The Fishers Island Conservancy is working to extend the success of its West End grassland restoration initiative, and in partnership with FIDCO, has begun a habitat restoration project on the East End near Middle Farms.
Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens), the eastern bumblebee, on thistle (a native plant) in Demonstration Garden.
A disturbing study published in Feb. 2019, found that more than 40 percent of the world’s insect species could go extinct over the next several decades due in large part to habitat loss, with chemical pollutants, invasive species and climate change as additional causes.
Now, a new study, published in the Feb. 7, 2020 journal, Science, makes a case for climate change as the principle driver of the potential extinction of bumblebees. Scientists said that observers in North America are nearly 50 percent less likely to see a bumblebee in any given area than prior to 1974.
Using a massive dataset, scientists found that bumblebees are less abundant in areas that have become hotter or have experienced extreme temperature swings in the last generation. The researchers concluded that “climate chaos” is the primary driver in the decline of bumblebees. Species are being pushed beyond temperatures they can tolerate, said the scientists.
According to National Geographic, bumblebees are suited to cooler weather, with fuzzy bodies and the ability to generate heat while flying. The last five years were the hottest ever recorded in the 139 years that the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has tracked global heat.
Honeybees are critical to the propagation of nuts, fruits and vegetables and account for more than $15 billion in the U.S. economy.
The Gray Catbird is typical of migratory birds that prefer the fruits of native plants, despite invasive plants dominating fruit availability in late-autumn. The Gray Catbird was among 45 species sighted in the 2019 Migratory Bird Count on Fishers Island. Ann Stinely photo for the Manomet Team Newsletter.
As migratory birds pass through stopover sites later in the season due to warming temperatures, will they begin to eat the abundant late-autumn fruit of invasive plant species rather than fruit from the diminishing number of native plants? The apparent answer is no.
This finding was the result of an in-depth study of bird-fruit interactions published in the Nov. 2019 issue of Biological Conservation, a leading international journal in the discipline of conservation science. A trio of scientists conducted their research at Manomet, a migratory stopover site for landbirds on the Atlantic coast, and a long-term bird banding site, located in Plymouth County, Mass.
Scientists observed both native and invasive wild plant species at Manomet during the 2014-15 autumn migration season and identified seeds from 469 fecal samples collected from songbirds captured during that time.
“Our results demonstrate that native fruits are an important food resource for birds during the autumn migration season and are unlikely to be replaced by abundant fruits of late-season invasive species under climate change,” scientists wrote in their study.
Twenty years ago, University of Delaware entomology professor and FIConservancy advisor, Doug Tallamy observed that insects prefer to eat native plants rather than invasives. Birds, in turn, feed on those insects, particularly when foraging for their young. This study adds striking evidence to the “native” connection, even in the face of a diminishing late-autumn native food supply due to the aggressive growth of invasive plant species.
Pink area in above graphic was the former New London Disposal Site, expanded in recent years (striped area) to become Eastern Long Island Disposal Site (ELDS).
There is an open water dump site less than three miles off the northwest coast of Fishers Island, and wheels are in motion to use it as the dumping ground for 890,000 cubic yards of contaminated, fine-grained muck dredged from the bottom of the Thames River. The dredging will make way for a new class of ballistic missile submarines to be built at Electric Boat in Groton, Conn.
Nov. 29, 2019 was the final date for public comment on the proposed dredging. FIConservancy has a long history of objecting to dumping toxic dredge spoils at the head of the Race, where waters are shallow and tidal currents are among the strongest on the East Coast.
FIConservancy President Tom Sargent mailed a letter to the New York State Department of State expressing serious environmental concerns and explaining that our objections have never been about the fact of necessary dredging, rather where the dredge spoils will be dumped.
Click on the blue button below to read Mr. Sargent’s succinct, informative letter.
Become a First Responder!
Please join us for a FREE 2-hour training at the Fishers Island Community Center, Saturday, December 14 from 1-3pm! First responders are vital to Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program. The initial response helps to determine the status of an animal and helps them prepare for action when necessary.
Learn about federal regulations that ensure the safety of these animals. You will also learn how to identify Connecticut and Rhode Island’s marine mammal and sea turtle species.
The Animal Rescue Program training is free and open to all 18 years and older.
Class is contingent on at least 10 people registered no later than December 11. Registration is required through the Mystic Aquarium website (please do not email).
For more information on the Animal Rescue Program and to register to reserve your space, please visit the Mystic Aquarium website www.mysticaquarium.org.
