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Sweetbriar Nature Center

It’s that time of year again. Sweetbriar Nature Center, 62 Eckernkamp Drive, Smithtown will hold its annual Wildlife Baby Shower on Sunday, May 20 at 1 p.m. Come celebrate nature as it comes alive in the spring with beautiful flowers, vibrant green leaves, and, of course, baby animals. Sweetbriar takes in hundreds of orphaned animals a year. A Sweetbriar rehabilitator will show you how baby animals are cared for by their parents in the wild and here at the nature center.  A cake to celebrate will be shared with all to celebrate the occasion.

Please bring donations to help them feed their wildlife.

How you can help ……. wish list:

  • CHEERIOS
  • APPLESAUCE-NO SUGAR
  • TUNA IN WATER
  • AD/CANNED FOOD
  • DRY CAT FOOD
  • DRY DOG FOOD
  • CANNED CAT FOOD
  • CANNED DOG FOOD
  • WEE WEE PADS
  • RUG SKID PADS
  • ALMONDS
  • WALNUTS
  • DISH DETERGENT
  • LAUNDRY DETERGENT
  • VINEGAR
  • FACECLOTHS
  • OLD TEE SHIRTS
  • SPONGES
  • LARGE ZIPLOCK BAGS
  • LARGE TRASH BAGS
  • TOLIET PAPER
  • PAPERTOWELS
  • GRIT
  • OATBRAN CEREAL
  • OATMEAL
  • LIDS OF PEANUTBUTTER JARS
  • PUPPY FLEA SPRAY
  • VETWRAP
  • TRIPLE ANTIBIOTIC OINTMENT
  • ZIP TIES
  • WATER BOTTLES
  • SHREDDED WHEAT

Admission is $10 children, $5 adults, discounts available for scouts. For more information, please call 631-979-6344.

 

Einstein the screech owl. Photo by Kevin Redding

TIME TO CLEAN OUT THOSE CLOSETS

Let’s help Einstein and his friends at Sweetbriar! The nature center, located at 62 Eckernkamp Drive, Smithtown seeks donations for its annual spring yard sale and fundraiser on April 28 and 29 including antiques, collectibles, memorabilia and other “cool” stuff. Please NO clothes, books, baby supplies, electronics or anything that weighs over 40 pounds unless it fits the above guidelines. Proceeds will go toward the center’s mission of providing nature education and wildlife rehabilitation. To make a donation, please call Eric at 631-979-6344 or Joe at 631-901-5911.

A haven for Long Island’s injured wildlife

By Kevin Redding

Three weeks ago at a construction site in Elwood, a young red-tailed hawk was lying on the ground with its eyes closed. It had been hit by a car and its skull was fractured.

But today, that same bird of prey can be found perched inside a spacious flight aviary at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown, gliding from one branch to another and darting its head in every direction in search of its next meal. Dan’s Bird, as it’s known on the property after it was rescued by Daniel DeFeo, a Sweetbriar volunteer since 2015, will eventually be released back into the wild as one of more than 1,000 injured animals the nonprofit will rehabilitate this year. 

“As a wildlife rehabilitation center, we are about 50 percent successful with what goes back into the wild, where most other centers are at about 30 percent,” said Janine Bendicksen, Sweetbriar’s curator and wildlife rehabilitation director. “We can do everything a vet hospital can do except surgeries, as far as medications and setting bones. We’re also the only center where people can just walk in and drop animals off. It’s a real service to the public.” Whatever the site can’t do on its own, she added, is handled by the staff at Best Friends Veterinary Care in Nesconset.

All in a day’s work

On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, Bendicksen — who has been at Sweetbriar for 18 years, is at the site five days a week and is in charge of teaching educational programs, fundraising for big events and running the summer camp and wildlife rehabilitation camps — made her rounds throughout the property, making sure to greet every critter along the way, including permanent wildlife patients like Einstein the screech owl, who has suffered a broken wing and leg and takes shelter among piles of towels and blankets inside a laundry room; Jack, a kestrel with a missing eye and a crossed beak due to exposure to the pesticide DDT; an old turkey vulture that was hit by a car in Pennsylvania, broke its hock and sustained a wing fracture; and an opossum that was found starving to death and is expected to be released in the spring.

There are also box turtles, mallard ducks, rabbits and chipmunks. A groundhog and a deer too. The site is licensed to take in almost any animal, Bendicksen said, except rabies vector species like raccoons and skunks.

Squeezed into a tiny wooden habitat, Bendicksen summoned two flying squirrels from inside a nesting box. Although they are nocturnal, she said these animals only slip into semihibernation during the day and can be woken up to eat and play. “These guys came from somebody’s attic,” she said. “Every couple of weeks we get another one because somebody uses a Havahart trap to catch them.”

