Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 Christmas Bird Count summary

The 2010 edition of the Greenwich-Stamford CBC was held on December 19.  Weather conditions were generally favorable for a full day of birding as well as locating bundles of birds throughout our count area (see below).  Director Steve, CBC volunteer Arthur and I spent about 9-1/2 hours scouring a variety of habitats in search of as many birds as possible in an effort to census this winter's bird populations.  For anyone not familiar with the CBC, there's a wealth of background information here, and info about the Greenwich-Stamford CBC here.

View Greenwich-Stamford CBC Area A (north) in a larger map

At 7am, Arthur and I began our day at the Eugene and Agnes Meyer Preserve on Sarles St.  While we walked the forests and fields there, Steve was busy tallying species and individuals on the Westmoreland Sanctuary WMA.  Later in the morning Arthur and I tallied a variety of birds on and around the Byram Lake reservoir, Merestead, and Baldwin Road.

Lunch time found the three of us counting birds at the Westmoreland Sanctuary feeding station in the warmth of the museum.  Soon thereafter, we all spent the remainder of the afternoon counting birds at neighborhood bird feeders, small pockets of roadside habitat, and any bit of open water we could find.  When all was done at 5pm, we tallied a total of 45 species. 

Our species are as follows:

Ruddy Duck
 Canda Goose, Wood Duck*, American Black Duck (HC), Mallard, Ring-necked Duck (HC), Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck*, Great Blue Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture (HC), Northern Harrier*, Red-tailed Hawk, Ring-billed Gull (HC), Herring Gull, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker (HC), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (HC), Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Blue Jay (HC), American Crow, Common Raven, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse (HC), White-breasted Nuthatch (HC), Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren (HC), Winter Wren (HC), Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Gray Catbird, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Field Sparrow, Fox Sparrow (HC), Song Sparrow (HC), White-throated Sparrow (HC), Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal (HC), House Finch (HC), American Goldfinch, House Sparrow

Species with an * indicate a new species for our count, HC indicates high count of individuals for our count.

While we were disappointed to have missed a few species we typically find in our count area (Wild Turkey and American Tree Sparrow) we did add 3 new species we've not tallied before.  High counts were recorded for 16 species this year, an exciting feat and a good reflection of decent conditions during the count and possible indications of a great breeding season for these birds last spring.

All in all, it was a great day topped off with a delicious potluck dinner at the Greenwich Audubon Center.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Catching Up

Its been a long time since the last blog post.  The lack of blogging has nothing to do with interest and everything to do with time.  Honestly, I didn't realize that the last post was way back in late September!  The time just flew by.

There's been a lot of interesting things going on around here over the past few months:
  • The Fall Festival was a pretty good success. Thanks to a nice day of weather, this was the first time in 3 years we were able to execute a full festival format.
  • Our Breakfast with the Hawks programs co-sponsored with the Bedford Audubon Society brought a lot of new people to the hawk watch this fall to witness hawk migration in person.  Not only were there numerous raptors for us to feast our eyes (and binos) on, but we also shared an assortment of coffee and breakfast goodies like muffins, bagels, and donuts thanks to generous contributions from both organizations and Wild Birds Unlimited in Bedford Hills, NY.  To see this season's hawkwatching results, visit the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch site online here.
  • Bird banding was a rewarding endeavor this fall.  Not only did we have the opportunity to share our passion for birds with a great number of people, but we were able to show how this important project works with "behind the scenes" tours.  Visitors were given the unique opportunity to see the various birds up close and in a way many people never get to see a bird - in the hand.  For us, bird banding is equal parts research, education, and inspiration.
  • A new, improved Westmoreland Sanctuary website was launched this fall as well.  Many hours of color coordinating, idea organizing, format changing, and photo editing turned into the website we have today.  We are still fine-tuning certain elements and adding additional features to the site, but its up and running for all the (Internet) world to see.  If you haven't been there yet, check it out.
  • We were visited intermittently by a Black bear this fall.  The big guy came and went every so often.  His presence was usually noticed the day after his visits when we found our bird feeders strewn about and bluebird house posts bent all the way to the ground.  Eventually we captured images of some foot prints and scat.  Long story short...he was captured and carried away by the NYS DEC in late October.  See a video about the captured bear at
  • We recently put the Cottage Garden to rest until spring.  All the shrubs are firmly planted and mulched for the coming winter.  A number of the perennials have been relocated to various areas of the garden in anticipation of next spring.  All of this wouldn't have been possible without the tireless efforts of our garden guru Margi.  We're very thankful for all her work.
  • And speaking of volunteer work, we now have a beautiful (and sturdy) fire box for our maple sugaring activities.  Our volunteer mason, Quentin, donated many hours of his time this fall to complete this difficult project.
In the midst of all this activity, we have managed to squeeze in a few educational programs for our local school groups, Boy/Girl scout troops, and the general public.  Since October 1st, we have reached over 1,950 people with our educational programs.  And there's plenty more to come!

So that's all for now.  I hope you feel like you've been caught up with what's been happening around here lately.  We'll be blogging with you again soon.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Monday, September 27, 2010

Westchester County Coyotes

The Westchester County Parks Conservation Cafe lecture series recently presented a program entitled Coyotes in Suburbia.  This program and the high volume of attendees was no doubt the result of a summer punctuated with coyote-human interactions in and around the Rye, NY area.

For anyone not familiar with this summer's events, here's what happened:
June 25, 2010: A six-year old child was bit on the shoulder and back by one of two coyotes seen in her family's backyard in Rye, NY.
June 29, 2010: A three-year old child was bit on her torso by a single coyote in her backyard in Rye, NY.  The incident happened only a mile from the previous one.
September 5, 2010:  A teenager was lunged at but unharmed by a coyote at 6:50pm and a two-year old girl and her father were bitten by a coyote at 8pm the same evening a short distance away.  Both incidents took place in Rye Brook, NY.  The suspected coyote was ultimately put down and tests revealed it to be rabid.

In the wake of these events, a number of municipalities instituted trapping programs aimed at capturing and euthanizing coyotes.  The trapping projects were also aimed at "hazing" the local coyote populations to make them more fearful and cautious of humans.  In addition, local police were authorized to shoot coyotes whenever safely possible and local residents were given a number of guidelines and directions in regards to how to scare coyotes when an encounter occurs.

So all of this leads us to the Coyotes in Suburbia lecture held on Friday, September 24.  Three individuals involved in various research projects involving Eastern Coyotes presented their research on the species' genetics, behavior, and ecology.

Dr. Roland Kays of the New York State Museum presented "New York's Coyote/Coydog/Coywolf: What is it and how did it get here?".  His presentation covered the historical perspective of how the Eastern Coyote came to live throughout the Northeastern United States. 

In summary, Dr. Kays revealed the historical extirpation of various predator species (wolves, mountain lions, etc) from eastern forests as colonization expanded west.  In the early 1900's, land use, laws and perspectives on the value of wildlife, predators included, began to change and numerous wildlife species populations rebounded to reinhabit eastern forests.  Unfortunately, many predator populations were so ravaged that there was no chance of their species making a comeback, especially wolves. 

Dr. Kays explained that the gap in the food web was slowly replaced over time by the advance of two coyote populations moving east: one from Ohio and one from north of the Great Lakes.  Because of the lack of fossil evidence indicating the historical presence of coyotes in the Northeastern US, it was along these two "invasion" fronts that the coyote systematically colonized New York and the remainder of New England.  Dr. Kays' genetic studies also showed that Eastern Coyotes have low genetic diversity compared to Western and Ohio Coyotes.  This "founder effect" is strong evidence for the "invasion" theory.  The genetic mixing of Eastern and Ohio Coyote populations currently taking place in western NY/PA further supports this theory.

Dr. Kays' mitochondrial DNA studies indicate that Eastern Coyotes share a small portion of DNA similarity with Great Lakes wolf populations.  The coyote-wolf hybridization likely occurred as the Great Lakes coyotes traveled east through portions of the Great Lakes wolf population.  This supports the morphological studies comparing the skull sizes of Western, Ohio, and Eastern Coyotes.  On average, Eastern Coyotes' skulls are longer and wider than those of the Western and Ohio populations.

After Dr. Kays' presentation, Mark Weckel of the Mianus River Gorge presented some of the research he and a high school research associate completed titled "Mapping Human-Coyote Interaction in Westchester, NY".  Their project consisted of soliciting surveys to families throughout Westchester County, NY requesting information about coyote sightings on their property.  Using over 1,500 returned surveys, Mr. Weckel was able to assemble a map of the county that indicated the likelihood of encountering (i.e. seeing or hearing) a coyote.  Statistical analysis of the data showed that the survey data and associated map predicted the likelihood of a coyote encounter with a great deal of certainty.

