Sunday, August 15, 2010
As the sparrow numbers peak in October, so does the quantity of migrant hawks. And the quantity is impressive and easily observed at places such as the Hook Mountain and Fire Island Hawk Watches. Hook Mountain is famed for viewing the concentrated passage of thousands of Broad-winged Hawks. Meanwhile, about a third of the raptors that pass over Fire Island every year are Merlin, with strong numbers of American Kestrel, Osprey, Northern Harrier, and Accipiter hawks showing as well.
The grand finale of Autumn is marked by the movement of seabirds. Sea ducks, loons, grebes, gannets, shearwaters, phalaropes, jaegers, gulls, and alcids migrate often unnoticed well offshore. However Black and Surf Scoters especially hint at the unseen migration offshore as thousands pass just within sight of land. One of the best places to see this spectacle is off Montauk Point. And like a salute to the dazzlingly colorful birds of spring, the rest of the ducks return to their favorite ponds, such as St. John’s Pond, Tung Ting Pond, and Lake Massapequa, and round off the diversity of Fall migration that can be seen on Long Island.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
A Bird’s Eye View, Book Review: On Thin Ice by Richard Ellis
As usual, my reading material pile is growing faster than I can keep up. Believe it or not, I now have 12 books waiting to be read, and am looking at them in dismay, thinking, “How did I ever let this pile grow to such epic proportions?” After all, I have had plenty of time on my hands! Now that it is too hot to bird or hike, I have been able to begin tackling “THE PILE”. The first book on the list was On Thin Ice by Richard Ellis. I attended a program given by Mr. Ellis at the Explorer’s Club this past winter, which was so interesting and engaging that I immediately booked him for our September program and bought his book. Although it had taken me some time to get around to reading the book it was worth the wait! Mr. Ellis is as impressive an author as he is a speaker.
On Thin Ice by Richard Ellis
Polar bears. Who doesn’t love a polar bear? Cute, fluffy and roly poly as cubs, majestic and beautiful as adults: they are the quintessential poster child for wildlife and not many are indifferent to them. When I picked up this book, I thought I knew all there was to know about ursus maritimus. After all, bears (especially brown bears) have been my favorite animal since I was 10 and I already own 30 books about these magnificent creatures. As I dug into this absorbing book, I found myself learning about the long (and for the bear, deadly) relationship between humans and polar bears. On Thin Ice offers a remarkable glimpse into the life of the polar bear, both past and present.
Ever since man first encountered polar bears, the big white bear has received the short end of the stick. Unfairly persecuted, hunted and harassed, early explorers killed, maimed and captured bears indiscriminately. It is painful to read these accounts of the suffering mankind has inflicted on polar bears. Ellis takes these accounts and stories and weaves them into a sad but intensely interesting timeline of history. Starting in the year 1056, we journey with Ellis until present day, learning about the natural history of this great bear along the way. We also learn the detrimental impact climate change is having on polar bears and their habitat.
Globally, there are 19 sub populations of polar bears. Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway all are home to these ice bears. Scientists have studied them for many years and thanks especially to the easily accessible population in Churchill, Alaska there is much we know about the species.
Polar bears are among the largest carnivores on earth, surpassed only by another bear, the Kodiak (Ursus arctos middendorffi), a subspecies of the brown bear. An adult female can reach 700 pounds, while a male can top the scales at 1500 pounds. Because they are only found in polar regions, polar bears are superbly adapted to their icy living conditions. Thick fur, covering even their feet (for traction), along with a layer of blubber (up to 40% of the animals weight can be fat) allows this predator to be the master of its domain and reign supreme at the top of the food chain.
Because their habitat is surrounded by water, these marine bears are excellent swimmers. On land, they might look large and ungainly, but don’t let that fool you. Like all bears, polar bears are capable of running at speeds up to 35mph. Of course, in order to conserve energy and prevent overheating, the bears do not spend their time running about. When you are the biggest and baddest in the neighborhood, you can afford to relax. So they spend a lot of time sleeping. They will wait, immobile, for hours at a breathing hole, biding their time until the precise moment a hapless seal pops out to take a breath. Then, with one powerful blow of their forepaw, dinner is served. An adult polar bear is massively muscled, strong and able to haul prey over 600 pounds. One swipe of that deadly paw can easily kill a 500 pound seal. Although they will take advantage of other food sources, such as beluga whales, sea birds and their eggs, young walrus and fish, their diet consists mainly of seal. Two species to be exact: the mainstay, ringed seal and to a smaller degree, bearded seals.
Mating takes place from March through June and the female bear then experiences what is known as delayed implantation. During this process, the fertilized ovum divides itself several times and then floats freely in the uterus until, after about six months, it reattaches itself to the uterine wall to resume development. If the bear has had a poor time of it and she has not put on enough fat reserves, the embryo will not implant. Only a pregnant female will hibernate and if the embryo is viable, the cubs will be born in their den between November and January and will stay with their mothers for a couple of years.
Ellis discusses the various populations around the world in great detail. It is fascinating to learn about the remarkable relationship that many native peoples have with the bear and to learn how human impact, most notably climate change, is pushing the polar bear to the brink. Because they are dependent on sea ice as a hunting platform, as the polar ice melts into the sea, so does the bear’s ability to successfully hunt. Polar bears are excellent swimmers, but that is not how they stalk and capture their prey. They do it by waiting on the ice for the perfect moment to grab their food source as it surfaces to breathe. Because of ice melt, seals have been forced to move into more inaccessible areas, thereby depriving bears of their prey. In addition, as our temperature warms, there is less snow for females to dig dens. Currently, there are only about 22,000 bears left in the wild, down about 50% in just 20 years.
After reading this book, I thought about all the "Global Warming Naysayers" out there. I thought, how can they deny this is happening? The Arctic is one of the regions that will show the results of climate change most rapidly. It is the perfect petri dish in which to demonstrate what is happening to our planet while the polar bear is an ideal specimen, illustrating with unfortunate clarity what happens to a species when the environment that it was superbly suited for undergoes a swift and severe change. No longer the dominant species in polar regions (for man has taken on that mantle and is thus destroying its habitat, livelihood and future), the polar bear now struggles to survive.
For hundreds of years, we have harassed, killed and conquered this remarkable animal. What we are inflicting on it now, through our impact on climate, is just the final indignity. We can change this. We must change this. The polar bear is not the only animal on the edge of extinction thanks to climate change. But, he is surely one of our most well known and beloved and thus, the perfect ambassador for why we need to take action now! It is not too late, but at the rate we are going, it will not be too long before it is. This is an important as well as entertaining book and I was captivated by it. I hope you will be too.
Note: Richard Ellis will be our guest speaker on September 8, 2010 at the Cold Spring Harbor Library, 7pm. Please check our program page on the website (www.hobaudubon.org) for details about the program and to read his biography. We hope to see you there!
Thursday, July 29, 2010
AUDUBON TAPS NOTED CONSERVATION AND COMMUNICATIONS LEADER AS NEW PRESIDENT
David Yarnold To Join Audubon September 1
New York, NY, July 29, 2010 - EMBARGOED UNTIL 2PM ET ---The National Audubon Society today announced that David Yarnold has been named its new President and Chief Executive Officer, giving new momentum to efforts to connect people with nature and their power to protect it. A passionate conservationist, Yarnold currently serves as Executive Director of Environmental Defense Fund and President of Environmental Defense Action Fund. Prior to that, he was a Pulitzer Prize-winning editor at the San Jose Mercury News.
"David brings proven leadership in the for-profit and non-profit sectors to Audubon at a time when efforts to protect birds, habitats and the resources that sustain us are needed more than ever;" said Holt Thrasher, Audubon's Board Chair. "His leadership ability, his passion for conservation and grassroots action, his communications skills and his organizational expertise all make him the perfect fit for the Audubon of 2010 and beyond."
"David is a boundary-crosser, the kind of flexible thinker and values-based executive that a complex conservation and fundraising landscape demands right now," Thrasher said. "He shares Audubon's traditional passion for birds and its visionary understanding that helping people to protect them will safeguard our own future as well. I have no doubt that David will lead Audubon in expanding its reach to new audiences and elevating its conservation successes to new heights."
Yarnold has been at EDF since April 2005, where he is responsible for all operations, from programs, to development and marketing/communications. He helped expand EDF's innovative corporate partnerships work, focused on EDF's international programs, particularly in China, and helped the organization grow from $52M to $117M in revenue. He is also President of the organization's Action Fund, its political action arm.
"Audubon's mission has never been more relevant. From the grassroots to state houses to national and regional policy, its wingspan is unparalleled," Yarnold said. "I'm excited by the opportunity to work with a nationwide network of Audubon Chapters and Audubon Centers that combine local concern, knowledge and action to equal conservation that makes a difference on a grand scale. It will be an honor to lead an organization whose name has meant 'trust' and 'conservation achievement' for more than a hundred years."
