Long Point State Park … NY fog, rain and birds!

Why am I not surprised that it is raining on this trip and raining in upstate New York? No worries, birds are around. My friend and I visited Long Point State Park on the east side of Cayuga Lake in Aurora, New York. 

The rain let up, the fog rolled in, but we still walked to the lake’s edge. We immediately saw the silhouette of common loons! These birds bought back wonderful memories for me! I used to hike 4 miles to an Adirondack lake where I knew loons were nesting; few people knew of this location. Also and often, a friend and I would canoe to and set up our tent on an island on Stillwater Reservoir. We loved hearing the eerie calls of the loons at night. 

We saw other birds on this park visit … so we continued to walk the lake’s shoreline and a section of a hiking trail.

Here are some of the birds we had seen:

Common loon
Warbling vireo
Caspian terns
Common merganser

We watched 6 buffleheads. Two male buffleheads were being aggressive toward each other and the female bufflehead swam away!

Female bufflehead followed by male bufflehead
Bufflehead conflict between two males

And then, the best way to end a day … relax with a friend at a local brewery … Aurora Brewery … and drink a craft beer; time for a German style lager! AAAHHH!!!

Visiting NYS’s Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge & Other Stops

A few years ago I bicycled, solo and self-contained, from Minnesota to Indiana, then across New York State. After weeks cycling and a few days of absolute drenching rain, I stopped short of Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. I had hoped to enjoy some wildlife viewing with its diverse habitats, but it did not happen. When a friend and I could visit the refuge on this trip, I said, let’s go! We lucked out with an overcast, not rainy day; off we went! 

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge is a huge property, located northeast of Seneca Falls, NY. There is a Welcome Center at the start of a 3 mile Wildlife Drive. At specific locations we could hop out of the car and walk to a blind. Certain times of year a hiking/bicycling trail is open for use too. One could spend hours here and the other parcels of land within the refuge. 

Warblers were arriving in NYS! Yellow warbler and yellow-dumped warblers were part of our 20 different bird specie sightings.

Yellow warbler singing
Yellow-rumped warbler

Our second stop was the Montezuma Audubon Center, north of Savannah, NY. There was an informational center and hiking trail network. Thanks to the director, since we were looking for specific birds, he sent us on our way to Guy’s Marsh. We were welcomed by tree swallows and Eastern bluebirds as we started the mile trail around the marsh. We eventually opted for a shorter walk and the observation tower. There we watched 2 muskrats fighting with each other. We guessed the third muskrat was a female as it swam away.  More birds seen and I was surprised to see a Caspian tern.

Not sure any of it was friendliness
Caspian tern

RI Part 3: Tennis, Mansions & State Parks

Another beautiful day, so indoor activity in the morning, outdoor activity in the sunny afternoon. The International Tennis Hall of Fame is located in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Newport, Rhode Island! I had not realized the hall of fame was actually established to save the Newport Casino from being demolished. It was Jimmy Van Alen, president of the casino, who lobbied the US Lawn Tennis Association to have a hall of fame here. Not till 1986 was the place recognized internationally. 

If one read all the info in the museum it would take hours! There are interactive exhibits, many showcases with old rackets, history, tournaments, trophies, displays of clothing worn through the years, and info about players. I learned tennis racquets were originally manufactured in neighboring cities in 1876. At Kent Racquet Company’s peak production in the 1930’s, they employed 100 people and produced 1,500 frames a day. When tennis became more popular, Kent Racquet Company supplied Spalding, Wilson, and Slazenger …names you may recognize. Here’s the equipment/press used to shape the wood for the frame:

Everyone talks about the hologram of Roger Federer when they visit this place, so I checked it out too. His talk about 10 reasons he likes tennis was eerie in the sense it was him and his reasons were great and sounded similar to some of my own. Take time to walk the grounds as they are beautiful with lush green grass. I especially tried to imagine this place back in the day when it was in a less busy town.

Then I wanted to spend time outdoors. I drove Ocean Drive along with, I think, every other Sunday driver! Bicyclists share the entire road with motorized vehicles, including these 2 seater scooters. Mansions are along this road … huge places … huge lawns …. mansion after mansion …. with some providing tours.

