Plum Island is a gem of untouched flora and fauna. It lies in a straight line with Long Island, Fishers Island and coastal Rhode Island. All are part of a terminal glacial moraine, in which debris was scooped up and pushed to the front of the southernmost stop of a glacier as it advanced and retreated 20,000 years ago.

Congress granted Plum Island a permanent reprieve from potential commercial development, when it tucked relief from the auction block in its 5,000-page omnibus COVID relief bill in December.

For nearly seven decades, the high security Plum Island Animal Disease Center has served as the nation’s premier defense against accidental or intentional introduction of foreign animal diseases. It also has been the only laboratory in the nation that can work on live foot-and-mouth disease virus, a contagious disease of cattle and sheep.

The result of the high security is that few people have traversed the island since the 1950s, creating, in effect, a wildlife sanctuary, which now supports rare plants and provides a home or resting place for some 227 bird species—nearly a quarter of all bird species in the United States and Canada, stretching up to the Arctic.

In 2008, Congress decided to close Plum Island and move its research to Manhattan, Kansas. The plan was to auction the island to the highest bidder to help raise part of the $1.25 billion needed to create the new facilities. The sale price of the island was estimated to be up to $80 million, and a 2013 federal environmental report found that as many as 500 homes could be built there.

Conservationists feared potential development of the 840-acre island would likely lead to the destruction of its unspoiled habitats.

Environmental groups, Native American nations, local businesses and other organizations mobilized, forming the Preserve Plum Island Coalition to block the sale. For years, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut pushed a bill to stop the auction, but the legislation never made it out of committee.

Then, in early December, things changed. “It’s been very recent and very hectic and very delightful,” said Louise Harrison, the New York natural areas coordinator for Save the Sound, a nonprofit that is part of the coalition.

Under the terms of the compromise spending bill, Plum Island will be offered to other federal agencies, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service. If that is unsuccessful, the island could go to a state or local government. Members of the Plum Island coalition ultimately hope to conserve the ecosystem and its creatures, create a new research facility and museum, and open the island, “gingerly”, to the public.

Plum Island’s high security has made it home to endangered and rare wildlife species. This lighthouse, built in 1869, is a landmark. Jane Ahrens Photo

This map is an interactive community-based visual that will show each person’s contribution to planting native by state, county and zip code. It is a way for individuals to see their efforts as part of a greater whole, as part of a community that wants to do something purposeful and see tangible results.

Nationally recognized entomologist Doug Tallamy and business entrepreneur Michele Alfandari, have launched Homegrown National Park™, a program that encourages everyone with access to a patch of earth to help sustain biodiversity by removing most invasive plants and starting new habitats of native plants.

Doug Tallamy is a professor of entomology at University of Delaware and, for many years, has consulted with the Fishers Island Conservancy on its grassland restoration initiative in the Parade Grounds area. He has also advised Island landowners on the best way to begin planting native.

During his many visits to Fishers Island, Dr. Tallamy spoke about the vast wasteland of residential lawns in the United States and his hope to have landowners plant native species, even on only parts of the properties. This initiative at last formalizes his longtime goal of achieving 20 million acres of native plantings across the United States.

“This represents approximately half of the green lawns of privately-owned properties and is the largest cooperative conservation project ever conceived or attempted,” Dr. Tallamy said.

“Our National Parks, no matter how grand in scale are too small and separated from one another to preserve species to the levels needed.  Thus, the concept for Homegrown National Park™ is a bottom-up call-to-action to restore habitat where we live and work, extending national parks to our yards and communities. 

“Recent headlines about global insect declines, the impending extinction of one million species worldwide, and three billion fewer birds in North America are a bleak reality check about how ineffective our current landscape designs have been at sustaining the plants and animals that sustain us.

“We are at a critical point of losing so many species from local ecosystems that their ability to produce what sustains us–oxygen, clean water, flood control, pollination, pest control, carbon storage, etc.–will become seriously compromised.

“Homegrown National Park™-Start a new HABITAT™ has no political, religious, cultural or geographic boundaries, because everyone–every human being on this planet–needs diverse, highly productive ecosystems to survive,” Dr. Tallamy said.

