Helping shorebirds, one shelter at a time

Though we focus largely on marine elements such as shellfish and water quality here at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Marine Program, there are other species that are an integral part of our Long Island coastal marine habitat: shorebirds! On Friday, November 11, 2016, CCE’s Marine Program held its first “Shorebird Shelter-Building Workshop” at the Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center. This workshop was funded through a Cornell Lab of Ornithology Mini-Grant. The goal of this program was to introduce participants to different species of beach nesting and migratory shorebirds on Long Island and to discuss the importance of these birds and how we can help conserve them. This workshop consisted of a presentation on bird identification, bird behavior, and conservation issues. Followed by a beach hike and search for migratory shorebirds, it concluded with a tern shelter-building activity.

The volunteers for this workshop were Girl Scout Troops 288 and 3787, a group who are conservation-minded and who have volunteered for past habitat restoration workshops. During the presentation portion of this workshop the volunteers learned about local shorebirds including Piping Plovers, Sanderlings, American Oystercatchers, and Ruddy Turnstones. Two of the species highlighted were the Least and Common Tern. Following the presentation the group walked the shoreline at Cedar Beach to look for migratory shorebirds. We discussed gull identification as well, and unique adaptations and behaviors of shorebirds.

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A beautiful day for a beach walk!

After the beach walk we returned to the marine center to build shorebird shelters. These shelters will be placed out on local beaches before tern nesting season to provide young tern chicks with shelter and protection from predators. The completion of these shelters marks only the beginning of this project. Next summer we will be monitoring the shelters and observing tern chicks as a citizen science project. We will be recording data on shelter usage to determine the effectiveness of the shelters and if they could potentially help local breeding shorebirds. This will allow the public the opportunity to learn about shorebirds and the importance of their conservation. Many thanks to Girl Scout Troops 288 and 3787 for their help!

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Our volunteers putting their carpentry skills to good use.

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A visit to the Marine Center is not complete without checking out the Touch Tank Room!

Marine Meadows Coastal Plant Propagation Workshops

Every Tuesday, now through August 30th, we are hosting Marine Meadows Coastal Plant Growing Workshops from 4:00-6:00 PM in two locations in Suffolk County. Workshops will be held in Yaphank at the Suffolk County Farm and Education Center, as well as in Southold at the Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center. Learn about the habitat restoration work we do with marsh grass and help us care for plants that will be used in our restoration work!

We use healthy, strong plants that are germinated by local seed sources to create more healthy plants to be planted at our restoration sites. Volunteers split the plants in half or sometimes in quarters and then re-pot each section with fresh soil, which allows these plants to expand their roots and continue growing. This is known as propagation.

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Two newly re-potted plants.

Why do we care about these plants so much? Salt marshes, also known as tidal wetlands, provide a buffer between our developed shorelines and our creeks and bays, helping to filter pollutants and safeguard our waters. These essential zones also provide critical habitat to shorebirds, fish, and shellfish alike. The dominant species comprising the tidal zone of salt marshes, Spartina alterniflora, is vulnerable to changes in elevation caused by sea level rise, and other threats. Unfortunately these critical ecosystems are declining in our region and therefore restoration projects are crucial to ensure these habitats continue to provide for us and our wildlife for years to come.

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Plants are held in a nursery and cared for until they are ready to be transported for planting at a designated habitat restoration site.

These volunteer sessions are free and open to the public. Register for the Southold location sessions on EventBrite HERE! For more information regarding workshops in the Southold location, contact Rachel Neville at ran68@cornell.edu.

Register for the Yahpank sessions at HERE!  For information about workshops in Yahpank, contact Liz Ahearn at ema83@cornell.edu.

Stay tuned for more volunteer opportunities this Fall, when we will be needing help collecting Spartina seed,  weaving eelgrass, and germinating more Spartina seed for next spring!