Environment & Nature

Forsythe Meadow County Park. Photo from Suffolk County

Soon a walk in the park could turn into park stewardship for interested Suffolk County residents thanks to a Ward Melville High School student’s love for a Stony Brook park.

East Setauket teen Jake Butkevich inspired a pilot park program in Suffolk County. Photo from Maryann Butkevich

Recently, county legislators approved a plan to create a parks stewardship pilot program that will be rolled out in 10 unstaffed Suffolk parks. The idea began when East Setauket resident Jake Butkevich, 17, approached Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) about volunteering in Forsythe Meadow County Park in Stony Brook.

Butkevich said in an email that he was inspired to propose a program after volunteering in the Adirondacks where he was assigned a trail to maintain. He chose Forsythe Meadow because he wanted to give back to his community.

“Nonstaffed parks like Forsythe Meadow are perfect for stewards to take care of,” he said. “Much of the work that I have done while taking care of this park throughout the fall of 2018 and this spring is menial like trimming back bushes and picking up fallen branches, both of which make walking the trails a much more enjoyable experience.”

Hahn, who sponsored the bill to create the stewardship program, said she’s excited about the program, and while Scout troops and other groups have adopted parks in the past, she said the new initiative will allow individuals to become park stewards.

Butkevich said he’s excited about the pilot program, and he was appreciative of Hahn working with him on the idea.

“I hope this program will be effective in keeping our county parks better maintained and inspiring young people like myself to give back to the community and to be passionate about the outdoors,” he said.

Hahn said she hopes neighbors of unstaffed parks will volunteer to walk it once a week, pick up small pieces of trash and report back to the county about trees that need to be trimmed, branches that have fallen or any kind of vandalism. She said stewards will enable the county to be more on top of what is going on at the unstaffed parks, and in turn staff workers can then be dispatched to mow grass or trim trees. The legislation doesn’t name specific parks, which allows for 10 stewards to work on a park they choose.

“It would give us real eyes on the park,” Hahn said.

According to Hahn’s office, there are more than 63,000 acres of county parkland.

The pilot program will run for one year to determine the program’s feasibility for possible expanded use within the county, and after the year is up, the parks department will make the decision about fully implementing and continuing the stewardship program.

In a statement, Philip Berdolt, commissioner of Suffolk County Parks and Recreation, said the program would help to engage residents in the conservation of local parklands.

“By becoming a steward of Suffolk County Parks’ green spaces, you will help ensure that our county’s natural resources are cared for and kept safe for future generations,” he said.

The bill now awaits County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) signature.

NATURE’S WONDER

Bev Tyler of East Setauket submitted this sweet photo taken on May 22. He writes, ‘A  robin’s nest discovered in a boxwood at home gave me the opportunity to take pictures of the babies as they progressed from just born and sleeping, above, to wide awake and hungry. The nest is now empty as of May 27.’

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com

By John Turner

One of the many joys of summer in Setauket is spending time in the backyard relaxing with a book, swimming in the pool, gardening or enjoying a family meal together. I’ve come to realize that during these backyard experiences we’re often not alone. We’re sharing the space around us — as wrens, orioles and robins fly about and butterflies dance among flowers. Sometimes I’ll catch a glimpse of a chipmunk or squirrel scampering around, all going about their daily lives.

I’ve come to look especially forward to seeing one creature each summer and to do so I must gaze skyward to look for a small bird in ceaseless flight, dipping and zooming here and there, all the while twittering away.

Photo courtesy of the National Audubon Society

I’m referring to the chimney swift (Chaetura pelagica), a sooty brown bird with sharp sickle-shaped wings that’s been aptly described as a “cigar with wings.” I think that’s a little bit inaccurate — it’s more like a “half-smoked cigar with wings,” with its stubby tail reminiscent of the chewed on end of the cigar. The genus name Chaetura means “bristle tailed” in Greek, a reference to the stubby tail, tipped with small pointy feathers (these bristles help anchor the bird when roosting on vertical surfaces).

The chimney swift is one of four swift species native to North America; the other three — the slightly smaller Vaux’s swift and the slightly larger black- and white-throated swifts are western birds.

When nesting and roosting, chimney swifts live up to their names, taking refuge within chimneys, old wells, the eaves of barns and other human structures. Before human structures became available, they presumably nested on cliffs and in caves and tree hollows, which a few still do today.

Swifts don’t so much fly as appear to flutter. With surprisingly shallow wing beats, this fluttering bird cuts through the air remarkably well, flying ceaselessly about in wide and tight circles as it searches for the aerial prey that sustains them.

