The clue was rather vague as clues go: Drive five hours south to the second dot to the right in Harbor View. And so we did.
The map provided helped–sorta.
And just before dark we located the spot that included not only a view of the outer harbor, but also the back side of Hammonassett Beach State Park on Long Island Sound in Connecticut. It was like we knew exactly where we were going.
As it turned out, we were joined by another couple with whom we’d formed an alliance for the race and so we decided to spend the weekend completing the challenges together. Funny thing–I think we felt so comfortable with them because she looked very much like my sister and he reminded us of my brother-in-law. With them was a young man who is about to celebrate his 24th birthday (in two more days) and so we all celebrated with him–but even his presence was part of the challenge. And so Team Budz (the alliance couple) and Team Wonder (us), shared the responsibility of his presence. They picked him up at the train station. We provided the cake, which he decorated himself. We also offered the musical accompaniment, much to his dismay. And together, presents, much to his delight.
Refreshed after a good night’s sleep in that delightfully salty air, we faced new challenges, such as sighting three mammals. Together, Team Budz and Wonder spied cottontail rabbits, which were probably the eastern species that was introduced into New England in the late 1800s/early 1900s and have expanded in range ever since, rather than the native New England Cottontail. Both feature large hind feet, long ears, and a short, fluffy tail that resembles its namesake–a cotton ball. Suffice it to say: it was a cottontail. We also saw a red fox that looked a bit mangy and was too close to home, poking up as it did on the rocks in front of our accommodation, and a momma raccoon that, sadly, had been struck by a car–ever so gently struck.
Challenge number two found us seeking two sea birds. We found adult Osprey standing guard,
and scanning the water for a fishy meal.
Meanwhile, their young patiently awaited breakfast in the nest built of sticks upon man-made platforms that were installed at least thirty years ago. And actually, while we watched them, we noted something disturbing–tangled fishline dangling from the construction site. That led us to send out a word of caution–dispose of your tangled fishline so the birds and other aquatic species with whom we share this Earth don’t get wrapped up to the point of no escape, aka death.
We did note that while some of the young Osprey stretched their wings to capture the sun’s warmth and waited for mom and pop to return with a meal, a couple of smaller birds used the nest structure as a great place to pause below and contemplate the surrounding world. Osprey eat fish and perhaps the smaller birds knew that? Or they just made the right decision.
The Great Egret was the second bird we were assigned to watch . . . as it watched.
And exclaimed its beauty.
And watched some more.
And then . . . the splash.
To pull in.
And swallow some more.
Suddenly, in a flash of time, for so it seemed, Team Wonder needed to hold up its end of the alliance bargain and get this guy back to the train.
But–we needed directions to the railroad station, for we wanted to make sure that he made his connection in New Haven.
We were told to look to the sky for a message–and it was there that we found an advertisement unfolding in what struck us as a strange place, but perhaps it wasn’t so strange after all, for it was above some train tracks. Another Happy Birthday Message?
Whatever, it turned out to be the right one. First, the Shoreline East to New Haven and then the Metro North to Grand Central. And off he went–to his home of the past year and his career in the film editing industry (and his 24th birthday in two more days).
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, aka Alliance Inn, the tide was slowly coming in, but we headed out, two teams as we were, ready to take on the next adventure.
My guy and Mr. Budz led the way through the shallow water the outer harbor has long been famous for.
It’s a tradition of the neighborhood–this gathering place at low tide.
Team Wonder did get a wee bit worried when Team Budz paired up ahead–where they going to ditch us at the channel?
But they didn’t. Instead, they paused with us to look at one of the wonders we needed to find by the sandbars–what was it?
A sand collar–which felt like sand paper above and was smooth below. It was actually a mass of snail eggs. A rather amazing form.
On the sandbars and in the water, Spider Crabs appeared fierce, but were really quite nonchalant. Note the round and spiny carapace, with small spines running down its back. The crab is known to attach bits of algae, mud, and seaweed to many sticky hairs all over its bodies for camouflage, thus giving it a frightening look, but don’t take it seriously. It moves quite slowly and won’t pinch your toes like some of its relatives.
And then we saw the wicked cool Lady’s Slipper of the Sound. Slipper shells they may be, but their natural history is amazing. The following is from the University of Rhode Island: This shell is shaped like an egg or oval that has been cut in half with the top of the shell turned sharply to one side. Looking at the underside of the shell, it is easy to see how it got its name. Underneath the shell is a ledge to support the internal organs; this ledge extends about half the length of the animal. Different slipper shell species are characterized by different shell textures, including rough, smooth, ribbed, corrugated, and flat. Although they have a foot for locomotion, by the time they reach maturity they anchor themselves to a hard substrate and remain stationary.
And there’s more: All common slipper shells start their lives as males, but some change to females as they grow older. A waterborne hormone regulates the female characteristics. Once they change into females, they remain females. They often stack up on top of each other for convenient reproduction. The larger females are on the bottom, the smaller males are on the top, and the hermaphrodites are between the two. If the ratio of males to females gets too high, the male reproductive organs will degenerate and the animal will become female. Eggs are laid in thin-walled capsules that the female broods under her foot.
Common slipper shells also form stacked aggregations when there is no hard substrate on which to attach. They attach to objects in large numbers and can sometimes suffocate the animal on which they are attached.
Who knew? I just thought they were common slipper shells.
We’d finished the sandbar challenge and had no idea how the other teams might be doing, though we did wonder if some of them were thrown off for we spotted a sign that said “sanbars” instead of “sandbars” and we could only hope that they’d gone off in search of the former–to no avail.
Alliance Inn beckoned, as did the incoming tide, and so we headed back toward the shore.
And the next challenge–completing the Sunday crossword puzzle. My guy read the clues and told us how many letters and the four of us shouted out answers–whether they fit or not. I silently kept score (sorta) and was sure that Team Wonder was in the lead, but didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, for we had agreed on an alliance after all. At least for this weekend.
At last the sun set on the day. And the outer harbor.
And we celebrated the day’s discoveries with a bottle of The Cottage for it seemed apropos. I think we were all in agreement, however, that the bottle was much better looking than the flavor and we aren’t exactly wine connoisseurs.
And then this morning dawned with another bird ID challenge. First up–who had taken up housekeeping in the apartment building meant for the Purple Martins? House Sparrows.
And we wondered if they might have some young in Apartment D for come and go did the male and female, both attentive to whomever hung out within.
Overlooking it all, a Purple Martin–though he never defended his territory.
And immature Starlings . . .
as invasive as ever . . .
stood ever so ready to move in to Apartment B.
Who stood on the right-hand jetty? A Greater Yellowlegs Sandpiper, its bill longer than its head.
And on another jetty to the south–a Cormorant gathered warmth in its wings, first turning to the right.
Then to the left.
And finally slipping back into the water and cruising by.
At last, much to our dismay, our time with Team Budz drew to an end, quite like the way a day lily such as those my mom so loved and planted everywhere, shared their pollen and then closed up. Who knows what the next episodes will bring. Will we continue to join forces with Team Budz to complete the next challenges? Will they pull ahead of us? Or we ahead of them? We’re only halfway through the Race and as we all know–anything can happen.
But–as we lived in the moment, we certainly loved this episode’s opportunity to celebrate a certain young man’s 24th birthday, ID birds we hadn’t paid attention to since we were kids, explore the sandbar once again, and enjoy the camaraderie of this couple we’ve grown quite fond of. As we go forward, may the best team win . . . and if it can’t be Team Wonder, then we sure hope it’s Team Budz.