Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Yesterday we took an afternoon trip to Sag Harbor to the Elizabeth Morton Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is small; the loop trail is only three quarters of a mile long with a spur trail to the beach, but it is a unique jewel in Long Island's crown because over the years, the birds there have learned that people bring them food, and will land right in your hands to eat! I have never seen this anywhere else; we have hand fed squirrels in Boston and used to do the same in college at Drew University, and we did hand feed birds at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh--but those weren't wild birds, and they didn't land on us, they flew by and snatched food from our outstretched palms. These are wild birds who have learned this trick, and we just never tire of it. Julia said a number of times that this was her favorite place in the world, and that she wished she could live right there.
We usually visit in the depths of winter, because of course you get the greatest number of birds on you when they have almost nothing else to eat. However, we had so much snow and such cold temperatures this year that I had to keep putting the kids off. It's even colder there because you're right on the water, and it just isn't fun to be there if you're freezing. Also, I wasn't sure if there was any sort of snow removal there because although it's a popular place, it's still a trail. Although it seems that many birds hang around right near the front of the trail, so I guess if you just walked in and stood you'd still get birds. Regardless, early spring is still fine--the woods are just beginning to green up, but the leaves aren't on the trees yet and I imagine there aren't too many insects yet, so our friends were still hungry.
The easiest birds to attract are the sweet little black capped chickadees. They are bold and brave, sitting in your hand and choosing just the right seed. The tufted titmouse, with its big eyes and cute little hairdo, is the next most common visitor to our hands, followed by the nuthatch. The last time we went we were lucky enough to have the red headed downy woodpecker land on us several times, but this time we didn't get that privilege, although we did see a few. The squirrels will follow and yesterday we saw a few chipmunks for good measure, but for some reason, the squirrels won't get close enough to hand feed--they will accept donations that you toss over, though. (This vexes Julia and Emma, who love to get squirrels to come and take nuts right from their hands in Boston.) Dozens of cardinals will follow you throughout the refuge, but they will never land on you. We have tried and tried, and they desperately want the seed--they will take what has fallen to the ground as soon as you move away, but they simply refuse to get close.
The biggest surprise yesterday was from our fellow visitors. We saw four other groups while we were there--ranging from couples to a group of five--and not one of them had come with seeds! One lady said they used to sell seed at the front, which I then vaguely remembered from one of my first visits, but they didn't have any out now. Luckily, we had a gallon bag of sunflower seeds, the birds' favorite, so we shared with everyone we met. If you ever go, don't bother with mixed seeds! We had chickadees flinging that seed around and only taking the sunflower seeds--they can afford to be picky, I guess, when they have devoted followers! Anyway, it was a wonderful time, and Rachel got some of her usual fabulous photos.....