Not coincidentally, the data indicated that a person's probability of an encounter increased with closer proximity to forest and grassland habitats and with increased distance from urban areas.  Mr. Weckel expressed that this isn't a shocking revelation, but it also indicates how unlikely it is for individuals to encounter a coyote in an urban/suburban environment.  This makes the unfortunate incidents in Rye and Rye Brook all the more extraordinary.  Further study is being conducted on urban/suburban coyote populations in the greater NY city area to continue to shed light on how coyotes use these human populated areas.

Finally, Dan Bogan, a doctoral candidate at Cornell University, presented some of the research he conducted as field research leader of the New York Urban/Suburban Coyote Study.  This NYSDEC-funded project was carried out in two northern Westchester and two southern Westchester municipalities.

Over the course of the project, a number of coyotes were trapped, radio-collared, and released so they could be tracked and recorded.  This was done to gain insight into how coyotes were establishing and utilizing home ranges within the study area.  While a number of the coyotes Mr. Bogan collared either emigrated far from the study area, died, or were "lost", the individuals that were studied extensively showed that they favored natural areas within the four municipalities and generally avoided areas considered urban/suburban.

Mr. Bogan's research into the dietary components of coyotes during the study revealed that the vast majority of urban/suburban coyotes diets included a heavy portion of white-tailed deer, rabbits, and a variety of other mammal species, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and plant matter.  There was no indication of coyotes utilizing human sources of food (i.e. garbage), and only on the rare occasion did they discover feline hair, bird seed, or strange items like latex and leather.  Bogan sighted the sample size as limited, but felt confident with the initial implications that coyotes are not extraordinarily habituated to humans or reliant upon human-generated sources of food.

At the end of a lively Q&A session, the morning's three presenters and DEC biologist Kevin Clarke generally came to the same conclusion: Coyotes are here, they're living in suburbia, and we will need to learn to live with them. 

As the lead DEC official responding to this summer's coyote incidents in Rye and Rye Brook, Mr. Clarke vehemently expressed that county residents must be proactive about avoiding negative coyote interactions.  He implored folks to eliminate/modify their behaviors and features of their landscape which are likely to increase the chance of a negative coyote interaction.  Here are the NYDEC's tips on avoiding conflicts with coyotes.

And finally, I'd like to add that the coyote, and the remainder of the wildlife in our region, are a sign of our area's ecological strength.  As many of us visit parks, preserves and nature sanctuaries, its important that we remember that our suburban homes and neighborhoods are extensions of these wild places.  Wildlife species do not recognize park boundaries and we all inhabit the same place.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

27th Annual Fall Festival

Westmoreland Sanctuary's 27th Annual Fall Festival will take place on Sunday, September 26, 2010 from 11am to 4pm.

During the day, there will be plenty of fun, family-oriented activities to enjoy.  Westmoreland Sanctuary staff will present 4 educational programs for guests to enjoy at different times during the day.  The program schedule is as follows:

Bird Banding
11:00am - Bird Banding Demonstration
     Show up early to view wild song birds in the hand of one of our naturalists.  Each bird will be carefully banded with an aluminum bracelet containing a serial number.  After data collection, each bird is released unharmed.  Each bird contributes vital information used for species and habitat conservation.

12:30pm - Animal Track Casting
     Make a plaster cast of an animal track with our staff.  Track casts are 3D replicas of an animal's actual footprint.  Participants may take their cast home after it cures and is removed from the latex mold.  Due to limited casting materials, this program is first come-first served.

2:00pm - Live Animal Show
     Interact with many of the live animals that reside in the Westmoreland Sanctuary nature museum.  We have an assortment of insect, reptile, bird and mammal friends that we'll introduce to our audience.  Much of the program is hands-on so that participants are given an opportunity to touch various creatures.  Its fun and educational.
Milk Snake

3:30pm - Snake Search and Nature Hike      Finish your festival experience by joining this hike in search of the wild serpents residing within the sanctuary.  We'll visit the "snake boards" in hopes of viewing Garter, Milk, and/or Ring-necked snakes.  The remainder of the walk will include a guided tour of some of the many trails and assorted habitats found within the sanctuary.

In addition to our educational programming, there will be a barnyard petting zoo and pony rides from Pied Piper Pony Rides, games, crafts, and food.

Entrance fees to the Fall Festival and Sanctuary grounds are as follows:
Face Painting
$3 for children 3-12 years old, $5 for adults (members), $6 for adults (non-members), and $3 for senior citizens.