Yarnold's San Jose Mercury News was consistently ranked as one of America's 10 Best Newspapers. His paper was called, "America's Boldest Newspaper" by a panel of international judges. During his time in San Jose, the Mercury News was widely recognized for its commitment to diversity and for its in-depth coverage of technology. He was also one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists for editorial writing in 2005.
"For me, going to Audubon is like going home. Community-based education and action that breeds broader changes has always been engaging and rewarding for me and those are the things Audubon does best," Yarnold said.
He will assume the Presidency of Audubon on Sept 1.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
We engaged in other activities as well. It was nice meeting a couple from the states, Jim and Arlene, and a man that tagged along with them named Larry. Of course when I met them, the only english-speaking birders around, I wanted to share my experiences with them. And as I did, they exchanged some of their wonderful sightings. Turns out, they were staying during the same time frame as my dad and I. Since we all bonded and liked each other, we decided it was only natural to go birding together. And birding we did. We traversed the rainforest, grasslands, and marshes sprinkled on the grounds of Gamboa. We picked up some fascinating creatures. Everywhere we turned there were animals, each one different in their own way. With my young, keen eyes and intuitive knowledge of tropical fauna and their awesome sense of humor and stamina, we ticked off 165 species of birds in a 8 day window. Now that number can be viewed in two different ways: high and low. Low in comparison to dogged birders traveling across the isthmus of Panama in hopes of ticking off as many species as possible from the high-altitude cloud forests to the humid rainforests of the lowlands and everything in between; and high in comparison to people who just manage to escape to a paradise like Panama and passively watch the birds. I could be placed in the middle. Although checking off the variety of birds was great, I did not just cross it off my list and move on, but rather studied their intriguing behavior and admired their mesmerizing plumages.
From every aspect you could possibly look, Panama is astounding. Anyone visiting this amazing country would leave happy because they can participate in practically every single hobby enjoyed by Homo sapiens. The multitude of tourists in the country can include but is no way limited to rugged hikers, mountain climbers, surfers, sport fishermen, birders, herpers, scenic-enthusiasts, ecotourists, researchers, and night-lifers. People like you can enjoy the myriad activities offered in Panama like the ones listed above by consulting your local travel agent. I was lucky enough to experience this dream-of-a-country for eight days. Now it's your time to get out and inquire more about Panama. Maybe in the near-future you can, too, enjoy the luxury of this stupendous country!
If you haven't already, read Parts 1 and 2 of my Exploration of Panama.
Also, feel free to have a look at the entire album of my Panama Pics by clicking the link below.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Wherever you live within the territory of the Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society invasive species are present -- be it the stands of Japanese barberry scattered throughout West Hills County Park, the Asian shore crabs found during a stroll along Long Island Sound, the abundant thickets of autumn olive at Stillwell Woods, or the smothering tangle of porcelainberry vines choking native plants at Target Rock National Wildlife Refuge.
Definitionally, invasive species are species that are not native to the natural communities (forests, fields, wetlands, shorelines, etc.) they have colonized and are having significant adverse ecological effects on these communities by outcompeting the native species found within them. Invasives have several advantages over native species that allow them to outcompete the natives: 1) they typically reproduce prolifically by setting seeds early and producing lots of them; 2) they prosper in a wide set of environmental conditions; 3) some produce poisons (allelopathy) that kill other plants; 4) they can modify the environment in ways that encourages further invasives; and 5) they lack the normal suite of predators, parasites, and pathogens that can keep them in check since they didn’t evolve within these communities. Most of the focus on invasive species has been on invasive plants.
One place where HOBAS has been working to control invasive species is at Shu Swamp in Mill Neck. This 65-acre preserve, owned and managed by the North Shore Sanctuaries (NSS), Inc. is well known, among other things, for its spring ephemeral wildflowers. These are species such as yellow trout lily, dwarf ginseng, red trillium, carolina spring beauty and others that bloom in early spring before the leaf-out of trees (taking advantage of unfettered sunlight) and then die back so by mid-summer they are no longer in evidence, hence their name. At Shu Swamp these species are threatened by garlic mustard and english ivy, two species that will likely reduce if not eliminate the spring ephemerals if left unchecked due to their rampant growth.
Out of concern for these beautiful native wildflowers HOBAS, on May 1st, joined with North Shore Sanctuaries and the North Shore Land Alliance for a “garlic mustard pull”. Volunteers walked around on the main trails of the preserve and pulled up all the garlic mustard they could find; much of the garlic mustard was growing amidst, or in close proximity to, the spring ephemerals. The May 1st date was picked on purpose as the plants are large enough to be easily pulled yet before the plants have had a chance to set and disperse seeds. We put the pulled plants into black plastic bags to ensure they would die; the bags were taken by NSS staff to dispose of. As for the english ivy, we cut down a number of vines that were growing up into the taller trees near the stream, threatening to choke them out.
