Tag Archive | "SOFO"

Frank Quevedo

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By Mara Certic

Frank Quevedo is the executive director at the South Fork Museum of Natural History. He spoke to us about the conservation needs of the state and on the East End.

 The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently released a list of the Species of Greatest Conservation Need, which named 186 species of animals, which are in need of immediate conservation action. What were your thoughts on first seeing the report?

This is just a revision of an existing list that already came out. So this list that just came out right before Christmas is the updated, revised list from the DEC letting the public know and environmentalists know that these species are now of greatest concern and we need to implement management plans now, or else in 10 years their populations won’t be sustainable. So this is really concerning to see this list—and there’s a lot of species on this list that we didn’t really know were in danger of decline.

Are there any species in particular that you were surprised to see listed?

 The one that stands out, right off the bat, for high priority species of greatest concern is the American black duck. As a birder, I see a lot of American black ducks around, and I wasn’t really concerned about their population because I see them pretty often. What I think this represents is that the American black duck is now hybridizing with the American Mallard. Another thing that jumped out at me is like the wood thrush. Our understory in our woodlands are being depleted because of a high deer population—the deer are really destroying our understory. A lot of these thrushes and warblers that nest on the ground in that understory are not having that habitat anymore. What it really comes down to is that our habitats need to be focused on as a whole, for all of these species. All these species are connected, and we’re connected to the natural world too, so we have to really focus on the ecosystem as a whole, rather than the individual species. That’s just my opinion. The primary reason for this, however, is habitat loss and habitat development. And now we’re in a crisis mode, now we have a 10-year window to do something about it and this should have been implemented many years ago.

In addition to all of the animals put onto the list, 18 species were removed from the list and their populations were deemed secure within the state. Is this due to conservation efforts or natural events?

It’s funny, ecosystems and how animals interact with one another is very complex. The reasoning behind why Coopers hawks are removed from the SGCN list probably has to do with a high abundance of more prey available for these predators. Maybe they’re thriving because there isn’t enough habitat for birds to hide in—Coopers hawks feed on other birds. Believe it or not, even though the Coopers hawk was taken off the list, there’s still an imbalance there. They’re taken off the list because something is thriving in their world, making them more abundant. I don’t have the scientific data to support my opinion here, I don’t know exactly why they were taken off the list, that’s something maybe the DEC can answer.

What are some of the things we can do here on the East End to continue and further conservation efforts? 

Education is not the solution, it’s the beginning point. Letting people understand how important biodiversity is in nature, how fragile ecosystems are, how sensitive the natural environment is. In such a short period of time, we’ve seen a decline in wildlife; whether it’s pollution, habitat fragmentation, climate change, whatever the factors are, it all comes down to educating people and making them understand the connection we have with nature, but also how sensitive it is too. So education is, without a doubt, first and foremost.


SOFO Holding Toy Drive

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The South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center has announced that it will hold its first annual Holiday Toy Drive this year. The drive began on Monday, December 1, and will run through Friday, December 19, and will benefit local families in need.

SoFo is asking visitors to drop off at its center at 377 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike in Bridgehampton new or gently used, unwrapped toys for children from infant age through early teens. The First Church of God in Christ, The Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center, and the First Baptist Church of Bridgehampton, all located nearby, will distribute the toys to children for the holiday season.

“SoFo is committed to giving back to the East End community,” said Frank Quevedo, the museum’s executive director, in a press release, “and we can’t think of a better way to honor our families than by helping ensure that all children enjoy this special holiday season.”

“We are delighted to work with our neighbors, the First Church of God in Christ, the Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center, and the First Baptist Church of Bridgehampton on this important project,” added Mr. Quevedo.

“We invite everyone who can to join us in our Holiday Toy Drive,” said Diana Aceti, the museum’s new director of development. “We thank all of our donors for helping SoFo brighten the holidays of children in our community.”