Parking will be available on Chestnut Ridge Road.  Chestnut Ridge Road will be one-way only and will only be accessible from Route 172 (South Bedford Road) at the request of the Bedford Highway Dept and Police Dept.  Please follow all posted signs and Bedford Police directions in regards to parking and navigating Chestnut Ridge Road during the festival.

We hope to see you on Sunday, September 26!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hawkwatch video

This past Saturday, August 25, the Bedford Patch covered our hawkwatch program with Westmoreland's Director Steve Ricker!

Please check out the video (below) and accompanying article here:

Please join us at the next hawkwatching program scheduled for September 19 at 8am.  Remember to bring your binoculars and a coffee cup!

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Thursday, August 19, 2010


From full, luscious gardens to cheerful planters to agricultural fields, flowering plants are used to brighten our landscape, lighten our spirits, and provide a bounty of food.  As the foundation of every food web, plant life is an essential component of many organism's diet, humans included.

Some of our most beloved fruits and vegetables and most important varieties of wildlife foods are created by flowering plants thanks to the miracle of pollination.  Pollination is generally referred to as the process in which pollen is transferred in plants, enabling fertilization and reproduction[1].  This process is important in flowering plants because pollen contains the male reproductive material of the plant.  Without the transfer of pollen, the vast majority of flowering plants are incapable of reproduction.

There are a few different ways in which pollen is effectively transferred between plants: with animal assistance and without animal assistance.  Of all the flowering plants, only 10% of them are pollinated without animal assistance[1].  The most common method of achieving pollination within this group is with the aid of the wind, though a few plants use the assistance of water. 

Wind-assisted plants tend to produce copious amounts of lightweight pollen grains from clusters of generally unattractive-looking flowers.  The high volume of pollen disbursed into the air helps to ensure that the pollen grains land upon the female portion of the plant.  Unfortunately for many humans, we often succumb to the symptoms of hay fever during periods of the year when wind-pollinated plants reach their reproductive peak.  Spring allergy sufferers are generally agitated by tree species like conifers, oak, and birch, as well as grasses.  In the fall, ragweed and other common, but inconspicuous, weed species distribute their pollen on the wind.

The bulk of flowering plants are pollinated with the assistance of animals.  There are about 200,000 varieties of animal pollinators in the world[1].  Most are insects, but others include various species of birds and bats.

Animal-assisted plants generally produce heavy, sticky, protein-rich pollen grains[2].  The flowers of plants utilizing animal assistance are often shaped to accomodate easy access by the pollinator, and there is often a lure, such as scent or the presence of nectar, which helps attract the pollinator.  Sometimes, the pollen alone can be the attractant for species interested in consuming the plant pollen.  In any manner, the animal visits flower after flower to collect its reward while inadvertantly moving pollen from one place to another.

In late summer, there's a plethora of flowers now in full bloom in our gardens.  Here's a look at who's been pollinating our flowers:

Bees and Butterflies


Sweat Bees


-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Friday, July 23, 2010

Emerald Ash Borer Alert!

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has announced two new invasion sites of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) on private properties in Bath, NY (Steuben County) and Saugerties, NY (Ulster County).  These two locations are in addition to the original detection site in the town of Randolph, NY (Cattaraugus County) found in June 2009.

Marianne Prue, Ohio Department of Natural Resources - Division of Forestry,
The Steuben County location was discovered on July 12, 2010 and the Ulster County location on July 15, 2010.  Both sites have been monitored consistently by NYSDEC and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), respectively, since the initial NY invasion in June 2009.  The EAB is monitored by the use of nearly 7,500 EAB purple traps hoisted into ash trees in various high-risk locations.  In the lastest discovery, one EAB was located in a single trap in each location.  

Map showing EAB has been found in Cattaraugus, Steuben, Livingston, Monroe, Genesee, Ulster and Greene Counties.
In the NYSDEC press release, DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis is quoted:
"DEC, the landowners, and our federal, state and local partners will work closely to study the extent of EAB's presence in the newly-confirmed area and take the appropriate steps to protect the state's ash resources. We have reason to believe that the movement of EAB to these new areas was due to the movement of firewood, and as summer is now in full swing, we again remind campers throughout the state that they too can help prevent the spread of harmful invasives by not hauling firewood to campgrounds and instead buying firewood locally."

The press release goes on to say:
"Since its discovery in southeastern Michigan in 2002, the EAB is responsible for the death and decline of tens of millions of ash trees in the U.S. Today the beetle has been detected in 14 states and two neighboring Canadian provinces. The primary way this insect spreads is when firewood and wood products are moved from one place to another. Many of New York State's forests and parklands are high-risk areas due to firewood movement."

