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Tuesday, 29 September 2015 22:16

Seatuck Comments on Fire Island Plan

On the occassion of the 50th Anniversary of the Fire Island National Seashore, the National Park Service is in the process of updating its "General Management Plan" for the National Seashore and setting a course for the next fifty years The draft GMP, which was released earlier this year, was open for public comment until September 17, 2015 (although we've heard they're unofficially extended the deadline because of some website difficulty - comments can be submitted to:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

Seatuck submitted comments urging the Park Service to adhere to the National Seashore’s original and primary purpose to preserve the island’s natural resources. While the National Seashore provides wonderful recreational opportunities and accommodates culturally-rich communities, its primary purpose has always been –and must continue to be– the conservation of Fire Island’s diverse wildlife habitat and its role as a barrier for mainland Long Island. Seatuck's full comments can be downloaded here.

For more information or questions, call Enrico Nardone at (631) 581-6908.

Tuesday, 08 September 2015 23:04

Bird/Window Collisions: A Transparent Problem

Waterthrush WindowStrike 

It may come as a surprise but window collisions are the second leading cause of death to birds, right behind predation by pet and feral cats. From 330 million to as much as one billion birds are thought to perish every year from window collisions and it is one of the primary causes for why most songbirds are declining, some at an alarming rate.

While there has been a lot of press attention on large concentrations of birds flying into tall buildings in major cities and radio towers in rural areas throughout North America, it’s the collective impact of all the windows adorning America’s tens of millions of homes that’s the primary reason for the high mortality numbers.  In fact, the American Bird Conservancy estimates that each house in the country kills one to two birds annually.  Given the generally small size of the birds most homeowners are probably unaware their windows pose any risk at all to birds. 

Songbirds are the most frequent victims. Birds such as ruby- and golden-crowned kinglets, dark-eyed juncos, white-throated sparrows, black-capped chickadees, ovenbirds, brown creepers, hermit thrushes, and magnolia warblers are common songbird victims but many dozen more songbird species also die from window collisions. Birds-of-prey, woodpeckers, shorebirds, hummingbirds, rails, and game-birds also routinely die from window collisions. A total of 155 bird species have been documented victims in eastern North America. 

For Peter Walsh, Seatuck’s Education Director, it was a southbound migrating Northern Waterthrush that became a window victim at the South Shore Nature Center. Working at the Nature Center one day Peter heard a thud on an east-facing second floor picture window (see photo). Going out to investigate he found the waterthrush, a species of warbler, laying on the patio (see photo). It was yet another victim of a window it never saw. What it did see was the reflection of a nearby tree and the scattered blue of the sky around it and thought the window opening was a portal to a forested area laying on the other side.     

Fortunately, there is a great deal of research going on to better understand the “whys and hows” of window collisions and what steps homeowners and building managers can do to reduce or eliminate window strikes. The key is breaking up the outside reflection the bird sees so that it can see the window pane for the deadly, transparent, and rigid surface that it is. Stickers or objects placed on the inside of the window are much less effective. The American Bird Conservancy sells window tape which is applied in parallel rows on the outside of the window and can be effective in stopping collisions. Another product, manufactured by WindowAlert, are 4” square UV reflecting stickers that are also applied on the outside of the window.  

There is also legislative action to protect birds. The window bird collision issue is an element of Seatuck’s island-wide recently announced “Campaign for Conservation” and we intend to work with Assemblyman Englebright to advance his legislation to protect birds from window strikes. We’ll keep you posted as we work on this measure during the 2016 New York State legislative session.   If you want to learn more about this important issue and what you can do to lend a hand go to the American Bird Conservancy’s (www.abcbirds.org) or the Fatal Light Awareness Program’s (www.flap.org) webpages.

- John Turner, Conservation Policy Advocate

Photo: Northern waterthrush after window strike at South Shore Nature Center (c) 2015 Peter Walsh

Thursday, 03 September 2015 15:55

Juvenile Alewives @ Massapequa Creek!

Seatuck has documented juvenile alewife in Massapequa Creek. It is the first time young-of-the-year fish have been found in the creek. Their presence is clear evidence that alewives are successfully spawning in the freshwater portion of the tributary, likely for the first time since the creek was impounded more than 175 years ago!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015 15:28

Progress on Horseshoe Crabs

HorseshoeCrabs

 

Seatuck is pleased to report that Governor Cuomo signed into law two new horseshoe crab protection measures on August 17, 2015. The laws extend the DEC's authority to regulate the horseshoe crab fishery (for two years) while requiring the agency to consider additional strategies to more effectively protect their long-term conservation.

