Saturday, 19 March 2016 00:00

Alewife are a type of river herring that live in the salt water of the ocean most of their lives, then swim up rivers and streams to inland ponds for spawning. Throughout the history of civilization, the freshwater habitats of these fish, who aren’t great hunters, have been blocked by dams and culverts. The dams stop them from progressing further inland to spawn. With the fish stopped, the wildlife in the area that feed on them also stop, affecting many types of birds of prey, who are restricted to certain areas in order to feed. Alewife populations have seen big declines throughout much of their range, which has caused the US National Marine Fisheries Service to classify them as a “Species of Concern.

This is the mouth of Woodhull Dam. Beyond it is a placid lake, which would be an ideal habitat for spawning if the alewife could reach it.

Here in Long Island, New York, where I am located, the Volunteer Alewife Survey is conducted every year by the Seatuck Environmental Association, which is working to restore habitats for local populations of these ecologically important fish. Concerned citizen volunteers, Seatuck staff and partners survey the many different streams and tributaries around the island, checking and rechecking for signs of these fish. As part of this conservation effort, authorities have even installed Fish Ladders to help the fish cross the man-made barriers. 

Volunteers are recruited to survey different designated streams and tributaries along Long Island and search for alewife in the water. Seatuck-affiliated workers will sometimes go to sites and sample the fish. The picture below shows a list of samples divided by males and females. The first size is the nose-to-butt measurement of the fish, and the second is the tip to the end of the tail fin. Each measurement is taken in millimeters.

The survey runs from mid-March to mid-May, and the 2016 survey has just begun. If you live on Long Island and would like to volunteer, please contact . If you live inland in New York, contact your local Fish and Wildlife Department to see if there are ways for you to volunteer or help! 

Friday, 24 April 2015 00:00
Photo by Ambrose Bregg
Attracting birds to your yard may be easier than you think. When you landscape with native plants, provide a water source, and protect birds from danger, you create a friendly setting for winged travelers. There are some simple things you can do to make your yard more inviting.

Rather than fighting with nature, fill your yard with plants from your region. Native plants not only produce seeds, fruits, and nectar but also provide a natural habitat for insects, which are an important component of many birds’ diets. If you want to take it a step further, feeders with seeds and nuts will increase the number of species stopping in for a visit. Birds require shelter, too, so choose a variety of plants to fill that need. Evergreens, which give birds a year-round place to nest, make a great addition to your landscaping, and a brush pile placed in the corner of your lot will provide additional protection from danger.

Birds need water for both drinking and bathing. If you are lucky enough to have a natural water source such as a pond or stream, then you need nothing else. Many people place birdbaths in their yards but a simple, shallow dish of water will do the trick as well. Just remember to change the water every few days.

Once the birds are coming to your yard, do your best to keep them safe. If you own a cat, keep it indoors. Unfortunately, neighborhood cats can also hunt for birds in your yard so look for ways to discourage them from roaming near your feeding areas. Cats are an obvious danger to birds, but don’t forget that chemicals threaten their safety as well. Using less (or no) pesticides will allow more insect food sources to thrive and will provide a healthier diet for the birds.

A fun way to plan a bird-friendly yard is to visit The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s YardMap at In addition to designing your landscape, you can browse through the resources about attracting, feeding and protecting birds. By making a few changes to your yard now, you can spend this summer enjoying your feathered friends.

If you want to learn even more:

Tuesday, 03 February 2015 00:00

See that ditch along the road? Chances are if you’re near a park or within a city neighborhood that it should be a Bioswale. The name suggests that they harbor some type of life, but what purpose do they really serve? Isn’t it just another ditch? Stroll down into your neighborhood bioswale, if you’re lucky enough to have one! Within it a microcosm of beneficial plants and animals are working together to keep our waters clean, complete the urban wildlife food chain, and provide a seed source for useful plants to green up your neighborhood!



The mysterious origin of the Bioswale finds root wherever people need to direct and slow down water. A good urban bioswale will accept dirty water from streets, water laced with traces of heavy metals, arsenic, PCBs (from petroleum products), and other lovely manifestations of modern society - the article gets more optimistic I promise! These pollutants are largely trapped and bound within the base of the swale, preventing them from degrading our waterways and the aquatic habitat that many sensitive animals from insects to birds of prey rely on. An interesting event in the illustrious life of a bioswale is that they often fill with sediment and other debris from nearby rivers of asphalt. Dredging is a term used to describe the removal of these sediments, which often need to be placed in a designated landfill because of their toxic buildup. YUM!

The term bioswale is used loosely to describe a landscape feature that both collects and delivers water farther downstream, while providing the benefits mentioned herein. The great thing about their concave nature is that they also provide more ground surface area for water to percolate into soil before we get sheet flow of stormwater across a landscape. This is crucial in urban and developed places, because the ratio of impermeable surface to vegetated and natural areas is very high, resulting in intense flushes of water volume across a landscape that has not historically been designed to treat water respectfully. Our preponderance of stormwater sewers in the US is testament to the afterthought that our waterways were often given as this great country was developed during the 20th century. Today, most designers and planners are very conscious of the power of water to either destroy or provide opportunities for life to flourish. It’s mostly a difference of how well we capture and slow water down without allowing too much to build up in one place.

When exploring your local bioswale, look for these important features:
• Native plants that insects and other organisms rely on. 
• Where does the water come from? Has this been blocked by sediment?
• How fast is water flowing or building up in the Bioswale when it rains? How fast does the water dry up after the rain?
• A smile on your face!

Thursday, 28 August 2014 00:00

Dharma Rain has acquired a property that was formerly a landfill and is renovating it to be a wildlife refuge. The property will soon have organic vegetable gardens, community housing, a community center and natural habitat plantings. To visit go to their website here: