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Your Turn

A juvenile male common yellowthroat. Photo by Joe Kelly

By Joseph Kelly

Those of you that view the work of nature photographers may enjoy the photographs of birds without thinking very much about what goes into these shots. “A bird. On a branch. Pretty bird.” While these are correct and true observations, they don’t really capture what is actually involved in taking a photograph of a bird, or any wild animal for that matter. 

I’m not complaining or bemoaning my lot in life. In fact, I’m hoping that parts of this little essay will bring a smile to your face. Mix in some nature, a little humor and a dash of knowledge, bake for 30 minutes and maybe we’ll all get to enjoy some wild creatures and places. And maybe we, or our children, will try to preserve the recipe.

Okay, back to the premise at hand. I was talking about photographing birds before I went all philosophical there. It happens, get over it. Photographing birds is not as easy as one might think. First off, you have to find the bird. I know, I know: They’re everywhere, right? But they’re not. Not really. We all have robins or sparrows or blue jays or crows in our backyards. Or pigeons for you city dwellers. But if I or any other wildlife photographer just took pics of those guys, we wouldn’t generate much interest. People might get to thinking that they’d seen all there was to see and why seek for more? No one would want to preserve open spaces or parklands. They wouldn’t understand the why of it.

I did it again. I was talking about finding birds and I went all sideways with it. So, really, you have to find the bird. You need to go where the birds are, whether it’s a park, a river or wetlands, a seashore or wherever. Again, you need to go where the birds are. You’re not done yet. Even when you’re in the right place, you still need to find your quarry. It’s not like birds are lining up to meet you. 

I have friends that can find and identify birds by their calls. I am not so gifted. I have several CDs of bird calls but I find my retention for such recordings — or lack thereof — do not help me in the field. Also, I am mostly deaf in one ear so even if I could recognize a particular call, zeroing in on the location of a particular call is nigh on impossible. By the way, I can hardly believe I found an excuse to use the word “nigh” in a sentence.

Okay, so you’re in a right place and you’ve found a bird. You don’t always see it right off. Sometimes, it’s just a rustle among the branches or a disturbance in the flowers. But it’s a bird. It’s right there, maybe just a few feet away. You know it’s there. Maybe you can even hear it. But can you see it? Can you get a photograph? Is that bird sitting there, proud and dignified, waiting for you to take its picture? Most times, at least for me, the answers are no, no and no. Birds flit and fly from branch to branch and from tree to tree. It turns out that the darn things have wings.

But sometimes, those sweet wonderful sometimes, you get lucky. The bird peeks out from the foliage or the flowers and is right there. All you need to do then is put it in focus. And that is an entirely different conversation. 

A resident of Stony Brook, Joseph Kelly is the official photographer of the Four Harbors Audubon Society. Visit his blog at www.joekayaker.com.

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.

Your adventure awaits! Photo from Sue Avery

By Karen Smith

There are days when we need a break from the general craziness of life, and we just want to get outdoors to walk in a peaceful place. Three Village residents are fortunate to have a number of options for this peaceful pursuit and one of the very loveliest is the Three Village Garden Club Arboretum, accessible through the parking lot of the adjacent and separately owned Frank Melville Memorial Park, 101 Main St., Setauket.

This “hidden haven” contains 4.5 acres of wooded pathways that meander through an open meadow, past 30 varieties of specimen trees and shrubs, and offers views of the Conscience Bay headwaters. It’s a habitat for birds, butterflies, frogs, turtles and the rabbits, squirrels and deer that are found throughout our area. 

In early spring you can view the trees and shrubs starting to bud, and as the months pass there are flowers in bloom, then the fall colors and finally the stark beauty of winter. Each offers a different experience, but the feeling of tranquility always is there.

While the arboretum is open to the public, it is privately owned and maintained by the Three Village Garden Club, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Our volunteer and hardworking arboretum administrators oversee the planting of new trees, shrubs and plants, regular mowing of the meadow, removal of invasive plants and management of bamboo. In addition, arborists are called in as needed to remove tree limbs, and when necessary, entire trees. When required, wood chips are added to pathways to ensure that trails remain dry. 

