Archive for the ‘In the Country’ category

Deer Tracks in the Sand and Other Strange Finds

December 11, 2013

Yesterday morning was a gorgeous overcast day on Eastern Long Island. Snow was forecast, but hadn’t yet begun when the dog and I headed out on Flying Point Road to the ocean.

IMG_8947Deer tracks on the beach, below.

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There were several sets of tracks. Why are deer visiting the beach?

In early October, when I was last here, the beach was littered with the remains of tiny creatures.

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Yesterday it was mostly swept clean of flotsam and jetsam. But not entirely, of course. Here and there were a few skate egg cases and bits of sea weed greens.

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More oddly, wilted flowers that might have come from Miss Havisham’s wedding bouquet had washed up all along the beach.

Continuing the theme of remains, we found a female ruddy duck lying dead on her back just off the road by the bay.

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Her death allowed me to look more closely at a duck’s body than I’ve ever been able to do before. I’ll write more about this beautiful little bird later, along with photos of her extraordinary feet and the serrated edge of the underside of her bill.

Ospreys on Long Island

October 14, 2013

For several days, high winds buffeted Flying Point Road in Watermill. The winds did not daunt the local ospreys. Here are two ospreys hunting, soaring, and hovering over Mecox Bay.  Note the power of the birds’ wings as they continually adjust to the winds while looking down into the water for prey.

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See you soon, beauty.

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Death of a Cedar Waxwing

October 12, 2013

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Some deaths make waves. They’re noticed, written about, talked about, mourned.

Other deaths, not so much.

Yesterday morning, I noticed a bird lying in the grass just a few feet from the back deck. It was a Cedar Waxwing, as the brilliant yellow tail tips and the crest made clear. I thought it might be stunned, so I kept my distance so as not to frighten it further.

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But I saw no flutter of feathers, no glitter of eye, no movement of breath. The little creature was dead.  I lifted it and turned it over.

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There was no blood, but the feathers were disarrayed and perhaps damaged. Was this a result of sitting in dew-wet grass for hours? Or had the bird been hurt?

I was surprised at how heavy the little bird felt in my hand.

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A living bird feels so much lighter. (The Baltimore Orioles below are held by ornithologist Eric Slayton, but I had the opportunity to handle a couple of birds on this bird banding trip to the Bronx.)

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I wondered if the Cedar Waxwing was a juvenile. I saw only the faintest yellow on its underparts, and no sign of the bright, waxy-looking red wingtips that give the bird its common name.

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But Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds maintains that the “red wax tips” are not always present. And the damage to the birds’ breast feathers may have destroyed the yellow of the under feathers. So I assume this was an adult. Whether male or female, I can’t say, since male and female waxwings are close to identical to an untrained eye like mine.

The bird looked peaceful in its oddly settled pose, even when I set it down for a moment on the picnic table.

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I wonder what happened to it. Did it escape from a cat, only to die later of internal injuries? Had it flown into something, and suffered injury? Or was it ill and could simply fly no further?

I took it down to a scrubby patch by the bay, and left it there, thinking some scavenger would appreciate the morsel. A day later, it remained untouched.

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R.I.P., Cedar Waxwing and all small creatures at the end of their days.

Egrets, herons and sunsets on Flying Point Road

October 10, 2013
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Sunset, October 2013

I’m out on eastern Long Island right now. The landscape, despite the ever-proliferating McMansions, remains stunningly beautiful.

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Flying Point Road and Mecox Bay.

And so do the birds.

Great egrets are everywhere.

Great egret flies over Mecox Bay.

Great egret flies over Mecox Bay.

Great blue herons, too.

Great Blue Heron fishes in Mecox Bay.

Great Blue Heron fishes in Mecox Bay.

Usually the herons and egrets are loners. But sometimes they share a good fishing location.

Great Blue Heron and Great Egrret on dock.

Great Blue Heron checks to see if the Great Egret is catching more fish.

Many swans have flown away for the winter, but some still sail and dabble on Mill Pond and Mecox Bay.

Dabbling at sunset.

Dabbling at sunset.

It’s always a pleasure to see the kingfisher (even if at too great a distance for a clear photo).

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Kingfisher on a branch.

So, yes, it’s beautiful out here.

Just don’t come looking for direction.

Um, okay ...

Um, okay …

Crows and Sparrows from NYC to British Columbia

May 4, 2013

Many of the birds we saw on our trip to British Columbia have counterparts back east, whether the same species or a closely related species.

A male White-throated sparrow surveys the area in Riverside Park, New York.

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White-throated sparrow.

 This little fellow was singing up a storm about two weeks ago, fluttering in not-yet leafy bushes and shrubs quite low to the ground. Here he seems to be giving me the old stink-eye from beneath his extraordinary yellow “eyebrows”.

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Below is a male golden-crowned sparrow in Garden Bay, British Columbia.

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Here he is again in the same location, but on a brighter day. Look how much paler and less gray his throat and breast appear below. The golden-crowned sparrow is found only along the Pacific coast, while the white-throated ranges over much of the continent.

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Crows are found all over the continent. Back in March, this group of common crows was delightedly bathing and playing in a large puddle in Riverside Park. (If you place cursor over image below, arrows will appear so you can click through the slide show.) There were five or six crows, but they flew off by ones and twos, eventually leaving just one crow to wallow in the puddle.

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Back in the late 70s, I co-founded a theater in Portland, Oregon called Crows & Roses Theater Project. Portland has long been known as the “City of Roses,” but for us, it was the “City of Crows and Roses.” Turns out crows abound all over the Pacific Northwest, and are extremely successfully at adapting to suburban and urban environments.

For a fascinating discussion of urban crows, inspired and anchored by the author’s observations of crows in her Seattle neighborhood, read Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

In British Columbia, crows are everywhere.

A crow fans its tails as it looks over the harbor.

A crow fans its tail as it looks over the harbor.

Here is a sunlit crow.

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Below, a crow perches high on a barren tree.

Or could the bird below possibly be a raven? I heard ravens frequently in the woods, and saw them on several occasions calling and flying. I also heard one making a kind of strange high-pitched constant call as it flew that I had never heard before.

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Yet another crow engaged in a turf battle with a gull in the harbor. When it circled up to this tree, its feathers looked quite a bit the worse for wear.

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It repeatedly soared down to the rocks at the water’s edge.

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But if the gull became aggressive, it took off and lit on the tree.

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Then it would fly back down. Must have been some good seafood down there.

A Canada goose also figured in the scenario.

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The goose was mostly left to its own devices, ignored by gull and crow, even when it mounted the rocks.

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Back in Vancouver, a flock of crows mingled with a mallard and a coot at the water’s edge.

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I wondered if any of the crows I saw were Northwestern crows rather than American crows. Northwestern crows, which are found only along the upper Pacific coast, are described as being slightly smaller than the American crow. They specialize in scavenging along shorelines. My guidebook claims they are most easily distinguished by their lower-pitched, hoarser voices. Next time, I’ll listen more closely.

Eagles and Hummingbirds of British Columbia

May 3, 2013

Bald eagles abounded on our recent trip up the British Columbia coast.

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This beautiful bird was sitting on a body of fresh water in an area that looks to me like a beaver dam.

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Another closer look.

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We saw many eagles on the wing. With a wingspan of nearly seven feet, they are an impressive sight.

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And for a size contrast, we also observed several rufous hummingbirds whose wingspan reaches a magnificent 4 1/2 inches.

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We saw these tiny, brilliant creatures at a nectar feeder, and darting out over a road to capture insects.  Several times, the hum of those rapidly beating wings alerted me to the bird’s presence before I registered it visually. According to Journey North, hummingbirds beat their wings at a rate of about 75 beats per second.

Here a rufous hummingbird sips nectar from the feeder.

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And here’s a lovely view from the vicinity in which we saw the hummingbird zoom back and forth over the road.

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Douglas Squirrel in Garden Bay, British Columbia

April 30, 2013

One of my favorite easily-observed creatures in British Columbia is the Douglas squirrel, sometimes called the chickaree.

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Much smaller than New York City’s hefty Eastern gray squirrels, the Douglas is a tree squirrel found from California to the southern British Columbia coast.

