4. The Birds

    According to the papers of Clarence Ashton Wood, quoting from Frederick Chase, the most present wild life were the birds.
    “The Terns would go over in crowds from Great Gull Island to the Race to fish. No sooner would then begin to fish than the Jaegers would gather to pursue their business of robbery. They would fly around the Terns, chasing the slake of the tides when the big fish were more abundant.
    “As soon as a Jaeger spied a Tern with a fish in its bill, he would start in pursuit, He would dodge and dart as Terns would. The Jaeger pressed it closer and closer until despairing of ever eluding its purser, the poor Tern would drop the fish, which would be caught by the Jaeger before it reached the water.
    “Although the Terns were swift and graceful flyers they were no match for their larger and more powerful enemies, who when not engaged in pursuing the Terns might sometimes be seen resting singly or in flocks of four or five on the surface of the water,
    “The Jaegers while still on the wing kept the tail widely spread in the shape of a fan, the long feathers, when the birds have them, being kept close together.
    “The Terns were everywhere at all times and most exclusively on the wing.  It was a rare occurrence to see one at rest.  When one did alight it was almost always on top of some rock or on the surface of the water.
    “The Terns were very jealous of any intruder on Great Gull Island. The angry birds would congregate in one large flock directly above the object of their wrath and attempt to annoy him by every means in their power.
    “They would scream at him, circle around him, then poise in the air, set their wings, and come down like a shot, as if to transfix him with their bills. When within a few feet, they would suddenly open their wings and swerve off, only to repeat the performance again and again.
    “In the case of man, the Terns had learned by sad experience that he was not to be approached without cause, Basil says, ‘Unless we should lie still for a while in the grass or else shoot a crow or an unwary and over confident Tern for a decoy our chance of getting many were not large.
    “‘This unfortunate habit of worrying over whatever came in their way or even their own dead, however, was fatal to them for if we could by any means bring down one we could get all the others we cared for by simply using the first bird as a stool.’”
    He told the story of the Yellow Warbler, “Standing on the concrete at the foot of the tower on foggy nights and looking upward, we could see around the lantern a broad halo of light probably 100 feet in diameter. Outside of this halo was total darkness.
    “This phenomenon, I presume, was caused by the reflection and refraction of the light by the minute particles of water in the vicinity of the lantern; and the darkness beyond was due to the fact that very little, if any, of the small portion of light that penetrated beyond the 50 foot light reached the eye.
    “The migration which had just begun when I arrived could be splendidly observed by means of this patch of light. The birds could be seeing flying to and fro in all directions, generally keeping within the ring, as if reluctant to leave the region of light and go out into the darkness beyond.
    “Although it would be an easy thing to distinguish the different families from each other in the strong light of the lantern, it would take a good deal of practice to tell the species apart.
    “One species, however, was distinguishable as the birds flew back and forth -- the yellow warbler.”
    “It was, indeed, a pretty sight to see these birds flitting around, their yellow breasts and bellies illuminated by the rays from the lantern.
    “I identified but one other species in the halo, the Redstart.”
    In his 1833 diary, Keeper Chase described a storm which he called the Hurricane of December 17. The coldest night of the season, this far, had been the night of Thursday, December 12 and Friday, December 13. The four days preceding Thursday, the wind had been westerly and the weather had been “good.” On Thursday, Frederick had “boiled out” the lamps. On Thursday and Friday, the wind was north by northwest. Saturday, Frederick’s Sabbath, the wind changed to northeast and continued to come from that quarter for five days. That day it was “very cold” and “the ocean smoked like a pot of boiling water.” Sunday there was a “very heavy wind” and a snow storm during the early part of the day. Monday there were “fresh breezes” and it “looked like a storm” although it was clear during the morning.   
    Tuesday “the sea came home to the wall all around except the northeast hog pen and a small spot at the stone stairs. The stones at the north side of the wall washed away for about 220 feet in length and three or four feet in depth. “We hoisted all the boats up to the wall (and) on top of the wall, save the Little Gull boat. The storm was truly awful and nothing but a favoring hand of God in abating the tempest saved us and the little Isle from total ruin, for had the gale continued until another high water, it must have swept the top of the wall.
    “On the large island the mud machine drove all to pieces and a part of her left the Island -- it came on shore there the 21st day of October last. All watering holes and the well are full of salt water and about an acre of the Island washed away.”
    He had experienced the September gales of 1815 and 1821 on Shelter Island, and this was as bad as he had ever remembered.
    On November 30, 1830 and on April 6, 1831, Frederick Chase purchased two more plots of land on Shelter Island, one approximately 20 acres. They seem to be vestiges of the King farm south of his farm and also land south of City Road and appear in the inventory of his property when he died.

Place Called Prospect