Eagles Believed to Be Nesting at Mecox
It all started on Jan. 16 when I received an email from Debbie Kuntz of Montauk. Debbie had been driving on Montauk Highway in Water Mill when she looked up and saw a mature bald eagle flying south. Seeing an eagle was a thrill in itself, but she noticed that it was carrying a stick in its beak as it headed toward the area that was once occupied by the Mecox duck farm but is now condominiums. She wondered if eagles could be nesting so early in the year. Debbie’s report was soon followed by other reports, including one by Vicki Bustamante several days later, of a bald eagle flying around in the same area.
Then came a report from Terry Sullivan, who received a photo of two eagles from the unsung bald eagle expert Greg Boeklen, who has been keeping track of America’s national bird here on the South Fork ever since they took up residence early in this decade. A pair of bald eagles was mating on the ice at Kellis Pond, in other words in the same Mecox Bay watershed to which Ms. Kuntz’s eagle was headed.
Last year there were reports of both ospreys and bald eagles flying or roosting in the vicinity of Kellis Pond, fishing but not reproducing. Mr. Boeklen’s photo was the icing on the cake. Somewhere near Kellis Pond and Mecox Bay two eagles were taking up residence on the South Fork and seriously involved in the act of procreation for the first time in more than a century.
Last year was a record year in terms of bald eagle sightings. People spotted both adult and immature eagles, but there were no reports of nest-building here.
It was Mary Laura Lamont, a federal ranger assigned to a sanctuary in Mastic, who first opined that bald eagles were again nesting on Long Island after an absence of more than 70 years. Year after year, she and her husband took part in the annual Christmas bird count for Montauk, which included her census territory, Gardiner’s Island. It was 2008 when she noticed a humongous nest in a tree there and a pair of adult eagles hanging around. With each subsequent December count there she became more and more convinced that a pair of eagles was regularly nesting there.
In the spring of 2015, Mary Laura looked up while at the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge in Shirley and saw a mature bald eagle. Later she found a nest. Then in mid-spring 2016, I got a call from Clarissa Tybeart at the Nature Conservancy’s Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island. Eagles were nesting there and were feeding two chicks, perhaps in the same nest that Mary Laura had seen on a previous trip.
Bald eagles were nesting on Long Island once again! Four active nests were reported in 2016.
In 2017 they were joined by another. Newsday reported on March 30 that two eagles were nesting on the Great Neck Public School campus in Nassau County.
Apparently, bald eagles do nest early, before the ospreys return. Thus, the adults have to catch their own fish and other prey, rather than steal it from fish hawks, a favorite pastime. An email to Mike Scheibel at Mashomack further elucidated the local eagles’ breeding situation. Mike, the natural resources director at Mashomack, is a former New York State Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife employee and longtime osprey census-taker who regularly checks out the wildlife on Robins Island in the two Peconics. A pair of bald eagles has been nesting at Mashomack every year since their nest was first discovered in 2014, he said. In 2014 two young fledged, in 2015 there were three, in 2016, three more, and in 2017 there were two fledglings.
Parenthetically, after a very long and very valuable service tending to Long Island’s natural history, Mike is retiring come May. Some of you may remember another steward of our natural environment, Russell Hoeflich, once head of the South Fork Nature Conservancy, who moved on to Oregon’s Nature Conservancy, was head of the Peregrine Falcon Fund in Boise, Idaho, and now leads the advocacy group 1000 Friends of Oregon.
While at Southampton College, he served as an intern with Mike in the early days of the D.E.C.’s endangered and threatened species program. Excuse me for rambling, but did you know, too, that our very own Marge Winski, native of Montauk, keeper of the lighthouse, and fellow graduate of Southampton College, took care of some of the first peregrine falcon chicks that fledged from atop the New York’s Con Edison Building?
The college is now defunct, but Russell and Marge continue to help look after the natural world. If it weren’t people like them, as well as Mary Laura and Mike and many other dedicated naturalists, many of whom work locally, bald eagles and peregrine falcons would still be on the federal endangered species list. Notwithstanding politics, we are making progress.
Larry Penny can be reached via email at Larrypenny9@gmail.com.