Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunrise at Hammonasset

Andy was getting up really early for work this morning, so I got the bright idea that it would be fun to go for a sunrise walk up at Hammonasset park. Dogs aren’t welcome on the beaches during the swim season, and there’s a fee to enter the park. After October, though, it’s just a big, open, lovely place with beaches and marshes.

I don’t usually talk too much about the humans who join us on walks, but for reasons that will become apparent shortly, I’ll mention them this time.

Ben, Jen, Jeremy, and a very pregnant Naomi came to walk on the beach and watch the sun come up. The dogs, of course, wasted no time jumping in and out of the water and staring wistfully at seagulls out of reach.

I like watching the sun rise, but I hate taking pictures of a sunrise. For me, the thing that’s the most sublime—with apologies to the Kantians among us who would deny that a sunrise provides the “check to the vital forces” (Kant, The Critique of Judgment)—is watching the sunrise change in its almost swift but almost imperceptibly slow way. Look away for a moment and look back, and it has certainly changed. Keep your eyes on it, and you’ll swear that it’s changing, but it’s hard to put your finger on exactly which piece is different.

I love it, and I love the overwhelming sense parade of a warm coffee in the hand, a sky wider than my field of vision changing across its whole scope, two red-gold blurs charging about interested in smells more than sights, a cold breeze seeping in through the zipper of my jacket, and friends close at hand.

The catalyst for the whole plan was the wonderful pictures my friend Jill takes of her dogs during the post-sunrise golden hour. She routinely takes the dogs to the beach at dawn, and she takes advantage of the special light you only get just after the sun breaks the horizon. The pictures are beautiful, and I’m always jealous when I see them.

Let me break for a second to quickly plug her business: PoeticGold Farm Dog Training.

I was not disappointed by the light. Soon after sunrise, the dogs were lit up in spectacularly rich color, and they ran between the salt marsh behind us and the beach in front of us over and over.

We startled a small flock of Sanderlings. When not being chased by Golden Retrievers, Sanderlings feed by running onto the wet sand as a wave recedes and feeding quickly on the creepy crawlies left on the sand. Then, they run away from the wave as it returns.

They run back and forth like clockwork toys, as if, as my dad puts it, they’re stitching the sand and sea together. That little description may be paraphrased from an earlier source than my father, so my apologies to any poets we may have unwittingly plagiarized.

Our friends eventually succumbed to the cold, but Comet, Jax, and I continued on and walked around the rest of the marsh for another hour or so. I met back up with my four friends and my parents for brunch later, and my mom said to Naomi, who was due in a few days, “Who knows? The baby could even come tonight?”

Miriam was born the next day. I’m a fan.

Why is this part of the story next to a quintessential picture of Jax flying out of the water? No reason at all. It just felt like the right moment. And what else is there to say about Jax that isn’t crystal clear in the picture already?

I’ll close the entry with two pictures. This first one was taken during our walk around the park. I set the dogs up on stay and then had them come to me over this wooden guard rail. I had in mind that I might get a great jumping picture in the great light.

The resulting picture was not what I intended, but it pretty neatly sums up the dogs’ personalities.

This one is a little more of what I had in mind, but I love both.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Berries in the Fall

After being rained in for a few days, I was really looking forward to this morning. The weather report promised that it wouldn’t rain, and it even hinted that the clouds would burn off by midmorning.

I called Jeremy and Naomi, and we took a stroll around the Supply Pond park. We came upon a Great Blue Heron, who wasn’t too concerned about the dogs and politely hung out for a minute or two.

I should have realized from the Blue Heron that today was going to be a wonderful day for bird pictures. I feel like the light hasn’t been this good in months. In fact, looking back at all these pictures, I’m not sure I’ve ever had such cooperative birds in such wonderful light.

This Downy Woodpecker was part of a mixed flock of chickadees, thrushes, sparrows and woodpeckers I photographed for several minutes. He and his mate worked the tree over, presumably looking for bugs, unlike his friends, who were clearly drawn by the berries high up in the tree.

The mixed flock had a high percentage of Hermit Thrushes, and they were definitely there for the berries. The All About Birds entry I linked to even mentions that they supplement their winter diet with berries, and I can now personally attest to that fact.

As I was photographing a Hermit Thrush on a branch, I saw a woodpecker in the left part of the frame. My mind wrote it off as the Downy, but right as I caught this neat shot of the thrush dropping off his branch, I started to have the strange feeling that the bird in the corner of my eye wasn’t as familiar as I had originally thought.

It turns out that it was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a bird I’ve never seen in Connecticut. If you ever wondered whether or not they were fructivores, here’s your proof. In this amazing light, the rich, deep red of his head and neck were striking, and his yellow belly, which is usually really hard to see, was quite obvious through the telephoto.

I do have proof that the dogs were actually there, though this entry doesn’t focus on them. Today was a very ordinary dog walk, super fun for them, restoring and relaxing for me. They were muddy and happy by the end, and that’s always a good thing.

As for my part, though, today I’m still crowing over the birds and the pictures I managed to get. It was definitely one of my all-time best bird photography outings.