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The Nature of Things

A blog about nature and the environment

Archive for December, 2007

Snowy owls


Harry Potter only had one. The Green Chimneys School in Patterson has two snowy owls. The birds, as you can read in today’s LoHud story, are on breeding loan from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Check out the links on the right side of the story for more owl info. And go here to check out my colleague Stuart Bayer’s video.

The story mentions a snowy owl spotted along the Hudson River earlier this year. tjndc5-5dfb9qfcumb1l2i4mn13_layout.jpgYou can see her in this photo taken in February by TJN photographer Vincent DiSalvio.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Monday, December 31st, 2007 at 12:06 pm |
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Targeted swans


Too many mute swans in Connecticut have conservationists calling for some control measures, according to this story. The large white birds are a threat, scientists say, because they devour vegetation needed by native crabs, fish and waterfowl and also uproot additional plants while feeding. All mute swans in this country are descendants of birds imported from England in the 19th century.

In New York, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has a number of research plans aimed at gauging the “impact of mute swans on people, wildlife, and ecosystems.”

The Wildlife Trust is in the midst of a study looking at the swans’ impact on Hudson River vegetation. Here’s an earlier post about their study and pasted below is a story from January. (The story link in the earlier blog post apparently expired.)


Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Section: NEWS
Page: 1B
Source: STAFF
Edition: GWPR
Publication: The Journal News
Study seeks information about Hudson River swans


Someplace on the Jersey Shore right now there’s a mute swan who possesses a bit of ready-made schtick.

Researchers captured the long-necked white bird in August in Verplanck and strapped a Global Positioning System transmitter to his back. The bird spent several months along the Hudson River before heading for Long Island Sound.

He’s now near Toms River, N.J., where he could regale his fellow waterfowl with something beginning, “I just flew in from Pelham and …” He’s Swan No. 507 and he’ll be there the rest of the winter – or maybe not. That’s one of the questions Fred Koontz, the executive director of Teatown Lake Reservation, and his colleague, Susan Elbin of the Wildlife Trust, are trying to answer.

“People haven’t been doing the behavioral observations. We don’t know what happens,” said Elbin, who heads the trust’s New York Bioscape Initiative. Her work focuses on ecological issues in the metropolitan area.

The two began studying mute swans in 2004, trying to determine their habits and effects on the Hudson River estuary. Like all mute swans in this country, they’re descendants of ones imported from England in the late 19th century for their aesthetic value. Mute refers to the birds’ propensity to not be very vocal, although they can hiss or grunt.

The birds have been deemed a problem in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, where they annually gobble more than 9 million pounds of aquatic plants and threaten native birds.

Underwater plants in the Hudson, as in the Chesapeake, provide homes and food for young fish, crabs and other creatures. Any long-term disruption of the shallow beds can lead to fewer fish in the river and other problems, eventually upsetting the river’s balance.

“Understanding the ecology of the submerged aquatic vegetation has important ecological and economic benefits,” Koontz said.

Their study is happening in conjunction with the state’s look at the big birds. About 2,500 swans call New York home and their numbers are increasing each year by about 9 percent. The birds, imported long ago to grace private estates, are a common sight throughout the Lower Hudson Valley.

“It’s a non-native species that does have some potential for impact on other wildlife,” said Bryan Swift, a waterfowl biologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Swift said fenced-off areas of the Hudson’s bottom showed the birds removed significant amounts of vegetation outside of the enclosures compared to within them. Their droppings, he said, carry more fecal bacteria than Canada geese and have a greater potential to contaminate drinking water.

Koontz and Elbin’s study started in 2004 from a small plane. They flew monthly from the Tappan Zee Bridge to Troy, mapping where on the river the swans congregated. Favored spots included the south side of Croton Point, Annsville Creek and Rockland Lake.

During the summer, they rounded up eight birds – four near Kingston, two in Lake Meahagh in Verplanck and two in Rockland Lake – and strapped solar-powered transmitters to their backs. Money for the undertaking came from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit, and from the Wildlife Trust in Manhattan.

Three transmitters stopped working. Every three days, a satellite beams down the latitude and longitude of the other swans’ movements. Four have been relatively stationary -two on Rockland Lake, one on the New Croton Reservoir and one on Lake Taghkanic in Columbia County.

Swan No. 507, though, has been on the move. In the midst of his sojourn from the Hudson River to the Jersey Shore, he hopscotched one day earlier this month from near City Island in the Bronx, across Queens (stopping briefly at the site of the 1964-65 World’s Fair) and into Jamaica Bay.

“That was a flying day. He was trucking,” Koontz said.

Koontz and Elbin see their research providing a “proactive rather than reactive” response to any future swan dilemma on the Hudson. They hope to be able to predict which vegetation beds the birds prefer, where they spend their lives and why.

Koontz said they weren’t surprised with No. 507’s flight to New Jersey. Swans fitted with numbered neck collars by the state have shown up in New Jersey and off Long Island. Where he goes in the spring, he said, is the question – one the $4,000 transmitter he’s wearing should help answer.

“Right now, we don’t have a clue really, do we?” Koontz said.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Friday, December 28th, 2007 at 5:29 pm |

New DEC office aims at invasives


The Office of Invasive Species. Sounds like an investigative division from the alien-chasing comedy “Men in Black.” But it’s actually an effort by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to tackle the invasion of invasive species – one of the state’s fastest-growing environmental threats.

From the announcement:

“The new Office of Invasive Species will bring together biologists and foresters to develop ways to combat the problem, and work with universities, other state agencies and non-profit organizations to support research and raise public awareness. From zebra mussels to Eurasian water milfoil to Sirex wood wasps, hundreds of non-native plants and animals have invaded New York – especially in the last decade, thought to be linked to the rise in global shipping – posing threats to ecosystems.

“These invasive species have a devastating impact, not only on the environment but also the economy,� said Governor Eliot Spitzer. “They have wiped out certain tree species, hurt recreational and commercial fishing, and tainted water supplies. This new office will bring a much needed focus to a problem we cannot ignore.�

The DEC’s announcement goes on to list some of the more well-known invasive plants and animals – non-native species that can cause harm to the environment or human health.

“Some of the more well-known invasive species in New York are zebra mussels, milfoil, chestnut blight and the Asian Long Horned Beetle. And new ones are being found at a rapid rate. Last summer, DEC confirmed the presence of Didymo (or “Rock Snotâ€?) in a section of the Batten Kill, a fabled trout stream in Washington County. The algae can wreck trout habitat by harming the bottom-dwelling organisms on which fish feed.”

Other invasive species threatening the state include the Round Goby fish and the mitten crab.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Thursday, December 27th, 2007 at 5:44 pm |
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Curbing global warming


Curbing global warming will be the topic of choice on Sunday, Jan. 13 at Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester in Chappaqua. Leading the discussion will Pete Grannis, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and Congressman John Hall, D-Dover Plains. “A Light Among Nations — Advocating for Real Energy Solutions for a Brighter Future” will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. For more information, visit the temple’s Web site.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Thursday, December 27th, 2007 at 2:23 pm |
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Reality or cartoon?


It’s official. I’ve crossed the line from human-based reality to two-dimensional cartoon reality. Why? Because of the squirrels.

So far, the squirrel-proofing modifications on the majority of my bird feeders seems to be working. I haven’t seen any squirrels yet dangling from the feeders I have hanging from a cable and book-ended by records and PVC pipe.

But, off to the side of those feeders is one that hangs from a wrought-iron pole. I always figured the iron pole was too thin for the squirrels to get a grip on. But I was wrong. I saw one scamper up the pole the other day.

So . . . I went to the garage, got a tube of grease and covered the bottom of the pole. I’m waiting for the anvil and the giant spring to come in the mail.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Monday, December 24th, 2007 at 12:52 pm |
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Winter and warming thoughts


Winter comes in at 1:08 a.m. tomorrow. That’s the winter solstice, the day when we here in the Northern Hemisphere experience the shortest day of the year.

With that in mind, 2007 is shaping up to be a top ten warm year for the country and the globe, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

As for climate change, global warming or whatever you prefer to call it, (the biggest development worldwide, as my colleague Greg Clary said) consider this: the Earth seems to be getting it in the Arctic and in the tropics.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Friday, December 21st, 2007 at 6:43 pm |
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Nature for kids


The state Department of Environmental Conservation is putting out a new nature magazine for kids. Available online, the first issue tackles winter wildlife and being a nature detective. “Conservationist for Kids” is the little-people version of “The Conservationist.”

Read about its launch here.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Thursday, December 20th, 2007 at 4:13 pm |
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Black vultures among us


One can’t seem to swing a dead rodent by the tail and not hit a black vulture at the Green Chimneys School in Patterson. Cousin to the more often seen turkey vultures, black vultures were typically thought of as a southern species. But they do live in New York and several dozen often fill the trees and fence line near the Patterson school’s caged black vultures, Paul Kupchok, Green Chimneys’ wildlife director, told me. vulture.jpgI visited the school this week and Kupchock pointed one out to me (see photo).

The school uses farm and wild animals in its therapy programs for emotionally troubled children. Wild black vultures, Kupchok said, routinely gather near the school’s two black vultures, which were both once injured and are unable to be returned to the wild. More social in nature than turkey vultures, one might think they were commiserating with their caged brethern.

vulturecage.jpgBut Kupchok said the visiting birds are probably more interested in the dead mice and rats that are fed to the school’s hawks, owls and vultures. He said when the black vultures first showed up about 10 years ago, they brazenly tried to help themselves to the dead rodents in the feed bucket as Kupchok and other staff fed the school’s charges. Now, he said, they are mainly an annoyance – soiling the ground outside the vultures’ cage with their droppings and damaging cage roofs and other structures. poop.jpg

Knowing better now what a black vulture looks like, I wonder if the vultures I wrote about in this post are indeed black and not immature turkey vultures like I first thought. I’m still leaning toward turkey because the black vulture seems to have a lot more white on its wings.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Wednesday, December 19th, 2007 at 4:07 pm |

Boats on the Hudson


The following report comes from our colleague Jonathan Bandler:

So what was up with all those commercial boats in the middle of the Hudson?

Over the past week or so, dozens of fuel barges were lined up between Hastings-on-Hudson and Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx with seemingly no place to go.

The Journal News got calls about it and so did local police and Riverkeeper.

Turns out, they were positioned there because of high-wind alerts, when boats with certain cargoes are prohibited from docking close to shore, said John Lipscomb, who captains Riverkeeper’s patrol boat, the R. Ian Fletcher.

Lipscomb said boats often anchor on the Hudson between Westchester and the 79th Street Boat Basin when they are waiting to unload cargo, but he was struck Sunday by the number of boats. Nearly all of them were gone by Monday afternoon when the wind had died down, he said.

“It’s like a taxi-stand. A mega taxi-stand where they wait before moving off,” Lipscomb said.

He said there was no environmental concern and that the boats kept their lights and engines on to be ready to move to shore whenever they were contacted. Lipscomb was glad people took the time to call Riverkeeper.
“It’s nice. People are looking out for the river. That’s heartening,” he said.

Posted by Ken Valenti on Wednesday, December 19th, 2007 at 1:33 pm |


Not the hockey team


Ava-who? One might think the only avalanches in NY might be a visit to the Garden by the Colorado hockey team. But actual avalanches are a concern in the Adirondacks, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The agency today issued a warning to all who may venture into the back country.

“The recent snowstorm has brought a significant amount of new snow to the Adirondacks and we expect that snow enthusiast(s) will want to get out and enjoy it,� DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis said. “Anyone who plans a visit (to) the Adirondack back country, particularly the High Peaks region, should be prepared for avalanche conditions.�

Read more of this entry »

Posted by Mike Risinit on Monday, December 17th, 2007 at 2:21 pm |
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About this blog
The Nature of Things provides a chance to talk about the wild denizens that share the Lower Hudson Valley with us and the natural settings that make this place home for everyone. From Long Island Sound to the Hudson River to the Great Swamp and beyond, almost anything related to the environment is fair game in this blog.


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About the authors
SBenischekJournal News staff writer Greg Clary writes Earth Watch, reporting on environmental issues in the lower Hudson region. Clary has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Journal News since 1988 and has covered police and courts, transportation, municipal government, development and the environment in the Lower Hudson Valley, among other topics.
Laura IncalcaterraLaura Incalcaterra covers the environment, open space and zoning and planning issues for The Journal News. A Boston College graduate, Laura grew up in Rockland, attended East Ramapo schools and has worked for The Journal News since 1993. Laura has written features and covered North Rockland, crime, government and a host of other issues.
SBenischekMike Risinit covers Patterson and Kent in Putnam County, as well as environmental topics touching on the Hudson River and the Great Swamp. Risinit has been a reporter at The Journal News since 1998.
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