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.
Photo: Don Riepe
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!
This great piece from the Washington Post provides a good overview of plasterer bees, including the following image:
For more information about ground and other bees visit the Xerces Society's informative page on native bee biology.
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
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!
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.
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!
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!).
Scully Nest Boxes to Get New Predator Guards
Seatuck board member Mike Jaklitsh recently braved the cold and ice to install a new predator guard on one of our nest boxes on the marsh at Scully (see photo above). The boxes are designed to support small cavity nesting birds, such as tree swallows and eastern bluebirds. But because of relentless predation by raccoons over the past few years very few of the two-dozen boxes on the property have supported productive nests. Past efforts to protect the boxes have had mixed results. However, with this new baffle seemingly up to the task - and with some generous help from our friends at Wild Birds Unliminted in Oakdale - we're going to outfit every box on the marsh with a new baffle in time for the 2015 nesting season. Now (and I really do hate to say this) we just have to hope it stays frozen long enough so we can easily access the nest boxes!
If the baffles are successful - and if we can find additional support - we'll move our efforts over to protect the nest boxes at the South Shore Nature Center in East Islip.
Volunteers and supporters are welcome! Please let us konw if you'd like to help with the installation work or support the program. Thank you.
And thanks for the good work, Mike!
On an extremely cold day in early January, members of Seatuck’s Landscape Committee got together indoors for a seed propagation session. This project is an effort to expand planting in our own gardens. We have also donated some seedlings to local schools for their native plant initiatives.
Indeed, there is something satisfying about starting seed in the middle of winter. Seeds are teased from fluff, miniscule ones are sprinkled as from a saltshaker, and some that have extremely hard coats are scarified with sandpaper. Others are extracted from dried berries or from twisted brown pods. All are from native plants and collected this past summer and fall from the gardens on the Scully Estate or from excursions made along South Bay Avenue and the trails of the Environmental Center.
Finally the seed flats are labeled and watered. They are stored outdoors for the winter months as there is no need to further pamper native plant seeds. Winter’s cycles of freezing and thawing are necessary for their germination. We just wait for spring to find new plants emerging.
The winter of 2013/2014 was a historic one for snowy owls - fueled by a lemming-rich breedng season record numbers of snowies "irrupted" into the U.S. from the arctic. It was affetionately referred to as a "snowstorm" of snowy owls. Long Island was flush with the beautiful white birds for several months, with sightings commonplace at numerous locations, including Robert Moses and Cupsogue (Seatuck volunteer Ira Marder took these beautiful photos of one of last winter's Cupsogue snowies).
I took me longer than I expected, but I finally found a snowy - my first ever - at Jones Beach one bitter cold afternoon in January. Here's an entry I wrote about the encouter.
The big question through the fall was what would this winter hold? I read varying predicitons. Some say the year after a record irruption is usually quiet. Others predict a "shadow irruption" that includes many of the birds that successfully ventured far south last year. Early reports are that the movement of snowy owls seems strong again this year. Long Island has already had its first sightings. If your interested, Project Snowstorm is a collaborative project of dozens of researchers studying snowy owl movements - their website provides up-to-date information and maps about the latest sightings. More locally, you can also get updates from longislandbirds.com . I, for one, hope it's another big year. I'll be carefully watching the dunes at Jones Beach and Robert Moses for my second snowy!
My mother-in-law, Nancy, encountered this unique-looking sparrow in East Hampton on Sunday. She was watching a few wild turkeys across a field when she was surprised by what she described as a "white bird" flitting through the grasses. I opened one of the photos she sent me on my phone and said I thought it was a chipping sparrow based on the chestnut cap and white eyebrow streak - but I commented that I couldn't tell for sure because the photo looked kind of washed out. What I didn't realize until later was that the photo was actually quite clear - rather, it was the bird itself that was "washed out." Smart enough not to rely soley on her son-in-law for bird identifications, Nancy turned to Longislandbirding.com for an answer and learned that the bird was, in fact, a chipping sparrow, but that it had an abnormal plumange condition called leucism. The condition is apparenlty caused by a defect in the pigment cells that results in either 1) white patches, 2) paler overall plumage or 3) all white plumage. The East Hampton chippy obviously fell into the second category - it has some of its recognizable plumage, but was overall much paler than usual. The condition afffects a wide range of birds (including bluebirds and hummingbirds) and other animals. I'll confess that I've never heard of the condition and was fascinated to see its impacts across the animal kingdom. Kudos to my mother-in-law for the keen eye and fantastic photos! And thanks to Longislandbirding for the science lesson. - Enrico
The Smith Family, who have been long-time Seatuck supporters, recently spotted a rare bird in their backyard birdfeeder in Islip: a red-headed woodpecker. There have only been a handful of these birds reported on Long Island this year so far. The Smiths live just down the road from the Suffolk County Environmental Center - so we're keeping an eye out in the hopes the woodpecker will visit Scully soon! The stunning photographs of the bird were taken by Delee Smith, who is an accomplished amatuer photographer. Thanks for passing them along, Delee!
