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West Meadow Beach

SPARKLING SUNSET

Pamela Murphy of Stony Brook took this serene sunset picture at West Meadow Beach on Aug. 5 on her iPhone. She writes, “I never tire of gazing and capturing on film the sunsets we are privileged to enjoy at this jewel in our community. The brilliant saturation of colors, in addition to the way the sun was reflecting on the water leading right up to the shoreline, was beautiful to behold.”

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

Girl Scout Lauren Reitano, second from right, before installing monofilament recycling receptacles at West Meadow Beach with environmental educator, Nicole Pocchiare; Robyn Reitano and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

A local Girl Scout’s project has been a golden opportunity to help make one beach a little bit cleaner and safer.

Lauren Reitano, a Girl Scout with Troop 2547 in Centereach, installed two monofilament recycling receptacles at West Meadow Beach Aug. 7 for her Gold Award project. The award is the highest a Girl Scout can achieve, and the project challenges high school students to identify and solve a community problem.

Lauren Reitano with one of the receptacles installed at West Meadow Beach. Photo from Lauren Reitano

Reitano, 16, said she knew her undertaking would involve West Meadow Beach. She said she visits the Town of Brookhaven beach frequently and notices people leaving fishing lines behind. She decided to install the durable plastic receptacles made of polyvinyl chloride pipes at the town beach to provide a place for fishers to properly discard their fishing lines.

“A beach cleanup is great, but that’s not going to last,” the soon-to-be senior at Centereach High School said.

Reitano said the receptacles, which are located at the beginning of the nature path when entering from the parking lot, look like candy canes, and fishers can place lines in the top part of it. Every other week she will go to the beach to empty them, and in the future she can pass the project down to a younger Scout.

The Girl Scout said Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) stopped by the beach while she was installing them and chatted with her about the project.

“Installing the monofilament receptacles is doing a great service to the environment and protecting the wildlife in and around the water,” Romaine said in a statement. “Fishing line is one of the most frequent and hazardous forms of marine debris, and I thank Lauren for helping to prevent more plastics from getting into our waterways.”

To begin her project, Reitano sat with Brookhaven environmental educator Nicole Pocchiare who walked her through all the steps of the project, which involved working with the town to get approval for placement of the containers. Reitano said while the process with the town took a few months, the actual construction and installing of the receptacles was about a half-hour each. On Aug. 7, she spent approximately two hours at the beach with her mother and Pocchiare finding the ideal spots and measuring for proper placement.

“Installing the monofilament receptacles is doing a great service to the environment and protecting the wildlife in and around the water.”

— Ed Romaine

As they were completing the installation, Reitano said a bicyclist thanked them and told her he witnessed people handling discarded lines and hooks getting cut by the hooks.

“It’s dangerous for people and animals as well because when it gets in the water, it can strangle them,” Reitano said.

Her mother, Robyn, who is a co-leader with Troop 2547, said she was proud of her daughter, who is usually quiet, being persistent enough to get the job done by going through the proper channels with the town for approval and waiting for a response.

“It makes me feel good as a life lesson
because she was able to really see it through,” the mother said.

Lauren Reitano said Girl Scouts should choose something they are interested in when looking to earn a Gold Award because the project can take some time.

“If you really don’t have an interest in what you’re doing, then it’s going to drag on,” she said. “If you have an interest in the topic — like I have an interest in the beach and the environment — it’s going to be super fun.”

Sun, food and fun were on the agenda at West Meadow Beach in Setauket.

The Three Village Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual family barbecue at the town beach Aug. 8. Bagel Express was on hand to serve the food, and the store’s owner Dave Prestia donated all the hamburgers and hot dogs. Attendees had a chance to win a variety of raffle prizes, and the Stony Brook Rotary provided a golf simulator.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) joined residents at the barbecue which has been an annual tradition of the chamber for nearly 20 years.

For more information about the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, visit www.3vchamber.com.

