Sunday, September 21, 2014

“Super-Moon”, High Tides and Visiting Osprey at Rocky Point Marsh.

Salt marshes depend on external forces to flush them and provide an exchange of nutrients. The ocean’s tides are the prime means to do so, with rising tides bringing more new water in; receding tides then drain it out. Tidal dynamics on the East Coast of North America cause “spring tides” to predominate. These types of tides are caused when the sun and the mood exert gravitational force at the same time, from the same direction. August and September saw the so-called “Super-Moon” cause these high tides to be as much as 6.9-feet in Jamaica Bay, which fronts Rocky Point. Several visits to the marsh by Tony and I resulted in the photographs seen here.

First in order of appearance are these three images made by Tony. They show an inundated marsh as the result of a 6.3-foot morning high tide, which occurred at 0941, on August 12, 2014. The image files are time-coded between 0931 and 0933. These images were made looking westwards (top), then slightly north of west (middle). The bottom image depicts a detail on the marsh’s western verges.

August 13th saw clouds subsiding as recently deposited rainwater dripped from marsh vegetation. The high tide, again 6.3-feet, was due at 1035.

Various fixed reference points were photographed in order to convey the visual impression of the rising of the tides in a still photography medium. Here are the twin culverts on the inner edge of the marsh. Time: 0932.

Vegetation has been inundated, with the direction of water-flow clearly indicated as their stalks are pushed towards the right of the image, or into, the marsh. Time: 0939.

The surface of the marsh is covered in water, as the tide continues to rise. At center, background, are the twin culverts; note also the branch in the water to the left. Both items were used as measuring instruments. Time: 0942.

Just a couple of minutes have passed as more of the branch is submerged. Time: 0944.
By far the most visually dynamic event of this high tide was the foaming, bursting seawater, as it flooded into the marsh’s entry. It should be noted that this breach was made when Super-storm Sandy crashed through the area in October of 2012. As the beach naturally migrates inland, and vertical growth takes place, the original entrance to the marsh has become much less efficient at admitting water. So, in a sense, Sandy may have extended the natural life of the marsh. Time: 0948.

A mere four minutes later, the camera pivots 180-degrees, towards the area where the marsh’s original entry point lies. While the new entry is admitting copious amounts of seawater, barely a trickle has made its way through the original entrance. Some of the water is detoured by the sand-bar; the remainder by the depth and steepness of the migrating beach. Inland, the direction of migration, is to the right. Time: 0952.

This is the western-most extent of the inundated marsh, looking east. The new entrance is to the left, the old to the right. The flow of the water could be seen to come from left-to-right, further evidence that little water comes in via the old entrance. Time: 1014.

The twin culverts are now almost completely under water. The time of this photo was 1037, two minutes after high tide.

Compare this image to the one taken at 0952, above. Note how the sandbar has been covered and how some water is entering the marsh via the old entrance at the far left. Time: 1042
Turning the camera 180-degrees again, the new marsh entrance, just above the vegetation at right, is level with the sea. Time: 1043.

Our old friend, the tree branch, is fading fast, as is the vegetation above it. Note also that the sand-spit visible in the photo above at 0944, has gone underwater. Also to consider is this: the tide began receding 13 minutes prior to this photo, which was made at 1048.

The water-flow within the marsh has reversed to right-to-left as the tide recedes, as indicated by the direction in which the inundated vegetation points. Time: 1057.

Still under threatening skies, the camera takes in an overall view of the shore-line, looking east. Note how the sand-bar begins to re-emerge as the tide continues to recede. Time: 1133.

One would think that the marsh in this condition presents a perfect opportunity for wading birds to get a meal; that would be correct. Seen here is a Great Egret on the prowl. Time: 0937.

The smaller cousin of the Great Egret, this Snowy Egret also made continued life a precarious prospect for the local fish. Time: 1053.

The marsh is also home to an extraordinary variety of creatures, such as mammals, insects, fish, crustaceans and birds. An Osprey nesting box was installed in the hopes that one of these predators would take up residence. Although this has not happened, recent observations have seen an apparent up-tick in visits by these birds; I have observed five appearances in four visits. The good hunting in the area, as well as the ready availability of a custom-built home may yet see the Osprey choose to settle at Rocky Point.

The morning of August 9, 2014 saw two Osprey perched on the upper-most branches of a dead tree. One eventually flew off, while the other stayed, but only a bit longer.

The same tree on August 30, hosted an Osprey. Note that the tree is located within just a few dozen feet of the water’s edge, making it an ideal perch for an avian hunter who may wish to conserve precious energy, while still searching the waters below for prey.

On September 16, two separate Osprey sightings were recorded. This was the second one, at 1425. Like the first sighting earlier, this fellow flew from west-to-east, with a slight detour above the marsh. The most recent sighting was on the morning of September 20; a single Osprey was spotted perched in the usual tree.

Speaking of the Osprey, this particular one, part of a trio seen on September 20, is flown by the US Marine Corps as part of the presidential air transport fleet.

Except where noted, all photos and text are by Frank V. De Sisto. Special Thanks to NPS Ranger Tony Luscombe for the use of his photographs.

Published works consulted for this posting include the following:

 “Salt Marshes, A Natural and Unnatural History”, by J.S. Weiss & C.A. Butler. 2009, Rutgers University Press, ISBN 9780813545707.
The go-to book on the subject of the salt marsh, this title is a must for students of the subject. Among its many nuggets is a small schematic drawing that accompanies a brief description of what causes tides.

 “Field Guide to the Water’s Edge” National Geographic, by S. Leatherman & J. Williams. ISBN 9781426208683.
A broad, basic and well-illustrated guide to our nation’s beaches, shorelines and riverbanks, this book also details the various flora and fauna that populate such places. Aside from a concise fully-illustrated section describing the workings of tides, it also has a section on marshlands.

Tony also recommended this web-site to find local tide information. For locations, heights and times of the tides see:
An excellent, easily-accessed resource for precise locations, dates and times of tides. Click on “Tides” in the header bar. Fill in the required fields. Note the red dots in Jamaica Bay. For Rocky Point Marsh, click on the left-most one, “Barron Island-Rockaway Inlet”.

“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:



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