January 2018

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!

February 2018

This month we started with our seal walk with AMCS, which took place on a Saturday afternoon. We didn’t see any seals this time, but were still able to collect a decent amount of marine debris—the fact that this beach has so much trash is baffling each time we return. Due to recent reports of seal sightings and comparing this with our small amount of data, the biologists have an inclination that possibly the seals prefer to haul out in the mornings before there is foot traffic on the beach. We were following low tide, but due to the rocky nature of this area, the boulders are still exposed even during a full high tide. There are many factors that could be causing the seals to haul out at certain times, so we are looking forward to taking a different approach.

The following week, we welcomed a guest speaker, Larry Kick from Applied DNA Sciences. This presentation really encompassed everything about STEM, and it is great exposure for our volunteers to see new innovations in the science fields. They get to take part in a variety of hands on experiences through projects and events, but this might expand their insight into what a scientist does. Larry spoke a bit about his organization, what they do, and showed us some examples of their developments. This company originated in California, and they used plant DNA as a template to create their own unique DNA and molecular tags for security purposes. They can trace products and validate the authenticity of raw materials, finished goods, and packaging. As many of our volunteers are juniors and seniors, this presentation demonstrated that there are a variety of opportunities in the science world, and many avenues that can be pursued! I was glad to hear all of the questions our volunteers had!

As we approached the middle of February, our projects picked up. We held an introductory event for our deer immunocontraception project, which will take place as a long-term study in the village of Head of the Harbor. The first step in this project was to assemble property maps, to mark our study sites. Our volunteers worked together as a team to tediously cut out each small section of map, and orient it onto sheet paper to create a large-scale map. Once we plan out our sites, we will get underway with the next steps. This also served as an opportunity to share with volunteers what the study will consist of, as we will be in need of their help each season!

After our volunteers committed to 5 hours of building duck nest boxes in January, it was finally time to install them! Due to the nature of the installation process, if the ground was frozen, it would have interfered with the productivity of this project. We were keeping our fingers crossed as our eyes were on the weather, and we lucked out! It was a little overcast, but temperatures had increased and it was a perfect day to get the nest boxes up. So on President’s Day, we headed to Bailey Arboretum to see the rest of this project through. We chose where each nest box would go along the water’s edge, and split up into groups where volunteers took on various roles—we had groups focused on digging, volunteers putting the 10-foot steel poles into the ground, and others who worked with the drill to get the boxes secured, along with the predator guards. At first, it was a little tricky, but once we came up with a method, it seemed to take off. I am entirely grateful for one of the dads who happened to have much larger drill bits from his work supplies in his truck, and he didn’t hesitate to help us out. Without his assistance it would’ve taken us much longer. Our volunteers successfully installed 5 nest boxes and we are looking forward to hearing if any ducks take up residence during the nesting season! Typically wood ducks and merganser species occupy these nest boxes, and the arboretum staff will keep us in the loop! A big thank you to our builders, installers, and parents!

Looking forward to the upcoming gardening season, we had a meeting to draft our plans for Arcadia this spring! It is almost time to start some of our seeds indoors; thinking about the fruits, veggies and herbs that we will grow has us looking forward to warmer weather. It will be here before we know it! Volunteers discussed the seeds we have and what we may need, what we noticed in last year’s garden, what can be improved, and companion plantings. We spoke about the necessary requirements to make a garden flourish, and factors that we would monitor throughout the growing season. Along with some resources and materials, volunteers split into groups and worked in a collaborative effort to map out which plants should go in each of the raised beds. Both groups shared out at the end of our meeting, and compiled their ideas into one master plan. Can’t wait to get these seeds started!