My first stop was Brenton Point State Park. Narragansett Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean here and as I walked along the pathway I stopped at the Portuguese Discovery Monument. Again, plenty of history here. Many people picnicking, kite flying, walking the reefs, and essentially enjoying the day. I did chuckle when I saw a person pull up in a van exactly like mine, open the rear cargo area and pull out an Adirondack chair to sit in on a grassy knoll near his van! We all use our vehicles in different ways! I could see how one could spend time looking off to the horizon or close-up at the blue and green colors from algae and seaweed … beautiful spot to relax!

Great place to sit and relax!

I continued my drive to Fort Adams State Park, an active army post from 1841 until 1950. Many people were enjoying the day catching a ferry ride across Newport Harbor, walking the 2.5 mile bay walk, touring the fort and/or watching the sailing competition. I discovered this is where the Newport Jazz Festival is held. It was so relaxing walking the area. 

Oliver Hazard Perry sailing ship
Sailing activity happening on this day

I leave Rhode Island tomorrow, drive to upstate New York to visit more friends, then to Pennsylvania to visit family before I finally head west to go home. This has been a long trip and I am in my last 2 weeks of travel. It will be great to be home!

Time to Connect or Not … 

Solo travelers, such as myself, can choose how connected we wish to be with others while we visit a place or observe some activity. There are times I want/need a quiet, meditative experience; other times, I enjoy newly discovered connections, shared moments, with individuals or people around me. 

With travel, one does not know the individuals one may interact with and/or if a possible connection, shared moment, or not will be made. This is a huge part of why I find solo travel so enjoyable. Conversations with people I had never known may spark new ideas in my brain as I listen to their point of view. This allows me think through what is said and to speak my mind to someone who cannot assume they know what I will say. Shared observations open my eyes to see and learn about something new or can be a reminder of things I should have known. It is the perfect time to be non-judgmental, in the moment, and with no expectation. When meeting new people it is time to break away from possible old habits, thinking you know what the person will say and not really listening. No assumptions can be made and thus I find myself more engaged and enjoying the moment. The level of connection, shared moment, varies upon the place and/or activity … and of course the individuals you’re with … and can be most fun!

I was at Southard’s Pond Park in Babylon, NY when I had an amazing shared moment while walking the trail and looking for birds. I met one woman and almost immediately we were sharing birding and photography info, talking about life, and the wonderful park with its wildlife. This woman patiently pointed out where a red morph Eastern screech owl was sitting, a new bird for my life list. Finally seeing it through many branches blowing in the wind and about 50 feet off trail, we continued walking, talking and observing birds for each other. When we bumped into another woman it was obvious she wanted her own space, so little was said to her and that was okay. Next we were talking with a man with his very young daughters. He was such an animated guy one could not help but be excited as he talked about the observations the 3 of them made, but he also wanted to know where the owl was… so we gave him the bird’s location. 

At one point I continued on and the woman I was walking with headed back to the parking lot. When I decided to return too, I got talking with another birder who was looking for the owl. I tried to help since I had seen the owl earlier, but which tree was that bird in? Before I knew it, the father with his daughters and the woman who initially pointed out the owl to me was returning to the spot. She pointed the owl out to all of us! There was such joy with help in locating the owl and seeing the young girls and father excited too. It was a magical moment; the power of connection, a shared moment, was perfect as we all saw the owl!

As I walked back to the parking lot I thought how wonderful a world would be if we could have more positive connections in the world. I struggle in understanding why there is so much negativity, conflict and disconnect among humans in the world. Why is there no desire to have a healthy, supportive, fair world for us all to live in for the decades we are only here? I simply do not understand the strife we put before ourselves when with the same energy we could do for the betterment of all. It seems this is one of those things I will never understand and can only do my part to to remain positive.

Thanks to the woman pointing out the red morph Eastern screech owl to me or I would never had seen it! It was a challenge taking this photo, the wind blowing tree branches in front of the bird, but I wanted it since few times do I see an owl.

I did see 15 different bird species on this walk. Photos of a mute swan and osprey are below. This is a nice park to visit if you are in the area. I’ll return someday as I did not walk all the trails and would like to do so.

Memories and Madness… What a Day!

While visiting family in New York State, I drove to the northern tip of Long Island, specifically Orient Point County Park. It’s been more than decade since visiting here. Driving past what once were duck and potato farms and large agricultural lands, now were vineyards, farms growing fruit and raising goats, numerous small businesses and certainly none of the usual fast food joints! My youngest sister and I had tasted Long Island wine at some beautifully located tasting rooms in the past, but never out this far on an island that is 118 miles long. 