Under the new law, DEC will consider the mandatory use of bait bags in the eel and conch fisheries (which limit horseshoe crab consumption), as well as restrictions that will limit the harvest of 1) female horseshoe crabs, 2) all crabs during peak mating season, and 3) all crabs at important shorebird feeding beaches.

These laws hold the promise of ushering in a new era in the way horseshoe crabs are managed in New York. They’ll move the state towards the goal of reducing the overall horseshoe crab harvest and safeguarding their important role in the coastal ecosystem (including for migratory shorebirds), while minimizing impacts to local conch and eel fisheries that currently rely on the crabs for bait. 

Seatuck was at the forefront of proposing the legislation and strongly advocated for its passage earlier this year. Congratulations to Seatuck's Conservation Policy Advocate, John Turner, on this important progress.

Credit and thanks is owed to Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Senators Michael Venditto and Ken LaValle for sponsoring and championing these measures through the New York Legislature.

- Enrico

Photo: Don Riepe



Friday, 08 May 2015 00:00

Plasterer Bees @ Scully

The grounds of the Environmental Center have been covered with little mounds of dirt this spring: the sign of a healthy ground bee population. There are many species of ground-nesting bees (in fact, most of the world's bees nest in the ground), but the bees in the video below are plasterer bees (aka polyester bees). Each mound holds a single female bee. The mound is the entrance to a deep tunnel where she will lay an egg, deposit a supply of liquid food, and then seal it off with a "plastic" lid. The egg will hatch next spring, feed on the food cache, then dig its way out to repeat the cycle. In the video below you'll notice that when they're not out foraging the bees sit atop their mounds, presumably guarding the holes over which they've labored. In a seeming game of hide-and-seek, they quickly retreat into the safety of the ground at the slightest movement or shadow, then slowly climb back out to keep an eye on things.

Watch where you're walking!

- Enrico

 

 

 

This great piece from the Washington Post provides a good overview of plasterer bees, including the following image:

PoleyesterBee

 

For more information about ground and other bees visit the Xerces Society's informative page on native bee biology.

Monday, 06 April 2015 00:00

Sounds at Sunset

AmericanWoodcock

We met at sunset in anticipation. It was an early spring sunset, cold, still and glorious with a thin crescent moon. A deepening golden sky silhouetted the filigree of branches on bare trees. But we came to observe a spectacle that is first detected by ear. We heard twitters, clucks and chips as birds settled down for the night. Our puffy coats swished as we walked along paths crisp and crunchy with old snow. Dogs were barking in the distance as if communicating with each other in the gloaming. A flash of white tail betrayed a deer crashing through the winter-worn grass behind us. We could feel a dampness rising as the sun set still further. The ping from a car door being locked was a false alarm. It almost sounded like the “peent”– the very sound we had all been waiting for - the mating call of a male woodcock. Further along the trail we heard the deep-throated “who-who hoo” of a great horned owl. And then another one called across the meadow. I would have been satisfied to return home to my warm house at this point as the sound of a hooting owl is one thrill enough for me. We stood still listening to the owls as the first stars twinkled above. But the thrill continued as a low-flying bird seemed to come from nowhere. A rounded shape of a bird, with its tell tale beak visible, flew past us and landed in the long grass nearby. It immediately started its “peent, peent”. I did a “high-five” with one of my companions as we realized that the woodcocks were indeed here for their courtship ritual. Then the performance began. As we heard more peents around us, the first-sighted male lifted itself incredibly high and almost out of sight. It was a mere speck in the darkening sky and then I lost track of it. A whirring and kissing sound could be heard as it plunged earthward. Perhaps, an impressed female bird had viewed this full feat of love from amongst the dried stalks of grass. The owls hooting were no longer the center of our attention. For now, in this meadow at dusk, the woodcocks owned the show.

- Sue Avery

American Woodcock - (c) Tom Benson 2013

Tuesday, 24 March 2015 00:00

Baffling! - Part II

Trio

Scully Nest Box Work Continues

With the success of the pilot predator guard installation, Seatuck decided to outfit the remainder of the nest boxes at the Scully marsh with new baffles. Seatuck board member Mike Jaklitsh endured further cold and ice (and snow) to continue the installation process. This time, however, he had some good help! Jim & Brendan Belrose and Colby Rogers (pictured above) got up early this past Saturday to venture out on the marsh with Mike. They were a tremendous team as, despite the harsh conditions, they manged to protect another 6 or 7 boxes. Still a lot of work to be done, but the returning tree swallows will find the marsh at Scully more hospitable than ever this year! We're hopeful the new baffles will elminate the raccoon predation and result in more successful swallow fledges this year. We'll be watching carefully! 

Thanks, Mike, Jim, Brendan and Colby - it's tough work, we're glad you guys are up to the task! I promise the winter condidtions can't last much longer! 