To wrap up, we had another seal walk with AMCS, this time at 9:00 AM. I had gone to assess the beach with Hannah earlier in the week to see if there were any observations consistent with our theory, and we saw one large harbor seal (which flushed as another beachgoer was walking along the shore, and shortly after it returned to the same haul out rock!). Likewise, we headed out and this time we saw two harbor seals! They appeared to be robust and healthy, and were aware of our presence. Volunteers stood at the back of the beach and observed their behavior for about 20 minutes. At that time, volunteers recorded their observations and data, such as how many seals were hauled out and how many were in the water, what they were doing, the amount of cloud cover, GPS coordinates, the time, and if there were any other people or boats present in the area. Only one seal was hauled out and it flushed back into the water after a few minutes. However, volunteers noticed a second seal in the water and both seemed to swim around and continue to pop their heads up. It almost appeared to be in a playful manner. After a few times of not seeing seals, it was nice to observe them again, and as always, our volunteers diligently picked up marine debris. Maybe they just prefer mornings!

March 2018

We took to the trails again as we did our monthly hike- this time we went on the red trail leading us to the labyrinth and from there we headed down to the duck pond. We had a few minutes to reflect and look out onto the water, and stopped at the upper pond after we looped back around. It was a little brisk, but a nice afternoon for a hike through Avalon.

That weekend we welcomed our 5 interns for our deer immunocontraception project to the park for a drone test flight. The goal of this study is to successfully utilize techniques that provide individual identification and remote delivery of contraceptives that will further reduce the need to capture and handle deer for the purpose of sterilization. We are working to practice humane population control of white-tailed deer in the village. By using a drone to fly over various wooded areas and fields in the park as well as over other land areas in the village, we will be able to record a rough estimate of the amount of deer populating the area. We will also be using wildlife trap camera footage and eventually welcome public sighting reports to incorporate into our population counts. Glad to be getting the initial phase of this unique project started and sharing a real field study with our volunteers!

Next, we kicked off the gardening season by starting our indoor seeds. Volunteers examined seed packets, schedules on when to start seedlings indoors for each plant, transplanting dates, and gathered this information to determine which seeds to use. We also formed an assembly line to partially fill our seed trays with soil, moisten them, and add a fresh layer of soil on top. As volunteers finished these, they carried them inside to the table where additional students were creating labels and carefully placing the seeds in the trays. Success! Time for the seedlings to start germinating under the grow light! When the time comes we will be ready to transplant multiple varieties of tomatoes, parsley, onion, eggplant, spinach, celery, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. We are also trying to grow a small hybrid watermelon to conserve energy and space.

The following weekend was Saint Patrick’s Day and to celebrate, we ventured through the woods of Avalon Park on an owl prowl! We had guests from Smithtown High School East’s Earth and Outdoors club along with one of our leadership program staff members Steve, who is the famed owl caller. We began the evening with a cookout over a campfire and had a potluck dinner: smoked salmon, eggs, French toast, hot dogs, sausages, chili, and beans were some of the items on our menu. It was nice to use a grate over the fire and see volunteers taking turns cooking. After our feast, we quickly moved all the leftovers inside (to avoid raccoons and other wildlife munching away at a free buffet!) and started making our way out on the orange trail. Volunteers brought a couple of flashlights, which we tried not to use too much, but only to see where we were going on our way back. We relied mostly on dim red flashlights that don’t seem to spook the owls. Steve called for screech owls and boy did we hear them! There were many calls back and forth between 2, 3, 4 owls at a time. We did happen to hear one great horned owl as well, which we didn’t want to call for since they prey upon screech owls! Volunteers very carefully and quickly shined a light up into the trees as the owls were near to try and see them, but no luck- they are very swift and agile. However, one of our Smithtown friends had night vision goggles, with which he was able to observe a screech owl. We also had the opportunity to discuss vernal pools and spring peeper frogs, an educational and fun night indeed! A HUGE thank you to Steve and the Earth and Outdoors club!