Doug Tallamy and Michele Alfandari have launched Homegrown National Park™, a program that aims to cover 20 million acres of formerly green lawns with native plants that will attract native insects, a critical early step in our food chain. Dr. Tallamy has written, among other books, the award-winning Bringing Nature Home and the bestseller Nature’s Best Hope, both recommended as excellent holiday gifts!

The Fishers Island community generously donated time and resources to create the festive Buoy Tree currently on display at the Parade Grounds. Jane Ahrens Photo

Coyote at Middle Farms Driving Range, Nov. 1, 2020. Prue Gary Photo
A young coyote killed a little dog late Saturday afternoon Oct. 31 at a residence on Clay Point Road at Cedar Ridge Road. The incident occurred 20 feet in front of the owner’s parked car, while the owner was unloading the vehicle. The coyote was not dissuaded by human activity or the presence of large dog. Please be aware of all your small pets.

More and more people have seen coyotes recently on Fishers – in their back yards, and while walking with and without their dogs. See a list below. If you have a sighting please email finyinfo@gmail.com and we will add it to the list.

What should you do if you encounter a coyote? It boils down to this advice:

  1. Leash your dog – Pick up and carry a small dog.
  2. Stand tall and assertive – Maintain eye contact.
  3. Haze the coyote until it leaves the area – make noise, stomp feet, flap jacket, wave flashlight.

Click here for a full report on coyote cautions and sightings on Fishers Island. Above information by Jane Ahrens.

Coyote at night, Fishers Island. Dave Denison Photo

Story originally published Oct. 20, 2020, Southampton Press, 27east.com

By Mike Bottini

Last week, I had the pleasure of spending two days on Fishers Island, the easternmost of an archipelago of islands including Plum, Great Gull and Little Gull, located two miles south of the coast of Connecticut and 10 miles from the closest points to Long Island (Montauk and Orient). Despite its proximity to Connecticut, and sole ferry link to New London, it falls under the jurisdiction of Southold Town, Suffolk County, New York State.

A relatively small piece of glacial moraine, Fishers is a long, narrow piece of land measuring six miles in length and between 1.5 and 0.5 miles in width, with a total land mass of four square miles. For East Enders, by comparison, Shelter Island has 10 square miles of terra firma.

I had last visited the island in 2013, when I surveyed its fresh and tidal waterways for sign of the North American river otter. This time, my quarry was the Eastern coyote.

With the help of Ferguson Museum’s director, Pierce Rafferty, and island resident Terry McNamara, I had mapped several areas that they suggested I focus my survey efforts. Naturalist Tracy Brock, Dartmouth undergrad McKenna Gray, and James Hilton, an undergrad from Columbia University who is interning with the Long Island Coyote Study Group this fall, joined me in the field for day one.

Our goal was to determine suitable sites to collect coyote scats for a year-long study of Fishers’ coyote population. The scats were destined for a laboratory at the American Museum of Natural History, where staff mammologists and geneticists would analyze the material to determine the island coyotes’ diet, which shifts over the year, and the number of coyotes residing on the island.

DNA “fingerprinting” of these coyotes would also enable us to determine the source of the eastern Long Island coyotes: Did they trek east from Queens, bypassing lots of suitable, unoccupied habitat, or did they manage to swim the archipelago from Fishers to Orient?

Our first stop was the large grassland area on the western end of the island, called the “Parade Grounds,” adjacent to the small airport. We managed to collect four scats. All were composed of fruit and berry material, in stark contrast to all the scats collected from Long Island sites this summer and fall, which were entirely fur and bones.

Tracy Brock confirmed the Fishers coyotes’ appetite for fruit: Every single pear disappeared the night before she planned to harvest the fruits on her two quite small pear trees. There wasn’t a single pear left behind — and they had the nerve to leave pear-loaded scats along the adjacent driveway!

We also learned some interesting anecdotal information about the island’s fauna. On Fishers, deer hunters actually outnumber deer this year, and as deer hunting season approaches, the days are numbered for the one deer that resides on the island.

American mink, another Mustelid related to the otter, have found their way onto the island, and in recent years they have obviously bred successfully and are quite commonly seen.

