Ontario Bays Initiative - News & Events

Photos by Jim LaPlante

To borrow from Shakespeare, “Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well.” As I write this, word has come that the male Willow Ptarmigan that has frequented Point Peninsula for at least two months has been found dead. A sad ending for a bird that entertained hundreds of visitors and provided the first New York State record in modern times. Originally when found this bird was in its nearly pure white winter plumage and began molting into its brown and white summer plumage shortly before its demise. The bird was found emaciated on a cottage lawn at a time of year when food is abundant. Thus the likely cause of death is a disease, perhaps contacted from its near relatives the Wild Turkey. Whatever the cause, the specimen, with its great scientific value, will be preserved at the American Museum of Natural History through the efforts of local birders.

The appearance of this bird at Point Peninsula is testimony to the high quality grassland open areas of this site. The Willow Ptarmigan, on one of the rare periodic eruptions of the species, probably felt right at home. This large arctic grouse is found across the tundra and open boreal forest of North America and occasionally individuals wander south into southern Canada. It is extremely rare in the continental United States, with the Point Peninsula bird apparently providing only the second record for the lower 48 states. While common in Alaska, they are virtually unknown elsewhere in the US.

This species is generally non-migratory, and rarely erupts. During these eruptions an individual may cover considerable distances as they are strong flyers. Known to be able to out-fly a pursuing Northern Goshawk, this is one of the best flyers in the grouse family. Grouse are often somewhat derisively referred to as “chickens” by some birders who are unimpressed with their flight
skills; however, among this group, clearly, the Willow Ptarmigan can claim to be a champion flyer.

Whatever the reason that brought the Ptarmigan to Point Peninsula, it provided thrills for visiting birders. It was a life bird in New York for me, something that rarely happens now after nearly a half-century of field work in this state. Birders from as far away as Florida sought out the bird and were generally not disappointed. Former OBI Chairman Jerry Letendre and his wife Judi, who winter in Arizona, were happy it survived until they migrated north. Our current chairman Jim LaPlante took the great accompanying photos. The wandering Willow Ptarmigan is proof of
one of my favorite bird quotes from nineteenth century ornithologist George Bird Grinnell when he was asked about rare birds, saying, “birds have wings and sometimes use them.” Although our Ptarmigan failed to contribute further to the gene pool of his species, he definitely made a contribution to human happiness.

I would like to say, “Hello!” to all the Friends of OBI reading this newsletter. I have edited the newsletter since it began 10 years ago, but very seldom have written directly to the readers. So now, as OBI’s Executive Director, I would like to give an update on some of the work that has been going on this spring.

Winter and its cold and snow are finally behind us. This past winter reminded me of some of those from my youth, when the snow lasted continuously from November until April. The ice and wind caused much damage to trees in the North Country and our easements and property were not excepted from that. Work continues to be done at OBI’s Downybrook easement as well as at our Alex C. Velto Bat Conservation Area Trail to clear the limbs and make the trails passable once again. Many thanks to our trail-clearing volunteer Scott Jurista at the Alex C. Velto Bat Conservation Area and to the Brownville/Dexter Boy Scout Troop 2 for their work at  Downybrook. Without your help it would take much more time to clean up the debris caused by the storms of last winter.

With much help from Bill Eves and his cart and tractor, mulch was spread over the muddiest portions of the trail at the Alex C. Velto Bat Conservation Area, located next to Eagle Ridge Village. About half of the wood chips were used that day.
Photo by Julie Covey.

Work has also been done at the Alex C. Velto Bat Conservation Area to improve the trail conditions. The Town of LeRay graciously provided wood chips from their community pile and Theresa Peck, property manager at Eagle Ridge Village, loaned her employee Bill Eves to me for a morning to spread the wood chips on the muddy portions of the trail. More work on this will be needed. Also the Kestrel Drive end of the trail has been moved to higher ground. Where it was previously located, it gathered water and made for a muddy mess for those walking through. After careful consideration of tree locations and other plants present, a new path for the trail was designed and trimmed. This work has once again been accomplished thanks to our volunteer Scott Jurista.

