06/11/18 8:00am
COURTESY PHOTOS Wild weeds tranform into sun tea.

COURTESY PHOTOS | Wild weeds become tea.

With a passion and vast knowledge of herbs and a prolific career in design, herbalist Dawn Petter teaches classes about the art of plant-based healing. Her classes are imaginative and accessible and are taught to encourage students to use herbal medicine in their daily lives.

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12/16/12 8:28am

CHRISTINE SACKETT COURTESY PHOTO | This Piebald doe, the mother of three fawns, is often seen in Wading River.

What are those ghostly looking deer?
The answer is piebald deer, the name given to a small number of rare animals that appear two-toned in color. Hunters and conservationists say there’s one in just about every hamlet of Southold Town, at least two in Riverhead and at least one on Shelter Island.
“There’s been more showing up in the last few years,” said Jeff Standish, a hunter who serves as deputy director of Southold Town’s department of public works. “There’s at least five between Orient and Laurel. There’s one in Peconic, one in Mattituck, one in Cutchogue, one right here in Southold village and a 12-year-old piebald I know of from Orient who recently passed away.”

Piebald is a 16th-century word that refers to the black and white plumage of the magpie bird; “pie” refers to the bird and “bald” means “white” or “spotted.”

The blotchy deer, which in some cases appear almost pure white, are the result of a recessive gene, said Aphrodite Montalvo, citizen participation specialist with the New York State Department of Conservation.

“A piebald deer is a partial albino, or is only partially missing pigmentation,” she said. “A true albino will have no pigmentation, so it will have pink eyes and nose and be fully white.”

Ms. Montalvo said the animals are rare; though the DEC has not conducted studies on the number of piebald deer, data from other states suggest they constitute less than 1 percent of the population.

That number can be slightly higher in protected areas or areas where natural predators such as the coyote or bobcat have been removed from the landscape, Ms. Montalvo added. They may occur more frequently here than in upstate areas, where predators can pick off the snowy fawns, whose natural response is to lie down and hide in dense cover.

“As you can imagine, it makes it difficult to hide when the animal is stark white,” she said.

“That’s the neatest part about these deer,” said Mr. Standish. “They don’t know they’re white, but they still have that instinct to hide. So you’ll see a buck lying down in a pile of briars, but he’s standing out clear as day.”

Cutchogue hunter Lisa Dabrowski said that although she hasn’t hunted in many years, when she did she let piebald deer be and believes other hunters do the same, even though they are easier targets than most.

In fact, she said she considers the animals good luck and recently fi lmed one she’s seen in the Fort Corchaug area.

“Most hunters have a great respect for nature,” Ms. Dabrowski said. “Just because it’s a white deer doesn’t mean it’s something someone will go make a trophy out of. It’s something we appreciate and protect. Most hunters will look at it from afar and only want to photograph it because it’s special.”

In addition to their unusual color, the bodies of piebald deer are somewhat different, said Ms. Dabrowski.

“They have narrower heads and short legs but are the same length,” she said.

Despite piebalds’ unique look, Ms. Dabrowski and Mr. Standish said, the unusual deer behave like all other white-tailed deer and are not shunned for their appearance.

“Let’s say a doe had two fawns and one was piebald, I never saw the doe not be with that fawn,” Mr. Standish said. “I was watching a piebald buck rut one time and he rutted like any other buck would. He just had longer hair and looked short and stocky. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought he was a goat,”

Riverhead hunters are also familiar with the ghostly deer in local forests.

Tom Gabrielsen, brother of Riverhead Town Councilman George Gabrielsen, said he’s seen one while hunting on the former Grumman property in Calverton.

He watched another piebald grow from a fawn to a huge buck in Sears Bellows County Park in Hampton Bays. Though he was a 12-pointer (more points mean a larger rack of antlers), Mr. Gabrielsen said hunters let him be, especially at a park ranger’s request.

Hunters aren’t the only people who enjoy the piebald deer.

One animal in Wading River earned the affectionate handle “Sweetie Pie” from resident Christine Sackett.

Ms. Sackett, who has lived in the hamlet for just over a year, said she sees “Sweetie Pie” and her three fawns just about every dawn and dusk.

Animals that are most active in the morning and at twilight are called crepuscular, as opposed to nocturnal or diurnal. The reason deer are such a hazard to drivers is they’re most active during commuting hours. Ms. Sackett normally sees Sweetie Pie and family at around 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

She and her husband can now come within two feet of the deer without disturbing them, she said, as they have come to know their friendly human neighbors.

“She has one fawn from last year who stays with her and she had twins this past year,” she said. None of the offspring is piebald. “I just started calling her Sweetie Pie because I was thinking she’s very gentle and she’s a piebald, so, Sweetie Pie.”

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11/27/12 12:23pm

ELEANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTO | A red-tailed hawk taking to the woods.

Graceful fliers riding warm air currents hundreds of feet above us — we usually view hawks from a worm’s eye view.

At rest, they are  as elusive as their prey and are nearly impossible to spot when hidden by foliage. But with the canopies bare, hawks are more easily observed. You may be surprised by how abundant they are on the East End if you consciously look for them.

And you may also develop a new appreciation for their beauty when you view them perched.

