Audubon Society Makes a SPLASH in the Bays

The Bellmore-Merrick-Wantagh chapter of Operation SPLASH (Stop Polluting Littering And Save the Harbors) recently took members of the Audubon Society on an educational foray into the bays for an outing to count species of birds nesting on the islands.

BlackCrow night heronBlack Crow night heron

While SPLASH boats are used specifically to clean up the bays using a network of volunteers, the boats are available for high school and college classes in the environment, marine biology and geology, and on government; for senior experience classes;  for collecting information on bird migrations; and for discovering Long Island’s seafaring past.

“Our home base has been doing more work with students studying the environment,” remarked Gary Smith, president of the Bellmore-Merrick-Wantagh SPLASH chapter. The essential educational focus, he continued, is on how cleaner waterways impact our everyday lives by making them safer to boat in while providing a cleaner shoreline appearance that appeals to everyone.

Even as SPLASH has hooked up with the Audubon and is working with historical societies, trips out to view bird migrations and nesting areas, and excursions to discover shore areas that once thrived as communities – such as High Hill Beach, also double as cleanups, in which visiting the shores of islands or under the dock of the Norman Levy Preserve to clean out floating debris are part of the excursion.

levy park pierNorman Levy Park’s fishing pier

Captained by Len Deibler and joined by Bellmore SPLASH member Carolyn LaRosa, the SPLASH boat took an eastward swing after leaving the Wantagh Boat Marina, where it’s docked, toward a Seaford fishing station. This route is part of SPLASH’s circuitous route all around the East Bay. Night and Grey herons, egrets, ospreys, cormorants, starlings and shore birds such as sandpipers were all in the air flying, in the water or on the shores of islands as we sailed through Flat Creek toward Sonny’s fishing station.

Audubon member Rich Kopitsch spied barnswallows through his binoculars while Bill Allweg, also an Audubon member, pointed to laughing gulls, willets and Canada geese all sunbathing on the shore of Seaman’s Island, one of dozens of swampy islands that dot the Western Bays of the South Shore Estuary.

At Sonny’s, owner Mike Rictor and members of his crew pointed to an egret and a Black Crow night heron hanging around the dock. “Come here at 6 a.m. in the morning and you’ll really see the birds,” said Rictor.

When asked about the small trenches that cut through the swampy islands, he told Your NewsMag that those trenches were built with WPA funds during President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s terms of office. The small canals were supposedly built to prevent mosquito buildup by providing drainage after high tides.

Monk parakeet nests could be seen among the lights of Seaman’s Neck ball park as the SPLASH skiff moved toward Great Island Channel.

rocksRocks are placed strategically to prevent scouring, or erosion of the shoreline and the pillars holding up bridges

Under the Goose Creek Bridge on Wantagh Parkway, past Egg Island and through Haunt’s Creek on the way to Sloop Channel, terns such as the Foster tern or the Lease tern could be seen hovering over the water before quickly diving for fish. A red-winged blackbird was eyed through binoculars.

At the Meadowbrook Parkway Bridge the SPLASH skiff sailed slowly under as tugboats pulled barges with huge rocks on them. SPLASH President Smith told Your NewsMag rocks are being placed strategically under the bridge and along the banks of the bridge to prevent erosion, or scouring, from occurring, which could loosen the bridge’s foundation.

Now gliding under Great Sand Creek Bridge and up False Channel in Merrick toward the Levy Park dock, both Kopitsch and Allweg pointed out the difference between Snowy egrets and Great egrets. While Allweg had in his sights a Snowy egret, a graceful smaller bird with yellow feet, Koptisch pointed toward the long-necked Great egret, often seen along the shoreline.

Greater Black-back gulls – those with black heads – were perched on docking posts along bay houses, which Allweg called “the biggest of the gull family.”

While high tide made it a challenge to pull the skiff up to the shoreline underneath the Norman Levy dock, SPLASH members jumped out to retrieve several items including tennis balls, metals, plastics and a 24-foot long wooden plank.

The Bellmore-Merrick-Wantagh chapter of SPLASH encourages residents to get involved in cleaning up the waterways – which also provides for a fun outing during the day. To join in the cleanups, call Gary Smith at 785-4234.

DOUGLAS FINLAY

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