Nature Notes: Birds of Early Spring

April is here and things are starting to pop
A red-phase screech owl, photographed on March 21, has been a frequent visitor to an Amagansett neighborhood, where it likes to sun in the afternoon. Stephanie Baloghy

It was, indeed, a very rough March. But April is here and things are starting to pop. One sign of spring is the number of male robins on the greening shoulders along roads. Why they hit these shoulders first before the lawns is a question that has been nagging me for years, but that’s the way it is. On Sunday afternoon along Scuttlehole Road in Bridgehampton there were several, all males, of course. Females usually return several days after the males.

Terry Sullivan went to check on a sandhill crane still making a living in Wainscott in the vicinity of Wainscott Pond and west of it. The crane has occupied that territory for several weeks now, and the red patch on its head continues to brighten. It was digging deep into the soggy soil with its bill, finding something to eat. Perhaps there are loners in crane populations just as in human populations, as it doesn’t seem to mind being all by itself as it spends each day in roughly the same spot. Where does it roost, on the ground or in a nearby tree? That is the question.

On his way past the East Hampton Airport, Terry counted three bluebirds. The bluebird boxes there, originally put up in the latter part of the 1980s, have served bluebirds and tree sparrows alike. This spring the bluebirds got back first.

On March 27, Victoria Bustamante, who was one of the first to see a returning osprey, reported by email that the ospreys that have the very big nest on the telephone pole at the corner of Route 24 and Route 105 near Indian Island in Riverhead were back. The thickness of a nest is a good indication of the number of years ospreys return to raise their young in it. They never raze their houses and build new ones in their place the way we humans do. They merely remodel them a bit each year upon their return.

On March 25, Terry was checking on the single osprey back on Long Beach in Noyac that he had photographed a week earlier, when he observed two more ospreys in nests there. The oldest of these nests is the one in the marsh south of Short Beach Road. It was put up in the late 1980s and has been occupied annually ever since. Terry reported that not only was it tilting dangerously, but the post had a large crack that weakened it. He photographed it and sent the photo to the Southampton Town Trustees, who protect piping plovers and least terns that breed on Long Beach annually. 

Peggy Conklin reports that the osprey nest on Scuttlehole Road was reoccupied as of Sunday.

Great horned owls, woodcocks, and bald eagles are the first birds to breed each year, then red-tailed hawks and screech owls. Stephanie Baloghy has the perfect screech owl nest hole across the street from where she lives in Amagansett. She couldn’t resist snapping a picture of it as it sat in the hole and stared back at her. It is one of the red-phase screech owls, by far the most common phase for such owls on Long Island, although every once in a while a brown-phase one of the kind that is common upstate is observed here.

If you don’t know Stephanie, she is a longstanding graphic artist who, with the late Ralph Carpentier, created those wonderful dioramas depicting fish and wildlife at the Marine Museum on Bluff Road in Amagansett.

There have been several bald eagles, both white-headed and mature as well as brown and immature, seen on the South Fork recently. There are at least four established eagle nests in Brookhaven, Southampton, and Shelter Island Towns, while a new one popped up at the top of a large tree next to a public school in Great Neck, as reported in Newsday. It should prove very hard to teach math and ancient history to those students who from their desks each school day can observe the nest through the classroom windows.

On March 27, I heard the first nasal “caw caws” from crows outside my window at 9 a.m. Then on Tuesday I was roused out of a deep sleep at 7 a.m. by the sound of honking geese south of me. For the next 15 minutes or so the honking got louder and louder but finally trailed off as a huge flock of migrating Canada geese passed over my house and headed out over Noyac Bay on their way north. Ah, I thought to myself as I drifted back into reverie, they must know something that I don’t. 

For the past two weeks I have been querying Howard Reisman, a former Southampton College professor of ichthyology who lives next to Long Island’s most successful alewife gathering area — and starting-off point for their annual trip to Big Fresh Pond — North Sea Harbor. “Are there any alewives running yet?”

Lots of “no”s and “not yet”s, but finally, on March 28, a “yes.” “Today I observed eight dead ones on the culvert apron where they pass under North Sea Road on their way west,” Howard said. 

“Ah,” I said to myself, “the alewives are back three days after Terry saw the three ospreys back on their nests at Long Beach. There must be a correlation.” And I knew there was.

Elsewhere, a big hurrah for the baymen and East Hampton Town Trustees for questioning the transmission line under Block Island Sound and Gardiner’s Bay proposed by the Deepwater Wind company to carry electricity from the proposed offshore wind turbines to the substation in Amagansett. 

Not too many years ago, and before the late Rusty Drumm’s wonderful columns addressing the fishing scene, Susan Pollack wrote The Star’s fishing column and covered the exploits of baymen and offshore commercial fishermen in detail. There was talk of oil drilling and sea-bottom mining and other activities that would have further limited the fishermen’s efforts to make a living and provide fresh fish and shellfish to the area.

Many here still carry on such an arduous life — with very little fanfare and not too much support, mind you. Thanks to Ramesh Das, who wrote the East Hampton Town Waterfront Revitalization Plan and helped draft the town statutes that put an end to some of those worries, there have been no oil drilling rigs or the like here, but there is no end to what people with big money will do to our ocean and its seabed in order to make a few extra bucks. We can never take our eyes off it.

On Friday the daffodils on the shoulder in front of a tall hedge along Route 114 on North Haven were blooming, as they have every year for the 38 years I have resided in Noyac. It’s Monday afternoon as I write this, and I just checked the humble supply of daffodils and forsythia Julie and I have. They are just beginning to bloom. 

As Frank Loesser wrote in 1944, “Spring will be a little late this year.” Yes, but finally here it is!


Larry Penny can be reached via email at