Relay: Screaming Peepers

The nature preserve where I live is teeming with new life
In the fading light, swans foraged in a Mashomack pond at the edge of the Shelter Island Sound. Carissa Katz

As the season changes from the calm quiet of winter to the raucous bustle of spring, the nature preserve where I live is teeming with new life. 

Bluebirds and tree swallows are moving into the nest boxes spread around the meadows of Mashomack. Everywhere robins pull worms from the earth. Shockingly red cardinals flaunt their fresh feathers, bright scarlet with new growth. Two weeks ago, a flutter of royal blue and teal caught my eye on the morning drive. At least half a dozen richly colored little birds were flitting from ground to branch — indigo buntings, my first-ever sighting. 

The ospreys have been back for a month and are staking out their nesting sites. Peering through a scope at the massive bald eagle nest, we’ve spotted at least one fuzzy gray hatchling. A bundle of fluff that pokes its head up from among the sticks now and then, it would be easy to miss if you weren’t patient enough to wait and watch. 

Fox kits caught trotting down the driveway stop to take a look at an approaching car, still too young to know better. While out at night two weeks ago to watch a team from the D.E.C. netting bats in the woods, we came across the pelt of a muskrat that a mother fox must have delivered to her young. It was a neat rectangle, furry on one side and picked clean on the other. A kit surprised by the beam of our headlamps had dropped it. 

In the ponds and kettleholes, the spring peepers are screaming. The chorus from each pond is a little different. As night falls, it becomes a symphony, reaching a crescendo, dying back, intensifying again. The populations of the ponds seem to be competing against one another. How is it these creatures no bigger than an inch can make such a wonderful, riotous racket? 

When we first moved to Mashomack, I described myself as a reluctant naturalist. Not true, exactly, but I wasn’t sure I would like being in such an isolated spot after being five minutes from everything for so long. I thought it would be too quiet. It is sometimes, but in the absence of all that human influence, the natural world speaks more loudly and clearly. 

I pay attention to the comings and goings of the red-tailed hawks, the point in the night when the peepers pipe down, the hour when the egrets head to their favorite tree, the kind of morning light that the bluebirds seem to appreciate. All of these things are rich with character. 

In every pocket of the preserve a different story unfolds and changes with the season. We are part of it, but nature is in charge.


Carissa Katz, The Star’s managing editor, is living at the Nature Conservancy’s Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island, where her husband is the preserve director.