Spooky Creatures in the Pine Barrens

Spooky Creatures in the Pine Barrens

If you’re like me, you look forward to the Fall all year. The temperature finally drops, you can find pumpkin spice treats everywhere, and the best part…Halloween! By now, porches and lawns are decorated with fake spider webs, bats or other “scary” critters. Many of these typical scary Halloween critters are actually not scary at all! In fact, many of these creatures inhabit the Pine Barrens. In fact, they carry out vital functions to maintain a healthy ecosystem! Once you get to know these spooky creatures, you’ll look at them in a different light.

 

Big Brown Bats

Big Brown Bat
pc: Fyn Kynd

Arguably one of the most well known symbols of Halloween is a bat. Often associated with vampires, bats gained the unfortunate reputation of being a blood-sucking monster. According to a study conducted by Brookhaven National Lab, Big Brown bats are the dominant bat species on Long Island. These bats mostly feed on pests like beetles, moths and, best of all, mosquitoes (the real blood-sucking monsters!). 

 

Black and Yellow Spider 

Black & Yellow Spider
pc: F Delventhal

Another creepy creature that not only represents Halloween, but is a worst fear for many is a spider. The list of spider species found on Long Island goes on and on. However, it only felt right to hone in on the physically largest native spider species. If you’ve ever had the pleasure to host a black and yellow garden spider in your yard, you’ll know how massive and beautiful its webs can become. (Although it’s all fun and games until you accidentally run through one.) These circular webs act as traps for flying insects. The spider will usually hang from a web until the vibration of successful trapping signals the spider that dinner is ready.

 

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
pc: J.N. Stuart

This next spooky critter can give someone the creeps just by making eye contact. Great Horned owls live in many areas across the country, including Long Island. Their intimidating appearance, along with their stealth and precision makes them a top predator. In fact they’re so powerful that they sometimes even harm smaller endangered birds. Their impact on other bird populations is the scariest thing about them…at least from a human standpoint.

Hopefully these creatures haven’t given you too much of a spook. Maybe you’ll even take on the challenge of spotting one in nature! In the past we’ve even covered more spooky sights to look out for in our Pine Barrens! So, start your exploration and have a very fun Halloween season!

 

By Miranda Gonzales, Long Island Pine Barrens Society


Sources:

http://www.nebwg.org/AnnualMeetings/2013/2013presentations/FishmanBatLongIsland.pdf

https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Invertebrates/Yellow-Garden-Spider

https://www.fireislandandbeyond.com/long-island-wildlife-bird-of-the-week-great-horned-owl/

Cover Photo: Tristian Chambers, Flickr CC

Where are all the Fireflies?

Where are all the Fireflies?

Firefly
pc: Judy Gallaghar – Flickr cc

Who can deny their love for the little beetles that light up our nighttime skies?  Perhaps you call them fireflies, moon bugs, or lightning bugs. These insects earned their names from their bioluminescence. Bioluminescence results from a chemical reaction — when oxygen combines with the chemical compound, luciferin, and creates light. As a child, I was infatuated by these critters. I used to catch them in my hands, name them, and release them. However, recently I’ve noticed the lack of these glowing bugs in the sky. So I’m left with one question: Where are all the fireflies?

Poor habitat conditions

Firefly beetles consist of over 2,000 species. You can find these species in eight different geographic locations: North America, Central America, Mexico, Europe, South Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia. Of the 2,000 species, 125 species can be found in the United States. Fireflies favor humid climate regions, swamps or wetlands. Some species even live in microhabitats found in deserts.  Fireflies rely on their habitats to survive.  Unfortunately, poor habitat conditions threatens the survival our fireflies. Habitats are destroyed through urbanization or for agricultural purposes. They also face threats when people spray pesticides in hopes of eradicating mosquitos.

