Monday, August 11, 2014

Summertime at Rocky Point

While I was only able to visit the marsh once during the month of June, on the 7th, there was much to see. Notably, the flora seen in various locations was in full bloom. Almost one month later, on July 5th, I was able to make an appearance after too long an absence; my final appearance was on the 26th of July. Notable in early July was a fair amount of dragonflies as well as bees and other insects.

Note that for this entry I am including a bibliography listing some of the published works that were consulted during my fact checking. Any errors of interpretation are mine alone.
These handsome violet-colored flowers were seen in the western edge of the marsh within the tree-line, which borders that area. Genie identifies these as Bluejacket (Tradescantia Ohiensis)

In the meadows to the east of the marsh, small patches of Lanceleaf Tickweed (Coreopsis Lanceolata) could be seen. This section was the largest of them all, providing a colorful counterpoint to the new greenery seen throughout the area.

Seen throughout the Rockaway division of Gateway NRA, Hedge Bindweed flourishes. This group was found at the western edge of the marsh in front of the tree-line.

Some pretty little buds of the Bristly Locust (Robinia Hispide) were beginning to sprout.
The vibrant yellow and white Multiflora, or Japanese Rose (Rosa Multiflora) was spotted here and there on the western edge of the woods surrounding the marsh.

What is probably a Jersey Pine flourished at the east end of the woods behind the marsh.

Seen on the beach in front of the marsh’s inlet on June 7th, previous tidal and weather action revealed peat deposits. These deposits are essentially compressed vegetation from a previous time, covered by sand and new vegetation. Peat deposits tens of millions of years old have been found on the Atlantic coast.

Although an apparently relatively uncommon Dragonfly, the Painted Skimmer, seen here, prefers marshy areas and coastal plains, making Rocky Point an ideal habitat.

 This tiny Sand Fiddler Crab caught my eye, but only when it moved. At first, because of its size (about 1.5-inches wide), I thought it was an insect.

 This young Common Loon was observed on the beach, just outside the marsh. These creatures are designed to dive underwater for their prey, which is why their legs are positioned so far back on their bodies. This makes for very efficient diving but also makes them extremely ungainly when on land. When these birds molt their flight feathers, their mobility is further inhibited. Regardless, they often come up on the shore, which makes them vulnerable to predators.

The Least Sandpiper, shown here foraging along the marsh pond’s edge, is, as its name implies, the smallest Sandpiper. Its characteristic slightly downward curved bill and greenish yellow legs set it apart from other “peeps”.

The Great Egret is a common visitor at Rocky Point. This graceful bird is seen on the beach just outside the marsh entrance.

Black Skimmers are also seen this time of the year, hunting along the surf. Their long, thin wings allow them to glide some distance as they deploy their larger, lower mandible in order to catch prey in shallow water.

Over the past few years, the marsh has hosted as many as four Willets at one time. Often a pair and an individual are seen, sometimes two pairs. With all of this activity, and the vociferous territorialism displayed by these birds, curiously, no young have as yet been observed.

Several Black Scoters were encountered about 100 yards east of the marsh inlet on July 5th. I counted at least six on that day, including this pair, which includes an adult male and female (foreground).

A trip to West Beach to check on the progress of the Piping Plover chicks, found this adult. Although no chicks were observed, this adult continued to do a “broken wing” dance, in order to distract from the young. A careful look in all directions, starting where the adult was first observed, did not reveal any chicks.

Later on June 7th, a visit to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn resulted in a hike along a small section of the nature trail within the “North Forty”. This Eastern Cottontail was so intent upon feeding that my close proximity to him (less than 30 feet) did not disturb him in the least. He only moved as I proceeded along the trail and then he returned to his favorite spot immediately after I passed.

Books consulted for this entry included:

“Atlantic Coast Beaches, A Guide to Ripples, Dunes and Other Natural Features of the Seashore”, by W.J. Neal, O.H. Pilkey & J.T. Kelley. 2007, Mountain Press, ISBN 9780878425341.

“Salt Marshes, A Natural and Unnatural History”, by J.S. Weiss & C.A. Butler. 2009, Rutgers University Press, ISBN 9780813545707.

“Dragonflies Through Binoculars, A Field Guide to Dragonflies of North America”, by S.W. Dunkle. 2000, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195112689.

“The Sibley Guide to Birds”, by D.A. Sibley. 2000, Knopf, ISBN 9780679451228.

“The Sibley Guide to Trees”, by D.A. Sibley. 2009, Knopf, ISBN 9780375415197.

“Mammals of North America”, by F.A. Reid. Peterson Field Guides, 2006 Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 9780395935965.

Extra Special Thanks to Genie Gregor for her help in identifying some of the wildflowers and trees, as well as the crab depicted in this posting.

