“The seas will turn red,” it prophesizes in the Bible, having to do with the anticipated Armageddon. The seas are turning red, not with blood, but with red tide phytoplankton. They’re also turning brown, purple, all of the colors in the spectrum except green for the same reason. And it all has to do with more and more nitrogen products entering the seawater with each passing day. Seven billion-plus humans, more than half of whom live only a few miles from any one of the four world oceans, produce an awful lot of nitrogen compounds as waste products.
The fall is under way; the great migration is heating up. During the next four weeks, the skies and seas will be teeming with all matter of winged and finned things heading south. The push is on.
Thus far, it's been mostly shorebirds, though a few warblers have been moving and there have been waves of swallows, flickers, robins, and catbirds passing through.
This story begins at the East Hampton Town Airport, circa 2000, while I was serving as the town’s natural resources director. The town had received a grant to construct a fence around the airport at no small cost to keep deer off the runways. A deer vs. plane collision spurred the town to take steps to prevent similar accidents in the future. The contractor put up a wonderful fence. Only one problem, the deer could walk down the road from either the north or the south and enter the airport at their leisure the way vehicles and people do.
Last Saturday, as a part-time participant in the New York State Waterfowl Count for the first time in years, I accompanied the Rubinstein sisters, Vicki Bustamante, and 12-year-old Hannah Mirando from Montauk. Readers may remember that Hannah also was a key observer in the 100-plus-year-old Montauk Christmas Bird Count held on Dec. 14 of last year.
Two weeks and 109 years ago, Roy Latham and his farmer brothers undertook the first East End Christmas bird count centered in Orient. On Dec. 28, 2013, the Orient Christmas count was re-enacted for the 100th-plus time. None of the original cast of characters is still around to take part in this century’s Christmas counts. After the Lathams did it for 50 years or so, Paul Stoutenburgh took it over and carried it on for the next 27 years.
At Thanksgiving time I was with my wife, Julie, staying in the Bronx looking after her mother, Grace, who is 94 years old and was recuperating from an illness at Providence Rest at the edge of Eastchester Bay just south of Pelham Bay Park. We parked in a restricted area and I stayed in the car with the motor running while Julie made a last-minute visit before we headed back to Sag Harbor. It was in a residential neighborhood called Country Club and mid-afternoon.
It will be hard to top the prediction first made in this very column in the spring of 2012 for the Big One, Sandy, which came in the last days of October of that year, but here goes.
It’s been a quiet year, 2013, but expect a tumultuous change and another Big One come 2014. It won’t be as big, but it will hit while South Fork municipalities, the county, state, and feds are still deciding what to do about Sandy, so it will cause an equal amount of damage.
It was a frigid, blustery, sleety, snowy morning when the participants in the 84th Montauk Christmas Bird Count left the comfort of their homes on Dec. 14 to identify and count the birds in a 15-mile-diameter circle including Montauk, three quarters of Amagansett (including Napeague), Springs, and Gardiner’s Island. Some of the counters were participating in their 30th or more Montauk count. These Christmas counts were an alternative to hunting birds with guns and began in the very first years of the 20th century in New York City.
Last week I wrote from San Francisco, a metropolitan area with an influx of wild animals, including coyotes. Now I am at Nevada City in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas at about 2,500 feet. There is snow on the ground from the once-a-year snow and the temperature hovers at the freezing mark each evening.
Three thousand miles away in San Francisco, and the first bird I see is Corvus brachyrhynchos, the common crow, the same species that we have on the South Fork, doing what it does best here and there: raiding nests, making a lot of noise, attacking hawks and such, and in turn being chased by small birds like blackbirds away from nesting sites. The more things change, the more they stay the same.