Tag Archive | "Frank Quevedo"

The Birds of Winter

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web birds LesserScaup

By Emily J. Weitz

Frank Quevedo doesn’t consider himself an expert birder, but that’s exactly why he wants to bring out a bunch of novices into the field to show them just how simple it can be. The executive director of SOFO has been birding for about five years, and he is always in awe of his peers who have been out there for thirty and forty years.

“I got hooked five years ago by seeing a screech owl one night,” he recalls. “Everybody has a hook bird. When I saw the eastern screech owl, I was hooked. I am still a beginner. Five years doesn’t make me an expert. But I know enough to share with beginners so they don’t feel intimidated. I want to make it available to people.”

In the upcoming three-part series aimed at beginning birders, Quevedo plans to bring people to three distinct East End landscapes that attract a variety of different birds. He’ll begin in Montauk on Sunday morning, February 3, bright and early. The group will meet at Montauk Point at 7:45.

“Montauk is a great place to start,” says Quevedo, “because at this time of year, the birds are here to take advantage of the abundance of food. The first part of our series will look at winter sea ducks in Montauk. Every year these scoters, longtail ducks, and eiders come to Montauk, not to breed, but to feed. They eat crabs, fish, and vegetation like the algae that’s still around on the bottoms of the bays.”

Quevedo knows the spots the birds love, like a tremendous mussel bed just off Montauk Point.

“We start early,” he says, “because most are lively just after the sun rises. They spend the night tucked in on the water, and once the sun comes up they start diving down into the water, taking advantage of the light.”

The second excursion, which will take place on Sunday, February 17, will head to Southampton, to the freshwater ponds near Dune Road. Participants will meet at 10 a.m.

“The common and hooded mergansers tend to feed on freshwater vegetation,” explains Quevedo, “so you’ll see them in freshwater ponds in Southampton.”

It’s particularly exciting to see these birds because populations have been depleted in recent years, explains Quevedo. Birding, and counting the species that you see, is important for environmentalists to get an idea of what’s out there.

Quevedo points out that birds like the mergansers have different plumage at different times of year, and as you get more adept at birding, you’ll be able to identify these distinctions.

“The same bird at different times of year may look completely different,” he says. “The pluming is more colorful in breeding season than at this time of year. You can also look for field marks, like the neck line, the cap, and the color of the head to distinguish between birds.”

The third of the three-part series (Sunday, March 3, at 10 a.m.) will bring participants to the field behind SOFO, where Quevedo will direct people to search for perching birds.

“These are not waterfowl,” says Quevedo. “They’re birds that perch on trees, like finches and warblers. There are a lot of these perching birds that winter here to take advantage of the different berries on the trees. It’s easier to see them this time of year, without all the leaves.”

This series highlights the diversity of landscapes that makes the East End a great home for a variety of species.

“Because of the variety of habitats on the East End,” says Quevedo, “it creates a variety of an abundance of birds. That’s extremely gratifying as a birder, to enjoy the variety of birds we can look at throughout the year. And it changes. Some birds migrate South and others come from the North. It’s never-ending, to go birding.”

Quevedo also cherishes the friendships that are made and the moments enjoyed out in the field.

“One thing I like to stress is that birding is fun,” he says. “People feel like they’ll hold back the group because they don’t know much. But if you can go consistently and can join these programs, it’s fun, healthy, and social. You can create little birding groups. I consider birding a lifestyle more than a hobby. This is a lifestyle that you can continue for many years to come.”

To make a reservation for any or all of these excursions, call SOFO at 537-9735.

Look Deep Into Nature

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By Richard Gambino

“Look deep, deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.” So wrote Albert Einstein in 1951. I would add only that it can also be great fun. And, as a matter of fact, I recently had an excellent learning experience that truly was great fun at the South Fork (SoFo) Natural History Museum & Nature Center, on Bridgehampton – Sag Harbor Turnpike. Frank Quevedo, its Executive Director, and one of its five full time staff/educators/guides, who work with many other naturalists, led me on a tour there, the same tour available to all visitors. We used a superb field guide, also available to all visitors. Its text is brief, easy to read, very informative and is very well designed as a guide both to SoFo’s exhibits and to nature itself here on the East End. Its color pictures are great.

