April Observations

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The warm, sunny days could not seem to override several consecutive cold nights last week, and bay temperatures dropped two degrees from April 14 readings. After a heavy frost on Monday morning, April 21, Accabonac Harbor registered 52°F and Gardiners Bay at my favorite swim spot—Barnes Hole Road—hovered right at the 50° mark. Both readings were at low tide.During my Easter Sunday run in Springs, I heard a red-tailed hawk calling from a large oak just above me on Old Stone Highway. Glancing up at the leafless tree, I was surprised that I could not locate the nearly 20-inch tall raptor, and stopped for a moment. The next series of piercing “keeeer, keeeer” calls revealed the caller—a 10-inch tall blue jay.

The ability to imitate sounds one has heard, called vocal mimicry, is limited to birds and humans. Parrots are the most adept and well known mimics, and the mockingbird is the most able and best known here in North America. The brown thrasher and gray catbirds are also good mimics. All three are so often heard mimicking other songbirds that they are grouped in the family Mimidae, and each species’ unique style of vocal mimicry is used as an important identification characteristic. In general, mockingbirds repeat phrases three or more times, brown thrashers twice, and catbirds once.

Blue jays and crows can also imitate sounds. Unlike the mockingbird’s pretty and pleasant repertoire of songs, blue jays seem to limit their vocal mimicry to the harsh, piercing call of the red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks. This comes in handy when there’s a crowd at the local bird feeder; they’ve learned that a couple of hawk calls will quickly clear out the crowd, leaving them the pick of the prime feeder perches.

At the turn-around point in my run, the boat ramp at Louse Point, I stopped to say hello to bayman and Town Trustee Nate Miller. Nate was loading up his sharpie with pound trap gear, to be set up later in the morning off Gardiners Island. Nate reported that there were seals still in the area and, much to the dismay of trap fishermen, a number of them stuck around all summer last year.

East Hampton Harbormaster Tim Treadwell responded to a report of a stranded seal in Montauk last week. He found the several months-old gray seal with an ID tag on its hind flipper and the number 40 branded into its rump. The pup hails from the largest gray seal pupping grounds on the east coast: Sable Island, Nova Scotia. Scientists there are studying the interaction of seals and their main predator, the great white shark.

Sable Island, also known as the graveyard of the Atlantic, is a 13-square-mile sliver of sand located one hundred miles off the coast of Nova Scotia. In addition to its large gray seal population, numbering more than 200,000, it is home to a unique breed of horse—the Sable Island Horse. In 2011, the island became a national park.

On the run back home, in the woodlot not far from where I heard the jay earlier, a wild turkey tom called. Turkeys are nearing the end of their mating season, and some hens may be making their well-concealed ground nests and laying already.

May is the mating season for the snowy owl, and most that overwintered here on Long Island have left for their far north nesting grounds. Although sexually mature at one year of age, most snowy owls do not mate until their second or third year. It’s possible that the few snowys that are lingering on Long Island are very young birds that are in no rush to head north as long as mice, voles, cottontail rabbits and other prey are readily available here. While checking piping plover sites on the beach in Wainscott this week, Juliana Duryea of the East Hampton Natural Resource Department got a good look, and photo, of a snowy owl.

While releasing alewives collected from the North Sea Alewife Dreen into Northwest’s Alewife Brook last week, Juliana noticed several tiny American eels—elvers—making their way up the brook toward Scoy Pond. They had pigment and appeared to have morphed out of the glass eel stage. These will reside in Scoy Pond for up to 20 years before transitioning into the silver eel stage and making the incredible journey to the Sargasso Sea to spawn.

The South Fork coyote made several appearances over the past month, and was photographed in the Sagaponack area on March 19 and again last week, about four miles east of where it was photographed last summer. Del Cullum got some great photos of the canine, which can be viewed on his website: http://imaginationnature.com/1/post/2014/04/theyre-here-and-there-is-no-doubt.html?

Coming up: Wed. 4/24 Surfrider Foundation meeting at Mercado Restaurant, Bridgehampton. Check out Kurt Rist’s show: big wave surfing in Ireland. Open to the public. Details at http://eastendecoventures.com/

Sun. 5/4 Reading Wildlife Track & Sign workshop. Don’t miss this! Details at http://longislandnature.org/

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