Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rusty Blackbird in WMA

I noticed a surprise bird at the feeding station located in our Wildlife Management Area on the morning after the recent nor'easter.  At first glimpse you might think it was a common grackle, but after years of staring at birds you tend to know right away when something is different.  The eye is just not as brightly yellow.  The beak not quite as robust and the tail not as long as the common grackles that I see about every couple of weeks at the feeding station. 

Rusty Blackbirds are in dire straits.  The population is estimated to have dropped by over 85% the last forty years.  It was a mystery as to why they were so rapidly disappearing from their habitat of swampy and wet woodlands.  As with most declining species today the most common cause purported is habitat loss.  The conversion of wet woodlands to farmland was probably the initial cause.  The continued decline in our time can most likely be attributed to mercury accumulation(their diet is mainly aquatic insects), boreal wetland drying and chemistry changing due to global warming, and peat production, logging, and reservoir formation.    More study is still needed to establish what can be done to save them.  One of the best ways for you to help is to participate in the yearly Great Backyard Bird Count.

-Steve Ricker/Resident Director

Monday, December 3, 2012

Westmoreland upgrades animal enclosures

On November 19th, Westmoreland Sanctuary completed the installation of 12 new animal enclosures to house their live animal collection.  After 8 months of planning, collaboration, and fabrication, over 100sq ft of custom-designed animal habitats were installed in the Westmoreland Sanctuary nature center to display the variety of reptiles, amphibians, and mammals that call the center their home.
From left to right are Don Watson, FAIA, CIP of EarthRise design, Jay Nelmes of JWorlds Custom Cage Enclosures, and Westmoreland Sanctuary's Resident Director Steve Ricker

Fabricated and hand-delivered from Tennessee by Jay Nelmes of JWorlds Custom Cage Enclosures, each animal habitat was carefully crafted based on the inspiration of the Westmoreland staff and Board of Directors, along with the professional guidance of Don Watson, FAIA, CIP of EarthRise design. 

To celebrate the newest addition to the nature center, Westmoreland Sanctuary will be hosting a grand opening event on Dec 8th at 11am complete with photo opportunities with the animals, face painting, games, educational programming, and food. 

Additional events taking place at Westmoreland include Sand Candles on Dec 1, Colonial Candlemaking on Dec 2, Animals in Winter on Dec 15, Christmas Bird Count on Dec 16, and Feed the Birds! on Dec 22.  Details and RSVP information for all of these events is available at or by calling the office at 914-666-8448.

For those unable to attend a scheduled program, Westmoreland’s nature center and 640-acre wildlife preserve is open to the public daily.  Inquiries for additional information may be directed to Westmoreland Sanctuary at 914-666-8448 or via email to

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Community Compost Facility in Bedford, NY

After a long wait for something like this to finally come to fruition, the Town of Bedford, NY has announced that its organic recycling facility is now open to town residents to drop off compostable lawn debris, as well as make use of the mountains of wood chips and leaf mulch the Town has stockpiled since Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, and the Halloween snow storm.  Hooray for wood chips and mulch!

Here's the official announcement with all the details:
May 3, 2012
The Town of Bedford is pleased to announce that our Beaver Dam Compost Facility is now open for residents to dispose of recyclable wood waste (logs and branches up to 6” diameter, brush, and leaves), as well as pick up wood mulch and leaf compost. This new service is free to Town of Bedford residents between 7:30 AM and 3:00 PM Monday to Friday, excluding Town holidays.

The facility is located on Beaver Dam Road north of Harris Road, adjacent to the Bedford Dog Park. The facility is operated by Westwood Organic Recycling. Residents of the town showing proof of residency will have the ability to dispose of their natural wood waste at the facility. Drop off and material pick up is available at three bins immediately inside the gated area of the facility on the right side. Residents will be able to pick up materials in non-commercial vehicles for their own personal use, and are responsible for loading and handling materials themselves. No trucks larger than pick up trucks will be permitted. There is no charge for these materials.

In order for this service to be successful and continue, it is essential that no material other than recyclable wood waste (logs and branches up to 6” diameter, brush, and leaves) be dumped at the facility. The material is processed into mulch and compost at the facility. The facility can not accept stumps, pressure treated wood, fences, or any other waste. Any bags must be brown paper compostable leaf bags. Because unforeseen items may be found in leaf bags, residents will be required to open leaf bags upon request by a Westwood Organic employee.

Westwood also provides delivery of mulch, compost and topsoil at discounted rates to Town residents, and can be reached at 914-949-3244.  Please contact the Bedford Department of Public Works at 666-7669 if you have questions.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bobcat takes deer at Westmoreland Sanctuary

We have some more interesting news regarding bobcats here on the preserve at Westmoreland Sanctuary.