Even though the nonprofit, which officially opened in 1986, has been rehabilitating wildlife for more than 30 years, Bendicksen said the program has grown in “leaps and bounds” over the last decade and each year the site takes in more and more. This is due to both Sweetbriar’s growing popularity in the community and people and developments “encroaching on animal’s habitats,” Bendicksen said.

The goal of Sweetbriar, of course, is to bring every animal back into the wild, and specifically back to exactly where they were found, but in many cases, the outcome depends on the specific animal and its situation. For instance, some injured animals can’t live in captivity and these — as well as animals that don’t recover from their severe traumas — must be euthanized.

“It’s the humane thing to do,” Bendicksen said. “Seagulls come in all the time and they don’t do well in captivity. While in cages, they get what’s called bumblefoot [inflammation on the soles of the feet], which they eventually die from.”

Not long after she explained this, William and Mary Krumholz of Smithtown brought in a box containing a seagull they found hobbling in the Costco parking lot.

“It looks like the wing is broken,” William Krumholz said. “It could hardly run away from me. It was only a matter of time before it got run over.”

After wrapping the seagull in a towel and doing some quick detective work in the rehabilitation room, Bendicksen deduced more than likely it was struck by a car, and found that the last digit of its wing was separated and hanging on by a part of the bone. She assured the Krumholzs that it would be taken to the veterinarian to be checked out further and told them about the inflammation concern with seagulls.

“But, if that’s the case, what you did do was save him from starving to death or being eaten or run over,” she said to them. “We’ll do our best.”

Mary Krumholz nodded her head. “I mean, that’s nice, but … It was only a car ride over here and I already feel bad.”

Bendicksen later said one of the most challenging parts of the job was to resist the urge to become attached to the animals that come in.

“It’s why we try not to give names to any injured animals we release, just the permanent ones,” she said, “because you become too close to the animals and it makes it very, very hard if you have to make a difficult decision. We wish we could release everything back where we found them.”

The human touch

People have been bringing animals to Bendicksen to be patched up since she was a young girl growing up in Hauppauge.

“There are little kids here who just stick their hands into cages and that would’ve been me — I was always told to be a veterinarian,” Bendicksen said. “My mom’s friends would call and say, ‘The cat just grabbed a baby bunny and it survived.’ I would always build little habitats for them and make sure they had a comfortable bed, even if it was just, like, a frog.”

Bendicksen grew up to be the owner of a children’s clothing business called Janine, which employed stay-at-home moms. In the late 1990s, however, she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, which forced her to give up everything for a while.

“I went through two years of hell and then had to kind of start my life over again,” she said. When she became cancer free, she came to Sweetbriar with her children for one of its volunteer picnics. She struck up a conversation with the site’s director, who, after finding out more about her, asked if she’d be interested in helping them curate the site.

After some extensive training, a licensing process and testing from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Bendicksen was a teacher on the site. It didn’t take long before she became director of wildlife rehabilitation. “This place saved my life,” she said. “What makes you happy as a child should be what you do as an adult. I’m extremely lucky.”

Val Timmerman, a Stony Brook University student and one of Sweetbriar’s 14 volunteers, said everything she knows she learned from Bendicksen.

“She’s so awesome and knows everything,” said Timmerman, who stumbled across Sweetbriar almost two years ago while searching for animal rescue facilities close by. “Being able to make even a small difference in the patient’s lives, making things a little bit better for them, is what I love. And, of course, releasing them, finding out that a possum or something we didn’t think was going to make it is doing so well now. It’s great.”

Bendicksen said without her volunteers, the site wouldn’t survive. “These people are near and dear to my heart,” she said.

DeFeo, who studies biology at Suffolk County Community College and hopes to be a zookeeper one day, is at Sweetbriar every Saturday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. taking care of all the birds of prey on the property, preparing all their food, changing their water bowls and cleaning out their dirty cages.

“I’ve always loved animals,” DeFeo said. “Just going out there and saving an animal’s life — it’s such a beautiful feeling. And I always feel a sense that I will do anything to save that life.”

Before pursuing the animal field, DeFeo said he was an electrician. But he knew he had to call it quits after nearly suffering a severe injury.

“If I fell off a ladder and broke my back, I’d be miserable for the rest of my life,” he said. “But if I got my arm bitten off by an animal, I’d probably still be happy and go to work the next day. This is what I’m meant to do.”

How you can help

“The public needs to be better educated on what they need to be afraid of, what they shouldn’t be afraid of and what they should do when they find an animal,” Bendicksen said, adding that any and all residents who do come across an injured animal should call Sweetbriar before handling it or bringing it in.

Here are some helpful tips Sweetbriar staff members have assembled:

• Baby birds are often seen fully feathered but trying to fly, with the parents nearby. These are fledglings. If they look bright and alert, it is best to leave them alone. If possible, keep cats and dogs away from the area for a few days in which time the birds will learn to fly. The parents will continue to care for them even though they are on the ground. If you are not sure the parents are nearby and you are concerned, you may put the bird in a nearby bush or on a tree branch and observe from inside the house for a few hours. If the mother sees you in the yard she will not come near.

• If an adult bird can be caught, probably something is wrong and it needs help.

If you encounter any kind of turtle crossing the road, it is okay to help it along. However, please carry it to the side of the road in the direction it is heading. By putting it back on the side it is crossing from, it will start crossing the road all over again.

If an opossum is found smaller than 8 to 10 inches, it probably needs attention. Orphaned babies are often found looking for food near a dead mother, especially alongside roads. These animals rarely contract rabies because of their low body temperature.

• DO: Place the animal in a secure cardboard box with small holes placed on the side or lid. The box should be just big enough for the animal to stand and turn around, to prevent the animal from thrashing around and hurting itself. Place paper towels or a T-shirt on the bottom of the box.

• DON’T: Keep peeking at the animal or handling the animal. The more you look at an animal or handle it, the more you stress the animal and reduce its chance of survival. Resist the temptation to put an animal inside your shirt. Cute little squirrels are notorious for being covered with fleas.

Sweetbriar Nature Center is located at 62 Eckernkamp Drive in Smithtown. The center is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, call 631-979-6344 or visit www.sweetbriarnc.org.

A kestrel at Sweetbriar Nature Center
This Great Horned Owl calls Sweetbriar his home.

Time to clean out those closets: Sweetbriar Nature Center, located at 62 Eckernkamp Drive, Smithtown is seeking donations for its annual Yard Sale for Wildlife, which will be held on April 29 and 30 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. All funds raised will support the nature center’s mission of providing nature education and wildlife rehabilitation.

Donations of antiques, collectibles, knick-knacks and other items under 50 pounds in good condition are now being accepted. (No televisions or other electronics, books or clothing please.) To make a donation, call Eric Young at 631-979-6344, ext. 302 to arrange a drop off or pick up.

Visitors to the new exhibit, Forest to Forest, can meet a box turtle up close and personal. Photo courtesy of Sweetbriar Nature Center

By Erika Riley

A tropical rainforest comes to life on the second floor of the Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown, and that magic will only expand with the addition of a new interactive experience coming later this month. The new exhibit, titled Forest to Forest, speaks to the touch, smell, visuals and sounds of the local Long Island woodlands and will officially open on Dec. 26.

The new room, which is located off of the rainforest exhibit on the second floor, aims to be as interactive as possible, allowing visitors the opportunity to use four senses (as taste is excluded) to experience the natural world, but all indoors and warm from the winter chill.

The project was led by Program Director Eric Young. “We wanted to build something to give them things they couldn’t necessarily see in the outdoors, but also times of year like this where they can’t experience the outdoors,” Young said.

One of the most exciting features is the addition of the crawl space underneath the box turtle exhibit. Children, as well as adults, can crawl through the underground world beneath the forest floor, look through a small window to view the forest floor above and peak at the center’s resident box turtles in their enclosure. There are already little dioramas installed into the walls of the crawl space showcasing different kinds of wildlife.

According to Young, visitors can also sniff containers with forest smells and explore a touch table that features different textures of objects found in the forest. “While they are doing all of this, they can take in the amazing artistry of the room as they play I Spy to explore the forest and field murals around the room,” he said. There will also be interactive computer programs set up in the room, such as one that plays an audiofile of a bird call, and visitors must click on the picture of the bird that they think makes that call. Once they click correctly, they can read information about that bird.

Young is planning on bringing in trees and plants from the area to utilize for the touch and smell parts of the interactive exhibit. All of the wildlife featured in the room will represent local plants and animals that are found in the surrounding woodlands. Any plants that are brought into the room will be directly from Sweetbriar’s woods on the property.

One of the main goals of the new room is to increase children’s excitement and appreciation of nature. According to Young, the involvement with the natural world is a three-step process. One: Help them appreciate the natural world. Two: Help them understand the natural world. Three: They want to get involved with the natural world. “If you don’t care about something, you don’t want to take care of it,” Young said.

Young enlisted the help of artist and head curator at Sweetbriar Jenine Bendicksen and carpenter John Scorola on this project. While Young credits himself as coming up with the idea, he gives them the credit for making it come to life. “It takes a village,” he said.

The exhibit is made possible by a grant from the New York State Council for the Arts Decentralization program. The money was eventually allocated by the Huntington Arts Council to Sweetbriar, and they used it to finally do something with the room previously and affectionately known as Turtle Town. Once the exhibit opens, Young hopes to keep expanding it and making it even better throughout the years.

Sweetbriar Nature Center is located at 62 Eckernkamp Drive, Smithtown and is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the weekends. For more information, please call 631-979-6344 or visit www.sweetbriarnc.org. Admission to the self-guided exhibit is $2 per person, which includes the rainforest room. Proceeds will go toward the upkeep of the exhibit.

About the author: Stony Brook resident Erika Riley is a sophomore at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She is interning at TBR during her winter break and hopes to advance in the world of journalism and publishing after graduation.

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.

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Summer activities for the family

West Meadow Beach is not the only option for summer fun.

This blog was originally posted in July 2013. It has been updated with current information.

You may still be recovering from those last couple of weeks of careening from one end-of-school-year event to the next, but once the novelty of not having to make it to the bus in the morning or churn out homework in the afternoon wears off, boredom will set in hard and fast.

When younger kids are not in camp, entertainment often falls on mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, or whoever else is looking after the little ones.

Fortunately, our area is not wanting for things to do, and we all have our fail-safe go-to’s — the Emma S. Clark or the Middle Country Libraries for their smorgasbord of classes and activities, the fields or labyrinth at Avalon, West Meadow Beach, or the sprinklers in Port Jeff.

For those days when you want to venture out a little farther, here are just a few more ideas for getting out and about. And let me just preface my recommendations with one bit of advice: wear insect repellant in addition to the sunscreen!  The bugs are out in full force!

Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown

The nice thing about Sweetbriar is you can just get up and go without any real planning or effort, and you can easily spend a couple of hours between picnicking, walking the exhibits and enjoying the outdoor setting. Because much of it is outside, it may not be ideal for a sweltering day.

The animal rehabilitation center is home to horned owls and other birds of prey, and if you hit the right time, you might just see Iggy, the iguana who usually resides inside, walking the grounds sunning herself. The butterfly house is open for business, and there are walking trails, an English garden and an outdoor play spot, complete with water play area, chalk boards and even a log see-saw.

The indoor exhibit features reptiles, amphibians, honey bees and other small animals, as well as skeletons and other educational displays. The rainforest room upstairs is a child’s favorite because of the “bridge” that extends over a faux river. Just watch out for the ginormous tarantulas hanging out, quite literally, in their tanks at the back of the room and make sure to have some pennies to toss into the “river.”

For hours, directions and information about camps and special programs, visit the website, http://sweetbriarnc.org. Sweetbriar is located at 62 Eckernkamp Drive, Smithtown, NY11787, 631-979-6344.

Brookhaven Wildlife and Ecology Center in Holtsville

Another great place for animal viewing is the Holtsville Ecology Center. The small zoo is home to a variety of animals including a bald eagle, emu, horses and a giant pig. All inhabitants are previously injured animals that cannot be re-released.

Though entrance is free,  you may want to have change on hand to buy feed for the goats from the dispensers. Afterwards, you can enjoy a picnic lunch in their picnic area,  run around the playground or ride bikes, scooters or roller blade on the trails.   Oh, and there is an ice cream truck parked outside the entrance, so be prepared to indulge!

For more information visit brookaven.org The Town of Brookhaven Wildlife and Ecology Center Nature Preserve is located at 249 Buckley Road, Holtsville, NY. 631-758-9664.

New York State Parks

Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown and Connetquot River State Park Preserve in Oakdale both offer biweekly Tiny Tots Nature Discovery classes for children 3 to 5 years old. All you have to do is call ahead to reserve a space. The hour-long class is only $4 per adult and $3 for children!

There are also programs for older children, families and adults. This Saturday from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. there will be a bat program at Caleb Smith Park. You can learn about bats in the educational center before walking through the woods scouting for the creatures. While this particular event is recommended for those 5 and up, you can get information about other programs at Caleb Smith by calling 631-265-1054. (They are in the process of updating their website).

For more information on programs at Connetquot River State Park, go to nysparks.com.

Sailors Haven and the Sunken Forest on Fire Island

If you’re looking for a bigger adventure, take the Sayville Ferry across to Sailors Haven on Fire Island, where you’ll find the Sunken Forest and a beach with fine sand and huge seashells for collectors. A boardwalk connects the visitors’ center, the showers, beach and forest. You can either wander around on your own, or take a free ranger-led tour.

Bring your own snacks, since the snack shop is closed while the marina is under construction. Both should reopen at the end of July. The good news, though, is there are lifeguards on duty and the bathrooms and showers are open.

As you can expect, attire for the woods and attire for the beach are not exactly compatible, especially because the forest, situated on freshwater bogs, is extraordinarily buggy — we’re talking total feeding frenzy. Shorts and sleeveless shirts are not advisable, or you will be running to avoid being devoured. Bug spray is ESSENTIAL.

The Visitors Center is open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information visit the website nps.gov or call (631) 597-6183.

 

 

 

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