Scroll down to the the “Dates & Registration” button. This will take you to the registration site.
You may also use the button below to go directly to registration.
If you need to cancel your registration please call 860-572-5955 x520.
A powerful east coast storm Nov. 1 paved the way for spectacular weather on Fishers Island, and a stroll though the Demonstration Garden proved that FIConservancy’s native plant initiative is alive and well!
The Asian jumping worm, which can grow to eight inches, is identified by the whitish band that mostly circles its body near its head.
Dianne Crary in October reported the presence of “a lot” of invasive Asian jumping worms on her property along Equestrian Road. Unlike the familiar earthworm, which burrows into the ground, this Asian invader, when disturbed, writhes and scatters across the surface of the soil. If touched, it thrashes wildly and may shed its tail.
Living on the surface in woodlands, Asian jumping worms quickly devour fallen leaves and other organic material, turning the surface into loose soil resembling coffee grounds. The loss of leaf litter destroys long-lasting nutrients vital for the survival of trees. Additionally, altered soil inhibits the establishment of tree seedlings and is inhospitable to many native plant species.
Asian worms reportedly have reduced leaf litter in hardwood forests by 95%. A naturalist observed an infested forest in Cortland County, New York, and said that “it was almost entirely bare soil.”
As with so many invasive species, these worms are adaptable and difficult to stop. They are parthenogenetic: they can reproduce without fertilization. The introduction of a single individual is enough to launch a jumping worm invasion. The worms have an annual life cycle. They die in the fall, but leave tiny cocoons that winter in the soil.
What to do? According to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County, “Asian worms are commonly spread through the horticulture trade, both in containerized plants, and especially mulch, which they love. Check bulk mulch before purchasing, and maybe think twice about getting fill delivered to your property.”
“Justine has been the eyes and ears of FIConservancy,” said Tom Sargent, president. “Her beautiful pictures and thoughtful observations have greatly helped us in our ongoing effort to bring nature closer to the heart of the Fishers Island community.”
Connecting with the environment and becoming familiar with its rhythm and verse is just one of Justine’s many gifts. She not only monitored weather, tides, local wildlife species, migratory birds, and the health of seaweed and seagrass, but she also cared deeply about preservation and sharing knowledge.
Justine created “Sanctuary of Sands” on South Beach, which has become a secure home for returning shorebirds. In 2013, she founded the Island Sentinel program where she coached students in the art and responsibility of observation. She also served on the Fishers Island Seagrass Management (FISM) Coalition.
Justine will be missed by the entire Fishers Island community. We wish her the best of luck in all future endeavors!
Justine Kibbe grew up summering on Fishers Island, where her parents renovated an old Fort Wright house on Officer’s Row near Silver Eel Cove. She spent long summer days bicycling, exploring, fishing and swimming, all of which instilled in her a passion for marine environments.
The disappearance of 2.9 billion birds since 1970 has caught scientists by surprise. Common birds, such as the Dark-eyed Junco (above), also known as the “snowbird,” have seen the greatest losses. (Video: Luis Velarde/Photo: Jay McGowan, Macaulay Library at Cornell Lab of Ornithology/The Washington Post)
According to research published online in September by the journal Science, the breeding population of birds in the U.S. and Canada has dropped nearly 30 percent since 1970.
“We were astounded by this net loss across all birds on our continent, the loss of billions of birds,” said Cornell Lab of Ornithology conservation scientist Ken Rosenberg, who led an international team of scientists from seven institutions in the analysis of population trends for 529 bird species.
“These bird losses are a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife,” he said. “And that is an indicator of a coming collapse of the overall environment.”
The study crossed all habitats, from grasslands to the Arctic, shorelines to forests. Common birds—the species that many people see every day—have suffered the greatest losses, according to the study. More than 90% of the losses (more than 2.5 billion birds) come from just 12 families including sparrows, blackbirds, warblers and finches.
Gone are millions of favorite species seen at bird feeders, such Dark-eyed Juncos (down by 168 million) and sweet-singing White-throated Sparrows (down by 93 million). Eastern and Western Meadowlarks are down by a combined 139 million individuals. Additionally, a quarter of all blue jays have disappeared, along with almost half of all Baltimore orioles.
Scientists observed that while it remains vital to save the most endangered birds, the loss of abundance among our most common species “represents a different and frankly more ominous crisis.”
FIConservancy’s focus on grassland restoration comes at a critical time. The study shows that 53 percent of grassland birds, a higher percentage than any other birds recorded in the study, have vanished since 1970.
These findings emerged from new techniques to detect the volume of migratory birds aloft using weather radar, as well as nearly 50 years of bird-monitoring data, including citizen-science records. (The steepest declines among radar stations were in the eastern half of the country.)
“Birds are resilient when we give them a chance—the data show that too. Waterfowl are up by 56%, and raptors have increased by 200% thanks to focused conservation funding and protections,” said John Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The red-winged blackbird—a common sight on Fishers Island and in virtually every marsh and wet roadside across the continent—has declined by 92 million birds since 1970. Justine Kibbe Photo
COMMENTS FROM OUR READERS
Much of this is due to the lack of food supply for baby birds. They only eat caterpillars and all of the non-native trees, ginkgo, the new pears, which are invasive have NO caterpillars. A native oak tree hosts at least 400 varieties.
Doug Tallamy has written a book called “Bringing Nature Home”, it is a road map to recovery, he is a scientist, professor and life long bird observer. This book should be in every household with a yard.
~ Sally Ogden
We have taken away the nesting place of many bird species. A large part of the loss is the loss of grassland habitat, an aspect of conservation where Fishers Island is in the forefront. The NY State Department of Conservation website reports that NY has lost 90% of grassland habitat in the state. The Pequot Indians and neighboring tribes routinely burned their fields for cropland and grassland habitat. City dwellers fail to understand the need for this preservation technique. Then the conversion of grassland to shrubland to forest clouds out many species. It is nice to know that Fishers Island is doing its part, but there is much more to be done.
~ Peter Rugg
Adam Mitchell, Ph.D. (in black shirt) helps birders in the Parade Grounds hone bird counting skills the evening before the Sept. 23, 2019 Fall Migratory Bird Count. Tom Sargent Photo
Dr. Mitchell, who led the bird count, submitted the following summary of the three-hour event:
Although this year’s count began under an overcast sky, thick with clouds and fog, we observed a total of 45 species for this year’s survey, which falls within the range of average for past counts in the fall.
We noticed, however, that the number of individuals we observed was far below average: Most species (39 of 45) encountered were represented by only one or two birds. This has been a difficult year for many birds—an incredibly wet and cold spring, followed by an extremely humid and hot summer.
The late start to the growing season may account for so few birds migrating through, as warmer parts north of us may still have plenty of insects to keep populations going. Alternatively, the many tropical storms brewing along the Atlantic could be pushing winds northward, making the southward migration more difficult for many of our distant flyers.
The good news is that Fishers Island has been invaded (in a good way!) with droves of monarch butterflies. Residents have remarked that the Island has not seen monarchs in these numbers for decades. In the first 15 minutes of our bird survey, we observed around 240 monarchs, which exceeds the dozens we have encountered in past years.
Nearly all of the monarchs we encountered were in the westernmost part of the Island: Race Point, Parade Grounds and the Demonstration Garden. This is due, in part, to the ample supply of native, fall-flowering plants found at these stops, which provide a nutritional source of nectar for the butterflies to refuel on their journey south.
Other species of note include a Nelson’s sharp-tail sparrow, a wetland specialist bird, found in the Parade Grounds, as well as Eastern bluebird near the driving range farther up-Island. A pair of merlins were observed near Chocomount, one of which was feeding on-the-go as it circled the group. Barred owls were heard calling outside Barley Cove, and a red-tailed hawk literally ate crow on the Hay Harbor green. The afternoon prior to the official count, we also observed our resident Northern Harrier hawk gliding over the Parade Grounds fields in search of prey, as well as a flock of at least two dozen common nighthawks flying overhead.
With recent news articles highlighting the drastic, long-term decline of birds in North America, it is critical that we continue to monitor our migrant and resident populations as they make landfall on Fishers Island. It is also important to acknowledge the strides that the Fishers Island Conservancy has made towards reducing that decline on the Island, with the grassland restoration project providing habitat to numerous species of wildlife, including those considered threatened or endangered.
When you have members of the community remarking on how they haven’t seen so many monarchs in years, or how beautiful the birds are in your grassland, you know you’re doing something right.
Greater black-backed gull
Nelson’s sharp-tailed sparrow
Adam B Mitchell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Entomology
Department of Wildlife, Sustainability, and Ecosystem Sciences
Tarleton State University