They aren’t unicorns, tooth fairies or fantastic creatures from the C.S. Lewis “Narnia” series. And yet, for a Long Islander who spent considerable time standing knee deep in the waters around West Meadow Beach, listening to the aggressive screech of territorial red-winged blackbirds, the sight of a green ruby-throated hummingbird moving forward and backward in North Carolina brought its own kind of magic.

By the time I got out my cellphone and clicked open the camera app, the bird had disappeared.

While there are hummingbirds that periodically appear on Long Island, the sight of one in Charlotte so soon after our move here seemed like a charming welcome from the nonhuman quarters of Southeastern life.

Behind a Chili’s and Qdoba — yes, they are side by side in a strip mall here — we discovered a spectacular lake with a small walking path over the water near the shore. Looking down, we saw numerous fish hovering below and, to our delight, a collection of turtles, who all clearly have an appetite for the leftovers from the nearby restaurant.

We have also seen, and felt, considerably more bugs and mosquitoes, while we’ve heard cicadas, which, unlike the 17-year kind on Long Island, emerge here every year.

So, what about the two-legged creatures?

After the initial shock from the level of consideration other drivers displayed, it’s become clear that:

(a) The Northeast hasn’t cornered the market on aggressive and anxious drivers.

(b) You can take the New Yorker out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the New Yorker.

Until I get North Carolina license plates, I have been driving the speed limit on smaller, local roads. Other cars have tailgated me so closely that I can practically read their lips as they talk on the phone or sing songs.

I watched a woman in a Mustang convertible, with rap music shouting profanities, weave in and out of traffic as her long hair waved in the breeze behind her. From a distance, the music and expletives were one and the same.

We have also seen an extensive collection of tattoos. A young FedEx driver climbed out of her truck and rang the bell to deliver a package. Her arms were so covered in colors and designs that it was difficult to discern a theme or pattern.

I walked into a supermarket behind a young couple pushing a baby stroller. The father had tattoos along the back of his muscular calves, while body ink adorned the well-defined shoulders and arms of his wife. I wondered if and when their young child might get her first tattoo.

When they find out we’re from the Northeast, people in North Carolina frequently become self-deprecating about their inability to handle cold weather. They laugh that flurries, or even a forecast for snow, shuts down the entire city of Charlotte. They assure us that no matter how much we shoveled elsewhere, we won’t have to lift and dump snow by the side of the road.

They ask how we’re handling the heat, which is often in the mid-90s, and the humidity, which is fairly high as well. While the three H’s — hazy, hot and humid — are my least favorite combination, I have certainly experienced many warm summers on Long Island, where shade or a trip into the ocean or a pool provide small comfort in the face of oppressive warmth.

With birds and insects of all sizes flying around, and drivers weaving in and out of traffic, North Carolina has displayed an abundance of high-energy activity.

A yellow-crowned night-heron takes a sip of water. Photo by Patricia Paladines

By John L. Turner

If you like to spend time in early evening sitting on the southernmost bench at West Meadow Beach, enjoying the panoramic view of Stony Brook Harbor in the shadow of the Gamecock Cottage, you’ve probably seen or heard them. Feeding at the mouth of West Meadow Creek or along the main channel to the harbor or perhaps hearing their distinctive “wonk or quonck” call as one or more fly past. These are the night-herons and two species call the Three Village area home — the common black-crowned night-heron and the less common yellow-crowned night-heron.

They are called night-herons because of their habit of feeding most actively during sunset and into the night. This habit is reflected in their scientific names: Nycticorax nycticorax for the black-crowned night heron (nycticorax meaning “night raven” for their “wonk” sounding call they emit at dusk and through the night) and Nyctanassa violacea for the yellow-crowned night heron, meaning “a violet-colored night queen.”  

