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

Saturday, May 1, 2010

On Hold

The blog has been on hold recently but not by choice.  Did you know there are only 24 hours in a day?  Well for the last few weeks it seems that 24 isn't enough.

We have been incredibly busy through the month of April and there's no slowing down in sight.  Our program attendance was over 1,000 individuals during April.  Many of our visitors were pre-school and elementary school kids visiting to learn about pond ecology, animals, insects, birds, and more.  As usual, our afternoons have been full of Boy Scout and Girl Scout groups eager to learn new information to be used to earn new badges.  And Steve has been busy visiting Bedford Village and Mount Kisco Elementary schools for afterschool enrichment.

When we've been fortunate to get a little "down time", we've attempted to finish some of our spring chores: trail maintenence, cleaning up the gardens, monitoring nesting activity in Bluebird and Wood duck houses, and readying mowers and weedeaters for lawn maintenence.  A big THANK YOU is given to our two interns from Yorktown High School for helping us with the aforementioned tasks and so many of the "little things" that constantly need our attention around here.

Fortunately during our recent frenzy we have had the chance to observe some of the sights and sounds of spring.  We have plenty of photos and stories to share from this past month.  Hang with us, and we'll get them up here as soon as possible.

Happy May,

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist