Tags Posts tagged with "Stony Brook Harbor"

Stony Brook Harbor

Photo by Carl Safina


Carl Safina of Setauket captured this incredible sight during a visit to Stony Brook Harbor on May 4. He writes, “The moon was full but the sky was overcast. The combination created something I’ve never seen before: moonbeams coming spectacularly through clouds.”

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File photo

Suffolk County Police Homicide Squad detectives are investigating the death of a woman who was
found in her car in the water in Stony Brook on March 26.

Sixth Precinct police officers responded to Stony Brook Boat Ramp, located on Shore Road, after a 911
caller reported a vehicle in the water at approximately 6:45 a.m. Officers located Harriet Farish inside a
2020 Kia Telluride in the water. Farish, 76, of Stony Brook, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Detectives are asking anyone with information on the incident to call the Homicide Squad at 631-852-


William Honor snapped this stunning photo of Stony Brook Harbor at sunset on Jan. 30. Did you know that sunsets are actually more vivid in the winter? It’s all science! The Earth spins closer to the sun in winter, and the angle the sun takes setting makes sunset colors last a bit longer. Humidity is also lower in the winter, and the air is cleaner, causing purer colors to be splashed across the sky.

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Philip Doesschate captured this rare sighting of a coven of witches making a quick getaway on paddleboards and kayaks in Stony Brook Harbor on Oct. 29 after they misplaced their brooms. The well-received event was actually Stony Brook Harbor Kayak and Paddleboard Rentals’ first annual Witches Sunset Paddle in celebration of Halloween.

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Stony Brook Harbor. Photo by Elyse Buchman

By John L. Turner

It was on a rising tide in mid-afternoon, on an 82-degree late summer day, that I slipped into the opening of the kayak, placed my feet on the rudder controls and pushed off the gently sloping bank in the southern reaches of Stony Brook Harbor, not too far from the famous Hercules Pavilion positioned along the harbor’s edge. 

Stony Brook Harbor. Photo by John Turner

Even in shallow, foot-deep water I was easily able to ply the kayak along the shoreline. The first view that drew my attention were nine bright white, long-necked wading birds. Egrets they were, both the larger American Egret and the more diminutive Snowy Egret feeding in the shallow water of the creek that spills from the Stony Brook Grist Mill. Their likely targets were small, two-inch long baitfish, schools of which I would repeatedly see in the hours ahead as I explored the harbor. 

Within a couple of minutes I had plied across a deeper channel running alongside Youngs Island and moments later alongside one of the many marsh islands found within the harbor.   

For the next four hours I explored the many gifts Stony Brook Harbor had to offer — red beard sponges, several species of floating seaweeds, fiddler crabs scuttling across sand flats, baby horseshoe crab molts, the aforementioned baitfish and their pursuers — baby bluefish known as snappers, snapping the placid tension of the water surface — countless shells, and, of course, the birds: Double-crested Cormorants (many, comically, with their wings outstretched, drying in the sun); more long-necked and long-legged wading birds; a small plover pulling on a long red worm; the plaintive, three part call of Greater Yellowlegs; the ubiquitous gulls; and an adult Bald Eagle, dominating the sky over the southern edge of the harbor. 

Like tiny sailboats, many bird feathers floated over the placid surface of the water during the visit, a tell-tale sign that late summer is a time for many birds to molt by replacing older worn out feathers with new ones.  

That small plover was not a Piping Plover but its darker colored cousin — the Semipalmated Plover, so named because its feet are partially webbed. A handsome bird the color of chocolate on the top of its head and back, a bright white belly, breast, and throat offset by a black chest band and line through the eye, and an orange bill and yellow-orange legs, the Semipalmated Plover breeds in the far north; this bird probably flew south from Labrador, Nova Scotia, or Northern Quebec, but perhaps even further north in its breeding range above the Arctic Circle, to make its way to Stony Brook Harbor on its much longer journey to the Caribbean or South America.

The same is true for the Greater Yellowlegs, a slightly larger shorebird with a salt-and-pepper plumage with, you guessed it! — bright yellow legs. The plover was feeding in a sand/mud flat and the three yellowlegs in very shallow water adjacent to the flat. Suddenly, the yellowlegs exploded into the air, winging away rapidly, apparently due to some danger they could (but I could not) perceive. Their emphatic calls rung out over the water, harkening to more desolate and windy places. 

This little shorebird vignette in the harbor illustrates and underscores the value it and countless other coastal embayments on the East Coast play as critical way stations for migrating shorebirds that stitch together the Northern and Southern  hemispheres. These are like the highway rest stops we use while traveling, providing opportunities for these long distance migrants to feed and rest.   

Ribbed mussels along the harbor. Photo by John Turner

As I turned south into the more open waters at the southern end of the harbor I slid by a long muddy embankment, the leading edge of a salt marsh, when two objects caught my eye — many clumps of Ribbed Mussels and dozens of Cordgrass or Spartina plants in full bloom.   

Ribbed mussels are less well-known and appreciated than the edible Blue Mussel since, unlike the latter species, they are not harvested for food. Nevertheless, they are very important to the healthy functioning of tidal wetlands. So named because of the numerous parallel ribbed lines that run the length of its shell, this species grows in bunches in the mud, often tangled in the roots of Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), with which they have a “mutualistic” or mutually beneficial relationship.  The mussels benefit from anchoring their shells, through the use of byssal threads, to the roots of Spartina and also benefit from the density of the plant shoots that makes it harder for predators, like crabs, to gain access.

The plant benefits by the waste products excreted from the mussel as it is high in nitrogen which acts as a plant fertilizer. The material also helps to build the marsh — filtering tiny organic particles out of the water column and depositing it on the marsh. Because of these important services the Ribbed mussel is referred to as an “ecosystem engineer.”   

Cordgrass in bloom along Stony Brook Harbor. Photo by John Turner

Cordgrass is the most recognizable plant of the marsh. It dominates the view of much of the harbor and along the lower elevations of the tidal marsh, with its sister species Salt Hay (Spartina patens), occurring in the higher portions. These are two of only a small number of plants that can tolerate the presence of salt and its desiccating qualities; they do this by extruding the salt from pores in the surface of the frond; take a close-up view and you can often see the salt crystals sparkling along the stems of the plant. 

Cordgrass is wind pollinated and not surprisingly, therefore, their interesting one-sided flowers aren’t showy nor do they exude nectar in an effort to lure pollinating insects. The winds care not for such things. Still, they are beautiful and arresting as the hundreds of flowers on each stalk move in the slightest breeze.  

Unfortunately, a storm cloud has appeared over the harbor that would likely compromise its beauty and ecological quality. This “cloud” is in the form of two large docks proposed on properties located in the harbor’s shallow southern end in the Village of Nissequogue. 

Despite the fact there are two commercial marinas in the northern reaches of the harbor at which a boat can be stored or the fact each property owner currently has access to launch kayaks or canoes from the shore, these residents are seeking approval to install monstrously long docks that would jut well out into the water. One is more than two hundred feet long.  

The proposed site for one of the docks. Photo by John Turner

Installing the dock pilings would be disruptive to the harbor bottom, cause turbidity and sedimentation problems, affecting wetland dependent wildlife such as diamondback terrapins (I saw a dozen terrapins floating and swimming in the southern portion of the bay on the kayak visit and fifteen from a vantage point onshore at Cordwood Park about a month earlier). 

Turbidity problems and disruption to the harbor bottom by “prop scouring” will occur each and every time boats are run out on low tide. Further, the docks will make it more difficult for you and I to walk along the shoreline as is our legal right “to pass and repass” along the shoreline as guaranteed by the Public Trust Doctrine and did I mention the ugliness and visual blight caused by the docks at a site landscape painters find inspiration? 

Perhaps of greater concern is the precedence that approval of these two docks could establish. If these are approved, what’s to stop the harbor’s “death-by-a-thousand-cuts” as several dozen other property owners ringing the harbor, through time, request the same? 

And is it reasonable to assume that, as the years roll by, these owners clamor for the very shallow southern reaches of the harbor to be dredged to ease navigation and better accommodate their boats?  Yes, it is. 

For the sake of this most special and unique place the request for these mega docks must be denied. The public interest in, and use of, Stony Brook Harbor and recognition of the significant ecological value of the harbor dictate against approval and must prevail. Will public officials heed the call?   

A resident of Setauket, John Turner is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours


‘Beween Stony Brook Harbor Tides’

If you wish to learn more about the human and natural history of Stony Brook Harbor, I encourage you to read “Between Stony Brook Harbor Tides — The Natural History of a Long Island Pocket Bay” authored by Larry Swanson and Malcolm Bowman, two professors who taught at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. The book provides an overview of the natural conditions that shape the harbor, the human imprint on the harbor, and the many species of wildlife that call it home. It is a most worthwhile read.  

— John Turner


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Elected officials, Ward Melville Heritage Organization board members and philanthropists Harlan and Olivia Fischer announced the restoration of Stony Brook’s Hercules. Photo from WMHO;

A Long Island landmark is looking more vibrant.

The Hercules figurehead near Stony Brook Harbor. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization debuted the restored Hercules figurehead at a press conference on Oct. 14. Recently, philanthropists Harlan and Olivia Fischer, of Head of the Harbor, noticed the figurehead needed restoration and decided to sponsor its renovation. 

WMHO board members thanked the Fischers and the work crew from ART of NYC & Long Island who restored the piece located in the Hercules Pavilion overlooking Stony Brook Harbor, across from the Village Center. The Holbrook-based company was retained for the restoration, which included cleaning, sanding and replastering before repairing, painting and varnishing the landmark.

Richard Rugen, WMHO chairman, said, “It’s a work in progress, but [the Fischers] are actually going to take care of the rest of the pavilion as well.”

Additional work will be done on the weather-beaten pavilion in the near future, including roof work and painting.

Harlan Fischer, president of Branch Financial Services, moved his offices from Smithtown to Setauket in 2020. Every day he passes through the village on his way to work and back, he said, and appreciates how lovely Stony Brook village is. He asked WMHO president Gloria Rocchio if she thought the renovation would be a worthwhile project, and she agreed.

“When we make contributions to places, we like to see the results of it,” he said. The Fischers are also donors to The Jazz Loft and sponsor a monthly concert series at the music venue and museum.

The full-color Hercules carving, located in Stony Brook since 1951, features the head and shoulders of the Greek demigod — known for his exceptional strength — draped in a lion’s skin. The bust was once the USS Ohio’s figurehead. The ship was the first to be launched from the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1820.

Rugen said the figurehead was saved when the ship was decommissioned, destroyed and sunk in Greenport Harbor in 1884. It was bought by the Aldrich family of Aquebogue for $10 at the time, and from the late 1800s until the early 1950s it sat at the Canoe Place Inn in Hampton Bays after the owner, Miles Carpenter, purchased it for $15. Ward Melville bought it from the inn to be placed in Stony Brook.

Brenda Sinclair Berntson, president of Hampton Bays Historical Society, said when Hercules was located at the inn, it was popular for young women to kiss his forehead, believing that the person would be married within the year.

She said the figurehead wasn’t in the best condition, rotting and termite-ridden when it was brought to Stony Brook.

“We’re very glad that Ward Melville had the foresight and saved it,” she said.

Danielle Parisi, business development manager of ART of NYC & Long Island, said as someone who grew up and still lives in Stony Brook, it was an honor to work on the project. Parisi’s co-worker, art restorer Jessie Kefalas, said in walking by the figurehead in the past it was obvious something needed to be done. There was significant damage including the rotting of the chest of Hercules, which is constructed of plaster and wood.

Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) was also in attendance and commented on the efforts.

“We’ve seen projects like this before, and so often it’s because of the community spirit of  ordinary residents who love where they live or business people who reinvest in their community,” he said.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) called WMHO “one of the custodians of our heritage.”

He added that places such as the pavilion are in danger due to rising sea levels brought on by climate change, and the spot around the structure has experienced flooding after significant rain events. In the future, he said, the Hercules Pavilion could possibly be raised to protect it further, and when such a plan comes to fruition he pledged a $125,000 matching state grant to help with the costs.

Park sitting at his favorite bench in Stony Brook Village. Photo by Barbara Anne Kirshner

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

SWEET 16! A milestone in the life of a teenager-a threshold into exciting adventures on the horizon whether it be college, military service, work, Sweet 16 ushers in all of life’s expectations with parents right there to rejoice and take pride in accomplishments awaiting their child.

BUT what if the Sweet 16 is your precious dog? In that case, 16 becomes a dreaded number foreshadowing the impending end. You look at your little charge and instead of being filled with joys for the future, you are reduced to the dread of that haunting overriding question “WHEN?” When will your companion suffer the ravages of old age? When will our time together run out? When will you experience your last day together and be forced to whisper “goodbye”?

All these thoughts fill me with dread. Park has been the BEST boy, my special little man. I’ve written about how we met; how I was hesitant to take on another dog with two at home already; how he became Park The Christmas Puppy having joined our family on Christmas 2006; how he became my traveling buddy; how strangers marveled at how good he was in his stroller as we toured local stores; and how, on numerous occasions, cars stopped, and people called out, “That is the most beautiful dog I’ve ever seen!”

Park sitting at his favorite bench in Stony Brook Village.
Photo by Barbara Anne Kirshner

Then the day came when my editor asked me to write an article on the 2014 motorcycle exhibit at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational and Cultural Center in Stony Brook Village. The curator asked me to come down on July 3, Park’s birthday. I couldn’t bear to leave my boy on his special day, so I asked if he could join and thankfully, Park was welcomed. They were impressed with how good he was as we toured the exhibit and how he let me work just as long as I was in his eyesight.

The curator suggested that Park and I stop off at the Village Green, a lush park-like section fronting quaint shops at the Stony Brook Village Center. Park and I were delighted with this picturesque spot and we rested for the first time on what was to become “Park’s Bench.” That was the first of our annual visits to this special bench overlooking Stony Brook Harbor. Every year since then, no matter what we have planned for his birthday celebration, we pause at his bench — two friends sitting and enjoying a few quiet moments together before the rest of his birthday festivities begin.

Last year Park was paralyzed, having gone down May 15, 2021, through the summer including his birthday. Then miraculously, through constant visits to the vet for treatments, he regained the use of his hind legs in late September 2021.

Now, at 16, his face shows signs of age though amazingly, he hasn’t grayed, but his eyes now lack that playful sparkle once so prevalent and that constant energy is gone. He has a decided tremor that seems to be more apparent with each passing day and lately he’s faltering again when he walks.

Yet I am blessed to have my little man at Sweet 16, to still be able to pet him and look into those loving eyes. But TIME and the BIG question “WHEN” loom large.

When Park decides he has had enough of this world, it will be one of the greatest hits in my life as there is no consolation for the loss of a loved one. The only solace for me comes from an adage from Brandon McMillan of the original Lucky Dog series:

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

A resident of Miller Place, Barbara Anne Kirshner writes theater reviews for TBR News Media and is a freelance journalist, playwright and author of “Madison Weatherbee — The Different Dachshund.