When your front yard is impeccably preserved wetlands and your pets are great horned owls and bobcats, life can be pretty good.
Meet Marisa and Michael Nelson, the husband and wife team that are the on-site directors, fund-raisers, grant writers, owl feeders, trail clearers and educators at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge at 3 Country Road.
Michael, a native Long Islander who grew up spending summers in East Quogue, and Marisa, who graduated from Southampton College with a degree in marine biology, met at the refuge as volunteers in 1992. Soon Michael started working full time in ’96 and Marisa joined him full time in 2003.
Since then they have been at the nonprofit furthering the mission of the refuge, which is open at no charge seven days per week, 365 days per year.
In addition to being stewards of the preserve’s and seven miles of trails, this includes running 270 educational programs per year for groups from schools and camps to teach environmental education and wildlife management.
The sits on land that used to be owned by the Quogue Ice Company, which went out of business with the advent of refrigeration. The preserve was started in 1934 by local conservationist duck hunters, who were concerned about the decreasing population of black ducks. The property was eventually donated to Southampton Town, when then donated it to the nonprofit.
On the grounds are animals that have been injured beyond their ability to care for themselves in the wild. The couple use this wildlife to teach children about wild animals and how they are different from pets.
“So we don’t name them,” said Michael, “but of course they end up with nicknames that the public gives them.” Thus they have Hooter the Owl and Bobbi the bobcat, of which the couple, who are hesitant to admit to favorites, are especially fond.
Hooter, a great horned owl, has a preference for females, and after Marisa showed up he started delivering her head mice and would trill a mating call instead of his usual hoot.
Michael became attached to Bobbi after visiting her at night when she’s at her most playful. One morning he noticed she was not in her cage, but stuck up on top of the net that covers it. No ladder at the refuge was tall enough to reach her, so they had to call the fire department, which treated it as another cat-stuck-in-a-tree call.
The couple will also go off the preserve to help animals, like to catch the garter snake in a terrified woman’s house or to rescue the thousands of tadpoles stuck in a pool liner.
The area’s has lost some of its wildlife, like black bears, bobcats and wolves, but some things are coming back. When he started, said Michael, there were maybe a half dozen white fringed orchids growing in the bog. Now there are hundreds.
“Just don’t pick them,” said Marisa.
Editor's Note: A fundraiser for the Quogue Wildlife Refuge will be held on Saturday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 23 Shinnecock Rd, Quogue.