Vineyard Fields Ponds

There are four small, unnamed ponds in Vineyard Field (two are natural formations, one was dug in the 1940s, the other in the 1980s). These ponds are home to many birds, reptiles, and mammals. This includes Eastern Tiger Salamanders, an endangered species, which were first found in both man-made ponds by Andy Sabin in 1994.
On July 9th Eric Salzman, a Director for the South Fork Natural History Museum (SoFo), led a hike through Vineyard Field and around the ponds. Below is his recap of the walk including some history of the area as well as the various birds and other wildlife his group saw or heard during their walk.

This morning’s SoFo walk – billed as “Breeding Birds of the Meadows and Woods” – was focused on the open fields in the back of the SoFo Museum in Bridgehampton. This area, formerly a vineyard (and hence known as Vineyard Field), is surrounded by oak woods and is part of the Long Pond Greenbelt that runs from Sagg Pond and Sagg Swamp in Sagaponack all the way north to Sag Harbor. The area contains a chain of ponds and wetlands – mostly kettle holes from the last glaciation fed by groundwater – surrounded by upland woods. Vineyard Field has been the object of a major effort by the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt to restore it as a grassland habitat, including the rooting out of many (but not all) invasive plants. As it stands, however, it is not really a grassland but what is traditionally known in these parts as Oldfield – open farmland with invading trees. A better term might be ‘savanna’- the correct term for a meadow or grassland with emergent bushes and trees. Although there’s a tendency to associate savanna with Africa, it’s a real and well-defined habit in many parts of the world, Eastern North America and even Long Island definitely included. Some of my favorite birds are partial to savanna habitat and, curiously enough, even as woodland and grassland species decline, many savanna species – once common, then later routed by the conversion of savanna to farmland – are now making a striking comeback. These were some of the best birds of the morning: Indigo Bunting (at least three males seen, with two of them singing on widely separate edges of the field), Orchard Oriole (the name itself suggests its habitat preference), and Warbling Vireo (a major comeback species and also recognized by song).

 Another feature of this habitat is its popularity with swallows, nesting on the museum buildings (Barn Swallows), bird boxes generously scattered about (Tree Swallows), and a group of gourds (which have, after years of trying, finally attracted a small colony of Purple Martins); Bank Swallow and a Chimney Swift (not a swallow but with a similar lifestyle) were also seen. Prominent flycatchers in this habitat are Eastern Phoebe and Eastern Kingbird (Eastern Wood-pewee was in the woodland at the far end of the open meadow). Kingbird, a famously pugnacious flycatcher, was seen first thing in the morning escorting a high-flying but potentially dangerous Cooper’s Hawk off the premises. Other raptors were Osprey (two or three seen flying across) and Red-tailed Hawk, nesting in the vicinity and heard a number of times but not actually seen. And, of course, the more familiar birds of meadow habitat – Northern Mockingbird, American Robin, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Common Grackle, all seen in numbers. Cedar Waxwings were seen several times, not in their usual small flocks, but singly and in pairs; they are, no doubt, starting to nest even as other birds are finishing their nesting duties and watching their fledglings take off. Not many actual forest birds were seen or heard but these included singing Red-eyed Vireo, Baltimore Orioles with noisy young, and, oddly enough, Blue Jays in the woods where they are almost certainly nesting. Missing were the more-or-less expected ‘T-birds’: Towhee, Thrasher, and Thrushes.
In addition to the birds, there were two or three Box Turtles and a number of butterflies including Monarch (there’s a lot of Common Milkweed and Butterfly Weed in the field), Common Wood-Nymph, Pearl Crescent, sulfur, and a Halloween Pennant, a striking dragonfly with striped wings.

-Eric Salzman, SoFo Board of Directors