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Nature Notes: Inklings of Springs

Tue, 03/10/2020 - 15:37

Monday was the warmest day since November. It reached 60 degrees in Noyac and thoughts of winter evaporated into thoughts of spring and the turning of the earth from dull gray to bright green. About three weeks ago, Jean Held in Sag Harbor saw one of her two chipmunks up for the first time this winter. My chipmunk showed up much later, on March 4 and again last Thursday. For chipmunks (and woodchucks) the end of hibernation is the courier of spring.

A trip to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital from Noyac on March 3 revealed crows and geese eking out the rest of winter, but springlike blue-purple vinca, or periwinkle, in full flower near the main entrance. Driving home along Edge of Woods Road, patches of white snowdrops, another sign of spring, caught my eye, These two early bloomers are not natives but after a dull cloudy 90 days of winter, native or non-native, any flower in bloom is a treat to the eye. On Deerfield Road, an adult female turkey sauntered into the woods, another sign that spring was just around the corner.

Patricia Hope, long retired from her teaching position at East Hampton High School, has been studying our local tick fauna year after year since. She lives on Swamp Road, where, beginning three years ago, southern pine beetles invaded the pitch pines there, killing many outright but leaving white pines unharmed. She started walking her dog in the woods near her house on Barcelona Neck eight years ago and has been studying the ticks she gleaned from the dog pelage since. Her dog has a limp and so stays close to the house. Pat has found many fewer ticks because of the loss of the long walks, but she still keeps track of the few that she finds on her dog and herself. From Jan. 6 through Monday: six ticks, all black-legged nymphs, and not a single dog or lone star tick. Eight years of year-round data reflect a common pattern: The black-legged nymphs always come first.

Jean Held has been studying Havens Beach on Northwest Harbor in Sag Harbor for several years, but more so than ever because of the large amount of dredge spoil deposited there two years ago that is loaded with artifacts from the past. She studies both the living and the non-living, shards of glass, rocks, etc. She includes the marine waters in her observations and has seen jellyfish in them all winter long. A sign of global warming, she wonders?

The adult squirrels, as many as four in my yard and the one next door, spend most of their time chasing one another. As I can’t tell a male from a female, or those from the neighbor’s yard from those from my own yard,

they confuse me. They are able to climb up or descend from trees as fast as they run over the leafy ground. They are fat and sassy, so despite a poor acorn year, they are getting their food from another source like bird feeders. On Saturday early in the morning I looked out and there, not 50 feet away on the top of the fence that separates the two yards, was a large hawk with a short tail facing away from me. Must be a red-tail, I thought, but could be a young red-shouldered hawk as its back was mottled with white specks. Obviously, he or she was there for the squirrels, their food of choice in woodland habitats. I will have to count the squirrels to see if any are missing.

Monday was the night of the earthworm full moon, I’m told. If you examined your lawn on Tuesday morning you were liable to find small piles of tiny dirt balls, a telltale sign that the night crawlers came out the night before. I’m waiting for Dai Dayton to get back from one of her many full moon walks to see if she saw or heard any owls or heard any spring peepers. Jean Held was at Havens Beach just before 6 and the peepers were almost in full chorus.

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

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