02/04/13 10:00am
02/04/2013 10:00 AM

WENDY ZUHOSKI PHOTO | Eleven seals could be spotted resting on a rock in the water in Cutchoue, not far from a sea gull

Suffolk Times reader Wendy Zuhoski captured frozen beauty along the Cutchogue waterfront last week, including several photos that show a group of seals resting on a rock in the water near the old Santorini Beacomber Resort.

Check out Wendy’s scenic photos above and upload your beautiful waterfront photos to our gallery.

12/16/12 8:27am
12/16/2012 8:27 AM

CHRISTINE SACKETT COURTESY PHOTO | This Piebald doe, the mother of three fawns, is often seen in Wading River.

What are those ghostly looking deer?
The answer is piebald deer, the name given to a small number of rare animals that appear two-toned in color. Hunters and conservationists say there’s one in just about every hamlet of Southold Town, at least two in Riverhead and at least one on Shelter Island.
“There’s been more showing up in the last few years,” said Jeff Standish, a hunter who serves as deputy director of Southold Town’s department of public works. “There’s at least five between Orient and Laurel. There’s one in Peconic, one in Mattituck, one in Cutchogue, one right here in Southold village and a 12-year-old piebald I know of from Orient who recently passed away.”

Piebald is a 16th-century word that refers to the black and white plumage of the magpie bird; “pie” refers to the bird and “bald” means “white” or “spotted.”

The blotchy deer, which in some cases appear almost pure white, are the result of a recessive gene, said Aphrodite Montalvo, citizen participation specialist with the New York State Department of Conservation.

“A piebald deer is a partial albino, or is only partially missing pigmentation,” she said. “A true albino will have no pigmentation, so it will have pink eyes and nose and be fully white.”

Ms. Montalvo said the animals are rare; though the DEC has not conducted studies on the number of piebald deer, data from other states suggest they constitute less than 1 percent of the population.

That number can be slightly higher in protected areas or areas where natural predators such as the coyote or bobcat have been removed from the landscape, Ms. Montalvo added. They may occur more frequently here than in upstate areas, where predators can pick off the snowy fawns, whose natural response is to lie down and hide in dense cover.

“As you can imagine, it makes it difficult to hide when the animal is stark white,” she said.

“That’s the neatest part about these deer,” said Mr. Standish. “They don’t know they’re white, but they still have that instinct to hide. So you’ll see a buck lying down in a pile of briars, but he’s standing out clear as day.”

Cutchogue hunter Lisa Dabrowski said that although she hasn’t hunted in many years, when she did she let piebald deer be and believes other hunters do the same, even though they are easier targets than most.

In fact, she said she considers the animals good luck and recently fi lmed one she’s seen in the Fort Corchaug area.

“Most hunters have a great respect for nature,” Ms. Dabrowski said. “Just because it’s a white deer doesn’t mean it’s something someone will go make a trophy out of. It’s something we appreciate and protect. Most hunters will look at it from afar and only want to photograph it because it’s special.”

In addition to their unusual color, the bodies of piebald deer are somewhat different, said Ms. Dabrowski.

“They have narrower heads and short legs but are the same length,” she said.

Despite piebalds’ unique look, Ms. Dabrowski and Mr. Standish said, the unusual deer behave like all other white-tailed deer and are not shunned for their appearance.

“Let’s say a doe had two fawns and one was piebald, I never saw the doe not be with that fawn,” Mr. Standish said. “I was watching a piebald buck rut one time and he rutted like any other buck would. He just had longer hair and looked short and stocky. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought he was a goat,”

Riverhead hunters are also familiar with the ghostly deer in local forests.

Tom Gabrielsen, brother of Riverhead Town Councilman George Gabrielsen, said he’s seen one while hunting on the former Grumman property in Calverton.

He watched another piebald grow from a fawn to a huge buck in Sears Bellows County Park in Hampton Bays. Though he was a 12-pointer (more points mean a larger rack of antlers), Mr. Gabrielsen said hunters let him be, especially at a park ranger’s request.