The mission of the South Fork Natural History Museum & Nature Center is to stimulate interest in, advance knowledge of, and foster appreciation for the natural environment, with special emphasis on the unique natural history of Long Island’s South Fork. SoFo is a not -for-profit  membership, nature organization chartered by the New York State Department of Education in 1989. SoFo is dedicated to promoting nature education, in the museum and in the field, through hands on study of the South Fork’s native flora, fauna, and ecosystems.

SoFo is located at 377 Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor Turnpike in Bridgehampton. It can be found at sofo.org on the web. The museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  For more information, call (631) 537-9735.

SoFo Grant

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The South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center (SoFo) announced last week it had received an anonymous donation in support of SoFo’s new after-school educational program, South Fork Environmental Learning.

The after-school program, which was launched on September 17, works in conjunction with the Sag Harbor Elementary School. The three-month pilot program has weekly events and will run through December 20. The program has included a woodland trail walk, during which students learned about different plants and animals; beach walks, where students learned about climate change; and a wrack line bay discovery walk, where students learned about marine habitats.

“We are extremely grateful to our donor for funding this important program,” said Frank Quevedo, SoFo’s executive director.  “Giving back to the East End community is an important part of our mission, and it is essential that SoFo is supported as we work to educate and engage children and adults to preserve our fragile ecosystem.  We are very pleased to offer these after-school classes at no charge to our local students,” he said.

The program will expand in 2015 to include more East End schools, “We look forward to offering this program to adults as well in the near future,” Mr. Quevedo said.  “We are also excited to present at SoFo during the spring of 2015 a Climate Change symposium, which will be open to the public, as a component of the South Fork Environmental Learning program,” he added.

The Art of Seaweed

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Samples of seaweed from Lake Montauk pressed and preserved by Dr. Larry Liddle. 

By Mara Certic

Dr. Larry Liddle initially didn’t intend for it to be art; it was science, another method for him to learn more about and document his findings. But some 50 years later, Dr. Liddle has found the beauty in seaweed by pressing the plants onto paper and turning them into works of art.

Dr. Liddle, who has studied algae for the better part of the last few decades, will give a demonstration of seaweed mounting at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the South Fork Natural History Museum in Bridgehampton.

In 1963, when Dr. Liddle was not quite a doctor yet, but a young man working on his master’s degree at the University of Chicago, he took a summer course in marine botany at Woods Hole in Massachusetts. The course involved field trips where students waded and snorkeled to collect various specimens. There, he learned how to press algae to document his trips.

The organisms had not been highly studied at that point, Dr. Liddle said in a phone interview on Friday. ascophyllumnodosum

“It was that summer; that was the reason that I got very interested in algae, and specifically seaweed, and also learned to press algae in the best way, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said. “So I enquired about going to graduate school for a Ph.D. to look into marine botany,” he explained.

And the rest is history. Dr. Liddle moved to Santa Barbara to continue his studies and eventually became a professor of phycology, the study of algae, at Southampton College, where he is now professor emeritus.

Dr. Liddle has collected seaweed from the Mediterranean, Japan and Thailand, to name a few of the places he has visited, and has pressed hundreds of different seaweeds from all over the world. Pressing seaweed, rather than preserving it chemically, allows scientists to test its DNA and perform species-level taxonomy. But it also creates a unique work of art.

“I like art and design quite a bit, informally,” Dr. Liddle said, “I had taken a lot of art courses in college, and so the idea of aesthetics was important to me.” He explained that in the field of biology, “how you present things is often aesthetically pleasing, in concert with being scientifically useful.”

Dr. Liddle has gone wading, snorkeling and even scuba diving to find seaweed to press, he said, but now he usually sticks to wading through water for his algal extractions. The process of pressing seaweed is lengthy but if done well, the finished product can last for decades, Dr. Liddle said.

It is important, he explained, to keep the seaweed hydrated and to give it oxygen. Dr. Liddle often brings seaweed back from the beach damp, rather than immersed but he brings fresh seawater along with him too. If the water is changed every few hours the specimens will last two or three days, but “the best thing is to start pressing them right away,” he said.