Text and photos 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:

Sunday, June 29, 2014


 The month of May finally brought spring to the marsh. I was able to get there on four consecutive Saturdays (the 10th, 17th, 24th and 31st). On my first visit of the month I observed and photographed several pairs of birds as they appeared to make a go of nesting in the area. A pair of Greater Yellowlegs, and a pair of Green Herons were seen foraging within the marsh itself, while on the beach a pair of Common Terns were seen, along with a fairly large number of Brant Geese. The Willets (a pair and an individual) were back and causing their usual uproar when they saw me. Although I managed to photograph every pair noted above, a glitch in the system saw me lose most of the images.

The tenth began as an extremely foggy morning with the sun finally beginning to burn through at about 9:30AM. As the sun made its appearance, the temperature rose quickly causing me to shed a couple of layers of clothing. A view out towards the Gill Hodges-Marine Parkway Bridge depicts the fog as it dissipated.

Heading east through the brush, there are several spots that appear to be completely undisturbed by human activity. Here we see the back-side of the dunes at the extreme eastern end of the cove that fronts the marsh.

This view looks west along the cove, with the marsh situated where the shore-line curves inwards towards the center of the image. Compare the clear blue skies to the first image in this post to see just how much things cleared up; the time was about 11:00 AM.

The marsh is often full of Warblers in the spring, and on this day I managed to get some good images of a Chestnut-sided Warbler, which, according to Tony is the first time this species has been seen in the marsh. This one appears to be a male in full breeding plumage.

Fairly common residents of the marsh and the surrounding woods include the Mourning Dove...

... and the White-throated Sparrow.

On the 10th of May, the most numerous bird species was the Grey Catbird, with dozens spotted flitting through the woods.

The following Saturday, May 17th, saw NPS Volunteers Genie and her children, Becky and Danko, making observations in the marsh. While Genie made notes and collected samples, the remarkably devoted youngsters did some clean-up of man-made debris.

Meanwhile, along the beach, Horseshoe Crabs have returned for their annual rites of reproduction. Here we see a couple, caught in the act, with the typically much smaller male atop the female.

All along the beach several other couples were observed, as were their tracks. This rather confused Horseshoe Crab trail was left in the sand.

Horseshoe Crabs are tracked by government agencies, using white-painted metal disks attached to their carapace. This example, numbered 780371, was found along the beach just outside the marsh’s entrance.

Also seen on the beach were many, many Semi-palmated Sandpipers, including this group. In some situations they can be confused with Sanderlings, although a close look will reveal the variety in their plumage; this is not seen on Sanderlings.

On May 24th, Michael Christopher, from NYC Audubon, returns along the beach-front while conducting his migratory bird-count. Michael has been doing this for several years and has a good handle on trends in the area surrounding the marsh. On this day, he noted the paucity of species. The following week he counted a group of over 300 Semi-palmated Sandpipers, the largest number he’d ever seen at this location.

Five Semi-palmated Plovers pose for the camera while foraging in the marsh. There were more than a dozen of these small plovers ranging inside and outside of the marsh on May 31st.

One of my favorite shore-birds, the Ruddy Turnstone, is often seen as an individual amongst a larger group of other shore birds. On May 31st, there were more than a dozen in the area, concentrating on the far East end of the cove where the marsh is situated.

This pair of Least Terns take a break in foraging along the shore, immediately in front of the marsh, on May 24th. Very similar in appearance to the Common Tern (see next image), they are smaller, have differently-colored mandibles and feature a small triangular patch of white between their eyes.

Also on May 24th, this common Tern perches on a sheet of barnacle-encrusted fiberglass, just outside the marsh. Note his mandibles, which are a deeper red and have more black on the tip than the Least Tern.

The pond inside the marsh hosts all sorts of avian visitors. On May 24th this American Robin decided to stop for a bath in between his other daily survival tasks.

On May 24th, a grey sky greeted me when I came into the marsh. One can see how the marsh is becoming greener as spring takes hold in earnest.

Along with the “greening” of the woodlands within the marsh, flowers also began to add their little spots of color. This flower was photographed on May 24th, inside the woods at the far western corner of the marsh. Unfortunately, it remains unidentified.

Also on the 24th, another plant that caught my eye was this blooming nemesis of all hikers, Poison Ivy. Genie explains that due to deforestation, Poison Ivy flourishes where it normally would not, becoming as common as a weed.

A side trip over to West Beach in mid- April, revealed that the Piping Plovers were hunting for nesting territory.

Several weeks later, this recently hatched chick (one of four observed) was photographed scurrying about.

Although the marsh features a nesting box suited to the Osprey, they appear not to have taken much notice. The Osprey is often seen hunting along the shore next to the marsh, or passing overhead with its catch, but is rarely seen in the interior. This “Osprey” is actually a Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey belonging to the United States Marine Corps. The MV-22 is a hybrid “tilt-rotor” aircraft, with the vertical landing capabilities of a helicopter and the speed of an airplane. It was photographed on May 31st as part of the Fleet Week visit to New York City over the Memorial Day weekend.