This is a very pressing matter and an issue more of the public needs to take note of, even here in southern NY.  The majority of the Hudson Valley is forested, and the spread of this little insect puts many of our natural resources and wild places at risk of severe degradation.  The Saugerties location is a mere 80 miles from Westmoreland's location near Mt.Kisco, NY.

To read the entire press release, for more information about the EAB invasion, and to learn how you can help in the detection and prevention of this harmful forest pest, please click on any of the above links.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Hummingbird Nest

This summer there are at least 3 Ruby-throated hummingbirds (two female and one male) frequently visiting the gardens and nectar feeders around the museum and naturalist's cottage.  Its always a joy to watch these tiniest of birds zipping through the air visiting flower after flower, taking sips from the nectar feeders, and chasing each other around during a territorial dispute.  Despite all the collective hours spent casually observing these winged wonders, one aspect of their life has always remained a mystery to us.  Where do they build their nest?

Having a keen interest in birds and unprecedented time/access to a wonderful place like Westmoreland, I've been lucky enough to observe an assortment of rarely seen wildlife and animal behavior.  One of the most difficult things to do during spring/summer is to locate the secretive locations of bird's nests.  I've witnessed chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers excavating nesting cavities in trees.  I've seen plenty of birds nesting in the many nesting boxes around the sanctuary, including chickadees, House wrens, bluebirds, Tree swallows, and Wood ducks.  I've even been fortunate enough to find active nests of phoebes, pewees, orioles, vireos, Blue Jays, Great-crested flycatchers, Mallards, and Yellow warblers.  Unfortunately, the hummingbirds so common in the summer garden have proven far more difficult to observe at the nest...until now.

The lichen covered bump in the above photo is the nest of a Ruby-throated hummingbird.  Its about 2-inches wide and about half as deep.  The majority of the nest is comprised of plant down and spider's web ( while the exterior is decorated with patches of lichen as you can see in the photo.  I have no knowledge as to what may be inside (eggs or young), but I know that it is an active nest.  The female actively defends the nest when other birds get too close, which is what led me to accidentally find it. 

While I was observing a small group of chickadees and titmice foraging in a nearby tree, I suddenly noticed a hummer appear from nowhere to whack a titmouse with the full force of her tiny little body.  After the titmouse retreated, I observed her flying back and settling on top of the nest.  Prior to the sudden attack, I (and likely the titmouse) had no idea the nest was even there.  What luck!

As you can see above, the female has settled onto the nest.  I'll keep visiting during the coming days/weeks to continue to observe the little bird's nesting progress.  If all goes well, we'll likely see 2-3 fledgling hummers visiting the garden and nectar feeders in the weeks to come.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cottage Garden...Progress Report

A few weeks back, I wrote about the new landscape plan designed for the front of the Naturalist's Cottage.  Since that time, we've made a few minor changes to the layout and narrowed down our plant selections based on color, bloom time, and growth habit.  As it stands now, the landscape plan looks like this:

After a couple weeks of being on hold (due to our busy educational programming schedule), I finally started to plot out the location of the fence posts and began to dig holes.  Lots of holes.  33 to be exact.  And after a lot of sweat equity, the posts were in place and the "deer" fence went up.

The next step involved removing all of the existing fencing from around the various plant beds - split rail around the pond garden, picket fence in front of the cottage, and various installations of plastic fencing to fend off deer browse.

This past Thursday, Margi (our excellent landscape designer) marked the layout of the new planting beds and path as shown in the landscape plan above.  The following day, I was able to rent a sod cutter in town to remove the large quantity of grass that existed within the planting beds.  In just a few hours time, I was able to cut and roll all of the unwanted sod.  As the photos illustrate, the new landscape is begining to take shape.

The above photos were taken from the roof of the Naturalist's Cottage on July 3.  Since then, all the sod has been carted off the site and I've started to cover the bare soil with a layer of wood chips to conserve soil moisture and prepare the beds for planting.

As it stands now, we have a number of shrubs to begin planting once the weather breaks a bit.  Specimens we're currently prepared to plant include 10 inkberry, 4 highbush blueberry, 3 summersweet clethra, 3 fothergilla, 1 smooth witherrod, 1 oakleaf hydrangea, and 1 blue hydrangea.  For complete list of the plants we intend to use, click on the Cottage Garden Project tab above.

