Nature Notes: Pre-Storm Activity

This one is giving us a real scare

   It’s Monday afternoon. This could be the Big One of which I spoke earlier. It’s  pounding Noyac, and the best is yet to come. Noyac Bay is washing across Long Beach Road and marrying Sag Harbor Cove, it’s like the old days, before Suffolk County constructed Long Beach Road. Connecting Noyac with North Haven. I’ve been in this Noyac house since 1979 and have only seen those two water bodies meet up once before.
    The upper half of a scarlet oak trunk, nearly two feet in diameter, just came crashing down on the roof, shaking the entire house, knocking stuff off  kitchen shelves, breaking chinaware, and the like. I went out to look and it looked like Tyrannosaurus rex was stretched out the length of the roof. It wasn’t one of the large dead limbs that my wife has been after me to deal with for years. It was the live trunk with lots of live branches and lots of leaves. It must have offered more resistance to the gale force winds streaming in from the northeast than the leafless dead ones. I thought about getting the chain saw out and removing it right on the spot, but then another limb came down, and I decided to go inside and wait for the storm to run its course.
    A week ago when this monster was slowly churning through the tropical Atlantic, the weather modelers predicted that after hitting Jamaica and Cuba it would begin turning to the northeast and head out to sea. Then, on Thursday, the predictions had it heading up the coast.  And, now, here it is, at our very doorstep. Since we are on the east side of the eye we are going to be hit with some of the strongest winds and highest flood tides. I can’t wait until 9:30 or so tonight to see how really high it gets. It might crest at Montauk at a record level, one not seen since the 1938 Long Island Express.
    This time around the forecasters got it right. It’s another Perfect Storm, maybe even stronger than the Halloween storm 21 years ago.  This one is giving us a real scare. I was in the top of the Montauk Lighthouse looking out the windows with Walter Galcik when that one hit. We looked down at the waves hitting the revetment repair, which Greg Donahue finished just in the nick of time. In fact, Greg was still down there clambering around the giant rocks in a rain slicker dodging the waves and checking out the line of rocks to see how they were holding up. Then he came up to us in the turret, dripping wet, but with a smile on his face.
    This year, Greg and his team, and Patrick Bistrian Jr., repaired the revetment in the spring, long before the advent of the second Perfect Storm. Will it hold up? You can bet that at this moment Greg is down there checking it out. A storm like this can tear up everything in its path and change the sea bottom landscape as well as the shape of the shore for hundreds of miles.
    On Friday, when news of the impending storm was buzzing around our heads, Vicki Bustamante and I were looking for a couple of state endangered species at Culloden, one of which grows in the angle between the toe of the bluff and the back shore of Block Island Sound. By luck, we went before the storm hit and after walking a mile or two over stone and sea wrack we came to several plants of that very vulnerable species, Scotch lovage. A few were still flowering, but most were going to seed, and just in time too. Scotch lovage seed can tolerate seawater the way sea poppy seeds can. Hopefully, they will be picked up by the storm, then drift around in the water and waves and eventually come to rest somewhere else along the South Fork’s north shore to start a new colony.
    We also spooked a two-foot long eastern ribbon snake, a graceful slender thing that slithered away from us over the forest floor as fast as we could walk. We finally caught up with it and snapped its picture. We surmised that the snake was getting ready to hibernate; they usually go under before November. Or maybe it was sensing the impending storm the way several other kinds of animals as monkeys and parrots seem to do innately.
    Strangely, on the following day, Vicki and her son Chris were motoring along East Lake Drive and they came upon two more ribbon snakes crossing the road toward Lake Montauk. They stop­ped the car and shooed them off. Good thing they did, because up the road they came across two more that weren’t so lucky; they’d been run over. Chris rescued an inch-long baby snapping turtle having a tough go of it crossing Big Reed Path the day before. Just hatched out?
    The odd spate of pre-storm ribbon snake activity begs the question. What about all of the birds around now, the waterfowl, the sparrows, the gulls, a few lingering cormorants, the wild turkeys, do they sense the advance of hurricanes and northeasters and act appropriately, i.e., take cover? Drive around during a big storm such as this one and you’re lucky to see a single bird. Apparently, they don’t need to tune into the Weather Channel or listen to Andrew Cuomo, Governor Christie, or Mayor Bloomberg to know what to do. They just do the right thing!