Brinton Brook Gets Ready

Brinton Brook sign
Brinton Brook sign. Photo: Joseph Wallace

The ringing call of a Pileated Woodpecker. The late-season grunt of a Gray Tree Frog. The scuttle and squeak of the ever-present chipmunks. The underlying hum of countless bees amidst a field of wildflowers.

The sounds of SMRA’s Brinton Brook Sanctuary preparing for fall.

This preserve may not be Westchester’s most renowned, but in its beauty and diversity—forest, stream, pond, and meadow all packed into156 acres—it’s one of my favorites. Two visits, one in May and one this week, helped me discover why.

In the spring, Brinton Brook is a cacophony. The pond (shading into a marsh on its edges) is home to a plethora of green and bullfrogs, every male of both species seeming to compete at full lung capacity for available mates. Meanwhile, the woods surrounding the pond resound with the calls of tree frogs.

Green Frog. Photo: Joseph Wallace

Given the relentless assault on the world’s amphibian populations by habitat loss, climate, overuse of pesticides, the rapidly spreading fungal disease chytridiomycosis, and other factors, to find a protected pond and woods that host a robust frog population is especially heartening.

Adding to the spring chorus are the birds passing through or choosing to nest in the preserve: Wood Ducks with their very unducklike calls, the nasal notes of Scarlet Tanagers and more liquid songs of Baltimore Orioles, and many others.

Even on a summery day, the early fall is quieter, more subtle in its sounds: The occasional call of a frog almost seems out of place and the birdsong is reduced largely to the rattle of a Red-bellied Woodpecker and the always thrilling sound of a Pileated. You have to pause and listen carefully to notice the insect hum.

New England Aster and Goldenrod in Brinton Brook meadow. Photo: Joseph Wallace

The hustle and bustle is now mostly visual: The chipmunks race back and forth, their cheek pouches bulging with nuts for the winter, the woodpeckers are busy on dead snags, and the meadow is alive both with goldenrod and asters and an abundance of insects. (Itself a heartening sight.)

These include not only bees, wasps, and butterflies (monarchs stocking up for migration and many smaller species), but more subtle sights as well. These include a species whose existence I first learned of during my recent visit: the green-and-brownish/orange Short-winged Meadow Katydid, hopping amid the long grass stems everywhere along the trail.

I’m already looking forward to my first winter visit to Brinton Brook. I’m sure it will be quieter still. But I also know that there will always be new things to see and hear…as long as I take the time to slow down, look, and listen.