Thursday, April 16, 2015

EPCAL - A letter to the Riverhead Town Board

For those of you who subscribe to the NY Bird Listserv - you will have seen a disturbing post by a well respected member of the community.  The past president of ELIAS (and a few others) were harassed by Town Police and given a warning for "trespassing" on the western runway - a vacant runway that has been used by the general public for at least a decade and is the gateway to some of the best wildlife viewing on the island.  After hearing of this absurd response by the Town, I drafted and sent the following letter to members of the Town Board and the Supervisor of the Town of Riverhead.  I urge all of you do draft your own letters and do the same - please contact me or leave a comment if you have any questions or want to know how to contact these elected officials who have decided that PUBLIC LAND is no longer accessible to members of the public.

April 16, 2015

Dear Supervisor Walter and Honorable Council People,

A distinguished member of the birding community and past president of the Eastern Long Island Audubon Society (ELIAS) posted a message about her experience at EPCAL on the New York Birding listserv today.  The message stated that while she and two others were birding the western runway at EPCAL, four (4) police vehicles with a total of five (5) officers showed up and informed the birders that they were trespassing and that the runway was under constant surveillance.  After the officers took everyone’s personal information and issued them a warning, they were told if they were caught offending again that they would be jailed.  While walking is permitted in the adjacent grassland areas, the birders were told they cannot drive or walk on the concrete runway.

This response by the police department is unconscionable.  To threaten members of the community with the prospect of jail for driving their vehicles at a safe and responsible speed on an abandoned runway as they enjoy the sights and sounds of nature runs counter to everything local government should stand for.  As an environmental analyst for the Town of Brookhaven (and avid wildlife photographer), I understand the importance of nature, open spaces and encouraging the public to interact with our natural resources.  

I personally have visited EPCAL countless times over the past six (6) years and have cherished every moment of it, knowing one day it will be altered by development.  I have witnessed short-eared owls hunting at dusk, seen red-tailed hawks soar high above, watched as American Kestrels descend on the property during spring and fall migrations resulting in concentrations of this grassland dependent bird that cannot be found anywhere else on the island.  Discovering a family of fox and their adorable kits was one of my greatest joys I’ve ever had as a nature photographer and listening to the call of the Eastern Meadowlark is one of the truest signs of spring.  These experiences have all been made possible by my ability to traverse the runways in my vehicle in a safe and responsible manner.  In all of my trips to EPCAL I have only once witnessed a vehicle driving at excessive speeds, but on nearly every trip I have enjoyed the beauty that these grasslands offer.

Instead of driving members of the public away (many of them Riverhead Town taxpayers) with big concrete barriers and threats of jail time (for birding!), the Town of Riverhead should be encouraging people to come to EPCAL and enjoy all that it has to offer.  The Town is proud of their efforts to construct a pathway around the border of the property to be used by bikers and joggers alike, but wishes to punish those who want to drive the runways in search of birds, fox, groundhogs and deer.  While it may be easy for some like myself to walk long distances with heavy equipment, there are many others in our community who are not as mobile - nevermind the very real threat that ticks pose to anyone walking in the grasslands.  Driving is easier, safer and allows visitors to see significantly more wildlife.  

It is my hope that the Town of Riverhead can find a happy balance.  Permit vehicles on the western runway from dawn to dusk.  The Town can post speed limit signs and Town police can routinely patrol the area and go after people who are acting in an unsafe manner.  I can assure you that everyone who visits the area would be happy to pay a nominal fee for a runway access permit (with strict guidelines regarding hours, speed, etc.).  If anything, whatever “policy” the Town has chosen for access to the runways should be clarified to the general public.  It is clear that the barriers as installed have not been effective and I can attest that the policies for access have changed many times over the past half decade with no rhyme or reason.  

I ask you, the stewards of Riverhead Town, to please reconsider the policies regarding access to the Western Runway.  Myself and others (particularly members of ELIAS) would be happy to work with you to craft a policy that meets everyone’s interests.  I have attached some of my favorite images from EPCAL taken over the years for you to all enjoy and I ask that you reconsider.  These grasslands are a special resource in your Town and we all know that the land will one day likely be developed - please let myself and others enjoy all it has to offer while it lasts.  Thank you for your time and consideration and I look forward to your responses.  