A black-crowned night-heron searches for his next meal. Photo by Luke Ormand

On Long Island these two species inhabit the salty coast, rarely found away from the island’s salty brine environs. It is here they call home, feeding on the marine life that sustains adults and young alike. For black-crowned night-herons this means an assortment of fish, mussels, crustaceans, even the occasional mouse; whereas for the yellow-crowned it means almost exclusively crabs, which make up 90 to 95 percent of their diet. Fiddler and mud crabs beware! Because of their diet, night-herons, like owls, regurgitate pellets.

Watching them hunt is to observe a lesson in patience. With Zen-like focus they remain motionless or move very slowly through shallow water or along mud banks, essentially blending into the background so their prey no longer sees them for the predators they are. Then with a lightening strike it’s too late.

While they look similar, appearing as chunky wading birds lacking the grace of the egrets and great blue heron, they are easy to tell apart. The black-crowned has a “two-toned” quality with wings and a neck that’s gray with a dark back and crown. In contrast, the yellow-crowned is uniformly dark gray (sometimes casting a violet to purplish color as mentioned above) and has a distinctive and diagnostic white cheek patch, and a namesake yellow crown. Both species have long attractive plumes emanating from the back of their heads.

Identifying the juveniles, however, is more difficult. They both appear as chocolate brown birds with a lot of spotting. At closer glance there are clues to use to separate the species: the juvenile yellow-crowned has an all black bill while the young black-crowned heron’s bill is yellowish. Also, the yellow-crowned has a slenderer aspect to it with longer legs and finer spotting.   

A yellow-crowned night-heron. Photo by John L. Turner

They nest in loose colonies often in association with other wading bird species such as snowy and great egrets. Young’s Island situated in the mouth of Stony Brook Harbor is a good place to observe these mixed species wading bird rookeries. The scruffy looking young are nothing short of comical looking with fine hairlike feathers splayed this way and that like the hair style of a mad scientist.

And it was scientists who realized they were declining many decades ago for the same reason that caused bald eagle, osprey, peregrine falcon and brown pelican populations to plummet — the widespread use of DDT, a persistent pesticide that affected the ability of birds higher on the food chain (those that eat animals) to produce eggshells. Fortunately, with DDT being banned by the EPA in the early 1970s, night-herons and these other species have largely recovered.

Interestingly, the effort to ban DDT began here in the Three Village Area when a number of local scientists like Charlie Wurster and Bob Smoelker, among others, joined with other concerned scientists to form the Environmental Defense Fund as a means to galvanize public support for banning the chemical. Now an effective environmental organization with an international reach, EDF began in the Three Village Area with the first office being on the second floor of the Stony Brook Village Center right behind the famous flapping bald eagle (likely the only eagle on Long Island at the time with no DDT in its tissues!).  

You can bask in the glow of this good news of ecological healing as you sit attentive on that southward facing bench at West Meadow Beach, waiting for the herons of sunset to appear.   

John L. Turner, a Setauket resident, 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 and Natural History Tours.

‘ROSE BY BEACH’ 

Jay Gao of Stony Brook snapped this interesting photo of a lone beach rose at West Meadow Beach on June 3 with a Nikon D750 camera. A speedboat and the bluffs of Old Field are in the background.

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

The Town of Brookhaven has approved a license agreement to allow the town educator to live at the ranger's cottage, above, at West Meadow Beach. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

The Town of Brookhaven is ensuring a trip to a local beach remains educational as well as enjoyable.

Nicole Pocchiare, Town of Brookhaven environmental educator, will be residing in the ranger’s cottage at West Meadow Beach. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

The town board unanimously approved a license agreement between Brookhaven and town environmental educator Nicole Pocchiare June 14. The agreement allows Pocchiare to reside at the house known as the ranger’s cottage at West Meadow Beach.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she was pleased about the board voting unanimously in favor of the license agreement and understanding the importance of having a continuous presence at the beach.

“I think having an environmental educator present at West Meadow Beach is a benefit to the entire community,” Cartright said. “It allows her to keep a close eye on the sensitive ecosystem there and also provide programs in a manner that’s not ‘9-to-5-ish.’ She does programs early in the morning — she has late evening programs — and I think that the community is appreciative of that.”

