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Tucked behind the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery, this little gem of a preserve includes some of the oldest forest on Long Island. Perhaps because the terrain is so steep that farming was impossible, the woodlands around St. John’s Pond were not cut repeatedly by settlers.
As the trail climbs a steep slope, then heads down the to the pond on the other side, it passes giant tulip trees and mighty oaks that loom over gnarled groves of tall mountain laurel shrubs.
Extremely rare on Long Island for two centuries, the secretive, 3- to 4-foot-long river otter may be making a comeback on the island—one was photographed at the preserve in December 2008 gobbling up a fish in the pond’s icy water!
Bird watchers and other nature lovers and students of all ages have long been drawn to the preserve’s varied habitats and plethora of wildlife. Combined with a trip to the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery, it’s a great destination for families. If you live locally and are interested in becoming a preserve monitor or steward, please email Derek Rogers, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you proceed along the nature trail, you’ll get a good look at how changes in topography lead to transitions from in habitat. Red oak, chestnut oak, yellow birch and black birch form the canopy of the relatively dry, upland woods. Below them grow an understory of mountain laurel, with Canada mayflower and large stands of hay-scented fern carpeting the forest floor. Next, you’ll encounter a lowland, wet woods habitat where red maple, tupelo, and stately tulip trees tower above dogwood, spicebush, and sweet pepperbush.
Finally, as you approach the mucky soils along the pond’s edge, you will come upon a woodland swamp, with sphagnum moss growing on downed logs. As you walk, look out for red foxes, flying squirrels, opossums, raccoons and eastern moles. If you’re lucky, you could get a glimpse of a river otter in or near the pond. Muskrats and turtles also make their home around the pond. St. John’s Pond is a haven for birds as well, from migrating songbirds to hawks and great horned owls.
The appearance of skunk cabbage in the swamp and the blooming of woodland wildflowers are among the highlights of spring, along with the waves of spring warblers and other migrants stopping to rest on their journey north. In summer, ospreys may be fishing in the pond as you explore the lush cinnamon ferns and other tropical-looking vegetation near the water’s edge. It’s worth a trip to see the autumn foliage spectacle, beginning with the red maples and tupelo turning shades of burgundy and scarlet, and the avian migrants making their way back to warmer southern climes. In winter, you can get a good look at buffleheads and other beauties bobbing and diving in the pond.
This 14-acre preserve is located in Cold Spring Harbor, New York.