Nature Notes: Spring, on Cat Paws
Let’s see. The ospreys are back on their nests. The alewives are running in droves from North Sea Harbor to Big Fresh Pond in Southampton. Wild cherries are beginning to leaf out. I’ve yet to see the first shad in bloom. Daylily leaves and wild onions are popping up here and there. Spring is grudgingly showing its colors.
It’s been a big week for our national bird, the bald eagle. Bill Williams saw two adults with shining white heads side by side eating something on the edge of Georgica Pond, then he saw an immature one cruising over East Hampton Village’s downtown. Doug and Jill Massa had a mature bald eagle fly low over their house in the hills west of Three Mile Harbor Road.
There have been several northern harriers around. I observed a young male gliding low over the marshes on the west edge of Napeague Harbor. Tom Preiato of the East Hampton Building Department went to check on an abandoned house on the side of Three Mile Harbor Road and came upon two red-tail hawks feeding on a raccoon. He figured it was a roadkill that dragged itself off the road before perishing.
There isn’t a road shoulder around without at least one male robin. Red-bellied woodpeckers are uttering their two-syllable piercing cry. Crows are everywhere, it seems, and uttering their guttural staccatos and hip-hoppy two-note calls among their caws. Apparently crows have a bigger vocabulary than some of our teenagers and recognize individual human faces, giving a distinct warning and acknowledgement call when they see one they don’t trust.
Except for the several pairs of Canada geese nesting about on the high marshes of our harbors and tidal creeks, the bulk have gone north. Three weeks ago during a full-moon episode I was awakened at 2 in the morning by their calls overhead. The next morning driving to work there were no geese working the fields along Long Lane in East Hampton. I presumed they left on that night to begin their long trek north guided by the moonlight.
The mallards that occupied Otter Pond in Sag Harbor all winter long and walked diffidently single-file back and forth across Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor to and from a yard where they are fed have scattered. A few pairs remain. Two green-heads vie for a female who flies along with them in a trio resembling the Blue Angels at an air show. The mallard, a scarce bird on eastern Long Island 50 years ago, is now our most common locally breeding waterfowl. If all the ponds are occupied by earlier breeding pairs, a spot in the bushes beside a swimming pool will do fine. It’s amazing how unwild a wild waterfowl will become if pampered and fed over the winter.
The mute swans are also in the throes of nesting. Individuals that lost their mates over the long and snowy winter are coming together as in the “Dating Game” TV show. Eventually, it turns out each year, almost every bachelor will find a suitable bachelorette.
So it goes. Spring’s coming in on little cat paws. You might miss it if you don’t look closely. The blossoming of the shad, bird’s-foot violets, and dogwoods and beach plums are just around the corner.