We kicked off the New Year with another presentation given by the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMCS)– this time on seals! Hannah and Alli shared the different types of seal species seen in Long Island waters, their migratory patterns, and behaviors. They also went over what to expect in the field, as we started our seal walks! Recording data on the animal and its surroundings is an important aspect of scientific research, and volunteers can help AMCS understand how many individuals there are and why seals are hauling out in this area.
An indoor winter project we took on was building duck nest boxes to install at Bailey Arboretum. Some of our local ducks such as wood ducks and mergansers (common & hooded spp.) are cavity nesters, seeking out abandoned woodpecker holes or cavities caused by rotting or fire. Building a nest box will help these animals take residence for their nesting season, especially since wood ducks cannot create their own cavities, nor bring material into their nesting place. Our turn out of volunteers was impressive, as they measured and marked all pre-drilled holes, handled drills, sanders, staple guns, and put together the final product. After two weeks, the boxes are looking great and we can’t wait to install them at the arboretum- some are going along the pond’s edge while others are going near the trailhead at the woods edge.
In the third week of the month, AMCS returned and met us at Crane Neck Beach to conduct a seal walk. This took place just after low tide, as boulders were exposed through the water’s surface. Kudos to our volunteers who made it down to the beach at 8:00 AM on a Saturday! STATE volunteers started with a briefing about what to expect on the walk and were asked to pick up marine debris. There is a powerful connection between the animal’s welfare and the amount of debris along the shoreline, so this was an important component of the program. As we neared the point, we saw two robust harbor seals hauled out! Their fur was a radiant white color with the light reflecting from their backs, so it was probably safe to say they were enjoying their sunning session. As we observed their behavior both through the naked eye and supplemented with binoculars, volunteers recorded data regarding what the seals were doing. They were certainly tuned in to what we were doing, and it is also noteworthy to mention that the required safe distance to observe seals from land or sea is 150 feet or 50 yards (Marine Mammal Protection Act).
As part of our series of monthly hikes, we got out on the blue and yellow trails at Avalon on a Friday afternoon. In search of wildlife, we saw a few deer, which there are a lot of at the park. This time we didn’t hear any chirps or see signs of overwintering birds. We enjoyed the sights and there were also quite a few park goers out with their dogs. It is always great to get out and enjoy being in nature, even for our four-legged friends!
Lastly, we did our second seal walk of the season. For January, we lucked out with having both of our walks on “warmer” days. Just like the first time, we headed out right around the time of low tide; this time it corresponded with the afternoon (no early rising!). We ventured down the beach and did not see any seals in the water or hauled out on rocks. However, we took to collecting marine debris and after our weigh in at the end of our walk, our grand total was 39.9 pounds of trash. As concerning as that was, this contribution is just as critical (if not more) than the animals inhabiting the area. Although it is never guaranteed to see animals in the wild, we added the lack of observing seals to our notes. In the long term, these notes as well as any other observational data (water levels, weather, amount of rock exposure, cloud cover, etc.) will provide insight into when seals are hauling out and why. We will resume our walks in February and possibly add some more in March for this continuous project!