HOBAS will continue to sponsor invasive species control projects, both at Shu Swamp and other parks and preserves, so stay alert for announcements of such activities in future newsletters, on the website and Facebook page if you would like to help in the effort.
note: On June 19th, HOBAS also participated in a water chestnut pull at Mill Pond in Oyster Bay. This was a fun day, sponsored by the USFWS and Friends of the Bay!
Sunday, June 13, 2010
I spent a good hour watching this particular family of tamarins foraging in the understory and lower canopy within Metropolitan National Park. Metropolitan National Park is situated on the outskirts of Panama City, which reminded me of the chaotic island of Manhatten. That's one reason why I thought it would be best to travel there during the weekend as opposed to during the week when the city would be hustling and bustling with commuters. The majority of the park is comprised of tropical semideciduous forest, the only city in Latin America which has this type of ecosystem. With over 500 acres to explore, I came across many species of birds such as Double-toothed and Swallow-tailed Kites, Blue-crowned Motmot, Lineated and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, Tropical Kingbirds(by far the most common flycatcher in the country), Black-chested Jay, Clay-colored Robin, and Rosy Thrush-Tanager.
After searching for birds and tamarins at M.N.P., we headed over to the island of Flamingo in the Pacific. We stopped at a few sites that seemed packed with birds. I must say, I have never seen so many Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans in my entire life. There had to be over a thousand of these birds. I never thought a Frigatebird would turn out to be, dare I say it, a junk bird! Besides the copious Pelicans and Frigatebirds, many other birds were present on the ocean and along the mangroves including Neotropical Cormorants, Royal and Sandwich Terns, Laughing and Franklin's Gulls, Great and Cattle Egrets, Green Herons, White Ibis, Semipalmated Plovers, and Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers. It was a bit weird to see some species that would be found in the Northeast at the time, but I had the same situation occur when I was in Costa Rica, seeing Chestnut-sided warblers, American Redstarts, Baltimore Orioles, and Great-crested flycatchers, among others, in the towering buttressed trees in a misty tropical setting. After lunch, we proceeded back to Gamboa where I relaxed a bit and rejuvenated for the night safari that I would be attending in just a few hours.
Read Part 3 for more of my adventure in Panama!
Saturday, June 5, 2010
At the beginning of this year, my dad and I planned, along with our travel agent, the journey that would take place in just a few months. I did my seemingly endless research and booked everything in my own head and simply passed all of my ideas and agendas off to my agent. Time flew. I began to get excited after the cue of realization came: AP Exams. Managing to get through them was not easy, but I did it. Before I knew it, my dad and I were off to Panama in a four and a half hour flight. The trip lasted eight days. Each day was filled with jam-packed fun and adventure. We left on May 22nd and came home the 29th.
Our first day in Panama: We arrived at Panama City International Airport in the early morning since we flew throughout the night. Jerry, a local guide specialized in history, picked us up and we headed over to our hotel, the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. Although a five-star hotel, GRR is situated on the outer periphery of Soberania National Park, a 48,287 acre park comprised of old-growth and second-growth rainforest teeming with wildlife. We checked in and headed off to our private villa away from the main resort. Our villa was off the beaten path, a feature my dad did not like but one that I loved. Birds, mammals, butterflies, and herps abounded just outside our window. From the overview, we could see the action of the Panama Canal, into the thick canopy of the rainforest, and the small lawns bordering the resort. I didn't let go of my binnoculars once during the trip. We went to many amazing places and met some dynamite people. Read Part 2 for the widlife sightings and more of my amazing trek in the Jungle of Panama.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Okay. You have written your check, and mailed the contribution to your favorite conservation group. You smile, satisfied with yourself, knowing you have taken a step towards protecting the environment.
But, did you know that there is so much more you can do? Yes, conservation groups desperately need your money. But don’t stop there. As important a tool as your wallet is, your voice and your physical presence are just as vital.
