Tag Archive | "Otter Pond"

Ponds’ Healing Waters

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By Emily J. Weitz


Twenty thousand years ago, the glacier that formed the South Fork of Long Island started to melt, and it left behind a smattering of fresh ponds (about 30 in all) that continue to sustain unique ecosystems in the area from Sag Harbor to Sagaponack. The ponds are fed by the groundwater supply, and have been called the “most biologically diverse areas in New York State” by the Nature Conservancy. From Poxabogue Pond in Sagaponack to Otter Pond in Sag Harbor Village, local nature enthusiast Tony Garro will guide hikers through the Long Pond Greenbelt on Sunday to take in the splendor of these distinct ponds.

“The ponds have a subtle beauty,” says Garro. “If you stood at the edge of Crooked Pond in autumn and watched the reflection of the trees turning color in the pond itself, it’s like autumn colors in stereo. It takes your breath away.”

The wildlife and vegetation in and around the ponds are abundant, with 84 distinct bird species, 392 floral species (including 30 that are rare), and 32 types of butterflies according to the south Fork Natural History Society Newsletter.

There are also garter snakes, ribbon snakes, fish, several kinds of turtles, salamanders, frogs, dragonflies, rodents, deer, and foxes in and around the ponds. Garro has observed nature in action many times on these trails.

“A couple of years ago,” he recalls, “I was walking by Long Pond in late April or May, and all of a sudden, I looked down towards the railroad bed and I saw dozens of baby snapping turtles that had just hatched from their eggs. I just happened to be there at the moment they had hatched and were moving towards the pond.”

As the seasons change and the years pass, the ponds, too, are constantly in flux. For someone like Garro, who has watched these changes patiently, it’s one of the things that makes the area so unique.

“The rise and the fall of the water in the ponds means every time you walk past it’s a different pond,” he said. “Around each pond are five biospheres, and each biosphere has its own unique system of flora and fauna that depend on the water level at a given time.”

He recalls when he first came to the area and hiked near Crooked Pond.

“There was a drought and the ponds were low,” he said. “There’s a little island in the middle, but at this point you could actually walk to the island. Then you think ‘Maybe the pond will disappear’, but no, it became an island again.”

These changes apply to the forest surrounding the ponds too. Even though now, walking deep into the woods, there’s a feeling of timelessness and peace, Garro warns that  “The Greenbelt is far from pristine. In fact, it’s been exploited over the last 300 years. At one time it was probably like a Garden of Eden in there, but then the forest was cut for firewood and wood for houses, and the railroad was built right through it. It’s like a scar that runs through the Greenbelt.”

Over the last 40 or 50 years, though, Garro says the Greenbelt has been left alone. “And son of a gun, it’s regenerated itself,” he says.

On the five mile hike that Garro will lead, hikers will pass Poxabogue Pond, Little Poxabogue, Crooked Pond, Deer’s Hole, Long Pond, Little Long Pond, Round Pound, Fore and Aft Pond, and Otter Pond.

“Each has its own special beauty,” says Garro. “Each one is an individual, with its own physical characteristics and its own personality. The Native Americans thought that each of the ponds fulfilled certain needs.”

Poxbogue Pond, the only pond with an Algonquin name, was believed to have healing qualities. In William Halsey’s book “Sketches from Local History,” he recounts the story of a Shinnecock woman who was walking down the long road which is now the Bridge/Sag Turnpike.

“She was visibly pregnant, and she asked a farmer if she could ride in the back of his wagon. When they got to Poxabogue Pond, she got out and disappeared into the woods. The next day she was seen walking out carrying her infant. She gave birth in what she thought was a healing place… To the Shinnecock, these weren’t just ponds,” Garro sighs.

“So much has been lost of the Native American worldview,” Garro continued. “I would like to know their take on each pond in the Greenbelt. But that’s lost and gone forever.”

Still, due to the hard work of many over the past several decades, the Long Pond Greenhbelt is rejuvenating.

“It can never go back to pristine,” says Garro. “But it is beautiful, with a subtle kind of grandeur that has been recaptured. If you leave nature alone, it will heal itself.”

The Southampton Trails Preservation Society will sponsor this hike, from 10a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 18. Meet at Mashashimuet Park.

Local Arborists Prepare For Threat of Irene

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Bruce Marienfeld got the call Thursday night.