“It’s good to clean them off in the field, get rid of all the silt, and so on,” he explained. “Float them out in clean water, work them as much as you have to.” The real beauty in seaweed pressing is looking at the branching and the shapes of the plants—what in water looks like a slimy green blob can look just like a tree when pressed.

Dr. Liddle spreads seaweed out onto paper with his fingers, as much as possible, before he uses tools, which are more likely to damage delicate pieces of algae. Sometimes, he said, he doesn’t know what he has until he floats it in water, when he gets home. At a seaweed demonstration in Montauk last month, Dr. Liddle had a “green glob” that he was floating in water. “As I floated it out, it turned out it was attached to another seaweed,” he said.Dasyapedicellata

In 2010, Dr. Liddle helped create a seaweed collection for East Hampton Town’s Natural Resources Department. He retrieved all of the types of seaweed he could find in Lake Montauk and pressed them for the department; scanned versions are available on the town’s website.

More recently, Dr. Liddle took samples from Georgica Cove. “There’s an enormous floating mass of seaweed there,” he said, “it’s 25 to 40 meters wide.” Dr. Liddle said that it is green algae and “it is undoubtedly due to the run off of lawns, of nitrates and phosphates.” Dr. Liddle pressed those samples and gave one to the town for its archives. Another has been sent off for DNA testing.

Dr. Liddle has traveled the world, collected some unbelievably rare samples and preserved them for science. But, he said, “some of the most ordinary ones are just as beautiful.”

 Dr. Liddle will demonstrate seaweed mounting at 2 p.m. on Saturday, September 6, at the South Fork Natural History located at 377 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike in Bridgehampton. For more information visit sofo.org.

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.

Taking Notice of Woods in the Winter

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Tyler Armstrong of the South Fork Natural History Museum examines the bark of a Black Locust tree on the grounds near SOFO’s museum on Sunday, December 30. (Michael Heller Photo)


By Emily J. Weitz

From the five pointed leaves of maple trees to the jagged edges of oak tree leaves, there are some pretty well known ways to identify the trees in our area.

But it’s winter and the branches are bare.

In the quiet of the forest on a crisp January day, there’s no better time for a hike. And there are still plenty of ways to appreciate what you’re seeing. Even if the obvious identifying aspects of the trees are gone, like the leaves and flowers, this gives nature lovers the opportunity to look more closely and see the subtle beauty.

Tyler Armstrong of the South Fork Natural History Museum (SOFO) recently led a hike through the Long Pond Greenbelt, teaching people how to identify and appreciate the trees in winter. Armstrong points out that certain trees are actually more interesting to look at in the winter because of the bark.

“Sassafras,” he says, “has interesting bark with channels running through it. There’s a dark reddish color to the bark, and you can identify the sassafras easily because the trunk and branches are twisty and never go straight up.”

Another local winter tree he likes to seek out is the shag bark hickory.

“As it grows larger, the bark on the outside stays the same size,” he explains. “So the bark cracks in different ways. It comes off in long, vertical strips. These strips curl off the tree in a very distinct way.”

As the bark curls off, new bark growing underneath is revealed.

“All trees deal with this,” says Armstrong. “They grow from the inside, so the outer layers are forced to expand. Those old outer layers aren’t growing anymore, so they have to deal with that growth in different ways. There’s a distinct form the bark takes as it’s broken or stretched. A lot of trees develop furrows where the bark separates.”

This is another identifying factor — the way old bark adapts to the new.

“In a red oak tree, you’ll see deep canyons in the side of the tree and you can actually see the red. A white oak has more shallow furrows, and the bark forms strips that you could pull off.”

Armstrong thinks it’s important to be able to identify trees in the winter for a few reasons. First, he cites survival.

“If you know the different trees,” he says, “you can use them to find food. Certain mushrooms are associated with certain trees. Turkey tail mushrooms are found with oak trees, for example. Or if you find an oak, you know you can find an acorn, which you could eat if you were starving.”