The thousands of dollars expended annually on this maintenance by the TVGC is deemed necessary to ensure the safety of all visitors and the beauty of the property. 

In addition, many hours of volunteer work are provided by members of Students Taking Action for Tomorrow’s Environment (S.T.A.T.E.), part of the Avalon organization, and at times, Scouts and of course, garden club member-volunteers.

The arboretum also is used for educational purposes, chief among which are the Arbor Day celebration held in spring and the Meet the Trees program in the fall. 

Second-grade students from all elementary schools in the Three Village School district are invited to visit and have these “hands-on” experiences to supplement their science curriculum. For the past 10 years it also has been the site of a Teddy Bear Picnic for preschoolers and their parents, offering a walk through the property to introduce them to the natural environment.

You’re cordially invited to visit! Come with a friend or family member. Leashed pets are permitted. Enjoy this beautiful haven whenever you’re in the mood for a peaceful place!

Karen Smith is a member of the Three Village Garden Club.

By Nomi Dayan

Nomi Dayan

Whaling was a risky business, physically and financially. Life at sea was hazardous. Fortunes were made or lost. Whale hunts were perilous, as was the processing of the whale. Injuries were rampant and death was common, sometimes on nearly every voyage. In some instances, the deceased was none other than the captain.

Captain Sluman Lothrop Gray met his untimely end on a whaleship. Born in 1813, very little is known of his past, his family or his early experiences at sea. In 1838, he married Sarah A. Frisbie of Pennsylvania in the rural town of Columbia, Connecticut. His whaling and navigational skills must have been precocious, because in 1842, in his late 20s, Gray became a whaling captain — and a highly successful one. 

His wife Sarah joined him in his achievements, living with him at sea for 20 years. Three of their eight children were born during global whaling voyages. Gray commanded a string of vessels: the Jefferson and Hannibal of New London, Connecticut, to the Indian and North Pacific oceans; the Mercury and Newburyport of Stonington, Connecticut, to the South Atlantic, Chile, and Northwest Pacific oceans; and the Montreal of New Bedford, Massachusetts, to the North Pacific Ocean.  

While financially successful, Gray’s crew felt his harsh personality left much to be desired. Some of his blasphemies were recorded by a cabin boy on the Hannibal in 1843. Gray did not hesitate to flog crew members for minor mistakes. Unsurprisingly, when Sarah once reported her husband had taken ill, the crew rejoiced. To their chagrin, he recovered.

As Gray aged, he attempted to retire from maritime living and shift into the life of a country gentleman. He bought 10 acres of land in Lebanon, Connecticut, and lived there for seven years, where his house still stands. 

This bucolic life did not last, and Gray returned to whaling. With his wife and three children — 16-year-old Katie, 10-year-old Sluman Jr. and 2-year-old Nellie, he sailed out of New Bedford on June 1, 1864, on the James Maury. Built in Boston in 1825 and sold to New Bedford owners in 1845, the James Maury was a hefty ship at 394 tons. Gray steered the course toward hunting grounds in the South Pacific. 

Unexpectedly, after nine months at sea in March 1865, he suddenly became ill. The closest land was Guam, 400 miles away. Sarah described his sickness as an “inflammation of the bowels.” After two days, Gray was dead. The first mate reported in the ship’s logbook: “Light winds and pleasant weather. At 2 p.m. our Captain expired after an illness of two days.”  He was 51 years old.

Sarah had endured death five times before this, having to bury five of her children who sadly died in infancy. She could not bear to bury her husband at sea. Considering how typical grand-scale mourning was in Victorian times, a burial at sea was anything but romantic. It was not unheard of for a whaling wife to attempt to preserve her husband’s body for a home burial. But how would Sarah embalm the body?

Two things aboard the whaleship helped: a barrel and alcohol. Sarah asked the ship’s cooper, or barrel maker, to fashion a cask for the captain. He did so, and Gray was placed inside. The cask was  filled with “spirits,” likely rum. The log for that day records: “Light winds from the Eastward and pleasant weather; made a cask and put the Capt. in with spirits.”

The voyage continued on to the Bering Sea in the Arctic; death and a marinating body did not stop the intentions of the crew from missing out on the summer hunting season. 

However, there was another unexpected surprise that June: the ship was attacked by the feared and ruthless Confederate raider Shenandoah, who prowled the ocean burning Union vessels, especially whalers (with crews taken as prisoners). The captain, James Waddell, had not heard — or refused to believe —that the South had already surrendered. 

When the first mate of the Shenandoah, Lt. Chew, came aboard the James Maury, he found Sarah panic stricken. The James Maury was spared because of the presence of her and her children — and presumably the presence of her barreled husband. Waddell assured her that the “men of the South did not make war on women and children.” Instead, he considered them prisoners and ransomed the ship. Before the ship was sent to Honolulu, he dumped 222 other Union prisoners on board. One can imagine how cramped this voyage was since whaleships were known for anything but free space.

A year after the captain’s death, the remaining Gray family made it home in March 1866. The preserved captain himself was shipped home from New Bedford for $11. 

Captain Gray was finally buried in Liberty Hill Cemetery in Connecticut. His resting place has a tall marker with an anchor and two inscriptions: “My Husband” and “Captain S. L. Gray died on board ship James Maury near the island of Guam, March 24, 1865.” Sarah died 20 years later and was buried next to her husband.

It is unknown if Gray was buried “as is” or in a casket. There are no records of Sarah purchasing a coffin. Legend has it that he was buried barrel and all.

Nomi Dayan is the executive director at The Whaling Museum & Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor.

The American woodcock is back in town. Photo by Luke Ormand

By John Turner

If, in the next couple of weeks, you visit the fields of the wonderful Avalon Preserve off of Shep Jones Lane in Stony Brook at sunset and cup your ears, you might hear twittering and squeaking in the sky and moments later a more emphatic “peenting” call coming from a patch of ground in front of you. 

Cast your eyes skyward into the evening gloaming and you might catch a chunky-shaped bird zooming up from the ground rapidly and circling several times — “sky dancing” as the great conservationist Aldo Leopold once described it — before plunging earthward, typically close to an interested female. His up-and-down spiral flights at twilight are all part of a display he employs in the hope of attracting a mate. 

What is the source of this crepuscular magic? It’s the annual spring mating flight of the American woodcock, a bird that one birder has described as a “flying meatloaf,” due to its chunky nature and rich brown coloration. The woodcock has other names too, some rich in folklore, including the timberdoodle, Labrador twister, bogborer, bogsucker, night peck, whistling snipe, mud bat and night partridge.  And two names shrouded in mystery — the hookum pake and Cache-cache rouge.

The American woodcock. Photo by Luke Ormand

The woodcock is a member of the shorebird family like the piping plovers that nest at West Meadow Beach, but unlike these plovers is never found near the shore. It is a bird of fields, thickets and woodlands, preferably where they are adjacent — fields for spring displays and thickets and woods for nesting and feeding. The species is a widespread breeding bird on Long Island but is declining in abundance as the natural habitat it requires to meet its needs is destroyed by humans to meet their own needs through the construction of housing, shopping centers and industrial parks.

Not surprisingly, like all animals the American woodcock is well adapted for its lifestyle. Often on the forest floor where it rests and forages, the bird’s highly camouflaged plumage serves it quite well, a fact that was reinforced to me on a bird trip to Ohio several years ago. At a very popular birding hot spot a woodcock decided to nest at the edge of the parking lot in some old grasses with scattered branches. Park staff had found the nest and put ribbon around the nest, creating a 15-foot protective perimeter around the incubating adult. Even with help the first time it took me 15 or so seconds to locate the nesting bird. I passed by the nesting site on several occasions over the next couple of days and would stop each time to peer at the incubating woodcock. Even though I knew precisely where the nesting bird was situated, it took several seconds each time to make out her cryptic shape as she sat Zen-like blended in amid the fabric of leaves, grasses and branches.

The bird’s primary food are earthworms, and the woodcock’s long, sensitive bill can easily probe in the ground and, acting like forceps, pull worms out of the ground.  Evolution has been at work here too, with natural selection, acting over eons of time responding to its feeding strategy, which involves spending much time facing downward with a bill thrust into the soil. How so you might ask? By moving its eye position from the front of its face toward the top and back of its head, and by so doing allowing the bird to have a complete 360-degree field of view of its surroundings (in contrast humans have an approximate 210-degree field of view) including, remarkably, a 20-degree binocular-vision field of view behind its head — a good thing since this is where a woodcock is most vulnerable to attack from a predatory fox or hawk.  

This movement in eye position has caused other anatomical changes. The ears, in most birds behind the eyes, have in woodcock, moved under them. More remarkably, the shift in the position of the eye sockets back and up have caused the woodcock’s brain to rotate so that it is almost upside down!     

As woodcocks feed they rapidly probe the ground and, based on specialized cells in their bill, are able to locate their slippery prey. Walking from one set of probing holes to make another set a couple of feet away, the bird simultaneously rocks back and forth and up and down, “walking-like-an-Egyptian” through the leaf litter. What’s the adaptive value of walking like this? Ornithologists aren’t sure but think it may help them detect earthworm prey. Watch a video on YouTube and this behavior (comical to us, serious to the bird) will undoubtedly put a smile on your face.

The nature of their diet means woodcocks have to vacate colder, snow and ice-covered regions, lest they run the real risk of starvation once the ground freezes. So come autumn they leave Long Island heading south to overwinter in the southeastern United States. But return this time of year they do and right now and for a little while longer the “flying meatloaves” are advertising at Avalon and other natural venues near you!

John 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.

Photo by Corinne Conover

Homage to Conscience

By Corinne Conover

I was truly blessed to live 12 wonderful years with great memories and milestones in Strong’s Neck. I wrote this non-fiction piece as a heartfelt thank you to a place that has so much enriched history and beautiful landscapes that, combined with my loving parents and sister, was “home.” Our new ventures take us to Queens and Manhattan. Thank you for reading.

Photo by Corinne Conover

This would be my last time at my “other home.” The home where we played volleyball in the rain — countless barbecues, bike rides around Conscience Point and round the bend to the church steeple, carriage house and the old tavern where George Washington would go to when he would visit, which now is a historic home.

The home where we would visit a secret garden at Avalon, where a wealthy father dedicated a park with hiking, and trails in loving memory to his young son who passed away. Endless kayaking trips with me and dad and Sonny, even after years later, when the kayaks finally gave in and deflated. We had to float back home with our arms spread out. Dad said, “We were penguins that day.”

I offered to take my sister’s dog Foster on the last day for a nice walk, just him and me. We made it to Conscience Point. Gazed at the sun starting to set. The tall tree overlooking the inlet to the ocean and headed to the shoreline. There, before us, sat hundreds of colored rocks from seaweed, salt and growth. And, thought “Who am I, to choose one rock that no longer gets to stay here in its natural state?” It is a lot similar to how I feel of the natural inward beauty that some people exude in life with a conscience. So, I left the rock in its place. “Home.” Looked up at the setting sun. Thanked God and solemnly said … Goodbye.

Members of the Long Island Accordion Alliance, from left, John Custie, Joe Campo, Phil Prete, Phil Franzese, Ray Oreggia, Franco Ruggiero, Dominic Karcic and Mike Zeppetella performing at Campagnola Restaurant, Commack, August 2010. Photo from Dominic Karcic

By Dominic Karcic

From my very early childhood I have been exposed to the accordion, accordion music and dancing to accordion music. In my Croatian and “quasi-northern Italian” culture and upbringing, the accordion was the musical instrument of choice — “the accordion was king.”

Accordion music was always part of every major social event that I ever attended; so it was no surprise when at the age of 10 I started taking lessons. Eventually my love for the accordion became the catalyst that helped direct me to a career performing music and also a lengthy career as a music educator in the Long Island public school system.

From left, Ray Oreggia, Phil Prete, Joe Campo, Charlie Fontana, Dominic Karcic, Bob LaBua, Greg Zukoff, Joe DeClemente, Frank Scardino at the LIAA’s 7th anniversary celebration. Photo by Dominic Karcic

As a longtime resident of Long Island and an active performing accordionist, I knew that there were many people who either played the accordion or used to play the accordion and that there was a vast group of people who just loved accordion music and its culture. I always felt that there was a void and lack of activities and events for the accordion locally.

Being a “dreamer,” I have always felt that a periodic accordion event if structured properly would succeed. I started to bring my dream to reality when in July of 2010 I began calling various accordionists that I knew. Everyone that I contacted agreed to participate and the rest is history.

On Aug. 3, 2010, the very first meeting of what became the Long Island Accordion Alliance, LIAA, took place at a Commack restaurant named Campagnola. This very first meeting included Joe Campo, John Custie, Charlie Fontana, Phil Franzese, Dominic Karcic, Emilio Magnotta, Ray Oreggia, Phil Prete, Franco Ruggiero and Mike Zeppetella. In January of 2011 we moved to our current home at La Villini Restaurant in East Northport.

The LIAA, made up of both professional and amateur accordionists, meets on the first Wednesday of the month with members performing solo, in small ensembles and as an orchestra. Every month we usually have a featured guest artist(s).

From left, Bob LaBua, Frank Scardino, Joe DeClemente, Santo Endrizzi, Phil Prete, Greg Zukoff, Dominic Karcic, Ray Oreggia, ( La Villini Restaurant, East Northport, NY – October 2017 )

We are so proud that periodically some of the finest accordionists perform at our monthly event. Some of these artists have been USA and even world competition champions. These include Beverly Roberts Curnow, Mario Tacca and Mary Tokarski. Some other artists that have performed for us include Manny Corallo, Angelo DiPippo, Don Gerundo, Emilio Magnotta, Paddy Noonan, Frank Toscano, the Scandinavian group Smorgas Bandet and internationally acclaimed vocalist Mary Mancini.

Patrons come in to have dinner and listen to our music. Those who play the accordion are invited and encouraged to participate in the open-mic portion of the evening.

Our aim is to promote a love for the accordion and accordion music, bring former accordionists back to the instrument, create an environment where aficionados can attend and “celebrate the accordion and its culture.” We strive to create an atmosphere where accordionists can perform, grow musically, meet regularly, network and, in our own way, further the aims and goals of the American Accordionists Association.

On Jan. 3 of this year we were honored by a visit from Dave Anthony Setteducati, the host of “Italian America Long Island,” a Cablevision program that airs every Wednesday on Channel 115. He videotaped our event and created a very interesting and informative program that contains personal interviews with LIAA members and guests, many segments of member accordionists performing individually and also segments of ensemble playing. This program is scheduled to be featured on his Cablevision program on Wednesday, March 28, 2018.

The current alliance nucleus consists of nine accordionists including Joe Campo of Wantagh, Joe DeClemente of Bellerose, Santo Endrizzi of New Hyde Park, Dominic Karcic of Commack, Bob LaBua of East Northport, Ray Oreggia of Syosset, Phil Prete of Bethpage, Frank Scardino of East Northport and Greg Zukoff of Bellmore.

In August 2018 we will be celebrating our eighth anniversary. We feel so proud that the formula we created works. We hope our success is an incentive to “other dreamers” out there to take the plunge and create their own local “accordion club.”

The LIAA usually meets on the first Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m. at La Villini Restaurant, 288 Larkfield Road, East Northport. Reservations are highly recommended. For more information, call 631- 261-6344.

A scene from 'Dracula' 1931

By Kevin Redding

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t enamored with Halloween and, by default, horror in general. It could be argued that my birthday falling in late October has something to do with an obsession with the macabre, but I can’t help but think it goes way beyond that.

When I was very young, I became infatuated with a couple important things — one, the work of Tim Burton (specifically “Batman” and “Beetlejuice”), so much so that the only guaranteed remedy to silence this curly-haired toddler’s wails was putting one of his movies in the VCR. I’d sniffle my last cry and watch with attentive giddiness at the Gothic sets, whimsical dark humor and cast of weird characters. The other early influence in my life was Charles Addams — the longtime Westhampton Beach resident, renowned cartoonist for The New Yorker and, most importantly, creator of “The Addams Family.”

Around age 4 or 5, one of my uncles gifted me with a large book called “The World of Charles Addams,” a sprawling tome that contained hundreds of pages of the cartoonist’s famously humorous, creepy artwork and comic strips centered around the grotesque, the misfitted, the spooky, and altogether ooky.

For years my eyes were glued to that book, and I have just about memorized each and every one of its black-and-white and full-cover drawings at this point. It was the first time I remember being truly swept up by art and storytelling — his spooky settings, characters and sensibilities captured my imagination like nothing else before — and it inspired me to put pen to paper and create my own characters and stories, tapping into an artistic, creative side that has followed me into my mid-20s.

The Burton films and “The Addams Family” movies I devoured at this time served as great gateways to the more hard-core horror titles I discovered a few years later. One summer, as I was relaxing before the big move to fourth grade, my cousins and I, joined by my aunt and uncle, gathered around the TV in their living room and watched the original “House on Haunted Hill,” that hokey and wonderful Vincent Price classic.

It would be the start of a weekend tradition, dubbed Saturday Scary Movie Night, wherein we watched scary movies from a bygone era, namely the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. Up until this point, I don’t think I was really exposed to old horror (I loved all the classic monsters but really only knew them as toys, lunch boxes and cartoons … I didn’t exactly know where they came from).

A scene from ‘Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein’

I remember watching “Frankenstein,” “The Wolfman,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” “Nosferatu,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “The Birds.” I loved them all, and they gave me a real appreciation and adoration of old movies and the art of filmmaking in general. After these viewings, I always seemed to go to sleep unscathed, at least until we watched “Dracula” starring Bela Lugosi, which haunted me and led to my first and only sleepwalking escapade. I was scared by it, but also mesmerized by it. From then on, I was hooked. If a movie was scary or had monsters in it, I had to watch it.

And horror is what really got me interested in reading. Entranced by the freaky covers of “Goosebumps” by R.L. Stine, I consumed any of those books available to me, either from the school or public library. As I got a little bit older, I gravitated toward Stephen King, whose books I ate up — especially “The Dead Zone,” “Firestarter” and “Four Past Midnight” — and served as incredible textbooks on how to craft tension, drama and likeable fictional characters. It would be his memoir/advice manual for budding writers, “On Writing,” that sealed the deal for me for what I wanted to do with my life.

So, naturally, Halloween has always meant so much to me. I mean, as a kid, I already walked around in a vampire’s cape and that was in the middle of April, so to have an entire day/month wherein that fashion choice is socially acceptable and encouraged? Sign me up.

Me as Fester

As a kid, I was definitely an oddball and not exactly brimming with confidence. I didn’t have a torturous childhood, but I was certainly on the outskirts of my peers. In the first grade, I had curly hair and I was missing my front teeth, which paved the way for lots of jokes. I was also quiet and painfully shy and never quite knew what to talk about with others, and so, I looked to fictional characters like the Addams family for an escape. I even went as Uncle Fester for Halloween one year, in a really great handmade costume (Thanks mom!), complete with light bulb in mouth. It was a beautiful thing, and I point to horror as being what helped me come out of my shell and feel okay with who I was. For those of us who have ever wanted to hide or escape or be someone else for a day, Halloween is the day that encourages that.

It’s the one day a year when the weird, creative and imaginative parts of ourselves can be unleashed without any hesitation; it’s a celebration of human fear, of community and the art of pretending. And seriously, in this world we’re living in, couldn’t we all use a day of pretending?

John Turner, center, points to a flock of common nighthawks passing overhead. Photo by Patricia Paladines

By Patrice Domeischel and John Turner

If you happen to have driven recently on Old Field Road in Setauket, where it crosses over Frank Melville Memorial Park, you may have noticed anywhere from a few to a dozen and a half people staring at all angles skyward with binoculars and wondered what’s got their attention. Looking at cloud formations? Maybe UFOs? Waiting for sunset? Watching the monarch butterfly migration? Or perhaps observing numerous bird species as they fly by?

If you picked the last choice, you’d be right (although any migrating monarchs are dutifully noted by observers too!). Specifically, these observers have tuned into an annual phenomenon — common nighthawks passing through Long Island on their annual migration, traveling from their breeding grounds in New England and Canada to their wintering grounds in South America.

These medium-sized birds with long wings that sport distinctive white bars may be seen agilely flitting incessantly over the pond, most often at dawn to an hour later and an hour before, right up until, dusk. These erratic flight movements are not a show for our pleasure but a feeding tactic employed to catch their main food source, small insects like midges, mosquitoes, gnats etc. on the wing.