If you are at all interested in this project, feel free to stop by the sanctuary and see it for yourself.  If you'd like to help us complete the project, contact the sanctuary office and let us know how you'd like to help.  We can use some helping hands (i.e. spreading wood chips, planting, transplanting, etc), plant donations (nursery stock or your garden transplants), or a monetary donation.  Donations of funds and supplies are tax deductible!

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What's the Scariest Thing in the Forest?

I commonly start a nature hike by asking the participants this question.  The answers range from wolves, bears, snakes, etc.  Take a look at the picture below and you will see what I consider the thing to most avoid on any walk in the woods, backyard, and schoolyard.

Well, do you see it?  No, not the black and white furry thing.  That is inconsequential.  We will probably  discuss he/she at a later date.  The scary thing is the plant he is walking through.  Poison Ivy!

There is a ton of confusion and falsehoods when it comes to this native plant. It has red and shiny leaves is a common misnomer.  Or, "I have never gotten poison ivy, just poison oak".

Let's try to clear all this up.  First, poison ivy grows east of the Rockies.  Poison oak grows in the Western United States.  Poison sumac is a small tree that almost always grows in swampy water, so it would be highly unusual for a person to come in contact with it.  Second, poison ivy is a vine that can grow along the ground, up trees and fences, and occasionally will grow in a bush form.  Third, poison ivy leaves are not usually shiny and red.  This occurs when the leaves are first emerging in the spring.  Very soon they become green and not shiny like most of the other plants.  The plant leaves will turn a beautiful bright red in the fall just before they fall off.  For most of the growing season the leaves are green with no shine.

On the right is a picture of our friend walking amongst some poison ivy and another plant that is commonly confused with poison ivy.  Mnemonic rhymes are very helpful when it comes to remembering things like how to identify poison ivy.  The best ones are "leaves of three, let it be", and "hairy vine, no friend of mine". The poison ivy is above Mr. Stinky's head and back. The plant in the foreground has five leaflets and is virginia creeper.  It is the only harmless thing to touch in the picture!
On the left is a picture of the aerial rootlets or "hairs" that are key in identifying the plant in winter.  I can't tell you how many times I have seen these hairy vines growing up the fences or trees around playgrounds and peoples homes.
What happens when someone comes in contact with poison ivy?  Take a look at my arm below.  I am highly allergic to the urushiol oil that is found in all parts of the plant.  This case is probably from hugging my dog, who constantly runs around the edge of my yard where poison ivy can commonly be found.

There are studies that predict poison ivy is becoming increasingly prolific as a result of global warming and climate change.  Its urushiol oil is becoming more potent and growth more robust.

So, lets have a final test to see if you can identify poison ivy and stay away from it.  Here is a picture of Mr. Stinky amongst more poison ivy, virginia creeper, and various other green nondescripts.  Can't pick it out?  Well, the other most important thing to remember when hiking is to stay on the trail.  Especially if you are wearing shorts!

Mr. Stinky says, Thanks for visiting the Westmoreland Sanctuary Blog!  Come back soon.
Stephen Ricker-Director

Monday, June 21, 2010

Injured, Orphaned, or OK?

Each spring our phone rings with a local resident wanting to know what to do with a baby bird or a lonely deer fawn found in the corner of their lawn.  These phone calls are pretty common for us, but the experience for the caller is always new, and the welfare of the wildlife species they've found is usually uncertain.  Without being present, it is difficult for us to assess whether the animal really needs someone's assistance, or perhaps it might be best left alone.

So what do you do if you find a young wildlife species?  Its important to determine if the animal might be injured, orphaned, or OK.  A fledgling bird, a young squirrel, or an "abandoned" fawn may not really need our help.  They may simply be struggling to learn how to use their newly formed and awkward bodies as they explore the great big world around them.  Here are a few things to consider when determining if a young animal may be injured or orphaned:
  • If you have to chase it, it doesn't need your help.
  • A fawn curled up in the lawn is not abandoned but left alone for short periods of time so the mother may forage to maintain her strength between bouts of nursing.
  • A young bird that is fully feathered and hopping on the ground or clambering in the bushes is likely a fledgling, not an orphan.
  • Many small mammals like rabbits and raccoons nurse their young for short periods of time, but then leave the nest to avoid attracting attention from predators.
Please seek help from a wildlife rehabilitator, local veterinarian, or nature center if you see the following:
  • An animal brought home by your pet cat or dog.
  • Signs of bleeding or other trauma.
  • Shivering.
  • A featherless or nearly-featherless bird on the ground.
  • Evidence of a dead parent nearby.
For more information about how to assess the need for help of young or injured wildlife, please visit or the NYS DEC.  These informative websites have resources about how to deal with potentially injured or ophaned wildlife, what to do if help is needed, and how to contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.  And at all times, please consider you and your family's health and well-being before attempting to rescue injured or abandoned wildlife.  Though you have good intentions, wild animals usually don't know they are being helped or rescued and may react aggressively regardless if they are healthy or truely injured/abandoned.  When in doubt, please remember this saying: "If you care...leave them there."

