Welcome back, everyone. I truly am so excited to tell you all about a trip I took back in early May of 2019 to Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve. This was Steven and my first time visiting this park and I must say that we were absolutely blown away and I am eager to return again soon to continue exploring all that this unique park has to offer. Caumsett State Park is located in Lloyd Harbor on a peninsula extending into the Long Island Sound. This being said, walking through the park one feels as though walking through countries. I have never been to a park that has provided such an amazing experience. As you will soon see from the upcoming photos, the trail we chose to explore led us from exquisite flowering gardens to large grassy fields, woods to a bramble encaged pond and finally leading out to a secluded beach and views of the sound. The day we chose to go was rather grey skied with on and off drizzles of rain but it had no effect on the beauty of this location, in fact, the threat of rain left us nearly alone in the park, our own secret wonderland, and the birds were calling!
We parked our car in a large paved parking area (pay to park) which was monitored by several staff members so it was easy enough to ask directions to the areas of the park we most wanted to see. There was so much to see right off the bat that I felt like a child, eager to run in every direction with no plan at all. European Starlings peppered the lush green grass between walkways and House Sparrows hopped about the gravel, flitting in and out of a nearby building. We made our way to the beginning of the trail which was conveniently right off of the parking area and hardly had to walk at all before we saw a sign marking the entrance to The Walled Garden.
Breathtaking. This is the only way to describe the feeling of first walking into the garden. I have seen photos of places like these, mostly in wedding albums, but figured aside from visiting a botanical garden or somewhere else specifically designed for such attractions I was unlikely to simply stumble upon such beauty. Dozens of Savannah Sparrows walked the pathways and hid amidst the thick green lawn, their yellow lores trickling in seamlessly amongst the dandelions. Rows of bright Fushia Crabapple trees sprawled out from all directions, raining pink petals down around White-Throated Sparrows and groups of lemon yellow daffodils. Northern Mockingbirds perched atop crimson red bushes while the trickle of the fountain separated you from the sounds of the outside world. Benches and Statues dotted the pathways and I felt as though I could stay here forever, but our trail had hardly begun and rain was on the horizon.
Back on the trail and full of excitement we walked on past several large lawns and old buildings with the view of horses off in the distance. American Robins and Canada Geese strolled about the grass unphased by our intrusion while Savannah Sparrows and American Goldfinches hid amongst the flowers. Even a Chipping Sparrow or two came to join the party.
As we approached the horses at the Lloyd Harbor Equestrian Center signs were displayed warning of ticks in the grasses off of the trails as well as warnings not to feed the horses (and the electric fence!) A Red-tailed Hawk circled the sky above while a troop of Barn Swallows danced over the pasture at our side. Ahead the path led to the shadowy cover of tall dense trees and thick woods. Gray Catbirds, Chipping Sparrows, American Robins, and chipmunks monitored the trail as we passed, watching intently from their perches. As the shade of the trees broke not long after and sun found its way to our faces once again we saw that finally, we had reached the Marshall Field Estate Mansion, the iconic image of the park, and the marker that Fresh Pond was not far away. As if that was not exciting enough a Lifebird was sitting right there out front to greet us, a beautiful lone Ovenbird!
The mansion was majestic, standing silently forgotten alone in the woods. Ivy crawled its corners and nests filled the cills of oversized windows. Chipping Sparrows hopped about cracking steps beside wrought iron railings. A regal osprey sat securely in his nest atop the building’s chimney overlooking the pond still hiding behind.
Walking around the mansion we set our eyes on one of Long Islands’ greatest landscapes. The pond carved out its spot in the bright green rolling grass with the shimmering blue waters of the Long Island Sound stretching out beyond it. Then, we saw the way to the pond and I must admit that I was a bit concerned. It had already been a rather long walk and now we were looking at a fairly dramatic decline down to the waterfront. Going down would be no problem, but the impending hike back up stuck in my mind like a bee sting. Regardless, we did not come all this way to stop now, so down we went. I am not going to sugar coat this, this is a difficult hill and I recommend doing some real self-evaluation before attempting this- remember, what goes down must come back up!
A Painted Turtle sat basking on a fallen log off the edge of the pond. Gray Catbirds and a Northern Waterthrush combed the shore for a quick snack. No longer on the comfort of a paved path, the ground beneath us was soft with a carpeting of wet fallen leaves and mined with knots of brambles and vines. Off across the water, a large Mute Swan floated serenely across the way of an American Black Duck. Blue Jays screamed their familiar calls from the treetops and Black and White Warblers flitted from branch to outstretched branch. As we walked on further to the far side of the pond our watery view grew more and more obscured by thick walls of water reeds and grasses, our ears filling with the sounds of Red-Winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles our noses with the salty air of the ocean. Suddenly, a rusty blur buzzed by mere inches from my eye and disappeared into the brush. My heart quickened with that rush that every birder knows so well, it was a color I had not seen often before and I was now determined to find its owner. I leaned against a tree opposite the knotted brambles and waited, silently. Only a few moments later it emerged, a stunning Brown Thrasher and my second lifer of the day!
We walked through a section of scraggly woods to the open beach and soaked up the view of the sound. I was surprised how desolate it seemed, empty besides a congregation of Atlantic Brants standing on a jetty off in the distance. We stood for a short moment, breathing in the fresh air and watching over the open water, walking only a short distance up and down the shore before deciding to start heading back.
We followed yet another Ovenbird most of the way back around the pond, more Blue Jays seeming to make their way in. We looked up the hill, even more, daunting now looking up from the bottom. With a steady mist falling from the sky the grass was slick and I feared we would surely be taking a slide or two back down in our efforts. We took a deep breath and off we went. No easy task I assure you after such a long day already but we managed and the bench waiting at the top was the perfect reward. We sat and enjoyed the magnificent view, catching our breath and having a needed break for some water. American Robins and Northern Cardinals walked the lawn around us and before long we were up on our way once again. The hammering of a Red-bellied Woodpecker echoed from a large tree beside the trail and a female Northern Cardinal bathed in a large puddle forming as the mist grew to rain. A Veery, not a lifer but the first one I have spotted within New York, perched quietly ahead while Black and White Warblers continued to dart by back and forth.
Before I knew it we were back passing by the horses and despite being wet and running out of steam I was saddened to know that our adventure was coming to an end. House Sparrows seemed to be the only species willing to brave the weather and remain out in the open, hopping around the grass. We made our way back to the car, glad we had thought ahead to bring extra clothes and towels. Before packing up and pulling away I took one last scan of the scenery just in time to spot a Red-Tailed Hawk before calling it a day.
This park is truly exceptional and I feel confident saying that it is unlikely we will find another quite like it. Best of all, there is plenty left that I still have not seen so adventure still calls! I cannot wait until I can revisit Caumsett State Park and I cannot recommend highly enough that you see it for yourself as well. Bring a lunch and plenty of water because there is so much to see and it would be a shame to have to leave early. If you go to the park’s website, which I have put a link to at the beginning of the article, you will find a park map as well as a birding checklist of species one may see in the area. Until next time my friends, Happy Birding!