Interference in Mating 

Fireflies don’t just light up for our enjoyment! Their bioluminescence plays a crucial part in the mating process. Fireflies light up to attract a mate, but with increased light pollution, potential mates can miss mating signals. Light pollution comes from street lights, commercial signs, sports arenas and more. As land development continues, the risk of light pollution only increases. When fireflies struggle to find mates, they cannot produce enough offspring to sustain their population. We cannot fix the light pollution problem overnight, but after becoming aware of this issue we can make changes in our own homes to help our firefly populations. Some of these changes include turning off outdoor lights when unnecessary, choosing outdoor lighting fixtures that point toward the ground rather than lighting up the general area, and installing motion sensor lights that only turn on when needed. While these efforts may not completely solve the issue of declining firefly populations, it’s a great way to start!

 

By Miranda Gonzales, Long Island Pine Barrens Society


Sources:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com

https://www.pbs.org/

https://xerces.org

Rainwater: The Good and The Bad

Rainwater: The Good and The Bad

 

Here at the Pine Barrens Society, we prioritize clean water. Perhaps you’ve seen our work protesting the development of “The Hills” luxury golf resort that would hinder our water quality, or our advocacy work to vote in favor of the Drinking Water Protection during this last election. But, sometimes our water quality can face issues that are not direct human impacts. While typically beneficial, rainwater can also have many negative effects on our water quality. So, what does this mean during a summer that has broken precipitation records on the east coast? 

Aquifer Visual Source:USGS

First, The Bad News…

 

If you don’t already know, Long Island gets its drinking water from an underground aquifer system. Rainwater has both positive and negative effects on our aquifers. The greatest risk posed by rainwater is that it carries pollutants into our water supply. Rain cannot travel through paved surfaces, so it flows over these surfaces and picks up debris, bacteria, pesticides, and other pollutants. Eventually this runoff reaches a body of water or open space which does allow water to percolate through to the aquifer. Thus, runoff leads to contamination of our clean water. Other detrimental side effects of heavy rainfall include: risk of flood, soil erosion, and destruction to crops. 

 

The Bright Side of Heavy Rainfall 

Heavy precipitation is not all bad! In fact, we rely on precipitation to replenish our groundwater. As individuals, we can also take advantage of the rainfall by rain harvesting. Rain harvesting is the practice of capturing rainwater for later use. Certain parts of the world, such as the Caribbean islands, depend on rainwater harvesting for everyday use. Many homes have limestone roofs that drain rainwater to tanks stored in their basements which they use to shower, brush their teeth and more. However, Long Island homes do not come with these systems, so what can we do? We can take advantage of rainwater by leaving barrels outside to capture the rain and use the collected rainwater in our gardens and to wash our cars, thus conserving water and energy. Staying aware of weather forecasts to avoid watering our lawns on days with expected rain will also help conserve water.

Bermuda Rainwater Harvesting Roof    pc: Craig Stanfill

 

 

By Miranda Gonzales, Long Island Pine Barrens Society


Sources:

https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/runoff-surface-and-overland-water-runoff?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects 

https://www.nature.org/

https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-38222271

 

Monarchs & Milkweed: The Tale of Two Declining Species

Monarchs & Milkweed: The Tale of Two Declining Species

With its bright orange wing color and thick black outline, it’s hard to miss a monarch butterfly when it flutters by. The monarch butterfly, a busy pollinator, is a welcome sign of its annual migration in late summer. Unfortunately, the eastern monarch butterfly populations continue to decline thanks to climate change, habitat fragmentation, and pesticide use.

Monarch butterflies are more than a pretty sight; they play a huge role in ecosystem functions. The eastern monarch population typically spends late summer to earlier fall pollinating in the northeast. When the temperature drops, the butterflies migrate to forests in Mexico. During their journey back north, monarchs will lay anywhere between 200-500 eggs. While this number may seem high, we must consider that most monarchs have a lifespan of only a few weeks. It’s critical that we provide a safe habitat of the surviving eastern monarch butterflies.

Eastern Monarch Population by The Center For Biological Diversity

But how does milkweed tie into all of this? 

Milkweed is a perennial plant that monarch caterpillars depend on to survive. Like the monarch species, this plant species is on the decline. Researchers from the National Wildlife Federation predict that if everyone adds a little milkweed to their gardens, we will see an increase in monarchs shortly thereafter. But be careful when handling milkweed. Milkweed contains poisonous chemicals to humans and animals that consume it or come in contact with its sap. The monarch caterpillar, however, has evolved to withstand its toxicity. In fact, the toxic chemicals the caterpillars consume act as a defense mechanism to deter predators.

