Nature Notes: Great Promise

My daily noon traffic count from my window overlooking Noyac Road was a record one
An osprey atop a pole near Multi Aquaculture Systems on Cranberry Hole Road Victoria Bustamante

After one of the hottest, muggiest Fourths of July on record, we wondered what nature would serve up next. There was no relief the day after. 

My daily noon traffic count from my window overlooking Noyac Road was a record one: 100 vehicles passing in each of two four-minute counts, 1,500 vehicles each hour. In other words, Noyac Road is almost as packed as Montauk Highway these days.

Ironically, perhaps, I saw almost no roadkills in 95 miles of driving between 8 and 10 p.m. while listening in western and central Southampton Town for whippoorwills. On Sunday night Middle Line Highway, which runs along the top of the terminal moraine between North Sea and Sag Harbor and was once the center of whippoorwill-dom, was completely quiet but offered a perfect occasion for assessing the number of new and almost new McMansions with well-lighted driveways, eaves and yards. No whippoorwills but lots of fireflies.

In Riverside, Flanders, Shinnecock Hills, North Sea, and Tuckahoe, during 65 miles of stopping and listening on Saturday night I came across six deer, a skunk (odor), great egret, and snowy egret, but no roadkills, no whips, and lots of fireflies.  

I will survey East Hampton during the coming evenings.

I attended the Army Language School in Monterey after I enlisted in 1958 and while there visited John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row on Monterey Bay several times. Doc was gone and it was quite decrepit but still hanging on. Every time I visit Maria and Bob Valenti at Multi Aquaculture Systems on Cranberry Hole Road it’s a déjà vu all over again — decrepit, also, but quite wonderful. Maria and Bob have been hearing whippoorwills in the early evening when working late.

Dianne Ryan on Shore Road in Promised Land has also been hearing them. On Monday evening Stephanie Krusa called from Navy Road next to Fort Pond Bay in Montauk. She was listening to two, perhaps three, different whippoorwills sounding off. Whippoorwills like it dark and quiet and they avoid celebrities at all costs.

Ospreys, on the other hand, once down to a few pairs in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, continue to make a solid comeback. You’ll be hard pressed to find a pair nesting in a tree as was once the rule. Almost every one is on a utility pole or atop some other structure. One of the most longstanding nests is the one out in the marsh south of Cranberry Hole Road on Napeague. It has been occupied every year since at least before 1983, when I started working for East Hampton Town. I went by it on Monday and there were at least two chicks being tended by one of the adults. 

The nest at the beginning of the entrance to Multi Aquaculture, half a mile to the east, is thriving, with at least two half-grown chicks with mom or pop in attendance. There are two more active ones, I noted in my Napeague excursion — one on the old RCA tower on the north side of Montauk Highway, one on the east side of Napeague Meadow Road. By the way, I have never seen those Napeague wetlands, either salt or fresh, in such good condition. The patch of phragmites east of Napeague Meadow Road, small to begin with, has gotten even smaller over the years.

Victoria Bustamante says that there is a new osprey nest a little east of what used to be Cyril’s, just east of Napeague Harbor Road’s intersection with Montauk Highway. The best news yet, Vicki reports, is that a pair of ospreys is finally nesting back in Montauk, atop one of the poles at the Ground Air Transmitter Receiver (GATR) site off East Lake Drive in Montauk.

There used to be a pair that nested each year on Brushy Island in the northwest corner of Fort Pond after a nest pole was erected in 1987. Not only are the nest and pole gone, but so is Brushy Island, now a subsurface reef of sorts.

You may have read about the cessation of helicopters dropping methoprene in Accabonac Harbor as a result of surveys carried out this summer by the East Hampton Town Trustees that revealed few breeding mosquitoes. Arnold Leo, who lives on Gerard Drive west of the main inlet to Accabonac Harbor, is happy to see the pair back on the nest in the marsh at the top of the harbor. In the 1980s that nest was moved into the center of the marsh from the edge of the woods where it had remained barren for several years. It was immediately occupied, but then abandoned after several successful broods. Arnold thinks it was because of the low-flying vector-control helicopters that used to ply the harbor marshes several times during the summer. Some protesting stopped that practice at the end of 2016, and the nest has been successfully occupied ever since.

Joann Dittmer lives on the west side of Hog Creek’s inlet in Springs. She’s been keeping track of the nest at the foot of one of the two Lion Head ponds there since the nesting pole was first erected in 1995. There have been a few bad situations having to do with storms in the past, and at least one member of the pair is relatively new. This year there are three advanced chicks that will most likely be flying by the end of July.

By the way, driving around the back roads of Southampton and East Hampton in the light of day on Monday was a treasured experience. There were lots and lots of common milkweeds in bloom and a few orange bufferfly milkweeds on the shoulders such as those of Route 114 that were not there previously. The lush green of the overstory composed of white pines, oaks, hickories and the like in Northwest is a pleasant relief from the dominant browns of the dying and dead pitch pines of winter and spring.

Shore Road on Lazy Point was particularly lush and colorful. I stopped at Dianne and Gordan Ryan’s house when I saw Dianne there tending to her beach dune garden. It’s a wonderful little eden at the edge of healthy pitch pines, with just about every herb blooming and beach plums and blueberries ripening. The garden was an assortment of wildflowers and those from horticulture such as Deptford pink and three kinds of sedum. Dianne was deadheading some of the flowering plants and removing ragweed whenever she came upon it.

A few doors down to the east, prickly pear cactuses were blooming. I thought that after we are all gone as a result of our bad acting and poor choice of political leaders, those plants would survive wonderfully, native and foreign, living together, and, maybe, even aware of each other’s colorful blooms and fragrances. How could a place with such a name as “Promised Land” be anything but promising!


Larry Penny can be reached via email at