By Susan Howell
It was hard to believe that winter was still days away as I watched December’s morning sun slowly rise over the lake that is part of my sister’s property on East Central Long Island.
Mist rose lazily off the partially frozen water, the air still. Lush trees and vegetation that border the lake, now sat like brown skeletons in their dormancy. A life less landscape you would almost think; but wildlife flourishes upon this chain of freshwater lakes that wind through the heart of suburbia, eventually flowing into the Great South Bay.
Year round water fowl and wild birds are joined by winter migrants who spend these cold months enjoying the spoils of the lake. Largemouth Bass, carp, bluegill and sunnis share the water with an impressive variety of aquatic life including the scary snapping turtle who could take off a toe if given the chance.
A pair of swans grace these waters year round, their snow white plumage a striking contrast against the dark winter foliage.
I watch a Great Blue Heron resting on the partially frozen water while Mallard ducks glide between the thin ice flows. The white and black crested head of the Hooded Merganser can be seen ducking between vegetation along the water’s edge, joined by the shy and beautiful Wood Duck and the Northern Shoveler who can be distinguished by its bright orange legs and feet and large bill. The Green-winged Teal and Ring-neck Ducks overwinter here as well.
Skyward, flocks of Canadian Geese fly in formation, their loud honking breaking the morning silence. Seagulls, night herons and the Red Shouldered Hawk fly above and throughout the property.
Landside, patches of snow slowly melt on the now frozen earth. Large evergreens border the home. American Hollies loaded with bright red berries, Easter Red Cedar, Junipers and varieties of spruce offer food and shelter for a wide assortment of wild birds. A grey squirrel with a tail as bushy as a fox scampers up a tree while the more nocturnal creatures like raccoons, fox and even deer stay hidden in the woodland that surround this lake.
Whatever the season, this Northeastern backyard where I have spent so many joyful days, is a magical sanctuary where a unique water world sustains life by providing food, water and shelter to all that are lucky enough to pass through it.
FYI: The Canadian Geese population has been increasing over the years in urban and suburban areas. Lawns, parks and golf courses offer reliable habitat and some communities are now considering these birds a nuisance. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the oldest know wild goose was 30 years and 4 month old.