Welcome back everyone, I am so excited to tell you all about this weeks adventure! Back in late May 2019 Steven and I went on a trip to Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve in Smithtown, NY. We were completely unfamiliar with this park before this trip and did not really know what to expect but had admittedly high hopes. We were not disappointed! In fact, I was so blown away by this park that I decided this could not be covered properly in simply one trip so this will be a two-part review!
Pulling up to the park it was well marked and easy to find with a decently sized gated parking lot (for Smithtown residents only. Non-residents may only park in the lot when they are a guest of a permit holding resident and will be charged a $12 parking fee.) We parked a few blocks away on a residential side street and walked over to the park entrance, stopping for a trail map at the booth along the road. Our first steps into the park were overwhelming, with things to see in every direction. Bright red Barns with trails of waddling Canada Geese, Perfectly manicured lawns with children’s parks and rides far off in the distance and proud blowing flags surrounded by decorative cannons. We walked up the dirt road past House Sparrows rolling in the dusty trails and besides European Starlings searching the grass for breakfast. American Robins rested in the shade of an antique water tower at our right while the sound of small animals caught our attention to the left.
I had had no idea there would be farm animals out for visitors to interact with and I will fully admit that my surprise and excitement overcame me for a brief while. We quickly made our way over to the wooden pens housing fancy rabbits, chickens, goats and a myriad of other animals. House Sparrows and American Robins hopped about the dirt pen floors searching for scraps of feed and clumps of fur for their nests. A Baltimore Oriole watched on from a wooden fence post, its warm colors glowing in the early sun. Dragging myself away (I could easily spend the entire day playing with animals) we continued on towards the trailhead and what looked like a crumbled pirate ship marking its beginning. Yellow Warblers perched overhead from thick limbs of massive trees and curious chipmunks raced about the grasses and stones around our feet.
The trailhead was nestled beside an information/staff building with one of the most beautiful displays out in front of it. A replica pirate ship sat marooned amongst stones and barrels cascaded with nets and a breathtaking fountain, alive with shimmering goldfish. I truly cannot say enough positive things about this park but the one thing that stands out so strongly to me is the fact that none of their “decorations” were done randomly. Everything we saw throughout our trip, and there are many examples of this throughout the day, was beautiful but more importantly, it engaged the environment and the wildlife around it. We wound up standing by this pond for nearly 45minutes because I was afraid to leave and miss something happen. From birds to chipmunks to gem-colored dragonflies, the display enticed them in to drink from its trickling water and rest in its protected shadows. This is truly a location that focuses on the experiences of everyone- be it the thriving flora, the abundant wildlife, or the patrons coming to enjoy it all. There are very few places that I have been to that I would be able to give such a compliment to and there is something extremely special to be said of that.
Above us, Baltimore Orioles shone like fire between the bright green leaves of a towering tree while an American Robin bathed in the cool water of the trickling fountain. Shimmering goldfish darted by unphased by a resting Chipmunk stopping by the waters edge for a cool drink. A Gray Catbird watched on stoically from a neighboring fencepost, seemingly tasked with the burden of reporting on all the morning’s activities. To our left was the trail entrance, hugged in a narrow passage of lush greenery beside which a beautiful display of birdhouses stood to inform us of which species dwells within each and setting a tone of excitement for the hike to come. The call of songbirds beckoned from within the trail and off we went to find as many as we could.
Stepping onto the trail felt as though we were entering a new park altogether. All the open lawns, buildings, animal pens, it was all gone and replaced with nothing more than walls of lush green all around you and a thin dirt path to walk along. Black-Capped Chickadees darted in and out of the thick cover of trees and rooted about the bramble-strewn floor dining on a buffet of moths. An Eastern Wood-Pewee glided from branch to branch, in and out of the spotlight of the sun through the leaves, watching on as we walked (Later, with the help of my friends on whatbird.com I found out that this bird was actually an Alder Flycatcher, a Lifebird for me!). Suddenly through the dense green I saw a flash of color and felt that familiar feeling that all of us bit by the birding bug know so well, a lifer was closeby. The lemon yellow glow of a Magnolia Warbler beamed from the canopy above us and my heart raced as my camera clicked away. This is now one of the most striking birds that I have had the privilege of viewing here on Long Island, its bright pattern breathtaking against the monochromatic backdrop of leaves and trees. In the distance, cherry-red Northern Cardinals shone through the woods along with the drilling percussion of a hunting Hairy Woodpecker. Now, anyone who knows me (or has read a few of my articles) knows there is one thing that I love in a birding spot… water! and according to my map, we were coming up to a pond very shortly. Up ahead the trees spread out into the start of a clearing and Blue Jays sparkled from treetops.
