Long Island’s longest river—the Peconic—has a number of public access points that enable it to be paddled for approximately half its 19-mile length. My favorite stretch is the upper section, from Connecticut Avenue down to where the river widens to form what is called Peconic Lake.I’ve paddled the river in all months between April and October, and my favorite times to be on the river are the paddling season’s “bookends”: spring and fall. These are two strikingly different times of year in terms of wildlife and scenery. The riverside in fall, of course, is a riot of color, but wildlife is scarce. The river in spring, on the other hand, is teeming with wildlife that are actively feeding after a long winter or fueling up on a layover during migration, and in many cases mating and rearing young. And they are very visible since much of the riverside vegetation is still bare.
Among the wildlife encountered in May are muskrat taking advantage of the fresh greens after a long winter subsiding on root tubers; wood ducks, mute swans and Canada geese on nests; fish-eating birds such as osprey, kingfishers and cormorants; the saucer-shaped underwater nests made by the sunfish family; and many colorful resident and migratory songbirds including Baltimore orioles, tree swallows and a variety of warblers.
As I always do, we will look for signs of the river otter. Despite several otter sightings reported by colleagues, and excellent otter habitat, I have never been able to confirm an established otter scent station on the river. I suspect that these sightings were transient otters, yearlings pushed out of their natal territories by their mother just before she’s about to give birth to another litter in March. Being very social creatures, they would probably not settle for a home range that does not overlap with other otters.
That being said, the situation may have changed. Last year I received several reports of sightings of more than one otter traveling together on the East End, and I documented an otter scent station on a tributary of the Peconic. And last week I received photos taken by John Turner of a new otter scent station he found adjacent to the Peconic River on the Paumanok Path in Manorville. Very exciting!
Consider joining me for Saturday’s trip (May 9) on the river hosted by the Peconic Land Trust. Details at http://eastendecoventures.com.
Other news: A string of very warm, sunny days has heated up the shallow bays. On Monday, May 4, Accabonac hit the 60-degree mark, warm enough for wetsuit-clad swimmers to start open water swim practice. One of my favorite swim spots, the Gardiners Bay beach at Barnes Hole in Springs, is a cool 52 degrees, a temp that will result in a severe “ice cream headache” for most of us. Nearshore ocean temps? They have not yet broken the 50-degree barrier, but it’s close: 49 degrees.
The warming water has prompted the fiddler crabs out of their overwintering burrows, and I received a report that our resident salt marsh and estuary turtle, the handsome diamondback terrapin, has been seen basking at the surface of Accabonac Harbor with just its head and neck protruding from the water, but its large dark shell just below absorbing the solar heat.