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Feb 25, 2019 4:35 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Late February Sightings

Feb 26, 2019 9:11 AM

Debbie Gates of Springs has been keeping an eye on a pair of mature bald eagles that have been roosting on several osprey nests in Accabonac Harbor this past month. These are most likely five-year-olds that have recently reached breeding age and are scoping out potential nest sites.Debbie sent photos of them perched on one of the osprey platforms at the Nature Conservancy’s Merrill Lake Preserve, and she mentioned that they have also been perched near the natural osprey nest in an oak tree at the south end of Wood Tick Island. I checked on them last Sunday and they were perched close to one another in an oak tree on the east side of the Merrill Lake Preserve.

Bald eagles are early nesters, and some established pairs in the area may already be incubating eggs. Gardiners Island and Mashomack Preserve are home to the two closest bald eagle nests. Their massive nests are generally constructed below the canopy in very tall trees. It would be unusual for them to use an osprey platform on a pole in the middle of the salt marsh.

Debbie did not report the birds carrying any nesting material. It’s possible that this is a young pair using this breeding season as a practice run before they settle into a suitable nest site and get down to business next year.

Last weekend I made a quick visit to a groundwater fed, freshwater swamp that drains into a tidal creek, curious to see what the water temperature registered. It was 46°F, four degrees short of the threshold that entices alewives to begin their annual spawning run. I also did not see or hear any red-winged blackbirds in the adjacent marsh, one of our early and conspicuous signs of spring. But I did see one of the first flowers to bloom, a non-native called snowdrops.

More warm weather and another good dose of rain last week prompted one of the four species of mole salamanders that are found on Long Island out of its fossorial chambers and into its breeding pond. That would be the tiger salamander, our largest mole salamander and the first to breed each year. South Fork Natural History’s annual February foray into the vernal ponds last weekend to search for this strange and elusive creature was successful, with both adults and egg masses documented.

Another interesting and much more common vernal pond inhabitant was well represented, the fairy shrimp, with its own amazing life history strategy that enables it to thrive in these small, intermittent, freshwater ponds. No wood frogs or spring peepers were heard during the nocturnal field trip, but they should be emerging from their overwintering haunts soon and adding their unique calls, and egg masses, to the freshwater nursery.

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