March & April 2017
Students Taking Action for Tomorrow’s Environment is back up and running, and August was a busy month. We started by splitting and repotting larger Spartina plants with the Peconic Estuary Program (PEP) and Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Marine Meadows Program. Those freshly potted plants were mixed with a nutrient rich soil to be planted along this watershed during National Estuaries Week.
During the first week of the month, we tackled Arcadia and our volunteers used some elbow grease to pull weeds and mugwort, a relentless invasive species. We were able to harvest potatoes, carrots, onions, tomatoes, basil, kale, collard greens, cucumbers and chives! The volunteers brought home their share to enjoy with their families. Additionally, we painted and designed some DIY stakes to put in the garden to label veggies for next season’s plantings.
Although forecasts for severe thunderstorms resulted in canceling a project, we were able to still get a day in to help out with the restoration of a new nature/visitor center along the Carman’s River, called the Carman’s River Ecology & Environmental Center or C.R.E.E.C. A small group of energetic volunteers came out during a hot summer afternoon to measure bat housing assembly to be cut, painted educational boards, and prepared the garden beds for planting. We will be visiting there again in the next couple of months to assist with an additional project!
Our next project was closer to home as we headed down to West Meadow Beach to work with The Friends of Flax Pond , on diamondback terrapin nest checks. None of the nests had hatchlings yet, but we were able to unveil a nest that was being infested and the rest of the eggs were salvaged for incubation. The importance of monitoring nests is not always to watch the eggs hatch, but also to check for warning signs of predation by fox & raccoon, and infestation by maggots. Saving baby turtles can be so rewarding!
As we neared the end of August, we returned to Sand Street to tend to the native plant habitat garden, established with the Stony Brook Rotary Club. Volunteers worked to trim back and uproot overgrown grasses, pulled some weeds, and did a trash pickup around the perimeter and in the garden. We came across a few interesting discoveries that day–a praying mantis egg case, seeing 3 praying mantis (two different species!) & various butterfly species, and coming across dog stinkhorn fungus! The last part was not exactly what we were hoping to find, but volunteers put their effort into removing it from the garden. At first the fungus starts growing from “eggs” as they call it due to its appearance; we didn’t even know what it was at first and believed they were eggs of some sort, but after further research we found it to be a fungus–we are always learning something new!
To wrap up this month, we helped out and tabled at The Long Island Vegan Food and Information Extravaganza. We also went to Sweetbriar Nature Center to assist the master gardeners in pulling invasive species and maintaining the beauty of this area.
Along with September came fall festivals! We participated at Hallockville Museum Farm‘s Country Fair & Craft Show, Pine Barrens Discovery Day, Setauket Harbor Day, and the Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve‘s Fall Festival. A great time was had by all as we informed the public about the S.T.A.T.E. program and debuted our new hydroponics project!
At Avalon park, we worked on a different style of gardening: hydroponics, which uses a nutrient rich water mixture instead of soil. We did this alongside our regular vegetable garden, Arcadia, to compare and contrast the differences. Next season, we will experiment with this more, but it was interesting to see quickly growing plants by using different growth substrates and techniques.
In addition to these projects, we visited one of the community gardens at Kings Park Library with Joy from Four Harbors Audubon Society, to prune plants for the end of the season and pull more invasive weeds. Speaking of invasives, we closed out the month with a Mile-a-Minute pull at the Three Village Garden Club Arboretum. They informed us that it seems to be making progress from years past, thanks to our S.T.A.T.E. volunteers! We are hoping to see it completely eradicated in the future.
October is breast cancer awareness month, and volunteers had the opportunity to take part at the 24th annual Walk for Beauty, held in Stony Brook Village. Enthusiastically, our students handed out water to hundreds of runners and walkers, wearing pink and supporting a great cause.
Accompanied by our friend Joy of Four Harbors Audubon Society, we participated in the Young’s Island beach cleanup, which is a project conducted once a year to pick up debris and trash that washes ashore. Interestingly, Young’s Island is made up of dredged material and is closed to the public, as it is protected by the DEC. The volunteers started to challenge one another in a healthy competition to see who could find the most impressive garbage! Pumpkins and glow sticks were the winners, and amongst this we found a metal wheel well, heaping amounts of styrofoam, a car key remote, metal scraps, and a lot of 2×4’s with rusty nails (we were extra careful). We were certainly glad to have a unique opportunity and to help make way for a clean nesting shorebird habitat!
Another annual project that S.T.A.T.E. volunteers take part in is A Day in the Life of the Nissequogue River. Each year, volunteers among organizations and school groups line up at different sites along the river, using equipment and hands on field techniques to gather scientific data, providing a snapshot of this estuary. This community event aims to educate participants on the health of these ecosystems. It was a beautiful afternoon to take data for A Day of the Life of the Nissequogue River 2017! After school, our volunteers came down to help out and were all smiles after trekking through the muddy bottom! In the seine net, we spotted grass shrimp, banded killifish, and a sheepshead minnow. We logged over 30 different species of flora and fauna, thanks to our field expert, Joy!
In addition to these projects, we headed to the Three Village Garden Club Arboretum to plant daffodil bulbs. Volunteers diligently dug their shovels into the rocky soil to make way for the plantings. After carefully setting and sprinkling plant food on the bulbs during a hot morning, we assisted in putting down mulch to blanket the larger trenched areas. Lastly, we had an Arcadia Harvest and clean up session to begin preparing the raised beds for the winter season. Hopefully the spring will be here before we know it so we can start planting again!
We continued our efforts to winterize our organic produce garden, Arcadia. Upon transferring our wilted plants to the compost pile and harvesting our last tomatoes, basil leaves, kale and collard greens, the growing season came to a close. Towards the end of winter, we will be holding a meeting for volunteers to share their visions about what they would like to plant for the next season.
After rescheduling from a rainy afternoon, a small group of dedicated volunteers came to our home base at Avalon Park to conduct a foot traffic survey for our security staff. Not only is it important to monitor how many visitors we receive each year in the park, but this will also allow our staff to manage the busiest locations accordingly, to ensure a stable ecosystem and recreation destination for visitors to continue to enjoy.
Volunteers prepared to be outside on a brisk afternoon, which were the coldest temperatures we’ve experienced yet! We began a beach monitoring program with the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), in efforts to collect marine debris and scan the shores for any cold stunned sea turtles. Field biologists led our beach walk at West Meadow beach, where our group picked up over 2 lbs of trash in under 40 minutes!
We returned to the Carman’s River Ecology and Environmental Center (CREEC) in Brookhaven to spruce up their property with the installation of a native plant garden. A group of 10 volunteers worked tirelessly to shovel out the lawn, overturn soil, use a wheelbarrow to add new soil, build a brick wall around the garden’s perimeter, and install a Bluebird nest box. They then planted goldenrod, bee balm, and milkweed seeds, to name a few. Volunteers eagerly shared their visions, and with that their creativity came to life! Their teamwork was truly impressive! We are excited to see how it looks in the Spring and are hoping it will attract pollinators as well as appealing to visitors!
November continued to be a busy month! In collaboration with Four Harbors Audubon Society and the Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO), volunteers implemented a long term project: creating educational signs to be installed around the perimeter of Stony Brook Mill Pond, located right in front of the preserve. Beginning in June 2015, a core group of S.T.A.T.E. and Youth Corps volunteers attended several meetings to conduct research and design the signs. After two years, the finished products were finally installed, and there are four signs regarding waterfowl identification, effects of human interaction & issues, and migration patterns. An event was held to award participants with certificates of recognition for this project.
For our last big project of the month, we teamed up with Caumsett State Park staff to prepare seed beds and disperse the seed to expand their meadow habitat. This grassy area is marked off as a breeding site for the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly, and due to the thousands of larva that metamorphose each year, it was necessary to enlarge the meadow. Interestingly enough, the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly was sighted here after not being seen for approximately 40 years! This species had a keen ability to adapt to a new host plant, by going from white turtlehead to English plantain. Both host plants have similar genetic components, so as the white turtlehead species declines, the butterflies were able to make the transition to English plantain. Nature is amazing in all sorts of ways! Volunteers raked and shoveled out marked plots, and worked to put down new seed (which were propagated from the meadows)–it was close but we beat the rain for that day! We may return in the Spring to see the butterflies for ourselves as they take flight!
On a balmy, surprisingly warm morning our volunteers came to reorganize our 3-phase composting station. Adjacent to our produce garden, each pile was disassembled and overturned. The first stage of our compost is the raw material—items that were freshly added. As the bottom layer of this pile starts to break down, this material is removed and transferred to the second stage, in which the decomposition continues. After the material in the second stage becomes less clumped and appears to have a more soil like texture, it is then transferred to the final stage. The third stage holds the nutrient rich, fluffy, loamy soil that is perfect for gardening. We need to manually overturn each pile and move material to ensure a well-balanced combination of oxygen, moisture, and greens/browns. We also added some more shovelfuls of food and garden waste into our compost tumbler, which we are using alongside our regular composting area. The more often the tumbler is turned, the quicker the process! Bravo to our volunteers who put in their elbow grease and came ready to work! This was not an easy feat as we had heaping piles of material, and with their efforts our compost will be ready to use in the spring when we start our planting in Arcadia.
To follow up with the topic of composting, a colleague and I took a field trip to the Green Stream Recycling Center, an organization working in a joint effort with the Town of Brookhaven. Hoping to gain more knowledge on process of recycling, we did just that. What we saw was incredible: immense piles of recyclable materials from the floor almost reaching the ceilings, and we learned that this all needed to be processed through the machines and floors wiped clean in only about 4 days! Despite seeing all of this material filling the center, it is great to know that recycling is on the rise. The Town of Brookhaven works with Green Stream on a new system: single stream recycling. Few areas on Long Island have converted to single stream, so Brookhaven is leading by example! The single stream concept allows for families and households to combine all of their recycling, and not having to sort it. Newspaper, cardboard, cans, bottles, plastic and all other materials are sorted out manually and though the use of technology, in which each machine is programmed to sort a different type of material. It was not all sunshine unfortunately, we came across another gloomy discovery: PLASTIC BAGS! The amount of plastic bags we saw wrapped around the sorters was unbelievable, as they cannot be recycled. This is a huge issue as the machine needed maintenance crews fixing it every hour. Hopefully the new plastic bag law for Suffolk County taking effect in January will help mitigate this problem. In all, it was an eye opener!
We began our series of monthly hikes and took our first one! This was initiated with the goal for our volunteers to have more exposure to the outdoors, and there is much to see here at Avalon. On a brisk afternoon we headed out just before sunset, hoping to see wildlife–we saw just that! We observed about 5-6 deer running across part of the blue trail and then saw 2 great horned owls. At first, we heard the 2 owls calling back and forth, but hadn’t seen them–their mating season begins at about this time of year, prior to nesting in January-February. After we witnessed one owl flying off, a couple of park goers pointed out the second owl perched very high up in a tree. Great horned owls have the typical deep, soft “hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo” sounds. Some of our volunteers mentioned they had never seen an owl in the wild in person before, and another discussed that the female was actually larger in size than the male–this is called sexual dimorphism. What an incredible learning experience in the great outdoors! Hoping to get a similar turn out with nature as we keep these up in the coming months, and we will start to identify animal tracks if we head out in the snow!
Our volunteers assisted in a holiday celebration with Four Harbors Audubon Society, as they held their first annual Family Fun Day! This was hosted at the Bates House at Frank Melville Memorial Park, and our volunteers helped to recruit some families who were walking around in the park as light snow filled the paths. Families and children came in and warmed up with a cup of hot cider, as they walked around and did some fun crafts—volunteers ran an owl ornament station, clamshell painting, and pinecone bird feeder stations. In addition, there was an educational table featuring feathers of different bird species, skulls, and a matching activity! Joy also showed everyone a screech owl named Pumpkin, borrowed from Sweetbriar Nature Center—it was a lovely day and everyone loved meeting a feathered friend.
As we were faced with the first largest snowy afternoon of the year, volunteers joined us in kicking off the holidays by making upycled ornaments. We started off going for a hike through the fields at Avalon collecting material to be used in the plastic spheres- branches, clippings of plants turned to seed, along with soil and berries, were the variety of décor we accumulated. After returning to the barn, volunteers let their creativity shine through as they assembled their ornaments, and topping them off with a little bit of bird seed to add some charm. You are never too old for crafting! We kept the festivities going by listening to holiday music as everyone worked on their creations.
To follow up with a beach monitoring project from about a month back, the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society came to visit and do a sea turtle presentation for us. They shared a wealth of fascinating information so volunteers could understand the detrimental effects of cold stunning and marine debris accumulating on our shores. This was a great way to tie the project together, as field biologists displayed images of the different species of turtles we can spot in Long Island waters at varying times of year, educated everyone on basic anatomy, feeding and migratory patterns of sea turtle species, as well as the threats they face. Conservation approaches and work done by AMCS was also presented. Next month, they will be back again to do another presentation on seals, and we will be doing some seal walks to collect field data.
Lastly, we finished off the year with a campfire and night hike at Avalon. Volunteers gathered around the fire, enjoyed some hot cocoa, and roasted marshmallows. No matter how old you are, everyone always loves s’mores! It was a nice, clear evening, as we set out to walk down the trails, keeping alert for any sounds of wildlife. We did not hear anything, but it was great to get out there and see the park from a nighttime perspective…better luck next time!
WISHING ALL OF OUR VOLUNTEERS AND FAMILIES A WONDERFUL HOLIDAY AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR! SEE YOU IN 2018!!
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