Friday, February 8, 2008

A View From Both Sides Of The Hill

The above photo was taken from the top of the former Middletown CT Landfill. It is a view of Boggy Meadow (also called Cromwell Meadows). This is a large marsh that changes with the tide in the Atlantic Ocean, and the fact that it is freshwater (tidal waters are generally salt water) makes this an uncommon wildlife habitat. I have visited this marsh from the other side in a State Park called Cromwell Meadows State Wildlife Area. I knew that these marshland were sandwiched between route 9 and route 3. I was not aware that you could get such a nice view of the marsh from the Middletown side until recently when I read about a project called "The Jonah Center For Art And Earth" on the Conservacity Blog . It is an ambitious project that involves transforming a former landfill into a walking trail and car top boat launch that allows access to marshlands. There are many other aspects of the project including one idea that involves making use of the methane gas which is escaping through the capped landfill hill. Here is a paragraph from their webpage explaining their vision:

"Our ultimate goal is an educational and cultural facility that brings scientific and artistic endeavors into intimate contact with each other. We want to promote eco-friendly technologies in a way that excites the imagination, celebrates the cultural richness of Middletown, and helps people in very practical ways to live their lives and support their families. The Jonah Center will not simply entertain visitors; it will inspire and educate them to see, think, and act in a new way."

You can read more about this project

It strange how I've passed by the street where the former landfill is located hundreds of times but had no awareness of what lies behind it. It is in an area of Middletown that is surrounded by old factories covered with graffitti and littered with trash. I vaguely remember visiting the old dump with my father when I was about 5 or so. I was fascinated by all the gulls and by the huge pile of trash. The smell of the dump is something that I have never forgotton either.

Here is a view from the top of the same hill but from the other side. You can probably see why this area of town hasn't held much interest for me. It is human nature to ignore that which is not attractive but if you take the time to look beyond the surface, you may be surprised at what you find.

On Sunday, February 3rd, I parked my truck in a factory parking lot. I entered the landfill area through an opening in a chain-linked fence which was lined with a single row of very tall pine trees. There was toilet paper and garbage bags hanging from the trees. I passed through pricker bushes and stepped over a little gully filled with mud and water. There was old tires and other bits of junk on the ground. The whole area smelled like mulch piles comprised of used cigars. I started to feel like I was in a chapter of one of Stephen King's novels and that some form of mutated beings might suddenly emerge from the toxic soup that surrounded me.
It wasn't long though before I realized that there was more to the area than meets the eye. I could hear the sound of birds singing and plenty of them at that. Sparrows, woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice were all there and let their prescence be know. I saw a quick flash of a dark raptor quickly pass by me. I could not determine with any certainty what it was. I walked the around the border of the landfill mound and saw a portion of the Mattabasset River. It is a slow- running, murky river. No doubt that work needs to be done to improve the quality of the water, but rivers of this type are often more appealing to wildlife than fast- running , clear rivers are. I heard Carolina Wrens from multiple directions. By the time the morning ended, I counted at least a dozen Carolina Wrens. I cimbed to the top of the hill and enjoyed the view. Looking though binoculars, there appeared to be dozens of gulls, Common Mergansers, Mute Swans and Canada Geese. I could see a Red-tailed Hawk perched in a tree. I didn't see any Bald Eagles on this morning but often see them circling the area. As I looked around I saw numerous American Goldfinches, White-throated Sparrows and Song Sparrows.
After enjoying my view, I worked my way back down the hill passing to Eastern Cottontail Rabbits on the way down. When I reached the bottom of the hill, I had a splendid view of a Northern Harrier swooping and hovering over low over the grass that I had just passed over. That must have been the dark hawk that I had seen pass by and by the looks of things it must have been eager for me to leave. Seeing this large but graceful hawk hunting on top of an abandoned dump made me think that wildlife often survives in spite of us not because of us. I explored the area a little further by following some railroad tracks westward where I crossed a tressle that passed over the Coginchaug River. I always get a little nervous when crossing these things because you can see the water in between the railroad ties. Some of the wood always seem to be rotted too further adding to the uneasiness. The key is not to look down to much. There were some no trespassing signs so so I did my best not to trip over them. As I ventured a little further, I came across a Belted Kingfisher, and several Red-bellied Woodpeckers. My journey ended at a vacant lot that led to another nice view of the marsh seen in the above photo. Exploring this area by canoe is really the best way. You can work your way through the whole marsh and the surrounding areas.

