03/21/14 1:40pm
03/21/2014 1:40 PM


Anatomy of a deer cull author and former U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooter Joseph Albanese chatted live with Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review readers from 2 to 3 p.m. Friday.

Mr. Albanese answered questions based on his experiences participating in culls and other work with the USDA.

Click the button on the box below to replay the online forum.

03/19/14 12:12pm
03/19/2014 12:12 PM

Kevin McAllister is no longer with Peconic Baykeeper after more than 15 years. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

The nonprofit Peconic Baykeeper organization, charged with safeguarding East End waterways, has lost its lead watchdog, an agency spokeswoman confirmed. Kevin McAllister, who served as president of the group for more than 15 years, is no longer affiliated with the organization.  (more…)

02/07/14 8:00am
02/07/2014 8:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Weeping Willow Park on W. Main Street was purchased by the town under its Community Preservation Fund program.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Weeping Willow Park on W. Main Street was purchased by the town under its Community Preservation Fund program.

Last year was a pretty good year for the Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund.

The fund, which uses money raised through a voter-approved 2 percent real estate transfer tax to buy open space and farmland development rights in the five East End towns, brought in a total for 2013 that was up by 43 percent over the previous year. (more…)

02/06/14 12:00pm
02/06/2014 12:00 PM
Annual CPF totals of the five East End towns, year-by-year.

Annual CPF totals of the five East End towns, year-by-year.

One of the last words any taxpayer wants to hear an elected official say is “bankrupt.”

But that’s how Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter describes the town’s Community Preservation Fund. Luckily, the term is not being used literally in this case, though the difference seems to be semantic: The town will be doing nothing besides paying down debt on a loan for another 16 years until it’s paid off.


01/10/14 7:00am
01/10/2014 7:00 AM

MICHAEL LOTITO PHOTO | The snowy owl is best known for its white feathers and catlike yellow eyes. It’s also the continent’s heaviest owl, weighing between three and six pounds. Adults have a wingspan between four and five feet. They’ve been spotted as far south as Florida. This bird was photographed last month at a Jamesport farm.

Avid bird lovers and nature buffs alike have been looking to the skies more frequently in recent weeks, trying to spot the long-admired snowy owl — whose population is “irrupting” this season, experts say.

An irruption is a spectacular, unscheduled migration of large numbers of birds to areas they usually bypass, said Don Bindler, an avid East End birder. While it’s not uncommon for snowy owls to migrate to the North Fork, this season’s irruption has been one of the largest on record, with as many as several hundred birds migrating from their breeding grounds in northern Canada’s tundra to the northern coastlines of the United States, Mr. Bindler said.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | A snowy owl on a Southold jetty.

Locally, the birds have been spotted as far west as the former Grumman property in Calverton to as far east as Orient State Park and Plum Island, according to a joint website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, www.ebird.org, which maps bird sightings. According to the map, snowy owls have also been spotted as far south as Bermuda and Florida — far beyond where they are normally spotted in the states.

The magnificent birds spend their summers north of the Arctic Circle hunting lemmings, ptarmigan and other prey in the 24-hour daylight, according to Cornell.

Unlike most owls, which are nocturnal, the snow white bird is active during all hours — making them easier to spot.

In years with overly abundant prey, the birds can raise double or triple the usual number of young, said Dr. Kevin McGowan of Cornell.

He said that while experts don’t know for sure why the birds are migrating south in such high numbers, a population boom could explain it.

“One reason may be that it is a real big production year,” possibly combined with conditions that aren’t “so good up north and they are having a hard time finding food — or it could be both,” he said.

A single bird may eat more than 1,600 lemmings in one year, Cornell researchers said.

The owls hunt seagulls, ducks, and other small animals on the East End, swooping down to pick up prey with their large, black talons, said Michael Lotito, a nature photographer who regularly contributes his work to the North Fork Audubon Society. So far this season, Mr. Lotito said he has photographed 14 different snowy owls throughout the East End.

