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Four Harbors Audubon Society

Four Harbors Audubon Society (4HAS) is launching a brand-new, aptly named, “Bird Oasis” program on March 1. Property owners can now request a consultant from 4HAS to assess the quantity and quality of native plants and eco-friendly practices on the premises to help local bird populations and other wildlife to not just survive, but to thrive. 

If the property qualifies, a certification level is determined and a sign is given to the owner, proclaiming the property a bird- and wildlife-friendly habitat. If the property is not quite ready, or a higher Bird Oasis certification level is sought, the consultant will create a list of improvements for the owner to implement.  

Photos of the finished property are sent back to the 4HAS Bird Oasis team for reassessment. In addition, photos of the most attractive, “birdiest” yards will be featured throughout the year on the chapter’s website. There are also future plans to have a yearly “Best Bird Oasis” contest.

The reasons for this program are abundant.  In suburbia, open space is at a premium and what exists is usually overrun by invasive plant species, creating large areas of low-quality food sources unable to support native wildlife in healthy numbers. Such habitat fragmentation and loss, coupled with climate change and inappropriate environmental practices is causing bird and other wildlife populations to fall into steep decline.

In 2018, the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development & Planning published its 2016 Land Use Study. In the report, Brookhaven Township and Smithtown Township had 27% and 17% recreational and open space, respectively.  The report went on to quantify Brookhaven Township’s residential, commercial, institutional and industrial land use at a bit more than 50%. Smithtown Township in total is a bit higher at 63%. This land is the focus of the Bird Oasis program.

The program takes the concept of a healthy, robust ecosystem and places it directly into the homeowner’s or commercial building’s landscape by requesting property owners use more native plants and incorporate planet-healthy and sustainable practices when creating their outside space. 

By choosing native plants with both excellent habitat services and tidy habits, landscapes that are both attractive and environmentally functional can be created. Bird Oasis consultants will also be looking for habitat features like wood or brush piles, ponds or birdbaths, winter forage in the form of seedheads and the insects found in plant stalks to be left up over the cold months and cut back in the spring, and other important ecoscaping concepts. 

Additionally, the program focuses on environmentally healthy practices, like mulching grass clippings back into lawns, leaving leaves or shredded leaf litter down as, or under, mulch, and using organic slow-release fertilizers. An ecologically balanced yard cures its own ills within a short amount of time, so targeted pest management with organic principals should be used only when insect outbreaks or other issues are severe. 

Chemical fertilizers and pesticides should be avoided on certified properties.  Most insecticides and fungicides are broad spectrum, which kills both the good and the bad. They also seriously harm the soil food web. Additionally, excess nitrogen does not stay in the soil, but runs off or down into the water table — as do chemical pesticides — and causes harmful algal blooms in Long Island bays and estuaries. 

It is hoped that people will see the beauty in these certified properties and notice all of the birds they attract. This will create additional excitement — and habitats —as more people create their own private sanctuaries, which will shift the current landscape paradigm to something more sustainable and environmentally-friendly.

“The potential to reverse the trend is there,” explains Joy Cirigliano, President of 4HAS. “If we can harness our managed landscapes and other properties to provide suitable habitat for our native plants and animals, and make them beautiful at the same time, it will help strengthen and heal our local ecosystem. All of our neighbors will be happy, including the furred and feathered ones.”

The Four Harbors Audubon Society Bird Oasis Program is available to any property within the *4HAS territory, including residential, commercial, industrial and municipal for a fee. The program consists of a one-hour consultation and property assessment and a certification sign.

*4HAS Territory:

Centereach, Coram, East Setauket, Hauppauge, Kings Park, Lake Grove, Middle Island, Miller Place, Mount Sinai , Nesconset, Port Jefferson, Port Jefferson Station, Ridge, Rocky Point, Saint James, Selden. Setauket, Shoreham. Smithtown, Sound Beach, South Setauket, Stony Brook, and Stony Brook Campus.

For more information, visit https://4has.org/bird-oasis after the program launch on March 1. For additional inquiries, please send an email to [email protected]

Four Harbors Audubon Society is a local chapter of the National Audubon Society.  It is affiliated with Audubon New York and is a member of the Audubon Council of New York State. Its mission is to protect and preserve birds, wildlife, and the places and resources needed, for today and tomorrow.

