Skip to main content

Nature Notes: Birds Have It Right

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 23:37
A juvenile bald eagle, likely the same one that was later taken to the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays with signs that it may have consumed poisoned prey, allowed John Magnan to walk right up to it on Napeague late last month.
John Magnan

All of a sudden it’s July and the traffic is more ferocious than ever. One of the silly things I have indulged myself in is counting the vehicles that whiz by my front window on Noyac Road, the second busiest road on the South Fork. I’ve been doing it since the mid-1980s. The protocol I used is the number of vehicles going east and west during two consecutive four-minute periods. I was anxious to see if the AAA’s projection for travel during the holidays of more than 40 million vehicle trippers had any basis in fact. At any rate, on July 3 shortly after 3 p.m., I counted the most vehicles ever. Based on the number going east and west in eight minutes, the projected hourly rate was 1,575 vehicles per hour, the kind of count one might expect for the Long Island Expressway at a point where Suffolk County and Nassau County meet.

Based on my count, one could project that on that day at that time in the afternoon, Montauk Highway must have been clogged from Hampton Bays all the way to Montauk. The amount of red-lined expanse as shown on the News 12 Traffic and Weather Channel on Route 27 on the South Fork during the same period strongly suggested that such a projection was actually realized.

But enough about traffic, we just have to grin and bear it. Apparently, it has yet to impact osprey reproduction, as there are now as many utility pole nests along South Fork roads as there have ever been in the past. Eastern Long Island osprey mates are on the verge of producing a record crop of fledglings. During such horrendous periods of inch-by-inch traffic flow, it is easy to see that when it comes to getting around, birds are far superior to humans.

While the eastern Long Island human population is swelling beyond the carrying capacity, the big birds are holding their own. There have never been more wild turkeys on Long Island than there are today, ospreys are close to their heyday numbers, and new birds — eagles, ravens, and vultures — are moving in big time. Not too long ago, ravens were classified as threatened in New York State; they had always been rare and non-breeders on Long Island. Since the first pair nested on the Hampton Bays water tower six or seven years ago, they are spreading. Jim Ash was surprised to hear from a friend that large black birds with hoarse voices were nesting atop Suffolk County Water Authority water towers on the southeast edge of Sag Harbor Village, so he just had to check. When he went to look, he saw a pair of ravens and their nest.

Turkey vultures are more and more common across the island, but as far as I can tell, the only successful nesting pair was the one in Montauk in the first years of the new millennium. If you see a blackish bird as big as an eagle soaring on wings extending straight out from their bodies, you are most assuredly looking at a vulture. We have two species, the more common turkey vulture and the rarer black vulture, the one with a narrow tail. And just why are the vultures doing so well here these days? It’s the road kills, baby! They don’t have to pursue their prey to catch and eat it, they merely have to land on it.

Then there are the newest of all of Long Island’s big birds, the bald eagles. There are now close to 10 pairs of bald eagles nesting on Long Island, including Shelter Island and Gardiner’s Island. It was 2006 when a pair first nested on Gardiner’s Island in East Hampton Town. Before then, there had been none for at least 70 years. Ironically, the last eagle nest at that time, in the summer of 1936, was also on Gardiner’s Island.

This year East Hampton has scored its second bald eagle nest, the one occupying an osprey nesting pole on the west side of Accabonac Harbor, a few hundred feet east of Springs Fireplace Road. The two eaglets, dark brown in color, have been well taken care of by their parents, according to Patrice Dalton who has been keeping a close eye on them. One has already fledged. A third juvenile eagle, completely brown and probably born a year or two ago, showed up on the roof of the White Sands Motel on the Napeague Stretch, as reported on June 28 by John Magnan. The next morning it was sitting at the end of the driveway off 8 Leeton Road in the same general area. John was able to walk right up to it.

Was this the same eagle that showed up on the porch of a house nearby? That one appeared sick and was taken to the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays. Patrice thought so, and, having spoken to Amanda Daley at the rescue center, John emailed me Monday that Patrice was probably correct. I talked with Amanda by phone later that day and she told me that the eagle was recovering. There is a strong possibility that it ate some poison food, perhaps a poisoned rat.

A bird even larger than an eagle or a vulture, one with a seven-foot wingspan — the errant sandhill crane — as of Monday is still hanging around on the north side of Napeague near Multi Aquaculture Systems, according to Dianne Ryan, who lives in Promised Land. It was first reported to The Star by Mariah Whitmore on May 27. Apparently, it has carved out a fine niche for itself there. Who knows how long it will stay? Will it survive the summer traffic? That is the question.

Dianne also reports that the whippoorwills are trilling and that the Fowler’s toads are making a comeback. Napeague is the center of that species East Hampton population and because it is a favorite food item of the eastern hognose snake, one of New York State’s rarest vipers and the snake that looks like a cobra and plays dead like the opossum when attacked. Diane also punched another hole in my hypothesis that when whippoorwills are present, fireflies are not. She has seen several fireflies flashing about lately, even as the whippoorwills persist.


Larry Penny can be reached via email at Larrypenny9@gmail.com.