My Neck of The Woods: Slices of life fill up a naturalist’s day

“Who, Who, Who cooks for you?” A barred owl’s echo off Silver Eel Cove is muffled with the pillow over my head. Honestly Owl, I cook for me, but not at 4 a.m. A few tosses and turns later, the chorus of songbirds announces the coming of day. The sun dressed in pinks, reds, even violet peeks peacefully over South Beach and the Parade Grounds of Fishers Island.

There is the flip flop of webbed feet above me on the cottage roof where a herring gull stands watch. With all my naturalist endeavors, I would like to think this bird is satisfied with baby bunker fish. Perhaps it got wind of strewn popcorn the Fort Wright crows often insist upon (my bad). As the 7:45 ferry docks, a pair of mallard ducks make their routine landing and quite a splash into a terracotta bath meant for that chorus of songbirds. It looks to be a calm blue-sky day, and with tides low I grab binoculars and clicker and head off on my bike to Hungry Point.

Last year the harbor seals hauled off and out by May 8. Today by 8 a.m. on May 11, pheasants are grazing beside the old movie theater. Time flies with me as I coast down the hill and pedal even faster past the Duck Pond. I look for the wood duck arborist Carl Scroxton always sees and I remind myself to ask the pond’s owner, Janio, if I might place a wood duck house in that habitat. Looping around the post office I veer off to the Village Market with a hankering for toast and fresh squeezed OJ. I am making great time.

A few minutes later I have detoured to check on coyote tracks at Dock Beach. Rounding the bend I spy an overturned horseshoe crab. Just as I put on the brakes I receive a text at 8:30: seven baby swans in pond before Big Club. The morning shifts from third to first gear; the upside down Limulus is rescued and swims into West Harbor. The sun glints and climbs beside me as I dart back to the post office remembering I need to stop by the Eirikssons and check on the injured crow local wildlife rehabilitator Lisa is caring for. My today is turning into “to do.”

Just then Larry Horn waves me down; all timing seems perfect. I tell him all about the incredible minke whale sighting a ferry crew shared with me; it was spotted last Friday evening just off Government Bell Buoy. But it’s Stinky vs Minke as we revel in these stories. Larry pulls out his phone and shows me a picture of a dead skunk ashore on Chocomount! I joke that “smelling is believing” and speed off to photo document this island surprise.

I can tell the noon whistle is about to blast, remembering I didn’t get to the store, then remembering to thank Ferguson Museum director Pierce Rafferty for sharing island history slides yesterday. Noting an osprey’s attempt to nest neatly, I swerve through a cluster of branches and dried eelgrass dropped below on the Recreational Path. A sharp turn and I’m aimed toward Chocomount Beach whose “Monster’s” painted footprints appear different from 40 years ago — different species I suppose. Following the scent of skunk I snap a few pictures. I also follow the trail of nearby landscaping wondering if the animal snuck into some mulch or even equipment on its maiden voyage from the mainland. The super tide over the weekend has me deduct differently.

By 2:25 p.m., I can see that the seals at Hungry Point are teasing me — hauled off but heads and snouts bobbing; no final departure northward yet. If I pedal fast now I can safely maneuver island work force traffic headed home on BabyDoll, Popeye and the 4:45 ferries. Finally arriving west myself I run upstairs to check email: Would I please come east and document a dolphin washed ashore at the Castle? I laugh, still wanting that slice of toast but blessed with this slice of life.

Justine Kibbe is the island naturalist for the Fishers Island Conservancy. A lifelong environmentalist, Kibbe spent six years on Alaska’s Island of Saint Paul among the native Unungan people to study fur seals. Now a Fishers Island resident, Kibbe offers wildlife snapshots from her observations on the island. You can reach her at bjkibbe@gmail.com.

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