A Lesser Scaup

Audubon Winter Workshop

Four Harbors Audubon Society presents a winter workshop, Identifying Winter Waterfowl, via Zoom on Thursday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. Guest speaker Mike Cooper will discuss tips and techniques for observing and identifying local waterfowl including seabirds and puddle ducks. Free. Email [email protected] to register.

*This post has been updated to reflect the new workshop date.

Cerulean Warbler

Audubon Zoom webinar

Presenter Katie Fallon

Calling all bird lovers! Join the Four Harbors Audubon Society for a webinar titled Saving the Cerulean Warbler on Tuesday, Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m. Guest speaker Katie Fallon will share tips for finding and identifying Cerulean Warblers while birding, how you can help save migratory songbirds, and much more. Free and open to all but reservations are required by emailing [email protected] Webinar registrants will be sent a link to join the program. For more info, visit www.4has.org

Photo by Patricia Paladines

Four Harbors Audubon Society kicks off its annual Stone Bridge Nighthawk Watch at Frank Melville Memorial Park, 1 Old Field Road, Setauket on Thursday, Aug. 27 from 5:30 p.m. to dusk through Oct. 6. Volunteers most welcome. Take part in a census which is used to estimate Common Nighthawk migratory numbers each year and to better understand nighthawk population trends. Visit www.4has.org for further details.

The Piping Plover could be completely lost from the shores of Long Island due to climate change. Photo by Kimberley Caruso/Audubon Photography Awards

By Brooke Bateman

Brooke Bateman

Fifty years ago on April 22nd, millions of Americans made their voices heard. It was this first Earth Day that brought on the environmental movement as we know it today, where concerned individuals collectively said that it was time to take action to be better for our planet. 

Across the country, people demanded that action be taken to clean up our air and water and protect our environment. The momentum of that day helped bring about public support in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and helped usher through the passage of key laws including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. 

As Earth Day 2020 is set to be celebrated in nearly 200 countries, this year’s celebration may look different to the crowd-filled events and rallies typical of this day; we are in truly unprecedented times. As I write this we are a few weeks into the pandemic quarantine, but I am blessed to be outside listening to the familiar calls of the birds I have come to know in my neighborhood. 

That’s the thing about birds; their presence can connect us to the local rhythms of nature, the signature of a time and place. As the majority of people are spending their days at home on lockdown, I have had many friends reach out to me about how much solace they are finding in birds right now. As one of the most beloved and ubiquitous forms of wildlife, birds are our connector to nature around us. Birds are also our messengers and if we pay attention, they’re showing us that our world is changing. 

Over the last 50 years, America has lost over one quarter of its birds, nearly 3 billion birds less fill our skies today then in 1970. Yet, the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is being dismantled, making it much more likely that even more will be lost and without any accountability for incidental loss. 

We are losing nature at an unprecedented rate, yet we are seeing rollbacks on some of our bedrock protections such as the Clean Air and Water Acts, making it easier for our planet to be polluted yet again. Looking forward to the next 50 years, climate change is the biggest issue both birds and people alike will face. Birds are already telling us that our climate is changing — birds ranges are changing, shifting and contracting as the climate conditions change across the globe. Birds like the Rusty Blackbird are lost to large parts of their historical range as climate conditions worsen. Whole communities are collapsing, with mass seabird die offs now happening yearly off our northern shores due to warming sea temperatures. Seabirds like puffins and murres are dying from starvation from the changes in the food web brought about by extreme heat in the oceans. 

Bird migration has shifted. As spring arrives earlier and earlier, birds are either having to migrate earlier or find themselves out of luck when they arrive too late and their resources have past their peak. Even the herald of spring, the American Robin, has decided that it may not have to fly south after all, sticking around through warmer winters in many places. 

Without global action, such as the Paris accord (of which the U.S. is no longer a part of), how can we meet the significant actions needed to limit global temperatures to 2C (or preferably 1.5C)? The consequence of not doing so is that our planet would be transformed into a more inhospitable place. 

The consequence is potentially losing billions more birds. Audubon’s Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink, a report forecasting the survival of birds to climate change, shows that two-thirds of North American bird species are at risk of extreme range loss and potentially extinction from unmitigated climate change. In New York, 116 species are vulnerable to climate change, including charismatic species like the Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, American Woodcock, Saltmarsh Sparrow, and Piping Plover. 

The Piping Plover could be completely lost from the shores of Long Island due to climate change. No species will escape climate change, with birds (and the places they share with us) also facing multiple coincident climate change-related threats. New York will experience greater extreme heat events, increased coastal and inland flooding from sea level rise and heavy rainfall, increased pressures from urbanization, and disrupted ecosystems.