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:

Text & Photographs by Frank V. De Sisto

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May marsh visit

I visited the marsh on May 7 - I hadn't been for more than a year, and was very curious.  May had always been a good time to be here: Horseshoes and birds were legion, the spartina was profuse, everything was having babies and eating each other, tides were extreme, the weather was ideal. In fact, the May of 2011 was probably the most exciting month I ever spent in the marsh. Not this time, except for the weather part. Amazing what a difference five days can make.

Tony tells me the herons and willets have since returned. He also reports a highly-anticipated osprey-on-the-platform sighting. We're all waiting for the day a young osprey couple starts up a family here.

Upon composing this before-and-after, I realized that much has changed on the marsh horizon since we started this project five years ago, thanks to Hurricane Sandy and the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere:

A few notable observations: the marsh's eastern boundary is now covered in grass where it was once covered in very uninviting black algae and unidentifiable slime:

And near the main channel, many small sprouts appeared. No doubt they're easier to ID now, but any help from the botany experts here would be much appreciated:

After our brief visit we joined Tony in setting up five exclosures for piping plovers. Here's wishing them a productive, disturbance-free season.

High of 69, 4.4 high tide @ 3:05 PM.
Water level unrecorded.
Birds seen in marsh: red winged blackbird
Birds seen in bay: black brant, Canadian geese, oystercatcher

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Winter Retrospective, December 2013 - April 2014

The New York winter of 2013-2014 was rather rough, with relatively low temperatures and well over four feet of accumulated snow. Road conditions were a deterrent, keeping me from visiting Gateway NRA as much as I would have liked. Yet, I still managed the occasional trip.

At the end of 2013, on the afternoon of December 22nd, several Sanderlings were seen foraging along the shore, just outside the marsh. This fellow decided to change location and was kind enough to pose for an in-flight photo.

A group of Canada Geese, which are rather common in the area, do not appear in the least bit disturbed by the elements as they forage in the marsh on February 22, at 11:28 AM.

Meanwhile, later that same day, just after 2:00 PM, at Breezy Point bay-side, this Snowy Owl was observed and photographed. Its visit was part of a large-scale irruption, which has seen these beautiful predators come further south than is usual and in fairly substantial numbers. Several were also observed over at Floyd Bennett airfield over the preceding and following weeks; I personally saw three in one afternoon.

An early morning visit to the marsh on March 22 revealed the characteristically “toed-in” tracks of a Piping Plover, just to the east of the estuary. It would appear that a feral cat was following along, perhaps in search of a meal. Abandoned domestic pets are a constant man-made threat to nesting birds throughout the Rockaways.

Still appearing to be a bit barren, one can readily see evidence of the movement of the tides into and out of the marsh, in the attitude in which the vegetation has been laid. This image was made on March 22nd.

Later on the same morning, a pair of American Oystercatchers, along with a flock of Herring Gulls, forages at the beach in front of the marsh. The American Oystercatcher is a constant presence near the marsh during breeding season. The four species of Gulls most often observed in this area also include Ring-billed Gulls, Laughing Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls.

Meanwhile, at West Beach on the morning of April 12th, Piping Plovers had already arrived in their search for nesting territory. These endangered birds are ideally camouflaged for an environment that includes sand, shells and other natural debris. They are often difficult to spot until they move. This particular stretch of beach later revealed at least two nests.

Prior to a visit to the marsh on April 26, I took a walk towards Breezy Point. This Eastern Towhee was one of several observed along the vehicle access road.

Arriving at the marsh later that afternoon, evidence of unsettled weather was seen. Although rain threatened, the skies cleared shortly afterwards.

That same day, having been forewarned by Tony, I came upon a small group of young volunteers, who live nearby in the Breezy Point Co-Op, doing their bit to restore the marsh. Undeterred by the threatening weather, the group set about their task.

Led by Mr. Robert Espinoza, the group proudly displays their “catch-of-the-day” in the form of bags filled with plastic refuse, as well as the remains of a hobbyist’s remote-controlled model airplane. Aside from the large and small bits of human-altered timber brought in by the tides, plastic, in the form of various containers, construction materials and especially bags, is a major eyesore. Small groups of young people are ideally suited to the task of clearing this light-weight material from the marsh and its environs.

As the youngsters proceed with the task at hand, a Laughing Gull looks on.

Then, just to prove that one never knows what will be witnessed in and around the Gateway complex, during an April 27th walk along West Beach, this fishing trawler was photographed high and dry on the shore in front of the Breezy Point Co-Op. Anchored close in-shore, it had been caught unawares when the tides receded. When queried, a crewman shrugged his shoulders and simply stated that, “I guess we were not paying attention.” One wonders what the vessel’s owners thought!

Rocky Point Marsh needs your help. To volunteer for service contact National Park Services Ranger Tony Luscombe at: dcalato6@gmail dot com

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

Text and photos by Frank V. De Sisto