The exhibits on SoFo’s second floor are terrific, containing live creatures that surround us here. The exhibits are designed to fill the senses, as happens when we are outdoors surrounded by natural life, not only its sights and sounds, but people can also sniff ports, set at the level of kids’ noses, which convey the scents of what is observed. Children and adults get to interact with and explore the exhibits by opening doors and draws, lifting bark off trees, and in other ways uncovering ecological details of natural scenes, of nature and of natural history.

Mr. Quevedo brought me to a second-story deck overlooking the 1,100 acre Long Pond Greenbelt Preserve — giving all visitors a breathtaking view that not only changes from season to season but from moment to moment with the changing light of any and every day. More, on the platform are permanently mounted high-powered spotting scopes. I looked through one at a pond a distance away, and clearly saw two painted turtles sunning themselves on one of the pond’s banks. As I entered the scene, the scene entered me — such interrelationships are critical to building a love of nature, and SoFo is designed to provide such experiences, in ways that motivate people to develop them further in nature itself.

A great highlight of my visit occurred on the ground level of the facility, the home of many more live creatures. Mr. Quevedo held a very much alive and lively eastern tiger salamander in his hands, as I took a photo of it. I’d never before seen one, and indeed very few people have — it is a rare and endangered species in New York. The species lives here, as do all the species at the SoFo Museum & Center. (I also photographed a live sea horse, an “exotic” creature living just off our shores in eelgrass meadows.)

Visitors, including children, can also hold in their hands creatures from a glass see-through “marine touch tank,” including sea stars and crabs.

SoFo is open seven days a week, 12 months a year, and a yearlong family membership, allowing kids and their parents and grandparents to enjoy the museum and center as many times as they choose costs only $50. (The cost of a one-day admission for non-members is $5 for kids ages 3-12, free for kids 2 and under, and $7 for adults.)

SoFo also conducts a great many outdoor programs (related to the four seasons), and programs with live animals — all also free to members and at small prices to nonmembers. For example, there will be an Owl Prowl in Bridgehampton, on the night of December 10, to search for sights of owls, a nature walk on December 11 to observe seals at Montauk, a Meet Live Birds of Prey (up close) on November 12, a Feeding Time feeding the live animals at SoFo on November 13, a Wildlife Live & Up Close opportunity on November 26, a Winter Water Birds tour in Montauk on December 3, and many other programs for children and for adults, including indoor talks. Mr. Quevedo told me that SoFo hopes to have two more indoor lecture/classroom spaces added to its facilities. SoFo’s gift shop has books for kids and adults for sale, at discounted prices for members, and members may borrow books from its archival library. For more information, Google “SoFo Museum” for its website, or call: 631 537-9735.

Learning about nature used to be just the fun a beginning or advanced naturalist has in learning the names and ways of living creatures. These are fascinating, or even “fantastic,” as the fact that a tiny acorn easily held in a child’s small hand can someday be a high and mighty oak tree, like the ones kids strain their necks trying to see their tops.

In recent decades, a much fuller form of natural history has become popular, with, one, an emphasis on the ecological interrelationships of all living systems, including humans, and two, with advancements in understanding genetics. The wholeness of life they present gives us a deeper sense of what it means to be human, as biological beings, but also as moral beings and, yes, as spiritual beings. Our sense of natural history today unites us with all other life — we are totally joined with the ecological health of all great living systems, including some under stresses here on the East End. So arise moral imperatives, from enlightened self-interest in how we relate to nature, to our moral duty to preserve its health for future generations. We also have a new understanding and respect for the intrinsic natural values of living things, including humans: E.g., we’ve added an understanding that the tiny acorn in a kid’s hand contains a vast amount of genetic-cybernetic information needed to form an oak tree. We have a new respect for the unique natural values of each species, and for individuals each unique in its species.

In fact, we humans literally are nature becoming conscious of itself, understanding itself, and valuing itself.

The great mission of the Sofo Museum of Natural History & Nature Center, just south of Sag Harbor, to cultivate these understandings and appreciations in us and in our kids, and the fun in doing so, presents us with very great and wonderful opportunities. Let’s enjoy them.


RICHARD GAMBINO’s reasons for living on the East End very much include awe and love of nature.