Community Columns

A special day on Dune Road

Barbara Stoutenburgh photos
Tree swallows flock to bayberry bushes to feast on the waxy berries as they pass through on migration.

We’ve been waiting for all the pieces to come together so we could have a much-deserved “goof-off day.” We’ve always found these special days rewarding. What usually seems like just another day often ends up as something very special. So come with us as we explore the south side to see what it has to offer us today.

Once we were across the bridge that connects the mainland to the beach and onto Dune Road, we headed west past the many-roomed condos and then out to the once washed-over parts of the barrier beach. Barbara and I can remember some years ago visiting the area after those high tides and wind and rain washed away most of the homes and sand of this now reclaimed beach. Logical thinking would not have lead to rebuilding on such a sensitive area, but dollars prevailed, and today we see this area totally rebuilt, not with the quaint little beach cottages of years ago but mostly with two-story, spanking-new homes on the same small lots where the little cottages once stood.

We drove west past these canyons of new homes as far as we could and into Cupsogue County Park. This is a park that allows people using four-wheel-drive vehicles to go out along the inlet to fish. Many take their campers out and spend time there. It was with great forethought that the county kept special places like this for the general public to use and enjoy.

Here in the park area we were glad to see a series of active osprey nests. We’ve come a long way in helping the osprey, which at one time was almost done in by pesticides, particularly DDT. While searching the area for some of the migrating Monarch butterflies that should be coming through soon and many of the hawks that enjoy this as their migrating route, we began to notice what was around us. Seaside goldenrod was ready to burst into bloom, along with the last tall stalks of the mullein, with its small yellow flowers.

The brightest color was from the poison ivy now showing off its bright shiny red among all the greens. The bayberry bushes were filled with their lovely white, waxy berries, and rose hips were ripening for those who still make jam using this bright fruit. We used to add them to our fruit jams for color and taste. Grasses abounded, the tall pampas and the marsh grasses adding to the lovely fall surroundings.

After stretching our legs for a while and enjoying the new fresh, clear fall weather, we headed east, backtracking slowly through the miles of wall-to-wall new homes and then eventually onto Dune Road past the condos and the bridge where we crossed over, and then we began to see the lovely, large, landscaped estates on the ocean and bay side, some with winding driveways and great gated entrances.

While riding along the long open spaces now to the east, we decided to do a bit of birding in an area on the bay side. Using our binoculars, we were able to make out 26 yellowlegs feeding and resting along the sandy beach. They were a mixture of adults and immature birds. We were surprised to see such a large group of these shore birds, since we usually see only one or two at a time along the water’s edge in our creek. We assumed these birds were resting along their migrating route, as we’ve never seen such a large group.

As we watched the yellowlegs, we saw a continual flight of swallows heading west low over the water on their migration. These were tree swallows, with their conspicuous white undersides, and, as we were to see later, their backs are a beautiful metallic blue or blue-green.

Driving along we saw large clouds of birds swinging back and forth over the road. There were so many tree swallows in the air swirling about and continually moving to the west, it appeared we were caught in a snowstorm. We pulled into one of the parking areas and just sat as they came at us, veering to the side as they approached the car so they wouldn’t hit the windshield, but twittering softly as they flew close by our opened windows. We watched as some settled on the nearby bayberry bushes. Tree swallows are among the few birds that eat the waxy berries. This food source allows them to winter farther north than other swallows and linger longer in the fall.

As we left the parking lot we noticed something unusual at the other end. Upon driving closer we were amazed to see thousands of resting tree swallows on the blacktop, some in the metallic blue-green adult stage and others in the more subdued colors of the immature. We continued on our way to the inlet, where we enjoyed a delightful lunch on the deck of a local restaurant and then headed back to the North Fork and home. It will be a long time before we ever see another tree swallow spectacular such as we did this week.