Saturday, April 30, 2011

Day 22: Earth Day Redux Triumphant

Last Saturday, to celebrate Earth Day, Mother Earth gave us the gift of torrential rainfall as we labored to mend her wounds. But this weekend she played nice. Over 70 volunteers from the NYC Audubon Society, the American Littoral Society, Bloomberg and my own esteemed circle of colleagues showed up for a sunny Earth Day part deux.

The day's mission was to clear debris from the channels in advance of the coming moon tides and horseshoe crab invasion. The plastic and wood never stood a chance against this army of rake-wielding mercenaries.

A team from Audubon braved waters teeming with harmless killifish to dredge sunken debris.

Caspar wowed us with his wicked marsh guitar solos and a dead skate.

The Hardcore award went to Alex of Sheepshead Bay, who tossed 100-lb waterlogged timbers around like so many whiffleball bats.

Once the channels were sufficiently cleared we moved on to our next goal, erecting an osprey platform. Having sleeved it in a PVC predator guard (to deter egg-snatching raccoons), we hauled it out to the magic spot and hoisted.

Wait, hold it right there for the obligatory Iwo Jima shot...

And up it went without a hitch.

Jubilation ensued. This video conveys the general pace of the afternoon. It's dedicated to Jen Silverman, because I couldn't make good on her original Ramones request.

The platform, made entirely from wood gathered in the marsh, is now Rocky Point's centerpiece. With any luck it will be occupied by a pair of osprey sometime in the near future.

A big, big thank you to Alex, Ivo, Caspar, Steve, Grace, Brian, Jen, Rob, Jessica, Alex, Francois, Christian, Joni, Joanne, Remy, Chuck, John and all the wonderful people from Bloomberg, Audubon and ALS whose names I lack.

Thank you Don for co-organizing this day and for all you do. Thank you Broc for overseeing the osprey platform construction, you were missed, get well soon. Thank you Tony, the godfather of the marsh, none of this would have happened without your support and encouragement over the past seven months.

And last but not least, except in stature, thank you Irene for your lovely photos and wifeliness.

High of 66, average wind NNW @ 10 MPH, .4 low tide @ 12:41 PM. Moon @ 10%.
Water level recorded at 3 inch mark.
Birds seen in marsh: mallard, starling, red winged blackbird, green heron
Birds seen in bay: black brant, Canadian geese, oystercatcher

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Day 21: Earth Day and Aliens

We had a bonanza planned for Earth Day. Around 100 volunteers were to show up. There'd be an platoon of rake-wielding waders battling the debris, there'd be overflowing dumpsters, there'd be a glorious erecting of the osprey platform a la flag over Iwo Jima. There'd be press. But by Thursday the forecast promised 100% chance of precipitation. Everyone rescheduled for next week. Except ten of us.

The rain was the extra-wet variety. It made my Gore-tex jacket feel like a Brawny towel. But the people worked through the storm without speaking, without stopping, and without complaining.

Everyone seemed to have their own curious mode of keeping dry...

Don Riepe wrangled a dumpster which we filled in little more than an hour.

No less than two minutes after we'd finished the rain stopped falling. So we took the opportunity to scout our osprey platform site. Here it is.

Afterward, Steve Finn of the US Fish and Wildlife Service took me on a little invasive species tour of the marsh. He reeled off so many aliens I couldn't keep up. I think we'll have to take an inventory sometime in the near future. For now, here's a serene portrait of an English garden snail (Europe) climbing a cherry tree (Asia).

Weather permitting, Earth Day II will be celebrated next week at the marsh.

Thanks again to Lisa, Lorraine, Francois, Steve, Brian, Miguel, Miguel's niece, Tony and Don for braving the downpour.

High of 61, average wind SW @ 18 MPH, 6.0 high tide @ 07:40 AM. Moon @ 97%.
Water level recorded at 8 inch mark.
Birds seen in marsh: mallard, robin, starling, crow, greater yellowlegs
Birds seen in bay: black brant, red breasted merganser, gannet
Birds seen on tip: kestrel, piping plover, flicker

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Days 19 and 20: Killifish and Me Lay Siege to Marsh

Whenever the marsh floods I push a huge log up to the bank to make a floating dock for the wheelbarrow, and load out the sludge that way. Here's two hours condensed to 90 seconds:

This was my first all-marsh weekend. I usually only spend one day, but having been absent for two weeks I felt obligated. The combination full moon, storm and high tide completely flooded the site. And on the deluge rode massive schools of inch-long killifish.

The water seethed with them from the mouth to the culverts. I'd seen a few darting around before, but never in this abundance.

Many congregated near the grass. They'd swirl around each other and plunge into the sand after I don't know what.

When I approached they'd sometimes do a little flip, momentarily flashing a bright silver side toward me. I wonder if this is meant to disorient predators.

While searching the main pool for a spot to plant my new yardstick, I discovered the bottom of the marsh in almost completely carpeted in dead wood. Removing that will take some doing. For now, the wood graveyard is feeding a large algal bloom that sprouted just in the past month.

On Saturday Broc and I recycled some marsh boards into an osprey platform. Permits pending, we hope to install it next weekend for Earth Day. If you're reading this and want to join us, come anytime between 10 and 2 and we'll find something for you to do.

High of 61, average wind SW @ 18 MPH, 6.0 high tide @ 07:40 AM. Moon @ 97%.
New yard stick installed. Water level recorded at 11 inch mark.
Birds seen in marsh: mallard, robin, starling, crow, American oystercatcher
Birds seen in bay: black brant, red breasted merganser, gannet

Monday, April 11, 2011

Rocky Point's Mysterious Past

A mystery has plagued the marsh ever since ecologist Patricia Rafferty visited last fall: what did Rocky Point used to look like?

The answer would have profound implications for the site's potential restoration. The historical quandary goes as follows. There are two groins (low seawalls built perpendicular to the shore) framing the marsh. Did their construction form the dune that separates the marsh from the bay? If so, it would suggest that prior to the groin construction, the marsh flooded daily, not monthly, as it does now. In order to restore the daily influx, the dune would need to be removed using heavy machinery. Patricia suggested that historical aerial photos might shed light on what happened. She provided images from 1951, 1974 and 1996. Using Google Earth's historical imagery tool, I captured satellite photos dating from 1994 to present. After patching them together, we're a bit closer to solving this mystery. Watch this:

Ever since the groin (upper left) was installed, sometime before 1951, the shoreline has remained fairly consistent. Note that some 100 houses, an entire marsh-front neighborhood, disappeared sometime after 1951. Were they vacation homes or residences? Why were they moved? Where did the people go? click image to expand

The road was removed sometime between 1974 and 1994. The crumbled remains now serve as my wheelbarrow highway.

Sometime between 1951 and 1974, an additional groin was built immediately to the west of the marsh. The creek mouth initially bordered the eastern edge of the groin. But sometime between 1974 and 1994, it migrated to it's present location, and has remained stable for at least a decade.

In conclusion, Patricia wrote, "It looks like the bayward edge of the marsh has had a dune feature. Thus throughout the 1951 to 2008 time period it seems to me that the creek has been the sole source of hydrologic exchange with the bay (except perhaps during extreme storms when the dune would be overtopped or overwashed.)"

So what did Rocky Point used to look like? Despite all the changes to the surrounding area, we discovered it looked very much like does today. But before we can abandon any dune-busting plans, we need to see the marsh before 1951, before the 'big groin' was built. Patricia says the NPS has recently acquired and is currently georectifying imagery from around 1924. An image from that time period could potentially close the case on Rocky Point.

Special thanks to Patricia Rafferty for providing the imagery.