On Wednesday, April 18th, I was leading a walk with two other adults on the Spruce Hill trail when we came across a big patch of disturbed ground right in the middle of the trail.  There was a lot of deer hair all around the trail which really caught our attention.

At first I thought that the hair may have been left behind by a deer grooming itself, but then we noticed the hair made a path leading off the trail.  There looked to be signs of a struggle and it looked like the deer may have been dragged.  We followed the hair, and not ten feet from the trail, under the crown of a fallen tree, was the whole body of a young white-tailed deer (approx 60-70lbs) buried under a coating of leaves and sticks.

The carcass was very well concealed under the tree and the coating of leaves piled on top.  There was no noticeable smell from the deer, and it only had attracted the attention of 2 or 3 flies.  All signs point to a fresh kill, likely from the night before or early that morning.  I couldn't tell if much of the deer had been eaten, or how exactly the deer may have been subdued because of all the leaves it was buried under.

I'm was 95% sure this was the work of a bobcat.  They and other large, solitary cats are known to be able to take down larger prey, eat what they can, and then bury the rest for later when they get hungry again. If this were a coyote kill, they would have certainly torn the deer to pieces and eaten nearly everything within a few hours.  Coyotes are social, so a family unit of coyotes would have easily made short work of this small deer.

To help us solve the mystery, I placed two of our remote cameras next to the deer that evening (April 18) in hopes of capturing images of the mystery creature when they return to their stored meal.
Cameras are on the left and right sides of the image.  Deer is under the fallen tree.
On Saturday, April 20 I returned to the deer carcass to see what had happened over the past 2+ days and see what images had been recorded.  Much to my surprise, there was absolutely nothing left of the deer except a light coating of deer hair all over the leaves where the carcass was laying.  The 2 cameras had captured a total of 104 images.  Below are some images (in chronological order) of the cat as captured by the two cameras using two different angles:
The bobcat returns to its hidden meal
Surveying the area, likely smelling our scent from earlier in the day
Reappearing from behind the carcass
2 hours later, the bobcat returns
Taking note of the camera
Investigating more scent left behind, this is where I laid my pack when setting up the camera
A little grooming
Posing for the camera

Returning back to the carcass after grooming

Coming back out from behind the carcass, likely after reconcealing its meal
Our last image of the bobcat
The last bobcat image was captured at 12:24am Thursday morning.  The carcass wasn't visited again by any animals until early Friday morning (1:44am) when the first coyote arrived.  Over the course of Friday morning, afternoon, and evening, the coyotes, turkey vultures, and a few crows dined on the carcass until there was nothing left when I arrived back on the scene to retrieve the cameras on Saturday around noon.

Based on size alone, chances are this was a male bobcat.  The size of the cat in relation to the objects around it are quite impressive if you've seen this portion of the trail for yourself.  There is also some significance in the fact that we have some documentation of a bobcat feasting on a deer that it was able to capture and kill.  Though the deer was small, the bobcat may become an important predator and ally in our efforts to return the deer population to a healthy and sustainable level for our forest ecosystem.  This was quite an extraordinary find that we were very lucky to have discovered and have an opportunity to document.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Westchester Bobcat sightings make the news

Our catalog of bobcat sightings has made it into the morning news.  Fox 5's Good Day New York conducted an interview with Westmoreland's Director Steve Ricker about the elusive animals and why they're being seen more frequently around Westchester County.  Catch the full interview here:

And the interview was sparked by a recent bobcat sighting in White Plains, which is explained a bit in this clip.  Steve answers a few questions about coyotes in Westchester County as well.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Monday, April 16, 2012

2012 Spring Amphibian Surveys

Amphibian survey results from April 13 and 15:
     Despite the dry conditions that have persisted since the beginning of the year (only 5" rain so far in 2012), we observed a fair number of amphibian species over the course of two amphibian programs.  Friday evening's hike included encounters with Spring peepers, Bullfrog and Green frog tadpoles, Pickerel frogs, Red-backed salamanders (both color phases), and Northern two-lined salamanders (larval and adult).
     The woodland pool was nearly 100% dry, so the vast majority of Wood frog and Spotted salamander eggs and tadpoles have already perished.  Marbled salamander larvae can't survive in a dried out pool either.  The good news is, Friday's participants recovered almost 3 dozen Spotted salamander egg masses that we were able to transplant into Bechtel Lake.  And while these egg masses fair better in fish-less pools, a dry pool this year means 100% mortality if none were transplanted.  In Bechtel Lake, mortality from predation is likely to be high, but a small percentage of the transplanted salamanders should survive to leave the lake as an adult by summer's end.
     Sunday afternoon's follow-up visit yielded much the same in amphibian variety as Friday evening.  New additions to our observations were American toads and Green frogs calling from the shores of Bechtel Lake.
     Additional wildlife species observed during the survey programs included a variety of snails, mayfly larvae, various dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, various diving beetles, midge larvae, side-swimmers, and finger nail clams in Bechtel Lake.  Various millipedes and centipedes, pill bugs, slugs, land snail, and earthworms were observed under fallen logs with the Red-backed salamanders.  Caddis fly and Crane fly larvae were present in the stream along side the Northern two-lined salamanders and Pickerel frogs.  Flying squirrels could be heard in the trees after dark and a number of wolf spiders were seen along the forest floor during the evening's hike.

Thank you to all who participated in the amphibian programs and helped us make these observations on Friday evening and Sunday afternoon.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bobcats in Westchester Update 2.0

We've posted on two previous occasions (here and here) about our work to catalog bobcat sightings throughout Westchester County, NY.  In over 6 years of sightings collection, we have accumulated over 50 sightings from residents all over Westchester County.

View Westchester County Bobcat Sightings in a larger map

As you can see from our graph of sightings, we have accumulated nearly half of all sightings during the year 2011.  There are two sightings from 2012 that are not represented on this graph.

Bobcats seem to be increasing in abundance in Westchester and around the state of NY.  The New York State Dept of Environmental Conservation is in the process of updating their Bobcat Management Plan which is up for public comment until  Feb 16th.  The management plan (read the PDF here) has proposed new regulations and expanded opportunities for bobcat hunting and trapping as well as a wealth of updated population data for NY.  Whether you approve of or are opposed to hunting and trapping of bobcats, there is value in reading the management plan and submitting comments to the NYS DEC.

Though the DEC proposes to increase bobcat harvests in the state, including Westchester County, we plan to continue to provide safe harbor for this elusive and unique member of the Westmoreland Sanctuary wildlife population.  Last summer we conducted a few rounds of camera trapping to capture more photos of the bobcat(s) utilizing the Sanctuary.  It is our goal to figure out how frequently do bobcats utilize habitats on the preserve, and on which portions of the preserve can they be found?  Further work with cameras throughout the coming months will be helpful in shedding light on these questions.

In the mean time, here are some of the images we captured during camera trapping during the months of July and August 2011.  Click on the images to see them in a larger format.

If you have seen a bobcat in Westchester County, we would love to hear about it.  Call 914-666-8448 or email your observation to

Photos of the bobcat you observed are great too.  Here are some photos from our most recently reported sighting near Waccabuc, NY:

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Monday, January 16, 2012

Species Profile: Blue Jay

Blue Jays are a common, and commonly recognized, bird species throughout the eastern US.  They are an inhabitant of deciduous and mixed deciduous/coniferous forests throughout most of NY.

Their moderate size, bright blue coloration, and loud voices make them hard to miss along woodland trails or at  a backyard bird feeder.  And though they're typically deemed a bully by many backyard birding enthusiasts, there's so much more to know, and admire, about the Blue Jay.

Interesting facts about the Blue Jay:

  • Like their cousins, the crows, Blue Jays are exceptionally intelligent and have strong family bonds.
  • Blue Jays are renowned for their ability to imitate the sounds of hawks, especially Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks.
  • Their loud "jay!, jay!, jay!" calls are familiar to many people and are also recognized by other species of wildlife, earning Blue Jays the nickname "Alarm of the forest".
  • The Blue Jay's coloration is not from pigmentation in its feathers.  The blue coloration is refracted sunlight cast back to our eyes as a blue color.
  • Blue Jays are partial migrants.  The Blue Jays you see in your yard in winter are likely to be winter visitors from somewhere further north - "your" Blue Jays have mostly likely migrated south and will eventually return as Spring approaches.  Individual Blue Jays have been known to migrate in some years but not in others.  Large groups of migrating Blue Jays are a common sight around the Great Lakes and near the Atlantic coast in Fall and Spring.

Attracting Blue Jays:
Bird feeders are a good start.  From Fall through early Spring, Blue Jays are attracted to feeding stations offering black oil sunflower and peanuts (their favorite).  Commercial and homemade suet blends are also a preferred food choice for Blue Jays during especially cold days.

Breeding and nesting Blue Jays will use a variety of tree species to construct a stick nest high in the crotch of a tree.  Availability of a variety of insects, fruit, seeds, and nuts would likely increase the chances of Blue Jays nesting in your backyard.

Record and report your Blue Jay sightings during the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count.  And submit your bird sightings from anywhere, anytime at

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist
Westmoreland Sanctuary

Birds of Ohio Field Guide by Stan Tekiela