Monarch Caterpillar on Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa).

Don’t let milkweed scare you though! As long as you take the proper precautions when handling milkweed you will not have an issue. These precautions include, wearing gloves, or covering your skin, washing your hands after handling, and making sure you, and children especially, can differentiate milkweed from other plants. Luckily, Milkweed has some unique identifiers. From June to August Milkweed produces dome-like clusters of little flowers with 5 petals, typically peeled back. Surrounded by the petals, you’ll also see a pod of seeds covered by another 5 hoods. By the fall, Milkweed will begin to release their seeds which get carried by the wind.

Milkweed with Petals Peeling Back

So, will you add some milkweed to your garden to help protect our monarch butterflies?

Check out Milkweed for eastern US for some tips!

By Miranda Gonzales, Long Island Pine Barrens Society


Sources:

https://biologicaldiversity.org/

https://medium.com/usfws/spreading-milkweed-not-myths-5df8c480912d

www.nwf.org

 

Dealing with Eco-Anxiety

Dealing with Eco-Anxiety

Climate change certainly affects our weather patterns, biological diversity, and landscape composition, but climate change can also take a toll on our mental well-being. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association in 2020, 2 out of 3 (or 68%) of American adults struggle with eco-anxiety. If you’re like me, you fall into that 68 percentile. In this blog, I’ll define eco-anxiety, how to determine if you struggle with it and provide you with ways to cope when all else seems hopeless.

 

What is eco-anxiety?

 

The term eco-anxiety, coined by Glen Albrechht, an Australian environmental philosopher, is the feeling of doom or worry brought about by climate change and its impacts. While eco-anxiety is not a clinical diagnosis, many people fear the foreseeable future due to current devastating environmental changes.

 

Do I have eco-anxiety?

 

Personally speaking, it feels like eco-anxiety consumes me most days. I constantly ask myself if I am doing enough for the environment; if my youngest sister or future children will reap terrible consequences of climate change as they grow; is it ethical to have children during a climate crisis, or most importantly, why is our government not doing enough? Sometimes, when I forget my reusable water bottle at home, it feels like the end of the world when I need to purchase a plastic bottle of water. Eco-anxiety can cause a range of emotions like helplessness, sadness, grief, or restlessness. If you resonate with any of this, you likely struggle with eco-anxiety yourself.

Eco-anxiety often is worse for those whose livelihoods or cultures depend on a healthy, thriving ecosystem. For example, people with careers that may affected by environmental degradation, such as fisheries and farms, often worry more than the general population. Indigenous communities often face more intense effects of climate change.

 

How can I cope with eco-anxiety?

 

With the current state of the world, it can seem impossible to relieve ourselves of eco-anxiety. Reading environmental news about inclement weather events such as flooding in Germany, ice storms in Texas, or the constant wildfires along the west coast of the US certainly make overcoming this fear difficult. But we cannot successfully fight a climate crisis in a weakened mental state, so here are some tips to help you overcome your eco-anxiety.

:

  • Spend more time outdoors

Enjoying the great outdoors will not only relieve some of our eco-anxiety but it will also help our overall mental health. In the high technology era, we tend to spend more time indoors. Perhaps you recall our past blogs about the detrimental effects of Nature Deficit Disorder or about the benefits of Forest Bathing.  Enjoying the outdoors can connect us with nature, and if you can’t find the time to get outside perhaps bring nature indoors with you with a house plant or two.

 

  • Look on the bright side

You cannot avoid negative environmental news, it’s practically inevitable, but don’t let the negative news outweigh the breakthroughs happening every day. Surrounding yourself with positive environmental news is just as important as informing yourself of the negative news. Personally, I enjoy listening to environmental podcasts like Sustainability Defined or Sustainababble for a lighthearted twist on environmental news!

 

  • Take action

Ease your eco-anxiety by getting involved with your local environmental groups or making personal changes in your life! Taking part in environmental activities such as a beach cleanup can connect you with others in your community that likely also deal with eco-anxiety. Perhaps you don’t have time to attend environmental events. If that’s the case, consider funding local environmental groups, such as The Long Island Pine Barrens Society!  Also, making personal changes in your life such as using a bike instead of a car (when possible), or taking shorter showers can help you feel better about your overall environmental impact!

