Members of the Fishers Island Conservancy and another dozen volunteers met early Sunday morning on September 24 at the Community Center. With binoculars in hand and dressed for a long walk they headed out. Learn more about the 48 separate species that were observed in the Summary by Adam Mitchell, PhD candidate at the University of Delaware.

2017 Fall Migratory Bird Survey Report Summary

by Adam Mitchell, PhD candidate at the University of Delaware

The Fishers Island Conservancy’s annual fall migratory bird survey occurred on September 24th, 2017. The survey consisted of a series of point counts, 15 in total, dispersed across the island at every half-mile interval. At each point, birds are recorded by sight and sound for five minutes, permitting a rapid-fire survey to address questions about the number of birds and species of birds using the island as migratory habitat. Participants include trained and amateur birdwatchers and is open to the public.

This year, a total of 48 species of bird were recorded for the survey. The greatest number of species recorded during the survey (9 species) occurred at point 1 (Race Point), point 4 (Ocean View Ave), and point 15 (Money Pond). The species of bird most frequently observed during the survey was the gray catbird (11 of 15 points). The most abundant bird species observed during the survey was also the gray catbird (35 individuals).

The survey includes one threatened species (northern harrier) and two species of concern (osprey, sharp-shinned hawk) for the state of New York. Given the island’s proximity to the coast of Connecticut, we also report bird species that are classified as endangered, threatened, or species of concern for that state. We report two endangered species (northern harrier, sharp-shinned hawk), and four species of concern (American kestrel, brown thrasher, northern parula, saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow). We detected 5 species of warbler (common yellowthroat, northern parula, prairie warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, and yellow warbler).

A complete list of species:

American crow
American goldfinch
American kestrel
American robin
Barred owl
Belted kingfisher
Black-capped chickadee
Black vulture
Blue jay
Brown thrasher
Canada goose
Carolina wren
Cedar waxwing
Common grackle
Common raven
Common yellowthroat
Double-crested cormorant
Downy woodpecker
Eastern kingbird
Eastern phoebe
Eastern towhee
European starling
Gray catbird
Greater black-backed gull
Herring gull
House finch
Mallard
Mourning dove
Mute swan
Northern cardinal
Northern flicker
Northern harrier
Northern mockingbird
Northern parula
Osprey
Prairie warbler
Red-bellied woodpecker
Red-wing blackbird
Ruby-throated hummingbird
Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow
Sharp-shinned hawk
Song sparrow
Tree swallow
Tufted titmouse
White-breasted nuthatch
White-eyed vireo
Yellow-rumped warbler
Yellow warbler

Autumn Bird Survey

Autumn Bird Survey

Out in the field I caught up with Conservancy’s Autumn Bird Migration Survey and chatted with birds of a feather Adam Mitchell & Will Almeida; discovering 48 bird species in a day that depend on our Island’s healthy native habitat.

– Audio Chat by Justine Kibbe September 24, 2017

In the photo, the group obsessed over a variety of bird called a brown thrasher.
Photo by: A. Sargent

Fishers Island by Vincent Scarano

The History and Natural Beauty That is Fishers Island

By Carolyn Battista / Photos by Vincent Scarano
INKct Magazine, September 2017

Walking along the Fishers Island shore, we saw the natural tidal wrack lines of washed-up eel grass and kelp. Heading inland, we spotted big signs about invaders, like the awful black swallow wort. We – photographer and writer – were here to look around and learn a bit about this quiet, mostly private little island.

We focused especially on the history of the island and on the work to protect its land and wildlife, today and forever. The U.S. Army once operated Fort H. G. Wright here to deal with our nation’s enemies. Now the Fishers Island Conservancy works here to vanquish environmental enemies” – black swallow wort and other invasive plants – and to replace them with native species. The Conservancy, which has long looked after island land and waters, hopes that islanders will get behind the effort and that others can learn from it.

Fishers Island by Vincent ScaranoThe island, about a mile wide and nine miles long, is a “hamlet” of Southold, New York, although it’s much closer to Connecticut. In summer, its population is a few thousand; the yacht clubs and golf course are busy. Offseason, the population is about 230. The island’s long “east end” is a gated neighborhood; the “west end” has a small village area, tree-lined streets, the ferry dock, a museum, a few year-round businesses, and a few more seasonal ones. There are churches, a health center, a volunteer fire department, and the school, pre-K-grade 12, where about half the 70-some students come from the mainland. (Commuting kids on the ferry said they love the school. “I’m intellectually challenged,” one said, noting science programs. “I know everyone’s name,” another said).

