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Apr 29, 2019 12:18 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

A Walk In The Woods

Birdsfoot violet MIKE BOTTINI
Apr 29, 2019 3:50 PM

During a break in the rain last week, I headed out to Crooked Pond in the Long Pond Greenbelt to look for signs of the river otter. Females are nursing month-old pups right now, and the yearlings born in March 2018 that had been tagging along with Mom through their first year of life are now on their own.The long period of maternal oversight ensures that the yearlings have mastered the “tricks of the otter trade”: when and where to find fish, crab and frog prey; how to catch them; where to safely rest between fishing excursions; and how to deal with the demands and stresses of winter, including ice-covered ponds.

Many of these yearlings are now exploring areas outside of their moms’ home range, and here on Long Island, where much suitable otter habitat remains unoccupied, some of these naturally curious and adventuresome animals will strike out to establish their own home ranges in ponds and tidewaters that have not seen otters in more than 300 years.

Last spring, otters had marked home ranges in Long Pond and Little Long Pond at the northern end of the Long Pond Greenbelt. Last week, I found evidence that they had ventured a bit farther south, into Deer Drink and Crooked Pond, where they seemed to be dining on frogs.

All our ponds are brimming with water, and a culvert at the north end of Crooked Pond was sending a small torrent of water through an old man-made ditch that emptied into Deer Drink, which, in turn, flowed northward through a natural swale and into Long Pond.

Dai Dayton reported that, despite excellent flow in Ligonee Brook, the alewife run has been disappointing so far this spring. This was echoed by Enrico Nardone of Seatuck with regard to several other alewife runs farther west.

While checking Ligonee, she noted a large, slender fish, thought to be a pickerel, quite far downstream of Long Pond near the new wooden bridge adjacent to Mashashimuet Park.

Last week, I received two photos of the elusive spotted turtle, once considered a very common species on Long Island but now quite a rare sighting. Illegal pet collectors here on Long Island have had a huge impact on some protected populations. This small, handsome turtle prefers the shallow freshwaters of marshes and swamps over deep ponds, and emerges from winter hibernacula to form mating aggregations in early spring, when many other turtles are still in their deep winter slumber.

Our native woodlands are beginning to show signs of spring, as their leaf buds, on both the canopy trees and the understory shrubs, swell and reveal a tinge of green. And a number of native wildflowers have blossomed, including the easily overlooked trailing arbutus, or wood pink, whose tough, leathery evergreen leaves contrast with its tiny, delicate, whitish-pink flowers barely poking through the leaf litter.

Small patches of birdsfoot violets hugged the sandy edges of some sections of the trail, while the white blossoms of small shadbush trees along the pond’s shoreline were visible from quite a distance.

Spring is springing!

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