My last stop was at Saint John's Cemetery. It offers limited access to The Coginchaug River and surrounding woods. I was rewarded with a nice view of a Sharp-shinned Hawk (?-or Cooper's) perched on a branch.
I came away from this day with a new appreciation of the rivers and marshland that border the north end of Middletown. It may not be the most attractive part of town, but birds don't care about that. They are looking for food, water, and habitat. This area offers all three. I'm look forward to further exploring this area as the seasons change. If you come across an area that is lined with old factories or the site of an old dump, you may want to see what's behind them. Who knows, you may be surprised at what you find.-Please note that there are no walking trails in the area as of yet although there are plans to add trails in the future. It is easier to gain access to the landill hill through the recycling center entrance when it is open.


Kathie Brown said...

Larry, it's always amazing to me how the animals adapt! When I read about your adventures in CT it so takes me back. I learned to drive on the streets of Middletown and went to highschool for one year in Cromwell! As a child I too, went to our town dump with my grandfather. And I once tried to cross the train trestle over the Salmon River and almost passed out! Yikes! Thanks for the memories and the look at what a landfill can do for wildlife! Good for you!

Tom Pirro said...

It looks like the guys in the red canoe are pretty serious paddlers, white water race boat, carbon fiber paddles and moving well. Its been years since I raced (back in the "80's") but I recall Conn. had a good representation of paddlers on the circuit. In "82", if I recall the team of "Skyler" Thompson and Bill Tingley, both of Ct., took the white water nationals in the mens class . Now there is some useless trivia! Its an interesting sport with its own sub-culture an cast of interesting people, just like birding.

Beth said...

What an interesting post and a thoughtful perspective. I like that.

Anonymous said...

I'm the mom of the 4 year old who posted to figure out how to get a name instead of anonymous.

The picture of the dump; I don't know if you realize this but the shed that you are looking at on the left is a recycle shack.

It is awesome for us to get rid of stuff we don't need anymore without throwing it away and filling up other dumps....we drop off old baby toys etc. there.

I never knew that you could walk up that I will begin our birding adventure by going there first.

Was it safe for children to walk on?

I also didn't realize that there are differnt kind of hawks around here; I thought they were all red tail. We had one perched in our front yard the other day-looking more like what you show than with a red tail. Last week we pulled over on the overpass bridge on Saybrook Rd..overpassing 9.......and got an upclose stare at one of those hawks; felt like we could touch it; they're beautiful.

We also saw a real bluebird on our porch about two weeks ago, I would love to bring them to our yard so I am going to build some bluebird boxes.

thanks for posting about the dump.Did you know that they have canoing trips through those rivers? I think they start at Dunkin Donuts on Rt 3 in Cromwell but I am not totally sure. I saw a flyer for them at the library.


Jayne said...

"There were some no trespassing signs so so I did my best not to trip over them."

LOL Larry! :c) It is interesting how wildlife will find a way to adapt to the changes around them and still embrace the habitat. So glad you were able to see lemons and come out with lemonade!

Larry said...

Hawkmom/anonymous-This post was more about exploring unusual places.Public trails have not yet been put in so I wouldn't reccommend it for children.
Getting started:

1)get some 8x40 or 7x35 binoculars if you don't have any.They will have some that you can try out at Essex Eagle Fest next weekend. you can also try binoculars out at The Audubon Shop in Madison.If you don't want to spend a lot of money-try Nikon action 7x35 binoculars sold at Dick's sporting goods.

2)Get a field guide to birds and study the birds that interest you and start identifying birds that you don't know the names of.-Kaufman Guide, Sibley's Guide to birds of Eastern North America or Peterson's field Guide-Eastern Edition are 3 good choices.Peterson's is sometimes easier for a beginner to follow.

3)There are free birding walks offered by the Hartford Audubon and others throughout the year.-See the links on my blog and click on field trips.Jerry at The Audubon Shop in Madison also offers field trips for a fee.

4)Hammonasset Sate park is probably the most reliable place to see a lot of birds including hawks,falcons and numerous othe interesting birds.-You don't see many eagles there though. You will see people walking around with binoculars and scopes and most of them will be happy to tell you what they're seeing.

For eagles-visit Chester ferry,Deep River Landing,Essex Town Dock, Salmon River Boat launch and Goodspeed Opera House parking lot.If you visit these places in one day you will see plenty of eagles and other birds if you carefully search the trees and skies.I hope that gets you started.

-E-mail me at:
if you have any more questions-It's great to see someone new taking an interest in birding!

Larry said...

Kathiebirds-Small world-I'm glad that these posts are of interest to you and that you can relate to them from past memories.

