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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


Tuesday, 11 February 2014 20:30

My snowy, finally!

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


Monday, 10 February 2014 23:40

Ira's Snowies!


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.

Arctic Invasion

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)

Monday, 03 February 2014 21:47

Making it Through Winter



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!


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


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 The cache is found Digging The second fox kept an eye on the progress. The inevitable tussle ensued. One last look around.  Then ... she grabs it ... and is off ... with her prize.

Monday, 25 October 2010 00:00

KIC It! (Take Two)

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

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

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