Nature Notes: Whatever May Be, May Be
All of a sudden, the trees along our back roads have burst into bloom. The black and scarlet oaks were in full flower by Friday evening. As of Sunday dogwoods were just beginning to leaf out, the lowbush blueberries and huckleberries that make up the bulk of the shrub layer are leafing out and blooming simultaneously.
For those among you who say that the deer are eating up the understory, drive through along Sagg Road, Swamp Road, or Two Holes of Water Road and you will see seas of green two to three feet high. The understory has survived the winter and the deer exceedingly well.
By the weekend the Napeague shads and Long Beach beach plums should be blooming snowy white. Then come the white dogwood flowers, followed by the pinkish white mountain laurels. If you are lucky, you may still find a few bird’s-foot violets in flower, say along Old Northwest Road and maybe even a blue lupine or two among them. Twenty years ago, East Hampton’s side roads were resplendent at this time with these two flowers, but these are modern times and most of them have left us.
If you have oaks in your yard that are not blooming, chances are they are white oaks. They are the last local hardwood trees to bloom and leaf out. And let us not forget those who have lost their pitch pines to the southern pine beetle. Fortunately, the tighter-barked white pines of Northwest have not succumbed. They will expand their range in the absence of competition from the other.
One of the first wildflowers to bloom in Montauk is the trout lily. Victoria Bustamante has been keeping track of the population east of Lake Montauk. They don’t bloom every year, which is probably a good thing because their showy presence would give them away to the hungry herbivores come spring. Lilies come before orchids, which don’t start blooming until late June or July.
Most of the spring migrants have arrived by now. Terry Sullivan had a male rose-breasted grosbeak in his yard on Monday. Baltimore orioles should be back in a day or two, and the spring warblers, as many as 15 different species, should be passing through any minute now. At least eight species are known to breed here.
In two more weeks I will make my annual nighttime count of whippoorwills. They may be making a comeback if last year’s count is any indication. You hear them, but you rarely see them; listen for a chuck-will’s-widow among them. Each year at about this time, Stephanie Krusa goes to the end of Navy Road at the east end of Hither Woods in Montauk to listen. She is rarely disappointed, at times hearing as many as three different whippoorwills calling at the same time.
Birds that one rarely hears locally these days are wood thrushes, nighthawks, wood pewees, hermit thrushes, ruffed grouse, bobwhites, barn owls, and pheasants. Thank God, the male woodcocks still do their romancing at night over the Montauk grasslands in April, but I haven’t seen or heard one for many a moon.
The run of elvers and alewives is pretty much over for the year. I have yet to smell the oil scent from schools of bunkers in Noyac Bay this year, but then again I don’t smell wafting odors like I used to.
On a rainy night more than a week ago I got a call from fellow naturalist and resident of Sag Harbor, Chris Chapin. Listen, he said, and I did: nasal “cronk” after nasal “cronk” after nasal “cronk” nonstop into the night. The spadefoot toads that live near him were in the nearby recharge basin, finally up and calling after several years’ absence.
Let me know what’s going on in your neighborhood.
May is my favorite month, have a good one.