Oysterponds garden is for the birds

Oysterponds sixth-grader Max Mastrangelo plants a blueberry bush in the school’s first ‘bird garden’ last Thursday. The students, who were assisted the North Fork Audubon Society, the Group for the East End and other volunteers, hope their carefully chosen plantings will attract species such as the American robin, northern flicker and cedar waxwing.

“Dirt! Dirt! Dirt!” was the joyous chant of fifth- and sixth-graders at Oysterponds Elementary School last Thursday morning.

On one of the first nice days of spring, the students got to spend a couple of hours digging up chunks of sod and planting the Orient school’s first-ever “bird garden” next to an existing butterfly garden, planted in 2004.

The new garden, along with bird feeders and a bird bath soon to come, will attract species such as the American robin, northern flicker and cedar waxwing, right outside the windows of classrooms in the eastern wing of the school, said North Fork Audubon Society’s president Maureen Cullinane, who helped supervise the day’s planting, Representatives of environmental advocacy organization Group for the East End and other volunteers also helped.

The garden project also teaches kids about native woody shrubs such as the American cranberry bush, flowering crabapple and staghorn sumac.

An outdoor project is standard procedure for Oysterponds students every spring, but last week’s garden planting was made possible by one of three $5,000 grants recently awarded to Group for the East End by the Peconic Estuary Program, a conservation program sponsored by the state and county. The grants were meant to allow the Group to support projects that increase public awareness of the environment and encourage public participation in protecting and restoring the Peconic Estuary.

Another grant is being used to help the Gardiners Bay Estates Homeowners Association in East Marion stop contaminated waters from running off into Spring Pond.

“We are so proud to have received such tremendous support this year and plan to make a positive impact throughout the East End,” said Jennifer Skilbred, a Group for the East End environmental advocate who also serves as the Peconic Estuary Program’s education coordinator.

Sixth-grader Marina DeLuca, 12, said she was proud to be participating in her final spring planting — something she’s been doing since she was a kindergartner in the butterfly garden — before leaving Oysterponds for good at the end of the year. Marina said she likes gardening and hopes to go into environmental science someday.

“Not a lot of kids go outside any more,” she said. “They’re always inside playing video games.”

Corinne Fitting, an Oysterponds fifth-grade teacher for 28 years, said the best part of the spring planting is “allowing children to be children.”

“And letting them get dirty,” she added.

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Want to help?

Matching donations to support the spring planting program can be mailed to: Group for the East End, P.O. Box 569, Bridgehampton, NY 11932