Happenings on the Parade Ground: Tent Caterpillars – part of the natural process.

Look around the Parade Ground and the Fishers Island Conservancy’s Demonstration Garden next to the Movie Theater and you will see many nests of tent caterpillars in the cherry trees. The caterpillars and their tents get bigger and bigger and there are fewer and fewer leaves on the cherry trees. Should we be concerned and rush out to eliminate these pests? No! Sit back and let the birds do the work.

This came in from the Conservancy’s naturalist, Adam Mitchell:

forest tent caterpillar“I wouldn’t be concerned about the Eastern Tent Caterpillar. These are native species that are feeding on native plants (mostly cherry when I was on the island last week). These caterpillars, in turn, will provide food for breeding birds like orioles in the parade grounds and help support whip-poor-wills when they turn into moths. Tent caterpillars can defoliate young trees, especially ornamentals, but native trees will recover within a month (just part of the natural process!).”

As Tom Sargent pointed out, Baltimore Orioles eat them, as do Blue Jays, Chickadees and Nuthatches. The orioles have a unique way to consume the tent caterpillars – they skin them! This helps get through the all the hair the caterpillars have. The adult caterpillars, however, are actively consumed by many birds and bats, so they are a welcome addition to the island.

Article and Photos Provided by JT Ahrens.

In the early 2000s, feral cats were a huge problem on Fishers Island, with numbers estimated to be in the hundreds. Contributing to the problem were residents and visitors who allowed their un-neutered cats to roam and breed, or left them behind when departing the Island.

Feral cats can destroy songbird populations, plus there were rumors of Island feral cat attacks on pet cats and dogs, and aggressive behavior toward children.

Responding to the problem, the Fishers Island Conservancy developed a humane response by instituting a volunteer-managed program of trap, neuter and release on the Island’s West End. Additionally, birth control pills were available to caretakers of the three main colonies of cats.

Feral cat “hot spots” were said to be the Transfer Station, the “ordinance” building near Silver Eel Pond, North Hill around to Walsh Park, near the American Legion, Pickett landfill, west of the first hole of Hay Harbor Club golf course, behind the Z&S Station, and several locations an the East End.

Fishers Island no longer has a feral cat issue. After a few years of successful catch, neuter and release, it is thought that coyotes brought an end to the problem.



Common Name: American Dagger moth, Fishers Island, NY, June 2017.

Scientific Name: Acronicta Americana

Season: One generation in the Northeast. Adults in early summer, with caterpillars from July into the fall.

Food: Ash, elm, hickory, maple oak, poplar, willow.

Ecology: A forest moth, American dagger caterpillars can be found feeding on many deciduous trees. The caterpillars are covered in yellow tufts of hair that can cause irritation to the skin in some people.

Adam Mitchell Photo

In April, we wrote about Mike Bottini’s river otter survey on fishers Island. A Conservancy grant funded the survey of river otters on Fishers Island, which included FI School 9th graders and members of the Island community.

Shortly following board approval of their proposal, Mike Bottini and a team of three other wildlife biologists visited Fishers and conducted a successful survey, determining the presence of established river otter territories on Fishers Island. They surveyed 40-50 sites on the island by foot and kayak and found otter sign at 20, including an otter den (pictured below)! The research team presented to the Senior Lunch and gained critical information from island residents Steve Malinowski, Lou Horn and Ken Edwards, Bob Evans and Pierce Rafferty. They were accompanied and assisted by FI school 9th graders in some of their survey work. Mike Bottini will return to the Island in July to provide educational programming to FI residents regarding the research and the broader implications for wildlife on Fishers Island.

The team was fascinated by Fishers’ natural environment, including our coyote population. The researchers were thrilled to make their first osprey sighting in 2013, and to see a great-horned owl feeding its chicks on an osprey nest at the east end. To quote team lead, Mike Bottini: “Fishers Island is an amazing place, both the landscape and the folks living there. Although geologically so similar to eastern Long Island, in some ways it is very different. You have some of the largest swamp azaleas I have ever seen, and stands of yellow birch in some of your forests – a species that we don’t have on eastern Long Island. We have some fairly deep and dramatic kettleholes here, but I have never seen anything as striking as the clay pit kettleholes near Isabella Beach…”

Mike’s report is complete and available at the below link.

By Guest Naturalist Mike Bottini

In late March, 2013, three colleagues and I arrived on Fishers Island to survey for river otter (Lontra canadensis) – thanks to a grant from the Fishers Island Conservancy. You may wonder, as many have asked, “Why look for river otters on an island that has no rivers?” As is the case with many common names, this one does not accurately reflect the habitat frequented by this interesting creature. River otters actually spend most of their time on land, but when they are hungry and looking for a meal, they will dive into any waterbody – river, swamp, pond, tidal creek or bay – that has their favorite prey: fish, crabs and crayfish.

You may also wonder: why the interest in documenting the presence of river otters? Positioned high on the aquatic food chain, and being year-round inhabitants of fairly limited areas (unlike migratory species like the osprey), river otters are valuable indicators of the health of the aquatic systems in which they reside.