Sunday, June 20, 2010

Invasive Species Pull

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.

John Turner

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

Exploring the Jungle of Panama- Part 2

There were just so many things I did during my expedition to Panama. As you probably know, the birding was phenomenal! Panama has more bird species than any other country in Central America, even though it is merely the size of South Carolina. Currently, there are 972 species of birds recorded in Panama, that's about 100 more species than Costa Rica. Nevertheless, the best sighting of the trip was not of the famed avifauna, but rather a small mammal that packs charisma and charm. It also happens to be one of my all-time favorite animals: the Rufous-naped Tamarin. The number one "must see" of the trip, for me at least, was the Rufous-naped Tamarin, Saguinus geoffroyi. A tamarin is a type of monkey, more specifically, a callitrichid. Tamarins are widespread within the neotropics, but are centrally located in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest with small populations of Lion, Rufous-naped, and Cotton-topped Tamarins in Southeast Brazil, Eastern Panama, and Northern Columbia, respectively. I was lucky to see six adults roaming through the subcanopy in Metropolitan National Park. If that wasn't enough, two young were gripped onto the back of dad, holding on for dear life as father leaped from branch to branch. And yes, I did say father. Believe it or not, the males are the ones with the burden to bear of raising young in the tamarin family system. Females only do the nursing. That is one feature different from their close cousins of the family Cebidae and also unique among mammals altogether. Another interesting aspect of a tamarin's social group is the cooperative breeding system. The fraternal twins from previous litters help out mom and dad with the new young.

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

Exploring the Jungle of Panama- Part 1

I just got back from an astounding vacation in the tropics. How did I end up there? Well, it all started a few months ago when my parents gave me the opportunity to choose a present for graduation. Now, as a young birder and avid naturalist whose dream is to become a biologist traveling across the globe, I chose the perfect gift for myself: Exploring Panama. You see, my favorite place on planet Earth is the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. Since I was a little boy, I always dreamed about hiking through vast tracts of pristine jungle in search of monkeys, sloths, and gaudy birds. A couple years back, my dream came true. I was given a chance to go to Costa Rica. Now I had the opportunity to do whatever I wished. Instead of having a gigantic graduation party which would bring relatives from across the United States, I chose the option of revisiting the tropics.

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.

Here is a small preview of what is to come:

To see the full album of all my Panama Pics, click the link below.