Coincidentally just before our fourth nor’easter, we attended a Spring Equinox Celebration event at the Center for Environmental Education and Discovery, or ‘CEED’. Located at the Washington Lodge, CEED was recently founded and this historical mansion will be used for their events as an environment and arts center. In Latin, the word equinox means ‘equal light’. There are two times of year, spring and autumn, when the Earth’s tilt on its axis is considered to be perpendicular to the sun’s rays (the Earth is neither tilted towards or away from the sun). As the sun crosses the celestial equator from south to north, this equinox marks the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. For many cultures, this symbolizes new beginnings, renewal, rebirth, and many worship the sun’s journey in a spiritual manner. The vernal equinox is also used in calculating the dates for Passover and Easter. Traditionally, celebrations are held with bonfires, music, dances, balancing an egg on its head or planting seeds. Volunteers assisted with painting an environmental mural (which was really unique in telling an interpretive story), seed planters and egg decorating crafts, and orienteering course and with a live animal show. Marshmallow roasting, a hot chocolate stand, live music and a tribal dance around the campfire were also among the festivities!

This is the time of year when we have volunteers cleaning out our Bluebird nest boxes to make room for our spring migrants. We actually did it a bit later this year, and yet again the ground was blanketed in snow. Temperatures rose to near 50 degrees so it made for a good afternoon. We replaced the first box with a newer one and installed it on a wooden post, and then focused on removing the nesting material from the rest. However, on our third box as the volunteers started taking out the nests we were in for a surprise…field mice! They typically will take up residence in the winter months and use the old bird nests to bundle up. We felt bad evicting them due to the fact the ground was nearly frozen and the white layer of snow doesn’t exactly help with their ability to camouflage, so we left them in. We found this again with about 3 other boxes as we carefully observed them. Some were very small, probably juveniles and one box had four mice in it! Talk about a full house! Overall, there were still a decent amount of boxes that were cleaned out and ready to go and as the volunteers checked the last couple of boxes in the fields a snowball fight broke out. Nobody is ever too old for some winter fun! We will head back out in a couple of weeks to finish clearing out the boxes, hoping those mice let themselves out following the snow melting.

We welcomed a couple of presenters at the end of March, one was our very own STATE alum, Mikaela Neary and in conjunction with the Seedlings program we had Chris Paparo, otherwise known as “the fish guy”. It is always wonderful to have some insight into what others (including one of our past volunteers!) are up to in the environmental world, and great that we can have the opportunity to hear about their talents. Volunteers learned about diamondback terrapins, our only local brackish water turtle species as well as what types of wildlife research is out there. Mikaela shared her college experience thus far with our volunteers who are possibly interested in getting involved in similar work after they graduate high school. Chris shared his photo collection and educated us on various types of plankton, invertebrates, bony fish, sharks, cetaceans and whales. What is more important is how this translates into protecting our environment and our waters. He said, “you can protect the whales all you want, but if they have no food its all for nothing”. He spoke about the efforts to protect bunker, which is a major food source for many large marine vertebrates, and how this may be attracting them back to our coasts. Overall, these two presenters hit home in speaking about the best methods to conserve animals and the environment they live in.

To conclude, we had our first outdoor Arcadia day of the season and our praying mantis egg case collection! We divided up our group for the garden in which some volunteers worked on preparing the rest of the indoor seeds we didn’t get to plant last time as well as re-painting our Arcadia sign that was in need of a face-lift. The others outside started to prepare some of our raised beds by raking, overturning soil, and adding a layer of nutrient rich compost. They accomplished setting four of these, which will soon be ready to nurture our transplanted seedlings, and next time we will be planting our outdoor seeds and bulbs. It’s nice to see the garden coming back to life! The next day, volunteers were back again for our praying mantis egg case hunt that actually took place the day before Easter. So it was your not-so-typical egg hunt. Again, this occurred a bit later in the season for this year, but with the undeniable force of four storms our outdoor activities got a little delayed. Also, we are planning to have a second nest collection day as we started off with a bit of a struggle- the reeds and branches were almost completely horizontal, very few were freely standing. This is not typical, and the heavy snow we encountered this winter presented a challenge for this project. After volunteers started to find the first few, it was successful from there; even the public asked what we were doing and contributed a few nests (our volunteers had some teachable moments!). Our volunteers gathered 58 egg cases, and James was our winner of the egg hunt challenge with 22- got to love some healthy competition! The prize? A brand new Avalon tote bag displaying the most recent design! We will be back at it again next week!