Knowing the different trees can also have a more recreational purpose when you’re out on a winter hike, though. You can use an understanding of the trees to find different wildlife.

“White tailed deer tend to hide under the bows of evergreen trees,” says Armstrong. “Since they have needles throughout the year, it can be a bit warmer in there, and when there is snow on the bows, it’s a place to hide. Deer will sleep underneath trees in the winter.”

Other animals also use trees as a place to hide. Any tree that has holes or crevices is enticing to animals seeking shelter.

“Certain trees, like oaks and maples, have good cavities,” points out Armstrong. “Animals like owls will hide there.”

Then there are the trees that produce food for animals. Hickory trees produce edible nuts, as do shag bark trees. Deer and wood ducks count on these sources of food, and can be seen foraging near these trees this time of year.

The idea for this hike was really to share a love of the forest in winter.

“I think people out here get excited with nature in summertime,” says Armstrong. “It’s such a summer area… People expect everything to be dead or hiding in the winter. Once I was walking through the snow, expecting that. And all of a sudden a young deer popped up from the brush in the snow, three feet from me. It was startling, and made me realize we are sharing the land here with animals all year round.”

Armstrong emphasizes that the winter is a great time to notice trees that you otherwise might not even see.

“The evergreens become a lot more noticeable,” he says. “Like holly, which looks gorgeous in the winter with its red berries… I just want people to have more confidence in the forest. I want people to feel like the forest is a welcoming place any time of year, and not a place you should try to hide from or be protected from.”

On Their Way Home

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Ligonee Creek in Sag Harbor is one of the routes alewives have taken to reach spawning grounds. Volunteers have worked to clear the way for the fish.

Ligonee Creek in Sag Harbor is one of the routes alewives have taken to reach spawning grounds. Volunteers have worked to clear the way for the fish.

By Emily J. Weitz

You don’t hear much about alewife populations on sport-fishing boats in Montauk, and you don’t see alewives on the menu at Sen. These fish are not eaten by humans, so their health and numbers only impacts us in an indirect way. But they are excellent indicators of the overall health of our environment, as they are integral to the survival of many other species.

“It’s like a Jenga game,” says Laura Stephenson, who will be leading an educational hike sponsored by SOFO next week. “You take one out and everything falls. Alewives are one integral part of the ecosystem for the larger fish. They’re food for birds and larger fish, and we use them as bait fish.”

In recent years, environmentalists have become well aware of the importance of alewives, and of their plight.

“It’s a big thing right now,” says Stephenson. “Getting alewives up the river is a hot item in the environmental world.  People are recognizing the dwindling numbers of alewives.”

Alewife restoration projects have had great success in other regions, and currently there is an effort to restore alewives in the Peconic River. The reason for these successes is simple: we know what is standing in the way of a thriving alewife population. It’s us.

“These fish don’t live in our waters,” says Stephenson. “They live in salt water. But they come to fresh water to spawn. They have their babies in the fresh water and then return to the salt water. Then they come back to the place they were born to spawn again.”

This migration traverses hundreds of miles, taking the alewives from their birthplace at Long Pond or another freshwater body all the way up to the northern Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Maine or Canada.

“There are historical records that the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt have found that say there were alewives back in the 1600s and 1700s,” says Stephenson. “Then, when they built the turnpike and the old railroad, it cut off access to Long Pond. The alewives come through Peconic Bay, through Sag Harbor Cove, and they want to make it to Long Pond.”

Some years, they can still make it. When the groundwater is high, like in 2010, after a lot of snow, the alewives can win the uphill battle to Long Pond, said Stephenson.

“But if they have blocked access, they won’t make it back there,” she said. “If they can’t make it back, they can die trying. Last year we saw a lot of deaths as they tried to make it to Ligonee Creek (which leads to Long Pond). The problem is there are so many polluted water bodies and so many bodies that have been cut off, that there is a limited number of good spawning places.”

Long Pond is one of them – Stephenson says it’s one of the few water bodies of its kind.

“Surrounded by undeveloped land, pristine, with great water quality,” she says. “We’ve got a lot going for us here.”

One of the best things we have going is that, even though there are obstacles to the restoration of alewives at Ligonee Creek and Long Pond, these obstacles are surmountable.

“Ligonee is a great case,” says Stephenson. “There are a lot of small problems that need fixing. There are little culverts that need to be fixed and replaced. Ligonee has two or three undersized culverts leading up to Long Pond.”

If these culverts were replaced by larger ones, the alewives could get through.

“When the roads were put in,” says Stephenson, “they didn’t think about the fish. They wanted to move the water under the road, so they put in whatever would work best to move the water fastest without thinking about the fish.”

Another issue is the height issue: the fish can’t get up into the freshwater bodies.

“If we build a rock ramp with resting pools, these fish will be able to get up. Anything higher than six inches, they can’t make it.”

At the hike this weekend, Stephenson will take participants past Ligonee Creek right at the time they are making their migration. They will probably see the fish not being able to make it over, and Stephenspon hopes this will raise awareness about the plight of the alewives.

“These fish travel so far,” she says. “And their life span is so short. They come back to where they were born to spawn, and if they don’t have that opportunity, it’s a waste of the species.”

Laura Stephenson will lead a hike past Ligonee Creek to discuss alewives on Saturday, April 14. Meet at 10 a.m. at SOFO.

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.

Seining Helps Us Discover Who We’re Swimming With

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By Ellen Frankman

The commercial lure of seine fishing takes a back seat this weekend, as local fisherman Al “Big Time” Daniels and the South Fork Nature Center team up to expose both kids and their parents to the creatures we share our waters with daily.

Seining is a technique practiced in its earliest time thousands of years ago in areas with a high population of schooling fish, when a large net was dragged through the water generally quite close to land. Seining later developed for commercial fishing purposes, in which the net, fitted with weights at the bottom and floating devices along the upper rim, is dragged beside a large boat.

Daniels was born and raised in East Hampton and comes from a long line of fishermen.

“In the old days we had nets that were 1000 to 2000 feet long,” he explains. For SOFO’s bay seining event planned for Saturday, Daniels plans to use 50 to 100 foot nets. “This is a small version of the big thing.”

The event will introduce local kids to an activity Daniels spent much of his childhood doing. “As a kid we caught bait fish this way. We caught most of the bait that we fished with ourselves,” recounts Daniels. Especially in today’s world, few people realize that it is just as easy to set a net and catch 400 pieces of bait as it is to go to a bait shop and purchase a package of killeys.

Part of the excitement of the bay seining event, now in its second year, is the mystery of the catch. Says Daniels, “We catch a lot of snappers, which are small bluefish, shiners, killeys, kingfish, and some very very cute blowfish that blow up to the size of ping-pong balls.”

Every now and then the net reveals more surprising inhabitants however. “We’ve caught sandsharks and fluke that you normally don’t see,” says Daniels, who also recalls catching 15 to 20 mullet one year, a fish traditionally found in more tropical waters. “You never know what you’re going to catch!”

Apart from being excited by what they find, the kids are also experiencing a hands-on way to learn about their environment. “The net pulls in stuff that a lot of the kids have never seen or known to live in the bay,” remarks Daniels. “This gives them a reality about what happens when you put the net out there and you bring it in – that’s really what you swim with everyday. That’s what’s in the water.”

As for the adults, Daniels points out that many parents “who aren’t local don’t know that either so it’s a good education.”

Though summer is winding down, late August makes for the perfect time for bay seining, according to Daniels, who explains that most of the eggs that were laid in the spring are now developed and starting to grow. These young fish, typically 3 to 5 inches in length, are what’s caught in the seining net because they swim close to the shoreline.

And for those concerned for the well-being of these little guys, fear not.

“We generally bring a big tub to put them in so the kids can look at them and handle them, and then we release them back into the wild,” assures Daniels.

Bay Seining With Al “Big Time” Daniels takes place on Saturday, August 28, at 10 a.m. Call SOFO at 537-9735 to reserve.