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Monday, 03 February 2014 21:47

Making it Through Winter

SquirrelSnow

 

As a rule, I like winter. I enjoy the brisk air and the stark beauty of the season. And I still get excited about a good snowstorm. But every rule has its exception, and I'll admit, this winter is starting to get old. Even 'm already looking forward to spring. Still, whenever I get the urge to complain as I'm bundling up against single-digit temperatures or digging out from the latest snowstorm, I think about our wildlife neighbors. If they can tough it out, then so can I, right?

But how do Long Island wildlife get through deep cold stretches and winter storms? They actually employ a range of strategies to see them through the season until spring.

For starters, many species, as we know, don't stick around to deal with the cold. With the dropping temperatures and shorter days of fall, many birds, reptiles, fish, insects and even some mammal species move on to more hospitable locations. Some songbirds, such a warblers, fly to South and Central America to spend the winter. Others, like robins, simply move a few hundred miles south to where they can more easily find food. Monarch butterflies migrate to the mountains of Mexico. Dragonflies head south, but scientists are still trying to figure out how far and where they go. Sea turtles and some fish head down into the Gulf of Mexico before our coastal waters get too cold. And bats migrate from our region to more mountainous areas where they can find caves in which to spend the winter.

So, like the human "snow birds" of Long Island, many of our wildlife species simply flee the cold of winter. But what about the animals that stick around? How do they get by? Well, the animals that don't migrate generally fall into two categories: those that sleep through it and those that tough it out.

The first category includes reptiles, amphibians and many mammals. These animals hibernate through the winter by going into a state of torpor during which their body temperature and metabolic rate drops considerably. These animals tunnel, burrow, dig or (in the case of bats) fly into the ground to take advantage of the earth’s thermal inertia. Because of the ground's great mass, its temperature varies much less throughout the year than the air above it. Within a few feet of the surface the ground temperature remains generally constant, hovering near the average temperature for the area (around 50 degrees on Long Island). So hibernating animals get into the warmer earth and as far away from the cold air as they can.

We generally think of bears as hibernators, but, in fact, they're not, they go into a state of dormancy during which their body temperature only drops a few degrees and from which they can awake relatively quickly. Other mammals, such as groundhogs and chipmunks, are true hibernators. Their body temperatures can drop below freezing and their heart rates slow to only a few beats per minute. And it takes them several days to fully "wake up."

Reptiles and amphibians go through a similar process. Aquatic turtles, such as snapping turtles or sliders, bury themselves in the mud at the bottom of ponds and rivers. Their metabolic rate drops so much that they don't even need access to the water or air to breathe, they can get the oxygen they need from the mud through special cells around their necks and heads. Terrestrial turtles, such as the box turtle, burrow into the ground (sometimes several feet!) to find more moderate temperatures to spend the winter. Some of these critters even have a special substance in their bodies that acts as antifreeze and allows them to survive truly frigid conditions.

But most impressive, for me, is the final category of wildlife, those animals that just stick around above ground in the winter and tough it out. I'm amazed by animals like whitetail deer (whose hollow hair helps them survive freezing temperatures) or gray squirrels and red fox (that use their fluffy tails as blankets to pass cold nights). If it's really cold, squirrels and fox may also stay tucked away in a den or tree cavity to sleep it off, sometimes huddling with other animals to conserve warmth. But as soon as the temperatures are bearable again, they're right back out there searching for food.

Especially amazing are the birds that stick it out through the winter. I'm always astonished to see tiny chickadees, titmice or woodpeckers flying around in harsh winter weather. Cardinals, too, we've all seen images of them sitting in stark contrast to driving snowstorms. To stay warm, these birds have incredibly high metabolic rates, which requires them to feed almost constantly (one of the reasons feeders are so important when the weather is at its worst). Their feathers, of course, are the key reason they're able to withstand subfreezing temperatures. When fluffed-up (did you ever notice how big they can look in winter?), their downy feathers are incredibly effective at minimizing heat loss. But what about their legs and feet? Well, special physiological adaptations reduce the temperature of the blood flowing into their legs so heat loss is reduced. Pretty amazing, right?