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Like most squirrels, it uses its front paws quite charmingly to hold nuts and other food. There’s just something about its small size, big eyes, and overall demeanor that give it the look of a storybook character.

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Douglas squirrels eat primarily the seeds of the coniferous trees that abound in this area: Douglas firs, of course, but also Sitka spruce and pines. Like the Eastern gray and many other squirrels, they are scatter hoarders, burying seeds or entire pine cones in various spots. But unlike the Eastern gray, Douglas squirrels have no cheek pouches for holding food.

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They have high-pitched voices that pierce the forest, and sound remarkably like a bird. On several occasions, I scanned tree limbs, trying to determine what bird was so persistently peeping, only to discover that I was being yelled at by a squirrel.

Below is a fascinating two-minute sound clip from NPR’s “Bird Notes” on the Douglas squirrel. Just click the arrow to play:

The little fellow In these photographs hung out near the pedestrian bridge that connects the harbor to Garden Bay Road. Below you may be able to make out the squirrel perched on the fence rail to the right of the tree.

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It was often seen in the company of a golden-crowned sparrow.

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The two seemed to be masters of their own bathing and drinking pool.

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We humans, however, need more sustenance than pine cones and water, or even wildlife sightings. Tearing myself away from the little animals, I crossed the bridge.

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Soon I was happily drinking coffee and eating breakfast at Laverne’s Grill.

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Ahhhh. Repletion.

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Back outside, bald eagles soared overhead (more on them soon).

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And the little squirrel went about its squirrely business.

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Happy Arbor Day!

April 26, 2013

I learned this morning from Backyard and Beyond that today is Arbor Day. Since I am in British Columbia, surrounded by magnificent forest, it seems a fine occasion to celebrate the day.

Garden Bay Provincial Park

Garden Bay Provincial Park

The forest here is dense and layered. This time of year, leaves on the deciduous trees are still pale against the darker needles of the evergreens.

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The many shades of green are mesmerizing.

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Sometimes you glimpse islands and water through the trees.

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Even the downed trees and stumps are covered in many shades of green made by moss and lichen.

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An old and beautiful tree, felled to create a younger and beautiful trail.

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Happy Tree Day.

To Vancouver and British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast

April 25, 2013

Yesterday in the wee hours, we arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia. We slept a few hours in this beautiful house.

Jay and Atty's house

Jay and Atty’s house

I walked around Trout Lake Park with Jay, Atty and Bella. In December 2011, I observed a perching eagle here. No such luck today, but the park is lovely in springtime.

Trout Lake Park, Vancouver, BC

Trout Lake Park, Vancouver, BC

Red-winged blackbirds are calling.

Female red-winged blackbird at Trout Lake.

Female red-winged blackbird at Trout Lake.

Old Bella stood on the walkway and grazed the tops off tender shoots of grass.

Bella trots and Man meditates.

Bella trots and man meditates.

Later, waiting to board the ferry at Horseshoe Bay, we watched at least three bald eagles as they circled high above us.

Bald eagle over Horseshoe Bay.

Bald eagle over Horseshoe Bay.

On the ferry, the mountains shone.

Ferry ride

Ferry ride

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The islands loomed.

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We disembarked at Langdale, and drove north up the coast.

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Of course, there are always crows wherever you go in the northwest.

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More on British Columbia tomorrow…

Check out the Snow!

April 20, 2013

It’s crazy snowing this morning!

Snow in Traverse City, Michigan

Snow in Traverse City, Michigan

I flew into Traverse City in northern Michigan last night, where I’m serving as a mentor for a Young Playwrights Festival run by the Wharton Center. You can’t really see in this quick shot out my hotel window, but these are big beautiful snowflakes pouring down.

This is what I left behind in New York City: Broadway in bloom.

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Morningside in bloom.

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Wow.

Well, the work the young playwrights are doing will warm us up.

Snow in Eastern Long Island

January 23, 2013

On Monday afternoon, snow began to fall on eastern Long Island.

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Snow transformed the dog into an abominable snow creature.

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Snow covered the sand that Sandy dumped into the passage beneath the little bridge.