Offshore drilling for oil. The assault on wolves and other carnivores. Declining species of birds worldwide. Climate change. Habitat destruction. More than ever the conservation movement needs you. And it has never been so easy to be an environmental activist. Every major organization has a website with a “take action” page or link. It is as simple as entering your personal information and checking the “remember me” button. Next, click on tabs and links that will automatically send your letter, fax or email to the proper government official. It literally takes under a minute to do this. You can request action alerts to be sent to your e-mail inbox, to keep you abreast of the hot issues. Reaching your representative is just a mouse click away, but in order to truly be effective, please remember to take a minute and personalize the subject heading and the first couple lines of your email This will ensure that it stands apart from the hundreds or thousands of other similar messages that legislators will get on the same subject. Online petitions are also signed in this way. Several years ago, when drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (“ANWR”) first came to the table, environmental groups gathered over a million electronic signatures. Your signature on these letters and petitions is an extremely powerful tool. If you would rather take the time to write a hand-written letter, just remember that since 9-11 the mail system in DC has changed and regular mail is neither timely nor assured to get there at all, so please either fax your letter to the appropriate office in DC or mail it to your legislator’s district office in your area. That way someone will surely get it and your voice will be heard.
Set up an appointment to meet with your local representative in his or her home office. You will probably meet with their staff, rather than the actual representative, but your message will find its way to its destination.
You can take part in marches and rallies. The energy at these events is almost indescribable; and the air is crackling with this energy, born from a common, united cause. Check the websites of your favorite organizations for information, including carpooling options.
Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Politicians pay attention to what their constituents’ opinions are on important issues and this is yet another way for your voice to be heard. Join a Facebook Cause or fan page or follow an organization on Twitter. Sign on-line petitions (Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon started an on-line petition to help prevent the deaths of raptors at landfills across the country. As the number of signatures rose to almost 5,000, industry reps started contacting us, willing to address the issue!).
In addition, you can also volunteer your time and effort. Help the organizations you belong to with local events and issues. Staff a table at festivals, hand out flyers or volunteer to mail out newsletters. Volunteer to pull out invasive species at your local preserves, monitor nest boxes or other such activities. Join in with other like minded folks and have fun while making a difference!!! Check the websites of your favorite organizations for volunteer opportunities.
Perhaps the most important tool you possess is your ability to vote. Vote for politicians who share your ideals. The League for Conservation Voters has a wonderful website that contains the pro-environmental voting records of your representatives. This will help you with your choice of which candidate best represents your concerns. Remember to vote at a local level also, since these are the candidates who will ultimately decide the fate of the environment right on your doorstep.
Many people do not take these extra steps. One standard reason is time constraints. With the ease of the internet, there is no excuse for that now.
The next time you are debating whether or not to make the extra effort and write a letter, sign a petition, volunteer for a local group or attend a rally, remember that in today’s world of modern technology, it has never been easier to make your voice heard. And then, think about what Margaret Mead once said,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
Indeed, YOU can change the world.
A quick look on the LI Sound produced 3 Common Loons, 2 Horned Grebes, 36 Brant, and 11 Red-breasted Mergansers. The passerines observed were high in numbers but not in diversity. The majority of migrant songbirds consisted of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Brown Creepers, Hermit thrush, and the four warbler species named above. The breeding birds are establishing territory and were quite easy to find: 6 Brown Thrashers, Eastern Towhees, and 5 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, two pairs which are most likely to nest. Foraging at the terminus of the Nissequogue River a ways East of Field 3 were 7 Great Egrets, 11 Snowy Egrets, Greater Yellowlegs, and from another observer, a Spotted sandpiper. 2 Savannah sparrows were feeding on the shoulder of the park road, only noticed after they started singing.
Other fauna present: Mourning Cloak, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Muskrat, Painted turtles, and Eastern Chipmunks
Some pics of yesterday's outing...
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Great Blue Herons
Great Egret- 4 on tidal flats at Eastern end of park
Snowy Egret- 2 on tidal flats at Eastern end of park
American Black Duck
Northern Shoveler- 1 drake dabbling in Creek at Eastern end of park
Northern Harrier- 2, Gray Ghost and female
Wild Turkey- 1
Great Horned Owl- 2
Tree Swallows- several dozen
Barn Swallows- FOY, several
Golden-crowned Kinglets- 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglets- FOY, 4
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher- FOY, 3
Hermit Thrush- 1
Gray Catbird- 7
Palm Warbler- 12
Yellow-rumped Warbler- 81
Swamp sparrow- 6
Other fauna present included several Spring Azures, White-tailed Deer, Red Fox, Eastern Chipmunks, and breeding Alewives
Saturday, April 3, 2010
I scoped the Long Island Sound from Field 3(eastern end of park) and saw 2 breeding-plumaged Common Loons and about 25 or so Brant. Feeding on the mudflats also at the eastern end of the park were 3 Great Egrets, 2 Great Blue Herons, and two dozen Tree Swallows. The Ospreys were very vocal today and on several occasions were seen bringing nice-sized catches back to the nest. Also doing good for themselves were the 5 Belted Kingfishers hunting on the Sound and in the marsh.