Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: Looking down can be informative

By CHERYL KIMBALL May 12. 2017 10:26PM

I HAVE HAD REASON to spend some time at a marina in Rhode Island. My role in this sailboat-related endeavor is minimal; upon arrival at the marina, I almost immediately scurry off with camera and binoculars to a fantastic little rocky beach area that I get to by wending my way through a couple dozen masts wintering over horizontal on sawhorses, through a grassy now-tick-and-poison-ivy infested area, onto both rounded and jagged, large and small boulders down onto the beach. 

Seagulls are everywhere. As the tide recedes and exposes more and more of the beach the seagulls take to the air one, then another, then another up to different heights where they let go of the bivalve that they grabbed on the shore, dropping it to the rocks below to assist in the process of cracking it open so they can get to the snack inside. They all are wise to this maneuver and the less, shall I say, ambitious of the seagulls wait below to try and snag the snack before the seagull that dropped it descends from the sky to snatch his rightful possession. Tussles ensue. It is all quite entertaining. I could spend half a day there every day for the rest of my life and never get bored.
As I sat there concentrating on the seagulls ahead and to my right, I thought to look left. A gull had landed on the shore just beyond the receding waterline, and was feasting on a small skate. I watched for a few minutes, took some pictures, and then decided to walk the beach a bit before heading back to the boatyard.

A decade or so of childhood beach life compels me to look down while walking on a rocky beach. I have collections of seaglass and shells from those carefree years as well as from adult trips to Assateague and the Outer Banks and other coastal excursions. This history and habit is ingrained — it is almost impossible for me not to pick up beach glass. At first I pick up everything and then I start to get more discerning. Green glass is ubiquitous and needs to be of a large enough size and tumble-worn enough to warrant squatting down to pick it up. Brown glass is less ubiquitous but still common and the larger smoothly worn hunks make their way into my pocket. Clear glass is actually, I feel, a nice find — it may be as common but not as easy to spot. Blue glass of even the size of a speck is a treasure. Purple or red would be heavenly. The first time I was there I collected a specimen of all the shells that are not common to northern New England sandy beaches — small conches and large scallops.

Stuffing my pockets with glass and shells, admittedly wondering just what I will do with it when I get home and where the heck that bottle is I was collecting glass in, I began to wonder if this was the best way to be approaching the outdoor world — looking down.

But looking down in the woods has just as many rewards as on the beach — not in the form of collectibles but for reading the woods through scat. Just a couple weeks ago the dog and I walked along a trail through our woods that the dog and I hadn’t been on since fall. It is a wet trail in spring and it is fairly uneven with lots of boulders hidden by moss and pine needles; the trail requires a bit of concentration to navigate without falling on your face in a large puddle.

While looking down I saw a large pile of droppings. I see scat all the time looking down while walking in the woods. Some of it is likely coyote — gray with hair and bones in it. Sometimes little piles are strategically placed on top of rocks. This pile looked like porcupine droppings only it was in the middle of the trail and wasn’t really a pile but was spread out in one layer. This did not seem porcupine-like. My searchings around the internet revealed it to be moose droppings. The people who live in the cabin on the other side of our property had seen moose tracks in early spring. The couple up the street watched a moose walk by while they were relaxing in their hot tub on the back deck. This was likely the droppings of the same moose.

I never saw the moose. Several people have told stories of seeing moose either on or in the vicinity of our property; we have never laid eyes on any of them. Although I tend to want to look up for birds, looking down, seeing scat, and identifying it allows me to “see” all sorts of wild animals that make their life in and around the woods in my back yard.
Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. You can email her at

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