Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wildlife Wednesday

Today we had a lot of fun. Lessons in the morning, and then we took off for Stony Brook Harbor to take an ecology cruise aboard the Ward Melville Heritage Organization's Discovery with folks from our homeschooling group. This cruise really reinforced in my mind that we're lucky to be living on Long Island. We saw many birds that I think of in conjunction with "wilder" places than here, including the great egret, snowy egret, cormorants, black crowned night heron, double crested cormorants, yellow crowned night heron, great blue heron, belted kingfisher, and even the green heron--I didn't even know there was such a bird! In addition we saw ducks, Canada geese, swans, gulls, plovers, peeps, turtles and terns. We also saw an osprey nest but unfortunately didn't get to see the osprey. It was just so wonderful to know that all these birds are living and thriving right here where we live.

We got some historical background on the area, too. We heard stories about some of the mansions that are situated along the creek, complete with widows' walks dating back to sea captain days in the 19th century. We saw the horse show grounds where Paul Newman and Jackie Kennedy showed horses. We heard stories about the flu epidemic of 1918 and how folks from the city, desperate to be away from crowds, built cottages by the sea that ruined others' views and kept them off the beaches--and how they were ordered off the land. We heard about weddings, slaves, the Underground Railroad, erosion, tides, salt marshes, and we learned that the Audubon Society formed right here in Suffolk County in response to spraying of DDT! People noticed that the ospreys were sitting on their eggs far longer than they should have been, and when the eggs were examined it was found that the DDT had softened the eggshells to the point that they wouldn't hatch. A grassroots society was formed that eventually got DDT outlawed--so it was illegal to spray it here before anywhere else in the country! Eventually the Audubon Society was formed and it became illegal to use DDT across the nation.

It was great to see all these kids, ages 4 through high school, answering the naturalist's questions, pointing out birds, looking through binoculars and getting so excited to see everything. Emma didn't stop talking about it, and even hoped to dream about being on the boat tonight. We had such a good time, in fact, that we decided afterwards to indulge Julia's long-held desire to visit a favorite place of ours, Quogue Wildlife Refuge. She has always loved it there, especially for the "peeper pond," as she calls it--a small pond full of reeds, lily pads and frogs ranging from tiny to bull. Since she was a toddler she's loved to go and catch as many frogs as she can, hold them, watch them and then set them back into the pond.

We unfortunately missed out on the nature center because we waited till the end of our visit to go inside. I don't know what I was thinking--I knew it closed between 4 and 5. I adore this nature center because the building is set over a huge pond, and there's a large room where you can sit comfortably inside and watch everything going on outside--which is especially nice in the cold weather. They even have binoculars all over for anyone's use. There are also the requisite shells, bones, fish, small animals, crafts, coloring sheets, stories, etc.--including a blind mouse that someone rescued which does nothing but run in circles all day as if it expects to get somewhere.

However, in addition to two stints at the peeper pond, we took a hike around the big pond, collected fallen pine cones and colorful leaves for an autumn centerpiece--I was shocked to see some of the trees starting to turn already!--and then visited the small zoo they have for rescued animals that are hurt enough that they can't be released into the wild again, and the butterfly garden and land tortoise exhibit. We saw frogs and snapping turtles, dragonflies and holes that could be for rabbits, snakes or chipmunks, white toadstools, and in the zoo visited fox, bobcats, a screech owl, a Great Horned Owl, a barn owl, Peregrine falcon, a red tailed hawk and a bald eagle. It was a really fun and educational afternoon. Tomorrow the kids will put some of what they saw into their science notebooks. Julia is absolutely in her element with this way of studying science!


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