Besides students, the 45-minute ride from New London carries people who live, vacation, or work on the island. It docks shortly after passing by Race Rock Light, a beacon since 1879 on the treacherous waters off the far western end of the island. We were met at the dock by Justine Kibbe, naturalist for the Fishers Island Conservancy. She and Pierce Rafferty, director of the Henry L. Ferguson Museum, would be our excellent guides.

Growing up, Justine spent summers on the island, enjoying long, free days of swimming, biking, fishing, exploring. After spending some 25 years away, including time in Alaska and on the remote Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea, she returned in 2011 to live here. She figured the Pribilofs prepared her for year-round island life, not just nice summers. During stark winters the wind blows, and lights across the water seem distant. But, she said, “There’s a community here,” and she’s part of it.

The Conservancy works to preserve and protect the island’s natural environment, to advocate for it, and to educate people. In her job, Justine monitors ecosystems, looks for trends over time, and records what she finds. She digs into the island’s traditional knowledge, posts island photos and field notes, and shares her experiences. She wants islanders to know and savor what’s there.

On our walk, she talked about the rich eel grass meadows within Long Island and Fishers Island sounds. Having documented a rise in recreational fishing vessels, she wants people to be aware that keeping abundant fish populations means not damaging eel grass.

She also works with kids. “Leave your phones at home!” she tells them. “This is life.” In her Sentinel program, she mentors future stewards of the environment. “They help me monitor,” she said. On what she calls the “Sanctuary of Sands,” she and the kids “circle up, sit still, observe, and feel privileged to be guests of this natural world.”

Henry Ferguson Museum by Vincent ScaranoWe met Pierce Rafferty at the museum, which has galleries on the island’s pre-history, history, and natural environment and holds the island’s only land trust. On a quick tour, we viewed the exhibit Photographs of Fishers Island, Part One, 1880’s- 1930’s, showing wonderful scenes of island life.

Pierce gave a lively capsule history, starting in the 1640’s when the island was first settled by John Winthrop, Jr. The Winthrops would own it for more than 200 years, most of that time being absentee landlords to tenant farmers. The museum has an original 1734 lease that spells out tenant obligations, like always keeping “one chamber in the best house” for the special use of any visiting Winthrop.

Robert R. Fox bought the island in 1863 and worked to improve its farms. After his sudden death in 1871, speculative proposals for its next use bubbled up. The New York state legislature considered buying the island and moving Sing Sing prison from Ossining to this “better” location.

By the early 1880’s, a little town had developed. Tourism flourished. There was hotel-building, and big steamers brought big crowds. Folks envisioned a “Coney Island of the East.” But In 1889 Edmund and Walton Ferguson—brothers who were successful bankers and businessmen—bought 9/10ths of the island. They put in infrastructure and soon began to develop a more genteel, family-oriented seasonal resort. They bought out existing hotels, banished the steamers, and kept going. They expanded especially the Mansion House hotel (now gone) and built a “cottage colony” around it.

By the 1920’s a new Ferguson generation was putting a Seth Raynor golf course on the east end, where they planned an elite private residential colony of 300-400 homes. “Then comes 1929,” Pierce said. “The crash defines Fishers Island, in that the east end stayed relatively undeveloped.

Island enterprises came and went. Over time clay pits and brick-making, poultry farms, and “the Boroleum factory,” where Boroleum ointment was tubed, all closed. (The museum has the tubing machine in its collections.) Fishing and lobstering are not what they were; Fishers Island oysters are the island’s only export. A small U.S. Navy facility remains on the island. Fort Wright, established in 1900, was a bustling operation through World War Il. Today its old parade grounds are among the sites where the Conservancy battles invasives.

Driving us around, Pierce stopped to chat with a road worker who had a gift for Him – a rusted old horseshoe that he’d found. An artifact for the museum! A guy in a truck waved. He was Steve Malinowski, owner of Fishers Island Oyster Farm, who asked, did Pierce want to help with tarps? Steve and other volunteers were laying tarps over a section of porcelain berry, an especially invasive plant.

Later, I talked with Dr. Douglas Tallamy of the University of Delaware, who’s aiding the Conservancy’s work to stamp out invasives and replace them with native plants. “Invasives are ecological disasters! They wipe out other plants,” he said. “Other non-native species are also unsatisfactory,” he added, “because they don’t support enough of the insects that birds in the area eat.”

Dr. Tallamy said that remove-and-replace strategies are “effective only if everybody gets on board.” He urges property owners to take care, weed out invasives, and use attractive native alternatives to plants that may look and smell nice, but can harm the life around them. On this island, there’s less chance that alien invaders will just come back and more chance that a dedicated community can make the project succeed.

I also talked with Tom Sargent, president of the Conservancy, who has high hopes. “It’s important that we restore the balance of nature,” he said. “This can be an educational template, not just for Fishers Island.”

Swallows

Come join a lead team of expert birders from University of Delaware take tally of bird species from several point-to-point spots west end to east end. Learn even to recognize unique calls of each species, bring binoculars and we’ll all see what the migration survey says!

TIME: Sunday Sept 24th @ 8am

LOCATION: Meeting at the Community Center

Nature Days

Join us for a week of conservation and preservation activities including music, tours, movie screenings, round table discussions, paint & sip, field lessons with experts and much more!

Learn, Help, Great Family Fun!

Wednesday August 9

9am: Oyster Farm Tour: Includes Pond and Hatchery (16 or Older)
10am: Island Naturalist Exploration: Justine Kibbe will be taking a group on an adventure in the Sanctuary of Sands. Ages 8-12 with or without an adult to meet at the corner of Airport Rd. (Limited space)

4pm: Round Table with Chris Finan and the Utlity Co. Let’s talk water!

7pm: Movie Screening: A Plastic Ocean

Thursday August 10

10am Recreational Path Tour: Start your morning exploring the path with guide Alex Williams, learning the differences between native and invasive vegetation. Meet at 9:45am at the Ballfield to carpool to the Gatehouse.

2pm: Pond Life: Hosted by the Dennison Pequot Museum: We’ll explore the pond, with dip nets and buckets, collecting and observing the local ponds of Fishers Island. Discover unique species of pond life including fish, frogs, and aquatic insects. Children under 6 accompanied by an adult.

6pm: Paint & Sip: Explore your inner artists while sharing a laugh with friends as you transform a blank canvas into a beautiful nature scene. Painting supplies included. BYOB at Community Center, art room upstairs. (Limited space)

7pm: Movie Screening: Ocean Warriors with Katie Carpenter & Crew

Friday August 11

9am-12pm: Beach and Marine Debris Clean Up: Come and help out! Prizes awarded for most collected and heaviest haul. Photo by Justine Kibbe

1pm: The Importance of Eelgrass: Soren Dahl from Long Island Nature Conservancy will be sharing the importance of eelgrass, and why its conservation is so imperative, especially along Fishers Island’s coast. Community Center, upstairs in big meeting room.

2pm: Symmetry in Nature: Hosted by the Dennison Pequot Museum there are patterns in nature! Meet live animals and take a nature hike through the Demonstration Garden focusing on symmetry found right in our own backyard.

5pm Plum Island Talk and Aerial Presentation: Presented by Louise Harrison from Save the Sound will be giving a talk on the island; see it all from a different angle and learn it’s past and future.

7pm: Movie Screening: Chasing Coral, an epic adventure to capture our changing oceans
Saturday August 12

9am-12pm: IPP Craft Fair: Come visit our table for t-shirts, hoodies, hats, and Naturalist photo greetings cards. FIC Hosts vocalist Maria Sangiola: Enjoy an uplifting musical performance, boasting of nature’s gifts and beauty.

11am: Prof. Doug Tallamy Parade Ground Tour: Stroll through the parade grounds with acclaimed University of Delaware professor, Doug Tallamy. (Meet at sign board entrance.)

4pm: Meet Prof. Doug Tallamy and Adam Mitchell at the Community Center for a wine and cheese reception. Learn about the Conservancy’s successful Parade Grounds grassland restoration project, its history, and the healthy ecosystems that have been reinvigorated in this area.

Sunday August 13

11am: Prof. Doug Tallamy Parade Ground Tour: Stroll the Parade Grounds with acclaimed University of Delaware entomologist and author Douglas W. Tallamy, Ph.D. Meet at Sign Board entrance.

**Email Kristen Peterson to sign up for activities or to volunteer at kmpfic@gmail.com. We will also be scheduling private walkabouts with Prof. Tallamy at your residence, times are filling up very quickly so please let us know if this is something you’re interested in.

ticks

By Melinda Wenner Moyer – a science writer based in Cold Spring, New York, and is Slate’s parenting advice columnist.

The ticks have arrived. So many, so tiny, so hungry. Friends from New York to Wisconsin are freaking out, pulling ticks off themselves daily, asking me how to keep these blood-sucking, disease-spreading menaces away. They turn to me because I’m a tick fiend: I’ve interviewed dozens of tick researchers and been to tick-borne disease conferences; I’ve covered the tick beat for Nature and Scientific American. I even started a tick Facebook group (called Tick Talk, of course). A scientist once told me to “think like a tick,” and that’s exactly what I do, because I live in one of the most tick-dense, Lyme disease–plagued regions of the United States, and I want to keep my family safe.

Read full article on slate.com

The Fishers Island Conservancy has had another wonderfully busy year. The Conservancy increased funding for our existing programs and took on new responsibilities with dedicated vigor, all the while maintaining our mission and promise to protect and enhance the natural environment of Fishers Island.

We have continued to grow and expand in our core competencies such as mosquito control, water testing, invasive plant education, and outreach within the Long Island Sound Community. Newer initiatives, such as the Parade Ground Habitat restoration project, are a model of Conservancy success.

Habitat Restoration: Started just three years ago, the grassland restoration project now includes over 50 acres of native cool and warm season grasses. Paths have been mowed and benches have been set out for viewing the abundant bird and insect life. To watch a Northern Harrier float three feet off the ground in pursuit of prey is truly a site to behold. At the same time, we have fought and appear to be winning the battle against invasive Japanese knotweed and kudzu. Just a few short years ago, it looked like the entire Parade Grounds could be lost to these unwelcome guests. Now look for bird boxes this coming spring as we attempt to lure back the likes of the Eastern Bluebird, Bobolink and Meadowlark. Parade Ground birding has never been better.

Island Naturalist and Island Sentinels: Grants by the Conservancy continue to fund the work of Island Naturalist Justine Kibbe, and a new grant this year initiated the Island Sentinels program with students from the Fishers Island School. Justine, with help this summer from the Sentinels, gathers valuable data and observations at over a dozen sites on the island. Data on weather readings, as well as observations of flora and fauna, help us to understand our precious environment and what we should be doing to help preserve and protect it. Your support enabled the Conservancy to fund this exciting partnership with the Community Center and the FI School. Click here to learn more from one of the first Sentinels: FI School senior, Olivia Backhaus.

Otter Research: Another Conservancy grant brought a team of researchers to the Island to confirm the existence of a healthy River Otter population. Who knew? There are plans in the works to bring more scientists on island to help us find and catalog the island’s natural assets.

Advocacy and Outreach: While we are an island, we are not alone. The Fishers Island Conservancy continues to reach out to other similar and like-minded organizations who share our concerns and views on the natural world around us. We have the responsibility to learn what is going on in the waters surrounding us and how it could impact our environment. Dredging, dumping and run off from the lands that make up the Long Island Sound watershed could have great consequences for Fishers Island, so it is imperative that we, as the Conservancy, stay on top of these issues.

The Fishers Island Conservancy is a small group of volunteers dedicated to the well-being of the natural environment of Fishers Island. As the Conservancy closes another ambitious and busy year, we look forward to meeting the challenges that may confront our little island oasis. Please consider a generous gift to the Fishers Island Conservancy. A gift to the Conservancy is a gift to Fishers Island, a truly special place that deserves our care and support.

 

Cheers and thanks.

Tom Sargent
President, Fishers Island Conservancy

In April, we wrote about Mike Bottini’s river otter survey on fishers Island. A Conservancy grant funded the survey of river otters on Fishers Island, which included FI School 9th graders and members of the Island community.

Shortly following board approval of their proposal, Mike Bottini and a team of three other wildlife biologists visited Fishers and conducted a successful survey, determining the presence of established river otter territories on Fishers Island. They surveyed 40-50 sites on the island by foot and kayak and found otter sign at 20, including an otter den (pictured below)! The research team presented to the Senior Lunch and gained critical information from island residents Steve Malinowski, Lou Horn and Ken Edwards, Bob Evans and Pierce Rafferty. They were accompanied and assisted by FI school 9th graders in some of their survey work. Mike Bottini will return to the Island in July to provide educational programming to FI residents regarding the research and the broader implications for wildlife on Fishers Island.

