Winter has arrived on the North Fork, but the cold weather doesn’t have to slow you down.
The ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant is upending plans and harkening back to the anxiety felt in the early days of the pandemic.
“We’ve seen an uptick in the amount of people coming out and using public spaces, walking trails and getting back to nature as a way to get out of their homes but in a safe way,” said Taralynn Reynolds, outreach director at Group for the East End.
She said winter is the perfect time to explore the area’s nature trails.
“In the spring and summer with migratory species coming, it’s abuzz. So I’d encourage people to enjoy the quietness of the winter season. You can see a lot of beautiful species and there’s a different feel to it,” Reynolds said.
The East End, known as an “ecotone,” provides winter refuge for many migratory species. On a winter walk through the woods, you may spot robins, Northern cardinals, black-capped chickadees and catbirds.
Another winter favorite, Reynolds said, is a bird called the dark-eyed junco, nicknamed snowbirds. “They’re typically associated with snow and arrive at the beginning or tail end of a cold front,” she said.
It’s also prime time for observing waterfowl species along ponds, harbors and bays. Keep your eyes peeled for the Harlequin Duck, Bufflehead, Common Eider and several species of scoters.
Two more perennial favorite winter species are snowy owls and harbor seals, which can both be observed in coastal areas locally.
Reynolds said if you spot these species and wildlife in general, it’s important to give them space and observe only from afar.
Hours spent binge-watching on your couch may seem tempting, but a winter walk is the perfect way to stay active in between episodes.
One perk to a walk this time of year is that ticks are less active! Barren trees offer a different vantage point and the forest provides some insulation from the biting winds that may greet you during a beach walk.
So bundle up, grab a friend and maybe a pair of binoculars and hit these trails:
Also known as the Paul Stoutenburgh Preserve after the local naturalist, this beautiful preserve includes a short, 1.2 mile trail through woodlands and wetlands. With beautiful views of Arshamomaque Pond, this is a great spot for birdwatching and you may even be lucky enough to spot an otter from atop a wildlife viewing platform.
920 Chapel Lane, Greenport
Hallock State Park Preserve
This 225-acre state park is situated along the Long Island Sound. There are four trails to choose from, one of which takes you directly to the shore. Look out for local native tree species and birds including the red bellied woodpecker, tufted titmouse and Carolina wren.
6062 Sound Avenue, Riverhead
Downs Farm Preserve
A great option for families, this 51-acre preserve is rich with history—the historic Fort Corchaug site, a native settlement—woodlands and tidal wetlands along Downs Creek.
It’s a short loop that’s less than a mile and if you’re out for an afternoon walk near dusk, listen for the call of a Great Horned Owl.
23800 Main Road, Cutchogue
Inlet Pond County Park
Located within the North Fork Audubon Society, a 1.5 mile trail through this secluded park leads through woodlands, open shrubbed areas and a mature oak forest before opening to a view of Inlet Pond and beyond, the Long Island Sound.
65275 Route 48, Greenport
Orient Point County Park
Located at the eastern tip of the North Fork, the maritime forest and views of Gardiners Bay and Bug Light make for the perfect winter day outdoors. You could easily turn this into a long, off-season stroll by exploring trails in the nearby state preserve as well.
Look for seals hauling out, shore birds and snowy owls, which have been seen here before.
40000 Main Road, Orient