Hunters aren’t the only people who enjoy the piebald deer.

One animal in Wading River earned the affectionate handle “Sweetie Pie” from resident Christine Sackett.

Ms. Sackett, who has lived in the hamlet for just over a year, said she sees “Sweetie Pie” and her three fawns just about every dawn and dusk.

Animals that are most active in the morning and at twilight are called crepuscular, as opposed to nocturnal or diurnal. The reason deer are such a hazard to drivers is they’re most active during commuting hours. Ms. Sackett normally sees Sweetie Pie and family at around 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

She and her husband can now come within two feet of the deer without disturbing them, she said, as they have come to know their friendly human neighbors.

“She has one fawn from last year who stays with her and she had twins this past year,” she said. None of the offspring is piebald. “I just started calling her Sweetie Pie because I was thinking she’s very gentle and she’s a piebald, so, Sweetie Pie.”

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11/18/12 9:00am
11/18/2012 9:00 AM

TARAH SABBATINO PHOTO | A bald eagle in the osprey’s nest on Colonel’s Island on the Peconic River between Flanders and the Indian Island Golf Course in RIverhead.

Flanders resident Tarah Sabbatino has a new neighbor.

Over the past couple weeks she said she kept spotting what she thought might be a bald eagle in the osprey’s nest on Colonel’s Island, just south of the Indian Island Golf Course in Riverhead.

On Saturday, she finally got close enough with her zoom lens to snap a few photos of the bird to confirm it is, in fact, a bald eagle.

She said she first spotted the bird after Superstorm Sandy struck the area. She believes it could have been chased here by the storm.

03/11/12 11:00am
03/11/2012 11:00 AM

BILL ZITEK COURTESY PHOTO | Two Eastern bluebirds light on a nest box at Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island.

With a bit of help, the beautiful and melodic, but unfortunately uncommon, Eastern bluebird might make a North Fork comeback.

Anyone interested in lending a hand can learn how during a special program on Saturday, April 7, at the Red House at Inlet Pond County Pond in Greenport.

The Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) is not only the small thrush famous for sitting on James Baskett’s shoulder as he sings “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” in Disney’s movie, “Song of the South” — it’s also the New York state bird.

The songbird’s “tu-wheet-tudu” call is rarer than it once was due to a loss of habitat, rough winters and competition for nesting sites with introduced bird species like the house sparrow.

“In 1940, Roy Latham, a wonderful North Fork naturalist, counted 400 bluebirds at Orient Point. Now we’re lucky if we count 20 at a time,” said Bill Zitek, a director of the New York State Bluebird Society and retired veterinarian with the North Fork Animal Hospital.

John Ruska, president of the New York State Bluebird Society, will speak during the April 7 session, starting at 7 p.m. His comments will be more than just wishful thinking.

Grass roots movements to create and maintain nest boxes led to the removal of the species from the state’s endangered, threatened and special concern list in 1999. A bluebird nest box program began at the Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island in 2001.

Paired boxes are set five to 15 feet apart. Every year, volunteers clean out the nest boxes posted throughout seven of Mashomack’s meadows in the beginning of April to prepare for bluebird nesting. Volunteers then return once a week to observe what’s happening in the nests and record their findings. They recorded 15 bluebird chicks in the first year and were up to 48 chicks in 2011.

The information volunteers gather is sent to Cornell University’s ornithology department as part of Project NestWatch.

“We started out with 30 nest boxes and now we’re up to 47,” Dr. Zitek, head volunteer for the nest box project, said. In the program’s 12 years “we have fledged 320 bluebirds and 860 tree swallows.”

The first bluebird eggs are seen in the beginning of April.

“I think the earliest bluebird eggs we’ve recorded were on the 11th of April,” Dr. Zitek said. Though bluebird families require two to 25 acres of territory during mating time and will not nest side by side, they will tolerate a tree swallow family next to their own.

Tree swallows generally nest a month after bluebirds.

Bluebirds will often have two clutches of eggs per year. “A couple of years ago we had a third clutch,” Dr. Zitek said, but that is a rare occurrence.

Typically, bluebirds will have four or five eggs in a clutch. Eggs take 12 to 14 days to hatch, and 17 days after hatching, the chicks are mature enough to “fly out into the real world,” according to Dr. Zitek. He said all the nest boxes are “aimed at” a tree 50 to 100 feet away where the chicks will fly and continue to be fed by their parents for another two to four weeks.

A meeting for those interested in learning about or volunteering for the Mashomack project will be held Thursday, March 22, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the preserve. The program is free to Mashomack members, $5 for nonmembers, and requires advance registration. Call Mashomack at 749-1001 or email [email protected].

For those who wish to set up their own nest box or nest box trail, Dr. Zitek said half the battle is thinking about where not to place a nest box.

He advised setting a box up at least a hundred yards away from a barn structure or bushes and with an entrance hole no wider than one and a half inches.

“The idea is to stay far away from house sparrows,” he said. “I would rather people have a smaller box to enjoy house wrens than have a bluebird box that is taken over by house sparrows.”

Dr. Zitek said an intruding house sparrow will kill a mother bluebird and her eggs or young and then construct its own nest on top of the dead.

“The best habitat is an open meadow, perhaps with fruit trees, where a Bluebird can nest easily and safely,” he said.

A well-known symbol for happiness, prosperity and new life, the Eastern bluebird was designated the state bird by Governor Nelson Rockefeller on May 18, 1970.

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01/05/12 3:00pm
01/05/2012 3:00 PM

FILE PHOTO | Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh wrote the Focus on Nature column in the Riverhead News Review (and later The Suffolk Times) for 50 years. Their final piece ran last month.

There are environmental activists, people who champion the preservation of the region’s natural resources and still unspoiled lands, both on and away from the coast, and then there are the Stoutenburghs.

Long before the term “environmentalist” had any real meaning, and decades before the benefits and need for preservation gained traction in local government, Cutchogue’s Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh fought to prevent the East End from following the same destructive developmental patterns that forever changed the rest of Long Island.

BARBARA STOUTENBURGH

They were among the environmental pioneers who in the 1970s successfully opposed the former Long Island Lighting Company’s plans to construct twin nuclear power generators along the Sound bluffs in Northville. Through the Stoutenburghs’ efforts, we have the luxury of taking for granted the views of productive farmland and pristine woodlands that grace that stretch of Sound Avenue today and will even decades from now.

For 50 years the Stoutenburghs worked together to produce the “Focus on Nature” column for The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. (See separate story on page 1A.) The title describes much more than a newspaper article; it defines their life’s work — work that in no small measure helped preserve and maintain the North Fork’s unique character.

That goes far beyond saving the piping plovers, for example. The Stoutenburghs worked to save the human environment as well.

Given the number of people who’ve fled the West End’s concrete canyons for a better life out east, their avocation has paid dividends to people who may never have seen a piping plover.

For all they’ve done on so many fronts for so many years, Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh are our People of the Year.

“I can’t think of any couple who deserve that honor more than they do,” said Bob Feger of Greenport, a former president of the North Fork Environmental Council, which the Stoutenburghs helped found. “Everyone who’s ever been involved in anything environmental has always been about to go to them for counsel, for advice or for help. They’ve just always been there.”

The Stoutenburghs were among those honored by the NFEC during its 35th anniversary in 2007.

“It started as the Eastern Long Island Wetlands Association,” Mr. Stoutenburgh recalled at the time. “And when we got everyone rallied about the groins that were proposed for the Sound [in Northville] it then evolved into the environmental council.”

The groins he talked about were to be similar to the rock walls along each side of Mattituck Inlet. The groins were to line a new man-made inlet, drawing water from the Sound into the proposed nuclear complex to cool the reactors. The state rejected that project and eventually took title to the land, some of which was sold to local farmers.

The Stoutenburghs were among those who pushed and prodded Southold into adopting its first wetlands code. Paul entered politics briefly, serving one term as a town Trustee.

“Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh left their mark everywhere on eastern Long Island,” said Bob Wacker of Greenport, who with his late wife, Ronnie, was a member of the NFEC’s early core.

Councilman Al Krupski, himself a former town Trustee and president of that board, enthusiastically endorsed the couple’s selection as People of the Year.

“They were a real team,” he said. “He and Barbara were so enthusiastic about the natural world and they raised the community’s level of consciousness.”

Paul first suggested that Mr. Krupski run for a Trustee’s post, which he won in his early 20s.

“Paul and Barbara were a big influence on me, and a lot of other people,” the councilman said. “Once people realized what they were saying, it became normal to talk like they did 30 years ago. That there are natural resources still left to protect is their legacy, and it’s a great legacy.”

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01/04/12 10:51am
01/04/2012 10:51 AM

DIANNE TAGGART COURTESY FILE PHOTO | A black and white warbler, never before seen on the Christmas Bird Count, was found this year. The bird is usually in Central or South America this time of year.

This year’s Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count, held on New Years Eve, turned up large numbers of southern birds that have usually migrated long before the end of December, and the count’s organizer believes they’ve been lulled into complacency by the warm weather that ended abruptly early this week.

“In all my years as a compiler, I’ve never seen stuff like this year,” said MaryLaura Lamont, a Jamesport resident who has been compiling the results of the local bird count for 18 years. “We’re getting species that we haven’t had on this count in years, probably because of the mild, mild winter. We’re seeing a great number of unusual species that should be down south by now.”

The count was held before the cold front that began Tuesday, and Ms. Lamont said she’s worried that many of the birds will have trouble finding insects to eat if the cold weather continues.

Not all of the statistics from the count were in as of Wednesday, but already the 50-plus volunteers who counted birds last Saturday found a black and white warbler, which would normally be in Central or South America by now and has never been found on the local bird count before. They also found Virginia rails and large numbers of marsh wrens, two great egrets, a sedge wren and two house wrens.

Ms. Lamont said the counts are held in late December (Audubon allows them to be held during a three week window from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5, and the organizers of individual counts decide when they’ll be held) because it’s the time in the year when birds are where they plan to spend the winter. Once winter weather sets in, she said, if birds haven’t migrated already, they aren’t going to. Because of this, the counts give scientists an idea of where birds are overwintering each year.

“I used to never see birds like red bellied woodpeckers. They were southerners, but they’ve extended their range to the north,” she said. “Now we’re picking up thousands of robins. We never used to see them in wintertime. A lot stay north, perhaps because of global climate change. That’s why Christmas Bird Counts are so important. It’s very good science.”

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Read more about the bird count and its history in Thursday’s issue of The Suffolk Times.

11/02/11 4:00am
11/02/2011 4:00 AM

These past few weeks we have reviewed our travels together in many parts of the world. This week finishes up those travels and next week we will return to fall on the North Fork.

In 1997 we traveled to Germany, Russia, the Scandinavian countries and London; so much in so short a time. We traveled across Germany in a train and saw fields of yellow rape grown for use in canola oil. We touched the Berlin Wall in East Germany and saw Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate.

In Russia we got to see the magnificent Hermitage, one of the world’s largest and oldest museums, founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and open to the public since 1852. A museum of art and culture in St. Petersburg, it has a collection of 3 million items. We also went to see colorful country dancers while there.

Then we stopped to visit the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway with their colorfully painted homes and busy waterfronts. In Norway we visited the Viking ships and the Kon-Tiki that Thor Heyerdahl built in 1947. It was a primitive balsa raft he built in Peru and sailed to Polynesia to show that ancient South Americans could have contributed to the culture of Pacific peoples. Then it was on to Heathrow Airport to spend a few wonderful days in London before flying back home.

In 2000 we traveled on a cruise ship through the Panama Canal, where I’d taken the helm of a ship while in the service years before. Passing through the canal on Easter Sunday, we joined other couples married 50 years and renewed our wedding vows.

I went skin diving in Jamaica, then on to Cartagena on our trip to Colombia, South America. We traveled to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest in Costa Rica, where we saw magnificent bird life. In Mexico we watched the high divers at Acapulco. We took a catamaran tour in Puerta Vallarta, where we saw dolphins, sea turtles and whales and later watched whales along the Baja Peninsula in California, eventually ending up at the great San Diego Zoo and on to San Francisco to fly back home.

In 2001 we cruised the Seine and went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, built in 1889. We saw the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral, the religious center of the city of Paris. We drove down the Champs-Elysées, the prestigious avenue in Paris, and saw the Arch of Triumph. We were lucky to have a special guide at the Louvre where we got up close to the Mona Lisa. During that trip, which our children gave us for our 50th anniversary, good friends loaned us their lovely home there. We were driven up to Claude Monet’s home in Giverny and sat for a while to relax in his water gardens. During our stay in Paris we met up with friends from home who joined us for a lovely dinner at the home where we were staying.

In August of that same year we were invited to go salmon fishing in Canada and we took you along with us. We caught no fish but had a wonderful time trying. Every day we would be taken in canoes up and down the river not only fishing but enjoying the fabulous evergreen forests that surrounded this magnificent area. You may remember the little hummingbird we saw tumble down from the porch ceiling all tangled up in spider webs; we were able with the people in the kitchen there to cut it free and send it off, hopefully to look for something besides spider webs for its nesting material.

In 2002 we traveled by train with its magnificent sky dome across Canada. We started by first stopping at Niagara Falls and going on the Maid of the Mist, then we boarded our train to travel across the country of Canada; across the great prairie lands of wheat and corn, etc. Our room aboard the train was set up so we had chairs during the day to sit in and look out a full window at all we could see of Canada. At nighttime the room converted into a bedroom and we had a pleasant sleep aboard the moving train.

Across Canada we went out to Alberta Province, where views became spectacular. We visited Jasper National Park, the gentle giant of the Rockies, the ice fields of the Columbia Glacier and Banff National Park, where we ate in a beautiful hotel overlooking Lake Louise. We couldn’t resist the gondola rides in these parks, up high for sights in all directions of this magnificent area. We ended our trip on Vancouver Island, where we visited the well-known beautiful Butchart Gardens and had tea in a gorgeous hotel where the Queen stopped when visiting the island.

10/04/11 4:00pm
10/04/2011 4:00 PM

PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN PATTERSON | A white-tailed tropicbird was spotted in East Marion recently, a rare find for Long Island.

Group for the East End president Robert DeLuca thought he saw a dead seagull off in the distance when he first spotted a rare bird on a beach in East Marion this summer.

Turns out what he was actually approaching was a white-tailed tropic bird, which was carried to the North Fork in the strong winds from Tropical Storm Irene.

Now the deceased bird rests in the hands of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

That the bird was found by Mr. DeLuca has everything to do with how well preserved it is, according to collection manager Paul Sweet, who works in the museum’s department of ornithology.

Mr. DeLuca, who considers himself “a backyard birder.” And once he saw the bird’s distinctive tail that is so long it actually doubles the bird’s size, he knew what he had. Until that day, he had seen the white-tailed tropicbird only in pictures. The bird typically breeds in Bermuda and the Caribbean, Mr. Sweet said. The last time one was seen further north than Bermuda was in the wake of Hurricane Carol in 1954, he said.

So how did it land on the shore in East Marion during Irene’s blast up the coast?

“That storm was so big and wide, it just pushed things,” Mr. Sweet said of Irene. Another white-tailed tropicbird was found in the Albany area, but the steps Mr. DeLuca took to preserve the specimen he found weren’t taken upstate and that carcass couldn’t be salvaged for study, Mr. Sweet said.

The white-tailed tropic bird found in East Marion.

Mr. Sweet had put out a call for rare bird finds in the wake of the storm and that’s why Group for the East End’s top staff birders — Steve Biasetti and Aaron Virgin — knew to advise Mr. DeLuca to call Mr. Sweet.

“We are getting these drifters,” Mr. DeLuca said in regards to recent finds of birds not native to Eastern Long Island.