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Attracting Hummingbirds

Wish you could see a hummingbird in your yard?  Check out this post from last summer, which describes a bit of the life history and food preferences of these magical little birds.  A few carefully selected flowers and a hummingbird feeder will go a long way in attracting our region's Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Monday, June 14, 2010

Woodboring Beetle

I found this woodboring beetle recently near the Naturalist's cottage.  This creature is a Dicerca sp. beetle belonging to Family Buprestidae, which includes at least 134 species in North America according to the Kaufmann Field Guide to Insects of North America.  Beetles belonging to Genus Dicerca generally breed in decaying hardwood trees according to

With all the storm-damaged trees lingering throughout the forests of our area (thanks to winter and spring storms), we're likely to encounter a number of these types of beetles this summer.  If you find an insect and are unsure of its identity, snap a picture and match it with the many submitted and identified pictures at  If all else fails, you can submit your photo with an ID request on the site, or send us the photo and perhaps we'll have a clue as to which variety of insect you've found.  Be sure to include an object (coin, pencil eraser, etc) in the photo that lends a clue to the insect's size.  The grid paper in my photo indicates increments of 1/4th of an inch.  You can find our email address by clicking our website link to the right.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Native Plants, Native Animals

Throughout history, mankind has dominated nature and shaped the landscape to suit its needs. Forests were cleared, wetlands were drained and grasslands were altered in order to plant crops and carve out living areas for ourselves. As technology and human ingenuity has progressed, the pace at which our natural areas are converted to suburban landscapes has greatly increased.

Islands of suitable habitat, like Westmoreland Sanctuary, have been left behind. In the past, these islands were of substantial size and capable of supporting a large array of plant and wildlife species. But now these islands are relatively miniature in size and largely incapable of sustaining stable populations of organisms for very long. So looking into the future, where are our wildlife species supposed to live?

In "Bringing Nature Home" by Douglas W. Tallamy, the answer is right in our backyard. Actually, Mr. Tallamy declares it is our backyard. In our suburban environment, the one we have altered so greatly, he believes we have the ability to reshape the landscape once again. What are now overly simplified, fragmented, and disjointed remnants of habitat could be landscapes which are livable for us and our wildlife. We only need to make the choice to include native plants which sustain the wildlife species of our area.

North America’s native fauna have become compatible with native flora thanks to a millennia of evolutionary adaptation. The presence and abundance of non-native, ornamental vegetation in our yards and natural areas is contributing to the degradation of wildlife habitat. The plant-animal interactions necessary to maintain the integrity of an ecosystem are not possible in an area dominated by non-native vegetation. According to Mr. Tallamy, this is why is we need to reanalyze how we select plants for our suburban landscapes.

In the coming months, Westmoreland Sanctuary will be offering an example of how homeowners can aesthetically design their properties and provide beneficial plants which provide critical elements of habitat so sorely needed: food, shelter, and places to raise young. Our landscape design has been developed with the generous aid of Margi Corsello. She has carefully created a plan for the front of the Naturalist’s Cottage which will be a visual upgrade to the current garden arrangement and serve as a tangible example of wildlife-friendly landscape design for area homeowners and landscapers.
While the project is still in its infancy, we would like to encourage anyone who may be interested to come by and have a look at the progress that is being made this summer and into the fall. Anyone interested in helping us complete this project are also asked to stop by and speak with the sanctuary staff. There are a number of ways to be involved. We can certainly use help with the installation of hardscaping, planting, transplanting, etc. We would also welcome the donation of native perennials, shrubs, and trees – either transplants or nursery stock – and monetary donations towards the completion of the project would also be greatly appreciated. Please call the office (914-666-8448) or send email ( for a complete list of plants needed to fill the landscape plan and to learn more about the project.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Monday, May 10, 2010

In Case You Missed It

Spring has been progressing quickly over the past few weeks.  Every day presents a new suprise to be discovered.  Hopefully you've had the opportunity to soak it all in.  If not, I have a few photos that may allow you to capture the moment once again.  Enjoy.
Dutchman's-breetches blooming and mixed with the foliage of Wild Leeks

