Little Poxabogue Pond

 

little poxabogue pond

 

Little Poxabogue Pond is a very picturesque, shallow pond totaling eight acres in size whose northern shoreline extends close to and just south of the Narrow Lane – LIRR underpass. Its water level is usually slightly higher than its much larger neighboring pond from which it derives its Algonquin name – Poxabogue – and a small, easily forded intermittent stream connects the two. Unlike the latter, whose perimeter was cleared many years ago for farming, Little Poxabogue’s shoreline is wooded, giving it a somewhat wild feel. Tupelos and red maples dominate along the pond’s edge; these give way to oak species and a few American beeches on higher and drier ground surrounding the pond.

As with the typical coastal plain ponds found elsewhere in the Long Pond Greenbelt, Little Poxabogue Pond is largely groundwater fed, its water level fluctuating with seasonal changes in precipitation and transpiration. But unlike some of the Greenbelt’s other ponds that, in years of low water levels, reveal exposed shorelines colonized by unusual species of opportunistic plants for which the area is famous, botanists have not documented rare species at Little Poxabogue.

Over the years, I have paddled on, waded in, and skied or snowshoed across most of the Long Pond Greenbelt’s ponds in search of interesting plants and animals. One winter excursion looking for mink and long-tailed weasel tracks found me snowshoeing on the trail leading from the Narrow Lane underpass towards Poxabogue County Park, with Little Poxabogue clearly visible through the leafless forest on my right.

As soon as I had skirted a large thicket of catbriar, I left the trail and headed through the open oak forest directly to the frozen pond. Out on the ice, which seemed thick enough to support me with snowshoes distributing my weight, an unusual track caught my eye. It was the dainty pattern of a red fox, laid out as if by a pogo stick, but with an unusual dashed line running along its starboard side.

It looked as if the fox was carrying a long stick that touched the snow every so often. Should I backtrack to determine what the fox picked up, or might the answer lie ahead? Seeing that the fox tracks came out of a shoreline thicket and were headed out towards the middle of the pond, I decided to backtrack and move onto terra firma.

Picking my way through the woods, careful not to disturb the mysterious track, I pondered the possibilities, certain only that this omnivore was transporting some type of meal for itself. What could be dangling the 12 to 16 inches from the side of the fox’s mouth to the top of the snow? The tail of a gray squirrel? The foot of a cottontail rabbit? A branch laden with crab apples? Not far along the track was obliterated by an area of earth and leaves strewn about atop the snow, then continued on but lacking the dashed line.

After studying the crime scene for several minutes, the victim remained anonymous. No blood, no fur, no feathers. I guessed that the fox, with its keen sense of smell or hearing, had detected a potential meal in the ground just under a rotting log, and had obviously secured it. Perhaps the answer could be found by doubling back to the pond and following the track forward.

Back at the pond, I followed the tracks out from shore, moving a bit more cautiously. It’s one thing to break through the ice along the pond’s shallow edge; it’s an entirely different matter to do so in deep water with snowshoes strapped to each foot. I have unexpectedly stepped off snow-covered, solid ice and onto snow-covered, slush where a groundwater seep prevented freezing. The physical shock of cold water is nothing compared to the initial mental shock of breaking through.

Near the middle of the pond the guesswork was eliminated. The answer lay before me in the form of a snake, a black racer to be specific, frozen stiff as a tree branch and hardly eaten. Why had the fox abandoned this substantial protein-packed meal after carrying it so far? Why hadn’t it been consumed where it was first uncovered? How did the fox actually detect the hibernating snake? One question answered and many others brought to mind; the typical ending to a day in the field.

-Mike Bottini