Saturday, July 20, 2013

Everywhere I Wander...

It's been a busy summer! So far this season I have journeyed to Salt Lake City, to Anastasia State Park on the northeast coast of Florida, all around Alachua County, and more recently, taken a train trip to New York City followed by a car trip to Prouts Neck, a little summer community south of Portland, Maine. Very different regions and very different experiences. One of the joys of leaving home is that I get to familiarize myself with a whole new place. Just a short drive from home puts me in the midst of birds and flowers that I vaguely recognize, but can't quite ID without help. And I'm just not all that familiar with their behavior or habit. Life at the seashore, for example. I've studied Florida's coastal systems, but I've never lived right there and just don't know that much about the habitat. But I love to learn, so I watch a lot, take lots of photos and spend hours afterwards poring over my field guides to figure out what I've seen. The trip to New York and Maine was no different.
View From the Cliff Walk
In Maine, it got light VERY early (at least compared to here in Florida). I was woken by the sun at the crack of dawn and took advantage of staying right at the water's edge to get out exploring every day as early as I could. When we first decided that we were going to Maine, I was hopeful about the possibility that I'd get to see some Puffins. But it turns out that they are quite a bit north of where we were staying, so no Puffins. I'll have to save them for the next, extended, visit. My first journey out took me along the rocky cliffs overlooking the sea. Access to the cliffs takes you right past Winslow Homer's studio. Imagine his painted seascapes and you will know how lovely the view was. I walked past hedges of wild roses and patches of forget me nots. I was alone with no sounds but the gulls and the roar of the waves for the first half hour or so, and then slowly the village stirred back to life.
There were not many songbirds along the way, but I did see a few of the regulars: catbirds, robins, and song sparrows. There was no shortage of shorebirds, however. When I looked out over the cliffs I saw many large Herring gulls, busily catching crabs and dropping them onto the rocks to break their shells. I also saw a new bird. I forgot my binoculars, so couldn't tell what it was. A few more swam close. At first I wrongly guessed that they were Petrels, and later I decided that it was some sort of duck or goose, but had to talk to my sister-in-law to figure out that they were Eider Ducks!
Herring Gull Tossing a Crab in the Sand
Eider Duck
On subsequent trips to the Clam Flats and the swimming beaches I saw more Eider Ducks and Herring Gulls, as well as Ring Billed Gulls, Oystercatchers, Bonaparte Gulls, and Least Terns diving to catch fish. I watched a group of Ring Billed Gulls standing in knee high water and shuffling their feet to bring up goodies to eat. One of the gulls had orange tags on its wings and bands on its legs, but I couldn't tell much more about it to know if there is anyone to contact about the sighting.
Tagged Ring-Billed Gull, Doing the Shuffle
My family saw an eagle picking at a dead seal, but I was home napping and missed that one. Darn! I did catch sight of an Osprey with a Flounder in its claws and some Terns trying to steal it. Every evening there were Common Loons in the bay.
Osprey, Terns and Flounder
I only saw a couple butterflies when we were in Maine. I'm pretty sure I saw a Mourning Cloak butterfly in the yard, and there were some Sulphurs in the bushes at the side of the road. I can't say why there were so few--maybe it was too early in the season. What they did have a lot of was Japanese Beetles that were eating everything, including the wild roses. The beetles are actually quite pretty, but they lost their appeal in such great numbers.
Mating Beetles and Denuded Leaf
My walk up the road to the cliffs brought me close to the roadside wildflowers and weeds. Common Milkweed grows there, as does St. John's Wort, Goldenrod, Sumac and Queen Anne's Lace.
Common Milkweed

St. John's Wort


Queen Anne's Lace (I never noticed the tiny black seeds in the center before.)
There is also a lot of Poison Ivy. Luckily, Jewelweed, nature's antidote to the Poison Ivy rash, grows there, too. Jewelweed often grows in the same habitat as Poison Ivy, which is rather convenient. (I learned about this plant when we lived in Wisconsin. Sadly, Jewelweed doesn't grow in North Central Florida, even though we have a healthy supply of Poison Ivy). There were blackberry bushes along the walkways with ripe berries there for the munching, and we harvested seaweed for a fabulous clam/lobster boil. Maine was wonderful!

Bowl of Seaweed for Clam/Lobster Boil

Sun Rays over the Bay

Wonderful Maine Sunset
I love New York city, but this trip gave us quite a contrast compared to Maine. Where Maine was cool, New York was hot, hot, hot. Maine was quiet and peaceful and New York was noisy and chaotic. In Maine we saw lots of gulls and terns. In New York we saw lots of pigeons. But New York is about the greatest city experience ever, with restaurants, museums, stores, and people-watching. To make it even better, every few blocks you will find some sort of city park, with plenty of trees, benches and cooling greenery. Parks go a long way towards creating a more humane living space. On the last morning of our trip we took a walk through one of New York's most innovative parks, The High Line.
The High Line
The High Line is an elevated park, and I mean this both literally and figuratively. Genius residents and planners saw possibility in the abandoned elevated freight train platforms that criss-crossed the skyline of Chelsea and the Meat Packing District. Now, where once dilapidated rail lines loomed overhead, there are elevated greenways combining concrete, rail ties, trees, flowers, park benches, city views and public art.  Currently the High Line stretches for about 1.5 miles, but the city is in the process of expanding the park. It is a perfect combination of beautiful landscape architecture, recycling and urban renewal.  Even on the hottest morning there were people out walking and enjoying the views from above the street.
View up W. 23rd Street
Benches at various nooks and bends give opportunity for rest and contemplation. There is access via stairway from many streets, and elevator access at some entrances, too. Sculptures, paintings and poetry further redefine the old vision of a Park.
Motion Activated Sound Installation
(Here's a Youtube video/recording of "The Good Animals" part)

Mural From the Air

Park Sculpture

Another Sculpture and View

My Favorite Art Piece--A textured wall with a surface that reflects everything around it
The plant and flower beds are very interesting. At first I thought that they represented native plants of the area. But a friend told me that it is a specialized community of the self-seeded plants--weeds and whatnot, that grew on the old train tracks. I find the landscaping to be inspirational for my own garden.
Nectar for the City Bees in the Wildflowers

Color and Concrete

Plants growing through the "cracks"--recalling the originally self-seeded flora.

The High Line is very diverse and pretty. A refuge in the heart of the city. As if to make a point, a huge Tiger Swallowtail floated down to feed on some Echinacea flowers as we walked by.

Tiger Swallowtail Feeding in the Heart of the City
Manhattan and the coast of Maine. Both wonderful and full of surprises. Everywhere I wander, I find a new place to love and learn.


  1. The wing-tagged gull is part of a study being conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. You can report the sighting by email to or and be sure to attach the photo. You can read about the study at

  2. Thanks, Rex! I sent them my photo and they were appreciative.