Saturday, March 14, 2015

Winter Interlude at Rocky Point, January and February, 2015

The winter of 2014-2015 brought lots of days featuring relatively cold temperatures, often accompanied by high winds. A series of snow storms also left their accumulated marks on the landscape. My ability to visit the marsh was severely restricted, not by the cold weather, but by my lack of any desire to continually dig my vehicle out of its parking spot in the morning, and then dig a new one to put it back into upon my return in the afternoon. As a result, I was only able to visit only once in January and once in February.

Naturally, the marsh was fairly quiet, with a paucity of wildlife and drab colors. Once the snow started accumulating, it appeared yet more desolate, as well as more pristine. Regardless, the careful observer will always be rewarded, as I hope these images will show. In addition, a few hardy bird species were also observed.
This image was made at the far eastern edge of the cove that fronts the marsh. Note the snow and how the grass stubble is almost all covered in a sheath of ice. Date: 01-17-2015.
The rock jetty on the east end of the cove also exhibited the effects of the freezing temperatures, as seen here. Date: 01-17-2015
A view back towards the west, with the marsh entrance at the upper left in the image. What appears to be snow, running in from the lower right, is actually frozen sea foam. Note the horizon, which shows the Manhattan skyline. The discolored band just above it, a temperature inversion, is caused by colder temperatures above pushing down on the warmer air, with its pollutants, which is rising from the city. Date: 01-17-2015
With the tide way out, I was able to move relatively far from the normal shore line in order to get a more unusual view of the marsh. Note the gulls on the mud flats in the foreground and the dune in the center of the image; the marsh entrance is to the left. Date: 01-17-2015
This close-up shows how well-encased in ice the grass stubble was. Date: 01-17-2015

Five weeks later and not too much has changed. The ice and snow build-up on the shore has increased in this eastward-facing image. Date: 02-28-2015

Probably brought in from Jamaica Bay on the tides, the remnants of a pair of small icebergs quietly deteriorates in the sun. Date: 02-28-2015

Looking west, one can see the snow that has accumulated in the mudflats. Date: 02-28-2015
The main pond in the marsh was completely frozen over and covered with a layer of snow. Note that the ice and snow covers a bit more than half of the drainage culverts that feed the marsh from inland. Date: 02-28-2015
The dune line on the western end of the marsh provides a platform from which to look east along the beach front. These dunes have self-repaired well enough since Superstorm sandy flattened them in October of 2012. Date: 02-28-2015
The new inlet created by Superstorm Sandy is cluttered with shattered chunks of snowbound icebergs.
The first image is looking to the east while the second looks directly into the pond; note the Osprey nest box, center left. Date: 02-28-2015

American Wigeon, male and female, (Anas americana). This pair was spotted initially about 50 yards off-shore in front of the marsh, calmly cruising in Jamaica Bay. For no apparent reason, they suddenly took-off and headed east. Date: 02-28-2015

Downy Woodpecker, (Piciodes pubescens). Recently, this species has been observed with great frequency in and around the marsh. Tolerant of the winters in the north-east, his individual was foraging in the woods directly behind the dune line, east of the marsh entrance. Date: 02-28-2015


Northern Harrier, male, (Circus cyaneus). A chance glance over my shoulder brought this agile raptor into view. A quick image was captured, and just as quickly, the subject wound its way into the trees and disappeared. This Northern Harrier, along with the previously pictured American Wigeon pair, are, as of the publication of this blog installment, the 74th and 75th species I have photographed at Rocky Point. Date: 02-28-2015.
All text and photos by Frank V. De Sisto.

Published works consulted for this posting included the following:

“The Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America”, by R.T. Peterson. 2008, Houghton Mifflin, ISBN9780618966141. This is THE classic work by the legendary Roger Tory Peterson. I have two versions; the cited volume includes both east and west field guides between the covers of an enlarged-format book. Simply stated, no serious birder should be without a copy.

“Clouds and Weather”, Peterson First Guides, by J.A. Day & V.J. Schaefer. ISBN 9780395906637. It’s nice to know how to “read” the sky when in the field. This compact booklet is packed with 128 pages of text, diagrams, excellent color photography and a handy index.