April 2018

Spring Break Program: We partnered with OceansWide to give 10 of our student volunteers the opportunity to build their own ROV’s! Remote operated vehicles (or “ROVs”) have a variety of applications for all things underwater, and provide students with an opportunity to expand upon their skills in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math). This 4 day long experience allowed our volunteers to do a workshop on marine forensics, learn about the engineering and design process of ROV’s, build day frames including motors and cameras, do a density and displacement lab exercise, add flotation to achieve neutral buoyancy, and then on the last day, put their own ROV’s to the test in Mill Pond! It was definitely a week filled of educational fun!

Bird Collision Decals: Living in a suburban area creates unfortunate side effects for birds, with hundreds of millions of birds dying annually from window collisions. Volunteers helped our friends with Four Harbors Audubon Society by applying ultraviolet bird collision stickers to the remainder of Stony Brook University’s south campus and additional surrounding buildings, as well as repairing applications of UV liquid. These are two major solutions that will help minimize collisions so birds can fly safely.

Bee Hotels: Volunteers built large-scale bee boxes for solitary species such as leaf cutter bees, mason bees, wool carder bees and resin bees. They were installed at Sweetbriar Nature Center on Earth Day. We also spoke about bee hotels at Seatuck Environmental Association’s Eco-Carnival!

Experience With Artist and Sculptor, George Bumman: We had the privilege of welcoming George Bumman who resides in Yellowstone National Park to share his passions with our volunteers in an interactive hike and presentation. We explored the backwoods of Avalon and sat in silence to write about all the sounds, scents, and sights in nature, which was followed by creating a story about our experiences with clay. There is so much going on around us when we stop to pay attention and remove ourselves from all the distractions in our busy lives!

Azalea Walk Restoration: We headed to Frank Melville Memorial Park to pull weeds, transplant mayapple, make brush piles, and plant along the trail. We even spotted an Eastern box turtle in hibernation!

Some other projects we participated in: Arcadia harvesting/transplanting and working on Sweetbriar’s wildlife garden.

May 2018

Azalea Walk: We were back at Frank Melville to shovel up and till soil for a new native garden, did some plantings, and tried to tackle some more weeds along the path.

 Arcadia: Volunteers got their hands dirty by adding compost to our raised beds, placing our delicate seedlings into the garden, planting outdoor seed and sweet potato tubers! We are trying to grow sweet potatoes for the first time, which is pretty exciting!

Internships: We had the first orientation for our program with the Stony Brook Yacht Club. Volunteers were introduced to terms and structure of clams and oysters through a dissection! “Mariculture” or marine aquaculture is used this specific project to describe the rearing of hard shelled clams and eastern oysters to replenish the Stony Brook Harbor. The major goal of this is to create successful spawning populations of shellfish; these filter feeders will greatly improve our water quality while being an important component of this ecosystem.

Horseshoe Crab Tagging: One of our most popular wildlife restoration projects was underway again for the season! This is the time of year where adult female horseshoe crabs begin to nest after spawning. Females will come onto shore during high tide, according to the New and Full Moon phases. Cornell Cooperative Extension has a Horseshoe Crab Monitoring Network, which is a citizen science effort throughout the entire state, aimed to gather data for management and conservation purposes. Throughout the course of their evolution, it is thought that some of these ‘living fossil’ species have been in existence for over 400 million years! Our volunteers headed out for a couple of late nights to assist in counting and tagging, which will ultimately help scientists assess the population status of these magnificent creatures!

Some other projects we worked on: Community library gardens, and continued working on our bee hotels.

June 2018

Arcadia: We continued to work on our garden at Avalon, by adding compost, building a trellis for our delicate sugar snap pea vines, weeded some of our raised beds, did some mid-summer plantings, harvested veggies and enjoyed pizza and ice pops to celebrate school being out for the summer!