I had an elementary school friend whose family owned another property in Greenport, located on the north shore, where the rocky terminal moraine ended its movement eons ago. My family and I grew up in Suffolk County on the south shore created by the sand from that terminal moraine glacial melt eons ago. The geologic history of the island is fascinating especially regarding glacial movement.

The Long Island Expressway is more than half the length of the island, 71 miles, and always feels like a racetrack! The speeding and traffic is a horrible combination and increases on weekends, thus I plan my travel during the week. Once off the expressway there are smaller roads to the island’s tip where people can ride the Cross Sound Ferry to Connecticut.

On this day I hoped to see some unique, or new to me, birds along the stony north shore looking out to Orient Point Lighthouse. The day was cool and sunny, slight wind, with birds off in the distance. I was carrying my tripod with my largest zoom lens about a half mile and trying to capture photos of the birds in the distance, but even with my binoculars I could not be sure of their identification. I would have to wait till looking at the photos when I returned back to our family home. That’ll be okay.

And then …

I had a long drive to return to my Mom’s home so I headed back with plans to stop at a supermarket. I plugged my phone’s cord into the USB  slot and the radio indicated “no media connected”. Then my new van’s back-up camera started working as I drove forward!! I could not drive forward and see this camera showing the road behind me at the same time … distracting! Very weird! After a short distance I pulled off the road, turned off the van, started again and had nothing at the radio. Fortunately I had a service appointment for an oil change the next day at a RAM dealership so I headed to that location while simultaneously handling a spurting nosebleed! WHAT!?! Now I really was crazed… it’s been years since ever having a nose bleed … yet with nose pinched with fingers on one hand and other hand on the steering wheel I continued down the road.

I arrived at the dealership, pulled straight in to a parking space, and explained to a service advisor they would be looking at more than an oil change the next day. I walked out to the parking lot now realizing I pulled into a parking space and wondered how I would safely back up the van with no back-up camera. What happened? Everything is working!!

What a day! Sigh…..

Next day I brought the van in for the oil change and the back-up camera and radio were still working! Okay, so that is good, except they will not be able to diagnose the problem because at the moment there is no problem! My solution has been to not turn the radio off. I will do so when finally home and deal with whatever happens then … closer to a RAM dealership … yet hope I have no major issue as I still need to drive west to get to my home.

The good news: I observed 3 new birds while at Orient Point County Park: great black-backed gull, long-tailed duck, and white-winged scoter with hopes I can eventually get better photos of each than the ones I have since I will be along the Connecticut and Rhode Island coast, other side of the Long Island Sound, in the next week. But here are some of the birds:

Long-tailed duck
Double-crested cormorant and Great black-backed gull
Common loon

Wildlife Surprise … Not a Bird!

My eyes are scanning … up, down, across … bushes and trees, the water’s surface while also wondering if a water bird will pop up through the surface and dive again, observing the ground and thinking the birds may not be enjoying the light rain that is currently falling … I too would fluff up and tuck away if I could! 

I am at Ithaca’s Stewart Park, located at the southern end of New York State’s largest Finger Lake, Cayuga Lake. It’s a beautiful park with plenty of human activity when the weather cooperates. Some 10 -12 brave souls are learning and practicing sailing techniques in their sailboats, a couple of hearty fishermen are hoping to catch something and I am sitting in my van with the window open, camera and binoculars ready, and all of a sudden I notice something!

What is that drowned rat-looking creature? I think to myself, that animal is too large to be a weasel or a rat, I am guessing a mink. Thanks to the app, iNaturalist, I include a photo and the necessary info about time, date and location of my observation for others to agree or disagree with my identification. Here the American mink is running by:

American mink sniffing around…
And then it was running off!

I was surprised to see the mink since they are usually nocturnal, but the gray rainy weather may be throwing us all off kilter. The mink’s thick brown coat appeared to be soaking wet, possibly from just being in the water. Mink are known to rely on aquatic prey so it may be the reason it was active during the daytime. I like seeing other wildlife. My outdoor time is not only about birds, but observing the web of life firsthand … yet I do worry about its future… in this moment though, time to enjoy this critter as it will be gone in a flash! And so it was!

