RI Part 2: Piping Plovers & Osprey Activity

History buffs would love visiting this state … however, for me it was about birding and specifically water birds. I walked along Third Beach in Middletown which is next door to Sachest Point National Wildlife Refuge. 

Sand dunes are protected with fences to hold the dunes. Another couple of areas had string protecting piping plover nesting areas. Piping plovers are cute little birds but I had no expectation in actually seeing any. Fortunately though, as I was returning to my van, three piping plovers were down by the water’s edge! Another bird was hanging with them and its identification was not finalized till later that night … rare sighting, a Baird’s sandpiper.

Piping plover
Protective area for the piping plovers
Baird’s sandpiper
Many, many shells and these caught my eye as quite unusual.

After time at Third Beach, I decided to check another area along the East Harbor. While on my way, I passed a southern circuit Rail Explorers start point. It is a 3 mile out and 3 mile back tour where people pedal the rails! They even have a “Lantern ride”. All sounds like fun and I need to remember this activity since it happens elsewhere: Adironacks, Delaware, Las Vegas and NY’s Catskill Mountains. The operation began in 2015 and they are looking for more places for rail locations in the USA and world. Very interesting since rails are also being converted to bicycle paths …and for jogging, walking, etc.

As I continued my drive, an osprey nest caught my eye. I stopped north of the US Naval Undersea Warfare Center and walked along both sides of the road. The ospreys were quite busy building a nest and there were about 20 different bird species in the area. 

Osprey building its nest

Eventually, I had a wedding to attend to, so off I went to ready for it and locate a parking place in jam-packed Newport. I did find a parking spot, had my first parallel-parking experience with the van, and arrived at Kay Chapel at Hotel Viking for the wedding. (Kay Chapel was built in 1869 on land purchased from the Moravian Church and dedicated to the memory of Nathaniel Kay, Collector of King’s Customs in the early 18th century. I looked up the info since I found myself driving on Kay Street and thought there must have been significance in that name.)

After the wedding, I strolled a few of the busy streets in Newport with all its one way streets, shops and cafes. I cannot imagine this place in the summer season … grid-lock? 

Kay Chapel, associated with Hotel Viking, in Newport, RI

Discovering Rhode Island: Part 1 of 3

I had never spent time in the state of Rhode Island. So here I was under sunny skies, discovering plenty of water … ponds, lakes and coastline with freshwater or salt water breezes, dependent on where I was …  and many bridges connecting its major islands as I explored from East Greenwich to Newport to Tiverton. 

Native Americans did live around the Narragansett Bay Area before the English arrived in the early 17th century. Rhode Island is the smallest state in the US, not an island, and one of the original 13 colonies so I saw many old cemeteries and historical markers. Also, plenty of vineyards, greenhouses, nurseries, marinas, rock walls, naval installations and where there are cities and towns … plenty of people and thus traffic jammed into an area … so it was nice to remain on the outskirts of them!

My first stop was at Beavertail State Park, Jamestown, Rhode Island on Conanicut Island … one of Rhode Island’s islands. I walked a section of the coastline and hedge rows within the park to look for birds. But when I first arrived I could not miss the lighthouse with its historical information and the area’s history. Did you know the base of the original lighthouse had an octagonal base? This lighthouse was then built further inland than the original one.

Current lighthouse is not on the edge of the island as it once was.
Lighthouse keeper’s quarters
Original lighthouse base was octagonal and wooden.
Rocky coastline

After noticing a tick on my ankle while visiting Long Island, NY, I was wondering if ticks were a concern here too. The first sign I saw was a coyote warning and then a sign regarding ticks … okay, got that answer!

No coyotes or ticks seen by the end of my visit, but I did observe 11 different bird species and one new bird, an Eastern towhee … only because it was calling to me!

Eastern towhee
Eastern towhee … love the colors!

Celebrate Your Life!

Another day, another year, another birthday! Time to celebrate!

Not only another year … another decade, time to celebrate!

Wow time flies, yet I think I am making the most of what life offers me!

Time to celebrate; happy birthday to me.

When it is your birthday this year, happy birthday to you too!

Celebrate and live your life! 

Historic Sites To Visit in NYS

I was born in NYS and will always consider myself a New Yorker despite now living in southwest USA. Whenever I hear Alicia Keyes song titled “Empire State of Mind”, it simply fills my heart! Yea…yea…New York!

I love traveling and visiting new places and even in NYS there are many places to wander through where I had not yet visited. So my friend and I continued our sightseeing along the Hudson River Valley with its numerous outdoor parks, small towns to shop in, old taverns and inns to enjoy a beer and/or food, and local roads away from the NYS Thruway and other major roads paralleling the Hudson River. Despite only having a few days to explore the area, we did stop by many historic sites. Since Covid-19 cases were again rising in NYS during our visit, we remained outdoors at these locations and someday may visit when indoor tours are available.

Wilderstein Mansion: A cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt once lived in this Victorian mansion. The 19th century Queen-Anne-style country house is now a museum and the grounds were open to visitors.

Wilderstein Mansion, Rhinecliff, NY

Franklin D. Roosevelt Home & Library: I am sure one could spend hours reading the documents at this presidential library, but we had a quick visit to see the grounds and home. I noticed a sculpture outside the library. Winston S. Churchill’s granddaughter created this sculpture: Breakfree, which is a large concrete piece of the Berlin Wall and people freeing themselves over the barbed wire.

Franklin D. Roosevelt home, Hyde Park, NY

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill Cottage is the first Historic Site devoted to a First Lady. What a beautiful location! I would love to spend an overnight or two here! (I doubt that us even possible.) I love reading quotes and often include a quote at the end of my e-mails. A recent  Eleanor Roosevelt quote I used: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Val-Kill Cottage, Hyde Park, NY

Esopus Meadows Lighthouse called, “Maid of the Meadows” was constructed in 1839. We stopped at Esopus Lighthouse Park to see the lighthouse which is the last wooden framed and clapboard exterior lighthouse on the Hudson River and walk a hiking trail along the river’s edge.

The lighthouse was important in warning mariners of submerged mudflats and to guide river traffic to the east to avoid shallow areas. Apparently the tide once was low enough on the river that cows could graze on the green grass, thus the meadow reference in its name, but now the meadow is underwater. (Are we seeing a result of an ocean rising?)

Along the way I discover an informational sign about how one can participate in a chronolog. So I placed my iPhone in the stand, snapped a photo and sent it in so researchers have a chronology of what’s happening to the shoreline at this park. I watched, with my photo included, the time lapse at their website to see how the shoreline has changed thus allowing others to determine how to handle the erosion that may be happening. Very cool and important work!

Esopus Lighthouse on Hudson River, NY
My submitted photo to the chronolog.

Poet’s Walk Park, Red Hook, NY

There are numerous parks, preserves, refuges and places to walk in New York State. And when we are having sunny and warm days in the Hudson River Valley, it was almost difficult to decide which one to visit! We decided to walk and bird-watch at Poet’s Walk Park. This park was created in 1850 on two neighboring estates where it is said famous writers, such as Washington Irving, walked and were inspired to write. I liked the designed landscape of “outdoor rooms”, areas of the land separated by stands of trees and stone walls. I loved this structure: “Overlook Pavilion”. 

My friend at Overlook Pavilion

My friend and I walked the park and I spent time photographing birds. The numerous bluebird boxes around the property reinforced the fact I would see many bluebirds:

Eastern bluebird
Bluebird in flight

Plus there were other birds: Eastern Phoebe, blue jay, tree swallow and white-breasted nuthatch:

Eastern phoebe
Blue jay
Tree swallow
White-breasted nuthatch

This was a great place for us to stretch our legs, look out over the Hudson River and enjoy a sunny day! If we had planned ahead, it would been a great place for a picnic. So if you are in the area, consider that idea at this park and enjoy!

Time to Walk Over a NY River!

I asked my Binghamton, NY friend to suggest an area for us to visit for a few days. She would have a change of scenery and we could both visit some place new to us. She read about the “Walkway Over the Hudson” so we decided to visit the Hudson River Valley which is miles north of New York City.

The “Walkway Over the Hudson” is a pedestrian, steel, 1.28 mile cantilevered bridge, 212 feet above the Hudson River. Visitors … walkers, bicyclists, joggers … can access it from Poughkeepsie, NY on the east or Highland, NY on the west side of the river. It is the longest, elevated pedestrian bridge in the world and the connector for what is an 18 mile rail trail connecting both sides of the river. We walked the bridge from both ends on 2 beautiful sunny days. Many people were also enjoying their time on the bridge, looking out on the landscape and the nearby Mid-Hudson Bridge for cars, etc.

Along the bridge are interpretative signs explaining the local area’s rail history as this once was a major rail corridor. The bridge was abandoned after a 1974 fire, but fortunately with many partnerships involving public, governmental and private entities provided funding for the bridge renovation it opened as a State Historic Park in October 2009. All across our country abandoned rail corridors are more often used for trails … interested in knowing more? Check out https://www.railstotrails.org

A couple of things I noticed: not a piece of litter was seen anywhere on the bridge, people, for the most part, walked the side lanes while bicyclists rode the middle lanes, bells are required on bicycles, a mental health telephone is on the bridge … maybe the result of a young person who jumped to his death in April 2021 … and there were many people enjoying the outdoor space each day we were there. Apparently 600,000 people will walk the bridge within the year! We had two beautiful sunny days and after the last couple of weeks of cold and rain I was a happy person, plus I was with my best NY friend! 

Walkway Over the Hudson River

Decompressing Is Important When Traveling

I have been two weeks on the road. Van life, outdoor time, driving long hours, and whatever else can add up … and I know what is best for me … take a day to decompress! And so I did … at a hotel!

The down time to relax and sleep in without a hat on my head or socks on my feet, let someone else cook my breakfast, exercise while watching television, not listen to the news on the radio or an audiobook, view and edit my many photos, write my blog posts in a warm setting, do laundry at a local laundromat, and take a shower in a warm surrounding; all luxurious happenings! Often travelers fail to admit the 24/7 level of activity can catch up with them, plus we still have the extra burden of Covid-19 variants, so taking a break is wonderful for me.

Seal was in CA and with best idea for relaxing!

I was looking at my trip report for eBird: in 2 weeks, I had submitted 15 checklists of places I observed birds, listing 54 species of birds, and submitted 34 photos for the 5 states I recorded any bird activity. My upcoming weeks will be a different tone for the majority of time is with friends and family; however, I am looking forward to what birds I will see in a couple of weeks in Rhode Island!

For now, time to stretch and take a walk! 

I can do that stretch too! Ah….relaxation … needed a slower pace!

Visit Presque Isle in Pennsylvania to See Birds!

In my last post, I might have sounded like I was complaining about the weather; well I was! And when I saw there was no chance in the weather changing, I cut my Ohio time short and moved on despite knowing the whole east coast of the USA was with lousy weather. I decided to find a place where I could hang out for a day and observe birds in between raindrops! What was funny though (because one must laugh about it all, which I did find myself doing), by the end of the day I had rain, sleet and hail to contend with as I looked for birds. Then if I wanted a photo of the bird, I waited for it to fly off or take its head out from under its feathers! Five hours later I saw 3 new birds for my life list and about 20 other species of birds. Interesting and challenging day!

I was at Presque Isle State Park, Erie, Pennsylvania. This park is a peninsula on Lake Erie and quite a place for birds to flyover or land in any of its lakes and wetlands. I drove the peninsula a couple of times because I was looking for a particular bird which unfortunately I never found: red-throated loon. A couple of guys I spoke with had seen one! I had no luck finding it, but my 3 new birds for my life list: red-breasted merganser, common loon, and greater scaup. Photos are below. 

The common loon is only new for my life list started a couple of years ago with eBird. I first heard and saw the common loon when canoeing to an island in Stillwater Reservoir in New York State’s Adirondack Park in the 1970’s. Their eerie call at night will always be remembered. I had also seen a loon nesting at a lake about 4 miles from where my Adirondack place was, so seeing these loons in open water was a treat!

I will keep this state park in mind for future visits. Here are some photos from there when the weather cooperated for a few minutes.

Red-breasted merganser
Common loon … looks like a wooden one I received from a Cincinnatus colleague.
Greater scaup, male
Greater scaup, female
Wood duck

It’s Okay To Ask the Question: Having Fun Now?

Bridge Across the Mississippi River from Illinois to Iowa

Long distance van travel, camping, outdoors 24/7, unknowns, weather, and solitude are just not everyones cup of tea … although for me that cup of tea is usually around 10:30 each morning! 

I’ve been in Illinois the last few days and asked myself, am I having fun? Despite the cold weather in Colorado and Nebraska, I had plenty of places to visit and birdwatch during the day with occasional sunshine. Time in Iowa, Illinois and Ohio is pushing me to my wits-end with damp, cold, gray weather! Worse yet, the rain! I don’t mind bundling up for a walk in cold or even windy weather, but rain …yes, I do mind! That calls for time to see a movie: I saw “Coda”. (It’s a good one to watch at your local theater or Apple TV.)

My battery for charging my electronic devices, Goal Zero Yeti 150, died. Sure I could plan library stops to charge all my electronic devices, or as I recently did … asked for a lunch booth near an electrical outlet. I have only been charging my phone in the van. All batteries are having a difficult time with the cold temperatures. Thankfully I am warm at night under my layers: flannel sheets, fleece and fiberfill blankets, sleeping bag and with thermal underwear, alpaca socks and hat on! (I know when backpacking I would have my fuel canister, clothing and whatever else under the covers with me, but I have not done that on this trip yet. I have to draw the line someplace to realize I am in a van and not a tent!)

In 2019, I bicycled through parts of Iowa, never spending much time by the Mississippi River so I purposely chose to visit this area on this trip. Since weather is not allowing me to bicycle ride, I drove south on the east side of the river, crossed it and then north on the west side. Loud Thunder Forest Preserve: birds smart enough to shelter somewhere out of my sight, except for 2 turkey vultures on a dead, roadside deer. Fairport State Recreation Area: I took time for my cup of tea, writing back to Goal Zero rep, increasing cell data on Ipad as I warm it on my chest (battery is struggling with the cold temperature), looking at upcoming days of cold weather and making alternative plans. 

The good news is I am not tenting! The van does provide a certain amount of protection from the elements … the wind rocks me to sleep and I have no worries of  rain drops leaking in. However, as I see people in heated RV’s, turning their TV on to watch whatever, I think to myself … hmmm … am I having fun? It takes a certain personality to handle unknowns such as weather. I do awake each morning under warm blankets in my van, wonder and observe, is it as cold outside as in the van? Is the sun shining? Is the wind blowing? Will my fuel canister light so I can make breakfast? Even as I look out the window I do not know every answer … and then I step out of the van … and immediately know what I will do for the day The best thing about the van is I carry everything with me so I can cook, relax, and travel anywhere to make a day work for me.

One thing I realized with the van is I only have to arrive at a campground when I am ready to sleep. Having dinner, preparing the bed area, finalizing my communications and planning for the next day can all be done anywhere. I discovered I was leaving the mat and step stool outside my van door at a campground when the weather had been nice in the morning, but on questionable weather days I take them with me … subconsciously thinking, I don’t need to return here if I do not want another night at this location; I will lose the cost of the campground that night, but I may have found something or weather better elsewhere! (Have never had to actually do that, but who knows, it may happen!)

The cost of everything has gone up. Let’s skip the gas price discussion for a moment. I discovered family restaurants at breakfast or lunch are the best deals. For maybe double the cost of a fast food joint, their prices are up too, local restaurants provide huge meals! A Reuben sandwich is my favorite and when I had fries, and cole slaw and soup, wow! Plus I received a discount because I paid cash. 

Back to the gas prices. When my Mom asked if I noticed the price of gas, I told her if I thought about it I would not be visiting her. However, truth be told, I did think about it and am doing my own little experiment. I purchased a basic Costco membership to possibly save money on gas. First challenge: find the Costco gas station on my route, 2) guess which will be the fastest line at the pumps, and 3) compare the Costco price with local price to determine savings. So far I have saved money, especially if filling with an almost empty van tank. Unfortunately, not many Costco stations on the east coast, but I can continue to save money when I return home since a Costco is a few miles away.

I have not been motivated to take many photos. Plenty of birds have been observed but the rainy gray sky is not exciting me for any photography. This morning I saw great blue herons, Canada geese, a pied-billed grebe, robins, ducks, red-winged blackbirds and grackles … all noisy while I made breakfast. A northern cardinal flew by and I wondered if it was the same one I saw the previous night singing its heart out. My campsite is in-between 2 lakes so plenty of water birds to observe.

Another day I drove on the west side of the Mississippi River. There are parks and places to watch river action near the locks and dams. I will return to this area to bicycle ride when the weather is warmer. So many bicycle trails come through this area which was my reason for stopping here to cycle, but 45 degrees and windy weather is not my idea of a fun day.

Although not cycling did provide me time to locate help for my Goal Zero Yeti 150. Batteries Plus set me up with a new battery on the spot for about $20 more than if I had it shipped to some place on my trip. It’s true, you pay for convenience and now I do not have to make library stops to charge devices.

As I look out on the lake where I am camping, there will soon be white caps on the water. Fortunately this morning I did take time to birdwatch and photograph some of the birds. Here are photos from these past few days. The answer to my question at the start: I am having fun, but I’ll have more fun with friends, family and warmer weather!

On wall of Building in Rock Island, Illinois
American white pelican at Sunset Park
Great blue heron at campground lake
I heard the woodpecker and found it; red-bellied woodpecker.

Part 2: Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska

I drove many dirt roads between Kearney and Donaphin, Nebraska, south of Interstate 80, and south of the Platte River to observe sandhill cranes in the fields and on the river. Each spring, millions of sandhill cranes migrate through this area and people flock to see them. The Platte River is considered a “staging area” where the birds rest, replenish energy reserves and then fly on to nesting grounds in Canada, Alaska and Siberia. This is the largest concentration; 80% of all sandhill cranes come to the Platte River each spring. The majority of the birds are closer to Kearney, but I did see a few birds at Grand Island, 42 miles to the east.

When you spend hours watching the birds you notice their dancing. Whether a bow, jump or other crazy move you’ll wonder if it is a message of dominance, protection or love. It’s really intriguing to try and figure what they wish to communicate to the other. I learned more about the reddish skin on the crane’s forehead. The exposed area contracts when the bird is relaxed and expands when the bird is alert or excited. Plus, depending on their level of excitement the color may vary: excited bright red crimson red to dull relaxed reddish gray. 

Here are some photos of cranes standing around when I was not looking at their butt while eating and others in a dance:

Notice the red skin; bird knows I am new to the area.
Is that joy or not?
Jumping for joy?

I have hundreds of photos where sandhill cranes are flying … in, overhead, or to their roost … trying to capture their formation in the sky, gracefulness in landing and the beauty of the night. But once again, I join a number of people to see them come to roost at about 8pm. (Many people were here at 7:15pm to get a good position, many bring chairs, to see the birds.) Finally, 7:50pm, the birds begin to arrive! Huge numbers of birds fill the sky as they land and settle in on the sandbars in the shallow river water a distance to the west of us. Every time I see this sandhill crane activity, it is amazing and fascinating to watch! I was sharing this with the man standing next to me, they look like Mary Poppins coming down with her umbrella. Somehow I find them a bit comical as they land, but they are successful and that is what matters!

I’ll finish this post with photos of the cranes, but know also there were other birds out in the area. I visited a Nature Conservancy prairie tract and also saw a greater yellowlegs, northern shoveler, and blue-winged teal, Plains bison and acres and acres of agricultural land. At my campground there are plenty of American robins, common grackles, sparrows and red-winged blackbirds. When I asked a young woman at a coffee shop in Donaphin what I should not miss, since there are many museums and places to visit, she said, see the birds.

Next I am driving to Illinois, a long drive with a stop at Cabela’s to determine how best to get a replacement battery for my Goal Zero Yeti 150. From my understanding now, it seems the battery may have needed covers too for the Colorado and Nebraska cold nights, and then it died. Whatever the case, I’ll write again when I can. For now, please enjoy these photos: