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!