Upstate NYS Friends & Birds

It was snowing as I drove across the southern tier of New York State and I truly was not surprised. I grew up in New York State and had come to expect snow till mid-May … so my van was experiencing snow once again since our Grand Canyon visit months ago. If I continued to be in snow country months at a time there would certainly be a need for snow tires, but not now.

It was wonderful meeting friends for lunch at Ithaca’s Purity Ice Cream shop, talking with some friends by phone, walking with others at Cornell’s Sapsucker Woods and Botanic Garden, and talking with colleagues at the school I last worked. I loved living in the Finger Lakes area when I did because there was tennis, hiking, road bicycling, cross-country skiing, cultural activities and opportunities, and ease in traveling to the Adirondack Mountains where I had a small shack to escape for my quiet, meditative time for more than 25 years. Despite being tremendously busy with my school administrative position, I made time to enjoy outdoor activities…yet I do not miss the snow … and thus I now live in Arizona!

Spending time and talking with my friends, and now additionally school friends, was interesting and just like old times: noticing and discussing what has changed and what has stayed the same, learning about their new adventures, hobbies and activities, commiserating and celebrating about various happenings, counting down time till summer vacation and/or retirement, and encouraging all to take time to enjoy life. I am concerned about the future of public education in America and consider myself fortunate to have retired when I did, but do miss all my friends! I am glad I caught up with those individuals I could and certainly appreciated them taking time to visit with me.

Here are a few photos from my visits at Cornell’s Sapsucker Woods:

White-throated sparrow
Tufted titmouse
Yellow-bellied sapsucker at Sapsucker Woods!
Red-bellied woodpecker, yet no red belly…

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: Part 1: Borderlands

The lands bordering this national monument to the east are Native American land, belonging to the Tohono O’Odham, and to the south the nation of Mexico. In 1937, this land in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert was established a national monument by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1976, the United Nations designated it an International Biosphere Reserve. Scientific research studies are done of human impact on it. During our last US president’s term a border wall between the USA and Mexico was built and quite obvious from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. 

I drove to Lukeville, Arizona, a port-of-entry between USA and Mexico. Only essential travel is supposedly happening. There were few vehicles, but many young people with backpacks and others arriving by shuttle from Phoenix or Tucson walking across the pedestrian bridge to Mexico. I understand going across the border takes little time; however, returning to the USA can take 3 hours! I stopped at one of 2 stores on this border to buy an additional gallon of water. Most people were hanging out at the store to use their wifi. Cellular service is limited here. Another day, Friday afternoon about 2:30pm, I was a mile from the international border and traffic was backed up to this point. Maybe many travelers were visiting Rocky Point, Puerto Peñasco, a resort city on the Gulf of California for the weekend. 

I then drove a 2 mile dirt road east of Lukeville, Arizona, arriving at the Gachado Line Camp; an old adobe building with some wooden fences and downed barb-wire fencing. Driving to this point, one sees the border wall and at the camp you can walk up to the wall. You can hear Mexicans speaking; their homes are just on the other side of the wall. It was an eerie feeling and sad to think a barrier existed between us. Few people were driving this road, but a young man from Florida stopped at the adobe building too and we got talking about borders, walls, and the future of humanity. 

I then drove west of Lukeville, another dirt, wash-board road that parallels the border wall. Here one sees a highly trafficked road with truck trailers on Mexican Highway 2 also running parallel to the wall but on the other side of the wall. Again at certain spots I could walk up to the wall and the same eerie feeling descended on me. 

The Tohono O’Odham Indian Reservation is to the east of Organ Pipe National Monument and, my understanding is, a 62 mile border wall exists with gates for people to walk through. While people of this tribe tried to educate others about the importance of protecting their ancestral lands and the migratory paths of the people and animals between Mexico and the USA, Border Patrol has jurisdiction 100 miles inland from US borders, giving it access to most of the reservation. One could spend time just studying the dynamics of the vehicle barriers and surveillance cameras in this area, but I will leave that to those who know more than me.

I wonder how neighborly we really are with the people of Tohona O’Odham Indian Reservation and Mexico? Are we doing the right things: respecting Native American culture, Mexican culture and understanding the plight of those who are escaping their homeland to travel thousands of miles to enter the USA? I am not sure. 