“They travel well over 1,000 miles to get here, and because of the distance they generally come down here weak and starving, Mr. Lotito said. “For that reason it’s important that people do not chase them but choose to simply observe them.”

He said that, if approached too closely, the birds lengthen their necks, their first warning sign that they feel danger. They may also simply take flight, fleeing to a safer area.

The birds have been known to stay in one area anywhere from six to 12 hours, and if left undisturbed they can stay in a one-mile radius for the entire winter — provided there is enough food, he said.

Generally, the youngest birds, about a year old, will migrate from the arctic first, pushed out by their elders when fighting over territory, the Cornell researchers said.

The snowy owl is the continent’s heaviest owl, weighing between three and six pounds, depending on what they have had to eat at a certain time, and adults have a wingspan between four and five feet. Males are typically smaller than females.

“They are very quiet and calculating,” Mr. Lotito said, adding that, like all owls, they are silent in flight because of the configuration of their wing feathers, allowing them to surprise and pounce on their prey.

They can down a rodent headfirst in a single gulp, according to Cornell.

Aside from their snow-white feathers, the birds are best known for their cat-like yellow eyes.

KATHLEEN KMET BECKER PHOTO | A snowy owl at Orient Beach State Park just before noon on Jan. 5.

Male owls are white with dark brown spots when they’re young, which disappear as they age. Females keep some dark markings throughout their lives.

For those hoping to catch a glimpse of the coastal birds, Mr. Lotito recommends going to Orient State Park, along the shoreline. Snowy owls like open dune areas and open fields, he said.

This Saturday, the Group for the East End will be holding an informational event about owls common to the North Fork, giving participants the chance to dissect owl pellets at Down Farm Preserve on Main Road in Cutchogue and learn about their diets.

The event, geared toward families, will also provide information on the snowy owl and its abundance this season. A $5 donation per family is suggested. For event times and more information contact Christine Tylee at (631) 765-6450 ext. 208.


11/17/13 10:00am
11/17/2013 10:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A house under contract on Ostrander Avenue in Riverhead. Home sales were up in the third quarter this year, but the median sale price dropped.

Single-family home sales for the third quarter of 2013 were back to their pre-recession levels in Riverhead, numbers show, though the median price was down more than 10 percent compared to the same period last year.

According to data provided by Suffolk Research Services, 122 single-family homes in Riverhead sold from July through September. That was the most sold in those months since 2006, when 149 homes sold in the area, and far above the 88 homes sold last year. However the quarter’s median home sales price dropped from $355,000 in 2012 to $350,000 this year.

The trend is similar across the East End, numbers show, reflecting an active market where many people who have been waiting to buy or sell are finally making the move.

“It means there’s good value out there,” said Valerie Goode, owner of Colony Realty in Jamesport. “People who were waiting for their homes to sell two years ago are now ready-to-go consumers.”

Across the five East End towns, the volume of single-family home sales jumped 35 percent in the third quarter, from 635 a year ago to 860 this year. Median prices, meanwhile, dropped 3.9 percent from 2012 to $639,000 — and far below a third-quarter high of $717,000 in 2007.

Shelter Island was the only town to see an increase in the median sales price, which rose 21 percent to $760,000 over 22 sales. Southampton took the quarter’s biggest hit, dropping 13 percent from $900,000 to $780,000 over 371 transactions.

In Southold, the third-quarter median sales price fell from $480,000 last year to $429,000, a drop of over 10 percent. As in Riverhead, however, the number of transactions for the period was up in Southold, from 104 in 2012 to 127 this year.

Carol Tintle, regional manager with Daniel Gale Sotheby’s, said that she’s seen home sale prices increase recently, especially at the upper and lower ends of the market.

“The higher and lower ends are definitely selling,” she said. “The problems are the middle of the road, unless it’s very special. Until some homes get reduced to the price they should be, there is so much on the market, they may not sell.”