Rocky Point Marsh needs your help. To volunteer for service contact National Park Services Ranger Tony Luscombe at:

For more photos of Rocky Point as well as other locations within the Gateway NRA complex, visit:

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Autumn Migration at Rocky Point Marsh, October & November, 2014

Rocky Point Marsh, like so many of nature’s oasis’ serves as a way-point for migrating birds. The Rockaways, where the marsh is located, are barrier islands situated within the so-called Atlantic Flyway and are a convenient navigational aid as birds make their way down the East Coast, to, and past, Cape May, New Jersey.

The importance of a salt marsh’s varied habitat becomes as critical at this time of the year as it would be during nesting season. Birds will stop to feed and fatten-up for the next leg of their energy-consuming journey. Seeds and berries, as well as insects and fish offer convenient access to those birds with peculiar diets. Raptors will follow avian prey during migration so that they can also add more calories to their body mass for the continuation of their annual southern excursion.

The advent of autumn brings shorter periods of daylight. Being hard-wired into nature’s grid, birds take note of this; when the time is right they head south. Weather patterns this time of year often produce winds from the north; birds habitually take advantage of the free ride a tail-wind offers. Many bird species fly at night during migration; it is thought that they may do so to avoid predators or to use the stars as navigational aids. Raptors migrate mostly by day when the heating of the earth’s surface creates thermal air masses, which ease their passage. Birds will stop to rest in welcoming areas, such as salt marshes; most will forage early in the day and then again late in the afternoon.

Not all birds of the same species will begin migration at the same time. The sex and the age of the birds seems to play a role in determining precisely when migration will begin for an individual. In addition, certain birds, which will winter locally, merely disperse in order to ensure that adequate food resources are obtainable.

Habitats also undergo a metamorphosis; leaves change color or drop away as the weather cools, altering nature’s color palette. Summer’s greens give way to yellow, orange and red, then tan and gray as autumn turns into winter. Decaying plant matter fertilizes the earth adding nutrients for next spring’s explosion of new life. Many plant species (with the help of birds and insects) disperse their seeds into this mix, adding to a salt marsh’s inherent ability to support a rich biodiversity.

The following images and observations were made during the months of October and November, 2014.

It’s still mid-October and the weather has been relatively mild. So, at this point in time, colors have not yet changed in any dramatic way. This view looks towards the western end of the marsh; compare to similar images in the previous blog posting. Date: 10-17-2014.

In the calm waters of the eastern edge of the marsh pond, these shoots of grass were surrounded by tiny gas bubbles. This was a consistent phenomenon over an area of many square yards. Date: 10-17-2014.

One week later, the tide came in fully, completely flooding the marsh. The camera is pointed slightly north of east, at the entrance formed by Super-storm Sandy. In fact, the image was made almost two years to the day that the storm devastated the northern east coast. Date: 10-25-2014.

Another interesting phenomenon seen in a quieter flooded segment of the western edge of the marsh, were these gas bubbles. They covered many square yards of the marsh’s substrate, a few inches below the water’s surface. The remains of a Ribbed Mussel (Geukensia demissa) is seen at upper right. This bivalve helps filter the water, leaving fecal matter behind, which helps provide nitrogen as a plant nutrient. It is also a food source for birds that frequent the marsh, such as the Willet. Date: 10-25-2014.
Looking like extra-thin string-beans with warts, this Saltwort (Salicornia) lies entangled in grass just behind the dune line at the marsh’s western edge. Green throughout the summer months, a close look at some of the plant’s shoots will reveal that they are typically beginning to turn orange-red as autumn takes hold. Date: 10-25-2014.

Although this image was made one week prior to the one above, his bit of Saltwort (Salicornia) has already turned completely red. Date: 10-17-14.

This stand of American Beach Grass (Ammophila breviligulata) appears to be in seed. A dominant species on the Atlantic coast down to North Carolina, this hearty and rapidly-growing plant is vital for the stabilization of the dune line. Date: 10-25-2014.

A clammy, rainy day greeted your humble narrator on the first day of November. The marsh pond is filled and one can also see how most of the trees in the background have become completely denuded of foliage. Yet, there are still bits of color here and there. In this image the camera faces south. Date: 11-01-2014.

A few minutes later, anchored in the same location, the camera faces east. Date: 11-01-2014.

