Welcome back everyone, finally, we had sunshine for the weekend!! Yesterday we decided to take a trip out to Robert Cushman Murphy County Park in Manorville. Well, if only it had been that easy. I have never had an experience like this before in all of my life. Birding and getting out to new parks is truly my favorite thing to do and it makes me blissfully happy. This trip… well let’s just say it brought out an uglier side of me. I was so frustrated and confused that I actually got to the point of saying, “I give up! let’s turn around and go home!”. Luckily, my amazing and patient husband knew not to listen to me and continued on.
The Parks Official webpage is a part of the Suffolk County Parks website, as is the case with most county parks. There is nothing wrong with this in itself, I refer to these pages often. They give you a small summary of the most important information; Directions, address, amenities, brief description and the usual help numbers. In my experience, up until now, this information has always been very reliable and accurate… Up until now. We set our GPS to River road in Manorville/ Robert Cushman Murphy County Park (the link that comes up on the mobile site) When we arrived, to our surprise, we were not looking at a park entrance but rather two private homes and a collapsed building of some sort. Confused, we circled around for quite a while in search of any sort of helpful sign or park entrance; nothing, and when I say nothing, I mean nothing. There was never even a sign with the park name! The closest thing we found were two old weathered posts that looked as though they could have at one time held a park sign. Every time we thought we were getting close to finding something it turned out to be part of a golf course or a different park altogether. Frustrations rising and growing sick of driving over and over the same roads we pulled over and did a few google searches. There are plenty of websites out there mentioning the park, all with the same inaccurate directions, pretty much regurgitating the information on the Suffolk County Parks page. Then, I remembered reading a review in a fellow Long Islanders Blog, Amikethatlikestohike, he had run into similar frustrations on his visit but luckily he had found a park entrance eventually and following his instructions combined with a page on DiscoverLongIsland we eventually did as well.
After an extra hour and a half, at least, of driving we were able to find a boat launch mentioned by the two pages which lead us to an access point to the park. There was no sign, no parking area, and no trail; but we were able to see some landmarks that others had mentioned, so we felt fairly confident we were in the right place. After all the confusion finding the park in the first place, we decided it best not to venture too far from the car, especially considering there was no trail to follow.
Finally out of the car and back into nature, however later in the day then was planned, we were able to recollect ourselves and return a smile to our faces. The park was actually quite stunning, though very different then what I think of as a park, it felt more like we had just pulled over and walked into the woods. The variety of trees and plants made for a beautiful backdrop as well as a huge attraction for a large variety of birds. When we first walked in there was a “barn” or more accurately a half collapsed, charred and graffitied wooden structure which we had heard was a hotspot for nesting birds and swallows, in particular, however, we saw none on this trip. further in the land was scattered with birdhouses and discarded debris, such as rusted over trucks and household appliences. To clarify, the space is beautiful and does not come off as littered or vandalized, it is actually quite serene and almost ‘forgotten’ feeling. The cars actually added to the experience in a strange way, all being quite old and ‘lost in time’.
After a quick scouting out of the area, we began our search for the singers of the hundreds of songs ringing out all around us, it did not take long. Our first and most abundant sighting were Eastern Bluebirds. This was particularly exciting for me because the only sightings of this bird I had managed before today had been up in Maine. The Eastern Bluebird, in my opinion, is a bird that never disapoints; where there is one there are usually more and often they remain close by even after being startled, giving the viewer ample chances for a better look. The brilliant blue of the males back feathers and warm cinnamon brown chests made them easy to spot amongst the leafless trees and spotted the landscape with beautiful pops of color. Next to make itself known, where some of the largest White-Breasted Nuthatches I have ever seen! Their laughter-like calls echoed throughout the field and one by one we spotted them climbing up and down trunks and hanging from outstretched branches. One said bird was so large I nearly swore it was a morning dove from a distance, it was not until I enlarged a photo on my camera that I noticed its true identity! There surely is no lack of food in this area. This can also be said about the deer. Though we did not see any actual deer on our visit we did see what they had left behind, and there was a ton of it!
A little while later we were in for a real treat; one of North Americas most beautiful, and unique looking birds, the Cedar Waxwing arrived. Their high pitched thin whistle is easily picked out from other forest birds and so we were able to seek it out with little difficulty. The Cedar Waxwing is truly a magnificent sight, a sleek black mask and waxy smooth feathers make it appear almost otherworldly, and, as with the Eastern Bluebirds, it is rare that you will see one without many more in its company. As we stared up into the treetops trying to get our best view of the waxwings a lone Hairy Woodpecker caught our eye. Though it did not stay in sight long the sound of it drilling at the trees around us lingered for the remainder of our trip.
This area of the park that we decided to focus on was one of the most active spots I have ever birded, even for the time of year the park was abuzz with birds. We stayed and explored for several hours seeing many more of the same species already mentioned as well as the occasional shy Black-Capped Chickadee. At one point things seemed to quiet down and we figured it was a sign to pack it in, but that is when we realized there were a group of Red-Tailed Hawks circling overhead. Four of them to be exact, and, keeping with the trend, very large compared to those I typically see.
By the time we left any frustrations we had felt when first arriving had long passed. This trip was nothing short of magical. I felt as though we were the only two people on earth. There were no car horns, or the rumble of traffic racing by, no people jogging through or dogs barking, it was only us, the birds and the trees. This park is not for everyone! I’m not convinced even now looking back if I loved it or not. If you are someone who enjoys amenities this is not for you, if you want the security of park employees and well-marked trails, nope, not for you either. But, if you are looking for an experience I would have thought you would need to leave our busy little island to get, if you are looking to be completely alone in nature, to create your own trail and be one with the woods, then go for it! Robert Cushman Murphy County Park is enormous, I doubt we saw even 5% of the grounds, but what we saw was absolutely breathtaking a truly hidden gem. I am not going to tell you all to run out and try this park, this is a park you need to decide on for yourself. If you do decide to go, please follow a bit of advice; wear tick repellant, tell people exactly where you will be in the park, leave well earlier then you would normally because you will have trouble finding it your first time out. Will I be revisiting this park? Yes, absolutely, someday. But I am not in quite the rush I have felt from other parks I have visited. The frequency of sightings and activity is undeniable but I am not entirely sure that it outweighs the inconveniences. I am not someone who needs glitz and glam, in fact, I am usually the one complaining that there are too many amenities in parks taking away from their natural beauty. However, I definitely missed having a trail; even a makeshift dirt trail would have sufficed, but something I could have followed in order to see more of the land without fear of becoming lost. Even a sign would have been nice, I may have missed that most of all. Even now I don’t quite understand, how do you have a park without a single sign?? I assume my next visit will go smoother now that I am better prepared for what to expect and where to go, and I hope this article is helpful to you as well. Until next time my friends, Happy Birding!