With Hurricane Irene threatening to bring 60 mile-per-hour winds and up to 10 inches of rain to the East End, Anton Hagen asked Marionfeld to prune the overgrown tree in the far corner of his yard; its branches were draped over the sidewalk, forming a relative canopy along the footpath over the bridge that separates Otter Pond from Upper Sag Harbor Cove.

“The storm knows no mercy and has no prejudice” when it comes to trees, Marienfeld said on Friday afternoon while holding a set of shears the length of his arm.  Pointing to the precarious position of this particular perennial, the tree-trimmer noted the slope of the soil along the bank of the low-flowing waterway, where the tree dug its roots.  With an excess of branches and rains likely to loosen the soil around its base, Marienfeld said this tree was definitely in need of care.

“I probably halved the amount of weight that was on here,” he said.  In all, Marienfeld removed seven branches, which amounted to about two yards of debris.

The arborist said he had two more jobs in Sag Harbor after he finished securing the Hagens’ tree, but for these he would be cleaning gutters before the storm.  He had previously trimmed about three trees prior to this one Friday, but said the real work will come after Irene is expected to have blown through the East End.

“I’ve had about 15 people already call and ask to be put first on the list on Monday,” he said.  He predicts he’ll have his work cut-out for him; but, fortunately, he added, “I work quick!”

The Seal of Otter Pond

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By Claire Walla

It seems there’s a new winter resident living in Sag Harbor Village — and this one has quite a taste for fish.

Anthony and Christine Hagen said they first noticed the harbor seal floating in the water behind their home on Main Street in Sag Harbor two weeks before Christmas.

“We’ve lived here for 30 years and we’ve never seen anything like it,” Anthony exclaimed.

Christine said she initially thought the animal was in distress because it seemed to be swimming in the waters of Upper Sag Harbor Cove and Otter Pond without the company of other seals. But, now that she’s seen the aquatic creature at least three times since then, she has been convinced otherwise.

“Today he looked very happy,” she said on Friday, January 7 of the seal, which is usually spotted around high tide swimming under Otter Pond Bridge. The nearly four-foot long mammal looks like a torpedo zipping into the pond, where the Hagen’s say they believe he (or she) has been foraging for food.

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As the vast majority of Upper Sag Harbor Cover and Otter Pond have frozen over, there are only two relatively sizable, fan-shaped pockets of pond sans ice in which the seal spends its time.

When its head pokes out of the water, “He looks like a little, black bowling ball bobbing around,” said Christine who has christened the seal “Buddy.”

She adds that Buddy travels into Otter Pond to catch fish and then carries them back to the cove behind her house where, at 40 to 50 feet away from the shore, Christine said she has watched the seal rip into lunch, spreading fish blood and silver scales in the water.

According to Rob DiGiovanni, director of the Riverhead Foundation, there have never been reports of a seal in Otter Pond. However, this does not necessarily mean seals have never ventured this far inland.

“It’s not something we think is all that uncommon,” DiGiovanni said. “Historically, people might have seen seals in that area,” but he notes the Riverhead Foundation does not have great records of past sightings.

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DiGiovanni didn’t seem too alarmed that the animal was swimming solo.

“Seals have a social structure that we don’t fully understand,” he explained. Though we tend to see groups of harbor seals hauling out en masse on rock clusters along the coastline, this is not necessarily indicative of the seals’ inherent need to be social, he said. Seals travel in large groups — technically called clubs or pods — because they’ve come to rely on certain areas of the East End for what they need in the winter.

“It’s kind of like if we were all going to a football game,” he explained. “We may not all know each other, but we’re all there for a common purpose.”

For seals, that common purpose is flat rocks and fish. Areas off Montauk Point and Gardiner’s Island are prime “haul-out” spots because they provide a wealth of both. And while access to Otter Pond presents a labyrinth of watery passageways more difficult to navigate than the straight shoot to Montauk Point, DiGiovanni mentioned there’s a small haul-out spot in Sag Harbor from which “Otter Pond is not super far.”

“Although,” he added, “it’s interesting that [the seal] would go under all those bridges.”

Lindsay Rohrbach, who leads seal walks for the South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center (SoFo), said she’s surprised the seal would choose to frequent an area so close to people.

“Seals don’t like a lot of movement,” she said. And the waters by Otter Pond Bridge, which cut through a strip of residences on Main Street, “aren’t quiet.” However, she added, no two seals are created alike. “He may just be an extra adventurous and daring individual.”

Christine Hagen, who lives across the street from the pond, said there are often people fishing at Otter Pond.

“There’s pretty good fishing there,” she added. “And the seal knows that, too.”