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Centerport residents' feathers ruffled over surge of bird watchers

The flocking crowds are causing traffic issues on narrow Centershore Road near the nest, critics say, while the proponents say the wildlife appreciators have been respectful.

A bald eagle at its nest in Centerport

A bald eagle at its nest in Centerport on Friday. Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

A pair of bald eagles has been a sensation on social media since taking up residence in Centerport last year, fishing in Mill Pond and retiring to a nest in a treetop near a parking lot.

The pair hatched two eaglets this month and interest has surged in seeing the feathered family. But the crowds are causing traffic issues on narrow Centershore Road near the nest, critics say, while supporters say the bird-watchers have been respectful.

A Huntington Town Board resolution to change a "no parking" zone on Centershore Road to "no stopping" would have required eagle viewers to find a place to pull over and park instead of idling along the road. The board rejected the request at the April 16 meeting.

Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci said the town received a lot of opposition to the parking restrictions.

"We up here are fans of the eagles," Lupinacci said from the dais at the meeting, referring to the board. "It's unanimous that we will not be entertaining this restriction any longer."

On the side of Centershore Road earlier Tuesday, a handful of spectators gathered to look at one of the eagles, which could be seen sitting in the nest.

"The town has to start thinking about an eagle plan," said Centerport native Tom Vuozzo, who traveled to the meeting from his current home in Connecticut to speak against the traffic restrictions. "I think it behooves the town and everybody else to create a working plan so the property owners aren't being infringed upon and there's suitable parking," he said.

Birding supporters at the meeting said traffic issues could be solved with other plans for parking. Rob Schwartz of Centerport, who runs a Facebook fan page dedicated to the eagles, said the town could allocate parking for birders near the gazebo in Centershore Park.

The proposed restrictions "will alleviate a number of issues, such as parking on the residential streets, keeping people safe off Centershore Road and providing a safe place for families to visit the beautiful wildlife surrounding the Mill Pond," Schwartz said.

Some local residents said traffic changes were needed. Anthony Vernola said Centershore Road traffic changes are "long overdue."

"The situation has become even worse in the last few years by folks eager to see and photo the bald eagles in that area," he said at the hearing. "In complete disregard for current policies by the American Birding Association, the location of these beautiful birds has been published on social media, leading to an influx of people content to park anywhere, including places posted with no trespassing signs, in full view of signs saying no parking."

Vernola said bald eagles are no longer an anomaly in the area.

"We need to understand these are wild creatures and not Disney characters," he said. "They will come, and they will go."

Donna Sciortino, owner of Chalet on The Pond Inn and Suites, where some of the birders gather, said the traffic on Centershore Road was dangerous for lingering pedestrians. "People come down here so quickly, the birders could get run over," she said in an interview. "But the eagles are fine where they are."

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