Luke Ormand

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bald Eagle Update and a noisy warbler

One day you'll be closer... or I'll be in a kayak
Around noon today I found myself in Robert Cushman County Park in Manorville conducting a baseline inspection for a proposed project nearby.  It was a brief hike in the woods (and I managed a few ticks on my jeans) but Pine Warblers were singing in good numbers.... lighting was well, less than ideal, but I can illustrate the difference between the female (drab) and male (brightly colored) with these photos:

After work I took advantage of the nice weather and headed down to the Bald Eagle nest - but to my disappointment the Adult was once again very far away - perched on the washed up tree, just like last weekend.  The Osprey were both on the nest - but after another osprey passed with a fish (see below) and the male pursued lazily after it, the female headed across the river to a favored perch where the Male joined it for a little preening.  A scan back to the Bald Eagle and I found it was missing - only to locate it far far up in the sky hunting over the bay.  Oh well, maybe this weekend!

Osprey with a flounder that appears to have had its head bitten off

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Osprey Turf Battle

On Saturday my wife and I visited the Eagle/Osprey nest along the south shore.  Once we arrived, my wife quickly spotted the adult BE very far way with her Nikon Binoculars.  Based on measurements on Google Earth, the adult was about 1,500 feet away and basically invisible to the naked eye.  The perch it chose was an uprooted tree that had drifted its way to the marsh over winter - a nice place to hangout during the day and avoid the punishing winds whipping out from the west.  We hung around for about an hour watching and waiting... waiting and watching but all the while the Eagle stayed put, far far away.  A couple boats passed by (including a SC Police Boat) but the bird didn't put up (or flinch).  Some crows and even a close pass by an Osprey failed to get the Eagle to move.  It seems as though the Bald Eagle is quite secure in his territory and superior size and is not overly concerned with defending anything other than its nest (or free food).

While the Eagles were overall rather "boring" (especially when you consider my first visit which saw several Osprey chases and a parental care switch), the Osprey made up for it.  Even with a scope and binoculars (and an assistant) I had a very difficult time keeping track of who was who and what was what.  The female osprey on the nest at the mouth of the creek was very loud - posturing the whole time.  I had seen and heard this before (coupled with the mate flying around with a fish, going very high at times) but it didn't really click that maybe it had to do with mating and courtship.  When I reviewed the photos and did a bit of googling, it became apparent that what we observed (and what I photographed) was the aerial courtship display known as a "sky-dance" which culminated with the male bringing a fresh fish to his life partner.  (You can read more about it here - since it's easier to read than a re-hashed version provided by me:  Osprey Information).


It wasn't until I saw the photos at home that I realized the osprey had brought a whole fish to the nest. When I was observing the various Osprey (including one particularly fun chase) the bird was carrying a half-eaten fish (a very common sight) and I assumed this is what the bird had brought back - but to my surprise it was a nice whole in-tact fish (species unknown).  What interests me is that the Bald Eagle seemed to have no interest in bothering this Osprey (that had the fresh fish) or the other osprey with the half eaten fish.  Perhaps it was too windy to bother, or the Osprey were too far away, or the Eagle just didn't "notice" but it was interesting to see the male Osprey bring a whole fish to the nest with the Bald eagle in view (albeit nearly a 1/4 mile away).

Another fun observation was multiple chases between Osprey.  One would land on the marsh and hangout for a bit - out of the brunt of the wind - until another bird came in and would goad it into a chase.  I believe I counted six (6) different Osprey in the hour that I was there - including one who was making passes at the female on the nest.  I'm aware of at least one nest on the south side of the Eagle nest - but not sure of others but clearly they are around.  What's really amazing is that even when I moved back to NY (12 years ago) Osprey were not terribly common.  Sure there were plenty of occupied nesting platforms - but the thought of so many Osprey fighting for territory with multiple nests in view?  That's something new.  I can only hope we reach that point with Bald Eagles in the not-so-distant future.