Friday, April 1, 2011

Bird’s Eye (Re)View: John Turner’s “Exploring The Other Island: A Seasonal Guide to Nature on Long Island” by Stella Miller

“To watch a flock of sandpipers or a small group of yellowlegs drop from the autumn sky with bodies and wings twisting in response to millisecond changes in aerodynamic conditions, to listen to their lonely, compelling calls is to experience utter wildness. The birds carry with them the desolation of the tundra.”

With those words, John Turner perfectly expresses what I have always felt while listening to the plaintive cries of shorebirds, but was unable to articulate. This book is filled with lyrical prose such as this while being chock full of facts about the natural wonders of Long Island. From fish to birds to land animals to plants, Turner tells us what to look for and where to find it. But he directs us responsibly. Locations of sensitive species are not given, and I was impressed, although not surprised, to see his code of ethics on display. We are also encouraged to be responsible stewards of these precious creatures and habitats. One of HOBAS’ tag lines is “responsible recreation” and that theme is evident throughout this book.

The book is divided by seasons and then broken down by species. For example, included in the section for springtime is a chapter on songbird migration, as well as spring ephemerals (for those of you who do not know what a “spring ephemeral is, I am certainly not going to tell you. Read the book to find out!), salamanders and frogs. Summer brings us the horseshoe crab, but the chapter is not just a dry recounting of the natural history of this ancient animal. Turner discusses the crab’s place in the web of life, how man’s actions are impacting not just the crabs, but in a snowball effect, the shorebirds that depend upon the crabs for their survival. There is a domino effect to everything we do, as starkly illustrated here.

Did you know that there are habitats that depend on fire in order to proliferate? Or that skunks are carving out a living on Long Island? I bet you didn’t know that cranberries were a booming business right here on the Island. Read the book and you will discover not only these tidbits, but others as well!

Most folks are not aware of the various species of orchids and parasitic plants that flourish here. They do not realize that in the fall, one can see hundreds of hawks in one afternoon, while visiting the Fire Island Hawk Watch, or catch waves upon waves of shorebirds at our barrier beaches. A good number of Long Islanders most likely believe that Long Island is devoid of wildlife during the cold and windy days of winter. As one of the premier wintering spots for waterfowl, the island comes alive with vast gatherings of these birds. Furthermore, when we think migration in winter, we assume that the general travel direction points south. This is true but, in a reverse pattern, Long Island is the winter spot for many of our far northern species. Snowy, saw whet and long eared owls, redpolls and crossbills are just a few of these hardy visitors, and the barrier beaches are terrific spots to spy them as they roost and forage. Other wonderful winter species are the seals. Plum Island is one of the most significant winter seal haul out sites in southern New England. Oh, did I just get a shameless plug in for preserving Plum Island? You bet I did!

This book is an informative and lively guide to all things natural on Long Island. Long Island is not just shopping malls, highways and developments. One does not have to look very far to find the magic of nature. Open up this book and let John Turner take you on a seasonal tour of natural Long Island. It will whet your appetite to explore the “Other Island” for real!

While you can purchase copies of this book on, HOBAS has signed copies available and all proceeds will go directly to us!

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