Since April we’ve been taking hikes every weekend. Or at least every weekend that the sun is out and we’re in the mood. It’s results in quite a few hikes, including our revisiting those parks we hiked back in 2010. Today we woke up this morning early, ready for a return trip to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on the southern end of Plum Island (we visited there on 9/7/2010, so almost to the day 10 years ago!). In July we visited the north end on a hot day and I wrote about making Reuben Pizza when we got home. But today, hallelujah, the Piping Plovers had finished their nesting and the Refuge is now open for visitors so off we went. The following blog is cut and pasted from my 2010 blog and as indicated, we went on almost the exact same day! I’ve put in updates (in italics) where needed, and the photos are from our hike today. And since our morning started in the 40s with a brisk wind at the beach, we had that feeling of Fall in the air. So I’m following this post with an incredible recipe for Curried Autumn Squash Soup with Smoke Sausage. Soooo good!
Not pet-friendly, but a great place for people… and birds!
- Pet Friendly – no
- Accessible – yes (except for the dunes getting onto the beach.)
- Restrooms – available (in 2020 there are two port-o-potties at parking lot #1)
- Fee – $5 per car (less for bikes)
“Outside the 52”
We’re a bit ahead of our 52 weeks schedule-wise, but decided to do a dry run today. We also quickly realized the other day that limiting ourselves to 52 parks resulted in us leaving out a lot of parks! So we’ve come up with a separate category that allows us to travel and blog “outside the 52“. That way if we head to FL, or MI, or upstate NY or anywhere else outside our 100 mile radius, we can still include it here for what its worth. We’ll just include the “Outside the 52” header on those posts.
On with our adventure – In order to beat the holiday and final beach weekend of the summer traffic, and also to get to the reservation before it was full (this park does limit visitors so its best to get there early) we decided to get up at the crack of dawn and head out! State and National Parks are usually open from sunrise to sunset, and these were no exception, so we figured we’d be good to go at 5 AM. Big Surprise, at 5 AM this morning, while Beth, I and the four cats were up… Tucker, and the sun, were not. No sense in heading out quite so early obviously, so we snuggled back in for a bit and headed out just after 7 AM. (In 2020 we planned on arriving at 8, and even at that early hour there were people out birding, hiking, biking and fishing… this place opens at sunup!) You’ll never hear me argue about a few extra minutes of sleep! Unfortunately we had to head out without Tucker. Poor guy. He got to stay home with Daisey because the parks we visited today do not allow dogs. Probably more because of the wildlife than anything. He’s VERY well behaved and even made a special visit to see Beth’s dad at the hospital this week, but rules are rules and we follow them so off we went sans corgi.
Sandy Point State Reservation and Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
This is a gorgeous beach, but don’t get any ideas about going during the summer. This is a refuge and Piping Plovers nest there and are protected from April through, this year, August 23rd! If you want to visit this 6+ mile stretch of undeveloped beach, you need to check the site! Sandy Point State Reservation and the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge are both located on Plum Island. We took the Scotland Road exit off Rt. 95 and drove past Colby Farm (with local corn and piglets!) and the Alden Merrill Dessert outlet (read CHEESECAKE!!!) on the way to Newburyport. Too early for cheesecake, and Beth tells me I”m not allowed a piglet, (big pout from me) so we continued to our destination. Sandy Point is out at the southernmost tip of the island, and from the bridge we had a good 6 miles to go. We drooled as we drove past the Plum Island Grille (great lunch and dinner, and on this holiday Monday morning it appears they’re also open for breakfast!). In 2020 they are open for curbside pickup! To get to the Park we drove through the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, which starts immediately with misty marshes on the right (misty from the sun rising on marshgrass wet from a very cool night we had.) It’s been a beautiful long weekend and we had gorgeous blue skies overhead and pretty quickly got a sneak preview of the great birdwatching we’d be treated to! At the Salt Pannes Wildlife Observation Area we saw Great Blue Heron, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and ducks too far away to identify! We discovered a great site that lists all the birds seen in the refuge. We know there were a huge number of egrets, since we saw them flying in and landing near each other in the marshes we drove past.
Bring your field glasses – Birds ahead!
This year we didn’t have field glasses, but there were obviously many people there to watch the birds, we saw them at every stop until we got to around Lot #5. Then things calmed down a bit. Once we drove south towards the preserve I remembered field glasses. Isn’t it nice that we hadn’t cleaned out the trunk since last year! Cause we found a pair! We drove past the boardwalks and the lookout towers of the Parker River property all the way out to Sandy Point. The road does turn to gravel, but is pretty smooth, but once you get to Sandy Point and take a right, be VERY careful of the deep ruts in the road. (in 2020, Sandy Point wasn’t yet opened for public, and Hellcat Trail is still being reconstructed.)
It isn’t all about the birds, but why not take a look?
We walked the beach for a bit, and got a kick out of a Herring Gull trying to steal someone’s lunch out of their tote bag. Beth tried to defend the tote bag but I’m sure as soon as we left that bird was back yanking at that bag! That was the only type of bird we saw on the beach; gulls eating snails and trying to forage for lunch in tote bags. The boardwalk itself is really pretty out this way with a bench and covered area to sit, and there were some beautiful native Virginia Roses mixed in with the marshgrass. On our drive back we stopped at the Stage Island Pool Overlook. There we saw egrets, cranes, cormorants, sandpipers, and a very large swan. We also drove down the Pine Trail viewing area and parked. There were about 5 very serious birdwatchers out there with huge scopes and cameras and they were nice enough to let us have a peek at what was probably the rarest bird we’d see today, the Whimbrel, a bird that migrates from the arctic (Yukon Territory and Hudson Bay) where it breeds to the Carolinas or Southern CA. We watched as the bird crouched low into the grass when the Peregrine Falcon flew overhead. Its amazing how they can know that a predator is flying so far overhead. A few of the rarer birds seen in the past few weeks of our 2020 trip included: Flycatcher, Purple Martin, Cliff Swallow, House Wren, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, a number of different Warblers, a Dickcissel, and a Monk Parakeet. I’m linking out to photos of some of them that I’d never heard of. I couldn’t believe the parakeet but I guess they live in NYC and Chicago, so why not Plum Island, too? Back in 2010, we also watched a beautiful Montagu’s Harrier looking for prey. It made Beth and I think about bringing bird guides and better field glasses or binoculars next time.