Eastern cottontails, on the other hand, once the most commonly seen four-legged, wild mammal on the island, is no longer as plentiful. Most residents seem to suspect the coyote for that, but the mink is quite capable of making a dent in a relatively small island’s rabbit population.

What most surprised me was the notion that another Mustelid, the fisher (Pekania pennanti), has been sighted on the island. Also known as the fisher cat, despite its common name it does not fish for food and it does not share its otter and mink relatives’ penchant for swimming.

My sense is that, with only a slight difference in body length, the dark brown mink has been occasionally identified as the similarly shaped and colored, but larger, fisher.

We did not have as much luck searching the edges of the golf course property on the east end of the island, until we ran into a woman at one of the island’s trailheads. She directed us to a wooden bridge on the golf course, where we scraped a scat with fur, bones, claws and teeth into our collection bag. A nickel-sized ball of fur wedged firmly between two planks was a challenge to retrieve but was worth the effort: Inside was a small rodent skull.

Lunch break was well-timed, as a soaking torrent of rain passed over the island. Next stops were focused on wooded and grassland areas located in the middle of the island, appropriately named the “Middle Farms.” This area included several otter scent stations, which we checked, finding fresh scats composed of bones and scales, the latter measuring 1/16th of an inch in diameter, and most likely representing the remains of the ubiquitous mummichogs and striped killies that otters found in the adjacent tidal pond.

The earlier downpour seemed to prompt spring peepers out of their daytime resting spots, as a surprising number were noted moving atop the wet leaves of the forest floor. I’m not sure when this hardy, cold-tolerant, 1-inch-long tree frog commences its winter dormancy beneath an insulating layer of leaves, but the cold front may have prompted many to start searching for appropriate winter quarters.

Day two’s goal was to train interested island residents in the relatively simple process of collecting scat. Most important were measures to ensure that the genetic material in the scat did not get contaminated, and noting several key pieces of information on each collection bag.

Before setting out, we ran into Pierce Rafferty and a group of birders, all excited that the previous night’s cold front would prompt many birds to pass over the island en route to their southern wintering grounds. We later confirmed that they had a spectacular “hawk watch,” with kestrels, our smallest falcon, topping the list at 40 sightings for the day.

Two Fishers Island teachers were among the trainees, and they planned to get their students involved in the project. By day’s end, we had collected a total of 12 coyote scats and left the school with a remote camera for the students to experiment with. Perhaps they will prove me wrong and capture an image of a fisher.

In any event, the Fishers Island component of the coyote study is off to a great start.

California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium in 2018 built a life-sized blue whale art installation from discarded single-use plastic. According to Guinness World Records 2020, the whale structure is the world’s largest supported recycled plastic sculpture. (See the Bruges plastic whale below.)

Every nine minutes, 300,000 pounds of plastic—the weight of a blue whale—makes its way into the ocean. Monterey Bay Aquarium built a massive plastic whale to draw attention to the enormous and continually growing problem of ocean plastic pollution.

The whale is made mostly of single-use plastic trash: Grocery bags, milk jugs, laundry detergent containers, bubble wrapping, produce bags, etc. Workers spent months collecting, sorting, cleaning, shredding, heating, and molding the plastic to create the whale. In contrast, the Bruges whale (image below) was created from intact plastic marine debris.

In 2016, the United States produced more plastic waste than any other nation. Without enough resources to recycle all of the plastic, the only solution is to reduce plastic consumption.

If we don’t turn the tide, the amount of plastic in the ocean is projected to double by 2025. Since 1950, we have produced 8 billion tons of plastic. 6.3 billion tons have been discarded. Of that amount, only 9% has been recycled.

A new report by Oceana, a conservation group, found that in 90 percent of reported cases, animals had swallowed plastic, and the rest were entangled in it. Necropsies often showed that animals had died from blockages or lacerations. Over all, in 82 percent of the cases, the animals died.

Scientists estimate that by 2050, over 90 percent of seabirds — including pelicans, herons and seagulls— will have accidentally eaten plastic at least once.

Bruges, Belgium wanted to address how cities from across the globe are contributing to plastic waste that washes up on our shores and endangers and kills marine life. The city commissioned this 38-foot plastic whale sculpture designed by Brooklyn-based architecture and design firm StudioKCA. It is composed from over five tons of plastic pulled from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, which translated into 4,000 square feet of plastic waste for the 10,000-pound whale. 

The destructive spotted lanternfly is known to feed on 70 different types of plants and trees. Scraping its grey egg masses from trees and man-made outdoor items is vital to slowing its spread. Egg masses can be double bagged and discarded, or placed in alcohol or bleach to kill them.

The spotted lanternfly (SLF) is an aggressive invader that threatens not only agricultural crops and trees but also quality of life for those living in the midst of an infestation. The alarm is so great that multiple states have issued quarantines in an effort to halt its spread.

SLF can cause serious damage to crops including almonds, apples, blueberries, cherries, peaches, grapes and hops, and to trees, including maple, birch, oak, walnut and poplar. It feeds on sap from the stems, leaves and trunks of trees and, when feeding, excretes a sugary substance, called honeydew, that encourages the growth of black sooty mold that coats leaves and fruit, damaging fruit harvests.

Honeydew will also coat anything outside, including decks, outdoor furniture and play equipment. Some residents in areas of infestation report feeling like “prisoners” in their own homes during the spring and summer months due to swarming SLFs and honeydew that drops from trees.

Entire trees may appear wilted and exhibit oozing or weeping wounds, often with a fermented odor. There are no documented cases of SLFs killing trees, but heavy feeding weakens the tree and paves the way for secondary pests that can kill the tree.

SLF is a strong plant hopper and uses its wings to assist these jumps rather than making sustained flights. Its greatest risk of spread is through transportation of egg masses laid on firewood, stone or man-made items like grills, yard furniture, vehicles, farm equipment or other items stored outside.

State-mandated SLF quarantines restrict the movement of items that could harbor egg masses unless approved by special waiver. People traveling in a quarantined county are asked to do a quick SLF inspection of their vehicle before leaving.

Native to Asia, this insect first appeared in Pennsylvania in 2014. It is now well-established in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and northern Virginia, and has been observed in New York and Connecticut.

A few natural predators have been identified in the lanternfly’s native habitat in China, but they are being evaluated in the United States under quarantine, until researchers are certain that the predators will not become an invasive species.

The Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture has posted excellent SLF visuals and suggestions on how to slow the spread of this aggressor: Spotted Lanternfly Checklist for Residents.

(l) Spotted lanternflies coat trunk of tree, and (r) spotted lanternfly egg mass clings to tree but also will cling to grills, yard furniture, vehicles, children’s toys, and even lightbubs.

Fishers Island School Oceanography students use fluorometer donated by FIConservancy. Carol Giles Photo

FIConservancy has provided a grant to Fishers Island School to purchase a fluorometer, already in use by Oceanography students.

The meter will enable these students to measure phytoplankton population density. Quantifying seasonal changes in density will spark student discussion of how environmental factors such as temperature, fertilizer runoff and light intensity affect growth. This, in turn, will engage student learning and awaken their concern for the environment, said science teacher Carol Giles in a letter to FIConservancy.

“FIConservancy has supported the Fishers Island science program for many years,” Mrs. Giles said in her letter. “Your past purchase of binoculars has allowed our Oceanography class to enumerate the FI seal population and graph its variance throughout the year. The carbon dioxide and oxygen probes are again being utilized to further explore fauna carbon sequestering.”

The fluorometer grant comes from FIConservancy’s 25th Anniversary Grant Fund founded in celebration of 25 years of preserving and protecting our Island’s environment.

John Thatcher Native Garden (formerly Demonstration Garden) is a busy third stop during the Fall Migratory Bird Count.

Mark your calendars for the 2020 Fall Migratory Bird Count Saturday Sept. 19, 8 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Meet at the Island Community Center. Bring binoculars. Masks required.

Following Audubon bird count rules, birders will make 15 five-minute stops from West End to East End. At each timed stop, birders count birds and call out what they see.

The fall 2019 bird count began under overcast skies, with thick clouds and fog, but the weather this Saturday is predicted to be sunny, in the 60s!