A quarterly report released by real estate firm Prudential Douglas Elliman noted that median prices on the high end were, on the whole down, across the North Fork. The median home price in the fifth and highest quintile, the report states, was $870,000, down 20 percent compared to last year. But the lowest quintile showed a 9.1 percent gain, to $257,500.

Julia Robins, an associate with Century 21 Albertson Realty in Greenport, suspected that an overall median price dip would be more reflective of the higher end, as she’s seen more sales volume on the whole.

“Sales activity is fabulous,” she said. “And it’s sustained into the fall. If there is any red in the median sales price, it’s probably the upper end.”

No agents reported concern about an increase in interest rates over the last six months, as a first-quarter average of about 3.4 percent on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is expected to give way to about a 4.3 percent rate in the coming quarter, according to Freddie Mac economist Frank Nothaft.

The $46 million total for third-quarter single-family home sales reported in Riverhead was the town’s highest since 2007, when the total reported was $47 million.


08/02/13 7:00pm
08/02/2013 7:00 PM

STEVE ROSSIN PHOTO | LIRR riders board an train out of Riverhead about 1:30 p.m. last week.

The Long Island Rail Road will extend its summer schedule on the Greenport to Ronkonkoma line by 10 weeks, stretching into November, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said.

The Long Island Rail Road, through its parent company, the MTA,  has been discontinuing all weekend service between Greenport and Ronkonkoma after Columbus Day and before Memorial Day since 2010.

Summer service, as it’s now called, will now begin in April and end in November, said LIRR spokesman Sal Arena.

After November, there will again be no weekend service between Greenport and Ronkonkoma, he said.

“The MTA was able to identify additional money, revenue from dedicated state taxes as well as internal cost-savings, that could be used to enhance train service and other customer amenities,” Mr. Arena said. “The LIRR is making a number of improvements with its share of that money, including the extension of weekend service on the North Fork.

“It made this decision based on customer demand and specifically to expend service to the fall harvest period, an important tourist season for the region.”

About seven years ago, the LIRR was considering discontinuing service between Greenport and Ronkonkoma altogether, but backed off that plan.

“This service investment shows that the MTA and LIRR are committed to expanding and improving service to the East End,” South Fork state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said of the move.

Mr. Thiele has been an advocate for increasing train service on the East End, and one of the projects he has touted also got some money from the MTA. A proposal to establish a network of smaller “scoot” trains between Greenport and Ronkonkoma, as well as in other areas on Long Island, received $37.2 million from the state.

Currently, the LIRR is exploring the possibility of diesel-powered Scoot service on the Oyster Bay Branch and on the Main Line east of Ronkonkoma, Mr. Arena said.

The $37.2 million funding for such a purchase is in the current (2010-2014) MTA Capital Program, and will remain available even if it is not expended by the end of 2014, Mr. Arena said.

“Scoot” is a railroad industry term used to describe a train that would shuttle regularly between the first and last stops on a particular branch or branch segment, according to Mr. Arena.

Currently, the LIRR runs only about two trains per day in each directions between Greenport and Riverhead on weekends in the summer, and about three trains per day between Greenport and Riverhead during weekdays, prompting calls from East End residents and officials for better service.

“As envisioned by the LIRR, scoot service would allow for more frequent train service than currently provided,” Mr. Arena said. It “would encourage intra-branch and intra-Island travel, but also would require a transfer to electric trains for those traveling on to New York City.

“The LIRR is currently looking for alternate (smaller) diesel trains that would be more cost-effective to operate and maintain, as compared with both the LIRR’s existing diesel fleet and with electric trains.”

The LIRR does not have specific timeline or start date for either purchasing the alternate diesel fleet and/or initiating expanded Scoot service for East of Ronkonkoma, he said.

“The scoot train could be much smaller to than the standard 10 or 12 car consist,” Mr. Arena said, “perhaps just one, two cars or three coach cars, depending on demand.”