Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Day 52: Give 'em an inch, they'll take a pile

The Marsh Makers' mission was to remove all of the trash piles that had accumulated over the months. This would prevent the debris from spreading around the landscape.

A trash burrito (rolled into a tarp) made it easier to move it off the truck bed into the dumpster.

A rare find: an Alexander doll.

One could not ask for a more committed, hard working group: Francesca, Lisa, Genie, Sheridan, Martin, Kim-Nora.

High of 52 °F | Humidity (avg) 60% | Wind @ 6 mph (ENE) | High Tide 5.3 ft. @ 9:41 AM | Moon 75% visible.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Day 51: The Three Marshkateers

Genie, Martin and Kim-Nora continued removing a pile consisting of an unsightly mix of plastic (mostly small broken pieces) and organic matter (mostly phragmites).

When it came to unloading the back of the truck into the dumpster we employed a technique devised by Genie, who had brought a tarp. The tarp was laid down to cover the truck bed. And onto that tarp we piled the debris from our wheelbarrow and buckets. Since the tarp’s full load was too heavy to pull off the truck into the dumpster, we forked off enough debris until we could fold the tarp over like a taco. And then we could drag the remaining load off the tailgate into the dumpster.

It was a wet, messy, cool day and we were covered in grit from top to bottom.


High of 57 °F | Humidity (avg) 93% | Wind @ 11 mph (NNE) | High Tide 5.1 ft. @ 5:11 AM | Moon 75% visible.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day 50: March of the Marsh Makers

Martin, Moshe and Kim-Nora started with trash [pile] removal. In the early afternoon Sheridan and Graham joined the effort. Then came Genie and her two children, Becky and Danko. We all worked until after dark.

High of 53 °F | Humidity (avg) 63% | Wind @ 18 mph (WSW) | High Tide 5.8 ft. @ 8:47 AM | Moon 98% visible.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Day 49: Trash pickup day

Martin, Graham and Kim-Nora went out on a soggy day to continue the cleanup effort at Rocky Point Marsh on the Rockaway peninsula in Queens, New York. We called it a day after hauling two truck loads of plastic debris mixed with organic matter (mostly invasive phragmites) to the dumpster.


High of 57 °F | Humidity (avg) 90% | Wind @ 5 mph (ENE) | High Tide 5.5 ft. @ 11:14 PM | Moon 77% visible.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day 48: Remains of the bay

The area outlined in yellow is the west side of the marsh, which we've not yet begun to clean out. The red outline shows the area we've been working on since 20 November 2010.

A brief stroll shows what remains to be cleaned out of this bay-side salt marsh, the only one left on the Rockaway peninsula.

Meanwhile, Martin, Urszula, and Francesca continued the back and forth toil of removing the wood debris.

High of 63 °F | Humidity (avg) 73% | Wind @ 4 mph (SE) | High Tide 5.2 ft. @ 07:11 PM | Moon 96% visible.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Changes: End of Chapter One

To hack it in a salt marsh, a creature must be both terrestrial and aquatic. Tolerant of fresh and salt water. Tolerant of water that freezes by winter and simmers by summer. In short, tolerant of change. Especially the kind brought on by people.

Rocky Point Marsh is a highly disturbed ecosystem. Clogged with debris. Infested with alien vegetation. Mutilated by dredging and jetties. Yet it remains where no other marsh does, and provides refuge for species that will tolerate no other habitat. How long has it been here? Why is Rocky Point the last remaining marsh on the Rockaway Peninsula? To answer these questions, I made a trip to the New York Public Library's map division. I wanted to see what Rocky Point looked like 50, 100, 200 years ago.

The oldest map available was from 1773. In it, the Rockaway Peninsula appears to be weakly connected to "weFt Long Island," AKA Brooklyn. Here's pre-Revolutionary Breezy Point (lower right).

Interesting, but I needed more detail than that. So I gathered every Jamaica Bay nautical chart I could find. The last century's metamorphosis was mind-blowing. Here's a short video (16 seconds) I compiled of Jamaica Bay charts, spaced roughly every 15 years from 1888 to 2006. It's worth a couple views. First watch it while focusing on the tip of the peninsula. Then watch again while focusing on the green shading, which represents salt marsh.

The peninsula stretched two miles westward over the course of the past century. The entire community of Breezy Point is built on land that was underwater not 80 years ago. But Rocky Point marsh was always there, and it was surrounded by other marshes. By 1937, most of them had been filled.

To fully grasp the changes that took place, one must look at the greater Jamaica Bay area in 1903 vs. 2006.

Examine these closely. Note the rim of the bay. Note the area covered by JFK (upper right). Note the channels cutting through the marsh islands. Note the sheer scale of development. To see all of this in more detail check out NOAA's Historical Charts and Maps Collection. I spent the better part of a day exploring that site.

The metamorphosis was not limited to Jamaica Bay. All told, New York City buried 84% of it's original salt marsh over the last century. The repercussions of that loss are beyond the scope of this blog post. But somehow, this little marsh of ours did not get priced out. How it managed to do so amid such sweeping land alterations is unclear. What's clear is that measured on a human scale, Rocky Point's level of tolerance ranks somewhere between Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.

It sustained injuries along the way. And it will undergo further changes. But now that we know better, we can try to make those changes positive.

Our restoration efforts have slowly inched Rocky Point back toward what it may have looked like in that 1888 map. I took a photo of the marsh from the same spot every week for a year. Here I've stitched them together as a parting ode to Rocky Point. Music: Joshua Cody by Antony Partos.

One last and very important change to report. The Rocky Point Marsh Makers blog will live on through Kim-Nora Moses, a talented photographer, fellow volunteer, and friend.

Thank you Kim-Nora for taking over, and for letting me marsh vicariously through you from the west coast. Tony, make sure she keeps those rakes and shovels points-down. I know you will.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Day 47: Into the wood pile

We're all sorry to see Shervin go. But our work here will continue as a result of the inspiration gained from his focus and efforts to bring Rocky Point Marsh back to life. As the cleanup saga continues I will add images and writings of my own.

Today Marty, Urszula and Kim-Nora hauled away two truck loads of wood from this pile. Not much of a visible dent was made but it's still progress.

And this is where the wood ended the camp ground at Floyd Bennett Field. Next time, if the chainsaw is working we might be able to make that pile disappear faster.

High of 56 °F | Humidity (avg) 66% | Wind @ 5 mph (W)  | High Tide 4.8 ft. @ 02:24 PM | Moon 41% visible.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Days 45 and 46: Marsh, farewell

My apologies for the radio silence. Much has transpired since I posted last, and this, I regret, will be my penultimate post. I'll explain later, but first, let me dutifully recount the events of the last two cleanup days. The first was October 10th, when Rocky Point was besieged by more monarchs then Willy and Kate's wedding.

Wherever there was goldenrod there were butterflies. So consumed were they with their migratory feast that they forgave the big black lens violating their personal space.

Tony, Broc, Moshe and I spent that afternoon inching massive logs out of the water with the help of a come-along. It was back-breaking stuff, but we managed to get them high enough to dry out and prevent them from being reclaimed by the next big tide. We were all too occupied to take pictures but here's how it went down:

The camera trap disappointed again. Pointing down at the platform, it yielded only a few shots of phoebes, sparrows, and other small fry. Don't get me wrong, I think these little guys are swell. But I wanted something new.

So I tilted it up to aim at the opposite brace. A week later, I returned to check the results.

And darned if I didn't camera-trap my first fish. A bunker (aka menhaden), slowly being eaten by the osprey perched atop the mount.

A total of four bird species were subsequently captured. Clockwise from upper left: fish crow, flicker, mockingbird, kingfisher. The framing made for an interesting size comparison.

How do I know it's a fish crow? I don't, really, but here it is eating a crab.

October 19 was not an easy cleanup day. The rain fell on an epic scale. An oppressive haze of swirling mist punctuated by jolts of sideways rain clouded the marsh sufficiently to obscure the bay and the city beyond. But I couldn't leave, because it was to be my last day in the marsh, maybe for a long time. A confluence of events compelled me to move back to my hometown of Portland, Oregon, and I couldn't take the marsh with me. 

The irony was piercing. No lazy Indian summer farewell, none of the familiar birds flitting about. Marsh dwellers know better than to linger during a storm. Just me and the brutal downpour. It was as if the marsh was trying to shoo me away like Timmy did Lassie. 

Then, as I waded around looking for debris to ceremoniously rake up, this appeared. At first glance I took it for a shred of plastic. 

It's called salicornia, or Virginia glass wort. It was there all along, but in Autumn it turned this neon, impossible fuchsia. I didn't know such a thing could exist outside of the sci-fi realm. 

After staring at it a while I hauled my last load of wood to the culvert, where I launched this operation a year ago. And there I considered all we'd accomplished.

We had a good run. And with that, I bow to the marsh, the NPS, Breezy Point, Jamaica Bay, New York City, and all of the wild creatures that dwell therein, or just stop by on their way somewhere else. I hope they find refuge here. 

What will happen to Rocky Point marsh? Check back soon for the final installment.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Day 44: Raptors and phrastic

Somebody sneezed and then it was autumn. Nowhere was this more apparent than the marsh, whose long summer of sweltering heat and mosquitoes surrendered overnight to cool breezes and migrating raptors. I was very hopeful that the maiden deployment of camera trap #2 would yield a bird of prey. And it did. One photo of an unidentified juvenile accipiter (lower right corner).

This portrait left much to be desired. Fortunately, the raptors made up for it with a live show that lasted all day. Adults and juveniles darted in and out of the treeline by the dozen, inciting the marsh's refugee songbirds to repeatedly dive for cover. Rocky Point is a smorgasbord for bird-eating birds, and death from above took many forms: accipiters, merlins, peregrines, oh my!

They shared the sky with another voracious aerial predator (of fuel): the Airbus A380-800, AKA the world's largest passenger plane. This is the Lufthansa subspecies, buzzing the marsh on it's daily migration from JFK to Frankfurt. It may not look like much, but 526 people are crammed into that thing.

Moshe, Urzula and Kim-Nora plus me made four in the marsh today.

We consolidated our efforts to clear the mouth of Matchstick Alley. With most of the big wood gone, we turned our attention to the ubiquitous phrastic, my term for the moist, concentrated mixture of dead phragmites and plastic debris that sometimes results from the action of tides and delinquent New Yorkers.

Not long ago it covered much of the marsh, smothering the native flora and choking the channels. It now clings to a precarious existence in only a few remaining nooks.

Moshe went in deep to eradicate the stuff.

While Kim-Nora and Urzula raked and scooped.

And hauled it off to the pile.

This before-after would have been much more dramatic had I not been shooting into the sun, but there it is.

And one more, depicting one of the smaller alcoves in Matchstick Alley.

Thank you Kim-Nora, Urzula and Moshe for your marsh husbandry and compassion. Rocky Point is very lucky to have friends like you.

High of 74, max humidity 72%, average wind (NNW) @ 15 MPH, 5.3 high tide @ 03:24 PM. Moon 58% visible.
Water level unrecorded
Birds seen in marsh: osprey, merlin, peregrine, unidentified accipiters, Canadian goose, flicker, warbler, kingbird, mockingbird, black-backed gull

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Day 43: Tide race and fall migration

At seven feet, today's tide was the biggest the marsh had seen all year. I'd been waiting for this one. The unprecedentedly high water would do all the heavy lifting while I leisurely floated logs to the culvert for later removal. But once in the marsh I realized I only had an hour before the logs started scraping bottom. And the logs were many. Here's my race against the tide, partially filmed in Beavervision©.

And the resulting logjam-boree.

The deluge was intense. To illustrate, here's the main pool today vs. during a dry spell.

Throughout the day I kept crossing paths with Jim Henson's lost creation.

Here less muppet-like. A great egret's dagger bill is lethal when it comes to sniping unsuspecting fish and non-fish

It stalks silently through the marsh, searching for any movement in the water. When a potential meal is detected, the egret zeroes in, cocks it's neck and like lightning...

This individual was a pro. Not a single fumble in the dozen strikes I witnessed. 

It was an especially birdy day all around thanks to the fall migration. Geese, cormorants, four raptor species and an endless procession of tree swallows coasted over Rocky Point. It took one flock of swallows two hours to pass overhead. During our last volunteer day, USFW biologist Steve Finn told me about the non-avian migrants he observed in the marsh:

The butterflies are the most interesting to me at this time of year with their different survival strategies. Some migrate south in advance of the cold weather. Most notable are our monarch butterflies that migrate to the Oyamel forests in Mexico, where they will spend the winter. Lesser migrations to our southern states are performed by some of our other butterflies such as the question mark, ladies and morning cloak, although some of the morning cloaks don't migrate and stay to hibernate in a sheltered place such as a hollow tree. 

During our marsh clean up on Saturday we disturbed such a sleeper when Tony and I unloaded a pile of wood taken from the marsh waste (left). Finally (and perhaps sadly) we witnessed butterflies in the marsh area such as the beautiful common buckeye (right) that immigrated northward during the summer to explore new habitat, food sources and reproduce. These will stay with us into autumn until they are finally killed by the frost. The only good news is that they will be replaced next year with fresh southern immigrants. 

butterfly photos courtesy Steve Finn
Following the marsh work I went fishing with Tony down the beach from the marsh. Here again we witnessed migration. The bait fish (peanut bunker or young of the year menhaden) were heading towards the inlet to migrate south from their nursery grounds in the bay. They were being heavily fed upon by migrating snapper bluefish, striped bass and false albacore trying to fatten up before their long trip south. 

In hopes that a few migrating birds will stopover in the marsh, I decided to deploy camera trap #2 on the osprey platform. But the cradle, whose not-very-hurricane-proof design resulted in the demise of camera trap #1, required modification.

It's not overly sophisticated, but this little brace will help secure the camera during a big gust.

The glorious view from the roof of the marsh. What weary traveller wouldn't want to take a rest here?

I finished off the day in Matchstick Alley. It's slow going, but the channel is beginning to open.

High of 75, max humidity 90%, average wind (ESE) @ 11 MPH, 7.0 high tide @ 08:49 AM. Moon 0% visible.
Water level recorded at 30" mark (marsh record high). Yardstick broke shortly thereafter.
Birds seen in marsh: belted kingfisher, green heron, great egret, osprey, merlin, peregrine, unidentified accipiter, black duck, Canadian goose, flicker, warbler, tree swallows, grackle, many large gulls.