Nature Notes: It’s a Jungle Out There

The foliage on both sides Route 114 was a brilliant green

Shucks, only 12 more days before the days begin getting shorter and the nights longer. You might say that’s the zenith of activity for each new year. After that things start going downhill.

In a trip from Sag Harbor to East Hampton on Monday evening, the foliage on both sides Route 114 was a brilliant green. The white oaks had caught up to the other oaks and the hickories. The black locusts were still flowering. It was a highlight of June, indeed. Then I flashed on last year at this time as I passed Daniel’s Hole Road, wondering if the patch of gypsy moths that broke out last year at about this time a quarter mile north of Whooping Hollow Road survived the winter?

My eyes fixed on the left side of the road. A couple hundred feet of semi-bare canopies loomed up along the east shoulder. Yes, the patch was now the size of a football field; next year it could cover half the town. As predicted, the gypsy moths are back, just as the ticks are back, and the mosquitoes soon will be. 

Sublimity suddenly turned to apprehension, I continued along to my destination, eyes on the road ahead, not on its sides. 

On the other hand, the last week of May and the first two weeks of June mark the egg-laying time for most of our turtles. Female box turtles look for a sunny spot, often a lawn, to dig into the ground with their hind feet and deposit their eggs, then cover them up. Female painted and spotted turtles leave their ponds to travel 100 feet or so upland and do the same, female snapping turtles bigger than basketballs do the same. Swamp Road in Northwest Woods and Old Stone Highway in Springs have sunlit sandy shoulders that make them perfect ovulation spots. 

The last of our turtles to come ashore to begin the annual reproduction cycle are the diamondbacks that emerge from bays and tidal creeks. They are common egg layers in the dunes of Sammy’s Beach and sandy spots along the west trail through the woods of Barcelona Neck. It won’t be but a few more decades before green turtles from the Atlantic begin laying their eggs on our ocean shores; they now deposit them on sandy beaches as far north as southern Virginia. In the 1990s a female green turtle did make a nest on the Amagansett ocean beach, but apparently never laid eggs. When a crew went to uncover it in the face of an approaching coastal storm, it turned out to be barren.

The last of the white flowering shrubs, the mountain laurels, multiflora roses, and the arrowwoods are beginning to flower. The latter are most spectacular in Montauk, the former in the morainal woods of Bridgehampton, Noyac, and Water Mill, but also along Sagg Road between the Long Island Rail Road tracks and Sag Harbor. White stands out, even on dimly lit days and the bees can see them from a long way off.

Notice the ospreys in their nests, say along Deerfield Road in Water Mill, Long Beach Road in Noyac, Cranberry Hole Road in Amagansett, or around Accabonac Harbor, most of which are easy to see from the road. When you see the female standing up, you know the eggs have hatched and she’s mostly looking down at the downy chicks while waiting for her partner to fly in with a fish or two. Fortunately, there are a lot of bunkers around and only a handful of cormorants, so there is not much competition for food, save where there are eagles nesting nearby, like on Gardiner’s and Shelter Islands and the wildlife refuges at Mastic and farther west.

Barring a big windstorm or tornado-like downburst, or both, of the kind that Three Mile Harbor suffered several years back, all of the nests should fare well and we should see young ospreys flapping their wings in the prekindergarten lessons of flight school.

The eggs in the nests of robins, grackles, red-winged blackbirds, mocking birds, cardinals, and the like have long hatched and the chicks are mostly well-feathered and ready to take off. Terry Sullivan picked up an obstreperous fledgling blue jay in his eastern Sag Harbor yard. It had tried to fly, but came to earth. It squawked loudly, attracting its mother, who flew down and gave Terry a powerful bong in his head. Mother birds are not so different than human mothers. They will stop at nothing to protect and nurture their young.

If you don’t hear the birds singing in the yard, it is not a sign that they have left. It’s a sign that they are feeding their young and have little time for song. When you see blackbirds chasing a crow as you drive along a back road, you know that the crow has been up to no good. Crows are notorious nestling stealers. Yes, for the next three months there’s no way to avoid the jungle out there. One doesn’t need lions and tigers. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, helicopters, and jet planes suffice nicely.