Photography by J. Mita Studios

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Winter Beaches - Hammonassett State Beach, Madison, CT.

Against The Wind

    At last, the beaches of Connecticut belong to hardy Nutmeggers. We in Connecticut are very lucky to have much more natural beach available than many of the overbuilt, hotel ridden shores of other states. Of course, in the summer the beaches of Connecticut are overrun with sun worshipers, and on any given day over 80 degrees, to find a spot to lay your blanket is often difficult. If you head toward the shore after the season is done, it is at times as if you own the beach alone. You may find an occasional family fishing or sailing, but the open sand, the gentle surf and the voices of seagulls rather than screams of people are a pleasant and calming experience.

Searching For A Scrap

    I discovered the joys of winter beaching many years ago when I began bird watching. All my sun loving friends thought I was crazy to head to the beach in January, but if you bundle up with layers and put on your thermal wear, you don't feel the biting wind or the invisible coldness that settles on boardwalks or across jetties. The constant lull of the waves make you sleepy as you walk along the littered shore.


It is a great time to collect the rare sea glass that we all try to find while beachcombing in the summer. There are many whole shells to find because there is no competition from hundreds of summer residents. Though the bird population isn't nearly as varied as in April or October, you may find an occasional crossbill or perhaps an eagle flying by.

Icy Pools - A Giant's Footpritns

    Waves can be heard far off in the parking lot of Hammonassett. The strong briny scent of the sea is minimal at this time of year. Perhaps it is because our noses become numb with cold, and our sense of smell is dulled. There is a clean, pure feel to the air, however. As storms blast the coast, they whisk away the remnants of human presence so that all that is left is the grasses and the flotsam thrown from the sea itself.

    On top of the dunes, you can lay a blanket. On a bright winter day, the wind seems to pass over you and the warm sand seeps into your body. There is a constant rustle from the brittle grasses as they whip about in the billowing breezes. Even though the grasses sound as if they could easily be snapped, their tough stems cannot be broken by hand. You would need to cut them with a knife to break them. It is the nature of sea grasses. They grow strong to hold up against any tempest that comes along.

    The solitary nature of winter beaches is why I go so often. I will go to the beach more often in the winter than in the summer. Not only is it free, but there is the beauty of finding quiet and peace, especially after the rush of the holidays. As a stolid New Englander, I come from hardy stock and the brief cold that drops my inner body temperature is just that, brief. It is a delight to come home to a warm fire after a trip to the beach. You can appreciate the coziness of being inside after a trek outside.

    Wildlife seems more prone to making a visit in the winter. I have had hawks fly right in front of me and rest on the posts of the boardwalks. They are so bold that I can nearly go right up to them and touch them. January is also a great time to see snowy owls. Their presence is quite common during the winter months. I have not been so lucky to see one, but I also am so drawn to the churning surf that I rarely get beyond the water and the beach to explore the interior of the park.

    One of the best findings on one of my winter treks was that of a horned lark. I was tickled to see an entire flock near the Meig's Point parking lot. They are not the rarest birds for Connecticut, but it was the only time I have ever seen one. I still want to capture a snowy owl, though.

    The Yellow rumped warbler is another common bird that you will find at the shore, usually closer to March. This tiny bird is difficult to see unless you notice in the distance a flittering bird jumping from branch to ground to branch. They are constant motion, perhaps the ADHD of the birding community. They are also rather bold, and will tolerate a photographer with a camera, and you can usually get a nice photo of this little warbler.

    Hammonassett does have its resident Mute Swan couple. They are year round residents of the park, and in the winter you will see them bobbing and floating out in the water, close to shore. If you are lucky, you may sight the much rarer Trumpeter Swan. The main way to tell the difference is by the beak. The Mute Swan has an orange beak, and the Trumpeter has a black beak.

    Take a trip to the shore in the winter for a peaceful time to collect yourself and to blow away the cobwebs that settle on our winter brains.  The wind, the sea, the surf, the wildlife will revitalize you. Head to a dune, lay your blanket, and take your shoes off. They will stay relatively warm on a sunny day, and your body will rebuild some of the Vitamin D loss that occurs in the winter. It is a great way to ward off the affects of SAD ,more commonly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
    Winter depression can settle in on even the jolliest person. We all know about cabin fever, when the snow piles up, the skies are gray, and the cold never seems to end. You can't escape the cold with a winter trip to the beach, but you will find yourself feeling much more chipper and alive after a trip to the shore. Try it out if you haven't yet. It is one of the joys of living in Connecticut, where a trip to the beach from almost any point takes only about 1 1/2 hours by car. Besides, it is one of the best times to sample some of the beaches that are generally off limits to the public from April to October.

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