Friday, December 24, 2010

Marsh Cruise

This will be my last post for 2010. Thanks to everyone for your time and muscles over the past two months. At this rate, we may have a finished project this time next year. As a parting gift, I offer this 90-second movie shot in Muskrat Vision ©. No muskrats were harnessed or otherwise inconvenienced during filming. Happy New Year, see you at the marsh in 2011.

Edited by Irene. Music by Elliott Smith.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 8: Moon Tides

Saturday's dry channel is now underwater.

The entire marsh was transformed by the moon tide, i.e. the spring tide, which is completely unrelated to the season. Nor does it have anything to do with the recent winter solstice/ lunar eclipse that everyone slept through. Flooding occurs twice a month: once on the full moon and once on the new moon. This just happened to be the first time I was around to see it.

Upon arrival I found the main pool filled with Canadians and black ducks. They predictably evaded the paparazzi.

Our plotting and scheming paid off. Saturday's heroic log-removal efforts allowed the incoming tide to consolidate the debris and push it up to the bank for easy raking. Some may recall one massive chunk of dock that we couldn't budge, even with ten people tugging. Today it became a floating platform and wheelbarrow ferry. Very effective, in a Huck Finn sort of way:

It's starting to look like ... a marsh.

High of 39, wind NNE @ 11 MPH, -.6 low tide @ 2:42 PM, water level at 6-inch mark. Water by culvert frozen.
Birds seen: black brant, Canadian geese, common mergansers, cardinal, black ducks
Other: raccoon and possum tracks along main path

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Day 7: Winter Marsh Day

Rocky Point enjoyed a major victory today, with 19 volunteers showing up for our first "Marsh Day." We commenced with a ceremonial releasing of peace raccoons (actually two unwanted tenants from Tony's shop.) It was perfect marshing weather: above freezing, zero wind, and the warm glow of the low December sun. Most of the coats had come off by the end of the day.

Half the group collected small debris:

The other half hauled logs, some weighing in excess of 400 lbs. After yelling 1, 2, 3, HEAVE! all day, Caspar considered a career as a Viking slave-master.

The goal was to clear the channel before the next moon tide. With the wood removed, the water will push the remaining debris onto higher ground, where it will be easier to remove. We accomplished the task in less than four hours. You can land an airplane in there now. Well... a model airplane.

Does anyone have a fireplace?

We ended the day tired but inspired. Cecilia and Kenny made another contribution by testing the strength of the ice for us. They discovered it wasn't very strong. Thanks for letting us know! Bring an extra pair of socks next time...

Many thanks to Jay, Tina, Cecilia, Kenny, Sherman, James, Tung, Stacy, Montana, John and his kids, Stu, Caspar, Cory, Brock, Don and his friend, Irene, Tony and the American Museum of Natural History for your hard, hard work. Happy Holidays.

All photos by Irene

High of 35, wind NNW @ 1 MPH, .2 low tide @11:37 AM, water level unrecorded. Pond frozen.
Birds seen: black brant, mockingbird

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 6: Slush

Icy slush now carpets the main pool. As the water repeatedly thawed and froze over the past week, debris from the central flats worked it's way toward the culvert. It will make for easy gathering next spring. But for now, the frozen top layer is too brutal on the shins to justify a dip.

A flotilla of around 30 common mergansers bobbed around the jetty throughout the day:

Started clearing plastic debris by tub and dolly. The rest of the day was spent organizing for Saturday's event, when we hope to have a dozen volunteers clearing the dry parts of the marsh.

High of 29, wind WNW @ 20 MPH, 4. high tide @2:48 PM, water level at 2 inch mark.
Birds seen: common merganser, mallard, Canadian geese, black brant, mockingbird

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Day 5: Ice

The marsh is frozen, with a half-inch of ice covering the pond. So Stu and I focused on clearing the dry channel using the wheelbarrow, which made light work of the smaller wood debris. This trusty vehicle should prove even handier when the pond freezes solid. It will be like ice-road trucking but with one tire and no hemi.

The passerines were bold today. Irene captured a yellow-rumped warbler, black-capped chickadee and cardinal. On the bay side we saw a flotilla of skittish American wigeon and what looked like mergansers. I failed to capture a before/after so this hero shot will have to do:

All photos by Irene

High of 32, wind from WNW @ 12 MPH, -.1 low tide @4:09 PM, water level at -.5 inch mark. Birds seen: warbler, chickadee, cardinal, wigeon, merganser, black brant, gulls
Other: 2 in. mussels seen on marsh side of dune. Large cockle clams exposed on beach. Raccoon, possum and cat tracks in sand.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Day 4: sludge-based life form discovered

Today Kip and I abandoned the main pool for one of the many log jammed channels crisscrossing the marsh. We managed to clear enough of the debris to see some water. Upon flipping over a twin sized futon, we discovered life. Check out these pythons:

They're Atlantic ribbed mussels, the only large bivalve found in salt marshes. They can breath air and live for over two decades. These were about 4 cm long, indicating they're at least 2 years old. That they survived so long sandwiched between mud and mattress bears testament to their tenacity. They bind the sediment with their supersilk, slowing erosion at the marsh edge. Their droppings feed the cordgrass, the plant that holds the entire marsh together. Encouraging to know something besides us is attempting to clean up the place. We also saw about a thousand little snails and some sand shrimp.

Here's Kip on our pile:

High of 40, wind from NNW @ 13 MPH, 4. high tide @4:28 PM, water level at 3.5-inch mark. Birds seen: robin-sized bird with greenish-yellow underwings.

Age and Growth Rate Determinations for the Atlantic Ribbed Mussel, Geukensia demissa Dillwyn (Bivalvia: Mytilidae) Diane J. Brousseau Estuaries, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Sep., 1984), pp. 233-241

Recruitment, Survivorship, and Age Structure of a New York Ribbed Mussel Population (Geukensia demissa) in Relation to Shore Level: A Nine Year Study David R. Franz Estuaries, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Jun., 2001), pp. 319-327

Ribbed Mussels and Spartina Alterniflora Production in a New England Salt Marsh Mark D. Bertness Ecology, Vol. 65, No. 6 (Dec., 1984), pp. 1794-1807

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Day 3: 4X the Power, 4X the Fun

Many firsts to report. Today, Irene and Brooklynites Rob and Kip became the first new volunteers to hit the marsh. It was my first time on the site without Tony, and Irene captured our first "disturbing shot of the day":

She also captured our first "tragic irony shot of the day":

Kip took a photo when Irene jumped in to help with one long piece:

We battled logs for four grunting hours, undoubtedly to justify tomorrow's pumpkin pie binge.

And binge we will.

My utmost gratitude to these three for giving the channel a major facelift. Once my volunteer army is assembled no marsh trash will be safe. Happy Thanksgiving.
Low 50s, wind from NW @ 13 MPH, -.1 low tide @3:30 PM, water level at 2-inch mark. Birds seen: black brant, cardinals, warblers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cleanup Day 2

Breezy was very breezy today with gusts whipping through at 52 mph. This would normally be a nuisance but it helped push the debris toward our pile. Despite the wind it was warm with a high of 62. Upon arrival we saw two black brant in the pond along with the usual yellow-rumped warblers. Here's Tony looking especially curmudgeonly on the "east pile," which comprises about a third of the wood we've extracted.

And here's the view from the Rocky Point dune. The wind had subsided by then.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cleanup Day 1

Wednesday, November 10 was my first day in the slosh. I started in the southeast pond, which at three feet (.5 fathoms) is the deepest water on the site. My maiden immersion was cut short by Tony's "heritage" waders, which were shot through with more holes than one of those deer crossing signs. I leapt out before my socks got saturated and Tony brought me my Simms waders which I guess I'll be using from now on.

Some of the larger timbers we extracted will later be used to construct an osprey platform on the site. I saw several yellow-rumped warblers (aka butterbutts), and on the beach side, a herring gull with its head buried inside a gray triggerfish. These fish are common sight around Caribbean reefs. They range north to Nova Scotia.

Finished around 5:00 PM with my fingers slightly grated from pushing logs around. Long-cuff PVC gloves next week.

The Location

By bicycle: make your way across the Marine Parkway Bridge. Exit right (the only way to exit). Make your first right into the Riis Landing. There is a bike lockup rack beside the dock.

By MTA: Take the downtown 2 or 5 train to the end of the line, Flatbush Avenue. Find the Q35 bus stop right in front of the Bank of America on Flatbush (giant Target next door makes useful landmark). Take the Rockaway-bound Q35. Pull the cord as you enter the Marine Parkway Bridge, and get off the bus at the end of the bridge.

By vehicle: point your GPS toward 20234 Rockaway Point Blvd., Breezy Point, NY. About 1/5 mile before the destination, look on your right for a crossbar nailed to the telephone pole. Park in front of the second crossbar. There will likely be a white truck parked there as well.

The Site

New York City creates about 12,000 tons of garbage daily, a portion of which ends up in the water. If it floats, the garbage drifts down the rivers and out to sea, where the Gulf Stream swirls it around like a perpetual toilet flush. But a lot of the garbage is sucked back into New York Harbor. Periodically, a big tide or winter storm vaults the floaters over a dune, where their journey ends. Rocky Point is just such a garbage trap.

Not very long ago, Rocky Point was a place where herons bobbed for killifish and fiddler crabs scuttled through the cordgrass. Where muskrats erected waterfront subdivisions and hundreds of shorebirds made their migratory pit stops, all set against the panorama of Manhattan, Coney Island, and Jamaica Bay. It’s the only tidal wetland in the Breezy Point District of Gateway National Recreation Area.
Breezy is best-known for its pristine (by New York standards) beaches and the endangered piping plover, to which the Park devotes most of its resources and personnel. Because neither humans nor plovers frequent Rocky Point, the site has been neglected. But it is still very much alive. At least twenty species of native plants are present. There’s no oil or chemical pollution. The garbage is mostly the bigger sort, like boards and polystyrene. And once the wetland is cleaned, it will be easy to keep it clean. This November, Tony Luscombe and I started the process of reviving Rocky Point marsh. This blog will be a diary of our progress.