The team was fascinated by Fishers’ natural environment, including our coyote population. The researchers were thrilled to make their first osprey sighting in 2013, and to see a great-horned owl feeding its chicks on an osprey nest at the east end. To quote team lead, Mike Bottini: “Fishers Island is an amazing place, both the landscape and the folks living there. Although geologically so similar to eastern Long Island, in some ways it is very different. You have some of the largest swamp azaleas I have ever seen, and stands of yellow birch in some of your forests – a species that we don’t have on eastern Long Island. We have some fairly deep and dramatic kettleholes here, but I have never seen anything as striking as the clay pit kettleholes near Isabella Beach…”

Mike’s report is complete and available at the below link.

River Otter USFWS Chris Paul

The FI Conservancy Board voted March 9 to fund work under four new grants. The first grant will fund planting of native trees in the FI Cemeteries. Another grant will support Justine Kibbe in her work as our island naturalist for another six months. The board also approved a second proposal by Justine and the FI Community Center to work with two FI high school students on stewardship and monitoring of our island’s natural environment. The fourth grant funded a survey of river otters on Fishers Island, which included FI School 9th graders and members of the Island community.

Read more about the grants:

Native Trees – Fishers Island Cemetery Committee – The Cemetery Committee asked for support of their hurricane recovery effort, which involves clean-up, removal, and replacement of damaged and dying trees on the three island cemeteries. The board approved funding for replacement trees, which will be native trees chosen from a list generated in consultation with Penny Sharp and Edward Richardson, President of the Connecticut Botanical Society.

Justine Kibbe, Island Naturalist – Justine has successfully completed her first six months of for the Conservancy. Justine monitored a wide range of sites, collecting data, documenting and reporting on her findings with notes and photographs. She has also authored Field Notes on the Conservancy’s website, in an effort to engage our membership with the state of the island’s natural communities. The board approved Justine’s work for another six month cycle, beginning April 2013.

Island Sentinels – Justine Kibbe – The Conservancy board voted to approve a pilot environmental stewardship program for Island high school students, being developed by Justine Kibbe with support from Island Community Center Director, Elizabeth Reid. Justine will start the program with two students, chosen in collaboration with the FI School. Justine will train the students, the “Island Sentinels”, in late June. During the months of July and August, Justine will work with the students each week to conduct an environmental survey of the island by monitoring key sites. She will then work with the students to help them present their data and findings to the community. The hope is that the data will also provide the basis for further student work during the school year, and, if successful, that the program may expand to the full year.

Mike Bottini/Group for the East End – Shortly following board approval of their proposal, Mike Bottini and a team of three other wildlife biologists visited Fishers and conducted a successful survey, determining the presence of established river otter territories on Fishers Island. They surveyed 40-50 sites on the island by foot and kayak and found otter sign at 20, including an otter den (pictured below)! The research team presented to the Senior Lunch and gained critical information from island residents Steve Malinowski, Lou Horn and Ken Edwards, Bob Evans and Pierce Rafferty. They were accompanied and assisted by FI school 9th graders in some of their survey work. Mike Bottini will return to the Island in July to provide educational programming to FI residents regarding the research and the broader implications for wildlife on Fishers Island.

The team was fascinated by Fishers’ natural environment, including our coyote population. The researchers were thrilled to make their first osprey sighting in 2013, and to see a great-horned owl feeding its chicks on an osprey nest at the east end. To quote team lead, Mike Bottini: “Fishers Island is an amazing place, both the landscape and the folks living there. Although geologically so similar to eastern Long Island, in some ways it is very different. You have some of the largest swamp azaleas I have ever seen, and stands of yellow birch in some of your forests – a species that we don’t have on eastern Long Island. We have some fairly deep and dramatic kettleholes here, but I have never seen anything as striking as the clay pit kettleholes near Isabella Beach…”

 

Photo by USFWS Chris Paul.

By Guest Naturalist Mike Bottini

In late March, 2013, three colleagues and I arrived on Fishers Island to survey for river otter (Lontra canadensis) – thanks to a grant from the Fishers Island Conservancy. You may wonder, as many have asked, “Why look for river otters on an island that has no rivers?” As is the case with many common names, this one does not accurately reflect the habitat frequented by this interesting creature. River otters actually spend most of their time on land, but when they are hungry and looking for a meal, they will dive into any waterbody – river, swamp, pond, tidal creek or bay – that has their favorite prey: fish, crabs and crayfish.

You may also wonder: why the interest in documenting the presence of river otters? Positioned high on the aquatic food chain, and being year-round inhabitants of fairly limited areas (unlike migratory species like the osprey), river otters are valuable indicators of the health of the aquatic systems in which they reside.