What a difference a week makes! As the camera faces west, on this beautiful, yet “crisp” morning, it provides a view along the dune line behind the beach that fronts Jamaica Bay. These dunes were completely flattened two years ago by Super-storm Sandy, but have re-built themselves quite handily, probably because most of the “rhizomes” (lateral root systems from plants) remained intact below the surface. Date: 11-08-2014.

This appears to be a Red-tailed Bumble Bee (Bombus ternarius), which is common in the east from Nova Scotia to Georgia. It was observed at close quarters as it went busily about its business atop this Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens). Date: 10-25-2014.

What is most probably a juvenile Coopers Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) surveys the marsh from a low altitude. A hunter of birds and small mammals, this raptor’s wing and tail shape assures it of maneuverability as it stealthily pursues prey through the woods. Illustrating how Hawk identification can be a challenge, particularly for less-experienced birders such as I, this could also be a Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus). Date: 10-17-14.

This Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) perches in a thicket along the edge of the marsh. With a diet consisting almost exclusively of insects, this small bird seems quite resistant to autumn’s cooler temperatures. Date: 10-25-2014.

The Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) also feeds mostly on insects, but will also eat berries and seeds; in this image this little fellow has just launched itself from the branches of Poison Ivy. Although unseen here, there is a red crest hidden on top of its head, which will be deployed if the bird becomes overly excited. Date: 10-25-2014.

The most often seen Warbler at Rocky Point, the Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronate) comes in two main forms; this one is seen in the east and is a “Myrtle”. The “butter-butt’s” diet consists of insects and berries, with the latter being consumed in winter months. Date: 11-08-2014.

The vociferous Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) perches on a tree branch. Its diet consists mostly of insects and seeds, but it will sometimes eat small crabs and mollusks. Song Sparrows are common visitors year-round at Rocky Point. Date: 10-25-14.

This rather handsome White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) struts his stuff for the camera. Another common species at Rocky Point, its diet consists of insects and seeds, as well as berries; it will also eat snails and is well served in a marshy habitat. Date: 11-08-14.

A cousin to the sparrow, the Dark-eyed Junco, Slate-colored (Junco hyemalis) is most commonly seen hunting for seeds on open ground. It supplements seeds with insects and berries. On this day, it was the predominating bird species at Rocky Point. Unusually, this individual seems to be of the “pink-sided” or “mearnsi” race; if this is so, he is far from his normal range. Date: 11-08-14.

A ground forager, the Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis) is most often observed in tangled undergrowth. An insectivore, it will also occasionally dine on small fish and some berries. Date: 11-08-14.

 The Hermit Thrush (Cartharus guttatus) often lingers for a time in the north, beginning its migration late in the autumn. Feeding manly on insects, it will also eat a large variety of berries. Date: 10-25-14.

The Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), which is very similar in appearance to the Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus), can be differentiated by its much shorter mandibles as well as its smaller size. Its main meal consists of insects, but it will eat seeds and suet from bird feeders, as well as berries. Date: 11-29-14.

A pair of Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus), perch on one of the supports of the marsh’s Osprey nest platform. This is the so-called “yellow-shafted” form seen in the eastern parts of North America. Primarily an insect-eater, Flickers are often seen feeding on the ground in all seasons. Date: 11-29-2014.

A relatively late autumn migrant and an early spring migrant, the Eastern Pheobe (Sayornis nigricans) is a so-called “Flycatcher”. It feeds mostly on insects, but will also eat berries and some fruits. Date: 10-25-14.

A year-round resident in New York, there is no mistaking the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), either by sight or by sound. Its large, powerful mandibles are equally at home devouring insects and vegetable matter; snails are also on its menu, making a salt marsh an ideal habitat. Date: 11-08-14.

This trio of American Goldfinches (Corduelis tristis) are feeding on a stand of Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens). They are in their more cryptic winter colors but still retain their black wings and white wing bars. Like many birds, they eat mostly insects in the warmer months, switching to seeds during colder months. Date: 11-29-14.

These two images were made in the center of the western part of the marsh. The first one looks south-east, while the second looks north-west. Note that the trees are denuded of their leaves and most of the grasses are showing very little green. Date: 11-29-14.

As the weather cools, some plants prepare to spread their seeds around in preparation for spring, as this Common Reed (Phragmites australis) is doing. The seeds shown are ready for distribution by the wind, using their silken bristles as parachutes. However, this plant’s main form of reproduction is through its rhizomes (lateral underground root systems). Date: 11-19-14.