But this loss is so much more than just numbers. It is the loss of some of our familiar neighborhood birds we have come to know and love, of nature and our sense of place as we know it. It is not being able to share the joy of seeing a Piping Plover on our beaches with our children. It is the loss of our familiar seasons and weather patterns, where extreme events and natural disasters become more frequent. It’s some of our more vulnerable communities being put at further risk, as climate change will disproportionately affect our children, our elderly, lower income communities, and communities of color. 

However, we still have time, and as the threat of climate change grows, so does the work we need to do. If we can limit climate change to between 1.5C to 2.0C, then we can limit the loss we will come to see. Indeed, 76% of bird species will be better off if we can do just that, and our communities and environment will also not see such drastic affects. 

To get there we need to listen to the science, and make changes now both as individuals and as a nation. We have done this before. One of the greatest environmental successes of our time came as concerned Americans listened to what the birds were telling us. Toxic pesticides, pollution and ecosystem destruction were devastating some of our beloved birds including the Bald Eagle and the Brown Pelican. We gathered evidence, and looked hard at our values. 

As Americans, we decided that we value clean water, clean air, and healthy ecosystems for our wildlife and natural spaces. We decided we did not want a world where unchecked environmental destruction quieted our birds as described in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. We listened to the science and we took action, and as the environment got healthier, the birds returned. I now marvel at the Bald Eagles and Osprey that have returned to Long Island, having never been a feature of my Long Island childhood.  

So where do we stand on this 50th Earth Day? We need to yet again examine our values and embrace science-based conservation. We need to take action, to set in motion the momentum to spark the next environmental movement taking us beyond just one day. We need to face these incredible challenges and opportunities collectively, to do what needs to be done to solve this climate crisis. 

The science illustrates how our warming planet will impact both the birds we all love, and the people in our communities, but also shows us that if we act there is still time to create a brighter future for birds and people. If we do something now to stabilize climate change, then we can improve the chances for the majority of these species. And we already have a lot of the tools we need to reduce the effects of global warming. 

Climate change is a global crisis, a threat that humanity faces as a whole. Even as we face the current global pandemic threat, the need for effective and coordinated advocacy for climate change action is greater than ever. We have shown through our current pandemic crisis we are able to come together (even by being apart), and we must harness this united energy as the climate is changing and the window to act is closing. Birds are telling us, the time to act on climate change is now. 

This Earth Day, and every day, we need to come together and listen and to act on our values.  We once again need to be a collective voice of change to protect the earth we all share. 

Brooke Bateman is a mother, nature lover, and scientist. She received her PhD in Ecology and Conservation and is the Senior Scientist, Climate at the National Audubon Society. The Stony Brook resident also sits on the board of Four Harbors Audubon Society.

Patricia Paladines teaches a child the art of seining during Setauket Harbor Day on Sept. 28, 2019. Photo by Maria Hoffman

By Patricia Paladines

Patricia Paladines at West Meadow Creek. Photo by Carl Safina

The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 catalyzed the modern environmental education movement. A few months after that first official celebration of the Earth’s natural environment, the Congress of the United States passed The Environmental Education Act, which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on October 30, 1970. Later, Nixon noted that it is “vital that our entire society develop a new understanding and new awareness of man’s relation to his environment – what might be called ‘environmental literacy.’” 

The Act states that “The Congress of the United States finds that the deterioration of the quality of the Nation’s environment and of its ecological balance poses a serious threat to the strength and vitality of the people of the Nation and is in part due to poor understanding of the Nation’s environment and of the need for ecological balance; that presently there do not exist adequate resources for educating and informing citizens in these areas, and that concerted efforts in educating citizens about environmental quality and ecological balance are therefore necessary.” 

The Environmental Education Act encouraged and provided financial support for the development of curricula that improved American’s understanding of policies that enhance environmental quality and maintain ecological balance. It called for the use of such curricula in model educational programs at the elementary and secondary school levels, the development of training programs for teachers, other educational personnel, public service personnel, community, labor, industrial and business leaders, and government employees at State, Federal and local levels. 

It supported the planning of outdoor ecological centers that would provide community education programs on preserving and enhancing environmental quality and maintaining ecological balance, and the preparation and distribution of material by mass media in dealing with the environment and ecology. 