Eileen Gerle became the first environmental educator for the town in 2009, and when she retired in October 2014, Molly Hastings took over the position until her suspension in September 2016, which the town has not provided a reason for. While Pocchiare has been an environmental educator for the town since April 2017, Cartright said it took some time before someone could live at the cottage again after Hastings left because the town councilmembers felt it was beneficial to set up a license agreement, where the resident could only live in the home as long as they were a town educator.

Cartright said residents have been consistent in their requests that they wanted someone present at the cottage at all times.

“Even if it’s just a tidbit that they learn, it brings them closer to the beach and the creek.”

— Nicole Pocchiare

Civic leader Herb Mones, from Stony Brook, is one of those residents. He said he calls West Meadow Beach the “Fire Island of the North Shore” due to the similarities in views and native species, and feels it’s important the town has someone in place to educate beachgoers about its importance.

“I think it’s critical because it not only fulfills the state law for the preservation of West Meadow that stipulates that there be an environmental educator at the park, but what it does, it brings about a growing awareness and an appreciation for the ecosystem and the environment which is developed by their programs,” Mones said. “I think the more robust the program, the better the future for the park and the preserve.”

Pocchiare said she was excited to hear of the board’s approval because she feels it will make her job a bit easier living on the beach and also being close to West Meadow Creek. Currently, she has been traveling from her office at Brookhaven Town Hall whenever there is a program at the beach or someone is needed there. The educator said being on the grounds will make it easier to help representatives from organizations who may need to work on the site early in the morning or late at night. Most important of all, residing at the cottage will provide her more opportunities to interact with the public, even outside of town programs.

Nicole Pocchiare releases a butterfly during an environmental program at West Meadow Beach. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

“It increases the appreciation and increases then the conservation of the beach,” she said. “Even if it’s just a tidbit that they learn, it brings them closer to the beach and the creek.”

Pocchiare said programs for the current year include educational activities for all ages including nature exploration, full moon and nature walks, and birding by the beach.

The educator, who currently lives in Selden and grew up in Holbrook, said she remembers going to West Meadow Beach for the first time 10 years ago and meeting Gerle.

“I remember loving this little beach,” she said. “I was used to the South Shore because I was a Sachem girl and grew up in Holbrook. But I think I’ve grown to really love the North Shore beaches. The sand flats that West Meadow has and those beautiful sunsets because of it being situated from north to south, overlooking the west. And then having the creek and the salt marsh on the other side of Trustees Road is something so unique to West Meadow which sets it apart from all the other beaches.”

HELLO WORLD! Maria Hoffman of Setauket was in the right place at the right time when she snapped this photo of a diamondback terrapin hatching at West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook on Aug. 20. She writes, ‘I met a young woman, Emmy Silver, who was standing watch over a diamondback terrapin nest that had begun to hatch on the side of the path to the Gamecock Cottage. She was a volunteer for Friends of Flax Pond, which monitors the turtle nesting. While I spoke with her, we watched this one egg hatch. The little turtle was only about 2 inches long. Once it broke its head out of the egg, it rested for a long while. But once it was ready to come out, it made a fast push and then all its movements were fast. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen!’

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

BEACH FUN Jay Gao captured this gorgeous image on July 29 at West Meadow Beach in his hometown of Stony Brook using a Nikon D750 camera. He writes, ‘It had been cloudy all day long. After dinner, I heard from the TV that the sun would be out and sunset would be beautiful. At once, I grabbed my camera and headed to the beach.’

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

A DAY AT THE BEACH

Judy Welter recently snapped a photo of her 2-year-old grandson, Connor, at West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook holding his very first hermit crab. She writes, “He couldn’t be more delighted. My son’s picture [Connor’s uncle] appeared in your newspaper 41 years ago. He too, was playing by the shore at low tide and is pictured with a hermit crab in hand. Time for the next generation to discover our wonderful beach.”

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