These two images were made from virtually the same view-point. The upper image has the camera facing north-east, looking out towards Jamaica bay. The lower image is looking almost directly north, with the Manhattan skyline on the far horizon. Difficult to tell from this angle, the surface of the water in the marsh sports a thin layer of ice, indicating that it is of relatively low salinity. Date: 11-29-14.

Probably one of the most devastating consequence of human ecological ignorance is the presence of feral domestic cats throughout the Rockaways. Often abandoned or simply let loose for the night by their owners, these predators have a profound effect on bird populations; it is estimated that millions of birds are killed each year by this completely preventable man-made scourge. This rather fat creature is crossing the entrance to the yacht club on his way to hunt in the marsh; the presence of your narrator did not disturb him in the least. Date: 11-29-2014.

New York City’s Police Department has an Aviation Unit based at Floyd Bennett Field, part of the Gateway NRA complex, located in Brooklyn. The NYPD is in the process of replacing their helicopter fleet with the Bell Model 429 (upper left); the Bell Model 412 (bottom right) will be retired. Both of these rotary-wing aircraft are outgrowths of designs that made their first flight in 1956 (the 412) and 1966 (the 429). These two helicopters were photographed over Jamaica Bay, from the marsh. Date: 10-17-14.

 I will close this entry with an image made in August, 2014, at Fort Tilden. Almost two years after Super-storm Sandy, most of the dune line that was eradicated has still not begun to repair itself. Likewise, the maritime forest still plainly exhibits the effects of the devastation wrought by the storm.

All text and photographs by Frank V. De Sisto unless otherwise indicated.

Credit where it’s due:
This time around I’d like to thank Genie for help in confirming the identity of some vegetation.

Sources consulted for this blog included:

“The Warbler Guide”, by T. Stephenson & S. Whittle. 2013, Princeton University Press, ISBN9780691154824.
A relatively new title, this book should prove to be indispensable to students of the subject. It provides detailed descriptions, schematic artwork, a guide to interpreting songs and a vast amount of excellent photographs. Disclaimer: I had met Mr. Whittle some years ago when I first became hooked on birding; he proved most gracious in answering some questions from this novice at the time and many times since.

“The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America”, by D. Stokes & L. Stokes. 2010, Little, Brown & Co., ISBN9780316010504.
This highly-regarded volume is one of many titles by this acclaimed husband and wife team. Profusely illustrated with photographs, it also includes a handy CD with recordings of over 600 bird sounds.

“Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America”, by K. Kaufman. 2000, Houghton Mifflin Co., ISBN9780618574230.
Laid out in the typical compact format of classic field guides, this volume is set apart from some by the use of photographs instead of paintings. What differentiates it from other photo-based offerings is that the images are digitally manipulated to show only the bird, from several angles, without any distracting background.

“Hawks in Flight”, by P. Dunne, D. Sibley & C. Sutton. 1988, Houghton Mifflin Co., ISBN9780395510223.
This unique and slim volume takes a different approach to identifying the subject while in flight, using line drawings and B&W photographs. This is extremely useful when all the observer can see is the underside of a bird in flight.

“Hawks from Every Angle”, by J. Liguori. 2005, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0691118256.
Another helpful book for Hawk watchers, this title is based on using color and B&W photographs. It also has information on where to go and when to be there in order to observe Hawks, as well as tips on optics and photography.
“Lives of North American Birds”, by K. Kaufman. 1996, Houghton-Mifflin, ISBN0618159886.
This book picks up where the typical field guide leaves off, concentrating on how and where birds live. It is illustrated with color photographs and range maps. Taking each North American species in turn it details such things as habitat, diet, behavior, migration, and conservation status, all in layman’s terms.

“The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior”, Edited by D.A. Sibley, C. Elphick & J.B. Dunning, Jr; illustrated by D.A. Sibley. 2001, Knopf, ISBN9781400043866.
With a similar goal to the title listed above, this weighty volume compliments Mr. Kaufman’s effort quite nicely. This book is divided into two main parts, the first of which details many facets of bird biology and behavior, as well as external factors that affect them. The second part contains details on the specific habits of various species broken down into family groups.

