Last week’s paddle took place on the lesser well-known of the two Long Ponds found in the Bridgehampton area. As with the Long Pond for which the Long Pond Greenbelt is named, the Long Pond located adjacent to and west of the Hampton Classic Horse Show grounds is also one of a string of kettlehole ponds situated in a north/south-oriented valley carved out of the moraine thousands of years ago by a river flowing off the glacier.This meltwater channel includes a series of small ponds on the Atlantic Golf Club property; Shorts Pond, just north of Scuttlehole Road; Goldfish Pond and Haines Pond, both south of Scuttlehole; Long Pond and Little Long Pond (the latter created when the Long Island Rail Road filled in the southern portion of Long Pond to lay tracks); Kellis Pond, just south of the highway; and the eastern tributaries of Mecox Bay.
Although Long Pond is a small freshwater pond, there are several sections of relatively undisturbed wooded shoreline that provide excellent wildlife habitat. I’ve never been disappointed on my annual summer paddles there, and last week was no exception.
The first thing I examine each year is the pond’s water level, which has fluctuated dramatically—approximately 3 feet—over the past 10 years. This year it was on the low side, preventing us from circumnavigating a particularly pretty and botanically rich island on the pond’s west side.
The first animals we noticed were the swallows. Tree swallows and barn swallows darted gracefully over every square foot of the southern half of the pond, coming within a fraction of an inch of the pond surface but never touching the water. They were busy feeding on something that, at first glance, was not as apparent as the birds but actually covered every square inch of the pond’s surface: newly hatched insects.
Although it is midsummer, and some birds are still nesting, swallows are beginning to form large flocks as they ready themselves for the fall migration. Hundreds of swallows congregated here, with dozens covering the branches of snags overhanging the pond as they jostled for prime roosting spots to spend the night.
Another acrobatic flier worked the swallow-free northeast corner of the pond, but this one made a habit of getting wet. Plunging beak-first into the pond, 10 least terns sought their preferred prey, small fish. These were probably individuals from nearby nesting areas, perhaps from Mecox or Sagg Pond beaches, and may still be providing for their young.
Working the mucky shoreline and very shallow water nearby, a spotted sandpiper took flight on our approach, landed on a discarded cinder block a safe distance from our kayak, and posed for the camera.
This individual displayed the classic spotted sandpiper tail bob behavior but lacked the large, distinctive spots for which it is named, making it either a juvenile or an adult that has already molted into its non-breeding (August-March) plumage.
The spotted sandpiper has some unusual aspects to its breeding strategy, most notably the role reversal among the sexes. Females arrive at the breeding grounds before the males, and they establish and defend territories. She may mate with up to four males, laying a clutch of eggs for each. Males do most of the incubating of the eggs and care of the young.
On the final leg of the paddle, we found a small flock of cedar waxwings that were “hawking” for insects from perches near the water. While we enjoyed the close views of this strikingly handsome bird, a very large bird resembling a red-tailed hawk in size took flight from the canopy and passed overhead. Its large, round head seemed devoid of a beak: the profile of an owl. We followed its line of flight to a large tupelo at the edge of the pond and took advantage of the remaining daylight to watch it with binoculars: a great horned owl!