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Eric Powers

Students learn about life cycles while helping to curb Long Island’s growing tick population

Fifty bobwhite quails are being raised at Mount Sinai Elementary School to be released at a park in Ridge. Photo by Kyle Barr

Mount Sinai Elementary School fourth-graders are raising quails to help curb the tick population.

As part of a seven-year program, teacher Kevin Walsh works with students to raise a group of 50 bobwhite quails from eggs in a classroom incubator, then transfers them to a large pen located in the corner of the courtyard under heat lamps. The young students watch their project grow before their eyes and learn about the natural process of life.

“We teach the kids about food chains, about ecosystems, predator-prey relationships and the needs that all our creatures have to survive,” Walsh said. “We teach kids how to properly carefor living animals. It carries with them later in life.”

Mount Sinai Elementary School fourth-graders are in the process of raising 50 bobwhite quails. Photo by Kyle Barr

As similar as the quails are to one another, the fourth-graders who raised them said they could be distinguished by their look and personality.

One is named Michael Jackson, another Brittany, Roadrunner, Scooter and Beyoncé. The kids curled their fingers through links in the mesh fence and called the quails by name to see if they would touch their hands.

“They claim they can tell them apart,” said Walsh as he watched them, laughing. “I’m like, ‘Are you sure?’ They all look the same to me.”

The school received the quail eggs in April and watched the quails hatch inside their classroom incubator. By the end of this month, the quails will have reached the size of a grown man’s fist. By the time they are released in July at Brookhaven State Park in Wading River, the teacher said he expects them to double in size.

“Back when I first started last July, one of the first things I saw out here was [Walsh] standing in the courtyard tending to the quails,” said principal Rob Catlin, who is finishing his first year at the helm of the elementary school. “He’s out there seven days a week. In summers and on Memorial Day weekend — he’s coming in to check on them.”

Quails, as birds who stay close the ground, are a natural predator for ticks, whose population has swelled in recent years. If the problem wasn’t already as front and center as it was for Walsh, two years ago he was infected with Lyme disease, and for days was cooped up in his home suffering pains and a fever.

“We teach the kids about food chains, about ecosystems, predator-prey relationships and the needs that all our creatures have to survive.”

— Kevin Walsh

The disease can be debilitating and infectious, and causes severe headaches, joint aches and tiredness, especially if not treated immediately. Left untreated the disease can potentially cause paralysis in the face, heart palpitations and memory issues.

“Luckily I got the meds really quickly, but I haven’t been that sick in a long time,” Walsh said. “I had aches, pains, a high fever and was sweating like crazy. This project has taken on a more personal meaning since then.”

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said without Walsh there would be no quails.

“It’s near impossible to find a guy as dedicated as Kevin,” Brosdal said.

Walsh recalled moving to the suburbs of Long Island from the city, and how his mother called his father at work, excited to learn their new home came with a flock of chickens. She later learned they were a flock of brown speckled bobwhite quails.

With changing times, Long Island’s quail population has changed, too, seeing a severe decline due to loss of habitat and excess predation.

“The quail like open landscapes – really sunlit areas,” Walsh said. “And a lot of the places left on Long Island are wooded, heavily forested or turned into developed land.”

Local biologist Eric Powers said household cats have also made a huge dent in population.

“It’s pretty simple math — one plus one,” Powers said. “You add cats to an environment and they just decimate the local ground dwelling animal population, particularly the birds.” 

Mount Sinai Elementary School teacher Kevin Walsh shows off one of the 50 bobwhite quails his class is raising. Photo by Kyle Barr

Walsh receives his quails every year through a program developed by Powers back in 2002 for the dual purpose of rejuvenating the local quail population while curbing the rising tick problem, which gets worse every year with a lack of natural predators.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the number of illnesses related to ticks, mosquitos and fleas have tripled from 2004 to 2016, with 69,313 diseases reported from ticks in New York state in that time. In 2013, the CDC estimated that nationally there were 300,000 cases of Lyme disease annually, which is carried by deer tick.

Brosdal’s daughter Erika suffered through the pains of Lyme disease when she was 13 years old. As a father, watching his daughter lay in pain on the couch was heartbreaking.

“She couldn’t breathe,” Brosdal said. “It affected her so terribly – she was an A-grade student until that happened, and then she had to read everything twice. I give her a lot of credit — she’s 44 now and has two master’s degrees and she’s a high school psychologist.”