Rocky Point Marsh needs your help. To volunteer for service contact National Park Services Ranger Tony Luscombe at:

 For more photos of Rocky Point as well as other locations within the Gateway NRA complex, visit:



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Late Summer Creatures of Rocky Point Marsh, August & September, 2014

Salt marshes, with their varied habitats, host a wide variety of life forms. Rocky Point Marsh is no exception. Dozens of bird species have been observed over the years and they are by far the most visible of the marsh’s visitors. Insects abound and quite a few are easily visible, particularly butterflies, dragonflies and grasshoppers. Smaller insects will reveal themselves to close observation; disturbances in the water’s surface will also reveal fish going through their daily survival routines. Various crustaceans and mollusks are also to be seen.

For the purpose of this blog segment, I have very loosely defined Rocky Point Marsh as everything lying within borders defined by Rockaway Park Boulevard and Beach 201st Street, to the south and west, respectively (note that all compass points are “approximate”). The far-east border is delineated by the jetty at that end of the cove; the jetty then runs back into Rockaway Park Blvd. at Beach 193rd Street. The marsh’s northern side is fronted by Jamaica Bay.

A variety of conifers and broadleaf trees, most relatively young, surround the marsh on the higher elevations. Everything from algae to seaweed can be seen in wet and muddy areas, while a variety of wildflowers can be seen in the meadows. Grasses and vines abound with some rather tangled areas on the western fringes.

At the end of October 2012, a large amount of driftwood and manufactured lumber was deposited on the western edges of the marsh as a result of Super-storm Sandy. With two years of natural growth added, formerly interesting areas such as these are extremely treacherous and are best avoided.

 Mammal signs have been observed, but most are nocturnal types and rarely seen during the daytime. Aside from natural residents such as the Northern Raccoon and Eastern Cottontail, invasive feral cats, irresponsibly released into the wild by humans, are also on the prowl for a meal.

These images were created during August and September, 2104. I must also apologize for not being able to identify some of the creatures shown here.
A European Cabbage Butterfly (Pieris rapae), pauses on a leaf. One of the most common butterflies in North America, it is not a native species, being introduced here about 125 years ago. Its caterpillar is considered an agricultural pest, known to ravage crops such as broccoli and cabbage; thus its name. Timestamp: 08-19-14, 0930.

The Primrose Moth (Schinia florida) is rarely seen, but when it is seen, here is where to look. Tony found this tiny treasure recently and was kind enough to forward the image and some information regarding this little guy from Mr. John Himmelman. Timestamp: 08-21-14, 0955.
One of the most common and beautiful of all butterflies is the Monarch (Danaus plexippus). The Monarch has been known to fly 2,000 miles or more during migration from North to South America and has also been seen in Hawaii and Australia. This specimen was photographed in the woods on the western edge of the marsh. Timestamp: 09-20-14, 0811.
A Rubbed Dart (Euxoa defers) perches atop Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) on the far western extremes of the woods that enclose the marsh. Seaside Goldenrod is part of the Aster family, one of the world’s two largest plant families. Timestamp: 09-26-14, 1221.
This stand of Seaside Goldenrod is also host to two different insect species (aside from the two seen in the upper left of the image, note the smaller one at right), both of which remain unidentified. Timestamp: 09-26-14, 1407.
This odd-looking fellow is also among the unidentified. Aside from using its legs to move from place-to-place, this little guy also “hopped” about 8-inches as I approached closer. Note how well his color helps him blend into the sand. Timestamp: 08-09-14, 0910.

Here we see a Harlequin Cabbage Bug (Murgantia histrionica). This tiny insect attempted to hitch a ride on one of my camera’s straps, when his movement caught my eye. I deposited him in the sand, where he is seen attempting to make his getaway. Also called Calico Bug and Firebug, it is often seen in crop fields and is considered an agricultural pest. Timestamp: 09-20-14, 0900. 
Another insect perfectly-colored to blend in with his surroundings presented himself for a portrait. This Grasshopper was flushed ahead of me as I walked through some tall grass just behind the dune-line. Using an internet source, it is tentatively identified as a Mottled Sand Grasshopper (Spharagemon collare). Timestamp: 09-20-14, 1056.

This school of Striped Killifish (Fundulus majalis) is seen feeding on the carcass of a defunct Horseshoe Crab (Limulis polyphema). The crab was situated in the flooded section of the marsh. Timestamp: 08-09-14, 0914.