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Snow dusted Sleeping Beauty’s impassable tangle of branches.

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Snow blanketed the beach.

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On the walk home, deer had come into a neighbor’s yard and were browsing right by the house.

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It snowed through the night. On Tuesday, the world was white.

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Snow shadows spidered open spaces.

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Deer stood alert in the snowy field.

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When they turned to go, their small stampede kicked up a snow tempest.

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Temperatures have plummeted to the teens, so for the time being, the snow remains. As I write, dawn is breaking on another frosty morning.

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Bleak is Beautiful

January 16, 2013

In winter, the bare, the barren and the bleak offer a different perspective on beauty.

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This is true in the city.

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And it is true by the ocean.

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It’s true up close.

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And it’s true from a distance.

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Always beautiful.

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Top Five Posts of 2012

December 30, 2012

Our end of year countdown continues with the top five stories, written in 2012, on Out Walking the Dog.  For the first half of the top ten stories, covering coyotes, red-tailed hawks, NYC dogs, and feral cats, visit Top Posts of 2012, Part One.)

Click on each title to go to the original post. Enjoy!

Delmarva Fox Squirrel, photo by Mary Shultz.

Delmarva Fox Squirrel. Photo: Mary Shultz.

5. The Endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel was inspired by my friend Mary’s sightings and photographs of an unusually big and beautiful squirrel on her property on the eastern shore of Maryland. I had never before heard of the species, which turns out to be the biggest tree squirrel in North America. Of course, I had barely heard of Delmarva, the long peninsula that belongs to Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and includes the islands of Chincoteague and Assoteague, where the famous ponies run. Now I hope to travel down to Delmarva in 2013 to see its horses and squirrels for myself.

Photo: WCBV

Photo: WCBV

4. A Black Bear Comes to Provincetown! Black bears are increasingly seen all over the northeast, including New York and New Jersey. And bears, as some hairy, masculine gay men call themselves, are long-time regular visitors and residents in Provincetown, Massachusetts. But the sight of an actual 200-pound black bear wandering around the narrow tip of Cape Cod was a notable wildlife sighting. The annual summer gathering known as Provincetown Bear Week was just a few weeks off, prompting many jokes about the young male bear being so eager to participate in the festivities that he arrived early.

Boston Globe.

Boston Globe.

8.  Hurricane Sandy Update: New York and Long Island.  As I watched Hurricane Sandy make a blur of  the world outside my New York City window, my brother rode out the storm at our family house on Long Island, providing eyewitness accounts of the flooding of our road, and of the interesting behavior of birds and foxes as the storm began.

Photo courtesy of Gigi A.

Photo courtesy of Gigi A.

9. Hunting for Central Park’s Black Squirrels.  After hearing repeatedly from people who spotted beautiful black squirrels in parks around the city, I became overwhelmed with the desire to see one for myself.  One day, following tips from other squirrel watchers, I set out to find one in Central Park. Black squirrels are actually a melanistic phase of NYC’s ubiquitous Gray squirrel, so a brief discussion of the natural history of the Gray squirrel is in order. Do I ever actually find a black squirrel?  You’ll just have to read the post to find out.

And the most-read post written in 2012 is …

Flying Point Beach. Photo: Andrew Cooper

Flying Point Beach. Photo: Andrew Cooper

10. Hurricane Sandy: Flying Point Road, Long Island Update. Written in the immediate aftermath of the great storm, this post describes a small stretch of road in eastern Long Island on which sits a one-time farmhouse that has belonged to my family since the 1960s. The once rural area is now home to mega-mansions, and building continues apace on every inch of available land. Global warming is effecting changes all along this once-rural coastal area that is now home to McMansions by the score.  Even now, development continues to gobble up the few remaining fields and marshlands, and houses perch on precarious ocean dunes and along the shore of the easily flooded bay. Photographs and video show the area during peaceful summer scenes as well as in the fury of the storm.

Thank you for visiting Out Walking the Dog in 2012. Here’s to 2013!

 

Ohio, Land of Trees, Fields and Vultures

November 9, 2012

I feel like celebrating Ohio. Ohio, that, like most of the country, voted on Tuesday to re-elect President Obama.

