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Monday, 06 April 2015 00:00

Sounds at Sunset


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


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

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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

Sunday, 01 March 2015 19:00



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! 

- Enrico

Thursday, 15 January 2015 19:00

Native Seed Propagation

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. 

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DSC 0103 20150108 2786 72seedlings

Sunday, 07 December 2014 19:00

Another "Snowstorm"?

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 . 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!

- Enrico

Monday, 26 May 2014 20:00

Ghost Chippy

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 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




Wednesday, 21 May 2014 11:07

Rare Woodpecker


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


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