The bird of the hour, the common nighthawk. Stock photo

Not a hawk at all, nighthawks are referred to as “goatsuckers” and are members of the Caprimulgidae family (capri, Latin for goat, and mulgare, Latin for milking). This name is derived from the mistaken belief, originating as early as 2000 years ago, that these wide-mouthed birds sucked the teats on farm goats. In actuality the birds were attracted to the insects stirred up by roving livestock. Other members of this family found on Long Island include the whip-poor-will and the Chuck-will’s-widow.

Common nighthawks, once a common breeder on Long Island (there have been no confirmed breeding records for several decades), and other members of the goatsucker family are experiencing population declines. Published data indicate that nationally common nighthawk numbers have dropped by more than 60 percent over the last 50 years.

This same trend has been seen in New York. Common nighthawks here have declined by 71 percent as a breeding bird between 1985 and 2005, whip-poor-will’s by 57 percent and Chuck-will’s-widows by 62 percent. Prime contributing factors are thought to include rampant pesticide use resulting in diminished insect populations and loss of nesting habitat (being ground nesters they are especially vulnerable to feral and free-roaming cats, fox, skunks and other mammalian predators) and pesticide use.

Pesticide use is highly significant as it has also been implicated in the decline of other birds that feed in the air who also depend upon small aerial insects — species such as swallows, swifts and flycatchers.

There are simply significantly less insects than there were a few decades ago, before the advent and widespread use of pesticides.

Nighthawks do not build a nest, but, as mentioned above, lay their eggs (typically two) directly on the ground, preferring gravelly surfaces. Old gravel rooftops in urban areas once provided additional, appealing nesting habitat for nighthawks, but many roofs are no longer surfaced with gravel, but of rubber, and are not a viable nesting alternative. The shift to other types of roofing materials is also thought to have contributed to a decline in nighthawk numbers.

At the stone bridge on Main Street, the Four Harbors Audubon Society, with the support of the board of the Frank Melville Memorial Park, is conducting a census of nighthawks in an effort to provide an additional source of data about population trends. It is hoped that an annual count, through time as information over the span of years is compiled, can provide additional data on the species’ population trends, helping to supplement the findings gained by the annual nationwide Breeding Bird Survey and periodic statewide Breeding Bird Atlas.

Local birder Richard Haimes, right, with his son and grandchildren, at a recent nighthawk watch at Frank Melville Memorial Park. Photo by Patrice Domeischel

Named the Frank Melville Stone Bridge Nighthawk Watch, pedestrians can watch each evening between 5:30 p.m. until dusk as Audubon members don their binoculars and tally nighthawks and any other avian or winged creature passing through. Several bats are regular visitors at dusk, and a bald eagle, peregrine falcon and other falcon species and hawks have been sighted as have ruby-throated hummingbirds, green herons, belted kingfishers and red-bellied woodpeckers.

It first became evident in October of 2016 when significant nighthawk migration was noticed and recorded at this location, that Frank Melville Park’s stone bridge lookout, with its open vistas overlooking the pond in both directions, might be a hot spot. It was recognized that this location was an important nighthawk migration thoroughfare and a great vantage point to witness them as they traveled through the area. It was also recognized as a hot spot for nighthawks due to the prolific hatch of aerial insects such as midges coming off the two ponds that become ready prey for these birds.

So, an idea was born of curiosity and the desire to help this fascinating, declining species. Why not conduct a common nighthawk survey at the stone bridge? There were questions that needed answering. When do nighthawks arrive here and in what numbers? Are they continuing to decline and at what rate? What can we do to help them?

The data, to date (the nighthawk counting season is not yet complete), have been quite interesting and exciting. The count has been as high as 573 on a wildly exciting evening, where there were “kettles” of birds, circling and feeding, to the only day where no nighthawks were spotted, on a windy, rainy, tropical storm day. Recent data also seem to indicate that most birds travel in a westerly direction, likely following the Long Island Sound coastline before continuing south.