All photos: (c) D. Smith 2014 - All Rights Reserved
After a winter's worth of searching (mostly from the car, I confess), it finally happened today. On my way home from work I stopped in at the West End of Jones Beach and ... saw my first snowy owl! After surveying the dunes on the east side of the bathhouse at Field 4, I hopped in the car to try the west side. And as I drove over, there it was, sitting on the roof of the bathhouse! Just sitting there, like it had been there all winter. Like it was just waiting for me. Even still, I almost missed it. I only noticed it after another motorist stopped and quickly clamored out of his car with his camera equipment. I got out of the car, too. Not having a fancy camera to fuss with (see below for what I managed with my phone), I just stood and watched as the bird swiveled its gaze from side to side and the wind ruffled its thick feathers.
A third person arrived before long and reported immediately that it was a female. "How do you know?", I asked. "Because it has dark markings on its chest," he explained, "the males are all white." I knew what he said was true about adult birds, but that young birds of both sexes have dark markings. But I didnt' feel the need to correct him. After a while I got back in the car to head home. As I started to drive off, the bird launched itself off the roof in the direction of the setting sun. It flapped its powerful wings a few times, then dropped to glide just over the top of the snow-covered parking lot. It settled atop a snowy dune with the huge orange sun at its back. The other guys jumped in their cars and raced after it. I was content to continued on my way, deeply satisfied that I had finally encountered one of our beautiful artic visitors. - Enrico
Ira Marder, a long-time Seatuck volunteer and an accomplished nature & wildlife photographer, recently passed along a few fantastic photos he took of snowy owls this winter out at Cupsogue Beach County Park in West Hampton. They're such spectacular birds - every one is more beautiful than the next! It prompted to me to re-post (below) a column I recently wrote about what a great year it's been for snowy owls on Long Island, and thoughout the east coast. The column was originally printed in the Great South Bay Magazine. Thanks for the stunning photos, Ira. Keep 'em coming! - Enrico
Photographs by Ira Marder, 2014. All rights reserved.
In a season during which many people flee Long Island for warmer climes, this winter has already been a historic one for visitors. Since mid-November, our region has seen record numbers of snowy owls the large, spectacularly-white, diurnal raptors popularized in the Harry Potter movies. While winter usually brings a few snowies to Long Island, this year there have already been dozens reported. The birds, which usually live far north in the Arctic Circle, have been spotted from Jones Beach to the Hamptons, and across the North Fork. They're generally found on beaches and amongst the dunes, areas that are similar the treeless, open tundra of their Arctic homes.
The unusual outbreak of snowies on Long Island has been part of a much larger movement of the birds out of Canada. Record numbers have been seen from the Pacific Northwest to the upper Midwest and throughout the Great Lakes region. But the largest numbers have been seen in the east. And it's in the east that the movement has been so extensive: the large white birds have been spotted all the way down to Florida, even out to the Bahamas!
The southerly movement of snowy owls out of the Arctic is't a true migration, as it doesn't happen annually. It is an event "called an irruption" that occurs irregularly pursuant to environmental conditions, usually every 4 to 6 years. But scientists are still trying to fully understand the conditions that drive such irruptions. One theory is that a drop in the population of lemmings "snowies" primary food sources forces the birds to move south in search of other prey during the winter. Another theory is that a boom in the lemming population (as occurred this past spring) produces higher-than-normal success in snowy owl breeding, which results in more snowy owls than the Arctic winter can support. This forces some owls, generally the younger ones, to move south in search of food.
Some of the snowy owls on Long Island will move back north as the weather warms and more prey becomes available on the tundra. Others won't make it through the winter (most of our visitors are young birds still learning how to hunt). But for the next few weeks Long Islanders have a unique opportunity to see one of the most striking and beautiful bird species in the world. It's a good reason to bundle up and take a drive to the beach!
- Enrico Nardone (Originally published in Great South Bay Magazine, Feb. 2014)