In 1971, the U.S. Commissioner of Education, Sidney P. Marland Jr. wrote an article titled Environmental Education Cannot Wait in American Education. In the article he stated, “Environment as a high priority educational theme has also been assisted by strong student concern for the decline in environmental quality. Youth is more concerned with the future state of the environment than is the older generation because young people are, for one thing, going to spend so much time inhaling that future environment, swallowing it, and finding their way through it. Environmental concern offers an attractive neutral ground in which to work out the ‘alliance between generations’ which President Nixon spoke of at the University of Nebraska in January.”

Many of us were the “youth” Mr. Marland refers to in his article. We grew up inhaling, swallowing and finding our way through the environment our leaders at the time sought to protect. We raised our children on a less polluted planet than what we had begun to experience in the 1950s and 60s when we were children. 

Opportunities for learning about the natural environment that surrounds us are readily available around Long Island through nature centers, aquariums, universities, and our protected forests and beaches. 

On this 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, the world is on lockdown due to a pandemic which is believed to have originated from disturbance to wildlife and habitats. It is an opportunity to give us pause and reflect on how we now should work out an “alliance between generations” for preventing future Earth Days experienced in lockdowns caused by environmental illiteracy. 

Patricia Paladines is an environmental educator and photographer living Setauket. She works as a consultant for an organization that funds UNICEF’s Let Us Learn projects in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Liberia, Madagascar and Nepal. Patricia is on the board of various local environmental organizations including the Four Harbors Audubon Society and the Center for Environmental Education and Discovery in Brookhaven, and in the warm months enjoys leading trips around Stony Brook’s West Meadow Creek aboard the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Discovery tour boat.

This goose was found with netting on its face in Setauket on Nov. 9. Photo by Raina Angelier

By Patrice Domeischel

What could have been a plastic trash catastrophe for a Canada goose instead resulted in a happy ending, thanks to the efforts of Anita Jo Lago and Rob Trezza.  

Rob Trezza caught the goose on Lake Street. Photo by Anita Jo Lago

Birders on a Four Harbors Audubon Society walk at Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket on Nov. 9 encountered the goose in distress, actively attempting to free itself of plastic netting that had encircled its head and body. The goose managed to remove some netting but was unable to disentangle itself from the remainder encircling its neck and face. 

Lago, a park volunteer at Frank Melville, and Trezza, park security, were called in to assess the situation, and promptly went to work. The goose was captured, relieved of the netting and released. 

“We really did get it when necessary,” commented Lago. “Its flight was hindered as it was getting away from a cygnet going after it. It took flight but landed happenstance. It landed on the road, Lake Street, because flight was compromised due to the netting holding its jaw and head. When Rob got closer, he saw the goose desperately trying to free itself by banging its head, many times, on the ground. So we got there in time.”

A disaster averted, the goose was able to fly off, a bit stressed and tired from its efforts, but in good condition. 

All too often birds and animals suffer the consequences created by our use of single-use plastic. Wildlife can become entangled in discarded plastic, wire or string resulting in injury or death. Even plastic that is responsibly disposed of finds its way into our waters and litters our beaches. Be proactive, protect wildlife and the environment, and reduce or eliminate altogether your use of single-use plastic.

Patrice Domeischel is a member of the Four Harbors Audubon Society.

Bird lovers gather at the Stone Bridge at Frank Melville Memorial Park to witness the common nighthawk migration. Photo from Four Harbors Audubon Society

Calling all bird lovers!

Migration has begun! Join Four Harbors Audubon Society at Frank Melville Memorial Park’s Stone Bridge to witness the exciting annual migration of the most beloved members of the nightjar family — the common nighthawk. Migration might be any or all days through early October. Join them from 5:30 p.m. until dusk as they conduct the third annual nighthawk census, and enjoy the show! The Stone Bridge is located at One Old Field Road, Setauket. For more information, email [email protected]

Above, the author in front of the mirrorlike windows on Stony Brook’s South Campus with a dead Swainson’s thrush on the gravel in the foreground.

By John L. Turner

With the use of a helpful anchoring spoon, I swirled a large bundle of delicious linguine strands around the tines of my fork. As I brought the forkful of food forward, to meet its just fate as the first bite of a delicious pasta dinner, I looked up from the dining table to the view outside the large picture window in the adjacent living room. 

At that precise moment a blue jay (after all a birder is always birding!) launched from a low branch of an oak tree on the other side of the road, swooped across it and headed straight for the aforementioned window. Certainly it will veer to a side as it comes closer, or turn abruptly to perch on the roof, I thought to myself, but no such luck — it flew, beak first, directly into the window. It bounced off and down into the bushes in front.   

A female common yellow-throated warbler recovering after she struck the window of a building at SBU. Photo by John Turner

After shouting an expletive, I jumped from the dining room table and out the front door to see if the blue jay was alright. I anxiously scanned around and through the waist-high ornamental shrubs looking for what I expected to be a lifeless body that moments before had been so alive. I didn’t see it. I went behind the bushes, figuring perhaps it had fallen straight down. No bird. I looked through the web of branches. No bird. I looked under the shrubs, in the dirt in front of the shrubs and on the lawn. Still no bird. 

A solid 10-minute search while my pasta dinner grew cold produced nothing. I had to conclude the bird had survived the glancing blow to the window and after being momentarily stunned flew off. Standing near the sidewalk in the front yard I had the view the bird had experienced moments before — the window looked like an opening in the forest that reflected a dogwood tree on the right and taller oak trees in the distance. 

Most window strike victims are not as lucky as this blue jay was and as I soon learned what I had experienced is not uncommon — in fact it happens with frightening regularity, with estimates ranging from 1 to 3 million North American birds dying this way each and every day. This means an estimated 365 million to 1 billion birds dying from window strikes every year in the United States. 

The victims range from tiny to large, from dull to colorful. Hummingbirds are common victims and birds of prey, although less common, also collide with windows. The large group of birds referred to as songbirds — thrushes, vireos, warblers, sparrows and the like — form the largest bulk of collision victims. 

Migrant birds die more often than resident birds such as blue jays, the apparent reason being that resident birds better “know” their territory while migrant birds, transients in migratory habitats, don’t. 

Why do birds fly into windows and die in such large, almost unimaginable numbers? For the same reason people walk into glass doors, windows and dividers (often enough to produce a series of four-minute-long videos you can watch on YouTube!) — they don’t see the glass given its transparent qualities. 

For birds, though, a window’s transparency isn’t its only deadly feature. Its reflectivity can be worse. The reflected images in the window of trees, shrubs, sky and clouds fool birds into thinking they are the real thing. The result is a bird moving through space, at normal flying speeds, toward trees reflected in the distance until it abruptly meets the glass pane — most of the time with fatal results. 

This has occurred with increasing frequency as architects have moved toward using more and more highly reflective glass in building design, to produce dramatic views of the surrounding landscape. And the tall skyscrapers don’t pose the biggest problem — more than 90 percent of birds that perish from collisions do so by flying into the windows of homes and one- to four-story office buildings. It’s the lower stories of the building that reflect the features of the ambient environment creating the “fatal attraction” to birds. 

Amid all this death there is cause for optimism. The technology exists to make windows more bird friendly by creating the “visual interference” necessary for them to see the windows for what they are. 

For example, a number of exterior decal and sticker products are sold, ideal for home applications, that can be applied to a window’s outer surface (volunteers with the Four Harbors Audubon Society have placed more than 2,000 square decals on the windows of Endeavour Hall and other buildings on SUNY Stony Brook’s South Campus, thereby significantly reducing the number of songbirds dying from collisions with the highly reflective windows there). Better yet are readily available exterior window films that completely cover the window surface. 

Window manufacturers have also stepped up to the plate in making glass embedded with dots (called fritting) and with various other patterns. Even more promising are cutting edge window products reflecting patterns of ultraviolet light. Birds see UV light that we don’t; so these windows create the desired visual interference for birds but not for us — to us they look like normal windows.  

To his credit New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) has sponsored legislation, awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) signature, that creates a “bird friendly building council” to research the issue and report back to the Legislature with a series of recommended strategies to reduce the carnage statewide, such as the use of bird-friendly building materials and design features in buildings; it’s Assembly bill A4055B/Senate bill S25B.   

I hope that you too care about reducing the number of vibrant and colorful songbirds that meet their untimely fate. If you do, please take a moment to pen a letter to Gov. Cuomo urging he sign the measure into law. His address is:  

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo

Governor of New York State

NYS State Capitol Building

Albany, NY 12224

Birdsong is a gift to us. If birds could also speak, the many species killed at windows would thank you for YOUR gift to them of caring enough to take the time and effort to support the bill.  

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.