During a late fall walk sponsored by PWGreen, participants saw among many migrating birds, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, sitting in the thick meadow grass close enough to touch. There were still butterflies flitting about. Now winter is the time to see the pellets of the Great Horned Owl in the snowy wooded area of the Port Washington Schools Guggenheim property, and maybe see the bird itself, which has been spotted as have been osprey. The woods and meadow can be reached going north on any of the crossroads connected to Harbor Hill Drive East of the Guggenheim School. Drivers on Middle Neck Road pass the meadow on the west side.
This past autumn walk lead by Nassau County Naturalist, Herb Mills, attracted a variety of human visitors, including young couples pushing children in strollers, school-age children and their parents, childless groups of adults, and retirees, over 30 people in all. Mills pointed out the invasive plant species such as China Berry that climbs over and smothers everything growing. Very little can grow under Norway Maples, a non-native tree, and they supply no food for any animals. One plan to attempt to rid the area of some invasive plant species starts with educating the school children. Also, participants on these walks are taught to identify invasive plant species.
Mills pointed out the native Black Walnut trees that in October have deposited hundreds of tennis ball-sized nuts on the ground. The Guggenheim family planted the magnificent Horse Chestnut trees circling the meadow to shade the horses that were fenced in this area many years ago. Mills identified two different milkweeds with seedpods, the common milkweed and the butterfly milkweed. The attractive summer-time orange flowers of the latter is an essential food for the Monarch Butterfly. Brown and red bats that devour mosquitoes at dusk remained hidden.
Different groups sponsored the construction of the five bluebird boxes that have housed tree swallows and wrens but not yet bluebirds. Future projects may include protection of the butterflies and building bat houses to encourage the bats to continue their onslaught of mosquitoes. The property is mowed every spring to preserve it as a meadow and to prevent wildfires.
Also, PWGreen encourages teachers of neighboring schools to use the area for instruction and its members will give help if asked. In the past, now retired Port Washington teacher and life-long resident, Tony Salerno, often brought her classes to the meadow. She would meet with colleagues once a month to share lessons on the environment. One such activity for first- and second-graders, called "adopt a tree," involved children choosing a tree on the property and then observing it in different seasons. Toni Salerno's advice to teachers is to go out and take a walk in the meadow. "Anything that you can do that gives kids hands-on experience will make learning exciting," she says.
If you are interested in other activities at this meadow or want to contact PWGreen go to their website pwgreen.com. Both Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington and North Shore Audubon Society support preserving these 17 acres of meadow and woods for education and trail walking.
The list of observed birds runs over 70 species, a haven for bird watchers. The meadow and woodland support nesting Orchard Orioles and Goldfinches. Grassland habitat is the rarest environmental niche on Long Island. Swallows hunt for insects over the meadow. Catbirds and robins nest in the woods. There are year round populations of cardinals, three types of woodpeckers; red-bellied, hairy and downy as well as yellow-shafted flickers, mourning doves, chickadees, mocking birds, blue jays and carolina wrens. In the winter they are joined by juncos, nuthatches, song and white-throated sparrows. The area is an important stop for migrating warblers, with a bounty of seeds, berries and insects to replenish them on their arduous journeys. Sharp-shinned, coopers and red- tailed hawks patrol above.