Change in the Hamptons

Late last Thursday, as Esau and I walked toward the ocean, we spotted a herd of nine deer.

White-tailed deer

Almost fifty years ago, my family first started coming to this house on Flying Point Road.

Farmhouse in Water Mill, NY

House with new deck and sliding doors.

The house backed onto a large potato field that stretched low towards the ocean dunes.  After harvesting, we’d glean potatoes from the field, and delicious they were.  Flocks of migrating Canada geese grazed  and picked up insects in the fields, lured by hunters’ decoys of geese resting and eating.  Eastern Long Island then was a place of open vistas.  The front of the house faced little Mecox Bay, which was then sludgy and polluted from the waste of hundreds of Long Island ducklings reared at the duck farm on the other side of the bay. Long Island was famous for its Pekin ducklings until rising property values, anti-pollution regulations, and increased cost of grain shrank the industry.

The Big Duck, Riverhead, NY

Roadside architecture of the highest order: Riverhead’s Big Duck used to sell, what else, duck.

Families of pheasants came to call and foxes lived nearby in the low wild tangles of overgrown brush.  Deer, though? Not so much.

Well, times have changed.  Today, Long Island’s potato fields are largely gone, Mcmansions rule, and open spaces are few and far between.

Cottontail rabbit

A cottontail rabbit nibbles grass in a cleared space leading down to Mecox Bay.

The duck farms are also mostly gone, and the ones that remain are indoor operations now.  Mecox Bay is sparklingly clean,

Mecox Bay at sunset

Mecox Bay at sunset

and is home to herons and egrets,

snowy egret in Mecox Bay

Snowy egrets are regulars in this spot.

terns and gulls,

tern in Mecox Bay

Tern hovering and diving in Mecox Bay

ospreys, kingfishers, skimmers, and a changing host of waterfowl, including coots, grebes, sea ducks, Canada geese, and Mute swans.

Mute swan in Mecox Bay

A swan floats in Mecox Bay earlier this summer.

Wild turkeys have returned to the area, and despite the dwindling wild areas, my sister-in law recently saw a fox and her kits.

And white-tailed deer, after being driven nearly to extermination in New York State at the end of the nineteenth century, are back in force in Suffolk County, as throughout the state.

Deer formed one battalion of the Nature Army that my flower garden-loving father battled ceaselessly.  (Other enemy battalions were made up of digging creatures like voles and moles as well as invasive plants, like bittersweet and phragmites.)  Deer ate the tops off my father’s beloved day lilies, nibbled on his roses and helped themselves to my stepmother’s vegetable garden.  My father netted his gardens for a while, before deciding to put up deer fencing around virtually the entire property – which the deer simply leapt over.

Thus began a fierce, if one-sided, game of oneupmanship. My father raised the fence. The deer crashed right through it. My father strengthened the netting. The deer again leapt over. At its highest, the fence (mostly) worked, until a notice from the town informed us fences higher than 6 feet are not permitted; the fence has been cut back down.

I have mixed feelings about the fence. I’m happy to protect the flowers from deer depredation. I’m happy that Esau can run free, safe from the road.

Gray dog with flowers

Esau among the flowers.

But I’m sorry that any remaining pheasant families will no longer visit us, since pheasants do their visiting on foot. Turkeys, too, like to travel on foot. In fact, a couple of summers ago, my father and I watched one walk back and forth on the far side of the fence, gazing longingly through the mesh at our bird feeders. It didn’t seem to occur to the big bird that it had wings and could fly.

As for the deer, they may be spotted nightly in one of the two open spaces that still remain between our house and the ocean.

Long Island deer

A young grayish buck on the right with a fawn to the left.

The deer field is actually a large lot and is for sale.  Some time ago a tower was built in the middle of the field to show prospective buyers what an incredible view their new house could command from its second floor.

I’m happy to report that the field has grown up around the tower, and the animals have moved in.  It even seems to me that the deer are leaving our flowers alone, now that they have a beautiful yard of their own.

Explore posts in the same categories: 2012, Birds, In the Country, Seasons, Summer, Wildlife/Natural History

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14 Comments on “Change in the Hamptons”


  1. […] passed a single deer feeding by the side of the […]

  2. Mr. Mantooth Says:

    Lovely.


  3. The Big Duck! . A few years back, while driving back from Montauk ,with a friend, he made me detour so he could visit The Big Duck. That’s all I know of the North Fork. I must go visit some day.

  4. Karol Omlor Says:

    I too loved seeing Nick, Melissa. Goodness, I remember when he was a little, very focused guy running around the Heldt Building at DTC looking for his dad. Love reading your blog.


    • Hi Karol, The photo I posted is at least 3 years old. You’d be even more astonished to see the young man now – about to turn 19 and a freshman at Kenyon College. I remember those running-around-the-Heldt-building years very well indeed. I used to buy a few minutes of stillness to attend a meeting or two from that running around little guy by letting him buy Doritos or Cheetos from the vending machine. Proud parenting moments …

  5. Charlotte Says:

    Reading this makes me understand your passion for nature more, especially the waterfowl! All those lovely birds in your front yard. Love the picture of the old house and young Nick!


    • Thanks, Charlotte. We do think of Mecox Bay as our front yard, even though we have to cross Flying Point Road to actually get to it. I wish I had a photo of the house before my father made any changes to it. The one I posted is the closest to its ur-state.


  6. Things change, for good as well as bad… I guess the North Shore still has some fields? We think we spotted them on Google Maps when we were picking out potential campsites on our Long Island circumnavigation. (We thought areas with fields would be a better bet than built-up areas.)


    • Hi Vlad, I didn’t mean to imply that there are absolutely no fields or farms left – there certainly are. But many are gone. Still there’s a working field just a little over half a mile from here on the way to Southampton, and I just learned of a dairy/cheese farm in a nearby town that I hadn’t known about. The North Fork has a lot of vineyards now, which I look forward to exploring. And yes, change is always complex. I rue the passing of the open landscape I knew & loved – but those open vistas were hardly a “natural” landscape. They resulted from the destruction of the forests that were cleared by settlers seeking to settle and farm. And every change favors some animals (particularly those that thrive in “edge” environments) while making life difficult or impossible for others. Our ecology is so deeply layered now after centuries of change it takes some digging to know what the landscape once looked like. A book I adore is Peter Matthiessen’s Wildlife in America written in the late 50s, I believe. He lived near here in Sagaponack and his evocation of the animal nation in North America before the European settlers is extraordinary.

      And people, go to Vlad & Johna’s amazing blog, Wind Against Current, to read and see photos of their recent circumnavigation of Long Island in a kayak!


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