halibut point, rockport

if you had to work today, i apologize. that meant you probably weren't able to fully take advantage of the awesomeness of global warming. it's january but it feels like spring in new england with the temperature hovering in the 50's and threatening to reach the 60's by this weekend. with my work temporarily finished, i alerted bruce to the possibility of some naturing today. after some email exchanges we decided to go to halibut point in rockport. i've been there on numerous occasions (1 2 3) and it's never disappointed. since last winter, i also discovered it's a great winter birding spot. during the drive up to cape ann bruce apologized for being absent the past few months and said his father had been sick and just recently passed away.

i remember when i came last winter the weather was miserable: my nose wouldn't stop dripping and my hands were freezing even with gloves on. today was a different story however: the winds were calm and the temperature was pleasantly warm. we made a beeline to the shore and immediately saw a flock of eiders and harlequin ducks floating on the surface of the water. since it'd just been high tide, they were pretty close to land.

eiders i've seen elsewhere but this is the only place where i've found harlequin ducks (although to be fair, i haven't done much of winter birding, so this is just from personal experience). to the naked eye they're kind of hard to see (despite the crazy patterns and coloration) but both bruce and i had binoculars so we could get a really good look. the eiders sort of swam to the other end of the shore but we were more curious about the harlequins, which for the most part stayed around.

if you're passionate about wildlife and have never seen a live harlequin duck before, you owe it to yourself to make to up to halibut point. they're one of the prettiest ducks - superficially resembling a wood duck or a mandarin duck (very pretty ducks as well) - but can only be seen during the winter (unless you travel up to canada, where they return during the summer). they also have some very endearing behaviors, like popping out of the water (like a cork) when they surface or the monkey noises they make to one another.

besides eiders and harlequins, we also spotted a lone female black scoter. bruce, armed with his peterson field guide, made the identification. like the others, this is also another bird that can only be seen during the winter (although the female is sort of boring, the male at least has an unique bill). we also found a pair of purple sandpipers sunning themselves on a rock, seemingly impervious to the violently crashing waves behind them. later we saw them foraging, scraping periwrinkles off of the boulders. there were also some low-flying flocks of small white birds which we agreed were probably plovers but too distant to see which kind. as an added bonus, there was a curious harbor seal out in the ocean, occasionally popping its head out of the water to inspect the shoreline (the last i saw wild seals was also with bruce: on cape cod we spotted some grey seals).

the sky started to clear up throughout the day, leaving a rainbow gradient along the horizon. the sun came out and bathed everything in a warm golden glow. visibility was excellent, and we could easily see the seabrook power plant in new hampshire as well as mt.agamenticus all the way in maine.

on such a beautiful day we weren't the only ones out enjoying the weather. the people we met seemed to fall into two camps: "naturalists" (i use the term loosely, and bruce and i were speculating that maybe this place was some sort of swinger hotspot) like ourselves, armed with camera, binoculars, and a guide book, here to see the wintering birds; and vacationing college kids up to no good, loitering around, looking for a secluded spot to smoke some weed or build a rock sculpture. with the sun seemingly lower and lower on the horizon, we took that as our cue to head back to cambridge. walking out of the reservation, a twitchy red squirrel froze on the path in front of us, then scurried away into the leaves after giving us some angry squeaks.

back at home, my father came to pick me up so we could go get the elliptical machine which finally arrived. we drove to the sears in the galleria mall and waited for our package to come out from the warehouse. i was impressed with their setup, the pickup office resembled an airport, with package departure time displayed on an overhead monitor.

back at my parents' place i helped a little in assembling the machine (it took about an hour to completely assemble) and had dinner there as well. i got a ride back to cambridge. though it wasn't 9pm yet, an tao was already home, asleep in his bedroom. i watched some television on the couch and immediately fell asleep, waking up after midnight (to write this entry!).