Terrapin Walk & Beach Clean up: Nancy from Friends of Flax Pond guided us along the beach as we picked up debris while keeping a look out for nesting diamondback terrapins, our only species of brackish water turtle that we work to protect and monitor throughout their nesting season. Although we didn’t come across any terrapins on our walk, we did see some test holes (false nests) and THOUSANDS of fiddler crabs at low tide, which was incredible! This also served as an opportunity for our student volunteers to learn what the terrapin studies are all about! Upon returning to do a terrapin monitoring session at the end of the month, we found about 8 females to weigh and measure—one even laid eggs!

Horseshoe Crab Tagging: We headed down to West Meadow for 2 more nights of tagging! These began at 10:00 and 11:00 PM and we stayed out through the middle of the night, which was part of the fun for this unique experience! The idea is to tag as many mature male/female crabs as possible to study their populations and get an insight on the conservation status of these living fossils. One night was a blitz night, meaning due to the lunar cycle it is expected for there to be the highest volume of nesting crabs on the beach. This environmental cue worked, because the group collectively tagged 750 horseshoe crabs and we ran out of tags! Our last venture for horseshoe crab tagging consisted of doing a count of horseshoe crabs in the water along a transect area, randomly surveying numbers of individuals and gender. All of this data will serve a valuable purpose to the researchers studying these animals.

Eastern Long Island Mini Maker Faire: The theme chosen for our booth this year was “Building for Wildlife: A Purpose for Restoration”. Volunteers showcased some of our projects and spoke to the public about how they can make something of their own! We included some of our past/present building projects: Bluebird Boxes, Bee Hotels, and Duck Nest Boxes. We were successful with informing others about how our volunteers built these, why it’s important to provide habitat rather than letting nature take its course, and implications for conserving native pollinators. It was a fun filled day with other inventors/creators/innovators including robotics clubs, a veggie orchestra, taiko drumming, woodcrafts and more!! With a huge public turnout, we are excited to do it again next year!

Sweetbriar Gardening Program: We will be going Sweetbriar on Tuesday mornings on a bi-weekly basis throughout the summer to help with maintaining their beautiful gardens. To start off, we weeded the walking path and we will continue to pull invasive species, cut down overbearing vines, transplant and more!

Some other projects we worked on: Family fun day at Bailey Arboretum, pond restoration at Gelinas Junior High School, continuation of internships and azalea walk restoration.

July 2018

Diamondback Terrapin monitoring at West Meadow Beach: It was expected that the second nesting cycle would take place right around this time, and we set out early in the morning to beat the heat and the possibility of having inactive turtles. We had no such luck with finding any adult females. However, I was called back to the path where some walkers spotted one adult female making a debut right after our volunteers left. We were able to take length and width measurements of her carapace (top shell), plastron (underside), and recorded her weight. Perhaps the heat advisory kept others hunkered down out of our sight. Although there was only one turtle that day, we were glad to have the data.

Following the fourth of July we made a second visit to search for the egg-laying female terrapins and it was our lucky day! We found about 6 adult females and continued to follow them. Some made test holes (false nests) and some didn’t nest at all- or at least it wasn’t witnessed. However, we did get the opportunity to record measurements and weights of the turtles as well as place a PIT tag in them. This serves a similar purpose as a microchip in pets; the tag is injected into the soft tissue between the body and the plastron, and this will allow us to determine in subsequent seasons if they have already been tagged by waving a scanner over them.

Internships: Still in full swing this month- volunteers were participating in the Mariculture program with the Stony Brook Yacht Club (SBYC) and the deer study.

Trail Building at Frank Melville Memorial Park: The goal for this was for visitors to be able to take the azalea walk trail from the Bates House to the park or vice versa. When we first started, we took a look at the portion of woods and planned ahead for where we envisioned our trail to go. Our volunteers blew me away with their speed of paving the path, or you could say, trail blazing! They were dedicated, attentive to detail, and used a lot of muscle and elbow grease to make it a reality. A fantastic start to something that was not there prior to today, and a job well done! Looking forward to adding onto it even more! We did take a break in between all of the raking, shoveling, clipping and pulling and took a walk down by the bridge where we saw a huge snapping turtle and a bunch of red-eared sliders as well. A fun way to break up the day!