 

By Miranda Gonzales, Long Island Pine Barrens Society


Sources:
https://www.climatepsychologyalliance.org/handbook/451-eco-anxiety#:~:text=The%20notion%20of%20solastalgia%20is,is%20subject%20to%20environmental%20degradation.

 

https://sustainabilitydefined.com/ecoanxiety

Shark Week in the Pine Barrens

Shark Week in the Pine Barrens

 

Perhaps one of the most anticipated weeks of the summer is finally here. July 11th marked the start of the 33rd annual Shark Week. What began as an effort to raise awareness for shark conservation and repudiate misconceptions about sharks, now serves as a source of entertainment for many. Since Long Island is surrounded by salt water, the likelihood of our running into one of these marine animals is especially high. While you may not run into a Great White on your hike through Prosser Pines Nature Preserve, it’s not impossible to see a shark visit when you visit other Pine Barrens parks with or adjacent to waterways.

 

Shark Sighting in the Pine Barrens

On July 25, 2011, a fisherman reported that a Bull Shark made its way into the Peconic Bay. As you may know, two of our beloved Pine Barrens parks in the Riverhead area have access to the Peconic Bay. Indian Island County Park and Hubbard County Park both border this body of water. The fisherman found the Bull Shark tangled in pound traps and assumed the shark had been hunting for fish. 

 

Great White Found Around the Long Island Sound Credit: Ocearch

Wildwood State Park is another known spot for shark visits as it runs along the Long Island Sound. A recent report in Newsday states that at least three different Great White sharks lurked around the Long Island Sound in the last month. Since Long Island hosts an abundance of fish in the sound, it attracts juvenile sharks looking for their next feeding. However, shark attacks on humans remain extremely low, so do not let this keep you out of the water!

Shark Safety

So, you’ve decided to take a swim in the water, but you’ve come face to face with one of these apex predators, now what? The first thing to remember: don’t panic. You may find it difficult to think logically in this situation, but the calmer you react the less likely the shark will bother you. Kicking and splashing the water around can create an illusion of fish and this can lure the shark in your direction. Safely and calmly make your way out of the water while alerting others around you. When the shark finally swims away, quickly exit the water and seek help for any injuries. 

Map of Shark related injuries in the US
Credit: Florida Museum

Remember, your chance of becoming a victim of a shark attack is minimal. The chances are especially low in Long Island waters (although we can’t say the same for Florida, which has the highest recorded number of shark attacks in the country!). In fact, of the 129 alleged worldwide shark attacks recorded in 2020, not a single one occurred in New York. Hopefully, this gives you peace of mind when diving into our beloved Long Island Sound this summer!

 

By Miranda Gonzales, Long Island Pine Barrens Society

 

Sources:

https://riverheadnewsreview.timesreview.com/2011/08/19765/big-shark-spotted-in-orient-but-what-kind-was-it/

https://www.newsday.com/long-island/great-white-sharks-long-island-1.50277983

https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/tips-to-avoid-shark-attacks-trnd/index.html

Top 5 Favorite Pine Barrens Hiking Spots

view of sun through pitch pine needles cranberry bog county park

This week on our blog, I’m spilling the beans on some of my favorite Long Island Pine Barrens hiking spots!  While many believe some of these parks should remain “Hidden Gems” and kept a secret, I believe that “This land is your land” and that nature should be shared.  Research shows that when people experience the beauty and wonder of nature for themselves, they’re more likely to work to protect it and adopt sustainable lifestyle changes at home.  So, the way I see it, the more that enjoy our Pine Barrens, the more that will join us in our efforts to protect it.

However, it’s always important to remember to leave no trace, so that you do not spoil the great outdoors for others looking to enjoy them or cause harm to the many creatures that inhabit it.

So, let’s get to it!

