Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Why We Love and Protect Birds

While HOBAS strives to protect and bring about awareness of all animal groups it is never far from our minds that birds are the heart and soul of our existence.      

Why are birds so important to us? To start, they are indicator species, meaning they are an essential and critical component of a healthy, diverse natural community.  In laymen’s terms, they let us know that things are all right in our ecosystems. In addition, birds are also keystone species. Lose a keystone species, and the ecosystem it once existed in would be dramatically different, or could even possibly cease to exist.

They also provide us with free ecological services by consuming weed plants, rodent pests and insects. Birds pollinate and disseminate seeds and some act as nature’s sanitation workers by scavenging carrion.

Birds are also economic goldmines. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, approximately 70 million birdwatchers spend over $25 billion per year feeding, watching and traveling to enjoy birds in the US.  That is a huge contribution to our economy!

These are all some pretty good reasons why birds are considered important to humans.  But there are more profound reasons why birds matter to us and it has nothing to do with their “dollar” value. Simply put, it’s how they make us feel. Their remarkable songs put the greatest composers to shame and cause our hearts to sing right along with their glorious melodies. Their beauty ranges from the understated plumage of shorebirds, wrens and gadwalls to the astonishing colors of painted buntings, Blackburnian warblers, wood ducks and scarlet tanagers.

We are impressed and humbled by their athleticism and awe-inspiring feats. Migrating birds travel staggering distances annually and navigate the same course, year after year, using tools such as landmarks, the sun, stars and the earth’s magnetic field. Many are long-distance athletes, traveling up to tens of thousands of miles during these annual journeys.

Birds are talented architects and entertaining performers during breeding season. Some can survive in the harshest climates and in the most barren of habitats. Some spend their lives in flight, only coming to land when it is time to produce young. Some kill with deadly precision while other can fly underwater. Birds are tough, they are fascinating and they endlessly amaze us with their survival skills and athletic abilities.

To me, the most important role birds play is how they can connect us, no matter where we are, to the natural world in the blink of an eye.  We can be standing at the kitchen counter, a store front on a busy street, the top floor of a high rise building, or even in an idling car at a stoplight, and the appearance of a bird reminds us immediately that there is another, more beautiful place beyond the day we are experiencing. Birds bring nature to us, no matter where we are, no matter how harried or hurried our day.  This is a gift to our souls, and a priceless one at that.

This is why birds matter and why we should be doing all we can to protect them.

Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon is proud to announce that on March 8, 2016 we will be partnering with the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington to host a very special Long Island screening of The Messenger, a documentary about the importance of birds and the threats they face.  

We are thrilled to be able to bring the message about the importance of birds, and what it would mean to lose them, to a broader audience at the Centre.  While the details have not been ironed out yet, we hope to have a Q&A panel discussion after the film to discuss what you, the audience member, can do to help birds by your own actions.  This short segment will be immediately followed by a reception in the Sky Room.  Please keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for more details, as well as ticket prices, as we get closer to the date.  Sign up for our email updates also. 

Please join us tonight for this very special evening.  I hope to see you there!

Film Reviews:

“The Messenger is a visually thrilling ode to the beauty and importance of the imperiled songbird, and what it means to all of us on both a global and human level if we lose them. Humans once believed that birds could carry messages, their presence was meaningful. They have helped predict the change of seasons, the coming of storms and the rise of toxins in the food chain. Once again they have something to tell us, and the message is not a comfortable one…The film ultimately is about what the birds have to tell us about the state of our planet and our shared future.”

“The Messenger is riveting, emotionally engaging, and visually extravagant from the first frame to the last. Up-to-the-minute facts on how birds communicate about environmental change are interwoven with gripping stories about the perils faced every year by these amazing world travelers. This is a must-see movie for anybody who values the natural world or wonders about its relationship to humans.”
John Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Without a doubt, The Messenger is the most outstanding film I’ve seen on birds. The fact that it is so strongly science-based, so emotive in its pitch, so beautiful in its design it captivates me and everyone who has had a chance to see it.”
Steven Price
President, Bird Studies Canada

Thank you to Lloyd Spitalnik, Sam Janazzo and the author for photos

Monday, September 1, 2014

Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society's Habitat Heroes Rock!

We have been super busy at Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon this spring and summer with an assortment of events and activities, thanks to our fantastic volunteers, the Habitat Heroes:

Our Earth Day beach cleanup in April hosted our largest group ever- 93 volunteers!  A good time was had by all and we were blessed with gorgeous weather. 

On May 31st we hosted our annual garlic mustard pull at Shu Swamp in Mill Neck with 27 volunteers participating - the largest Shu Crew yet!  We are seeing nice progress in the English ivy area, with jack-in-the-pulpit, red trillium and trout lily repopulating the areas that have been pulled. In addition, after four years of yearly garlic mustard pulls, we have seen a measurable decrease in the amount of mustard in Shu.  Garlic mustard takes a few years to fully eradicate and each year we are seeing less of it.


On June 22nd and July 5th we hosted Beach Nesting Awareness Days with Audubon NY at Hobart Beach in Northport.  The wonderful signs created by kids were on display on the fencing around the nesting areas.  Next year we hope to triple the amount of signs posted so be sure to keep an eye out for our workshop, which will be held in late February or early March!

On July 12th we recognized NYS Invasive Species Awareness Week by pulling oriental bittersweet at Stillwell Woods Preserve in Syosset.  Our 23 volunteers braved the heat and filled over 20 contractor sized bags!

