Location: Yaphank, NY
Size: 700 acres
Date of hike: April 8-9, 2017
Dennis Puleston Warbler Woods Preserve is another hiking spot I never knew existed until I happened to pass it while driving. I was heading home after meeting a friend for a quick hike at Prosser Pines Nature Preserve in Middle Island when I saw the preserve's sign along Yaphank Middle Island Road. Without hesitation, I stomped my brakes and made a U-turn.
The parking area is big enough to fit two (maybe three) cars and is located on the east side of Yaphank Middle Island Road, north of Shannon Boulevard and south of the Middle Island Country Club. Before exploring, I pulled out my cell to research the preserve's history and habitats. To my surprise, it isn't listed on the Suffolk County Parks Department's website. Instead, one of the first websites I came across belonged to the Dennis Puleston Osprey Fund, which looks like it was last updated in 2010. Apparently, the website offered a live stream of ospreys at the preserve from 2003-2009, and now serves as a database of the various videos and still pictures recorded over the seven years of the camera's operation. The website also said that Puleston's study of declining osprey population in the 1960s attributed their dwindling numbers to high levels of the insecticide DDT in the food chain, causing a thinning of their egg shells. Puleston and a few friends subsequently sued the government, sparking a movement that would result in the banning of DDT and lead to the creation of the Environmental Defense Fund. Puleston passed away in 2001, the site said.
Armed with that knowledge, I set off to explore Warbler Woods. Unfortunately, there was no trail map at the preserve's entrance, so I made sure to bring my cell and extra battery power to pinpoint my location on GPS. Almost instantly, I was met with a choice of taking a left or right path. I chose right and followed a trail that, for a while, ran parallel to the backyards of homes along Shannon Boulevard. But within minutes, I realized that wasn't the only choice with regard to the preserve's paths. The trails, which were unmarked, seemed to branch off constantly in all different directions. Also, there wasn't a soul in sight. The solitude kind of reminded me of Manorville Hills County Park, which I'd hiked last year. However, Manorville Hills is a well-marked hiking spot, while Warblers Woods has no trail markers. Zero. Zilch. It's probably impossible to find your way back to the preserve's entrance without using GPS. It's the kind of place where you can walk the same trail multiple times and not even know it.
Since I'd already hiked Prosser Pines that afternoon, I left after a couple hours and returned the following day set to hike the entirety of Warbler Woods. This second visit lasted around four hours. This time I took the left trail, which I found to be more my style. Within minutes, I passed a string of ponds and a handful of deer, which hurried away before I could get close. I also spotted a wooden hunting platform installed halfway up one tree and what appeared to be a deer skull hanging from another tree. Obviously, this preserve is a deer hunting ground. Despite the hunting evidence, there were several "No Hunting" signs in parts of the preserve, including the areas adjacent to the homes along Shannon Boulevard. I later read online that the preserve is open for archery hunting during some winter months. Luckily, we were firmly in the midst of spring, so I didn't need to worry about any arrows whizzing right by my head.
I hiked the left trail all the way to the preserve's northwesternmost point, where it intersected with Middle Island Country Club. A few golfers waved to me. I also came upon the ballfields for Longwood Junior High School. From there, I hiked south until I encountered what looked like some ongoing construction. Paths wide enough to fit vehicles had been cut through the sea of pine trees, with a bright red fire hydrant installed in the middle of one man-made trail. Given the preserve's size, I expected to encounter other oddities, but there was none of that in Warbler Woods. The most unusual things I glimpsed were a rusty old bed frame and two dilapidated cars. There were also two royal-looking concrete pieces sitting on both sides of the right trail near the entrance that made it feel like I was entering some magical kingdom.
My music was a shuffle of progressive metal with one tune really standing out: Redemption's "Transcendence." It’s the closing track from the band's 2005 release, The Fullness of Time, with introspective lyrics that literally made me stop in my tracks and listen. Sure, I've heard the song before, but it had been a while. It was almost like I was hearing it for the first time. "The smoke has finally cleared, and I can see the wreckage of my past that lies about me," Ray Alder sang. "Now, it's all become so clear, and I have learned the truth behind the lies and seen the lies within the truth." I couldn't help by sing along inside the empty preserve.
Overall, I'd definitely recommend checking out the wooded ravines and kettle hole ponds of Dennis Puleston Warblers Woods Preserve. It's the perfect spot if you're seeking solitude. While nearby Prosser Pines Nature Preserve and Cathedral Pines County Park are lovely, they attract a lot of hikers and bikers, respectively. With Warbler, all you'll see are trees.