A late May walk is memorable for several reasons. Much of the landscape is vegetation with crisp, new leaves, not yet eaten by insects, many shades of green, and a variety of textures. This is migration time for birds. I was walking in a botanical museum. I am part of the Carls River Corridor.
Warblers were singing in the forest canopy. I decided to walk from Babylon Village up to Belmont Lake State Park and back, six miles total. The trail is wide and slightly elevated. When Southern State Parkway was constructed and Belmont Lake State Park opened, fill was layed down to create a path through an extensive wetland.
The Carls River starts in Wyandanch and is first visible from a bridge that crosses the river in Belmont Lake State Park.. The water has a gray color. The river is sluggish and slow flowing. I spotted circular fish nests on this mucky bottom. Largemouth Bass are common. As sediment piled up behind the dam that created Belmont Lake, strong rainfall released mud, dark mud from decayed leaves. Thus, the gray color of the water. I wondered why, down river, the water turns clear.
There are three dams that cross the river. From south to north, they are: Argyle Lake Dam on Montauk Highway, Babylon Village; Southards Pond Dam1 ½ miles walk north on the Greenbelt Path; south end of Belmont Lake in Belmont Lake State Park. The upper two dams are partly responsible for the murky water. Sediments are backed up behind the dams so the river can’t flush itself. The dams impound water that heats up due to lack of movement and exposure. In general, dams change the delicate ecology of the riparian edges of the entire River. Southards Pond water is warm due to two factors. It is shallow and exposed to sunlight. All the wetland is in shade. The water is cooler and the conditions favor wetland plants.
Soon after I began, I heard the unmistakable call of a wood thrush Instinctively, I stopped to listen. I think this is one of the top ten song hits of migrating birds. The call is a series of clear whistles, ethereal, delicate, and wistful. Hearing these sounds instantly transported me to a far off wilderness. At my former home in Manorville, I heard wood thrushes every spring except for the last two years. I fear that their populations have declined. Hearing their call in the early morning sets me astir. Wood Thrush’s are hard to spot. They prefer deep woods, not the edges like catbirds, chickadees, and others. I’ve rarely seen them.
The river flow speeds up south of Sunrise Highway. It is a series of smaller channels sometimes referred to as braided. All rivers and creeks on the south shore become divided as they reach sea level. Their velocity slows down and clear solid banks disappear. They are part of a tangle of shrubs, trees, roots, and wet muddy soil.
I delighted in the mares tails. These plants descended from giant trees that grew 300 million years ago! They have thin needle-like leaves and with imagination, look like upside down tails of horses. Skunk Cabbages plants with exceptionally large leaves. This is an adaptation to gather the dim lighting conditions in the marshes where they live. Behind them, cinnamon fern – tall, feathery with light tan fruiting sprouts.
I came across phlox, a delightful tall wildflower with four pink petals in bunches on top. I watched a catbird standing in a puddle. It has a dark back, perfect for lurking in pepperbush shadows, another wetland bush. The bark of tupelo trees is very attractive. It resembles alligator skin. These trees are easily seen from the paths.