (and quarreling).
A good day after all.

Below is the video version of the day, featuring red-wing blackbirds, redpolls, pintails in flight, and circling black ducks.

No comments: