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Tech Savvy Seniors

Did you know? The Smithtown Historical Society offers a free technology workshop for seniors every other Friday at 11 a.m. in the Frank Brush Barn, 211 E. Main St., Smithtown. Get your questions answered about cell phones, tablets, laptops and more. Topics change weekly, so call or email ahead of time to see what you’ll be learning! Please bring your device (laptop, tablet, or cell phone) to class. Next workshop is Oct. 2. Free. Register by calling 631-265-6768 or email [email protected]

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The Center for Italian Studies at Stony Brook University offers a series of online Italian classes for adults designed to  expose participants to the Italian language and culture. On-line courses using video conferencing and distance learning technologies are offered in Elementary, Intermediate, and Advanced Italian,  each scheduled in 20 two hour sessions fr a total of 40 hours of instruction, form October 10 to April 6. Class times are Saturdays 10 a.m. to noon or Tuesdays, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Cost per course is $260.  For additional information or for a registration form, visit  www.stonybrook.edu/italianstudies or call 631-632-7444.

Taken around 1890, the photo above includes Lucas Cheadle’s great, great grandparents Martin Van Buren Cheadle and his wife Mary Vera with their children, from left, Overton, Ellis, Lurena and Thomas (who is Cheadle’s great grandfather).

By Daniel Dunaief

In joining Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Lucas Cheadle has continued his professional and personal journey far from his birthplace in Ada, Oklahoma.

Then again, his travels, which included graduate work in New Haven at Yale University and, most recently, post doctoral research in Boston at Harvard Medical School, wasn’t nearly as arduous or life threatening as the forced trip his ancestors had to take.

In 1837, Cheadle’s great, great, great grandparents had to travel from Pontotoc, Mississippi to southern Indian Territory, which is now near Tishomingo, Oklahoma as a part of the Trail of Tears. Native American tribes, including members of Cheadle’s family who are Chickasaw, cleared out of their lands to make way for Caucasian settlers.

Lucas Cheadle

Proud of his biracial heritage, which includes Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee lineages, Cheadle hopes to make his mark professionally in his studies of the development of the brain (see article on page B). At the same time, he hopes to explore ways to encourage other members of the Chickasaw tribe to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

One of three sons of a mixed Chickasaw father named Robert Cheadle and a Caucasian mother named Cheryl, Cheadle would eventually like to provide the kind of internship opportunities through his own lab that he had during his high school years.

Indeed, during the summer of his junior year, Cheadle did a health care internship, in which he shadowed different types of physicians. He watched active surgeries and observed a psychiatrist during patient visits. After that summer, Cheadle thought he might become a psychiatrist as well because he knew he was interested in the study of the brain.

Down the road, Cheadle envisions having one or two people learn as interns in the lab during the summer. Longer term, Cheadle hopes other investigators might also pitch in to provide additional scientific opportunities for more Native American high school students.

Growing up in Oklahoma, Cheadle never felt he stood out as a member of the Chickasaw tribe or as a biracial student.

His father, Robert, was active with the tribe, serving as a tribal judge and then as a legislative attorney for the Chickasaw. His grandfather, Overton Martin Cheadle, was a legislator.

Through their commitment to the Chickasaw, Cheadle felt a similar responsibility to give back to the tribe. “It was an incredibly important part of their professional lives and it was a passion” to help others, he said. “I’m driven by that spirit.”

His father took people in who had nowhere to go. In a few cases, people he put up robbed the family. Even after they robbed him, Cheadle’s father took them back. When Robert Cheadle died earlier this year, one of the people whom Cheadle supported helped out with his funeral arrangements.

Driven to accomplish his mission as a scientist, Lucas Cheadle feels he can reach out to help high school students and others interested in science during his research journey.

“The better I can do, the more I can help,” Cheadle said. He hopes to “open doors for other people.”

With some of these efforts to encourage STEM participation among Native Americans, Cheadle hopes to collaborate with John Herrington, a Chickasaw astronaut who took a Native American flute into space during one of his missions. “It would be wonderful to discuss this” with Herrington, “if he has time for me,” said Cheadle.

In modern times, the Chickasaw tribe has made “good strides” in being successful. One challenge to that success, however, is that it has included assimilation.“The main goal is to hold onto the heritage as much as we can,” said Cheadle.

As for now, he plans to honor his heritage in his lab by “working hard to create a safe, respectful environment where people’s unique backgrounds and characteristics are supported and embraced. I try to create a space where diversity can thrive.”

Lucas Cheadle. Photo from CSHL

By Daniel Dunaief

One of the newest additions to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s neuroscience program, Lucas Cheadle, who is an assistant professor, is exploring the early environmental factors at a molecular level that shape the neurological development of the mouse visual system.

While nature and nurture combine to produce the individuals each life form becomes, Cheadle is focused on the ways nurture, specifically, shapes the pathways in the brain that affect the development of sight.

Microglia are an unlikely player in this environmentally-triggered development, as doctors and researchers previously saw these cells primarily as participants in neurinflammation.

That is not the case anymore, with Cheadle and other scientists demonstrating over the past decade or so that microglia play important parts in the healthy brain. Cheadle, specifically, has demonstrated that these cells play a role in experience-dependent circuit development.

Indeed, the process of circuit refinement in the developing brain, which Cheadle describe as being among the “most complex structures in the known universe,” is akin to a room full of half-full boxes, which represent synaptic connections between neurons.

The brain begins with numerous little boxes that make the room difficult to navigate. As the brain consolidates the important items into a smaller number of larger boxes and removes the smaller boxes, the room becomes more manageable.

This is consistent with what Cheadle has seen during refinement. A smaller number of synapses become stronger and are maintained, while others are removed. This promotes the efficiency and precision of neural processing, he explained.

When the contents of some of those boxes disappear, however, the result can lead to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, in which a person struggles to find memories that may have been unwittingly cleared out.

Cheadle, who most recently was a post doctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School, is exploring the way microglia shape the connections between the eyes and the brain between when a mouse is born and when it reaches one month of age.

His work has shown that microglial cells are required for the sensory-dependent phase of visual circuit development. Disrupting signals between microglia and neurons affects synapse elimination, akin to removing the smaller boxes, which is important for circuit function.

Indeed, prior to work Cheadle and others have done in recent years with these cells in the brain, researchers thought microglia in the brain were quiescent, or inactive, after birth, except for their role in brain injury, disease pathology and neuroinflammation.

Until the first week of life, microglia engulf and then digest synaptic connections between some neurons, in a process called phagocytosis. During the sensory-dependent phase of refinement in the third week after birth, which Cheadle demonstrated in a paper published this month in the journal Neuron, microglia stop phagocytosis and rely on cytokines to break down synapses.

The cytokine pathway Cheadle discovered, called TWEAK, which is a ligand expressed by microglia, and Fn14, a receptor expressed by neurons, becomes active between eye opening, which is around two weeks, and peaks at about four weeks old.

When mice don’t have exposure to important visual stimuli during this critical period, the circuit has too many synaptic connections, which reduces the effectiveness of the developing visual system.

While Cheadle is working on visual development, specifically, he is interested in the broader implications of this work in the context of the environmental signals that affect the development of the brain.

In that broader context, the processes involved in autism and schizophrenia could reflect a period in which individuals have an overabundance of synapses that weren’t sufficiently pruned and refined.

Despite the fact that researchers hypothesized that synaptic pruning may lead to these disorders decades ago, they still have a limited awareness of whether and how this might happen. Studying the way microglia contribute to healthy circuit development could provide important clues about these processes.

Some epidemiological evidence points to the linkage between immune activity and neurodevelopmental disorders. In 1918 and 1919, during the Spanish Flu pandemic, children born during that period had a higher incidence of an autism or schizophrenia later in life.

Other evidence shows an interaction between immune activation and neurodevelopmental dysfunction, including the genetic loci associated with such disorders and increased inflammatory markers in the blood and brains of people with such disorders. “There’s really no question that there is a link,” Cheadle explained. “The nature of the link is still poorly understood.”

While earlier epidemiological data raises questions about the current pandemic, it doesn’t provide a definitive answer because “we still don’t quite understand what the nuanced molecular factors are that link the immune activation to the increase in disease prevalence,” Cheadle suggested.

