In many respects, sound and hearing in nature are just as important as sight. In those species that are more nocturnal than diurnal, sounds and the ability to hear, and differentiate, them is crucial to their survival. Whether an animal species is active in the day or at night, there’s a greater than 50 percent chance that it perceives sound waves or senses vibrations, another form of sound.
I heard my first whippoorwill in the woods behind my grandfather’s chicken farm in Mattituck at 3 years of age. Once you’ve heard this magical, three-syllable, eerie chant coming out of the dark of a warm summer evening you’re hard-pressed to forget it.
Sunday saw a break in the Memorial Day weekend weather. Downtown Montauk was jam-packed, a perfect time to escape into the deserted Montauk outback, as Vicki Bustamante and I are retracing Norman Taylor’s epic 1923 monograph on Montauk’s plants, “The Vegetation of Montauk: A Study of Grassland and Forest.”
Before there were electric typewriters, televisions, credit cards, iMacs, PCs, iPods, personal data assistants, Android phones, GPSs, video games, e-mailing, texting, sexting, baby boomers, soccer moms, and Little League baseball, it was a very different world for us kids growing up on the East End of Long Island.
I was at Morton Wildlife Refuge the other day when one of the private ferrying helicopters flew over on its way to East Hampton Town Airport. It’s hard to tell how high it was, but it seemed much lower than 2,000 feet and it made quite a racket as it passed over my head and, incidentally, over one of the osprey nests we put up around 1988 on the Jessup’s Neck spit. The ospreys were back. The female was sitting down low on the nest, and it was hard to tell if she was affected by the noise and vibrations as much as I was.
Spring is definitely here, there is no going back. The oaks, hickories, red maples, and sassafras are unfurling their leaves, March’s dull and dreary landscape is behind us. The month of May promises to delight all of our five senses, especially those that deal with vision, scents, and hearing. Helicopters and unmuffled motor vehicles be damned, we will not let them destroy our vernal pleasures.
On April 22, I drove down to Arlington, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C., with my daughter, Angela, who was visiting me from California. It was a bright sunny day with nary a cloud and not much of a wind. From New Jersey through Delaware through Maryland to Virginia, the sky over the highways 60 to 100 feet above the pavement was filled with sailing turkey vultures. We must have seen more than 25, mostly singles, sometimes in pairs.
It was a bright, sunshine-filled Sunday afternoon when I pulled into the parking lot of Morton Wildlife Refuge in Noyac with my daughter, Angela, from San Francisco. The parking lot was jammed packed with vehicles. I found the only open spot — half in the woods, half out. With my camera and bag of black sunflower seeds at the ready, Angela and I proceeded into the reserve and followed the east trail, the one that takes you to the pond, the large tulip trees, and the state-endangered swamp cottonwoods.
As of Monday, the red flowers of the swamp maples and yellow flowers of the spice bush are out, the wood anemones are about to bloom, and the smooth shads will follow shortly. It was a record cold March and April hasn’t been all that warm, but the native plants are beginning to show their colors.