Beyond these projects, inspections of all our easements and in-fee lands are being worked on; not a small task, walking through brush and woods, following the flagging for miles, replacing it as necessary. There is also a bird census being conducted through the early summer on one
of our easements, giving us further information to aid in protecting the species that are present.

BUT, I shall re-emphasize what OBI’s Chairperson Jim LaPlante stated – WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT! Further field work will need to be accomplished this summer including fixing a bridge at the Downybrook easement, swallowwort searching, and then swallowwort pod picking in fragile alvar habitat later in the summer. These as well as other jobs on both in-fee and easement
properties will need to be accomplished before the snow flies in the fall. Help can be given in many ways, including volunteering to help at one of our easements or in-fee lands, donating towards our work, or even taking the time to become a board member. If you would like to
help, please contact me at our office phone of (315) 649-6045 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

In the coming months there are several interesting projects possible for Ontario Bays Initiative, Inc. As information becomes available, we will try to post it on the OBI website (www.obilandtrust.org) and on the OBI Facebook page. Check them out!

I look forward to seeing everyone at the OBI cook-out on Wednesday, August 13th at the Crescent Yacht Club in Chaumont.

And now back to work. There is much to be done!

Julie K. Covey
Executive Director

Hello Everyone!

As I write this, it is called “Spring” out there, but it sure does not look or feel like it!

Our Ospreys are back, as are most of the songbirds who find their way back here each year. I understand it was a good season down at Derby Hill Bird Observatory. We also had a first-time sighting of a bird in NY State - a Willow Ptarmigan, out on Point Peninsula, right in our Service area! I had the opportunity to go out and see it, and you can see photos in the news article "Willow Ptarmigan at Point Peninsula".

The bird mentioned above, as well as our coastal and other areas in our service area, need to be conserved! We at OBI/ELOC are working hard to conserve as much land as possible! I AM NOT GOING TO BE COY ABOUT THIS! WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT NOW, MORE THAN EVER! As I have said many times before, land conservation is an expensive proposition! Not only is there the actual acquisition, or easement activity, but there are also legal expenses, agreements, management plans (and implementation, annual inspections, and many other things that go into land protection). We are adhering to LTA standards, which of course, and rightfully so, add more expense.

Because of all of the above, as you know, our allvolunteer land trust has contracted with Julie Covey to become our part-time Executive Director. We know this was necessary to meet our goals!

We also are in the process of trying to “land” a few new land deals, as well as working in conjunction with two other land trusts in trying to obtain a major grant which could help us and the other involved land trusts in these acquisitions.

But again, we need your help! Please use the Downloadable Contribution Form to become a FRIEND of OBI/ELOC, and come to our summer Friend Raiser on August 13th. Every FRIEND level provides at least one guest entry to the Friend Raiser, with higher levels providing two. WE NEED YOU - for us to be successful!! If you were a FRIEND last year, please consider a higher contribution level this year.

We have come this far together, and we THANK YOU for it, but we need you to step up as we all ascend to a higher plane!

THANKS and regards!

Jim LaPlante, OBI Chairperson

PS: Hope to see you August 13th!!

A brief introduction...

Julie Covey

The Ontario Bays Initiative, Inc. Board of Directors is pleased to announce the creation of a part-time Executive Director position for the organization. Julie K. Covey, long time newsletter editor and consultant, has agreed to fill the contracted position.

Julie’s position may be new, but working closely with the OBI Board is something that she has been involved with for many years. She has been the editor for this newsletter since its inception in 2004, as well as also working on several other graphics-related projects for the organization. In addition, Julie has worked with our former land steward Lee Russell on diverse projects, including field work for easements, as well as the yearly inspections of properties, enabling her to better understand what makes up OBI.

Julie is a north country native, having grown up in the village of Dexter and graduated from General Brown. She attained her Bachelors of Science from SUNY Oswego, majoring in Zoology with a minor in Geology. Her work in the field in Northern NY is extensive, including seasonal work as a dune and alvar steward for The Nature Conservancy, and fisheries work with the Department of Environmental Conservation. Julie has also edited several newsletters, including those for The North Country Bird Club and the Onondaga Audubon Society, Inc.

