Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ham N' Eggs

We drove down to the shores of Connecticut for our first run to the ocean this year, only to find too many people had the same idea. Craftily flanking two traffic jams on the way down, we arrived at our destination, Rocky Neck State Beach, to find it completely full and the entrance closed off by state police.

Ok then, plan B: the nearby Sound View Beach in Old Lyme, just a few miles away. It's not a state park like Rocky Neck, but a good beach nonetheless. Unfortunately we found it to be similarly inaccessible due to a shortage of parking spaces in the small neighborhood of cottages abutting the public beach area. The place was swarming with people who had gotten there first, and eagerly coughed up the 20 dollars for every parking spot being charged, on this possibly first hot and humid weekend. I can't blame the lot owners for getting what they can; it must have been a slow season up to this point...

Alright, down to plan C: drive aimlessly along the coast and hope something good comes up...

Motoring along with a dimming outlook, memories of another Connecticut state park that we had stumbled upon with my family, way back in my cottony-shadowy youngster years, suddenly washed like sea foam into the fore of my mind..: 'ham and eggs', came the whisper...'Ham and Eggs'...

It was the nick-name my cousins and I had given to a very long narrow stretch of beach, long ago. It was a beach on which we had spent a cool, cloudy, rain-threatened afternoon huddled on a large quilt, making only a quick foray or two into a tossing murky surf. Maybe the inclement weather that day had left a sour note on our minds, but I don't think we ever made it back there again, and over the years the destination had disappeared, fading over the distant horizons of my memory. Now the memory had come back again, hopefully to save our trip and our day at the last minute. The real name of the place was Hammonasset Beach, but that had way too many consonants, so we had sardonically come up with 'Ham and Eggs' to remember the park by. I searched for it in my GPS, and found it was a mere 10 miles away...booyah.

We found the massive state park happily free of any crowds or mile-long traffic jams. We paid the 15 dollar entrance fee and drove for a distance past some sprawling camp grounds loaded with tents and trailers. After a little bit more driving we were presented with a decision to head east or west, and headed east toward the nature center. That's right, the Nature Center. Be still my traveling heart; Hammonasset holds a massive nature preserve, loaded with coastal goodness.

This time, the weather was far more welcoming, and the beach took on an entirely new, happier perspective from what I remembered.





I often pause for second at times like these and it occurs to me how much can change from then and now. Here I am again so many years later, with my own family.



We staked out our spot on the sand, got Kelly and the kid set up with umbrella and blanket, and helped get a giggling bloggerette sun-screened, who seemed happy to oblige...



Who doesn't love the beach...



All the duties done and the fam' squared away, it was finally time to set out on my own and see what this Hammonasset nature preserve had to offer...

Immediately near and all along the beach are young forests of conifers and coastal plant life, with sandy trails running between the trees.



Walking through, you're surrounded by singing birds of all types, landing and flitting away ahead of your approach. All the usual western mass suspects like catbirds, grackles, finches, cardinals and robins were all pretty prevalent, and all the different types of birds seemed to have their young up and about, too...







The place also seems to be awash with rabbits, who apparently have little fear of the humans.



A mocking bird glided from tree to tree just ahead of me, stopping to sing a couple bars each time he perched...



...and rounded out his show by giving me a picture shot I've been trying to get for for some time, with the white wing and tail bands showing in flight...



Emerging from the pines and following the road east towards the nature center there is a massive salt marsh and meadows stretching off into the distance.



Planted here and there in the marsh are some very large nesting towers.



Some people passed by me and asked if I had seen any ospreys out there, so I assume the nesting towers were for them. If so, the ospreys definitely not around now, as starlings and grackles seem to be squatting in the towers. They fly around the marshes in large flocks and seem to have the run of the place.

A little further on, and the Nature Center has arrived.



I went in for a look around, and found it mostly loaded with snake and turtle tanks.





There's a small pool downstairs where you can touch some lobster and crabs if you dare.



Right outside the nature center is a nice well-kept garden, with coastal plants mixed in with more land-lubbing varieties.



Also, the more coastal varieties of bird life seemed to be congregating around the building, or maybe they just seemed to be coming around at that particular hour of the day. Cormorants, gulls and terns soared overhead.





The nature center has some nice condo-looking nesting boxes set up, which have been completely taken over by purple martins.



I read that these birds have pretty much given up on wild nesting and have become almost completely dependant on bird boxes. They're the largest members of the swallow family, and love to eat dragonflies. I thought that was an interesting fact, as dragonfly wings can be seen sticking out of the beak of the purple martin in the pic below.



I imagine they're pretty tasty...



Cool stuff. Hammonasset has risen in the ranks of my shoreline destinations, and hopefully we'll be back again this year, and get here earlier in the day.

For now, it was time to get back to my own brood, and enjoy some beach time, while there's still beach time to be had...

3 comments:

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Nature shots stunning as always, but I love that photo of putting the sunscreen on the baby. That made my day.

Tony said...

There's something catchy about a giggling baby...

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I had to take another look today. I laugh out loud every time I see her.