- Enrico

imageimage 2

 

Saturday, 21 March 2015 00:00

Cold Tough on Some Birds

TreeSwallow Frozen2015

The cold, snow and ice that's lingered into Spring has many of us fed-up and annoyed, but it can be much worse for other species. Seatuck Board member Mike Jaklitsh, who has been working on readying the next boxes at Scully, found this dead tree swallow today. It was frozen inside one of the boxes he was working on.

The wintry conditions are diffucult for migratory species expecting to find warmer weather (the timing of their migration is governed more by photoperiod and less by weather conditions). It's especially tough on some of the earliest-arriving migratory bird species, which have, in some cases, flown from South or Central America and arrive with seriously depleted fat reserves. This leaves them in drastic need of food. For those insectivorous species that rely on flying insects, such as tree swallows, being greeted by a serious cold snap can be fatal. If cold weather hits and lingers, insects don't emerge and the birds are at risk. While they do eat berries and other food sources when necessary, they don't have much time or energy to search.

It's a sad fact of nature. Hopefully Mike's good work on the nest boxes at Scully will result in a good fledging year at the property and make up for any loss in the population from the cold Spring.

And, I'm happy to report, Mike took the bird with him; he plans to have it mounted and displayed at Scully. Thanks, Mike.

- Enrico

 

 

Saturday, 14 March 2015 00:00

The Fish Counter is In!

The peconic river alewife counter is in the water!

But it wasn't easy. The portion of the impoundment that leads to the Grangebel Fish Ladder has changed significantly over the past few years. The first year we installed the system (2011) we barely encountered water more than waist deep. Now the middle of the channel is nearly 6 feet deep - certainly too much for chest waders. The answer to the problem: divers! Bill Pfeiffer and Gregg Tellone from Island Diving were good enough to bring their gear out to Riverhead and give us a hand. Not only were they able to navigate the deeper water, but they were able to get down in the water and get the system nice and level. Thanks, guys!

In addition to Long Island Diving, we owe a word of thanks to all our partners who braved the cold water to help us get it set up, including Peconic Estuary Program, NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation, Suffolk County and Cornell Cooperative Extension. Thanks everyone - many hands make light work!

We also owe thanks, as always, to Jim at the Peconic Paddler for his generous help.

And thanks to Seatuck board member Mike Reilly for the video footage and nifty editing work.

We'll have more soon - it won't be long before the alewife are heading up river!

- Enrico

 

Wednesday, 04 March 2015 19:00

Questions from the Belly of the Beast

Wildwood Trout

Wildwood Alewife

The above photos from the DEC's Peter Malaty were passed along to me this week. The top photo shows Peter (I think) with a brown trout he recently caught ice fishing in Wildwood Lake in Riverhead (or maybe actually Northampton). The second photo shows a juvenile alewife that came out of the trout's stomach. The story raises a few interesting questions. First, since Woodhull Dam (which forms Wildwood Lake) is an 10-foot high wall of concrete that presents an absolute barrier to alewife migration (tens of thousands of alewife bump their noses up against the dam each spring), how is it that there's young alewife in the lake? The answer to this question I think I know. There are conservation-minded people out there that care about alewife and want to see them recover - for years they've been surreptitiously and illegally (but heroically?) carrying them over the dam and dropping them in the lake. But still, it's a bit surprising that there's enough alewife in the lake that a young-of-the-year was able to survive so long. There must have been quite a few more where this one came from last spring!

The second, more puzzling question is what was this young against-all-odds survivor still doing in the lake come March? Generally, young alewife move downstream into salt water by the time river/lake water temperatures start to drop in the fall. By winter they're usually deep in the bays or already finding their way out to the ocean. Other than landlocked alewife, I haven't heard or read any stories of alewife overwintering in freshwater. So, again, why was this fish still in the lake? The answer to this question I don't know. It may be that, given some combination of conditions, alewife will stay put and not heed the call to migrate. Or it may be that dams like Woodhull are more than barriers to upstream migration - maybe they present an obstacle to downstream migration as well, even for a tiny young alewife. Maybe the alewife shown above wanted to get downstream, but couldn't manage to find the spillway. Any thoughts on this question? I'd love to hear from you.

Regardless of what resulted in Peter's trout lucking into a winter alewife, there's hope that future alewife, both young and old, will have an easier time getting past Woodhull Dam. Suffolk County Parks is currently seeking designs for fish passage at the dam. With enough public and political support, they'll hopefully be funding available someday soon to construct a fish passage structure at the dam. The branch of the Peconic River that leads to the dam already hosts one of the strongest alewife runs on Long Island. If a fish passage can get them past Woodhull, the run will likey grow exponentially (and then our fish-carrying heroes can finally take a break!).

- Enrico

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