The air cooled as the fresh smell of water filled our lungs and the bright sun fought the shadows for its chance to dance over the pond’s surface. A pair of Mallards slept in the serenity, the silence broken only by the low croak of Green Frogs coming from all around us. The water stirred like a boiling pot, alive with Sunfish and Largemouth Bass. Swimming along the shore their backs protruded above the surface, the water too shallow to fully cover them. At our backs, a beautifully painted sign displayed the plants and wildlife common to the pond, a large memorial stone sitting at its side. An American Robin scurried about the opposite shoreline, drawing our eyes to a stone fountain keeping the water from going stagnant. Painted Turtles and Red-eared Sliders seamed to dot the scene like sprinkles on a cupcake, coming and going from every direction in a range of sizes. Baltimore Orioles and Yellow Warblers hung in the trees giving the illusion of being in a citrus grove, their numbers greater than I personally have seen before.
As much as I hated to do so, we reluctantly began to move on from the pond. After all, another one was on the map only a few steps ahead, and a Hairy Woodpecker was beckoning us back to the trail. One last look over our shoulder from a beautiful little peek-a-boo spot a few feet up the trail and then we were off. Northern Cardinals continued to adorn the trees along the path and within only a few moments we were turning into the second “pond”. Well… let’s say that the second pond did not live up to the beauty and excitement of the first one. Rather, this new pond was more realistically a large puddle but there was a family of Canada Geese who seemed to be enjoying it very much. Surrounded by bushes and tall grasses Gray Catbirds perched about and called out as we looked on at their secret oasis.
Back on the move and a Common Yellowthroat flitted about the treetops while again Eastern Wood-Pewee’s began to appear amidst the trees. Emerging from the shade of the woods we emerged on a large grassy field where songbirds hid beneath the leafy ground cover, taunting me with their mocking calls. A Red-eyed Vireo watched on in delight from a nearby tree. We continued on, hoping to catch a glimpse of those hiding beneath the grass to no avail. The path soon darkened with shadows once again as the trees thickened along our sides, Gray Catbirds filling in the brambles and Blue Jays calling out from far up branches. Suddenly the sun broke through again and I was filled with excitement once more, we were coming upon the apple orchard. That’s right, there is an apple orchard here too, right there next to the kitchen sink!
Once again there was a beautifully painted sign displaying the species of birds visitors may see in the area, and the sun was shining down brighter than ever. I stood still for a few moments, on the edge of the shadowed trail and the blazing sun-drenched orchard, allowing my eyes time to adjust. Suddenly I heard a very strange call, one I certainly had never heard before in my life. Now, I am going to be very clear when I say that I am terrible at recognizing bird calls. I simply do not have the ear or memory for it. But still, you know when there is one so different from ones you have heard before. I started to get that excited rush come over me once again as I cautiously scanned the trees with my eyes for the caller. There it was, my second lifer of the day and a beautiful bird at that, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak! I will admit I spent a good amount of time with him, trying to get a good photograph while not spooking him away (of course he didn’t want to come down from the very tip of the trees where a good photo was nearly impossible). Blue Jays called their familiar bellowing calls from throughout the mass of trees. American Robins and Baltimore Orioles continued to be a common visitor, perching on branches along the road.
Beside the orchard was a lovely little garden, again taking the flora, fauna, and visitor into consideration rather than just aesthetics. It was composed of plants rescued from the Pine Barrons and held many nest boxes and informational signs for guests. From here we could start to see the beginnings of the end, buildings that we had seen from the trails head were now again coming into view. We made our way back up towards the start, passing a beautiful butterfly garden and a chipping sparrow enjoying the cooling-off of a mud puddle as we went!
At this point, I don’t think I really even need to say that I highly recommend coming to this park for yourself, but I will anyway. Wear plenty of bug spray and bring water and a lunch so you can spend plenty of time because there truly is just so much to see. I honestly cannot say enough about this location, in fact, my next article will be a part 2 to this one because the very next week Steven and I came back with my mother-in-law to show her just how amazing it was! Hoyt Farm Nature preserve is something very special and my only regret is not having experienced it sooner. The people who work at the facility were helpful and extremely knowledgeable, with great tips and insight on where to look for different species I was trying to hone in on. This is absolutely going to be added on to a short list of my top favorite places to visit on this beautiful island. Until next time my friends, Happy Birding!