On August 9th 30 volunteers participated in a service day at Stillwell - pulling, whacking, digging and cutting nonnative plant species. 25 bags were hauled out.  Our neighbors in the field, the Long Island Silent Flyers, invited us over to join in their annual picnic.  The volunteers mingled, munched and some of the kids learned how to fly the model planes.  Thank you Flyers!

In addition to these “official” pulls, we have been heading into Stillwell Woods on a weekly basis with our volunteer corps, the Habitat Heroes (aka The Invasive Slayers) since May.  Being unemployed for the second time in four years, while stressful, has allowed me to dedicate a tremendous amount of time to the work we are doing in the preserve.  In May and June we pulled English ivy and garlic mustard.  Once it was past mustard pulling time, we focused our efforts on the field.  In addition to weekly bittersweet pulls we have created two pilot restoration areas.  These two 20’x10’ areas of mugwort have been pulled and covered with black plastic which will remain for 6 weeks.  One area will be seeded with milkweed in the spring, while the other area, which is in between two stands of milkweed, will be left alone.  Our hope is that the milkweed will recolonize this site on its own.  In addition, we hope to work with a consultant to create recommendations for the field…with possible ideas including continued hand pulling, renting goats, a continual mowing for a few years and full out restoration.  We hope to raise some serious funding for this in 2015! Nassau County has been tremendously supportive of our efforts in the preserve, notably Frank Camerlengo, Deputy Commissioner of Parks and Tom Shatel of the Parks Department.  By the way, we haven’t forgotten about Underhill Preserve.  The consultant we hired to map invasives and make recommendations continues his efforts.  This work is taking much longer than we anticipated, but once done, the NYSDEC will begin restoration efforts with the grant funding we obtained last year. 

I would like to take the time out to give a shout out to all of our volunteers.  A huge thank you to the volunteers that have shown up for our highway clean ups and restoration days this past year.  
In addition to the individual volunteers, two groups deserve special thanks.  Members of the Lighthouse Community Church have participated in several of our events. The wonderful members of this church support several nonprofits and we are so proud that we are one of their chosen organizations.  In addition, another group has been working with me on a weekly basis since May – the fantastic young people who are serving as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (“LDS”).  These young men and women (ages 18 to 26) are volunteer representatives of the LDS Church and engage in church service, humanitarian aid and community service.  The members of the group I have been working with hail from various places such as Utah, Oregon, Virginia and even Haiti and are serving in New York for a two year period.  I have been incredibly lucky to work very closely with them for the last few months.  These young people are not only hard-working and dedicated to our restoration efforts; they are an absolute joy to be around and have truly made this summer one I will never forget.   As volunteer coordinator I have the task of overseeing and participating in all of our restoration efforts.  Meeting and getting to know so many of these volunteers has been a true privilege.  Our volunteers rock!

Come out and join us.  We work hard, but we have a great time (and the snacks are darn good too!). To see photos from all of these events, please check out our Facebook page!

We even rescued an injured baby woodchuck!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Spring is in the Air...and an Update on Plum Island

It's happening... the familiar calls of the red wing blackbird, “konkereee”, have just begun to fill the air!  This means spring is just around the corner and we can now begin to eagerly anticipate the arrival of St. Patrick’s Day.  No silly, not for the green beer (not that there is anything wrong with that!).  For the return of Long Island’s iconic bird, the osprey, who seem to consistently return around this holiday year after year.  This has been a cold and bitter winter, one we have not seen the likes of in many years.  But once the osprey returns, we will know that spring is within sight. Just like that, as all seasons pass, so shall winter, morphing into the bright colors and warmer days of spring.  Birds will wing their way back to our area, geared up for nesting season. Mammals will emerge from hibernation, hungry and ready to start families.  We will come out of our own hibernation as this winter becomes nothing but a memory in our minds.  Spring will be especially welcome this year!

It has been awhile since the last update on Plum Island.  As you might know, HOBAS was a founding member of the Preserve Plum Island Coalition and continues to be active in the efforts.  Below is a brief summary of some of what has occurred since our last update:

  1.  In the event of a sale of the island, zoning has been adopted the Town of Southold which will designate over 80% of the Island as a “Conservation District”.  This will exclude residential or commercial development, except as a limited accessory use to support the primary conservation use.
  2. A bill, "Save, Don't Sell Plum Island", was introduced by Congressman Tim Bishop in the House of Representatives, along with companion legislation which was introduced in the Senate by Senator Richard Blumenthal.  These bipartisan bills are aimed at protecting the Island's tremendous biodiversity and ecological value.  Future development of Plum Island would be prevented by the elimination of the current requirement to sell the Island at public auction.
  3. Commissioned by The Nature Conservancy, an appraisal report of the Island is expected to be complete sometime in March. 
  4. Better conservation stewardship of the Island is being proposed.  These measures would be in place whether or not the Island is sold or not and they include additional biological inventories conducted by the New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) and management and possible reintroduction of certain plants and animals.
  5. Completion of an inventory, remediation and disclosure of all hazardous waste sites on the Island as called for by Governor Cuomo.
  6. The Plum Island Coalition intends to participate in the Coastal Zone management Compliance Review by NYS.
  7. The Coalition is considering legal challenges to the completeness and findings of the FEIS submitted by the GSA for the sale of the Island. 

Please be sure to visit the Coalition website for updates.

 And remember...once the temperatures rise and the big thaw begins, be sure to get outside, rid yourself of that winter pallor and enjoy some warm and sunny days as you embrace the arrival of spring!