Creatures in Winter: Osprey, Eagles, Deer, Fish, Wild Turkeys & More in the Hamptons

Winter creature cartoon by Dan Rattiner
Winter creature cartoon by Dan Rattiner

When winter comes, there are fewer people in the Hamptons. And more creatures. Or we just notice them more. Anyway, at our house on November 12 at 10 p.m., winter commenced. A big animal was at our front door.

“A deer is eating the pumpkin we set out by the front door to celebrate Thanksgiving,” my wife whispered. “Come have a look. But be quiet.”

She was in the TV room. Out the window, you could see only the back half. Not the front half. His little white tail wagged furiously.

Using my phone, I took a video of the happy back half and its tail.

For the next 20 minutes, he remained out there. He was a slow eater. My wife was watching Netflix. But the deer kept interrupting things.

Though we never saw his front end, he’d make a thumping noise on the front door. Perhaps with his nose. Occasionally it was a rattling noise. Like sticks banging on the door.

“I think it’s a buck,” she told me after one particularly loud rattle.“It’s got antlers.”

It was unnerving, however. Banging on the door. There’s this knee-jerk reaction to when somebody knocks at the door. Go to the front door, open it and see who it is.

After a while the sounds ended. I hoped he hadn’t been a sloppy eater. Maybe cleaned up after himself. Finished the pumpkin. Licked the deck. On the other hand, maybe he was just taking a breather. Expecting to come back for more. Or to return with a friend. Well, if I went to the front door, it would only scare him off.

The next morning, we found half of the outer shell of the pumpkin still sitting by the door. This had been a whole pumpkin. Nothing carved. But now taking a closer look, it appeared that the deer had chewed through to the inside of the pumpkin to gobble up all the seeds, goo and shredded sweet stuff that was in there. And then licked up the deck. Yum.

As winter marched on, we marveled at some of the other creatures who came calling in larger numbers. Eagles, chipmunks, squirrels, hawks, osprey, seagulls, rabbits, moles, snakes and wild turkeys all made appearances. There’s also a flurry of small birds at all hours of the day, bluebirds, woodpeckers, cardinals, crows and finches, fluttering at the bird feeder my wife hung on poles at the other end of the deck at the start of the winter.

I might note that the wild turkeys, which often show up in groups of three or four, nibble on our grass and, when startled, fluff out their colorful feathers, unfold their wings to their full wingspan of 5 feet and, with great grunts and whooshes, run along the lawn with their weird yellow feet to gather up enough speed to make liftoff before they get to the end of the runway.

In recent years, our government officials have been messing with our world’s great menagerie of creatures. Nothing seems to turn out as expected.

They found that the menhaden fish, the tiny fish the size of your thumb that swim in glorious underwater herds zigzagging this way and that, have been declining in number in past years. So laws were passed. The menhaden returned in great numbers and now swim in vast swarms close to shore where they attract sharks that munch on them.

But in summer, the sharks terrorize the surfers, who get tweeted out of the water by the lifeguards when they see the telltale fins.

Eagles now swoop over the Hamptons. We’d thought them extinct in these parts. But be warned. Small dogs such as toy poodles are at risk. Eagles can dive down and grasp such animals, surprised and wriggling, and fly off with them. Maybe.

The authorities have also noticed that non-indigenous creatures often take over from indigenous creatures.

One year, environmentalists in Albany ordered all giant white mute swans gliding around our ponds shot. They were brought to America to decorate our town ponds by Europeans in the 1870s. But the swans, although beautiful, drive off gulls, turtles and ducks. So it became legal to shoot them. And everyone rebelled. Killing beautiful swans? We think not. The lawmakers rescinded the order.

Our sheep also, it turns out, are not indigenous. Years ago, other wealthy Europeans coming here brought sheep over to decorate the pastures of eastern Long Island. Now the ticks that decorated the sheep have brought tick fever diseases to humans.

And did I mention the coyotes? Dogs, not having seen them here in years, might mistake them for other dogs. And that’s no good.

The Summer Wild Turkey Sighting Survey took place in August. It turns out, there’s been a surge in wild turkeys. Huge numbers of them were trucked to the Hamptons this spring to reduce an infestation elsewhere. Alarmed, the authorities here ordered the citizens here to count the turkeys. I am not making this up.

And beware of carp, a nasty 2-foot-long fish from Asia that sneaks up rivers and kills off all the indigenous fish. They’ve sneaked into Long Island rivers.

Of course, we all know about the piping plovers, once near extinction in the Hamptons, but now, having been saved, take over our beaches and dive-bomb the bathers every summer.

Why can’t we just leave everything alone? Nature will take care of it. Some critters go extinct. Others take their place. Maybe just save two of everything, as Noah did. Put them in a centrally located zoo, perhaps in Kansas, where people could come from the coasts to visit and take pictures of them.

And over New Year’s, the annual Montauk Christmas Bird Count took place. An infestation of birdwatchers with binoculars, cameras, bird books and notepads counted the different species they saw during that weekend.

And now, deer hunting season is underway until the end of January. Before it began, a bill was passed in Albany and sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul that would prevent hunting on a 200-acre state property adjacent to the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays. You can legally shoot on that acreage. But those tending to the poor injured animals next door feared stray bullets. Some had zinged by in last year’s hunting season.

Well, dammit, Hochul vetoed it.

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