Thursday, February 07, 2013

Seals on Sunday

What's that at 12:00, right on my nose? Why, I do believe that is a Seal of Approval for Steve the Paddling Chef!

 The weather during the end of the week last week was very shifty, leading to my decision to ditch my Tuesday night music last week in favor of wrapping up the 100 miles I'd realized I was pretty close to logging in January. As it turned out, I probably could have gotten in some miles on either or both Wednesday (when the rain that was supposed to start bucketing down around 6 held off until much later) or Thursday, which was cold but not as cold, I think, as the forecast had threatened, and again I think the wind came screaming in again later than expected, leaving another decent window for a walk right after work. Still, you know how it works - if I'd decided to gamble on the 30th or 31st offering decent walking conditions, they wouldn't have. It did pour on Wednesday, and the wind on Thursday ended up howling so loudly late late at night that I had a nightmare about my very solidly-built circa-1940's low-rise brick apartment was swaying and on the verge of collapse. I was SO glad to wake up - and when I did and heard the commotion outside, I knew why I'd dreamed that!  

Tricky conditions for trip planning, but fortunately Steve had thought to start looking at the weekend and decided that Sunday might be worth another shot at a Jones Beach seal paddle & sent out the word among the winter paddlers that he was thinking that way. By Thursday, although the original forecasted temperature of 40 had dropped some, it was still looking like it would be above freezing - and the windspeeds were looking more and more cooperative for our purposes, so he made the call - it was a go!

The plan was to meet at Jones Beach at 10, launching sometime around 11. We'd started out with 8 people coming but the predicted temperature did keep dropping. Saturday was bitterly cold (great day for the Outsider Art Fair I went to with a friend)  by Saturday evening, we were down to the 5 of us who ended up going.

Sunday morning was definitely on the nippy side, but it was nice and quiet and seemed like it was going to be a good day. This was the first time we'd used the roof rack and saddles since Sandy, when they were submerged in salt water during the flood - TQ had been too busy with his job out in Rockaway to have time for those, but I'd gone to the club for the big post-Sandy cleanup day and I took care of those and although TQ said the locks on the bars are a little sticky and need a shot of silicone lubricant, everything else was fine (hooray).

We were a bit late to Jones Beach because it took us some extra time to set up the racks. We launched down near the Coast Guard station at the west end, near where we finished the club hike 2 weeks ago; I don't know about everybody else but I think I might vote for this launch for all future club trips - we usually launch at Field 10, which nobody can ever find without driving past it at least once. I was laughing this time, I swear this was the first time I have ever gone to Jones Beach, with TQ or anyone else, that we didn't end up doing an accidental trip the roundabout at the base of the Jones Beach tower. This one, you can actually see from the road. Here's the gang launching, minus only me and TQ of course - we were next on the water, we got there late but we're pretty efficient about getting on the water quickly. I probably would have tried to take some pictures of the birdwatchers that were there - it was chilly but there were a whole bunch of them there looking at a flock of little birds that I probably would have taken for sparrows if not for the bundled-up birders training their high-powered scopes at them. Turned out that they were snow buntings and horned larks and one single lark sparrow, which the birders were having a wonderful time trying to pick out from the rest. I was a little worried that we were going to scare the flock away, but one of the birders said we didn't have to worry, they would fly but they would circle back and land again the minute we were by. Would've loved to watch a bit more but our friends were waiting (plus it was awfully cold standing around)! 

Turned out Steve had never actually been out of the inlet, so that was what we did first. Quite the contrast to the heavy chop here last time!

Having stuck our noses out into the Atlantic, and my motion to paddle to England having been universally voted down without so much as a second, we turned around to go find the seals. Or go let the seals find us. These sealwatching paddles are always interesting in that it's really not entirely clear who's watching who, and this time was no exception. First little round head popped up just after we'd re-entered the inlet - I didn't manage to get a good shot (I was a little fumblefingered with the camera all day because of the thick gloves) but Steve and the seal are watching each other here - 

Cropped view with what I'm pretty sure is the top of the seal's head, unless it's a particularly well-defined wavelet:

We watched that one and couple others that also came up to take a look, then headed on in towards the marshes -

And then the wind died completely and the water went to flat calm, and  the seals were everywhere. Practically perfect seal-watching conditions - a choppy day, those little heads are so hard to spot, a day like this, it's the easiest thing in the world. Wish we'd had this weather the weekend of the club's seal paddle!

We pretty much stopped paddling and just looked at the seals looking at us until we started to get chilled enough that we decided to move on.

Plenty of birds, too - none of the dovekies birder friend Mary told me to watch for (cute little birds, I would've loved to see them, and when I mentioned that to one of the birders who were watching the buntings and larks in the morning, she got very excited - "There are dovekies?" - I did explain that that was just what somebody had said we should watch for!) but we saw more loons, and I think a couple of long-tailed ducks, and mergansers kept surprising up when they'd suddenly pop into view right next to our boats. Lovely!