All the time I’ve lived on Shelter Island, there are still two animal groups I take note of when I see them; seals and hawks. The sheer size of an adult red-tailed hawk always inspires awe in me. They are by far the most commonly seen hawks in our area. Large open areas pocketed by woods offer the perfect habitat for these “apex predators,” or predators who don’t have predators, who live atop the food chain. Rabbit, squirrel, opossum, mice and just about anything else furry and smaller than a breadbox are on the red tail’s menu.

In the woods around my house I’ve seen huge hawks that easily push the 24-inch-long body and 40-inch-wide wingspan extents set in birding guides. When hovering lower than a few hundred feet, this bird’s tell-tale markings are easily spotted. Its underbody is pale and exhibits varying degrees of dark brown streaking, but the red tail is the giveaway. Within its range, which covers most of North America, plumage variations in individuals are extensive but fall in these simplified guidelines — brown head, back and upper wings.

As breathtaking as an airborne red-tailed hawk may be, I am more impressed when I see one on an oak tree in the woods. That impression grows grander when the bird springs from its branch and effortlessly navigates a path through the matrix of limbs and branches. It is within this crowded confine the hawk’s physical grace is so apparent. The mind and eye of the observer are pushed to their limits when deciphering the movement being viewed. It always takes me several seconds to process before I confidently conclude I’m seeing a red-tailed hawk flying in the woods.

Earlier this fall I was driving along a tree-lined road and saw a bird I couldn’t identify. In researching it, I found it had been a Cooper’s hawk. These birds are much rarer than their red-tailed cousin of the Buteo genus and fall under the genus Accipiter. Sighting this bird became more incredible due to the long duration of the encounter, as the bird flew above and ahead of my vehicle for several hundred feet before veering left down a path in the woods.

A Cooper’s hawk can reach lengths of 20 inches and have a 28-inch wingspan. What I saw was an adult bird whose upper parts were dark blue and gray with a very dark crown and pale nape. Its belly and chest were paler with burnt orange barring. This is just as it’s described on the website enature.com, from which I culled most of the information for this column.

The red-shouldered hawk is easy to identify with the naked eye thanks to its barred reddish-orange coverts (small feathers lining the base of the wing and tail quills) on its body and wings and the barred black and white flight and tail feathers. This bird falls between the two I’ve already mentioned when it comes to size. When perched it is commonly misidentified as a red-tailed hawk. Its brown head and reddish shoulders resemble its cousin. In flight, the distinguishing markings are more evident. The red-shouldered hawk’s body and wing coverts have a reddish-orange banding and its flight feathers and tail are banded in black and white.

“Accipiter” is the genus name of certan winged predators, and North America’s lagest of these is the northern goshawk, a raptor well-adapted to hunting in woodlands. In body size, the goshawk rivals the red-tailed hawk, but its wings are shorter and rounded at the tips. Hunting small mammals and songbirds in forested areas requires stealth and agility, which comes from this bird’s wing and tail structure. I’m not sure how many, if any, of these hawks are permanent residents of this area — they follow the food which is typically scarce here in winter. But you can glimpse the occasional migrating goshawk this time of year.

Goshawks range from 20 to 26 inches in length and stand out with their yellow legs, orange eyes and very pale supercilium (commonly called the “eyebrow”) that contrasts with the grayish-brown head. Adult birds are grayish brown above and paler underneath with fine grey banding. In flight this bird exhibits a long, broad banded tail that fans out impressively when the animal is soaring. I’ve spotted these birds by this appreciable characteristic and confirmed identification using binoculars.

Moving from the region’s largest accipiter to its smallest, we find, if we’re lucky, the sharp-shinned hawk. I mentioned luck since this bird is hard to spot for many reasons — it’s rarer than the others, quicker, camouflaged in a shadowy cloak and can look almost exactly like its cousin the Cooper’s hawk. Adults average a foot in length with a wingspan of 21 inches. If you’re searching the tree tops for this hawk, look for its dark blue-gray back and wings. To distinguish it from a Cooper’s hawk, examine its head, underbody shape and tail feather uniformity. According to the Cornell Cooperative website, the sharp-shinned hawk can be distinguished by its hooded appearance (its dark head feathers flow down past its nape) as well as its broad chest leading to narrow hips (whereas the Cooper’s hawk’s girth is more uniform throughout). Finally, the sharp-shinned hawk’s tail feathers are all one length, generally speaking, while its cousin’s are varied.

On a good day in mid fall you may spot two or three of these species, with the red-tailed being the most prolific. In fact, there aren’t many places on the East End where you won’t spot a soaring hawk when the sun is at its zenith on a bright day. They are most difficult to find in the woods where their bodies blend with bark and their feather bandings meld with tree branches.
Careful, quiet walking and scouting ahead with binoculars is the only way to catch a napping hawk in the woods. When you do, you’re filled with a great sense of accomplishment.

07/28/12 8:00pm

DON BINDLER PHOTO
Female ruby-throated hummingbird on its Shelter Island feeding tour.

Shelter Island birder and photographer Don Bindler of Silver Beach sent in this photo of a female hummingbird feeding in a Silver Beach garden.

He said the males already seem to have headed south on their migration back to Central America, leaving the females to raise their young. This bird appears like clockwork at specific times each day, Mr. Bindler said.