Long Island Trail Lovers Coalition

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David A. Sarnoff Preserve

Buck Moth Hike

 

 

A couple of weeks ago I found myself walking among pygmies and bears with a very impressive group of naturalists.  No, I wasn’t in Equatorial Africa, I was visiting the pygmy pines (more commonly known as dwarf pines) and bear oaks (also known as scrub oak) located north of Westhampton.

I periodically check my website for interesting upcoming hikes sponsored by the various organizations listed there. One of the websites I check is www.seatuck.org  The Seatuck Environmental Organization promotes the conservation of Long Island’s wildlife and environment through education, research, and advocacy.  Whenever I find time, I join one of their very exciting programs to explore Long Island.  On this day, I was with a small group of people hiking through the dwarf pine plains.  There is little available water here and the soil is nutrient-poor. The trail tread is sandy, with a light covering of pine needles and oak leaves.  The largest scrub oaks and dwarf pine trees barely reached over our heads.  The environment here is harsh.  Even when there is ample rainfall the sandy soil doesn’t hold water, and the woody acidic nature of the pine needles and oak leaves slows their decomposition and impedes the return of the nutrients locked up in the leaves from returning to the soil.    Life here has adapted to this desert-like environment.  The build-up of dry leaves and the resins in the leaves that help protect against water loss make the environment prone to fires.  The fires free the nutrients from leaves that are not yet decomposed; the heat from the fires causes the unique serotinous (resin covered) pinecones to open allowing the seeds to fall to the ground.  The ubiquitous John Turner was leading this walk through the wilds of Westhampton along with Seatuck’s naturalist Lenny Lampel. Mike Bottini, naturalist and author of Trail Guide to the South Fork and Exploring East End Waters: A Natural History and Paddling Guide was also participating in this event. Visit www.peconic.org for more information.

The goal of this excursion into the dwarf pine plains was to view the emergence of the globally rare buck moth.  Like the pitch pine that has thick bark for resistance to fires, the buck moth has also adapted to fire by pupating underground and then emerging after a late summer rain to mate.  Emerging from underground after a rain helps guarantee that the adults will come out of their underground shelter into an environment temporarily less prone to fire.  This enables them to mate and lay eggs safely, thus assuring the continuity of their species. With the heavy rain we had this week it is a virtual certainty that we will see these unique insects soon emerge into the dwarf pine plains.  For their reproductive exploits, wetter is certainly better.

Recently a parking area was created that gives access to this pygmy pine sanctuary.  Facing out onto this area are three informational kiosks:  the first one describes the1995 fires that burned 3,200 acres of our forests; the second kiosk honors the more than 2,500 people who responded to the fires; the third kiosk describes how the land managers, researchers, and conservation organizations are working together to restore and maintain these unique areas.  There is currently no mention of the dwarf pine plains located behind the signs, nor is there a marked entrance to the trails running through them.  This parking area is located on County Road 31, a short distance south of Sunrise Highway.  It is on the west side of the road opposite the Suffolk County Water Authority.

You can enter the unmarked trail system by heading southwest of the parking area.  If you intend to take an extensive walk, I urge you to bring along a compass and a copy of Larry Paul’s “Long Island Pine Barrens Trail Map (east section)” Call the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference 631-360-0753 for more information about maps.

It was a relief that no one in the group picked up any ticks.  A Pine Barrens Commission task force is planning to build an interpretive trail and observation tower on the other side of CR 31.  Last month, while working there, they reported being covered by ticks.  One of the factors that make winter hikes so attractive is the virtual absence of those little critters.  In the meantime I am still tucking my pants into my socks and wearing white knee high stockings.  It looks funny, but if I pick up any unwelcome guests I see them and remove them before they can do me any harm.
 

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Long Island Trail Lovers Coalition

Ken Kindler
Open Space & Trails Advocate
Post Office Box 1466
Sayville NY 11782
ken@litlc.org

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