About 20 miles north of the national monument is Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range. The bombing range is between the US-Mexican border and Interstate 8 straddling the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife area and the Tohono O’odham Nation. As I write this post, I hear planes in the distance. I have no idea if this is usual or increased air activity. I hope for no world war, especially as we all continue to be concerned about the current Ukrainian – Russian war. Let there be peace!

The Attraction: Seeing Sandhill Cranes

Bird watching is a hobby requiring great patience, especially when tiny birds flick quickly from place to place or when larger birds are flying overhead and I have no idea what bird it is! So when I have an opportunity to see tall birds on the ground I am taking time to visit them. 

What is particularly interesting about these birds, sandhill cranes, is their daily routine; so once you know the coming and going at Whitewater Draw, McNeal, Arizona, with these birds it is fun to spend a day with them. They migrate to this area and stay October through to March.

When I visit, I typically arrive at the draw around 10:30am and watch the sandhill cranes return from the miles away local dry corn stubble they spent time eating for a morning meal. They’ll continue to arrive for the next 2 hours and then settle down or spend time preening. I discovered their stained feathers result from their muddy bills being in water with ferrous solution so while they preen their neck and back feathers become stained.

Around 4:30pm these tall wading birds with more than 6 foot wingspan will take off for their dinner meal and return as the sun sets. I estimated more than five thousand cranes were here and at other times the number will be much higher. Besides seeing them return in their v-shaped flock and individually land so they can roost here by this shallow water for the night, I was delighted to see a beautiful sunset.

I heard the bugling sound the birds make till 10pm and then all seems quiet until maybe 5:45am when some of the birds start to fly off for a morning meal. By the time I am awake and check on the birds almost 3/4 of the birds are gone and that was just after 6:15am. The sun rose a half hour later and still some cranes were hanging around. Later in the morning I left the draw. Enjoyed all 24 hours I was there as I observed the cranes, along with snow goose, northern shovelers, northern pintails and American coots. In the trees near the water’s edge you’ll see vermilion flycatchers, marsh wrens, black phoebes and I caught sight of a Cooper’s hawk, northern harrier. None of us could miss the yellow-headed blackbirds which I will write about in the next blog post.

Adult with red crown and white cheek patch.
You’ll see cranes off in the distance too.
Watching them drink water is interesting too.
Flying or landing … fascinating to watch.

Overnight #1 With My Van … “Glorified Tent”

Recently I was thinking about camping transitions I have made in my life. My parents encouraged travel when my 3 siblings and I were young. Many school holidays throughout the year we traveled from New York State to Florida or northward to Canada. We had a couple of camper trailers: a pop-up tent trailer and later a hard-top trailer towed by a station wagon. Each of us were provided a small box to pack our clothing in; everything had a specific place for it to be stored. Our collie, Ginger, traveled with us too. I have many fond memories of various trips and especially the 10 week trip around the USA.

As years went by and I continued my travel adventures, I often backpacked in NYS’s Adirondack Mountains, and also ventured on trails in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Virginia, Colorado, Wyoming and Arizona. The simplicity of carrying all my gear on my back was what I really enjoyed. In the 1970’s one sister of mine and I added a new dimension to our travel by bicycling from Miami to Homestead, Florida which is at the southern tip of the Everglades National Park and then across the state of Florida to Fort Meyers. The bicycling and tenting bug hit me again in 2018 when I bicycled 600 miles solo and self-contained from Minnesota to Indiana. 

In 2021 I built a bed platform, for rainy and quick night sleeping, in the my Honda Element and tented as I traveled 9300 miles around the USA. I also began to realize Covid-19 might be an international concern for a few more years and purchasing a van may allow me to roll off a bed mattress rather than crawl out of a tent each night. And that’s how I have Ram Promaster 1500, low roof, 118 wheelbase van now!

My first overnight went okay! I was at Whitewater Draw in Arizona to see sandhill cranes, more about that in my next blog post. To watch a sunset, cook and eat meals outdoors, hike as I wished to view the birds was great fun. I refer to my van as a “glorified tent”. There is so much in it that I need to chart where certain things are … much more complicated than knowing where in each pocket things were in my backpack … or even in my Honda Element! I have tried to keep it all simple and will tweak some things before my next adventure. But overall, I was a happy camper! I am looking forward to more adventure in my van, meeting new people, seeing new places, and enjoying the great outdoors!

Camping at Whitewater Draw – is in a parking lot!
We are here to see thousands of sandhill cranes!