#1 – Ridge Conservation Area

Located on Randall Road in Ridge, this preserve offers 184 acres of woodlands, grasslands and a fishable pond.  There are three trails available – the blue trail is a 1.1 mile loop, the red trail (added to the blue trail) is about 2.5 miles in length and there is a yellow universal access trail.  While the woodlands and Randall Pond are beautiful, especially in the Fall, I think my favorite part of the trail is the field and grasslands.  Walking through the grasslands provides such a tranquil atmosphere.  Prior to being acquired by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in 1914, the property the operated as the “Middle State Game Farm” and was used for agricultural purposes and to raise Bobwhite Quail and Ring-necked Pheasants.  Since then, the NYSDEC has worked to actively restore the property to its natural state.

This property is dog-friendly (make sure to follow the rules).  A hiking map can be found here.  A free seasonal access permit must be obtained from the NYSDEC to use this property – click here for the application.  The permit is good for three years.

grasslands at ridge conservation area in long island pine barrens

Ridge Conservation Area (K. Brown)

#2 – Calverton Ponds Preserve

The Calverton Ponds Preserve is owned and operated by The Nature Conservancy and the trail entrance can be found along Old River Road in Manorville.  There is a loop trail here about one mile in length.  This is a 350-acre oak-pine forest that contains coastal plain ponds, one of the rarest wetland types in all of North America.  Coastal Plain Ponds do not have any contributing bodies of water.  Instead, they’re supplied with water by the aquifers beneath them.  These ponds are ecologically invaluable, as they have been known to host more than 50 species of state-rare plants.  They are also home to countless species of rare amphibians, fish and insects.  If you’re looking for a true sense of serene, then the Calverton Ponds Preserve is for you!

Dogs are not allowed on this property.  A hiking map can be found here.

As an added bonus, you can check out other coastal plain ponds in the area.  Drive about 1.6 miles northeast to the intersection of Wading River Manor and Schultz Roads.  Park safely along the shoulder and look for a clearing in the woods along Schultz Road – after about a half-a-mile’s walk, you’ll stumble upon the beautiful Sandy and Grassy Ponds.

coastal plain pond at calverton pond preserves in long island pine barrens

Calverton Ponds Preserve (K. Brown)

#3 – Cranberry Bog County Park

Cranberry Bog isn’t much of a secret these days.  This park blew up in popularity, especially during the pandemic.  However, it’s still a great park to visit! Located along Lake Avenue in Riverhead, this park offers a short and easy 0.9 mile loop trail around Swezey Pond.  The preserve is the site of an old cranberry production farm and you can spot several historic structures leftover from the farming days, including the old pump house, remnants of paved roads and earthen dams.  This preserve is also the site of the largest remaining Coastal Plain Atlantic White Cedar Swamp plant community in all of New York State.  This is a great place to view wildlife such as birds, reptiles and amphibians and rare plant species.

This park is dog-friendly.  A hiking map can be found here.

Swezey Pond at Cranberry Bog County Park

Cranberry Bog County Park (K. Brown)

#4 – Quogue Wildlife Refuge

Quogue Wildlife Refuge is another well-known Pine Barrens Preserve and rightfully so!  We call Quogue the “Crown Jewel of the Pine Barrens” because you can find stunning examples of all the ecological characteristics that make the Pine Barrens so special – ponds, wetlands, pitch pines, dwarf pines, sandy soils, heath plants, carnivorous plants and more!  There is also a wonderful education center on site and an outdoor wildlife complex that houses native animals that have been injured and would not be able to survive in the wild.  After hiking one of the trails ranging from 0.8-3.1 miles, don’t forget to walk across the train tracks and visit the Fairy Dell, a 1,500 foot long boardwalk that overlooks Quantuck Creek.

Dogs are not allowed on this property.  A hiking map can be found here.

view of old ice pond at quogue wildlife refuge

Quogue Wildlife Refuge (K. Brown)

#5 – Dwarf Pine Plains Preserve

Visit a globally-rare ecosystem right here on Long Island! Located along CR-31 in Westhampton is one of only three Dwarf Pine Plains in the world.  Due to the extremely acidic and sandy soil, the Pitch Pines in the preserve only reach about 4-8 feet in height.  There is a short 0.6 mile trail marked with interpretive signage, making the preserve an idea place for nature study. The environment here feels extreme, almost like a desert in the hot months of Summer.  This preserve is a great place to watch for unique birds and if you’re lucky, you might spot the endangered Buck Moth in the Fall.