5th NYS Annual Invasive Species Awareness Week (ISAW)

Invasive Species Pull at Avalon: Being that we know about invasive plants all to well, we were happy to be involved. We worked with the Long Island Invasive Species Management Area (LIISMA) to host an invasive species pull for our volunteers. Just north of the barn, we focused on clearing an area inundated with garlic mustard, mugwort, multiflora rose, and porcelain berry, along with other culprits. We had to be extra attentive to the garlic mustard that had already produced seeds, which is the main way of how it spreads so rapidly. Some volunteers used clippers to carefully trim off the main stalks containing the seed pods. Others were carefully digging up mugwort roots, which regenerate from fragments of these extensive rhizome systems.

Water Chestnut Pull at Mill Pond: To wrap up ISAW, we took a longer trip to Wantagh to assist LIISMA and the DEC with a water chestnut pull. Water chestnut was introduced from Europe in the 1800s and reproduces very quickly through seed. Most plants can have up to 20 seed pods and dispersal plays a role as well. We went into the pond via kayaks with large contractor bags to grab and pull as much water chestnut as we could. Covered in muck and water (or at least I was), volunteers from multiple organizations tallied over 200 bags of water chestnut by the end of the day! Working on the water isn’t always easy, and we felt accomplished and satisfied with our impacts. However, we didn’t even put a dent with all the plants that were left behind! But we have to focus on the progress we made in just one day, which to me was quite impressive.

Summer Foot Traffic Survey: We try to monitor how many visitors are coming to the park on a quarterly basis in order to determine where and when monitoring should take place, which is also an important management strategy to ensure the park’s ecosystem and the public are in balance (evaluation of carrying capacity). Volunteers were able to divide into three groups, with each group having a clicker and data sheet to tally all visitors (including dogs!) By doing this, we are evaluating the amount of people we have occupying land area at any given time, how park rangers can be distributed, and most importantly how we can maintain this beautiful preserve for people to enjoy without doing any damage to the landscape or having interference with wildlife.

Some other projects we participated in: Arcadia days, and maintaining the community gardens and installing our bee hotels at Sweetbriar Nature Center.

August 2018

Last Monitoring Session for Deer Study: As our summer camera trap checks came to a close, we collected the footage to review from two different sites at Avalon. We discussed the trends we saw from the two cameras as we reflected back on the past four months. We were expecting to see the majority of deer present at dawn and dusk and with the exception of a few outliers, this was the general trend on a whole. The deer tended to be present midday and early afternoon at the start of our season in May, before temperatures rose throughout the summer. In addition, most whitetail deer are in the rut (mating season) in November and fawn in June. We noticed fawning occurring later than usual into July. This can be due to a variety of factors. Most of our deer were active at air temperatures between 60-70°F. There was some overlap in occurrences of deer activity at both of our sites, which demonstrates consistency with our results. Our volunteers learned how to operate our drone, monitor the flight map on a tablet, deploy camera traps, and also helped to retrieve, record and analyze data trends. A couple more research questions came about during our field observations, which will be great for the future of this project! We are hoping to get the drone up more regularly next season and really get all of the equipment in place for contraceptive purposes. Most of the summer hours were spent outside in the heat and humidity, as our interns sweated, walked many miles, and always expressed their enthusiasm- they truly were all stars!

Native Garden Bed Prep: We went to the Three Village Arboretum, one of our many regular organizations who we actively participate in projects with. It was a blistering hot and humid day, but we were ready to take on the creation of a new garden bed, which would later be filled with native plants. We marked a boundary for where the bed was to go, dug up crabgrass, and turned the soil. Following this, we split into two groups: we had one group loading our wheelbarrow with mulch while the other group spread the mulch over the bed. We switched off a couple of times and before we knew it we had a new garden bed! The garden club planted in the fall and we are looking forward to seeing what comes up in the spring!

Arcadia/Sweet Potato Harvest: After having our sweet potatoes in the ground for about 4 months, we were finally ready to harvest! We followed along the vines in our raised bed as we dug deep down into the soil in search for our potatoes. We were excited to see how big they grew! Our slips definitely came to fruition as we picked off close to 30 sweet potatoes! Next, we need to cure our sweet potatoes so they can heal any bruises or scrapes. This process also gives these potatoes their sweet taste. Like any other potato they are starchy and we have to let them sit in a room with the ideal temperature, humidity, and lighting to make sure they turn out just right. We also harvested our red, purple and white baby potatoes along with kaleidoscope carrots and radishes (all of our root vegetables).

Terrapin Release: Unfortunately, the warm & wet weather has caused infestations of maggots and ants in the terrapin nests at West Meadow Beach. As a result, Nancy and her team from the Friends of Flax Pond have set up incubation receptacles in their lab for the eggs to finish incubation and hatch successfully. We returned to West Meadow beach to search along the beach and walking path for terrapin hatchlings. Nancy surprised us with a batch of the hatchlings from the incubator that needed to be released. We worked together as we weighed, measured and marked the hatchlings followed by going out to the marsh to do our release. So much fun, and of course the baby terrapins are adorable! Hoping that through our interference, many more of them will survive in the wild.

2018 Volunteer Reward Trip: To wrap up the summer, the top 5 S.T.A.T.E. volunteers who dedicated the highest amount of hours to us this year were rewarded with a day trip out east! We paddled about 7 miles of the Peconic Blueway Trail, spanning from Calverton to Riverhead! We took breaks along the way to eat our monstrous SePort sandwiches and stopped at Snowflake for homemade ice cream in Riverhead! What a fun adventure it was!

Some other projects we worked on: Brookhaven and Bellport Children’s Book Festival, continued monitoring of oyster/clam cages and weekly gardening at Sweetbriar Nature Center.

September 2018

Pine Barrens Discovery Day: This year marked the 11th annual discovery day at the Wertheim Wildlife Refuge! We spent the day showing off a touch tank we brought (filled with oysters, clams, sponge and a couple small crabs!) as we spoke to others about the mariculture project we did over the summer. We were able to borrow some post hatched terrapin eggs and horseshoe crab molts for others to see. Some of our fellow local organizations were there as well-the day was filled with exhibitors, hikes and guest speakers/fun shops! We were glad to see all the excitement and interest from the festival goers!

Seal Necropsy: We’ve been partnering up with the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society who responds to live animal captures and conducts health assessments to better understand the impacts on marine mammals and their environment. Unfortunately, AMCS handles many animals in distress or those washed up on shore, but it also serves as an educational tool as to how we can serve to make the marine ecosystem better to minimize future occurrences. Kim and her team came to us for a very special event- we did a seal necropsy (or animal autopsy) with our group of volunteers. She started off giving us the known facts about the seal we received and pointed out and educated our volunteers on external anatomy. It was a young juvenile male gray seal that washed up on the beach shortly before we did this program. Gray seal pups wean from the mother in just 3 weeks after birth, which is rather fast. Kim noted that sometimes the pups will know right away to switch to solid food while others just do not follow that instinct. This seal in particular was underweight. We then went into the internal features of the seal as we took turns delving through layers of blubber. Kim discussed the morphological functions of each organ system, with respect to the similarities and differences between the human system. Ultimately, we found heartworm and lungworm in this animal which was likely its cause of death (coupled with other factors). AMCS is using the results to continue their educational outreach and it was definitely a very unique opportunity for our group.

Sweet Potato/Marshmallow Roast: Now that the curing process was complete for our sweet potatoes what better way to celebrate than by roasting them over a campfire? After tiding up the rest of the raised beds we wrapped the potatoes in foil, placed them in the hot coals and waited patiently- we roasted some marshmallows in the meantime. As we turned them a few times and took them off the fire, we enjoyed a tasty treat! It was a nice (and yummy!) reward for the hard work that went into our growing season.