Brosdal said the quails have an important job to do and “can do a lot of good.” 

Powers said multiple schools participate in his program and will release the quails in parks all over Long Island. If any school or group is interested in raising quails, Powers can be contacted through www.yc2n.com.
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Tips and tricks when handling ticks
By Desirée Keegan

According to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, over 900 calls were received from people seeking advice from its tick helpline in 2017.

A free tick kit provided by Stony Brook Southampton Hospital includes tweezers, a magnifying glass and sanitizing wipes. Photo by Desirée Keegan

If a tick is found on your body, there are ways to safely remove it:

• Tweezers are the best tool and should be placed as close to the skin as possible — grabbing the tick’s head.

• Pull upward with a slow and steady motion and try to avoid breaking the tick in half. If the head snaps off, know disease transmission is not possible without the entire body.

• Disinfect the bit area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water and contact a physician. Consider placing the tick in a baggie or pill vial.

• Pay attention to your health in the weeks following.

There are also ways to reduce your exposure, like checking for ticks daily, especially under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees or between legs and on the hairline and scalp.
Remove and dry clothing on high heat as soon as possible to kill ticks. They can’t be drowned by washing. You can create a tick-safe yard by mowing frequently and keeping leaves raked. Also be sure to treat dogs and cats.

One tick can carry multiple pathogens. Deer ticks or blacklegged ones have no white markings, are brown or black in color and are very, very small. Both nymph and adult stages can transmit diseases like Lyme and babesiosis.

For more information on handling and treating ticks or for a free removal kit visit www.eastendtickresource.org or call the helpline at 631-726-TICK (8425).

Striving to be more environmentally conscious, the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce invites the community to join them on Saturday, June 17, for its 9th annual Green Fest. This festival will draw in hundreds from all over Long Island who want to become more environmentally conscious.

Held at the Port Jefferson Village Center at 101A East Broadway and the neighboring Mayor Jeanne Garant Harborfront Park’s Great Lawn from 1 to 5 p.m., this thematic event reflects a world that gives you the ability to make “green” choices in your daily lives. The festival concentrates on educating, informing, entertaining and enlightening people on how to live a “greener” lifestyle.

SCWA’s water buffalo will make an appearance at the festiva

This year come check out the “water buffalo” sponsored by the Suffolk County Water Authority. This portable water truck will be filled with hundreds of gallons of water for all attendees to fill up their own water bottles with fresh clean water. This helps the environment by reducing plastic bottles going into our landfills. So bring your containers and have a drink on us!

Entertainment will again be engaging and fun this year. The Ripple Effect Spiritual Therapy Drum Circle will be bringing 13 drums with shakers and rattles to compliment the other percussions. These hand drums are placed in a circle and volunteers are asked to “perform” in an improvisational manner as a gathered group. Drop-ins are welcomed, so come and play with us.

At 1 p.m. the local and very popular singer/songwriters, the Como Brothers, will be performing their heartfelt lyrics and harmonies on the Great Lawn. Their style of songwriting draws from pop, rock and blues originating from a love for acts such as the Beatles.

Join Diane McDonald for a free yoga session at the event.

If you are not feeling musical, join It Takes a Village Wellness yoga instructor and owner Diane McDonald at 2 and 2:40 p.m. for some green yoga right on the front lawn of the PJ Village Center; mats will be provided.

Join the Port Jefferson Free Library’s Green Teens throughout the day for children’s activities as the group presents a short demonstration on how to create crafts using recycled materials while also teaching others what it means to be a Green Teen at the Port Jefferson Library.

“Your Connection to Nature” biologist, wildlife handler, outdoor educator, photographer, traveler and storyteller Ranger Eric Powers will present two programs reflecting wild diversity using live animals! Just in case you want more animals, check out the Sweetbriar Nature Center’s table to visit with its resident screech owl.

Finally, to keep attendees amazed, there will be varied vendors (see page B18) highlighting green products and services including solar power and renewable energy, electric/hybrid cars, demonstrations and a mini-farmers market.

This free event is family friendly and kicks off the summer season. Come on down and enjoy the day, learning about methods that promote sustainable ways of living that benefit our environment and planet. Won’t you join forces with us to work together to make our community a healthier place to live? It starts with one small step (or fest) at a time.

For more information, visit www.portjeffgreenfest.com or call the chamber at 631-473-1414.

