Were you one of the craven snowbirds who last fall, anticipating winter's worst, booked a February flight to Bimini or some other hot spot to escape what you thought would be relentless blizzards, ice storms and teeth-chattering gelidity?
Half the fun of lounging on a beach this time of year is gloating about all the poor sods back home shivering and shoveling snow, but this ridiculously mild season has stripped southbound sojourners of any supercilious chortling.
I thought about all those unnecessary getaways a couple days ago when the temperature throughout New England climbed close to 60, and wondered if any of the migrating animal species that turn up in our area also regretted leaving their not-so-frozen Northern habitat.
Last week a bald eagle circled lazily near my house while I was out cutting wood and perched on a tall oak directly over my head.
I spot the magnificent raptors occasionally in winter, particularly if I'm kayaking on the Connecticut River – stay tuned and I'll report on an eagle-watching paddle in a few weeks – because they fish in open water and come down from northern New England and Canada when ice forms on lakes and rivers there.
The giant bird peered down at me for about a minute, then possibly realized I was too big to carry off in its powerful talons and flapped lazily away.
Maybe it was thinking, "I shoulda stayed in Bangor."
After seeing the eagle I wondered if my other favorite migratory species had made it down here for the winter: harbor seals. There was only one good way to find out.
I called my old college buddy Bob Carlson, with whom I've shared a fair number of outdoor adventures, most recently, an icy climb up New Hampshire's Mount Chocorua.
"Bob! What are you doing tomorrow?"
Bob knows me well enough not to give a direct answer.
"Well, I have a few things on the calendar…"
"They can wait! Let's kayak out to Fishers Island and check out the seals!"
One of Bob's most admirable traits is he doesn't take long to decide if something appeals to him.
"Sounds great! What time?"
In the morning we strapped my 22-foot tandem kayak to the roof of my car and drove to a favorite launch site: Esker Point Beach in Noank.
While the temperature soared to the mid-50s – absurd for the first day of February – a southwest breeze had kicked up to about 10-15 knots. The forecast called for gusts approaching 20, but the seas looked manageable with no whitecaps.
We snapped spray skirts in place, donned neoprene mittens and began paddling out from Palmer Cove.
Once beyond the lee of Groton Long Point the wind and waves built slightly, but we held our course toward West Harbor on Fishers Island, about 3 miles due south. After punching through chop north of Clay Point we approached West Clump and spied our first pinnipeds.
"Two seals! Ten o'clock!" I cried.
The pair that had been perched on a rocky outcrop arched their backs and then slid in the water. Seconds later their heads popped up about 50 yards in front of our boat, and then instantly ducked under.
Seal watching, as I've often said, is like playing Whack-a-Mole.
I don't like to linger. First of all, federal law prohibits people from getting too close to seals and other marine mammals – not that the skittish animals would let you. I also don't want to interrupt their rest or disrupt their feeding. In addition, weather and sea conditions can change quickly, and it's bad enough navigating rough seas in July, but much worse in February, even on a mild day.
So Bob and I paddled past West Clump and steered east. Soon we saw another half-dozen seals a few hundred yards away on Middle Clump, and another batch on East Clump.
The mother lode, though, gathered on Hungry Point only a mile or so from the island's eastern tip.
In past years I've seen at least 100 seals that migrated to Fishers Island Sound from the Gulf of Maine and points north, arriving usually in November and sticking around until April.
I couldn't tell how many seals were on Hungry Point this week because the tide was nearing flood and most were in the water. Also, I wasn't particularly interested in tarrying because the wind had begun to kick up and we still had to return across the sound.
"I think we better start heading back," I said, and Bob hastily agreed.
As if to bid us farewell, a seal about 10 yards off our bow popped up and then sped away with a great splash.
A lone fishing boat droned in the distance; otherwise, we had the sound to ourselves.
"A great time to be out on the water," Bob said.
"It's always a great time," I replied.