Strike!! A Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) takes prey from inside the marsh pond. It is quite probable that the fish he has taken is a Striped Killifish, as seen in the image above. It is not impossible that one of the fish seen above, feeding on the Horseshoe Crab, is now a meal for the Snowy Egret. If so, this is an excellent example of the “food chain” in action. Timestamp: 08-30-14, 1411.

Snowy Egrets also feed in the surf, within a few feet of the water’s edge. This bird was seen one week prior to the bird above, on August 23. Timestamp: 08-23-14, 1124.

The Great Egret (Ardea alba) is also a frequent marsh denizen. Egrets as well as Herons are often seen roosting in trees. Snowy Egrets, in particular, are often seen in relatively large groups as are various Night Herons. Timestamp: 08-13-14, 1016.

This Great Blue Heron (Egretta caerula) was seen in the surf just outside the marsh’s old entry. Similar in size to the Great Egret, as a wading bird, the Great Blue is also attracted to water of a low depth, where it will stalk game. Timestamp: 09-16-14, 1237.

The Long-tail Duck (Clangula hyemalis), previously referred to as an Oldsquaw, is a frequent visitor to Jamaica Bay, which fronts the marsh. This example is still molting, which accounts for its extremely scruffy appearance. Timestamp: 08-09-14, 0829.

Gulls are by far the most common birds seen at Rocky Point Marsh. Greater Black-back, Ring-bill, Laughing and Herring Gulls are often seen, sometimes in relatively large numbers. Here we see a specimen of the latter bird (Larus argentatus), casting a wary eye at the photographer. Timestamp: 08-23-14, 1107.
One of the larger Plovers, these Black-bellied Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola) were part of a group of three photographed in the surf, just outside the marsh. Note the bird at right, which is more mature and therefore sports a partial black face. Timestamp: 08-23-14, 1111.
A fairly secretive bird, this Black and White Warbler (Mniotilta varia) was seen in the woods on the western edge of the marsh. This particular bird appears to exhibit the plumage of the female of the species. Timestamp: 08-13-14, 0831.
As recently noted on this blog, there has been a surge in Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) sightings throughout August and into September. This handsome fellow was observed and photographed on the morning of August 9, 2014. Timestamp: 08-09-14, 0938.  
This Common Loon (Gavia immer) was “caught” on the beach just to the west of the marsh. Loons and other waterfowl will molt their flight feathers prior to migration; this essentially immobilizes them, making them vulnerable to predation. The placement of the legs is optimized for diving for prey, but these birds are extremely ungainly on land. Loons can only move by using their legs to push themselves along on their bellies, as seen here. Timestamp: 08-09-14, 0856.

Another bird species recently seen at Rocky Point is the Black Scoter (Melanitta nigra). They have been sighted at least three times off-shore in Jamaica Bay by this observer. Timestamp: 08-30-14, 1455.

The Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) is a frequent marsh visitor, with up to a dozen seen at any one time along the shore, or inside the marsh proper. Timestamp: 08-13-14, 1125.

 Mammals inhabit the marsh and its surrounding area. These are the very distinct fore-prints of the Northern Raccoon (Procyon lotor). They are the most common prints yet encountered, although their nocturnal owners have never been seen by this observer. Timestamp: 08-23-14, 0852.

Rabbits are also denizens of Rocky Point, with the Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) representing the species. Note the distinct pattern of the wind-worn prints, which will easily reveal the direction of travel; in this case it is from right-to-left in the image. The other marks at lower right are a bit of a puzzle as they are the only ones seen and therefore do not seem to represent a “trail”. Timestamp: 09-20-14, 0916.

At certain times of the year, Jamaica Bay and the beaches that border it are teeming with Horseshoe Crabs (Limulis polyphema). The nearly intact remains of a juvenile was seen inside the dune line which borders the marsh. Timestamp: 09-26-14, 1224.

This headless mammal skeleton is probably the remains of a domestic pet, either a dog or cat. Feral cats continue to be a hindrance to the natural reproductive process of birds throughout the Rockaways, with as many as a half-dozen observed in a single day. Although Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 saw the virtual extermination of feral domestic cats, in the last few months of 2014 they appear to be making a comeback. Timestamp: 09-26-14, 1251.

These two images depict the western fringe of the marsh, approximately one month apart. The upper image was captured on August 23rd at 854AM, with that on the bottom being made on September 20th 1105AM.