Will data from coming years support our findings from this current year? Will our results mirror the national and statewide trends of declining abundance? Years of data will need to be collected and analyzed; a reliable conclusion cannot be reached based on one year’s findings. But each year’s count results will help us gain a better understanding of the common nighthawk, its numbers and migration trends, and through our research, better protections may be formulated and instituted. Until then, we continue to stand at the stone bridge and count, witness to the exciting phenomenon of nighthawk migration.

The Stone Bridge Nighthawk Count will be ongoing through Oct. 15. All are welcome. Bring your binoculars, your desire to see goatsuckers, and come watch the show. For more information or directions, please call 631-689-6146.

The Three Village school district will hire an additional guidance counselor at Ward Melville High School, above, as well as a psychologist to administer tests throughout the district. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Donna Newman

At a recent meeting of the Three Village Drug & Alcohol Awareness Program — a support group that seeks to educate all and assist parents and family members of teens and young adults battling substance abuse —  I spoke with a young mother of elementary-school-age children. She was there to learn about this growing danger that has taken so many lives in Suffolk County. She is afraid for her children. They are growing up in a society where drug overdose deaths have become routine. She wants to protect her children from becoming victims of substance abuse.

This mom has been on a crusade to make parents aware of the dangers, knowing that this is a Three Village problem and it will take community awareness and extensive effort to combat it. So she speaks to parents of young children wherever she finds them to encourage them to be part of the solution. She told me the majority response from parents is: “Not my kid. She’s an A student.” Or, “Not my kid, he’s an athlete.” Or simply, “My child would never get involved in that.”

I’m here to tell you that you need to take your head out of the sand.

The significant drug problem at Ward Melville High School when my sons were in attendance in the 1990s was not publicly acknowledged by the school district — or anyone else other than the parents whose children “got into trouble.” Mine did not. They were honor grads, heavily involved in extracurricular activities.

However, in a conversation with one of my sons, years after graduation, I learned he had used drugs with some regularity while in high school. It turned out I had been one of those clueless parents. But I was one of the lucky ones.

Lucky, because back then, when a teenager bought marijuana, it was just pot. It was not the cannabis of today, which may be laced with illicit and scary drugs by dealers seeking to hook kids on stronger stuff. Lucky, because he did not have a propensity, and his “recreational” use never rose to the level of addiction.

Full disclosure: As a college student in the 1960s I experimented with marijuana as well. My equally clueless mother discovered a small baggie of weed in my room. She trashed it, never saying a word to me. In that era, just knowing she knew was enough to get me to stop.

The school district has finally acknowledged the fact that addiction is a disease requiring treatment, not a moral lapse requiring punishment.

According to “School district welcomes new drug and alcohol counselor” in the  July 20 edition of The Village Times Herald, the district has hired a substance abuse counselor. Heather Reilly, certified social worker, will be tasked with rotating through the secondary schools one day each week (including the Three Village Academy alternative high school program), providing substance abuse counseling, educating faculty about warning signs and drug lingo, and creating educational curriculum for sixth-graders in collaboration with elementary health teachers. She will also be available to work directly with families.

While this is a laudable first step, it’s not nearly enough. Change will not happen without a concerted community effort. Parents need to accept the fact that this is a real problem affecting Three Villagers across the cultural and economic spectrum. Yes, it could even be your child.

Folks must come to grips with the fact that chemical dependency is a potentially fatal illness and that 90 percent of sufferers go untreated. They need to acknowledge that kids who are addicted to alcohol and/or opioid drugs are not “bad” kids. They are youngsters whose brains are not fully developed, who made bad choices that led to a tragic outcome. It’s time for all of us to learn all we can about prevention and to come together to end this plague.

There’s a lot you can do. For starters, attend the monthly meetings at the Bates House in Setauket. Dates and times are listed on Facebook on the Three Village Drug & Alcohol Awareness Parent Group page — along with other helpful information. Learn when and how to begin to talk to your child about the dangers of alcohol and drugs and your family’s rules concerning underage drinking and substance abuse. A good place to begin is at New York State’s online site www.talk2prevent.ny.gov.

The next meeting at the Bates House, located at 1 Bates Road in Setauket, will be held Sept. 24 at 7 p.m.

Donna Newman, a freelance writer, is a former editor of The Village Times Herald.

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