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Nature Notes: Glories of Northwest

Fri, 05/31/2019 - 16:16

It is Monday evening. The Memorial Day weekend is over. The weather was grand. At noon traffic was streaming west past my house on Noyac Road at a rate of 961 vehicles per hour, presumably most of them were returning home to spots west of the South Fork. I took a ride around after 4 to parts east, mostly in East Hampton.

The weather was still beautiful and traffic was almost down to a normal flow. On Swamp Road the ugliness of the southern pine borer beetle blight was quite evident. Some of the standing pitch pines didn’t look so good, even though they had green needles. However, the white pines looked to be in their glory. They produce so much sap that they overwhelm the borers before they get started. Drive down Old Northwest Road and you see how the white pines, young and old alike, are thriving.

The farther east into the great Northwest, the fewer the suffering pitch pines. Have the beetles been stopped in their tracks? It remains to be seen. The white oaks and tupelos, the last trees to leaf out, were a pale green. The other oaks, mainly black and scarlet ones, were fully leafed and in their grandeur. I covered the woods between Sag Harbor and Three Mile Harbor and didn’t see a single sign of gypsy moths. Again, we may be spared their ugly slaughter for yet another year.

At Sammy’s Beach, very few beach plum flowers remain after a magnificent early spring bloom. Because there were so many white blossoms covering them in so many spots on the South Fork, I wonder if, come September, the number of berries correlate with the number of blossoms. It’s never easy predicting the comings and the goings of beach plums. Let’s hope for the best.

Sammy’s Beach looked more like a Midwestern prairie in the fall than a duney beachgrass expanse. I begin to realize by now that dredge spoil covering is not conducive to American beachgrass, which prefers shifting white sand. However, the area between the largeish marsh on the south side and the beach is filled with a lot of plants, most of them natives, which should green up by the middle of June.

The number of sapling eastern red cedars is striking. While there were several mature ones in the past, before Three Mile Harbor was dredged in 1999 and the spoils placed on Sammy’s Beach, there now are hundreds, particularly on the east end, so it almost looks like a Christmas tree farm. There are more native cacti than there were prior to that dredging. Let’s hope come June they become covered with gorgeous yellow flowers.

At the end of Northwest Landing, I heard and then saw a helicopter going north over Barcelona. It couldn’t have been more than 150 feet high. A few gulls lazily flew overhead and four mourning doves were enjoying a puddle in the middle of the parking lot, which seemingly lasts forever. The rutty unpaved land behind the bulkhead belongs to the Suffolk County Parks system and is obviously not a high priority where upkeep is concerned.

A few dogwoods along Old Northwest Road’s west side were still in bloom, protected from too much sun by the tall white pines that thrive behind the west shoulder. The scarlet and black oaks were all leafed out and in their glory along Swamp Road, Northwest Road, and Alewife Brook Road. Come to Hand’s Creek Road, however, and the trees are mostly of the white oak species. At Stephen Hand’s Path, which runs off to the right, you’re back into the scarlet and black oaks.

Despite all of this business about the deer eating the understory, it was hard to find a piece of preserved town or county forestland that wasn’t covered with a rich growth of huckleberry and lowbush blueberry. Keep in mind, folks, it wasn’t the deer that ate the bird’s-foot violets and bluebonnet lupines that once grew profusely on the back road shoulders in Northwest, it was poor maintenance practices on the part of the town.

What impressed me the most about my trip around Northwest was seeing so much land covered with native vegetation, still undeveloped, and not so different in aspect as when I worked for East Hampton Town and would be out and about among those same trees, bushes, and groundcovers. If it weren’t for good government and the citizens who worked so hard to keep Northwest rural in the 1980s and 1990s it would have become just another New York City bedroom community. The legislation that was passed by the New York State Legislature and signed into law by the governor to use 2 percent of the real estate sales money to buy and put East Hampton’s choice undeveloped parcels into permanent open space was the icing on the cake.

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

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