Tom-sounds like you have quite a bit of knowledge in that area.-If I start shopping for a canoe I may ask for some advice.I'm glad that the canoe phto was of inteerest to you.

Beth-thanks-I'm glad that you enjoyed it.

jayne-well I wouldn't want to fall and break my camera you know! I am always interested in finding littlehole-in-the-wall discoveries.

steadyjohn said...

A great post Larry; The "Floating Meadows" are truly a hidden gem in our midst. Your readers may be interested in a photo slide show I made of the landfill area cleanup sponsored by The Jonah Center last summer; see the piles of stuff we collected and recycled, when possible. Also another photo slide show is here of the paddling tour of the Mattabesett/Coginchaug R. last August.

Larry said...

Thanks for enlightening me about this area john-

Lana Gramlich said...

Thanks for sharing your day, your insights, your area & your photos. :)

cbgrfx said...

Hey Larry - I have been reading for a few months now. I grew up in Killingworth and Madison and now live in Virginia. I love when you mention where in the state you are with your walks because I now so many of the places you speak of. It's a real treat to take those walks with you.

Thank you!
Colleen :)

Unknown said...

I like your tale of wildlife adapting. Last year I learned that local cemeteries are great spots for birding. What I only discovered yesterday was that my birding spot was also home to at least one coyote. Glad something is able to compete with us humans.

Mary said...

Well, I'm glad you did not trip over those No Trespassing signs :o)

This post is very enlightening. We all want to visit beautiful, scenic areas but the birds don't really care... Very interesing. Reminds me of the time I saw sandpipers on a retention pond behind a car dealership. Who would have thought?

Anonymous said...

Good post buddy...As others have commented, it shows how nature can over come what we throw in its way. It also reminds us that birds will show up just about anywhere given the chance.

steadyjohn said...

Happened across this nice photo of a Bald Eagle pair on Flckr. The poster gives a nice description of the shot and how s/he obtained it.

Larry said...

lana-Thanks for taking the time to read and look at them!

Colleen-Thanks for reading! I will try to make sure that I always mention the locations.-That's interesting that you know the locations.-Feel free to share any stories that you might have about a place that is familiar to you.

Sarala-I saw your Coyote photo-very cool! I have had luck seeing Lark Sparrows(rare)in CT

Mary-I remember that post about the Sandpipers at the car dealership-good example!

PA-birder-thanks Vern-I appreciate the comments!

Steadyjohn-yes nice photos-the technique doesn't do me much good because I have a point and shoot.-I got a pretty good photo of an adult Bald Eagle perched in the dead tree on route 9 Middletown next to the railroad tracks.Only problem was that I left the truck running and the vibration made the picture less than sharp.

Anonymous said...

how wonderful to have been out and sounds like a great place to be out! Different Places always have unusual adventures! Thanks

Patrice said...

Larry, This post is wonderful and gives me reason for hope. Nature ultimately will prevail!

Sandpiper (Lin) said...

You have a great blog about many of my own stomping grounds. I grew up in East Haddam. I lived in Portland as a child before that. Later, I lived in Middle Haddam. I'm living in the western part of the state now in Litchfield County, but I still visit places near you, where I grew up. Many are the same places you write about here. Thanks for sharing!

Larry said...

Great to hear from you! I've been searching for more CT baded nature and/or birdingblogs but haven't found many. I've added you to my blogroll under the nature heading.

Sandpiper (Lin) said...

Thanks, Larry! I haven't found many nature related bloggers in CT either. I've added you to my list, too. I'll keep checking in on your blog. I like what you've got going here.

Birdinggirl said...

Wow- that's an amazing shot of the hawk. I think it's a sharp-shinned, but it seems the best way to tell is from their size (smaller than Cooper's Hawk) and wingbeats so it may have been difficult in your situation.

Your list of tips for getting started in birding were helpful. I need to get myself a good pair of binoculars. Can you explain the difference between 7x35 and 8x40? I found a site with the Nikon 8x40s but not the 7x35s:

Larry said...

birdinggirl-thanks!Keep in mind that list of tips was for soemone who has not done any formal birding at all.-You have. 7x35's are sometimes a good choice for a less expensive binocular for a beginner..-They are light, bright and don't shake much.- My advice to you is forget about what you see online.-Go to an optics store or a birding show where you can test out different pairs of binoculars -that is the only real way that you can tell which ones will work best for you.-Unless you have very steady hands, I suggest sticking with 8x binoculars.- 10x are worthy of consideration though if you do more distant bird viewing.-Read the binocular reviews on my links list-gives you quite a bit of information.-Make sure you try binoculars out first before buying them!-Some may not work with your eyes at all.