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May 13, 2019 11:32 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

May Observations

May 13, 2019 11:49 AM

After a nice but very short string of rainless days, the clouds are back and rain is falling. Freshwater ponds are at their highest levels, swamps are covered in a sheet of water, and vernal pools are full. It will be a good year for mosquitoes!All but the white oaks and tupelos have sprouted leaves. Once all our vegetation has fully unfurled its leaves and photosynthesis is in full swing, the process of transpiration—during which water is lost through leaf pores called stomata—may lower our water table enough to dry out flooded basements and crawl spaces.

A cold, wet spring can be a challenge for birds incubating eggs and keeping hatchlings warm. And although the general lack of sunshine this spring had made it seem like a cold one, that does not appear to be the case. According to the National Weather Service records for Islip, the average temperature from April 1 through May 12 was nearly 3°F above normal. We received an extra 2.9 inches of rain during that same period.

We’re in the midst of nesting season. I was awakened just before dawn this morning (May 13) to the sounds of our neighborhood turkey trying to attract a mate. Most mating among this group of birds took place awhile back in April. Wild turkeys have been incubating eggs since at least April 25, as evident when a friend’s dog returned home from a jaunt in the woods with a turkey egg, intact without a crack, in its mouth.

Mark Gutzmer from East Hampton Town Natural Resources reported a pair of ravens on the cell tower at town hall and at the cell tower just east of there at the Amagansett Firehouse. Could they be checking out a potential nest site? If so, it would be a first for East Hampton.

Mark also watched a male ruby-throated hummingbird displaying in my backyard last week. He’s been back for some time this spring, and I first noticed him busily feeding on the nectar in my flowering crabapple, along with a male Baltimore oriole that may have been eating insects attracted to the flowers.

The male hummingbird flies in a U-shaped, dive pattern from as high as 50 feet in front of the perched female. If she chooses to mate with him, she will begin constructing her incredible, tiny, well-camouflaged nest. I have had hummingbirds and Baltimore orioles nesting in my yard for some years now, but have never been able to find the interesting nests of either one.

Richard Poveromo reported that the turkey vulture he first documented nesting in an abandoned cistern five years ago has returned. They are fairly long-lived birds and will use the same nest site for a decade. Because they don’t vocalize on their nesting territories, nests are very difficult to locate. As of the most recent Breeding Bird Atlas (2000 - 2005) no turkey vulture nest sites had been confirmed on Long Island.

No bald eagles had been confirmed nesting on Long Island back then either, but since that time there have been six confirmed nests on Long Island. At least one more was added this year. I’ve gotten more reports and photos of bald eagle sightings this past winter than ever before. As noted by several people earlier this winter, and photographed by Debbie Gates of Springs, a pair has settled on a very unusual and unorthodox nest site in Accabonac Harbor: an osprey nesting platform.

The “textbook” nest site for Bald Eagles is a very large, live tree (as opposed to a snag or dead tree that osprey prefer) near the water but in the forest, with the nest constructed below the tree canopy. This is the first bald eagle nest I’ve seen that is not in a live tree.

Bald eagles are very early nesters, and based on the behavior of the adults, the Accabonac pair’s eggs appear to have hatched, although I haven’t yet been able to discern a hatchling inside the deep nest.

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