Bug spray for the marshes, but on a windy day we were good!
If you decide to visit this park the one thing we’d recommend which we totally forgot was bug spray!!!! Deer ticks, mosquitos, black flies, no-seeums, and who knows what else, were VERY aggravating when we walked out to the Stage Island Pool Overlook. Long pants would be recommended if you’re going to walk the trails and watch out for poison ivy, which is plentiful and just starting to turn a nice autumn shade of dark red here and there. One real bonus was that on most viewing platforms there are very high quality viewers that are free to use. Pretty much like the ones you see at the Empire State Building and other places, but much nicer quality and they don’t cost a quarter for 3 minutes! In 2020, we were at the beach when it was quite chilly and there was a steady wind. So we didn’t run into any bugs. And we didn’t see the poison ivy at Lot #7. Although if you drive into the birding areas, or walk around the blinds, it’s a good idea to keep your eyes out for both bugs and poison ivy!
There is also a an interpretive center, and activities, lectures, etc. provided at one of the first marked viewing areas. We didn’t stop in but if you have children with you, or anyone interested in finding out a bit more about the park and its history, this would be a good place to start. In 2020, due to COVID-19, there are no programs, and while there is staff on site, we didn’t see anyone walking around, and there are never lifeguards here.
On the way home we made a stop at Tendercrop Farm to pick up cider donuts, old-fashioned Canada mints (for Beth’s Dad since he’s still in the hospital), cookies, something to drink, and swedish pancake mix! Its amazing the things you can find at local farmstands, although this place is much larger than a farmstand. The park is definitely an easy place to fill a day if you’re into birding, beaching, walking, and enjoying nature! We highly recommend! In 2020, there is usually a line outside of Tendercrop. Rather than stopping there, we went into Newburyport to our favorite Bagel place, Abraham’s Bagels. We introduced our friend Sandy to them on our last hike out this way and she thinks it’s well worth a 45 minute drive to get the best bagels around! Outside seating, great breakfast sandwich options, and friendly staff. Don’t miss it!
Other activities: You can get a license to shellfish in the flats, pick berries (in season), and do some shorefishing, (all three require permission) and you can even driving your vehicle out onto the dunes for the fishing, but you definitely need the appropriate vehicle for this. The Saturn Aura is NOT the appropriate vehicle! Check at the office for availability of licenses before you head out. The beach at Sandy Point is gorgeous and flat and without that nasty riptide and steep incline of the Plum Island beach. There are rest rooms, basically outhouses, available, but no other commercial influence. Pack in – pack out, and while the boardwalks and roadways are fine for wheelchairs and strollers, to get to the beach you do have to walk through beach sand. Good for the calves, not good for mechanical things like wheels, etc.
But then we headed home after enjoying a bit of a wander in Newburyport, and I was in the mood for Fall! So I created the following Curried Autumn Squash Soup. Perfect as is, or you can substitute some ingredients to keep this one totally vegan! Your choice.
Curried Autumn Squash Soup
- 2 TB butter
- 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed
- 2 small acorn squash, peeled and cubed
- 2 large Honeycrisp apples, peeled and cubed
- 2 small onions chopped
- 2 TB curry powder
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 TB olive oil
- 1/2 smoked turkey kielbasa (about 8 oz) sliced
- 6 cups vegetable broth
- 1 cup whipped cream cheese
- salt and pepper
- fresh lemon thyme (or common thyme)
- sour cream for garnish
- In a deep saucepot (I used my trusty dutch oven) heat butter over medium heat until melted.
- Add onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes
- While the onions are cooking, cook the slices of kielbasa in the olive oil until browned on the edges
- Add chopped squash, apples, curry and brown sugar and stir well. Then allow to cook for a few minute until you can smell the curry powder warming.
- Add the broth, and the sausage
- Bring to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes or longer until the squash is very soft.
- Here comes the messy part. Remove the sliced sausage and set aside.
- Ladle out 1/3 of the squash mixture with broth into a food processor and blend until smooth. Transfer it to a mixing bowl, and continue til the soup is all blended.
- Pour it all back into the pot, including the sausage slices, and heat to simmer. Whisk in the cream cheese until completed blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve hot with a dab of sour cream and some fresh thyme as a garnish.
This soup is great served as a side with turkey or any other holiday meal, but is also wonderful on a cool afternoon with grilled cheese sandwiches. Enjoy.
Dedicated to my mother, and Beth’s father who inspired our hikes back in 2010. I don’t want to dedicate anything to COVID, but this blog has become a happy result of the quarantine and lockdowns we’ve all been dealing with.
Lillian and Ed, we hope they travel along with us on our journey
If you enjoyed this post, why not try another?
- BlueBerry apple bread pudding
- Slowcooker Maple BBQ Country Ribs
- Holiday Fruit Cream Scones
- Spiced Apple Upside-Down Cake
- Visit a Castle, Skip the Flight – Limoncello and Candied Ginger Scones