Probably the largest avian entity to pass over Rocky Point is the enormous Airbus A-380 commercial airliner. Weighing 1.25-million pounds at take-off, it can carry 525 passengers 8,500 nautical miles at a cruising speed of 587 mph. Up to 853 passengers can be carried on considerably shorter flights. This one is in the landing pattern for Kennedy International Airport, with its landing gear in the process of being deployed and locked. Timestamp: 08-23-14, 0946.

This US Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III is in the landing pattern for JFK as part of the support flight for the President of the United States, during a recent visit to NY City. The C-17 weighs 585,000 pounds at takeoff and can carry 102 paratroops, or up to 80-tons of cargo. Since it can refuel in the air and land on short runways, this aircraft can deploy nearly anywhere in the world. Timestamp: 09-20-14, 1039.

Rocky Point isn’t the only section of Gateway NRA meriting special attention from birders and students of the natural world. This White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus) was spotted for just a few seconds, while the camera laid in wait at the pond below Battery Harris East, in Fort Tilden. It was my first sighting of this species. Timestamp: 08-31-14, 1558.  
One week later, on September 6, a walk along the shore in Fort Tilden revealed another new species for my life-list. This Whimbrel (Numinius phaeopus), with its distinctive downward-curved bill was observed closely for nearly half-an-hour. Timestamp: 09-06-14, 1048.

A very common year-round resident at Gateway NRA is the Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). This particular specimen is in the final stages of molting, which accounts for its very disheveled and scruffy appearance. He is perched on the guard rail that sits atop the casemate at Battery Harris East. Timestamp: 09-06-14, 0915.

Credit where it’s due:
Special Thanks to Tony for the photo of the Primrose Moth and to Mr. John Himmelman for the accompanying information. Thanks also to Rich for helping with the identification of the Rubbed Dart. Any errors of fact or omission are mine alone.

Published works consulted for this posting included the following:

“The Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America”, by R.T. Peterson. 2008, Houghton Mifflin, ISBN9780618966141. This is THE classic work by the legendary Roger Tory Peterson. I have two versions; the cited volume includes both east and west field guides between the covers of an enlarged-format book. Simply stated, no serious birder should be without a copy.

“The Sibley Guide to Birds”, by D.A. Sibley. 2000, Knopf, ISBN 9780679451228. Building on Peterson’s work, David Allan Sibley took the idea a step further and this wonderful title is the result. This enlarged volume also covers eastern and western North America, combining two existing field guides. If you have Peterson, you should also have this!

“Mammals of North America”, by F.A. Reid. Peterson Field Guides, 2006 Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 9780395935965. Roger Tory Peterson started something that spawned dozens of field guides for the student of nature, including this title. Profusely illustrated, it also features images of mammal tracks.

Peterson First Guides: “Butterflies & Moths”, by P.A. Opler. 1994, Houghton Mifflin, ISBN9780395906651.

Peterson First Guides: “Wildflowers”, by R.T. Peterson. 1986, Houghton Mifflin, ISBN9780395906675.

Peterson First Guides: “Fishes”, by M. Filisky & S. Landry. 1989, Houghton Mifflin, ISBN9780395911792. All of the above titles are small primers on their respective subjects and are by no means comprehensive. They are extremely economical, although narrowly-focused.

“Field Guide to Insects and Spiders”, by L. Milne & M. Milne. 1980, Knopf, ISBN9780394507637. A fine guide covering only a small portion of a vast subject, this book should be one of several on the subject in the naturalist’s library.

“Field Guide to Wildflowers, Eastern Region”, by N.C. Olmstead, W.A. Niering & J.W. Thiret. 1979, Knopf, ISBN0375402322. In the same style as the book above, this title only scratches the surface. Regardless, as a novice I have found this a useful addition to my reference library.

“The Sibley Guide to Trees”, by D.A. Sibley. 2009, Knopf, ISBN9780375415197. Mr. Sibley doesn’t only paint birds! This beautifully-illustrated and hefty tome has helped me solve a mystery or two.

Except where noted, all text and photos are by Frank V. De Sisto.

Rocky Point Marsh needs your help. To volunteer for service contact National Park Services Ranger Tony Luscombe at:

For more photos of Rocky Point as well as other locations within the Gateway NRA complex, visit: