Thimble Islands

A Burrito and a New Duck

March is by far the earliest month that has ever found me in a sea kayak, but I have heard that we get Harbor Seals, and I figured, having seen them before in Maine, I should try to see them before they depart for colder climes in April.

I checked out lots of the little islands off of Stony Creek, but I didn't see any seals. I did, however, see these American Oystercatchers. I've seen them before, though not balancing on one leg to conserve warmth like this pair is.
As I circled some of the small islands, the Oystercatchers circled a few times. I do my best not to disturb them and to shoot from a respectful distance with a telephoto lens, but they still moved about a bit as I searched for a place to stop and have a snack.
The gulls took off en masse before I even got close to this island, the first unowned rock that offered enough downwind shelter for me to disembark. That's a bit of a trick with an expensive camera and a kayak whose cockpit is only a few inches clear of the water. I do keep the camera in a drybag in case there are any wayward splashes, but even so, I needed some shelter from the two-foot swells in order to pop off the deck without being swamped.
Before I embarked, I stopped off in downtown Branford to fill my thermos with some coffee from Common Grounds. I also grabbed a burrito from Tacuba. Despite the fact that it took me over an hour of paddling to find a suitable island, the burrito was still warm and completely delicious.

I set up the camera on a mini-tripod and used the remote shutter control to stage a little self-portrait of myself enjoying my goodies.
I had never even heard of Long-tailed Ducks until today, but on my way back to the boat ramp, I saw this little male, still in his winter plumage. I was completely lost in terms of IDing him on the spot, but I was able to capture a good enough photo to look him up from the comfort of an armchair later on. That's one more duck on my life list.

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My Private Island

Today I left from the Stony Creek boat launch for the first time this year and tooled around the Thimble Islands again.

I went east along the coast, almost all the way to Guilford, and then turned around. The tide was mostly out, so there were lots of temporary islands with birds going about their days, and I got my first ever good picture of an American Oystercatcher. I've seen them a few times before, but they're pretty skittish, so it's hard to get close enough.

The Thimble Islands and the Stony Creek area have some amazing shoreline real estate and beautiful houses. When I went into teaching, I pretty much guaranteed that I'd never make enough money to buy one of those private islands or the massive, immaculate houses with their huge decks and gorgeous views. However, with the tides, anybody with a little boat, a little knowhow, and a little good timing can be a little prince, at least for long enough to eat a granola bar and drink some cold water. And the sunburn is the same one you get on a million dollar island.

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Old Sea Crows

For a long time, I’ve kept my old whitewater kayak in the shed on a sort of just-in-case basis. I don’t have any local friends who paddle, though, and I haven’t actually taken the thing out in quite some time.

So I decided that I was old enough to simply give in and accept that I probably wasn’t going to be whitewater boating anymore. There are certainly plenty of guys much older than I who do whitewater, but I think my days of throwing a boat on the car and driving to Maine to catch a dam release are probably over.

So I wrote up a classified ad for the whitewater boat and bought myself a proper sea kayak. After all, the New England coastline is famous for its beauty, its wildlife, and its seaside culture.

I took it down to the closest put in (Stony Creek), and gave myself a tour of the Thimble Islands.

Typically, I’d try not to disturb resting birds, but I paddled upwind of this Double-crested Cormorant and let the breeze take me closer and closer as I snapped shots. Finally, he gave me the hairy eyeball and took off like some prehistoric monster.

“Cormorant” is a contraction of corvus marinus, Latin for “sea crow.” It’s apt. They’re common, hardy, and have a reputation for greedy eating.

A more difficult subject was this Common Tern, who was fishing off of one of the pricier-looking pieces of property. Taking these photos involved drifting and twisting and mashing the shutter button.

I did get a couple of good ones, including this one, which could be used if these people ever want to put their enormous island house on the market.

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