“There’s a real chance that having COVID during pregnancy may impact the development of the offsprings’ nervous systems as has been seen in other infections,” Cheadle wrote. “While it is not the current priority of COVID research, it certainly warrants studying.”

Cheadle hopes to understand the “underlying principals of disorders” he said.

A resident of Huntington, Cheadle lives five minutes from the lab. He plans to rent for now because he didn’t want to start a new lab and move into a new house at the same time.

Cheadle has hired a technician and is in the process of hiring another. A post doctoral scientist will join his lab in November.

Early on in his life, Cheadle said he was fascinated with the interface between the world and biology. He wanted to understand how human brains interpret the information that comes from our senses. Everything culminated, professionally, in his interest in neurobiological mechanisms.

Currently, Cheadle is also interested in the looming behavior of mice. In the field, when mice see a bird that is flying slowly overhead, they are more likely to make a mad dash for safety, running into weeds or for cover from a tree. When the bird, however, is flying too rapidly, the mice freeze.

“I’m intrigued to find out whether the dichotomy of fight or flight could be shifted by the function of microglia,” he said. “I like to understand something at a functional level and dissect it to a molecular level.”

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By Nancy Burner, Esq.

Nancy Burner, Esq., li

Making medical decisions for a loved one is extremely difficult, but making end of life decisions for someone is legally impossible without proof of his or her wishes. In New York, nobody may make end of life decisions for another — such as to forgo life sustaining treatments which only serve to artificially prolong one’s life — unless there is “clear and convincing” evidence of that person’s medical wishes. A Living Will document is the standard manner in which that burden is met.

A Living Will is part of a trio of “advanced directives,” which include a health care proxy and durable power of attorney, that help people plan for incapacity. Although you may name an agent to make medical decisions for you under a Health Care Proxy, that person cannot use his or her own judgment to reject life prolonging medical treatment for you — even if you are in a vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

The agent must provide sufficient proof of whether you would want cardiac resuscitation, mechanical respiration, artificial nutrition and hydration, antibiotics, blood, kidney dialysis, surgery or invasive diagnostic tests. A Living Will document specifically states what medical actions should be taken if you are in a terminal state with no reasonable hope of recovery and cannot communicate your wishes. Without it, your family members may end up in court offering testimony of why you would not have wanted to be kept alive if your quality of life was so poor. A video, a letter, a Facebook post — any such evidence could meet the “clear and convincing” burden.

A standard living will refuses all life-sustaining procedures if such measures only serve to artificially prolong one’s life. Such treatments are limited to making the patient comfortable and maximizing pain relief. However, this is not a requirement. A Living Will can and should be tailored to an individual’s specific needs and beliefs, even if it means that person wants all life-sustaining measures to be taken. Before executing a Living Will, you should consider what medical treatments are to be administered and under what medical conditions. Additionally, a Living Will can state your preference to be kept at home, if possible, rather than in a hospital.

It is important that when deciding who will act as a health care agent, you choose an individual who not only understands your wishes but is also willing to carry them out. Religious beliefs, for example, may prevent someone from “pulling the plug” even though you specifically instruct your agent to do so. A loved one may have a hard time carrying out your wishes for emotional reasons.

Before appointing an agent, you should have a discussion with them to ensure they understand your treatment plan and agree to follow same. If you cannot find an agent to carry out your wishes, the living will can be filed with your doctor or the hospital so that it is on record and provides instructions to your attending physician.

As you can see, a Living Will is a crucial estate planning document that all individuals should have in place. It is important to discuss your wishes with an Estate Planning attorney to ensure that your preferences will be carried out are legally valid.

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

Pick out your favorite pumpkin!

From Sunday, Sept. 27 to Saturday, Oct. 31, St Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church, 29 Brooksite Drive, Smithtown will be selling pumpkins of all sizes at its giant pumpkin patch! Hours are Mondays through Fridays from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.; Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Pick the best for carving, decorating or painting. Masks are required with social distancing. Questions? Call 631-265-4520.

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Focus on reducing pain and improving mobility

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Osteoarthritis has been diagnosed in over 54 million Americans, with 43.5 percent of them reporting symptoms that limit their activities and significantly impact their quality of life (1). Historically, the disorder was thought to be solely a wear-and-tear degeneration of the joint(s). However, Osteoarthritis (OA) also involves inflammation with the release of cytokines and prostaglandins — inflammatory factors — which cause joint destruction and pain (2).

The joints most commonly affected include the ankle, knee, hip, spine and hand. OA may affect joints asymmetrically, meaning that it affects a joint on only one side of the body.

Mainstays of treatment include analgesics and COX-2 inhibitors (Celebrex). Common analgesics used are acetaminophen and NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen sodium (Aleve). A benefit of NSAIDs is that they have anti-inflammatory effects. Meanwhile, COX-2 inhibitors may also improve joint mobility.

There are adverse effects with NSAIDs, including increased gastrointestinal (or GI) bleed and, with long-term use, an increase in cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks, with the elderly being most susceptible.

Neither medication type, however, structurally modifies the joints. In other words, they may not slow OA’s progression nor rebuild cartilage or the joint space as a whole. Are there therapies that can accomplish these feats and, if so, what are they? We will look at hyaluronic acid, glucosamine and chondroitin, and lifestyle modifications such as exercise and weight loss.

Chondroitin sulfate beneficial for hand OA

The results with the use of glucosamine and chondroitin have been mixed, depending on the joints affected. In the FACTS trial, a randomized controlled trial, chondroitin sulfate by itself showed significant improvement in pain and function with OA of the hand (3). The dose of chondroitin used in the study was 800 mg once a day. The patients, all of whom were symptomatic at the trial’s start, also saw the duration of their morning stiffness shorten.

There was also a modest reduction in structural damage of hand joints after three months, compared to placebo. The benefit was seen with prescription chondroitin sulfate, so over-the-counter supplements may not work the same way. Patients were allowed to use acetaminophen, and there was no change in dose or frequency throughout the trial.

Crystalline glucosamine sulfate

In knee OA, crystalline glucosamine sulfate showed reduction in pain and improvement in functioning in a randomized controlled trial (4). When assessed by radiologic findings, it also slowed the progression of structural damage to the knee joint. In other words, the therapy may have disease-modifying effects over the long term. The glucosamine formulation may work by inhibiting inflammatory factors such as NF-kB. The trial used 1500 mg of prescription crystalline glucosamine sulfate over a three-year period. Again, it’s not clear whether an over-the-counter supplement works the same way.

Glucosamine and/or chondroitin for knee OA

In a meta-analysis (group of 10 studies), glucosamine, chondroitin or the combination did not show beneficial effects — reduced pain or mobility changes — in patients when compared to placebo (5). It was not clear whether supplemental or prescription-level therapies were used in each trial — or whether that makes a difference. This study was published prior to the crystalline glucosamine sulfate trial of the knee, discussed above, which did show statistical significance.

There is not much downside to using glucosamine and/or chondroitin for OA patients. However, use caution if taking an anticoagulant (blood thinner) like Coumadin, since glucosamine has anticoagulant effects. Also, those with shellfish allergies should not use glucosamine. If there is no effect within three months, it is unlikely that glucosamine and/or chondroitin are beneficial.

Hyaluronic acid

In a meta-analysis (a group of 89 trials), the risks outweighed the benefit of hyaluronic acid, a drug injected into the joint for the treatment of OA (6). Viscosupplementation involves a combination of hyaluronic acid types that act as a shock absorber and lubricant for the joints. Some of the studies did show a clinical benefit. However, the authors believe that adverse local events, which occurred in 30 to 50 percent of patients, and serious adverse events, with 14 trials showing a 41 percent increased risk, outweigh the benefits. Since there are mixed results with the trials, it is best to discuss this option with your physician.

Impact of weight loss and exercise

Obesity treatment with a weight-loss program actually has potential disease-modifying affects with OA (7). It may prevent cartilage loss in the medial aspect of the knee. The good news is that, even with as little as a seven percent weight loss in the obese patient, these results were still observed. The study’s average weight loss was nine to 10 pounds, and results were seen on a dose-response curve — the greater the weight loss, the thicker the knee cartilage.

Writing in The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. David Felson observed there is an inverse relationship between the amount of muscle-strengthening exercise, especially of the quadriceps, and the amount of pain experienced in the knee joint. It is very important to do nonimpact exercises such as leg raises, squats, swimming, bicycling and on elliptical machines.

Fortunately, there are a number of options to prevent, treat and potentially modify the effects of OA. With weight loss in the obese patient, quality of life can dramatically increased. Glucosamine and/or chondroitin may be of benefit, depending on the joints affected. The benefits are potential improvements in pain, mobility and structural-modifying effects, which are worth the risk for many patients. When taking glucosamine and/or chondroitin in supplement form, ConsumerLab.com may be a good source for finding a supplement where you get the dose claimed on the box. I would also use formulations in the trials that showed results, even in supplement form.

References:

(1) MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017 Mar 10;66(9):246-253. (2) Rheumatology. 2011;50(12):2157-2165. (3) Arthritis Rheum. 2011 Nov;63(11):3383-91. (4) Ther Adv Musculoskel Dis. 2012;4(3):167-180. (5) BMJ. 2010;341:c4675. (6) Ann Intern Med. 2012;157(3):180-191. (7) Ann Rheum Dis. 2012;71(1):26-32.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com.

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Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson hosts a food and person care items drive to benefit the pantry at Infant Jesus Church on Saturday, Sept. 26 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Food items needed include mac & cheese, canned pasta (Chef Boyardee, etc.), coffee, sugar, flour, pancake mix, oatmeal, cereal, mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, cooking oil, boxed milk, juice, canned fruit, healthy snacks, fresh chicken, fresh ground beef and hot dogs.

Personal care items needed include shampoo, baby shampoo, conditioner, soap, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, baby wipes, and diapers (size 6 and newborn).

Grocery gift cards and cash will also be accepted. Donations will be collected in the back of the theater on the south side of the building. Rain date is Sept. 27. For more information, visit www.theatrethree.com.

Deer at Avalon Park. Photo by Mimi Hodges

By John Turner

A White-tailed deer nibbling peacefully on lush green leaves along the roadside, its namesake tail twitching in the twilight of early evening. A screeching, Red-tailed hawk drawing circles around the sun, the bird of prey’s discordant call still being used today to emphasize the most dramatic moments in western movies. Its distant cousin, an Osprey, drops into a rapid stoop, hitting the water with knife-tip sharp talons flared like the legs of a claw lamp, a strategy to enhance capture of slippery fish.

The nightly summer show of incandescence put on by the otherworldly display of fireflies. The seasonal parade of Monarch butterflies feeding on seaside goldenrod at coastal beaches, filling up their migratory fuel tanks on their autumn journey to Mexico. A Grey squirrel sitting on a tree branch in a light rain, feeding on a walnut, adorned with a walnut-stained beard and moustache, its fluffy tail arched over its back and head serving as a most effective umbrella. The dancing flights of Ruby-throated hummingbirds nectaring in wildflower beds, their improbable tubular tongues gaining sustenance through the nectar the plants calculatingly provide.

If you’re like most residents who spends some time outdoors you’ve probably had one or more of the above experiences, or something similar, connecting you to the diversity of wild animals which grace Long Island’s parks, ponds and natural areas. Maybe these experiences have occurred through happenstance or due to your desire to seek them out. Either way, wild animals, what we call “wildlife,” fully living their independent, yet intertwined lives, enrich both ours and theirs and naturally leads to the question: what actions can I take to help wildlife?

Well, the short answer is there are dozens of direct and indirect things each of us can do to protect wildlife both here and further afield. A direct action? Making sure you recycle broken fishing line and not leaving it in or along the edge of a pond where aquatic wildlife, like ducks and swans, and geese, can get entangled and die.

Driving more slowly and looking for box turtles and other animals that might be in harm’s way on the road way. Minimizing bright outdoor lighting which adversely affects nocturnal animals (motion detecting lights are a good compromise between security and the needs of wildlife for darkness).

Indirect actions? Reducing energy and water use, composting the compostable portion of your garbage, recycling the recyclable part, and most importantly, generating less garbage to begin with.

Following are but a few actions for you to consider and there are many, many more, limited only by your imagination. These measures can be placed in two basic categories: things you should do and thing you shouldn’t.

Taking first those activities that you shouldn’t — paramount among them is to avoid the use of pesticides. Despite greenwashing by the chemical industry, it’s important to remember that pesticides are chemical poisons intentionally designed to kill things and they often kill many other insects and other animals besides the ones they’re designed to.

Photo by Tom Caruso

Rampant pesticide use (we use about one billion pounds of insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides annually; yes, billion, that’s not a typo) is the leading cause for the decline of scores of important pollinating insects including native bees, flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, and the European honey bee.

Many non-target mammals, birds, fish, and numerous reptiles and amphibians are harmed or killed by pesticide use too (many box turtles exposed to pesticides appear to develop painful abscesses in their middle ear cavity which can be life threatening). There is much on-line information about less destructive ways to control undesirable insects, weeds, etc., than through using poisons.

Another “don’t” action involves your cat. Cats, both feral and free roaming pets, are the leading cause for small mammals and bird deaths and their decline. Billions of mice, voles, and hundreds of millions of songbirds, involving dozen of species, are killed by cats annually in the United States. And collar bells on cats make no difference as birds don’t associate bells with danger.

Most people don’t open the front door to let their dog out, freeing it to roam the neighborhood, but don’t think twice about letting the cat out where it can and does wreak ecological havoc. While it is difficult to make a pet cat used to going outside exclusively into an indoor cat, there are transitioning strategies you can employ available on-line for review. And make your next pet cat an indoor one!!

Now for the do’s — do make your yard friendly for wildlife! Make it a cafeteria and shelter! This effort should start by planting or expanding the use of native plant species which are life sustaining for hundreds of insects which form the base of local food chains.

Doug Tallamy, in his wonderful new book ,“Nature’s Best Hope,” states that a White oak tree can sustain several hundred different species of insects — insects, both in adult and larval forms (caterpillars) that birds like Black-capped chickadees and Downy woodpeckers need to survive.

Another great native plant — a shrub — is Common elderberry (yes, THAT plant whose berries are made into wine). The small white flowers provide nectar to a variety of small pollinating insects and the red-purple berries, often produced in copious amounts, are eaten by a number of songbirds. Compare these species to non-native exotic plants, say a Winged Euonymus or Arborvitae, typically planted by homeowners and landscapers. These plants are ecological deserts never becoming part of the local food chain since no or few insects feed upon, insects which sustain so many other living things.

Add sterile lawns and we’ve created landscapes around our home that provides little in the way that wildlife needs. In contrast, planting native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees is a highly effective strategy for hosts of animals that feed on the bounty that native plants provide in the form of nectar, seeds, fruits, and nuts.

And leaving leaf cover in your flower beds and other out of the way places during the autumn cleanup provides shelter from the winter’s cold for a variety of overwintering caterpillars and other insects.

Placing decals on your home’s windows is another measure you can take around your house to meaningfully help birds. Nearly a billion birds in North America are estimated to die annually from flying into building windows they don’t see, due to either of the two deadly characteristics windows possess — transparency and reflectivity. Hummingbirds are especially common collision victims. There are several type of attractive decal products available for purchase on-line which, when installed, help enable birds to see windows for what they are.

By now you may have had the thought — John, you’ve discussed these other ways to help wildlife but what about perhaps the most obvious way: by feeding birds. In truth, that’s a common and pervasive misperception as feeding birds does nothing to help them survive since no wild bird species depends upon backyard bird feeding stations to continue to exist.

Wild birds are quite adept at finding enough wild food for themselves even during the winter and for their young during the breeding season to survive. They don’t need or depend on the seed, suet, sugar water, jelly, and oranges many homeowners put out to entice them. And the species that frequent backyard feeders — Black-capped chickadees, Tufted titmice, Common grackles, Carolina wrens, and a variety of woodpeckers — are common suburban birds whose populations are doing well. The species whose populations are declining and are in trouble — many migratory warblers, vireos, swallows, swifts, nighthawks, thrushes, and flycatchers — rarely, if ever, frequent feeders.

So, if you’re feeding birds because you enjoy watching them up close that makes sense (a point hard to argue given their beauty and fascinating behaviors!), but if you’re feeding them because you think individual birds and species of birds need your help, it would be better to spend the bird feed money by writing a check to a bird conservation advocacy organization like the National Audubon Society (the local chapter is the Four Harbors Audubon Society) or the American Bird Conservancy.

The 2020-2021 Federal Duck Stamp features a pair of black-bellied whistling-ducks painted by Alabama artist Eddy LeRoy.

Even better, you should take some of the money you’ve saved and buy a federal Duck Stamp, one of the best kept secrets in conservation. More than five million acres of wildlife habitat have been permanently protected, purchased through the use of Duck Stamp funds, including much of the National Wildlife Refuge system (we have some wonderful refuges on Long Island you can explore like Wertheim and Elizabeth Morton).

Simply stated, animals need habitat to survive. Like us, they need water, food and shelter and the Duck Stamp program has provided a way to protect huge expanses of habitat. Buying land that contains valuable wildlife habitat can help bird species survive. Duck stamps are available for purchase at a place which has been much in the news lately: your local Post Office.

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

*This article first appeared in Harvest Times 2020, a supplement of TBR News Media

Photo courtesy of Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm

By Melissa Arnold

With cooler weather on the horizon and a bit of normalcy returning to Long Island, there’s no better time to get out and enjoy some fresh air. If you’re looking for a fun and safe outdoor activity that’s out of the ordinary, a trip to Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm in Baiting Hollow is just the ticket.

This year, the farm has planted a sunflower maze for the first time. Following the success of sunflower mazes grown earlier this summer, co-owner Jeff Rottkamp has planted a new series of mazes that will bloom in the fall.

The family-owned farm has been in business for more than 50 years now, with centuries of agriculture in their blood. Fox Hollow is currently run by Jeff, his parents and brother, with help from other relatives.

In recent years, people have flocked to the farm to enjoy the season’s bounty along with hayrides and corn mazes, but this year, the Rottkamps were excited to try something new.

“I’ve been seeing sunflower mazes popping up online from places all over the country, and I liked the way they looked,” Rottkamp said. “I knew it was something we could do and I thought people would find it fun. We did a brief trial run last summer and the feedback was extremely positive, so we were happy to do it again officially.”

Photo courtesy of
Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm

Setting up any kind of crop maze is a process that requires an imagination and a lot of planning in advance, Rottkamp said. First, you have to select the right field — not too large, not too small, and in just the right spot on the sprawling grounds. Planting begins two months ahead of when they want the maze to be ready.

“Sunflowers need a lot of maintenance and careful watering,” he added. “I come up with the pathways at random each time we plant a field, so it’s a new experience every time.”

There are several varieties of sunflowers in different colors and sizes. In addition to the familiar golden petals, you’ll see sunflowers in shades of pink, maroon and white. Most of the sunflowers will grow to be 4 to 6 feet tall, but there will also be scattered sunflowers around 10 feet tall.

Of course, a maze made of living things can only last so long — sunflowers are only in bloom for about two weeks. To counter this, the farm is planting three different fields of sunflowers at staggered times. When one dies out, the next will be ready to go, and each one is different from the last.

The three fields are also different sizes. In order of growth, they are 1 acre, 4 acres, and 3 acres. But don’t worry about getting lost. “It’s not that kind of maze, it’s not a puzzle. It’s more of a wandering path that you can take your time going through, to take pictures and have a little bit of fun,” Rottkamp explained. “No one will get lost, and this is appropriate for all ages to enjoy.”

Before or after your trip through the maze, be sure to stop by the farmstand and pick up fresh, seasonal produce. Autumn will bring in the last of the sweet corn and tomatoes, as well as pumpkins, winter squash and zucchini, among others.

There are treats for sale as well, including local honey, Tate’s Bake Shop cookies, and fresh pies and donuts from the Jericho Cider Mill.

The mazes will be open for wandering throughout September and into October if the crop and weather permit.

Admission to the Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm sunflower maze is $5 per person. Children ages 5 and under are free. The farm is located at 2287 Sound Avenue in Baiting Hollow. For further information, please call 631-727-1786.

This article first appeared in Harvest Times 2020, a supplement from TBR News Media.