Turkey vultures were back in town as of the Monday before last. Even more surprising was the sighting of individual ospreys over Sag Harbor by Ted Schiavoni and Jean Held three and two weeks ago, respectively. Ospreys used to nest in trees. Now almost all of Long Island’s ospreys nest on platforms situated on tall poles.
In the early 1980s there were only about seven active osprey nests on the South Fork. The osprey was still on the New York State’s endangered list. But there were even fewer eastern bluebirds on the South Fork and just a pair or two on the North Fork. The state correctly made a big hullabaloo about the sparse osprey population, but did very little to encourage the recovery of the bluebird, which, ironically, at that time had already had the distinction of being New York’s official bird for decades and decades.
It’s been quite a winter thus far. Snowing every other day for most of February, all of the freshwater ponds frozen over solid, including Long Island’s second largest, Fort Pond in Montauk. If Lake Montauk hadn’t been opened permanently and jettied in the first half of the 20th century, it would be frozen over, too.
East Hampton is rich in early American lore and artifacts and it has done a good job preserving them. Before East Hampton Town replaced its red brick Town Hall on Pantigo Road with historic houses and outbuildings, the East Hampton Village administration was well ensconced in a period-piece house on Main Street. The Hook Mill, the old cemetery, Clinton Academy, Mulford Farm, and Town Pond all speak to a village that preserves its past and whose past functions as its presence.
“The seas will turn red,” it prophesizes in the Bible, having to do with the anticipated Armageddon. The seas are turning red, not with blood, but with red tide phytoplankton. They’re also turning brown, purple, all of the colors in the spectrum except green for the same reason. And it all has to do with more and more nitrogen products entering the seawater with each passing day. Seven billion-plus humans, more than half of whom live only a few miles from any one of the four world oceans, produce an awful lot of nitrogen compounds as waste products.
The fall is under way; the great migration is heating up. During the next four weeks, the skies and seas will be teeming with all matter of winged and finned things heading south. The push is on.
Thus far, it's been mostly shorebirds, though a few warblers have been moving and there have been waves of swallows, flickers, robins, and catbirds passing through.
This story begins at the East Hampton Town Airport, circa 2000, while I was serving as the town’s natural resources director. The town had received a grant to construct a fence around the airport at no small cost to keep deer off the runways. A deer vs. plane collision spurred the town to take steps to prevent similar accidents in the future. The contractor put up a wonderful fence. Only one problem, the deer could walk down the road from either the north or the south and enter the airport at their leisure the way vehicles and people do.
Last Saturday, as a part-time participant in the New York State Waterfowl Count for the first time in years, I accompanied the Rubinstein sisters, Vicki Bustamante, and 12-year-old Hannah Mirando from Montauk. Readers may remember that Hannah also was a key observer in the 100-plus-year-old Montauk Christmas Bird Count held on Dec. 14 of last year.