Seasons of Wildlife
The Spring Bloom
Spring is the trivial season for the time of rebirth and the return of many species wintering away. But where does that start? In marine and aquatic environments, it all begins with phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are plant-like micro-organism found in the water. Similarly to how terrestrial plants are the foundation of their food webs, so are phytoplankton in aquatic ecosystems. Their return thus results in a chain reaction of the return of the remainder of aquatic species. The warming of the weather makes conditions more favorable for phytoplankton which in turn attracts zooplankton (animal-like micro-organisms) and filter feeders such as oysters and clams who have been dormant. The attraction of zooplankton then causes larger fish to arrive to feed on them and these fish attract other even larger fish to feed on them. This cycle continues until the Long Island Sound is as lively as it once was the year before.
Return of the Sea Crow
The "sea crow" more commonly known as the double-crested cormorant also begins to make its return during the spring. They begin their return to Long Island during late March but reach their peak population in the summer months where they thrive. These birds can be easily identified by their large black bodies and long necks. You can often times see them diving for some of their favorite snacks such as American eels and small fish eating an average of a pound of fish a day! Not only do these birds have large stomachs but large lungs as well. Double-crested cormorants are able to dive 4 to 24 feet deep and hold their breath for as long as 70 seconds!
Fall marks the start of many species' journey back south. An example of one of these species that begin their fall migration is the striped bass. Favoring temperatures of 55 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, striped bass make their way back to the Virginia and North Carolina coast in search of warmer waters. This large migration is a prime time for fisherman, Target Rock being a great location to find these large game fish.
While some species begin to head back south during the fall such as the striped bass and double-crested cormorant, other species are making their way back north. Waterfowl species become abundant during the winter here in Long Island. Mallards, Mute Swans, and Canada Geese typically stay here year round but the winter presents a plethora of striking new species. About 3 dozen new species arrive some of which include the wood duck, bufflehead, redhead, red-breasted merganser, gadwall, and the ruddy duck.
Stenotomus chrysops, is a fish which occurs primarily in the Atlantic from Massachusetts to North Carolina. Commonly known as porgy, the larvae of this species usually end up near the coast where they take between two to three years to mature. Averaging between ½ to four pounds they are fished for by both commercial and recreational fishermen. Their light flavor makes them great for pan frying, broiling or baking. During porgy season, fishermen line up along the coastline of Target Rock National Wildlife Refuge to fill their quotas.
The osprey, sometimes known as a fish eagle or fish hawk, is a common sight along the bay in the spring and summer months (March – September). Their outstretched wings can span over five feet across. Ospreys are very well adapted to catch and eat fish. They can bend their outer toe backwards to help hold slippery fish and have sharp spicules on the bottom of their toes to help hold the fish. Osprey can also close their nostrils when plunging into the water to catch their prey. Their large hooked beak and talons help them eat the fish when it finds a resting place.