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Nature Notes: Sandhill Crane Here

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 16:41
A sandhill crane was spotted at Promised Land on Napeague last week.
Mariah Whitmore

Last week was a busy one on the South Fork. I received an email with a photo from Mariah Whitmore of a sandhill crane near Multi Aquaculture Systems on Napeague. I immediately informed Terry Sullivan and a few other birders. Terry went out to see shortly after and came back with more wonderful pictures of the crane. Readers of “Nature Notes” may recall reading about the last sandhill crane to visit the South Fork a few years ago, accompanied by Terry’s photo of it.

The sandhill crane is more of a Midwestern bird that breeds on Canada’s tundra and winters in the Deep South and beyond, but sometimes during migrations, one or two will stray our way.

The sandhill crane is not endangered like the whooping crane, which has slowly been making a comeback in the West and numbers about 300, but it is not that common. It has a wingspread of more than six feet and can stand more than five feet tall. Terry’s wife, Jeanelle Myers, an artist and gardener, hails from the same town in Nebraska where Dick Cavett grew up. She fondly remembers great flocks of sandhill cranes, snow geese, and other large migrating birds passing over during migration. A neighbor would run out into the yard clapping his hands for fear that the birds would land and defecate in his yard.

Sounds like some people’s reaction to turkeys in these parts. As I drive along the local roads, especially the ones in Northwest, I can’t help but notice that there are more and more turkeys on the shoulders each year. They are among the savviest of our native birds and only rarely does one get clipped by a passing vehicle.

For more than a month, Maryann Buquicchio, a local photographer who frequently sends me nature photos, has been watching a female turkey that has been sitting on eggs next to a driveway across the street from her house in East Hampton. The turkey finally gave up and went off; the eggs turned out to be infertile.

Vultures are becoming a local bird and a few breed on Long Island annually, most likely in Montauk, where they are regularly observed all spring and summer. Two weeks ago while driving past the Grace Estate I saw the rarer black vulture glide over. On Monday morning Peter Gamby, who lives in Springs, sent me photos of a turkey vulture at a roadkill on Fenmarsh Road east of Hog Creek in Springs. I wonder why they aren’t more common, given that the South Fork seems to be rapidly becoming the roadkill capital of the world.

Terry Sullivan reports that an osprey nest caught fire on a pole along Redwood Road in Sag Harbor. The number of new osprey nests around is increasing each year and PSEG Long Island has its hands full trying to create new stands for them away from transmission lines to prevent them from shorting out wires. Ospreys used to nest in trees, but ever since the die-off in the 1960s, and their comeback in the last years of the last century, they’ve taken to nesting on utility poles and poles put up by conservationists expressly for the birds’ nesting needs. Ospreys tend to be monogamous and the same nest can be occupied by the same pair for some 20 years or more.

It’s the bald eagle that’s become the rare local breeder in this decade. Every year Long Island is blessed with two or more eagle nests. Now the osprey not only has to compete with a growing population of double-crested cormorants for fish, but also with bald eagles.

Two weeks ago, Dianne Gordon, who lives in Promised Land on Napeague called to say she had been hearing whippoorwills calling near her house in the last few evenings. During last year’s whippoorwill run I had heard at least two whippoorwills at Promised Land, and a few in Wainscott in the woods north of the airport.

Sunday night was a perfect night for whippoorwills, but did the whippoorwills know it? An evening storm was predicted for Long Island, but the South Fork escaped it. I gathered up my listening apparatus and a set of headphones and was on my way to East Hampton by 20 minutes till 9. Surely there would be a whippoorwill or two along Swamp Road in Northwest Woods. There wasn’t; however there was a group of gray tree frogs rattling away near Staudinger’s Pond.

I progressed farther, deep into Northwest. Lots of tree frog calls, not a single whippoorwill! I made 30 stops during the next three hours, traveled 31 miles through Northwest and Wainscott, and not one whippoorwill did I hear. But the night was filled with gray tree frog tremolos and those from a couple of bullfrogs. Last year during a similar foray, the gray tree frogs were out in force as well. I will try again tonight; I have the rest of Northwest, Springs, Amagansett, and Montauk to cover.

While I was listening for whippoorwills, I didn’t see a single firefly light up, but I did see one on my front window. They are out now, and it’s only a matter of time and a warm night or two before they really start shooting off. We could be the firefly capital of the world!

On Sunday, I also saw large bursts of lightning to the north and west, but heard not a bit of thunder nor felt a single drop of rain. I was later to learn that all of Long Island save the South Fork had experienced a severe storm with gusty winds and flooding while I was out looking for whippoorwills. Maybe that’s why so many stops produced loud tree frog calls: They were anticipating the rain that never came so that they could enter the water to mate and breed.

Now, two questions for readers: Patty Sansone, who lives in Northwest, would like to know about the black stuff that falls from trees and coats everything from cars to decks to barbecue grills. Can anyone illuminate her? Has anyone noticed any gypsy moth caterpillars or inchworms around? I’d like to know so I can check them out. I’ve heard from another Northwest resident that he might have them.

Larry Penny can be reached via email at [email protected].

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