During the winter months I like to head out towards Sag Harbor and visit the Elizabeth Morton Wildlife Refuge. The ice and snow blanket the ground, covering the remains of any available food source for the wildlife in the area. The birds, both small and large would be hungry. Because of the cold weather, there would be few visitors daring to venture out to observe the winter activity.
The sanctuary is located on a narrow peninsula, known as Jessup’s Neck, which points out from the northern portion of the South Fork of Long island. It was donated to the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1954 by Elizabeth Morton. For us, it would be a drive of a little over and hour but it would be such a rewarding visit.
Our observations of the packed snow near the entrance suggested that the few visitors who did brave the weather did not stray far into the sanctuary. Our feathered friends knew this of course, for the air was filled with their chattering as they begged for food. Sparrows seemed to fill the bushes, as well as the ground nearby, too timid to approach. I watched as they puffed up their feathers, becoming rather rotund in the process, as they tried to keep warm.
One of the interesting activities at the refuge is that visitors are allowed to feed the birds, although you are not allowed to throw seed on the ground. Knowing the routine, the chickadees were perched in the branches around us, waiting to descend upon whatever we may have to offer. And so, with sunflower seeds in our outstretched hands we offered our treats to these hungry creatures. It is amusing to watch as one of these tiny birds rests on your hand and picks through the seeds until they find one they like, throwing the rest on the ground (I guess they haven’t read the sign). We have found that the chickadees are the bravest. Occasionally, a hungry titmouse or nuthatch summons up the courage to grab a seed as well, but they do not stay long. The rest stand at your feet, waiting for the bits of food that the chickadees have rejected.
It wasn’t long before our hands began to hurt from the cold, so we decided to move on. We headed down the loop trail towards the wooded portion of the sanctuary. Other than animal tracks, there was little evidence that humans had wandered deep into the sanctuary.
We crossed two bridges on this path. We knew from previous visits that the second bridge is another excellent spot for wildlife observation. Here again, we offered our gifts and were rewarded with the chickadees and a titmouse accepting our gifts. A squirrel became bold enough to sit at our feet and scoop up what the chickadees discarded. A turkey strutted towards us. When I lowered my hand for a rest, I was surprised that this large fowl grabbed the seed from my hand. I was grateful for my gloves.
When this trail intersected with the main path, we opted to turn right towards the beach. With few visitors before us tramping down the snow, it became difficult to maneuver through the top layer of a crusty ground cover. We walked along the beach until the ice from the water met the snow from the dunes and we could go no further. The wind blowing across this open area encouraged us to quicken our pace until we reached the protection of the woods once more. It had been a rewarding and invigorating visit.