An Outer Banks Outing

July 29, 2013

At Nags Head, N. C.

Indian blanket in bloom, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Click to enlarge.

Indian blanket in bloom, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Click to enlarge.

Exploring the Outer Banks, I walked the North Pond Wildlife  Trail in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge this morning just to get a feel for the refuge. Plenty of birds to be seen, including great egret, boat-tailed grackle, rusty and red-winged blackbirds, laughing gulls, terns, a probable tri-colored heron, catbirds and a yellowlegs, a bird that I am guessing has already returned from the far north to winter in the south. I am not sure, because the bird was a good distance away, but I think it was a greater yellowlegs.

The boat-tailed grackle likes to be near water. Click to enlarge.

The boat-tailed grackle likes to be near water. Click to enlarge.

Pea Island NWR extends from Oregon Inlet south to the town of Rodanthe, incorporating all of the land between the Sound and the ocean for 12 miles. The 5,834-acre refuge includes ocean beach, barrier dunes, salt marshes, fresh and salt ponds, and tidal creeks.

I had not realized until I got here that this refuge is a highly regarded birding destination, with more than 365 species seen. Among the possible sightings are black skimmer and black-necked stilts. I’d like to get some nice bird photos here this week.

I’ll need to revisit tomorrow. There is a lot more to see here, and in the adjoining Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

A Winchester Lake Outing

June 22, 2013

At Winchester, Ct.

Ahhh, summer. I drove to Winchester this morning to re-explore Winchester Lake, a lake I paddled many years ago, I think.  If I did in fact paddle Winchester Lake I have no clear memory of the day. So, clearly, it was time to take another look.

Kayakers flock to Winchester Lake, where power boating is limited to 8 mph traffic. Click to enlarge.

Kayakers flock to Winchester Lake, where power boating is limited to 8 mph traffic. Click to enlarge.

What a perfect day. Winchester Lake is very lightly developed. I’d say more than 95 percent of the shoreline is wooded. What is most striking this time of year is the mountain laurel. The shoreline is thick with large colonies of the state flower overhanging the water. Today may have been the peak bloom of these gorgeous cup-shaped white and pink flowers.

Mountain laurel, the Connecticut state flower, is abundant on the shores of Winchester Lake. Look for a sunny day in mid-June to see the showy pink and white blooms at their peak. Click to enlarge.

Mountain laurel, the Connecticut state flower, is abundant on the shores of Winchester Lake. Look for a sunny day in mid-June to see the showy pink and white blooms at their peak. Click to enlarge.

Winchester Lake is man-made, an impoundment fed by 5 brooks that empties into the East Branch of the Naugatuck River.  In reading “A Fisheries Guide to Lakes and Ponds of Connecticut,” a most helpful book written by Robert P. Jacobs and Eileen B. O’Connell and published by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, I learned that trees and shrubs were cut at ice level in the winter after the lake was created, leaving many tree stumps and tree trunks lying  in shallow water. All that wood and a fair amount of boulders in a shallow lake – much of it is only a few feet deep – mean that boaters need to pay attention to the water just ahead. For experienced canoeists and kayakers, that is not a problem. A benefit is that the shallow water and an 8-mph speed limit on the lake keeps power boat traffic to a minimum. Mostly you see anglers with electric motors. Canoes and kayaks greatly outnumbered the power boats yesterday. There is a state boat launch with ample parking at the southern end of the lake.

Water quality seems excellent, and, in addition to the all the laurel, the surrounding forest is a pleasant mix of hemlock and white pine, with plenty of red maple and other hardwoods mixed in. I suspect the fall foliage color is very nice, the red maples providing the red, the laurel, pines and hemlock the deep greens, the hickories and birches some brilliant yellows.

My suggestion: watch for a sunny day in mid-June and paddle the perimeter taking in the gorgeous laurel display. I looped the lake and its coves in 90 minutes, with several stops to take photos and gab with other kayakers. Hug the shoreline and it might be a 4-mile paddle.

100 Years of Connecticut State Parks

May 25, 2013

At Farmington, Ct.

The Connecticut State Park system is 100 years old this year. The celebration begins this summer. Click to enlarge.

The Connecticut State Park system is 100 years old this year. The celebration begins this summer. Click to enlarge.

The Connecticut State Park system is 100 years old this year. It began with the creation of the Connecticut State Park Commission in 1913, a time when prescient political leaders realized that conservation of beautiful natural resources was imperative.

That system today includes 107 state parks that draw 7.8 million visitors a year.

Almost lost in the story of the origins of the Connecticut state parks is Albert  M. Turner. Turner was a visionary, dynamic man who was the first state park employee. He was the man who in the first year of the commission’s existence was assigned – in what perhaps was the greatest state job ever – to explore practically every river, lake, beach and mountaintop in the state, preparing recommendations on which properties might make great state parks.

Albert M. Turner was a key figure in the origins of the Connecticut state park system. Click to enlarge.

Albert M. Turner was a key figure in the beginning of the Connecticut state park system.

A Litchfield native and Yale University graduate, Turner took to his work assiduously. He climbed the mountains, he walked the beaches. He bushwhacked through river valleys. He checked out every lake and pond in the state over 40 acres. He presented the commission with the overall plan. When the commission dawdled, it was Turner who nudged, nudged and nudged commissioners to take bold action in acquiring park lands. He was a pivotal figure in the beginnings of the system.

Now, 100 years later, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which oversees the park system today, is about to launch a year-long centennial state park celebration. Turner’s role is suddenly in the spotlight, surely for the first time since the early 20th Century.

My story on the Connecticut state park centennial celebration is posted today on the Hartford Courant website, and will appear in print on the front page of The Courant tomorrow, May 26, with historical photos courtesy of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Were it not for people like Albert Turner, some of the most popular state parks in the state – like Hammonasset Beach in Madison – might not exist today.

The Courant’s on-line presentation includes more than 60 historical photos from the state’s archives. It is worth checking out.