A Winter Walk in Middletown

December 16, 2014

gravestone

A poignant gravestone inscription in the historic Riverside Cemetery in Middletown. Click to enlarge.

Mindful that we need exercise even in the oh-so-busy month of December, consider a winter walk among the holiday decorations and the historic sites and buildings in downtown Middletown.

The Middlesex County Historical Society makes it easy to get a sense of the city’s history with a Middletown Heritage Trail brochure highlighting 20 notable sites, some of them right on the city’s mile-long Main Street, others within a few blocks of Main.

Middletown is one of the oldest cities in the state, with a rich history well worth a morning or afternoon of sidewalk sauntering. Its booming maritime economy in the late 18th Century made it Connecticut’s most populous community at the time.

With the downtown shops decorated the holidays, a couple of restaurants on every block, and historic sites aplenty, December is a good month for a long stroll that gets you out of the house and into the crisp winter air. The weather in coming days should be ideal, with temperatures into the high 30s or 40s.

Don’t miss the Riverside Cemetery, cared for by the Middletown Old Burying Ground Association. It is the city’s oldest graveyard, the resting place for many early residents of the community.

You’ll need to borrow the key to the cemetery gate, available nearby at the fire station at 533 Main St. The cemetery itself is behind the well-known O’Rourke’s Diner.

Many of the markers convey poignant messages from centuries gone by. “Here lies one dead which in her life was my loveing (sic) pious wife. Abigail Harris died May the 22, 1723.”

There are many other sites to see, including General Mansfield House and a Civil War Monument at the other end of Main Street. Take the time to walk over to the Connecticut River, only a couple of blocks from Main. My column describing in more detail a history walk in downtown Middletown appears today in The Hartford Courant.

A Good Day in the Great Meadows

December 15, 2014

Fellow Capitol Bird Club members Bob Capers, Steve Kotchko and Alan Ponanski participating in the National Audubon Society's annual Christmas Bird Count yesterday. Click to enlarge.

Fellow Capitol Bird Club members Bob Capers, Steve Kotchko and Alan Ponanski participating in the National Audubon Society's annual Christmas Bird Count yesterday. Click to enlarge.

A mild day in Connecticut yesterday as the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count was conducted in the Hartford area. It was my 30th year participating in the count, in its 115th year this year.

The event is conducted throughout North America, this year from Dec. 14 to Jan. 3, in about 2,300 defined count areas, which are 15-mile-wide circles. The Hartford-area count extends 7.5 miles in all directions from the Old State House in Hartford, and includes all or parts of many Hartford suburbs.

I’ve been part of the crew monitoring the Great Meadows in Wethersfield, along the Connecticut River, all these years, the past 28 as part of the Capitol Bird Club, a small bird club made up mostly of Connecticut journalists. Yesterday, I participated with fellow club members Steve Kotchko, Bob Capers and Alan Polanski. Steve is one of the regional captains in the Hartford Count.

A brown creeper in Wethersfield. Photo by Steve Kotchko. Click to enlarge.

A brown creeper in Wethersfield. Photo by Steve Kotchko. Click to enlarge.

We had a good year, identifying 42 species, up from 36 last year when the count fell on a snowy day. Among the highlights were a peregrine falcon, a brown creeper, and a winter wren, species we do not see every year on the count.

Information gathered in the Christmas count helps keep tabs on long-term changes in bird populations both in the Hartford area, and throughout North America.

Here is a list of species we saw:

Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Mourning Dove, House Finch, Chickadee, Starling, Crow, Cardinal, Junco, White-throated Sparrow, Carolina Wren, Blue Jay, Robin, Hermit Thrush, Canada Goose, Tree Sparrow, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Winter Wren, Red-tailed Hawk, White-breasted Nuthatch, Titmouse, Mallard, Ring-billed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Song Sparrow, Grackle, Flicker, Red-winged Blackbird, Peregrine Falcon, Kingfisher, Herring Gull, Black Duck, Great Blue Heron, Mute Swan, Hooded Merganser, Brown Creeper, Great Black-backed Gull, Bald Eagle, Cowbird, Common Merganser, Hairy Woodpecker.

Walk a Beach This Weekend!

August 7, 2014

At Farmington, Ct.

The beach at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford is rockier than other Connecticut shoreline state parks, but there still is plenty to sandy beach for a nice work. Great spot for a picnic, too. Click to enlarge.

The beach at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford is rockier than other Connecticut shoreline state parks, but there still is plenty to sandy beach for a nice walk. Great spot for a picnic, too. Click to enlarge.

If there is a month for walking on beach sand, nature’s coastal cushion, it is August. And if there is a weekend for a beach walk, it is the coming weekend, with warm temperatures and low humidity.

It is for many of us, one of summer’s great pleasures, the feel of soft sand on the arches, a kind of seasonal freedom from the usual.

The Connecticut coast of course is a very private coast, but, thankfully, we have the network of shoreline state parks with public beaches, some of them sizeable, for great August walking.

In my outdoors column for The Hartford Courant, posted today on-online, and in print editions tomorrow, Aug. 8, I recommend some great coastal state parks for a summer beach walk, including Sherwood Island in Westport, Silver Sands in Milford, Hammonasset Beach in Madison, Rocky Neck in East Lyme, Harkness Memorial in Waterford and Bluff Point in Groton.

Here is a link to the column.

Directions and more info at www.ct.gov/deep. Click on Outdoor Recreation.