When Mr. DeLuca and his family found the dead bird, they spent several minutes taking photographs with their cell phones. Then they carefully wrapped the bird in his wife Lisa’s sweatshirt and took it home, where they put the body on ice to preserve it. Mr. DeLuca credits Angel’s Country Store, now Fork & Anchor, with having enough ice to keep the body in good condition until Mr. Sweet could have a look at the find.

“We had no lights, but we had ice,” Mr. DeLuca said.

The museum will eventually stuff the bird for display purposes. But first there’s molecular research to be done on the tissues that might reveal the colony of birds from which this male became separated, Mr. Sweet said. The museum has only five specimens of the White-tailed Tropicbird in its collection, he said.

“As a parent, the benefits of keeping your eyes open was great,” Mr. DeLuca said. He and his family were saddened by the bird’s death, but heartened to learn their find would enhance the base of knowledge about the white-tailed tropicbird and provide an excellent exhibit at the Museum of Natural History.

“This one was really in pretty spectacular shape,” Mr. DeLuca said.

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08/09/11 3:06pm
08/09/2011 3:06 PM

COURTESY PHOTO

We were surprised the other night when Lou called from Southold to say he had found a four-foot black snake badly tangled in some plastic deer fencing he had around his tomatoes. He wasn’t afraid that the snake was poisonous; he was just concerned about how to set it free without harming it. I suggested he snip the plastic with scissors or just leave it, in the hope it would make its way out. We talked about it for a while and decided perhaps the snake could untangle itself overnight and he said he would call in the morning to let me know how it all worked out.

It was just minutes later when an excited Lou called back! He had taken scissors out and spent a little time cutting the fencing around the snake’s head; the plastic was tangled so tightly around its neck Lou was afraid the snake wouldn’t be able to get free without some help. The fencing had tangled close to the snake’s eye, and Lou said, “We were eye to eye as I cut the last of the plastic.” It probably took a minute for the snake to realize it was free, but with a little time it moved away under some tomato plants where it rested a bit before it eventually slipped away. We don’t know who was more relieved, the snake or Lou.

It was nice to hear that, with so few snakes actually seen around the North Fork today, Lou was interested enough to take the time and effort to help out this black snake, which found itself in an embarrassing situation in his garden. Most people never get to see a huge black snake.

We haven’t seen any snakes around our place in a long time. We miss them. There used to be garter snakes in our garden or resting in the warm sun in our driveway, but it’s been a long time since we have seen a single snake around. Snakes are beneficial; they eat rodents of all types — rats, mice, voles — and should not be killed.
Some people are a bit apprehensive when it comes to snakes. Our good neighbor Winnie Billard, not being too fond of snakes, told us years ago that one had found a home under her back porch. She put up with it for years, each respecting the other. If that philosophy could reign with most of our wildlife, we’d have a better world by far.

What we are seeing every day now — and perhaps you are, as well — are the beautiful butterflies drifting through the air and visiting our flowering blossoms. Yellow swallowtails, spicebush swallowtails and monarchs are all passing through. Our great-grandkids are busy with their butterfly nets trying to catch any that come near.

The spicebush swallowtail was the first to appear, sitting on some impatiens blossoms near our pond. It returned time and again to fill up on nectar from the colorful flowers. This swallowtail is a strikingly beautiful butterfly, with its forewing mostly black, with ivory spots along the margin. The upper surface of the hind wing is bluish (female) or bluish-green (male). While spicebush swallowtails can be seen flying and feeding low to the ground, they also enjoy trees, such as the tulip tree.

Speaking of tulip trees, our son lost one in a recent thunder and lightning storm when it was struck and debarked by a lightning bolt. He remembers hearing a sizzling sound in the back of his house during the storm but never realized how close it hit until he saw the tulip tree in his backyard. The lightning strike stripped one whole side of the tree, leaving it dried and wrapped like a cinnamon stick. Now all the leaves are brown and dying and the tree is gone.

Back to our butterflies — the bright colored yellow tiger swallowtail stands out among the foliage. One day we noticed two flying in unison among the branches of one of our hickory trees — what a beautiful sight! It is native to North America.

Probably the most popular butterfly seen in our area is the monarch, which passes through on its annual migration. We often see these in our garden, where the main attraction is the butterfly bush. We have them in all colors and the butterflies congregate on them.

The monarch is famous for its long southward migration and its northward return in the spring, which spans the life of three to four generations of the butterfly. These long flights have been documented by actually putting lightweight stickers on the butterflies’ wings to tag them along the route they follow, which are later checked when they arrive some 3,000 miles away in Mexico, where they congregate on the trees by the thousands. Checking the stickers must be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Some 2,000 schools in the country are involved in this study following the amazing monarch migration south. Butterflies in the last generation to leave our area do not die right away but migrate south and live six to eight months in Mexico until they awake from hibernation in the spring, mate and lay eggs; then, withered and tattered from their migration and hibernation, they finally die.

The next generation that starts its flight northward lives for only six to eight weeks and goes through the life cycle again. This cycle continues through the months until they finally leave here in September or October to head out on their long journey south. The whole cycle of the monarch butterfly seems almost impossible.

05/31/11 5:47am
05/31/2011 5:47 AM

PAUL STOUTENBURGH PHOTO

With all the discouraging weather we’ve been having I put off writing Focus in hopes of finding that “perfect day.” Then like all good things that take time, the perfect day finally arrived with brilliant sunshine and low humidity. But now what to do with our first nice day? Perhaps for starters, I’ll take a stroll out to the garden.

As I stepped off the patio into the wet grass I could see the bright and glistening Star of Bethlehem plants that have made their new home throughout our lawn. Here they have faced those wet rainy days of the past giving us hope for better days ahead. Our yard is alive with birds singing their own special songs for this perfect day.

Then across the lawn and into the garden. It’s not much of a garden, since we haven’t had a chance to get into it and work as yet. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that soon and cut down the tall grass that has shot up everywhere; no place has been left barren as everything green now reaches for the sun.

The only bright spots in the garden were the tall, colorful blossoms of the iris that stood above everything else, bursting forth in all their splendor. As I stood there with the sun shining from behind them, I could think of nothing more gorgeous; the way the purple, yellow and white blossoms hung reminded me of dainty drapes of color in some fairy-tale palace. While I was standing there lost in thought I began to feel the wet, chilly dew that was slowly penetrating my sandals. My feet were soaked, but who cared; the sun was out and my iris were blooming.

The only other color that could be seen was in the buds of the peonies waiting for their day of sun. The big holly my dad had given me years ago had been pollinated even through the miserable weather, and now each branch was loaded with green berries that will slowly turn to red. Already a mockingbird has claimed it as his territory.

What to do next as the sun seemed to grow warmer and warmer with each passing hour. The sun is out, so let’s go down and see how the returning plovers and least terns are making out down on the causeway. We’ve seen them since their return but let’s check on them once more. They should be settled in by now. These dainty sand-colored creatures of the shoreline are having a particularly tough time in today’s modern world of beach vehicles, Frisbee games and wandering dogs.

When we arrived at the causeway we could hear the high-pitched call of birds — not the plaintive call of the piping plover but the call of the least tern. Here was another nester of our beaches and as we drove along the causeway where good-hearted volunteers have fenced the area in, we could see terns flying and settling on the beach. This was getting-acquainted time and courting time with new mates.

To think they had come all the way up from the marine coast of Central and South America to grace our shores. Who can begrudge these small wonders, as they ask nothing more than to nest and raise their young and then they’ll be gone.

Since the sun was still out and we were enjoying its warmth, we decided to make one more trip to check on spring and returning birds. We chose a wooded area with wet spots where a solitary sandpiper, scarlet tanager, indigo bunting and redstart had been seen, so we decided to try our luck.

What struck us most was the yellow of the yellow warblers as they flitted back and forth across the dirt road in among the blossoming yellow wild mustard. What a truly magnificent sight. I remember years ago photographing a pair of these yellow birds from a blind after the young had hatched. What a pleasure being so close and watching this family as it was fed and grew before my eyes.