Blooms of Red Trillium nodding in a gentle spring breeze

Sprigs of Soloman's Seal unfurling on the forest floor

Cheerful flowers of Spring Beauty soaking in the sunlight before the forest canopy cloaks it in shade

Christmas fern fiddleheads sprouting from the leaf litter all across the sanctuary

Mourning Cloak butterflies alighting in the spring sun after a long winter hibernation

Eastern Phoebes collecting nesting material and constructing this year's version of home in the shelter at Bechtel Lake

Palm Warblers hovering, diving, and flitting from branch to branch in search of tiny, tasty insects during their spring migration

There is still plenty of time to enjoy the spring season, but don't put it off for too long.  Things change rapidly at this time of year.  You don't want to miss something, do you?

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Friday, May 7, 2010

International Migratory Bird Day

International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) is celebrated in North America on the second Saturday in May.  This event, beginning in the early 1990's, is aimed at celebrating and creating public awareness of the phenomenon known as bird migration.

Each spring, many of the birds that fill our forests and fields with volumes of bird song make a lengthy and dangerous journey from their wintering grounds to their breeding grounds throughout the North American continent.  Each bird's journey is perilous and full of potential pitfalls, both natural and man-made.  IMBD is a way of celebrating this annual rite of spring and creating awareness of the special conservation efforts needed to protect these beloved creatures.

If you are free this weekend, I encourage you to join an IMBD celebration somewhere near you.  For those of us in Westchester County, NY, their will be an all day celebration being held at the Greenwich Audubon Center.  Click here for all the information.  For others all around the country, try the Bird Day Explorer Map to find an IMBD event near you.  I'm heading to Ohio and the shores of Lake Erie to celebrate IMBD with friends at the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area and the Biggest Week in American Birding.  If all else fails, just spend some time outdoors with pair of binoculars and your ears tuned to sounds of bird song.

If you need more encouragement, take a look at the following images and allow the subjects to inspire you to wander outside.
Prothonotary Warbler

Warbling Vireo

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Black-throated Green Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

American Redstart

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ghost Turkey

The ghost turkey has been present around the sanctuary for two weeks now.  It was first seen on the morning of April 17.  After shaking off the shock and awe, I managed to get a few pictures of this extraordinary bird before it had disappeared behind the naturalist's cottage.

A lot of emails were sent with the preceding photos attached to various persons who may be interested in seeing such an interesting bird.  Despite being in the field a lot, and seeing turkeys quite often, no one on the sanctuary staff had ever seen this particular bird before.  So where did it come from?  How could we have missed a bright white turkey walking in the forest?  Is this really a wild turkey?

Well, at first, we really weren't sure.  It's size and proportions were consistent with that of a typical female wild turkey.  Obviously, it's coloration is not.

It's behavior was consistent with the turkeys we often see moving around the museum and naturalist's cottage - bold enough to wander into the yard and near the buildings, but highly cautious and ready to bolt at the slightest notion of danger.  How could it not be a wild turkey?

It was a week later before we saw the ghost turkey again.  Amazingly, not one visitor had reported seeing the turkey during the previous week.  Where did it go?  How could it possibly remain out of sight?

The third time was a charm.  We saw the ghost turkey for a third time on Thurs, April 29.  When I say we, I mean myself and a group of 20 adults and children from Mount Kisco Elementary.  The ghost turkey, initially frightened by us, eventually walked within 5 feet of our group en route to the bird feeders set up in the meadow near the museum.  Not a wild turkey.

I searched the internet in hopes of finding a wild turkey with the same coloration and pattern after the intial encounter.  There was no evidence of a wild turkey with the same ghostly appearance.

With a little luck, I was able to find an exact match...domestic turkey.  Royal palm turkey (hen).

Photo taken from

According to, the Royal Palm turkey is "...developed along ornamental lines" and "...can be high strung but are thrifty and can fend for themselves".  Their description of standard weights is very similar to what can be expected of wild turkeys.

So its not a wild turkey and we didn't overlook it for the past couple months, but where did it come from?  We still don't know.  If you know of anyone in the Bedford/Mount Kisco, NY area that may have poultry and may be missing a Royal Palm turkey, please let us know.

So keep your eye out for the ghost turkey.  She's around, but you never know when she'll appear.  And enjoy it while it lasts, because she'll seemingly vanish into thin a ghost turkey.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist