To the Lighthouses

Cape Cod in the winter is lovely. There is a stark contrast between the summer throngs and the quiet off-season. Walking along a beach always brings me a feeling of solitude and peaceful introspection; when you are actually the only person on the whole beach, it brings solitude to a whole new level.

 Brants along the shoreline of Smuggler’s Beach at sunset.

Brants along the shoreline of Smuggler’s Beach at sunset.

Of course, I’m not completely alone on the beach. The winter bird scene is very different from the summer one I am used to. Gulls, gulls, gulls, gulls, gulls. What a great way to get gull identification practice. And while gulls are usually frustrating, when they are one of the few things around to look at, I found myself giving them so much more time than I usually do. There is something about their colorful, sharp eyes against a field of white feathers that is very striking. Their behaviors on the winter beach were fascinating. Instead of vying for tourist food, they carefully picked their way through the thousands of slipper shells along the wrack line, their arguments with each other over possession of any finds echoing loudly in the wintery stillness.

On one windy afternoon, I went to First Encounter Beach in time to catch a full rainbow arcing across the ocean. Dancing beneath it was a flock of Northern Gannets, jesting with the crests of the waves as they plunge-dove into the freezing water. The adrenaline rush of the dives became my own.

 Northern Gannets dancing beneath a full rainbow at First Encounter Beach

Northern Gannets dancing beneath a full rainbow at First Encounter Beach

I will always love the Cape for its birds, its beaches, and the powerful force of introspection it provides. But one thing I discovered by visiting in the winter was a powerful sense of color- the opposite of what I would normally think of when I think of winter’s grays. I think that the cold and the quiet actually intensified the colors of the sunlight, the water, and the golden dune grasses. Truly unforgettable.

The Flurry

 Ice from the water in which it was standing is stuck to this Sandhill Crane's leg. 

Ice from the water in which it was standing is stuck to this Sandhill Crane's leg. 

Never before have I seen anything like the morning flight of the Snow Geese (Chen Caerulescens) from Bosque del Apache. There were so many birds that they appeared to blanket the ground in the white snow for which they are so aptly named. Dozens of Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) huddled together in the middle of the enormous white flock. As the sun rose and blanketed them all with a rosy golden glow, the frenzy of flight began. Geese started to wing their way from the ground in what seemed like an endless stream of honking. Every once in a while the cranes would embark as well in smaller groups of two or three. Birds passed overhead so close I could see the glint in their eyes; I could hear the swishing of their powerful wings. Even now, days later, I still can still hear the honking and the wingbeats and when I close my eyes, I can see the snowstorm. I have seen many incredible things in my life, but this was a sight like no other. If this was a harbinger of things to come, 2018 will be spectacular. 

Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

January 1, 2018

 There were so many Snow Geese the ground seemed to be covered in snow. Ross's Geese ( Anser rossi)  were also interspersed amongst their larger cousins. 

There were so many Snow Geese the ground seemed to be covered in snow. Ross's Geese (Anser rossi) were also interspersed amongst their larger cousins. 

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 The entire viewfinder of my camera was filled with Snow Geese! 

The entire viewfinder of my camera was filled with Snow Geese!