Julie professional and personal interests in nature meld in many areas. Photographing nature, whether it be wildflowers in the woods behind her family’s house, or trying to get a picture of the latest hawk her children have spotted flying over, is a common occurrence.

We are proud to welcome Julie as our new Executive Director. Her appointment will provide enhanced cohesion for OBI and many other benefits to our organization.

PLEASED, THANKS, TRANSITION, and PLEASE!

First of all, I want to wish you a meaningful and Happy Holiday Season! It is hard to believe that 2013 is coming to an end. Time really does fly when you are having fun!

First of all, MAJOR NEWS from OBI/ELOC! We have an agreement with Julie Covey for her to become our contracted Executive Director! This is a BIG DEAL!

As you know, I have been telling you again and again in these reports that OBI/ELOC is working to attain a “higher level!” This growth is a major step along the way. You will read about this and Julie elsewhere in the newsletter but let it be known that I am very PLEASED with this key development for our organization!

Those of you who know Julie will agree that she will contribute much! (She already has during her stint with us as consultant).

Without your support, it would not have been possible to accomplish this, so I want to Say THANKS for your support over the last year and previous years as well! Our all-volunteer board truly appreciates the FRIENDS OF OBI, as well as all of our supporters! THANKS!!

As with every organization, there are TRANSITIONS! We are somewhat sad to announce the departure of Ruth Uhlig, Lee Russell and Kevin Smith from our board! All have contributed much in their own way! Lee has been a member of the board (and served as Land Steward) for many years, and as I have mentioned before, has been the heart and soul of OBI/ELOC in many ways. Ruth Uhlig also has been a long time board member, and her contributions include organizing our annual “FriendRraiser” for the last 5 or so years! Kevin has contributed much with his insight into relations with community and local governments and his professional approach!!

OBI Friend Raiser
Just some of the people who attended the OBI “Friend Raiser” on August 14, 2013.

We will miss these board members and say THANKS 2 much for your service!

We are PLEASED to announce that we are adding two new board members to the organization! Carla Malmgren and Michelle Bouchard are joining our board!

Read more about them elsewhere in the newsletter!

Lastly, as we move to attain excellence, we continue to need your help and support!

I would like 2014 to be a record year for our FRIENDS program, so PLEASE become A FRIEND OF OBI/ELOC in 2014 and beyond! Even if you cannot be a friend, your contributions are important to us.

We need your help to sustain our existing properties, move toward accreditation, as well as protecting land in our area! As I have mentioned, Land Conservation is an expensive proposition, and we need your help! PLEASE!!

THANK YOU!

Jim LaPlante

Ontario Bays Initiative, Inc. was among 53 non-profit land trusts in the state to receive a grant through the Conservation Partnership Program last month. OBI received a $6,500 grant from the Land Trust Alliance (LTA) that will allow the land trust to improve record-keeping, develop policies, and continue conservation efforts on Point Peninsula.

OBI was featured in the Watertown Daily Times on April 24, 2012 in an article about the LTA grants totaling $257,200 that were awarded to organizations in Northern New York.

"The OBI Board thanks the New York State Conservation Partnership Program for the award of this grant as it validates our mission and will allow us to further implement our growth and conservation plans as we move into the future," said Jim LaPlante, chairperson of OBI's Board of Directors. "We appreciate our friends and supporters and are secure in the knowledge that we are progressing in a positive way."

Grants from the LTA have been important to OBI's growth in recent years. A $5,000 grant last year funded an organizational assessment that helped identify OBI's strengths and set priorities.

The latest grant will be used to improve and enhance record-keeping, improve institutional memory, and develop and implement policies regarding LTA standards and practices. The grant will also help OBI to work to ensure that Point Peninsula's ecological assets are a priority. OBI has developed a conservation plan for an 8-square-mile area of state-owned land on the interior of the Point. The interior of the Point is vital to a variety of migrating and wintering birds, and it is also important to waterfowl and grassland birds.

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