In fact, swifts are the most aerial of all birds. A study published in 2016 documented a common swift, the European counterpart to our chimney swift, staying in the air for 10 months; that’s right, flying around for 10 entire months, not 10 weeks or 10 days, which would be enough of an outstanding feat to make any ultra-marathoner proud, but 10 months of not touching land! Scientists made the obvious conclusion the bird routinely slept on the wing, shutting down half its brain at a time while keeping the other half active. She finally came back to earth to mate, lay eggs and raise young.

Occasionally swifts break from their typical fluttery flights to display courtship behavior. During these displays a mated pair flies together, about a foot or two apart, and synchronously throw their wings into a deep V-shaped position and glide for a second or two before resuming regular flight. It’s a little joy to behold and life is worth living due to little joys, right?

Chimney swifts raise their young in small, half-moon-shaped nests made of small sticks built onto the sides of walls. Both sexes help to build the nest and they employ an interesting material to bind the nest together — saliva. During the breeding season the salivary glands of both sexes swell, producing a gluelike saliva that hardens to hold the nest together.

On a related note: If you’ve ever heard of, or perhaps tried, bird’s nest soup, you’re consuming a food made from the edible saliva of two bird species related to the chimney swift — Asian swiftlets. These nests support an industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually. In fact, the nests of swiftlets are among the most expensive animal products in the world, fetching as much as several thousand dollars per kilogram. So if you’ve tried the soup, kudos to you because you’re obviously financially well off!

The eggs are incubated for about three weeks and, once born, the young grow rapidly, fledging in about the same amount of time. Development of the young is accelerated by “helpers at the nest”; unpaired adult swifts that sometimes assist in the raising the young of paired swifts, helping the young birds to fledge more quickly.

Ornithologists aren’t exactly sure why the helpers do this although it is a behavior seen in a few other bird species. Research has shown that some of the unpaired birds are young from the previous year so perhaps they know they’re helping to pass along genes similar to their own.  

Wooden chimney swift towers at West Meadow Beach. Photo by John Turner

One last fascinating aspect of chimney swifts is their ability to go into torpor, a physical condition halfway between full active mode and hibernation. In torpor a swift’s breathing and heart rate diminishes, as does its overall metabolic activity, thereby helping to get them through periods of cold, inclement weather when little to no food, in the form of small aerial insects, is available. 

Some good places nearby to see chimney swifts are the Stony Brook Village Center and Port Jefferson Village. A little further afield you can enjoy their flight over more urban areas of Long Island, where chimneys are available, including downtown Riverhead, Islip and Bay Shore.

As part of an Eagle Scout project, wooden chimney swift towers were constructed at West Meadow Beach in the hopes of attracting them but to date do not appear to be used. Perhaps someday they will be.

A resident of Setauket, John Turner is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours.

East Beach in Port Jefferson is getting smaller due to erosion, according to a consulting firm contracted by the village. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Town of Brookhaven has finally accepted a bid for the Mount Sinai Jetty restoration project, setting the town up to start reconstruction on the damaged jetty at the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor.

Bay Shore-based H&L Contracting won the bid at a total of just over $7.4 million. The next lowest bid came in from SumCo Eco-Contracting of Massachusetts at almost $8 million.

“Quite frankly this was the hardest part.”

— Jane Bonner

Issues with the jetties have been on the town’s radar from way back. “It’s been 11 long years,” said Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point). “But good things come to those who wait.”

Rocks have collapsed, submerging the seaward ends of the jetties at high tide, while the elevation of the jetty stones above the water at high tide was less than 4 feet in some places. Holes in the jetty had also allowed sand to run through, causing further erosion to surrounding bluffs and beachfronts. The western jetty has been of particular concern to neighboring Port Jefferson village and its beaches.

At the June 6 meeting, town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) thanked Bonner for her work on acquiring the funds for the jetty repairs.

“It will benefit all those who use the harbor,” he said.

In September 2016, the town received $3 million in a Dormitory Authority of the State of New York grant, originally secured through New York state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). An additional $5.6 million for the project is coming from the town, partially out of a bond.

Bonner said there is another follow-up meeting required before the date can be set when the repairs will take place, though she suspects construction should begin in either fall or winter of this year or the start of next year, well after the summer season has ended. 

Further meetings will be held to determine where and when the project will begin, though the councilwoman said she hopes construction will last only one season, but it’s dependent on how mild the following winter will be.

Mount Sinai Harbor. File photo by Alex Petroski

“Quite frankly this was the hardest part,” Bonner said about coming up with funds for the project. “We’re very pleased with the bid, and then we roll it out.”

The town is hoping Suffolk County will complete their annual dredging after the jetties are fully repaired.

Meanwhile, officials in the Village of Port Jefferson relished the news of the bids being awarded for the dredging project. Trustees have held off on several major renovations to East Beach surrounding the country club because of those damaged jetties. 

Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant said the village is in contact with the county about getting that sand back for East Beach once the harbor is dredged.

The news about the finalized bid was met with pleasant surprise at the village’s June 3 meeting. Garant said the village hopes they will receive a permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to start construction of a retaining wall on the bluffs outside of the Port Jefferson Country Club. She said the DEC approved the village’s plans May 15. 

Officials said they may wait until after the county finishes their dredging to get their sand back before starting on repairs to the bluff.

Many who attended the 3rd annual Eastern Long Island Mini Maker’s Faire in Port Jefferson were first greeted to was a bear — hulking, rusted statue of a bear with arms of wood and corroded steel, a torso of used tires and organs made from oil filters and oil sumps. In the center of his chest was a cow heart suspended in formaldehyde.

“Bear” the sculpture by local team Dirt People Studios, was just one of many demonstrations of science, art and ingenuity at the fair, hosted by the nonprofit Long Island Explorium.

Scientists demonstrated the dangers of storm surges on Long Island, while robotics teams from Stony Brook University and other local high schools showed off what they have worked on for the past year.

Local DiYers like Jim Mason of LB Robotics, a maker of strange and interesting robotics, showed his work with a 3D printer and his projects using parts and tools he has found around his home.

“The music, the sun, the fun and play, see ya next year, Robo say,” Mason posted to his Facebook page.

From left, Brian X. Foley, Leg. Kara Hahn, Adrienne Esposito, Robert DiGiovanni Jr. and artist Jim Swaim
Environmental sculpture to highlight the plastic pollution crisis

By Heidi Sutton

The community came out to Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park last Sunday morning to celebrate the unveiling of Shelley the Sea Turtle, a six-foot metal sculpture that was installed at Field 1 to serve as a teaching tool to bring attention to the plastic pollution crisis around the world. It is the first of its kind in New York state.

The installation was made possible by a grant from The Long Island Futures Fund, an organization that supports projects that aim to protect and restore the Long Island Sound and unites federal and state agencies, foundations and corporations to achieve high-priority conservation objectives.

From left, Robert A. DiGiovanni Jr., Leg. Kara Hahn, Adrienne Esposito and Brian X. Foley at the unveiling;

The unique 3-D piece was created by artist Jim Swaim of Environmental Sculptures who attended the June 2 event. Based in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the company designs and builds large metal renditions of animals with the sole purpose to create art that inspires action. The sculptures are hollow and the community is encouraged to fill them with plastic items that would otherwise litter the landscape or waterways.

Since 2014, the company has installed over 20 environmental sculptures across the country in the shape of pelicans, whales, fish, frogs and a buffalo to, according to its website, “Serve as visual symbol of why we should protect the environment we enjoy.”

The unveiling, which was preceded by a beach cleanup, was hosted by Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society and the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

“This outstanding metal sculpture was undertaken for a very, very important reason — to highlight the importance of combating plastic pollution in Long Island Sound and all our waterways throughout the state, throughout the country and indeed throughout the world,” said Brian X. Foley, deputy regional director of the Long Island region for the state’s park system at the unveiling.

Plastic pollution is a global epidemic and considered one of three top concerns for ocean health. According to National Geographic, 73 percent of all beach litter is plastic and includes filters from cigarette butts, bottles, bottle caps, food wrappers, grocery bags and polystyrene containers.

“Today’s event is about combining art with the environment in order to fight plastic pollution.” Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, concurred. “Seals, turtles, whales, dolphins unfortunately are eating all of the plastic pollution that humans are leaving on the beach that washes out into the sea and when they ingest that plastic pollution it kills them,” she said.

Christina Faber of the Northport High School E Team deposits a plastic bottle into the sculpture.

George “Chip” Gorman, deputy regional director for New York state parks spoke about how the new sculpture complements the recent environmentally sensitive renovations to the park and a new environmental education center. “[Shelley] is going to educate people as they walk by that eliminating plastic will protect the environment but will also protect sea mammals and it’s a great project,” he said.

Chief Scientist Robert A. DiGiovanni Jr. of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society was hopeful for the future. “We are seeing more sea turtles and humpback whales in the Long Island Sound. We can make a difference about marine debris. There’s no reason why it needs to be there and to pick it up and move it off the beach is pretty easy,” he said.

“Clearly there has been a sea change in public attitude about plastics and it’s because of people like you who are taking a stand,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Port Jefferson).“We were successful in our plastic straw ban, our polystyrene ban, in reducing water bottle use and the plastic bag ban that now is statewide because people like you have said ‘No more.’ We don’t want to litter our landscape. We want to take care of what we have and we need to continue that fight,” she said.

The event concluded on a symbolic note, with children and students from Northport High School filling Shelley with plastic debris.

“Shelley will be a symbol for how important it is to remove the plastic that you bring onto the beach and maybe never bring any more the next time you come,” said Hahn.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

the orphaned fawn in Bendickson living room, before finding an adoptive doe. Photos from Janine Bendickson

Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown got an emergency call May 28 from Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga). He was driving on the Sunken Meadow Parkway when he encountered a man on the side of the road aiding a dying doe that went into labor after being struck by a car.  

Janine Bendickson bottle-feeds the newborn colostrum. Photo from Janine Bendickson

The man, Gordon Edelstein, was pulling a fawn from the birth canal as Trotta got out of his car. Another newborn fawn, which was lying nearby, seemed healthy, he said. The second-born fawn was breathing faintly, so Edelstein, a retired Marine administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Unfortunately, only one fawn survived. 

“It was a horrible scene and sad to see,” said Trotta, a former cop who often stops at roadside incidents. “Life is so fragile.”

Janine Bendickson, the director of Wildlife Rehabilitation at Sweetbriar, who quickly arrived at the scene estimates that the fawns were born about one week prematurely. She wrapped the surviving baby deer in a blanket and took the animal home and bottle fed it colostrum, the nutritious milk that mammals produce and mewborns typically get when they first nurse.  

The next day, as fate would have it, Bendickson noticed that a wild deer in the nearby woodlands had also just given birth.  

A wild deer accepts an orphaned fawn as her own. Photo from Janine Bendickson

“Deer typically don’t accept fawns from another doe,” Bendickson said. “But we thought we would give it a try.”

The new mother approached the orphaned fawn and started licking and nurturing it. The doe then accepted the fawn as her own and let it nurse. 

“We were all moved to tears,” Bendickson said. “It’s a tragic story with a happy ending.”

Bendickson, who has worked at Sweetbriar for 20 years, said that the rescue was one of the more remarkable experiences of her career. 

A video of the Bendickson bottle feeding the fawn can be found here.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) during a press conference at Port Jefferson Harbor. The LIPA power plant can be seen in the distance. File photo by David Luces

As the federal government under the current presidential administration has scaled back environmental measures — and at points denied the science behind climate change —members in the New York State Legislature are trying to go about it without the leadership of Uncle Sam.

That is, if it can pass before the end of legislative session.

“New York has to help lead the way, because we’re not getting any leadership at the federal level,” said Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). 

“You can just look at the weather reports for the nation — last year California burned, this year Texas is drowning. The amount of rain we’re getting is a result of an overheated ocean relaying more rain to the atmosphere. And on it goes.”

— Steve Englebright

Englebright, the chair of the environmental conservation committee, is sponsoring the Climate and Community Protection Act, which would establish a New York State Climate Action Council. It would contain 25 members made up of state agencies, scientists and those in the environmental justice, labor and other regulated industries. The council would be able to make recommendations to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to limit greenhouse gases. It would also be asked to report on barriers to and opportunities for community ownership of services and commodities in certain communities, particularly for renewable energy.

“An advisory committee that will have meaningful powers to make recommendations as we go forward — the stakes are so high on this issue,” Englebright said.

In addition, the bill would require the DEC to establish greenhouse gas reporting requirements and limits on emissions.

The bill was passed in the environmental committee and was referred to the ways and means committee in February.

The idea of an advisory committee is not new. A similar advisory panel was suggested in the New York State 2019-20 budget, but it was removed in the final version because some legislators disagreed with the number of people on the board and who would sit on it.

“Instead of 25, [Cuomo] had nine appointees; six of them are his cabinet members,” Englebright said.

In January during the process for crafting the budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) incited a “Green New Deal,” which would have been “comprised of the heads of relevant state agencies and other workforce, environmental justice and clean energy experts,” according to a January press release. The governor has set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in New York State by 80 percent below the levels emitted in 1990 by the year 2050.

A spokesperson from the governors office said the governor is continuing to collaborate with the legislature on climate policy proposals.

Cuomo appeared on city radio WNYC’s show hosted by Brian Lehrer June 3. When the new climate change legislation was brought up, he said he was looking to attack the issue while not pretending change will happen all at once.

“I believe this is the most pressing issue of our time, but I don’t want to play politics with it and I don’t want to tell people we can move to a carbon free economy in a period of time that I know that we can’t.”

The end of this legislative session is June 19, and Englebright said he is crossing his fingers the bill can pass both assembly and senate before time runs out. 

He said the bill is especially important with the current administration in Washington. The New York Times reported June 3 that 84 environmental rules and regulations are being phased out by Trump and his appointees.

“We are seeing the effects of increased carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere on a daily basis,” he said. “You can just look at the weather reports for the nation — last year California burned, this year Texas is drowning. The amount of rain we’re getting is a result of an overheated ocean relaying more rain to the atmosphere. And on it goes.”

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