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Nature Notes: The Birds and the Bugs

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 16:26
Frank Rehor spotted what appears to be an albino cardinal in his yard on Accabonac Road in East Hampton.
Frank Rehor

Another week, another step toward summer. Sunday was pleasant, and I took a ride into Wainscott south of East Hampton Airport and explored the woods and shoulders, hoping for a lupine or two. I did find several wildflowers blooming, but not a single lupine, nor the remnants of any bird’s-foot violets, which would have been blooming several weeks ago.

What was upsetting was the large number of mature pitch pines losing their needles and several dead ones, naked reminders of the dread southern pine boring beetle attack here on the South Fork, which apparently is still in high dudgeon and continuing on an easterly course. 

Later I went out to Barcelona, one of the areas in Northwest that has taken the brunt of the infestation thus far. I could see without leaving my car that several more of the tall pitch pines in the mixed pitch pine and white pine forest were standing needleless, dead in their tracks, so to speak. The sides of a town trustee road leading to the state golf course farther in were covered with the cut boles and stumps of the diseased pitch pines, cut down in recent years by the state and East Hampton Town to stop the spread of the infestation. Fortunately, the northern three-quarters of Barcelona, once called Russell’s Neck, is almost entirely deciduous and those trees were all green and appeared to be in good health without any sign of damage by gypsy moth caterpillars. Earlier in the afternoon while I drove Route 114 between East Hampton and Sag Harbor, however, I did see several white oaks south of the Daniel’s Hole Road intersection and north of the Whooping Hollow Road intersection that were leafless, which I attributed to three past years of a small gypsy moth invasion that was still contained.

Daniel’s Hole on the northwest side of Daniel’s Hole Road and east of the shooting preserve was dark and chock-full of water for the first time in three years. Some small pitch pines, which had started out when the hole was merely a little wet, were now entirely engulfed in water, and the otherwise calm surface was all the while broken by some kind of amphibian larvae coming and going. This spring has been much wetter than the two past ones, which might explain the pond’s very high water level.

I decided to make a quick tick check of the road shoulders adjacent to the pond and after dragging a largish towel over the short vegetation for 200 yards or so, I managed to come up with two nymphal deer tick larvae. Nothing like several years ago when the same drag in the same area would produce 30 or 40 of them.

Not too many years ago, the southeast side of Daniel’s Hole Road was engulfed by fire, but it has fully recovered since. I visited Anna Lapinska, who purchased a small house four years ago on a small parcel on Georgica Woods Road, well south of the railroad tracks, and was in the throes of trying to revegetate much of the parcel, which had been partially cleared and leafed over in large part for several years running by the previous owners. She showed me some of the pitch pines killed by the southern pine beetle, but the oaks, hickories, and beeches were quite healthy. The outwash soil was quite sandy and almost stoneless, accounting for the pitch pines.

On the north side of the airport, the soil is much stonier. Ferns and mountain laurel are common, there are fewer pitch pines, and more and more hardwood trees. A highlight of my reconnoitering of Daniel’s Hole Road was the absence of utility poles on the shoulders. Almost all of the utility wiring is underground, a planning and road design practice started in the 1970s by East Hampton Town while Tom Thorsen was the planning director and Judith Hope the supervisor. 

What I did find on the Lapinska parcel, however, was the source of that dirty black stuff so common in Northwest Woods that I had inquired about in my column last week. After sending Victoria Bustamante a photo of it on the branches of an oak growing on Maryann Buquicchio’s property off Three Mile Harbor Road, I had the answer. The black stuff was covering what looked like water drops in a tight row on the bottom of some living twigs. Victoria explained that the drops were scale insects, and the black stuff was a fungus living on them. Apparently, the phenomenon is fairly common on the thinner branches of our beeches and oaks.

Chris Chapin of Sag Harbor, a very fine naturalist whose name has appeared in several of my columns, found tiger salamanders in the Long Pond Green Belt when he was still a boy. He emailed me last Thursday to say that he had seen several half-inch gypsy moth larvae lately but only individuals, not in numbers. That makes sense, as they attain full size by the middle of June, pupate, and emerge at the beginning of July. On the other hand, Ms. Buquicchio’s trees are rife with inchworms, another name for cankerworms, which, after pupation, become cankerworm moths. In the first years of this millennium, we had both gypsy moth and cankerworm invasions, one after the other, that killed a lot of oaks and other hardwoods. Sounds like in a few years we may be in for another big infestation. 

As you may have noticed while driving back and forth along the South Fork’s roads, there are more and more osprey nests on utility posts each year as the local osprey population continues to recover. As I mentioned in a previous column, Terry Sullivan saw one of these catch fire on a road in western Sag Harbor more than a week ago. He went back for a look this week and there was a new nest on a nonelectrified pole and the ospreys were back. Were they going to start a new brood?

In the last column, the bird of the week was the sandhill crane, found visiting the marshes of Napeague. This week it’s an entirely different bird, the cardinal. Just about everyone has seen a cardinal, but how many have seen an albinistic one? Not only has Frank Rehor seen one, he has an immature one, closely watched over by two non-albino parents, in his yard on Accabonac Road. We’ve had albino deer and partially albino grackles locally, but I’ve not seen an albino cardinal until now. Let’s hope it survives!


Larry Penny can be reached via email at [email protected]

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