The most talked about “nature sighting” last week was the full moon rise on Friday evening. On the return paddle across Northwest Harbor from the Cedar Point Lighthouse, the 20 or so participants in the Peconic Land Trust’s evening paddle and picnic event were treated to a very sun-like orb rising slowly but perceptibly above Cedar Point Park’s forested shoreline. All hands ceased paddling to focus on the spectacular sight.The performance was repeated the following evening, and although the moon had to play hide-and-seek with a few clouds, it was another magical evening paddling by moonlight among schools of hungry fish.
Last Saturday’s South Fork Natural History Society paddle on Georgica Pond, timed to coincide with the peak fall migration of the monarch butterflies here (September 8 through 20), was a bust. Despite the perfect temperature and wind conditions, only one monarch was seen. We also noted that one of the monarch’s favorite sources of nectar along the beach, seaside goldenrod, had not flowered yet.
There are a number of factors impacting the North American monarch population, which has been in decline for 12 years now. One is conditions at their relatively small overwintering sites in Mexico. Annual surveys at those sites documented an all-time low population during the winter of 2013-14.
Monarchs arrive at the overwintering sites in mid-November and are largely dormant over the four months before they begin flying north in mid-March. A sleet storm hit the area this past March before most of the monarchs left, weighing down many of the coniferous trees the butterflies were perched on, breaking branches and toppling entire trees. The result: up to 50 percent of the butterflies perished.
Other important factors include habitat loss, specifically loss of plants that produce nectar along the migration routes, and loss of their “host plant” (milkweeds), on which the eggs are laid and larvae feed and develop. Along the lines of the saying, “Think globally and act locally,” Bob Moss of East Hampton came up with an interesting idea: Why not create monarch habitat atop our capped landfills that are currently vegetated with grasses? Milkweed is a hardy plant that is easy to establish, and the project could be expanded to include a mix of native perennials and create a large pollinator garden.
Speaking of habitat improvement projects, many readers may have noticed the earth-moving equipment on the East Hampton Village green just north of Town Pond and across from the Hook Mill near the post office. Drainage swales are being dug to retain stormwater runoff and septic wastewater long enough to allow some natural uptake of nutrients, and, hopefully, bacteria and viruses, before the water makes its way into Hook Pond.
As is the case with Southampton Village, all the commercial properties in the village have cesspools that handle their wastewater, and in many cases those cesspools are sitting very close to the water table. Wastewater must pass through at least 4 feet of unsaturated soil before reaching the water table to effectively eliminate bacteria and viruses—and that just ain’t happening. But that’s just fine, according to the agency in charge of permitting wastewater systems, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, as they have been “grandfathering” substandard systems for over 30 years.
Eric Salzman reports that many of our songbirds that have been on “paleo” diets all summer, consuming high-protein meals of insects and arthropods, are making the switch to vegan. Even in the wild, not all vegan foods are equal. Topping the list of sought-after fruits and berries are those found on tupelos and dogwoods, while the attractive bright red berries on my American hollies will sit untouched until March.