Nature Notes: The Fairest of Them All

The prettiest fall foliage was along the north half of Northwest Woods, east of Three Mile Harbor, and in Springs and Amagansett

On Friday and Saturday I went out to examine the fall foliage. It doesn’t seem as brilliant this year as last year, but it might be that I went out too early. On Friday, I covered about 100 miles of East Hampton Town roads, from Town Line Road in Wainscott to the west to Montauk Point to the east. The leaf colors were not as brilliant as last year’s, and Montauk’s Hither Woods were already drab.

The prettiest fall foliage was along the north half of Northwest Woods, east of Three Mile Harbor, and in Springs and Amagansett, where the hardwoods dominate. Old Stone Highway between Neck Path and Town Lane scored the highest, perhaps because of the influence of the late-turning beech trees. On Saturday I returned to Springs for a ceremony in honor of Fred Nagel’s passing. Springs leaves were more colorful than on the previous day, especially along both sides of Springs-Fireplace Road.

All in all, none of the color matched last year’s in intensity, but perhaps I was too early and this year’s fall colors are too late. In Montauk the most colorful things on trees were not leaves, but berries, in particular, those of the winterberry holly, which are unusually abundant and very, very red.

It may be that my eyes were prejudiced by the sad sight of so many dead pine boles lying on each side of the road where my Friday trek started at the western end of Swamp Road. The southern pine beetle had ravaged the trees there. When I got past Bull Path, however, there was little sign of the damage yet to come, and the leaves, especially those of the red maples, were almost dazzling.

Earlier in the week I had observed the state of the fall foliage in eastern Southampton Town. The leaves on the hardwood trees along Deerfield and Brick Kiln Roads were the most colorful and I gave them a 9 out of 10. It may be that those leaves turned a bit earlier than the ones in East Hampton, which would be in accordance with that old rule, the farther west you go on Long Island the earlier the leafing out in the spring and the earlier the color changes come fall.

A disappointing observation resulting from my windshield survey was the number of roadkill gray squirrels. When acorns are scarce, as they seem to be this year, gray squirrels take more time foraging for food, often going farther afield to find their nourishment. That entails numerous road crossings.

On the other hand, along the roads in both towns I saw bunches of turkeys, some in all-male groups with their feathered beards hanging in front of their chests, some all female, without those beards and with smaller wattles hanging from their beaks. I observed not a single roadkill turkey, even though turkeys like to feed on road edges and take their time crossing from one side to another. I also observed a lot of deer. Several of the individual deer were standing on the shoulder of the road observing the passing cars, as if they knew that standing still was safer than bolting across the road. I believe many deer do have that same knowledge as we humans do.

This year’s fall is not like last year’s. It is damper and windier. Maybe that is why, along most of the roads I reconnoitered, the hardwood trees still had the majority of their leaves, indeed, some oaks and beeches were still almost 100 percent green.

I couldn’t help thinking that what I might be seeing year after year for four- fifths of a century, nonstop, is incremental delay of leaf coloration and falling with each passing year. Whether this is just a hunch or another sign of the actual warming of the globe from one year to the next is hard to say.

It’s Thanksgiving and soon it will be Santa Claus time. Like you, I greatly enjoy these holidays. I’m not a grinch. However, I also take great comfort in the thought that in only 28 days from Thanksgiving, the days will stop getting shorter and begin to get longer. Hurray for the winter solstice.

Larry Penny can be reached via email at