A great horned owl at Sweetbriar Nature Center

Sweetbriar Nature Center, 62 Eckernkamp Drive, Smithtown will hold a yard sale on Oct. 29 and 30 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to support its mission of nature education and wildlife rehabilitation. Donations of household goods, collectibles, antiques and small pieces of furniture are requested — with nothing more than 40 pounds. No clothing, books or baby items please. All proceeds go to caring for their animals.

To drop off items or to arrange a pick up, call Joe at 631-905-5911 or Eric at 631-979-6344, ext. 302.

Eric Powers holds a great horned owl. Photo from Carole Paquette
Eric Powers holds a great horned owl. Photo from Carole Paquette
Eric Powers holds a great horned owl. Photo from Carole Paquette

Biologist and outdoorsman Eric Powers will conduct a birding walk at Caleb Smith State Park Preserve on Jericho Turnpike in Smithtown on Saturday, May 14, from 9 to 10:30 a.m.

Preregistration is required as space is limited. Call 631-265-1054.

The free event is part of the 2016 Lecture Series sponsored by the Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve, and will involve walking about two miles. Walkers are urged to wear sensible footwear and bring binoculars and a camera with a telephoto lens, if they are able.

Having extensively explored the historic Caleb Smith park, “Ranger Eric” — as students know him — will lead attendees to some of his favorite locations to see birds and other wildlife, as well as highlighting plants and freshwater springs, the lifeblood of the park. Ranger Eric suggests bringing any bird feather you would like to share with the group.

See more of Ranger Eric on his new television show “Off the Trail” at www.myNHTV.com. For more information, visit his website at www.YC2N.com.

For more information about Friends activities and events, visit www.friendsofcalebsmith.org.

A recently released quail sits on a log at Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown. Photo by Talia Amorosano

By Talia Amorosano

A record number of bobwhite quails were released this year, and many of the students, teachers and parents who raised the birds helped welcome them to Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown on Saturday.

For 12 years, Eric Powers, a biologist and wildlife educator, has been at the forefront of organizing the annual quail release at Caleb Smith and other parks in the area. He described this year’s event as the largest one yet, as a record number of schools raised the quail chicks and 1,400 quails were released.

“The idea of bringing back the quail is to bring balance back to our ecosystem,” Powers said at the rainy morning release.

Unlike nonnative guinea fowl, which “eat good wildlife” like salamanders and dragonflies, northern bobwhite quail are native to Long Island and play a vital role in controlling tick populations without harming other native species, according to Powers.

Children and parents watch quail being released. Photo by Talia Amorosano
Children and parents watch quail being released. Photo by Talia Amorosano

Those in attendance included volunteers, students, teachers and Long Island comedian Joey Kola, who said that he “saw this program and jumped on right away” after personally experiencing Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a tick-borne illness transmitted to humans through a tick bite.

Attendees initially gathered inside the park’s nature museum, where they learned about the quail, viewed preserved eggs and touched feather samples before listening to Powers’ talk.

“What we see is we get this immediate clearing of ticks [after the quail are released],” Powers said, but “cats are outright hammering these birds.”

Powers described indoor-outdoor cats as the biggest threat to quail upon their release, and suggested people make use of what he referred to as “catios” — enclosed patios where cats can get outside without hunting native animals.

However, because this is the first year the Caleb Smith quail cage has reached overcapacity — forcing a few hundred quail to be released earlier — Powers is optimistic the quail population may begin to take hold on its own if school and community participation continues to increase.

Kids and adults alike were certainly enthusiastic about the release, as they gathered in the pouring rain to watch 500 birds abandon their cage and taste freedom for the first time. The quail were tentative at first, but as soon as one group took flight others ran through the crowd and into the woods. The remaining quail were released later on in the day.

A few observers got a truly interactive experience when frantic quail landed on their umbrellas and even perched on their arms. And after the initial release, teachers and students took boxes of quail to various locations around the park and carried out their own private releases.

Only time will tell how many of the birds will survive in the wild, but with increased community awareness that quail have the potential to lower the population of disease-ridden ticks, and a better understanding of the dangers posed to quail by cats, it seems likely that the birds most recently released will have a better chance of survival than those released in the past.

A deer tick is a common type of tick on Long Island. Stock photo

As Long Islanders are warned about an uptick in Lyme disease, another tick-borne virus has emerged in Connecticut across the Long Island Sound.

Nearly 12 years ago, Eric Powers, a biologist and wildlife educator, noticed an increase in the tick population at Caleb Smith park in Smithtown, after pulling nearly 40 ticks off a group of his students.

Powers conducted a survey of the park and discovered the population of tick predators had decreased, as feral and outdoor house cats either chased them off or killed them.

“It’s becoming a huge nationwide issue with our wildlife,” Powers said during a phone interview. “Wherever people are letting their cats out, we’re seeing this disruption in ecosystem where these tick predators are gone.”

But what Powers did not find was the prevalence of a tick-borne virus, the Powassan virus, which recently appeared in Bridgeport and Branford in Connecticut.

Between 1971 and 2014, 20 cases of POW virus were reported in New York, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Suffolk County. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the virus has been found in Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Like Lyme disease, the virus can cause long-term neurological problems if left untreated. But Long Island POW virus incidences remain low despite the increase in tick population, according to Daniel Gilrein, an entomologist at Cornell Cooperative Extension.

POW virus, which is related to the West Nile virus, was first identified in Powassan in Ontario, Canada, in 1958 after a young boy was bitten by an infected tick.

Little is known about how much the tick population has exactly increased on Long Island, but Tamson Yeh, pest management and turf specialist for the Cornell Cooperative Extension, said it is unlikely cats are contributing to the increase by eating tick predators like birds.

“Birds will eat ticks, but not all birds are insect eaters,” Yeh said in a phone interview.

She said the snow cover during the winter months served as insulation for the ticks hiding in the ground, which helped them survive during the colder weather.

Richard Kuri, president of R.J.K. Gardens, a St. James-based landscaping company, has not noticed an increase in tick population recently. Regardless, he and his men continue to wear long sleeves and use a variety of sprays to ward off bugs while on the job. Kuri also said people may use more natural remedies to deter ticks.

“There are people who apply peppermint oil and rosemary mix that will help,” Kuri said. “But none of them are cure-alls.”

He added that granular insecticides, like Dylox, help kill a variety of unwanted bugs including ticks carrying viruses like Powassan.

There are two strains of the virus, which are carried by woodchuck and deer ticks. Since only about 60 cases of POW virus were reported in the United States in the past 10 years, Yeh said the chance of encountering POW virus is unlikely since the virus is rare.

Symptoms of the virus include fever, headaches, vomiting, weakness, confusion, drowsiness, lethargy, partial paralysis, disorientation, loss of coordination, speech impairment, seizures, and memory loss. Other complications in infected hosts may possibly arise, such as encephalitis, inflammation of the brain and meningitis.

Powers said he hopes to reduce tick population on Long Island through his quail program. He encourages local teachers, who use chicks or ducklings to educate their students about the circle of life, to raise bobwhite quails. He said releasing these quails annually will not only help them adjust to the presence of cats, but also control the tick population.

Biologist, outdoorsman Eric Powers plans special event at Smithtown spot as spring weather arrives

Ranger Eric Powers with an eastern screech owl. Photo from Carole Paquette

The warmer weather has Smithtown residents spreading their wings and one upcoming event at a town park offers a literal translation of the phrase.

Biologist and outdoorsman Eric Powers will be hitting the North Shore next week to conduct a birding walk at Smithtown’s own Caleb Smith State Park Preserve on Jericho Turnpike.

Having extensively explored the historic Caleb Smith park, Ranger Eric — as most North Shore students know him — will lead attendees to some of his favorite locations to see birds and other wildlife, as well as highlighting plants and freshwater springs, the lifeblood of the park.

A former park ranger in Colorado, Powers led nature hikes until he joined the Peace Corps as an environmental education officer for two years. In 2005, he started his own company, Your Connection To Nature, dedicated to meaningful environmental education programs and ecotourism. These programs connect classrooms to field studies and give people a deeper understanding of their local environment.

Powers’ latest endeavors include a monthly cable TV series about Long Island nature, the Marine Explorers Summer Camp in Babylon and the original bobwhite quail vs. ticks project.

For more information, visit his website at www.yc2n.com.

The event, slated for Saturday, May 9, from 9 to 10:30 a.m., includes a preregistration requirement as space is limited. For more information, residents can call 366-3288 or 265-1054. The free event is part of the 2015 lecture series sponsored by the Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve, and will involve walking about two miles.

Walkers are urged to wear sensible footwear and bring binoculars and a camera with a telephoto lens, if they are able.

For more information about the activities and events of the park’s friends, visit www.friendsofcalebsmith.org.

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