We were in central Ohio a few weeks ago. It is a land of farms and fields.

Fields of horses.

Fields of grain.

And fields of I know not what.

It’s a land of country roads.

On the road out of Gambier, Ohio.

And magnificent trees,

stunning in the mid-October turning of their leaves.

It’s a land of old graveyards along the roadside,

with graves guarded by lambs.

A smaller graveyard nestled on the campus of Kenyon College.

Kenyon College Cemetery

Nearby, crows gathered atop a college building.

Oh, okay. They’re not real crows.

They are beautifully alive sculptures that capture both the lively individuality of crows and their complex social interactions.

The crows were created by Kenyon graduate Peter Woytuk, whose work with animals, including crows, has been seen all over New York City, including in front of the subway station at 72nd Street and Broadway (click photo to visit article).

Ohio also revealed itself as the Land of Vultures. We saw scores of turkey vultures like the one below, circling high and swooping low, over roads, fields, barns, and campus. (We also saw hawks, but I don’t know what they were.)

I imagine the leaves are mostly gone by now. So let’s take one more look at Ohio in mid-October glory.

The Middle Path at Kenyon College.

Hurricane Sandy Report: Flying Point Road, Long Island Update

October 30, 2012

Flying Point Beach signpost, September 2012. Photo: Melissa Cooper

The YouTube video below was filmed yesterday, presumably in the early hours of Hurricane Sandy. It shows Flying Point Road in Water Mill, Long Island, from a vantage point very close to my family house, where my brother has weathered the storm.

Our house sits just before the curve in the road where the filmmaker’s car sits. On the near side of the curve, the bay laps the shore and there is a small stretch of land between the bay and the road to absorb its overflow. On the far side of the curve,, the bay is contained by a small retaining wall. The road is wider here, but there is no shore.

Mecox Bay, Water Mill, NY in calmer days. Photo: Melissa Cooper

This is where people park their cars on the side of the road to fish for crabs.

Crabbing in Mecox Bay in September 2012. Photo: Melissa Cooper

When we first started coming to our house in the mid-1960s (Well, it was Mr. Jennings’s house then), there was only one other house visible on the road between us and Flying Point Beach, maybe two. Today, there are many, even on the bay side. But the old farmers knew what they were doing in not building closer to the water. Yesterday, beyond this curve, the road was completely submerged as Hurricane Sandy pushed vast amounts of water from the ocean into the little skillet of Mecox Bay.

Here is a terrific photo taken a little further down the road between our house and the ocean, at approximately 11 am Monday. The roadside and retaining wall break off briefly for this little stretch of shoreline.

Photo: Austin Handler; SouthamptonPatch.com

I believe that stretch of land and water usually looks like this. Note the fence on the right in both photos.

Crabbing on Flying Point Road in early summer 2012. Photo: Melissa Cooper

The road stretches half a mile from the curve to Flying Point Beach. Just before the road rises to the beach parking lot, it makes a sharp left and runs another half mile straight out to the beach we call “the far beach.”  This morning, the road to the beach remained under water. My brother hitched a ride to the far beach on a huge flat-bed truck that was going to check on damage; his own car would never have made it. On nearby Luther Drive, about 100 feet in from the road, he spotted a 12-foot plastic jet ski dock that belonged, my brother was informed, to people living on the far side of Mecox Bay.

At the far beach, the ocean had pushed vast amounts of water into the bay, and flooded all the way up to the road.  The beach is now completely flat, no slope at all.  My brother described lines of breaking wines reaching to the horizon. The ones breaking on shore were six or seven feet high, but the ones farthest out near the horizon rose up over the water like a house, maybe twelve or thirteen feet high. We’ve been watching the ocean in storms all our lives, but my brother says he has ever seen anything remotely like this.

I’m writing from NYC, so I don’t have any photos of my own to show the wild transformations wrought by Sandy. Instead, I’ll show you another photo of beautiful little Mecox Bay, as it often appears.

Heron at sunset in Mecox Bay, March 2012. Photo: Melissa Cooper

I hope the herons, egrets, swans, ducks and all the other birds and animals have weathered the storm safely,


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