The bird eggs incident took place in June, according to Allison Hubbard, a Sands Point resident who has lived with her family on the property for the past 11 years and was the former events coordinator for the Friends. She resigned after several “horrifying” incidents, she tells the Press, including the harassment of her 10-year-old son by a Friends member.
According to Hubbard, she saw Friends General Manager Matthew Rocchio, along with another Friends employee (Rocchio’s stepson) watching a pair of plovers and their nest full of eggs on the Friends’ proposed future site of an amphitheater (which the group had already cleared of trees, causing serious erosion to the cliff face). One bird was making a distinctive shriek while the other dragged its wing. The pair, it turns out, were attempting to protect their nest, which resembles no more than a tiny depression in the ground.
Rocchio, a former Nassau County deputy commissioner of parks operations under Suozzi, thought it was a piping plover, she says—a federally protected species with strict regulations governing the protection of their nests should they be discovered.
“‘Look at the piping plovers,’” she recalls him saying. “‘She laid eggs.’”
Hubbard says the two agreed to get snow fencing to cordon off the nests and protect the area from scheduled mowing. When she returned, accompanied by Herb Mills—a former manager in the county nature preserve system for more than 35 years who retired in 2006—they made a grim discovery.
“The egg nest was destroyed and the grass was freshly mowed,” she says.
“We finally, after looking around really carefully, found the nest without the eggs,” Mills tells the Press. “And the birds were still there, because they were—obviously they’d just been disturbed.”
“[Rocchio] wasn’t giving me any straight answers,” he continues. “It was just, ‘Well, you know, we’re not sure there was a bird there.’ Then they admitted that a bird was there, and they said, ‘Oh, well, maybe it got mowed over by mistake.’ ”
Mills, seeing the birds firsthand, says they weren’t piping plovers, but killdeer plovers.
During the tour with the Scharys and Zamecka, Rocchio was asked by the Press to explain the incident after he rolled up on a camouflaged ATV (despite the fact the vehicle is restricted on public lands by Nassau County law), sans helmet (also a violation, Richard reminded him). He was equally elusive about exactly what happened—changing his story mid-questioning.
“I haven’t—but there was a, supposedly there was a nest out here and we cut the grass and—there was no bird that got killed or anything like that,” he stuttered.
“Were you aware that there was a nest?” this reporter asked.
He said he wasn’t.
“Matt, you’re going to go on record that you were not aware of that!?” interjected Zamecka.
“I didn’t know exactly where the nest was, no.”
“But you were aware that there was a nest,” she pushed.
“There was—they said there was a nest there, somewhere,” he half-admitted. “We looked around, we couldn’t find anything. There was no bird around, so we had it cut.”
There are only about 3,000 breeding pairs of piping plovers in the United States, according to recent figures—though federal law protects all migratory birds, their nests and eggs from destruction or removal, falling under the purview and enforcement of the U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s mandated by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The U.S. Department of the Interior maintains an updated and continuously revised Federal Register of those species. Along with the piping plover, the killdeer plover is listed on the most recent version.
“He broke the law. He broke the law,” reiterates a passionate Peggy Maslow, president of the North Shore Audubon Society, a “plover monitor” and also a signatory of the Mangano letter. “You are not allowed to kill wild birds or their eggs. So these people are breaking the law. They shouldn’t be running a preserve. They’re criminals! They’re breaking the law. They think they’re above the law!
“It doesn’t matter if it was a robin’s nest,” she continued. “You’re not allowed to do that. And these are people who are supposed to be protecting wildlife!
“All migratory birds are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Act,” stresses Jennifer Wilson-Pines, co-chair of the Port Washington Parks Conservancy, who also signed the letter. “So for them to knowingly mow it, knowing the bird was there is pretty appalling. But, if they in fact thought it was a federally protected, endangered species, that makes it worse.”
Adding insult to injury, Hubbard says later that night Posner chastised her for contacting Mills about the incident and complained about numerous e-mails she had received from Nassau County officials about the incident.
“I said, ‘Well, they ran the bird eggs over with the lawnmower.’ Posner said, ‘I know they did. [An executive board member] ordered Matt to have the birds ran over.’
“I said, ‘Are you kidding me!?’ She said, ‘No,’ she said, ‘That stupid bird deserves—those birds deserve to die, because if they were stupid enough to lay their eggs on the amphitheater, that we spent so much time, effort and money on, then they deserve to die.’”
Hubbard tells the Press she will tell the same to any local, state or federal agency that may want to investigate the incident. A message from the Press to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service went unanswered as of press time.
Besides breaching federal law, the shredding of the nest and aborting of its unborn young was unnecessary for another reason, if in fact it was done to protect their precious amphitheater, explain Maslow and Mills. The parents and chicks fly away soon after hatching.
Yet the fury over their destruction and other incidents has not died down at all.