For my birthday this year (January 9), I took a cold & windy walk along the Atlantic seashore at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge. The visitor’s center was closed because the government is shut down. No comment.
My five days in Rhode Island were to see my friend Will, who was my guide and chauffeur. Will and I picked a path and started, since one doesn’t need a visitor’s center to go for a walk. As soon as we struck the trail, we met a woman leaving who was excited to have spotted some wildlife. She told us we would not see the Snowy Owl, as though she suspected that was our specific goal.
Our goal was simpler: just to be outside and look at the landscape. For my birthday I asked Will for two of my favourite things: a walk in nature and seafood.
We drove south from Providence to a large island in Narragansett Bay, that is officially named Rhode Island (also called Aquidneck Island), from which I must assume the state takes its name, since this is the location of the earliest settlements here. Sachuest Point NWR is “242 acres that provide an important stopover and watering area for migratory birds,” as it says on their trail map. I liked this place from among other trails in RI because it is surrounded by the sea. If I was traveling from one ocean to another, I would spend at least one day at the Atlantic, to truly make the trip coast-to-coast.
More than 200 species of birds visit this refuge, and we quickly spotted ducks that were too far away for a photo with the lens I brought. They might have been part of the largest winter population of Harlequin Ducks on the East Coast, but we didn’t identify them for sure due to distance and the raging wind making me reluctant to hold binoculars to my face for very long. Harlequin Ducks are wonderful to see. Here’s a photo I took of Harlequin Ducks near the end of a different post from 2016. Sachuest Point hosts a bunch of different kinds of raptors (hunting birds – I love them!), but I didn’t spot any. Much of the time I had my head bent into the wind, with a foot behind me bracing myself so the wind didn’t blow me over! It was hard to spot birds under these circumstances.
Will spotted a dark animal in the underbrush that we couldn’t identify until another one ran across the trail in front of us later on. It was a mink! I have never seen one in the wild. It was black, and fat, and just exactly as I imagined them. We also spotted a small group of white-tailed deer. The deer were like my “pet” deer at home, in that they let us get very close to them and were unconcerned. They were unlike my deer in that they are a lighter, golden colour, and are bigger and fatter.
It was early afternoon, and since it’s winter, that means the sun was setting. Not really, but the sun was low on the horizon for a long time, making it seem like we were experiencing a three-hour sunset. Despite the frigid biting wind coming at us from the sea, we gazed out over the water much of the time. We noticed massive swells rolling in and then crashing as waves once they got closer to shore. I made a comment about how exciting those swells would be if I was still surfing, and Will said there were probably surfers out today. I thought he was joking around with me, but when we left the point that day and passed a different beach (sans all the huge and deadly rocks), sure enough, the water was filled with surfers!
It had been at least an hour out there in the ridiculous freezing wind, and I could no longer feel my ears. I took off my scarf and wrapped it around my head because I had neglected to bring a hat. That helped immensely. I was still very very cold and unable to enjoy the sights much anymore, so we stopped most of our lollygagging and trucked on down the trail back to the visitor’s center. The sunset just got prettier, and I stopped for a few more photos because I’m incorrigible. I did force Will to endure some extending whining about how cold I was. I have lived in places of deep winter and below freezing temperatures most of my life, but more than a decade of living near Portland, Oregon has wiped out all my tolerance for other peoples’ winters.
On the last stretch of the trail I spotted a beautiful church in the distance. When we got back into the car, I asked Will to take me there so we could explore up close.
What I had spotted was St. George’s School, an exclusive, prestigious boarding school. Still in the remaining light of our long sunset, the buildings at the school were illuminated and needed to be photographed.
It was time for my next request: Seafood! We drove into the town of Newport and had the place mostly to ourselves because of the season. I could easily see this is a tourist town, and must be packed with humanity on warm days. We made our way to the docks and saw that my birthday sunset just kept going on and on, and made a few more stunning scenes. We wandered for a little while around the characteristic old sea town, but could no longer resist the pull of a good meal, not to mention heated indoor seating. We walked into The Mooring, and were told that Wednesdays are half price on the raw bar. We couldn’t resist that, and chose a selection of raw oysters, clams, shrimp, and lobster claws. Will isn’t an oyster lover, so I greedily ate them myself, liking the Rocky Rhodes the best. This fresh food only wheted our appetites and then we ordered full meals. I finally got warm. We had a window seat and watched the sun finally set for real.