November, and things are slowing down. Chris and I actually had a day off a week or so ago. It was a gorgeous autumn day and we decided to do a little sightseeing in our own backyard, for the dual purpose of enjoying ourselves outdoors and to be better able to advise our guests. In the nearly twenty years that we’ve lived on the East End, we’ve never been hiking at any of the three most popular locations out here, namely Mashomack, Hidden Hills, or the Elizabeth Morton Wildlike Refuge. We decided to start our exploration with Mashomack, just across the bay on Shelter Island.
The Mashomack Preserve, operated by the Nature Conservancy, occupies nearly 1/3 of Shelter Island, and is open year round. We went on a Wednesday in November, so I’m sure there were far fewer people on the trails than one would meet if hiking in July; however, such was the serene nature of the place and the layout of the trails that I expect there could be hundreds of fellow hikers in the preserve and you wouldn’t know it.
There are four well-defined and marked trails of varying lengths, from a one-mile wheelchair-accessible trail to a ten-mile hike that overlooks Gardiner’s Bay. Chris and I chose the six-mile Green Trail, marked by the emblem of the osprey. The osprey is one of the East End’s most celebrated examples of the power of environmental concern: the breeding population, once decimated by the thinning of their eggs caused by widespread use of DDT, has rebounded from 150 breeding pairs in 1969 to well over 230 pairs today, taking the breed from the Endangered list to that of Special Concern. Osprey nests are visible along many coastal wetlands, but Mashomack is home to one the largest concentration of nesting ospreys in the area. The nests are remarkable as they resemble chimney-sweep brushes of the sort you remember from the movie Mary Poppins; birds create large nests in the tops of dead trees or, more commonly, on human-created upright structures resembling telephone poles.
The ospreys have flown south for the winter now, but lots of birds and other wildlife remain to be seen on the trails. One of the more remarkable sights we saw was a red-tailed hawk eating his lunch on a trail-side post in an open field.
Fields, wetlands, coves seeded with oyster and scallop beds, pine swamps…the variety of ecosystems within such a relatively small area was incredible.
In addition to being a wonderful place to breathe and appreciate nature, the Nature Conservancy has on-site a charming visitors center with interactive displays on all aspects of the flora and fauna. We spent quite a bit of time there, playing with the displays and discussing what we’d seen with the very knowledgable and friendly Nature Conservancy staff member.
The entire East End is a respite from busy city and suburban living, and we realize how very lucky we are to live and work in such a beautiful corner of the world. Even so, as we drove away late in the afternoon, bound for the South Ferry back to A Butler’s Manor, Chris commented that our afternoon walk in the woods truly felt like we’d been on vacation!
Quote of the Day: We live in a fast-paced society. Walking slows us down. ~Robert Sweetgall