Moving along now to warm up after we'd all gotten chilled during the drift, Steve suggested that we head just a little way into the marsh, just up to the little summer house in the picture above.  He's taken to calling that "Bonnie's place", not because it is, but because boy, I do wish. You can keep your Cancun, you can keep your Cote D' may not be Hawai'i but for someone who's settled here in NY, I just think that having a little place like this to go in the summertime would be heaven. 

Looks like they made it through Sandy OK. Nice to see. 
After that we turned around headed back. TQ decided to sprint back, as he'll sometimes do when we're out together everything's quiet - it was fun watching the seals but he was ready to move. I tried to keep up with him for a bit, but then I had one last seal pop up pretty close and HAD to stop to try to take a picture -

Stymied once again by the neoprene gloves, and on top of that my hands were officially freezing at this point - I actually thought the camera was having problems but when I looked closer back at the dock, I realized that I had just zoomed it all the way up to max (Optio W80 has a 5x optical zoom but then it goes on up to 30x plus digitally) and this was the sky! Oh well, I still enjoyed this last encounter.

Waved goodbye to the seal and started paddling fast to warm up again. Next stop Bigelow's! I'd foregone this after the hike because there were a couple of people who were interested in being back at the club by a certain time, so us going back early let the carpool be more efficient, and I just didn't feel like I'd worked up enough of an appetite to do justice to a plate of Bigelow's lovely clam bellies. No such reservations this time! 

End of another fine day. Thanks again to Steve the Paddling Chef for pulling this together despite a very unsettled forecast - turned out great! 


Buck said...

Makes me wish I had a place like that. Thanks for sharing!

bonnie said...

You're welcome! It was another fine day and another fun post to write. Winter's been pretty decent so far - some rough weather and cold certainly but plenty of days that are good for outdoor activities too.

A little more about my fascination with these little marsh hideaways: First time I saw them was on a trip to Hempstead Harbor in 2007, my first full year at Sebago. Tony was our trip leader & he described them as "squatter's shacks", they're grandfathered there, families who own them are allowed to keep using them but they can't be transferred. I'd pictured something much shabbier than this. I absolutely loved them.

I think there used to be similar places in Jamaica Bay but they all got cleared out when the bay became a wildlife preserve. Nice that people in Hempstead Harbor for whom they are a family tradition are able to keep it up.

Pua; Bakin' and Tendin' Bar said...

This is an AWESOME post, Bon! You bring it all to life so well and I actually feel I'm out there with you. Splendid!

Love the seal shots. The day before yesterday, my sister in law was visiting from Pittsburgh and we went out to Newport Pier. There were two whales just offshore "playing" with a pod of seals. Of course, I didn't have my camera with me *facepalm*. We don't see the whales here all that often. Although The Grommet says they come surfing with him all the time. He says they're quite the pranksters and they like to "snake" his waves.

Mmmm....fried clams.

Pua; Bakin' and Tendin' Bar said...

Ooops! I meant to say that The Grom says the seals are his prankster surfing buddies. NOT the whales. That wouldn't work so well. Oh my. I think I need a vacation. Can you tell?

Baydog said...

Looked like a great day, with a well-deserved stop at Bigelow's. I still must get there somehow.

bonnie said...

Pua, the image of a whale snaking a wave is sort of wonderful! Does make more sense with seals, though. Now where you are, are those sea lions?

There's actually a little bitty wave train that gets going next to one of the bridges, just barely surfable for a 16-foot sea kayak (which can surf some ridiculously small stuff). I think it was our friend Walter, one of the usual trip organizers, who had a very neat experience on one trip - he decided to go do a little surfing & had gotten himself into a spot in the wave train where he was getting a nice bit of a ride. He got comfortable enough to start looking around a bit and discovered that he had company - there was a seal surfing the next wave over.

Now our local seals are a little shy and a second later the seal also realized that he wasn't alone and did a panicky crash-dive, but the moment it did last sounded pretty cool!

Baydog, thanks, it is a good place! Actually we made a helpful discovery this time - TQ is actually not a big fan of fried seafood (in fact he's been known to have the burger) but the one kind he does like is fried shrimp. He ordered that last time though and was dissappointed in the shrimpiness of the shrimps. Well, this time he looked at the menu a little more closely and realized that the shrimpy shrimp were POPCORN shrimp and there were larger varieties to be had. I think he was much happier with his meal this time than he has been in the past.

O Docker said...

Wow, I never realized you could do that with shrimp, too.

I wonder if they make microwave popcorn shrimp.

bonnie said...

Well, O Docker, at least one noted culinary professional does employ a microwave in making his very special version of popcorn shrimp.