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Jun 10, 2019 11:05 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

A Walk On The Beach

One of the thousands of dragonflies in the ocean beach wrack line last week. MARK GUTZMER MARK GUTZMER
Jun 10, 2019 4:09 PM

The health benefits of walking—one of our simplest forms of exercise—have been well-known for many years, and the discussion has gotten more popular recently with devices that measure the number of steps taken during the day.A walk in the woods on one of the many trails here on Eastern Long Island not only gives you the benefit of physical exercise but can be an excellent way to mentally unwind.

For many, a walk on the beach takes both the physical and mental benefits to another level. The soft sand substrate is harder work on your muscles. Mental benefits derive from the cool sea breeze, the sound of lapping waves, the lack of irritating leaf blowers, and, many would add, the ions (negatively charged atoms) generated by breaking waves. And, unlike the woods, the desert-like beach sand also is a tick-free environment.

There’s also the fact that the beach changes from day to day, and those changes can sometimes be quite dramatic and interesting.

Last week, I received a number of comments about the thousands of dragonflies found in the ocean beach wrack line. Based on their size and numbers, my guess was they were common green darters, a highly migratory species, but as best as I could determine with my odonate key, they were green jacket dragonflies (erythemis simplicicollis). I contacted our state zoologist and odonate expert, Erin White, for verification, and also inquired if she had any explanations for the big die-off that must have happened over the ocean.

Several friends emailed me about the unusual number of dragonflies in their yards this spring. I have anywhere from six to two dozen dragonflies of at least two species hunting in my yard on sunny days. These are voracious insect predators and are enjoying the bonanza of mosquitoes here, the latter a result of a particularly wet fall, winter and spring creating a superabundance of mosquito breeding areas. Both the aquatic larval stage and the winged adult dragonflies are voracious consumers of mosquitoes.

One of our interesting pelagic birds also washed ashore last week. It’s long, narrow, pointed wings, tallying a wingspan of 40 inches, is designed to enable it to glide long distances very close to the water’s surface with a minimum of wingbeats. It also has an unusual protrusion at the aft end of its upper bill that resembles a pair of tubes and gives rise to the name of it and its related species: the tubenoses (albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters).

This feature serves at least two functions that I know of: It provides a conduit for salt excretion from a gland to separate the salt from seawater, and, of course, it links to smell organs. This group of birds has a particularly acute sense of smell that enables it to locate fish oils on the sea surface associated with schools of fish prey, and they can locate their nesting burrows after returning from offshore fishing grounds at night.

This individual was identified by a colleague as a sooty shearwater, a highly migratory species that has recently been shown to rival the Arctic tern in its long-distance migration to and from nesting sites.

While taking a bay beach walk with Jesse Spooner’s Ross School class last week, we came across a piping plover adult doing the broken wing display to draw us away from its nest. Backing off a safe distance, we were able to watch the adult return to its nest and marked the location for the plover monitors.

Meanwhile, just behind us was a hatchling with not quite enough flight feathers to enable it to get airborne. Hatchlings can be quite challenging to identify, but the Group for the East End’s Steve Biasetti was able to ID it based on the photo and his familiarity with that stretch of beach. It was a horned lark, a species that nests in tundra-like settings in the Arctic, and in grasslands and dune heath habitats farther south.

Its parents were seen nearby, keeping a close eye on it and keeping it well-fed, and there were probably a number of well-hidden siblings nearby.

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