Dogs are not allowed on this property.  A hiking map can be found here.

Dwarf Pine Plains (K. Brown)

Honorable Mentions:

And because I had a hard time picking just five, here are some honorable mentions:

  • Prosser Pines Nature Preserve
  • Hubbard County Park
  • Indian Island County Park (just outside the Pine Barrens boundary, but beautiful none the less)

Happy Hiking!


By: Katie Muether Brown, Long Island Pine Barrens Society

Climate Change Impacts Happening on Long Island

Once upon a time, many of us dismissed the idea of human-caused climate change as a miniscule issue, or some denied it altogether. We’d often hear phrases from our political leaders like “We should be focused on magnificently clean and healthy air and not distracted by the expensive hoax that is global warming!” (Donald J. Trump, 2013) or “In case we have forgotten, because we keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record…do you know what this is? It’s a snowball just from outside here. So it’s very, very cold out.” (James Inhofe, 2015). However, our global climate crisis cannot get ignored any longer. For years, we’ve seen the terrible results of global climate change in areas of intense weather like the tropics or the arctic, but now we can see evidence of climate change right here on Long Island. As Long Islanders, we can expect to face several environmental problems as we continue to pump greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Gone are the days where we can say “let the future generation deal with it.” Long Island is in trouble and the evidence stacks up.

Long Island Sea Level Rise

Global sea level rises as hot temperatures melt land glaciers into our waterways. Surrounded by water, Long Island especially faces intense concerns for sea level rise. In fact, information gathered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows a global average of an 8 inch sea level rise since 1880. In New York specifically, the sea level increase nearly doubles the global average, with a 13 inch sea level rise. The NOAA projects an average 4 foot rise in sea level by the year 2100. With screenshots from their interactive sea level rise map, we can see the Long Island areas at high risk for floods highlighted in turquoise.

Long Island Sea Level Today

4 ft Sea Level Rise on Long Island

Intense Hurricane Seasons

You may wonder what the global climate has to do with hurricane intensity, but they actually work hand-in-hand. When global atmospheric temperature rises, oceanic temperatures also rise. A hurricane forms when a weather disturbance, such as a thunderstorm, comes in contact with water of at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmer the water, the higher the intensity of the storm. Long Island witnessed the brutal Hurricane Sandy in 2012 that obliterated much of our coastline, flooded residents out of their homes, and left many without power. Hurricanes are just beginning, but with constant record-breaking temperatures, the east coast should stay prepared for more disasters like Superstorm Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy Floods

Hurricane Sandy Aftermath

 

Water Quality Impacts

Climate change is also exacerbating our local water quality impairments. While nitrogen pollution is the cause of the harmful algae blooms that plague Long Island’s waters all Summer long, warming water temperatures across Long Island causes these blooms to last longer and become more intense. In addition, warming temperatures across Long Island are causing local fisheries to retreat and/or collapse.

Aerial view of a rust tide

Rust Tide- Harmful Algae Bloom

 

If this evidence doesn’t scare you enough to advocate for climate action, then perhaps the consistent wildfires, droughts, and northern thawing permafrost do. Climate change is no longer an issue up for debate. It is real, and we’re seeing the results right here on Long Island. We need climate action now.

Climate petitions you can sign now: The Nature Conservancy, Green Peace, and Natural Resource Defense Council.

 

By Miranda Gonzales, Long Island Pine Barrens Society


Sources:

https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/hurricanes.html

https://statesummaries.ncics.org/chapter/ny/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/02/26/jim-inhofes-snowball-has-disproven-climate-change-once-and-for-all/

Backyard Birding for Beginners

red northern cardinal on a bird feeder

One of my favorite ways to spend a morning is to wake up, pour myself a cup of coffee and sit out on the patio to watch the morning traffic of birds that use my feeders.  I have never been a bird expert, but I’ve certainly learned a lot through this backyard bird watching exercise.  I can now identify the sounds and sights of many of these fleeting and hungry visitors.  In this blog, I will be sharing some tips on how you too can set-up your yard to attract birds and how to begin your own bird watching hobby.

Is your space bird-friendly?

Before setting up bird feeders, you’ll want to consider whether or not your yard is bird-friendly.  Ideally, your yard should be chemical-free, meaning that you do not use any pesticides.  Birds are highly susceptible to harm caused by pesticides.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that an estimated 67 million birds die from pesticide poisoning each year and more than 600 million are exposed.

In addition, you’ll want to keep track of stray cats in the area.  If your cat goes outdoors or there are a lot of strays in the area, then setting up bird feeders may not be the most responsible thing to do.  Predation by domestic cats is one of the leading causes of death to wild birds.  In the United States alone, outdoor cats kill approximately 2.4 billion birds every year.

Lastly, you’ll want to make sure you have space to place a feeder that’s fairly distanced away from glass (like windows or sliding glass doors) to avoid collisions.  Usually a distance of about 10-feet is considered safe.  In addition, you can opt to install some mechanisms that will make your windows bird-safe.

Set-up Your Feeder

First, pick out a bird feeder.  Keep in mind there are several different types of feeders that attract different types of birds.  One of the most common types is a tube feeder.  If you go with a hanging feeder, it is suggested to hang your feeder from a pole or stand in a wide open area.  You’ll want to avoid hanging your feeder from a tree to prevent squirrel raids.  In addition, you’ll want to place your feeder away from nearby trees, lawn furniture or anything a squirrel can use as a launch pad to your feeder.  I had one pesky squirrel climb to the top of my patio umbrella and launch itself onto my bird feeder, quickly emptying all my seed to the ground.  There are also squirrel-proof feeders on the market that you may want to consider.

two birds on a hanging tube bird feeder

Hanging Tube Feeder

Pick a Seed

There are many different bird seeds for sale, some that do better job at attracting birds than others.  I’ve personally found that a variety mix is good to attract several types of birds – especially a mix that contains a lot of black sunflower seeds (that seems to be a fan favorite).  Usually, the label on the feed bag will explain what type of birds you can expect from the seed mix.

You can also choose to put out a suet feeder.  Suet is a brick of hard fat with seeds embedded into the fat.  It’s best to put suet out during the months when temperatures are cooler because suet can turn rancid in hot weather.

Woodpecker on suet feeder

Suet Feeder

In the Summer, you can also attempt to attract hummingbirds to your yard by putting out a hummingbird feeder with some homemade sugar water.  It’s best to avoid the pre-made hummingbird water you can find in stores, because they usually contain red dyes that can be harmful to the birds.  It’s easy to make your own sugar water – just dissolve 1 part sugar with four parts water and pour it into your feeder.

Other Ways to Attract Birds

If you’re still not seeing birds after putting out feeders, you might want to try some other ways to attract birds.  You might consider installing a bird bath or bird fountain, planting brightly-colored native flowers or installing a bird house for shelter.

When to Feed Birds

While you can feed the birds all year round, it is most helpful to feed birds during times when food sources are low, like the Winter.  However, as a word of caution, if you decide to feed the birds during the Winter, it’s important to keep up with it and continue all Winter long.  Many birds have a fixed territory and will become dependent on your food source.  While your feeder isn’t the only source of food for overwintering or migratory birds, it may become essential to them if there is snow and ice on the ground.

Tips for Watching & Identifying Birds

The best time to watch for birds is the early morning and late afternoon.  Most backyard birds sleep at night and are ravenous in the morning.  My bird feeders are like Grand Central Station in the mornings.  Usually birds are least active mid-day.  You’ll want to keep quiet and sit about 10 feet away while watching the birds and keep your dog inside.

It’s ok if you can’t identify the feathered friend at your feeder at first.  Learning the new species as you go is one of the best parts of your journey into backyard bird watching.  You may recognize some common species like Blue Jays or Downy Woodpeckers, but might be surprised when an unrecognizable bird lands on your feeder.  While there are plenty of bird identification books, websites and apps out there, my favorite bird identification tool is the Cornell Lab Merlin App.  After entering your zip code, the app will ask you a series of questions to help you identify the bird species that you encountered.  It even has sound ID! The app will also track your identifications for you and as an added bonus, you’ll also be contributing to a larger citizen science project of tracking bird populations in your area.

Screenshot of cornell lab merlin bird ID app

Cornell Lab Merlin Bird ID App

Here are some of the species I’ve been lucky to spot in the past year:

  • American Robins
  • Baltimore Orioles
  • Black-capped Chickadees
  • Blue Jays
  • Carolina Wrens
  • Downy Woodpeckers
  • House Sparrows
  • House Wrens
  • Gray Catbirds
  • Mourning Doves
  • Northern Cardinals
  • Northern Flicker
  • Northern Mockingbirds
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Red-bellied Woodpeckers
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
  • Song Sparrows
  • White-breasted Nuthatches

I hope this blog helps you discover the fun and tranquility of bird watching in your own backyard! Happy Birding!


By: Katie Muether Brown, Long Island Pine Barrens Society

The North American Marsupial 

The North American Marsupial 

 

Virginia Opossums (Didelphis virginiana) or commonly known as opossums, regularly visit many of our backyards throughout the year. Uniquely, opossums are the only marsupial that inhabits the United States. Marsupials are a type of mammal that birth their offspring before they fully develop. The young offspring then stay in their mothers pouch until they become mature. Oftentimes people will think of a kangaroo or koala when they think of a marsupial, but opossums raise their young the same way! Unlike their Australian relatives, opossums have earned a bad rep due to their creepy outward appearance. Many people view opossums as harmful, dirty, rat-like animals, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only do they assist in important ecological functions, but they live an extremely clean lifestyle and can greatly benefit our yards.

Playing Possum

Physical Appearance and Reproduction

Opossums often are quickly judged for their ‘unpleasant’ appearance, some may say. While I agree when opossums play dead they tend to look creepy or even scary, but when they aimlessly hobble around, you can’t help but to adore them. Virginia Opossums typically display long thick bodies with tiny legs, red-brown body fur with white fur on their faces, and long hairless tails and ears (some tails can even appear as long as the body of the opossum!). To differentiate the male and female opossums, you’ll usually find males have longer bodies than most female opossums. During the breeding season (anywhere between January to September) a female opossum can expect to birth between 1-3 litters per year with an average of 15 offspring per litter. After only about a 13-day gestation period, the female will give birth and then keep the offspring in her pouch for approximately 50 days after birth. Since opossums have such a short lifespan of about 3 years, the new offspring will reach sexual maturity by the next breeding season.

 

Benefits 

If you’re still not sold on appreciating our backyard visitors, perhaps learning of the great benefits they provide can change your mind. Opossums have a very adaptable diet, which makes it so easy for them to live in urban areas, to suburban areas, to the wilderness. Their diet consists of many pests we love to hate, like rats, mice, cockroaches and most importantly ticks!  Like many mammals, opossums are a host for ticks.  However, they are extremely efficient at removing these pests through grooming and kill over 90% of those that are on their bodies.  In 2018, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 60,000 cases of tickborne illnesses in the United States alone. Especially with the large tick population on Long Island, we could use all the help we could get! Opossums almost never come down with Lyme disease (or rabies!), so they actually slow the spread of these illnesses rather than spread them. If that wasn’t enough, opossums are immune to venom in venomous snakes and can even prey on these snakes, thus protecting us from a possible snake bite incident.

Pay attention to wildlife crossing signs when driving!

Population Threats

With all the benefits brought by opossums, it’s important to do what we can to protect these animals. The overall population of opossums in North America is on the rise, but we must actively try to keep it that way. Since opossums keep our yards free of pests, we owe it to them to protect them from unnecessary dangers. Some threats to opossums include habitat fragmentation, attacks from outdoor pets, and traffic. You can help your local opossum population, by driving slower at night, breaking for wildlife crossing the road, and keeping your pets indoors at night or kept on a leash. With these efforts, we can protect our local opossum populations, and in return, opossums can continue to protect our yards!

 

By Miranda Gonzales, Long Island Pine Barrens Society


Sources:

opossumsocietyus.org/how-to-help/

https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Didelphis_virginiana/

www.homestead.org/outdoor-lore/why-opossums-are-good-benefits-of-opossums/

Featured Photo: S.N. Johnson-Roehr, Flickr Creative Commons