Sensory Garden Project: After working on the gardens at Sweetbriar throughout the summer, we visited again for another project. At one point shade was provided in the garden, but most of it is now full sun. This caused damage to the ferns that served as the under story throughout the gardens. Since the ends were burning from sun damage, we transplanted all of the ferns to the sensory garden that had a larger shade cover. We pulled some mugwort to make room for a new home for these plants, and transplanted a butterfly bush to our sunny area. After moving around some other shrubs and pulling out old plants/vines, we made some headway on the sensory garden, which will be redone next year. The idea is to transform the area into gravel and have a walkway with planters that respond to the senses for a more modern look. Looking forward to seeing how it turns out!

Some other projects we worked on: Center for Environmental Education and Discovery’s Autumn Equinox Festival, releasing the last of the terrapin hatchlings and continued monitoring of oyster/clam cages.

October 2018

Sand Street Rotary Garden: We had the pleasure of spending Columbus Day at the Stony Brook Rotary Club’s native garden on Sand Street in Stony Brook village. Our volunteers have been contributing to the garden for about 5 years now, which was designed to mitigate environmental issues such as runoff and flooding. Native plants were the perfect addition as there are many salt tolerant types and they serve an importance for pollinators. Now that the garden has been self-sufficient, we visited to trim back some grasses from the memorial plaques, propagate cacti, pull some invasives and vines, and do a general clean up.

Daffodil Planting: We visited the Three Village Arboretum to help plant some daffodil bulbs that will overwinter and pop up in the spring. The garden club loved the way the daffodils looked in the area so we added some more! Our volunteers came with a tool to get the bulbs in the ground that much faster so we finished up with some light weeding of the native garden plot that we worked on in August.

Native Ground Prep/Planting: We were contacted about creating another garden plot for native plants, this time in Frank Melville Park near the Bates House.  This will serve as a pollinator garden and adding beauty alongside the parking lot. Again we marked the boundaries and got shoveling. We then placed down cardboard to keep the weeds at bay and added in mulch. The volunteers and I were excited to see the heat being emitted from the mulch pile as it was sitting in the sun—every time we stuck the shovels in the pile, steam came off. We got into a whole discussion about the decomposition process, heat absorption and emission of gasses in the form of steam. It was a real live science experiment! We returned the next week to do our plantings and we will see how everything comes up in the spring-we have aster, goldenrod, Joe pye weed and many others to come!

Boat Building & Design Internship: Our boat building is underway! We are building a wooden canoe called the Sassafras 12.  Nine dedicated volunteers are working with the volunteer staff of the Bayles boat shop in Port Jefferson Village- there has been a lot of sanding, epoxying, drilling, and wiring things together. It takes a great deal of teamwork to build a boat and our volunteers are doing an incredible job! We are ahead of the game and we have the first two planks assembled. Its taking shape and starting to look like a boat! Although it’s a lot of manual work, our volunteers seem to be having a good time.

Last Monitoring Session for the Mariculture Program: As our shellfish season came to a close, we returned on the afternoon of Columbus Day to take one last series of measurements of the clams and oysters. Each time we did our monitoring, we randomly selected 10 oysters and 15 clams from each section of our cages. We saw a noticeable growth rate in both shellfish types with nearly no mortality. Approximately 50,000 clams and 5,000 oysters were released in Stony Brook Harbor and surrounding areas. Next year, we are going to try to go ahead for a sanctuary in which no harvesting would be allowed in that specific area. This will allow more time for the shellfish to mature, successfully contribute to future generations to restore wild populations, and greatly enhance the water quality of our estuaries. Our volunteers worked hard throughout the summer, in the hot and humid weather with smiles on their faces as they did heavy lifting and trekked through the water in their waders. They did a fantastic job successfully raising the shellfish!

Walk for Beauty: Another fun activity we did this month involved doing a water station for the Walk for Beauty/Hercules on the Harbor Race for breast cancer awareness. Our volunteers came out to support a great cause, handed out water, cheered on our runners, rocked their pink and even did a lap! It was nice to be on our home base and watch all the racers!



November 2018

200 Harbor Road, Stony Brook, NY 11790 • 631-689-0619
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