Welcome back, everyone! I have a great park to tell you all about this week, my recent trip to the Massapequa Reservoir located directly off of Sunrise Highway and just east of the Massapequa Train Station.
It was a gorgeous sunny spring morning and Steven and I were up and ready bright and early for our weekend birding adventure. I was very excited because we were heading out to Bethpage State Park which I had heard great things about for years but had never actually gone to see for myself. After a fairly long drive out to Bethpage from our home in Ronkonkoma, we began to notice that something was not seeming quite right. Areas of the park were closed off to the public, tons of trucks and safety cones lined the roads, parking areas, and even some lawns. I began to get that familiar feeling that I had done it again, rushed into visiting a park without doing my proper research. I casually jumped on my phone to figure out what could be going on and then the lightbulb lit above my head, the PGA tour. No, the tour had not begun yet but the park was buzzing like a beehive to get ready for one of the island’s biggest events. I sheepishly explained to Steven that Bethpage State Park was probably not the best choice for the day and we both had a good laugh that somehow we both managed to forget about such a big event and that was when Steven came up with an idea. He used to work in Massapequa, which was not so far away, and remembered there being a park nearby where he would occasionally go to have his lunch on nice days. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, but anything was better than having to call the day a bust and go home empty-handed. I was about to be very pleasantly surprised!
We pulled into a small dirt parking area alongside Sunrise Highway which parallelled train tracks and was lined with a few trees and shrubs. “This is it?” I remember thinking disappointedly just before he showed me to a tunnel leading under the tracks and into the park. The glittering sun reflecting off of the large lake was nearly blinding as we stepped out of the shadows of the tunnel. Half a dozen anglers lined the shore flipping their lines in the water trying to attract anything from Largemouth Bass to Rainbow Trout, Crappies and Carp. A set of utility wires ran overhead above the elevated tracks on which rested a Mourning dove cooing, serenely overlooking the pond. Double-crested Cormorants swam over the calm water and the sound of a hundred Red-winged Blackbirds sounded form the trees all around us. American Robins walked along the trail and the excitement rushed through me to begin exploring.
We Headed right to begin the loop trail around the reservoir immediately spotting a large Great Egret perched majestically in a small tree just off the trail. Canada Geese floated across the still water and Red-Winged Blackbirds seemed to fill every tree; apparently unphased by our presence as they allowed us to approach them within mere feet of where they stood. The trail was level, clear, and easy to navigate with plenty of room for passing cyclists and joggers to maneuver around those of us out for more leisurely activities. The expected visitors all made their entrances, Double-crested Cormorants flying in to skid across the waters surface, American Robins hunting breakfast along the path and pulling berries from freshly flowering trees, Northern Cardinals glowing from leafless branches like jewels in a dusky cave.
The commotion of spring erupted all around us as the world seemed to wake from its winter slumber. Flowers yawned and stretched open soaking up the new sun. Trees reached out their arms making room for neon buds of newborn leaves. And birds sang out from every direction, their calls carrying on the fresh warm breeze. As I stood, my camera pointed to the tangle of branches above me trying to snag an unobscured photo of an American Robin a Yellow-rumped Warbler landed as if to investigate what I was doing, watching on curiously and allowing for a few photos of his own. The path turned as we reached the far end of the lake, another Great Egret stood in the shallows staring intently at the reed-strewn water in search of fish. A scattering of Chipping Sparrows hopped about the muddy shore, weaving in and out of grasses and bramble. A Pair of Mallards drifted by, drawing our eye to a beautiful bridge up ahead that would leed over Massapequa Creek and allowed us to continue along the trail.
Hoards of Mallards congregated beneath the bridge as the water babbled below forming Massapequa Creek and running beyond the park. Informational signs along the trail identified invasive water plants as well as flora in the area. A trail map was also mounted nearby showing the different trails in the area and an option to continue on along the creek (a great idea for another day I do believe!). We crossed the bridge, greeted by the sweet serenade of Song Sparrows upon the other side and a group of Canada Geese wading along the shore. Blue Jays dotted the trees up ahead and more signage posted along the trail this time warning of GIANT KILLER ANTS!!!
I have to admit Steven and I had to stop and have a good laugh over these signs, several more being seen along the rest of the trail. They were a series of highly comical posters warning of rather extreme consequences for speeding bicyclists, rude park visitors and littering… but mostly aimed at bicyclists. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that we all need to share the parks and outdoor areas of this lovely island with one another, regardless of our interests and hobbies, but there are the occasional bicyclists that seem to forget that they are not the only people in the park. Or that a trail is often intended for everyone, regardless of if they are cycling, walking, jogging, or just taking in the sights. The difference being that a person speeding by on a bicycle can seriously injure someone while you don’t often hear of many people being run over by a fisherman or hiker.
About three-quarters of our way around the lake, we came upon an area of the shore with a wall of thick reeds and a small circular clearing within it where a magnificent Mute Swan was tending her nest. Canada Geese and Mallards scattered the water about the area and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet perched on a nearby sapling. We rounded the bend and the tracks of the LIRR came into view once again, as always a sadness filled me as I realized we had reached the beginning once again and our hike was coming to an end. I had been so blown away by this unexpected adventure that I was not ready to stop, I wanted to see more, to keep exploring. A large group of House Sparrows flitted within a mass of tangled branches covering a chain-link fence separating the park from the tracks.
Since the trail was quite a bit shorter than we had anticipated walking and the day as still fairly young Steven decided to go check out how the fishermen were making out while I explored a little longer. Leafless branches encased a small chainlink fence that ran the front of the preserve and housed dozens of hidden House Sparrows, singing from their camouflage. Mallards rooted about the shallow stream crossing the park entrance. just as before, Red-winged Blackbirds continued to call out all around me seemingly unconcerned with how close I wandered towards them in hopes of a clearer shot. Up ahead a Yellow-rumped Warbler flitted about a bare tree while a large snapping turtle watched on contently from the shallow water just beyond the shore of the reservoir. As my eyes rose to the sky to meet the call of two passing Great-blue herons I knew it was time to take my final look at the beautiful shimmering water and head back to Steve to be on our way.
I absolutely love trips like these, when I’m introduced to these amazing places that I had never known of before. I have driven past the parking lot that we used today thousands of times in my life and had never known this little gem of a park ever existed. This is truly an amazing spot for anyone who enjoys the outdoors, be it biking, jogging, fishing, birding or anything else. I am already looking forward to coming back again because, as is my opinion most of the time, once is just never enough. Until next time my friends, Happy Birding!