Despite their impressive adaptations, harsh winter weather can take a toll on even the toughest animals. Prolonged storms and ice are especially problematic as they make it hard for these animals to find the food necessary to keep their engines running and stay warm. But, unless it's really nasty outside, you can feel confident that the next time you're putting on an extra sweater and complaining about the cold, the animals outside are doing just fine.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013 20:11

Deer Flies!

deerflies

While ticks and mosquitos are certainly insect-public-enemies #1 and #2 on Long Island (depending on the vector-borne disease news of the day), there is another pesky (but, thankfully, less dangerous) insect that, for those that know it, is the subject of similar ire: the deer fly. Anyone who has visited the Scully Estate during the heart of summer knows them too well. When they're at their peak, the deer flies literally create a swarm around your car by the time you reach the parking lot at the Environental Center. It's an intimidating sight, enough to sometimes keep people in their cars and moving along. We like to joke that they're our first line of security at Scully (it's not a funny joke, of course; we're trying to attract people to the facitly, not scare them away).

Brian Kelder, Seatuck's former fisheries biologist and Scully caretaker, remembers the deer flies at Scully well. Unfortunately, much to his chagrin, he's still dealing with them in his work with the Ipswich River Watershed Association near Boston. This week he sent us a note with some advice for dealing with the troublesome flies that had been passed along by Jim MacDougal, a biologist from Massachusetts. Here's the bulk of the email:

For those of you who work in the woods or are talking to open space managers, there is a way to reduce Deer Flies to manageable levels without using insecticides or repellants. For many years now, when I am doing wood's roads surveys ... in July and August, I don my "fly hat"; I use an old hat, place a piece of tape on it and lightly coat the tape with Tree Tanglefoot, a stick goo (find a good place to hang the hat when not in use, this goo is goey).

It only takes a few flies to make life miserable when you are in the woods. This hat and method uses the flies behavior to your advantage. They like to perch on the highest point of a mammal and they hang around puddles and sun glades along the trail until a moving mammal comes into view. Then they tag along for a while making you miserable. They sticky hat removes them from your life, and theirs. As you walk along, you will notice fewer and fewer flies. Once they are removed, it is difficult for their local populations to recover.

I have taken this method to the next level. I am now placing the tape and goo on the rear-view mirror of the car. And you can see the result. After two days of going in and out of the driveway, I have eliminated the deer flies. I recommend that managers of Parks, Forests, Sanctuaries and other conservation land consider placing these tape strips on their trucks, 4 wheelers and every other vehicle they use in the woods to reduce the number of deer flies along their trails. This also works very well when placed on a biker's helmet. There are many people who have abandoned the woods at this time of year because of the deer flies. This need not be the case with a bit of education and a touch of goo. See you in the wood. - Jim"

Based on Jim's email, it sounds like the deer fly situation in New England is worse than it is here on Long Island. Still, I think I might be worth getting some goo and trying to catch us some deer flies at Scully. Thanks for the tip, Jim.

- Enrico

Saturday, 10 December 2011 00:00

Strange Winter Visitor

This strange winter got a bit stranger at Seatuck last night. Just as we were closing up for the night, a bat (little brown, I think) came swooping into our main office, did a few laps around the large room and landed on the wall. We opened the door to the office balcony (if that sounds strange, you'll have to come for a visit!), but it didn't seem interested in going outside. Instead, it fell off the wall into another series of gentle circles around the room. When it finally took a break, I managed to coax it into a large butterfly net. Then I stood on the balcony and held the net upright into the darkness. The bat climbed up the netting to the rim, perched for a moment (as if to say "do I really have to") and then leaped into the night. It did a few large swooping circles over our terrace before flying up over the building and disappearing.

It was a bittersweet moment. I'm always relieved to catch and release an animal without injury, but the prospects for a bat flying off into a winter night are not particularly good, even in this winter. The warm weather may give it a chance to find new place to settle into a proper hibernation, but there's no flying insects to be found, so it won't be able to restore lost energy. Given the devastation that the still mysterious "white nose syndrome" has caused eastern bat populations, every healthy bat is precious. I didn't see any white fungus growing on this bat, but it's unusual to see them active this time of year. Maybe our little visitor was just confused by the warm weather. Here's to hoping it's healthy and that it finds a good place to await the return of the real spring.

- Enrico

Here's a short clip of the bat in the butterfly net:

Saturday, 10 December 2011 00:00

Flying Finish

What a night.  It started with Seatuck's annual Holiday Potluck at the nature center.  An amazing collection of food and desserts, great people and fantastic music from Bob Pinnola and Mike Immerman (the "acoustic" Suburban Brothers!).  During the party, I also had the great pleasure of giving our annual volunteer award (the Good Tern Award) to two of my favorite people: Peter and Noreen DiMento.  It was certainly a well-deserved honor, as they are simply two of the most important parts of the Seatuck family.

Then, to top off the night ... after getting home and heading out to walk my dog, Jackson, I had - for the first time in my life - the incredible experience of seeing a flying squirrel in flight ... twice!  

I was standing under the glow of a streetlight in the middle of an intersection waiting for Jackson to finish sniffing around a tree when some motion right in front of me caught my eye.  I looked up to see something drift across the dim light and disappear around the side of a large oak.  My first thought was woodpecker because it flew horizontally at first, then slowed down and straightened up to near vertical as it got close to the tree. Everything about the motion said woodpecker, but it was the middle of the night - it couldn't be.  And sure enough, when I moved around the tree for a better view there was a flying squirrel climbing up the trunk!  It was unmistakeable: big black eyes, crisp white under its chin and body, and that cute tail.  And just in case there was any doubt, it climbed a bit more and then launched off again, effortlessly gliding across a front yard to the trunk of another large oak.  It was such a beautifully unexpected thing to see that it literally gave me the chills.  There, in the middle of my densely developed Long Island neighborhood, was a wild flying squirrel going about its nightly rounds. You just never know when Mother Nature is going to treat you, do ya?  It was the perfect ending to a wonderful night.

- Enrico

Thursday, 09 May 2013 00:00

First Fox Kits

fox

Out of the den and onto ... the road? I was surprised to find a mother fox with two kits on South Bay Avenue this morning. It was a unexpected treat. At this age (probably 4 or 5 weeks), they're usually more reclusive and keep close to their den. After capturing some video I did my best to scare them away - I hate the thought of them getting comfortable near the road. Also, listen carefully to the video for the unmistakable call of the Eastern Towhee - it's commonly identified as "drink-your-tea!"

Thursday, 16 December 2010 00:00

Fox Visit

December 16, 2010
Fox Visit [also in Wildlife]

Turns out our newest staff member, Jessie Comba, is not only a fantastic educator and all-round great person, but she's pretty adept with a camera, too.  Today she captured some beautiful images of a pair of neighborhood fox that stop by the Environmental Center to romp around for a while.  One of them dug up a cached carcass and ran off with it.  Beautiful animals, aren't they?  Enjoy.  Thanks, Jessie!

- Enrico

http://seatuck.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54fa4e2d988330148c6d19dbf970c-800wi

http://seatuck.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54fa4e2d988330148c6d1b2b4970c-800wi The cache is found

http://seatuck.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54fa4e2d988330148c6d19e8a970c-800wi Digging

http://seatuck.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54fa4e2d988330147e0c7b3ea970b-800wi The second fox kept an eye on the progress.

http://seatuck.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54fa4e2d988330147e0c7ac5c970b-800wi The inevitable tussle ensued.

http://seatuck.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54fa4e2d988330148c6d1a067970c-800wi One last look around.  Then ...

http://seatuck.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54fa4e2d988330148c6d1a0f1970c-800wi she grabs it ...

http://seatuck.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54fa4e2d988330148c6d1a15f970c-pi and is off ...

http://seatuck.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54fa4e2d988330148c6d1a1d1970c-800wi with her prize.

Monday, 25 October 2010 00:00

KIC It! (Take Two)

KIC 1010 -2  
KIC - always there when we need them!  

http://seatuck.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54fa4e2d9883301348877eb59970c-800wi

This past Saturday over twenty student volunteers from Islip High School's Keep Islip Clean Club arrived to help us get ready for the big Spooktacular weekend and our inaugural Owl Prowl 5K run.  They worked on assembling boardwalks and clearing trails for the upcoming events.  Their work, which continued a project they started in April when they helped us get ready for our Earth Day grand opening, has focused on our "North Woods Trail." Thanks to KIC's help, the new trail is nearly complete and will be officially opened to the public during the Halloween weekend.  KIC's partnership with Seatuck is an important part of a community leadership program that Islip's students have cultivated. KIC Junior Commissioners will share their experiences with students from other high school across Islip Township during their monthly meetings to encourage others to make a positive change in their community. Thanks to all the KIC team - we're thrilled to have you guys involved!

    - Enrico

Monday, 31 October 2011 00:00

Owl Prowl! [also in Owl Prowl 5K]

The 2nd Annual Seatuck Owl Prowl is in the books.  Despite the weekend’s weather, we had an amazing turnout (433 finishers!) and a great morning.  If you haven’t seen them, the full results can be found at Island Timing’s website (http://www.2011.island-timing.com/seatuck.html).  

Also, photographer (and Seatuck volunteer!) Craig Low took a ton of amazing photos of the event, including all finishers, costumed participants and many of the Monster-Mashers.  You’d can see (6and purchase) his photos at this site (http://eventpictures.com/app/event/viewPictures;jsessionid=24303c27ad2521d76233?&categoryId=0&eventInstanceId=23230&pageSize=200&curPage=1)

With the race fresh in my memory, here’s a few other random thoughts on the day:

• My first impression in the morning, like most everyone else’s, was that it didn’t feel much like Halloween.  With temps in the low-30s and the wind whistling, it felt like we should have been getting ready for a Turkey Trot or New Year’s Day run!  But –and this is somewhat hard to believe – after Saturday’s mess, I was very much pleased with the wake-up weather.  It certainly could have been much worse!

• I shared the start of my day (in the dark, really) with a small cadre of warriors – Mark Boyd (our story returns to him later), Peter Walsh, John Thomas and Tom Moldovan – that fearlessly went into battle against the mess left to us by Saturday’s weather.  There was standing water everywhere.  But these guys shoveled gravel, raked mud, moved platforms and did every cold, messy and back-breaking thing they could to ensure the course was ready for our runners and the property was safe and passable for our guests.  In the end, there may have been a few muddy shoes, but there were no major problems or complaints.  It was a (difficult) job well done.

• I was very impressed by our parking team, which included Frank Giaquinto, Glen Klimpel, Justine Walsh and “Team Velapoldi” (Mark, Sandy, Zack and Sydney).  These guys also did an amazing job with a difficult task: finding parking for 800+ people and getting them safely down to the property – all while keeping the race course clear.  I didn’t hear a single complaint from the participants this year.  Again, our volunteers made a difficult task look easy.

• It was great fun to be at the front of the race for the start – there’s nothing like the pre-race buzz that builds in anticipation of the starter’s horn.  It was heightened by a beautiful rendition of our National Anthem by Elizabeth Edwards and Rebecca Goess, by Terry Bisogno’s stirring sentiments about our troops serving overseas, and by The Selects horns piercing the crisp morning air.  And it was electrifying to watch over 500 runners surge forward at the sound of the starter’s horn.  Our fastest runners took off with such a burst that they briefly overtook our lead car!  The whole thing gave me chills.

• It was an honor to see Bea Huste Peterson at our race today.  Bea is the force behind the awesome EJ Autism Foundation and their annual East Islip race (which attracted 1200 runners this year!).  She has also been a valuable mentor and coach – giving generously of her experience and expertise in helping to get our race off the ground.  And she’s not just a run organizer, but a runner, too.  She was the 3rd female finisher in the Owl Prowl.  She seemed pleased; she told me she had been running, but not really training.  The difference is somewhat lost on a plodder like me, but I translated it to mean one thing: she can go faster.  I don’t doubt it.  Maybe for next year’s Owl Prowl!

• It was fun to watch our great friend Kay Erwood (one of Seatuck’s longest standing members) hand out the costume awards after the race.  Her full enthusiasm, charm and grace was on display as she presided over the ceremony – it’s no wonder she’s one of Islip’s most beloved residents!  And I have to say that she and her co-judge Martha Pinnola did a fine job whittling down an impressive field of contestants.  It was no easy task!  Thanks to everyone who came out in costume and congratulations to our winners.

 â€¢ I mentioned Mark Boyd earlier (he was one of those guys out in the cold, wet and muddy pre-dawn darkness helping to ready the property for the race).  Later in the morning – at about 16 minutes after the race start, in fact – I watched him out in front of our gate as his son, Michael (a sophomore at Islip High School), lead all runners down South Bay Avenue towards the finish line.  Mark’s usually pretty reserved, but he couldn’t help but beam as it became clear that Michael was in the lead.  But he quickly shifted gears from proud parent to coach, urging Micheal to stay ahead of Chris Richards, who was right on his heals in second place.  Michael didn’t disappoint - he held on to win in 17:59.  Chris, from Connetquot High School, finished just a few seconds behind in 18:03.  Third place went to John Theissen, who finished in 18:39.

• A couple of other impressive finishes I noticed:

-  Islip Councilman John Edwards – sporting his favorite Giants jersey – won his division (again!) in 21:17.

-  Carlie Leogrande, another Islip student, won her age group in the 16-19 division.

-  Kate Hanley – one of Seatuck’s star volunteers – not only worked the registration table all morning, but rushed off to join the race and WON HER DIVISION!

-  Our race results show Cole Cantin of Oak Beach, who finished 12th overall in 20:08 at being 10 YEARS OLD!  Is that right?  If so,

-   Did everyone see that Forrest Gump was in attendance?  He took 3rd place in his division in an impressive 21:44!

-  Congratulations to John, Carlie, Kate, Cole, Forrest and everyone who completed the race!

• The Monster Mash Dash was totally cute, wasn’t it?  It may have been a bit chaotic, but you just can’t beat the sight of dozens of costumed kids running theiIMG_5220r hearts out!  I was especially proud of my daughter, Jasmine, who was the first finisher in the 6-8 year old division – if you ask me, I thought she looked awesome motoring towards the finish in her pirate costume!  Thanks is owed to Regina Jacoby for not only organizing the (not so) mini-event … but also adding to the fun by dressing up like an owl!!

• Terry Bisogno was fantastic as always.  What can I even say about this guy?  He does so much to elevate the quality of our race.  We're lucky to have him.  Perhaps my mom summed up his impact best: she said it "was so cute" the way he said something about every runner;  he got her "interested in just about every finisher."  That's Terry!

• How cool was it to have live music at the finish?  I thought it was a nice touch - I hope people liked it.  Thanks to The Selects for coming out on a cold morning to play!

• For any of you who may not know, it takes a HUGE effort to pull off a race like the Owl.  I can’t begin to name and thank everyone who was involved.  Suffice it to say that we at Seatuck are deeply grateful and indebted to everyone who pitched in to make it possible (you know who you are!).  It may sound cliché, but we simply could not manage an event of this size without our incredible team of talented and dedicated volunteers.  Thank you to everyone!  And just one special note of thanks to Stephanie DerGarabedian and Andrea Wexler – as everyone involved with the race already knows, they did an amazing job!

 - Enrico

Monday, 30 January 2012 00:00

New Sign and (Hopefully) a Safer Crossing

January 30, 2012

I was pleasantly surprised to see this new sign on the road to the Environmental Center today ...

IMG_0471

The road, as anyone who lives in the area knows, is like a race track ... literally.  As I learned during the years I lived at the nature center, it's not uncommon to hear engines screaming under the cover of darkness or to find tire marks littering the road in the morning - evidence of a night of speeding and drag-racing.  And even the general pace of traffic down the mile long stretch to the Islip Town Beach is far too fast.  Wildlife, of course, are too often the victims as they try to cross between the 70-acre Environmental Center and the 200-acre Seatuck National Wildlife Refuge.  We see dozens of animials - deer, racoon, fox, birds - killed on the road each year.

Hopefully the new sign will help.  Credit is owed to Islip's Bouler Family who pushed Seatuck and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (managers of the wildlife refuge) to write a letter to the Town about the problem.  And thanks is due to the Town of Islip for responding.  We hope the sign slows down the cars ... and helps more of our local wildlife move safely between our property and the wildlife refuge.

- Enrico

Friday, 21 October 2011 00:00

Autumn Decor

The crisp autumn air hasn't been the only refreshing shift Seatuck has received the past two weeks.  The building has received its annual fall makeover which wouldn't be complete without diligent volunteers, flying bats, a staircase spider, and mice climbing the light fixtures.  There's more to the decorating than just atmosphere however.   All of Seatuck's Halloween displays are designed to mimic the natural world by including only native animals you would find locally this time of year.

Everyone joined the creative process.  The Great South Bay Garden Club devoted hours to beautifying the Scully Mansion entrance and walkways.  Seatuck friend, volunteer, and decorator extraordinaire, Lisa Smith, took to the ladders to make sure the moss was perfected and the overhanging, lighted trees had plenty of spooky crows to keep the Halloween aura.  Enrico hand painted a fall moon for a shadowy owl display.  Families spun beautiful spider webs in the bird room.  We couldn't have done it without our numerous volunteers.  It's truly a work of art.

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