Thursday, July 21, 2011

Day 33: Nest-making, and a chase scene

Today the haze sat heavier than a 300-lb plumber on his lunch break. Relative humidity was six clicks shy of 100%. Vapor and smog combined forces to enshroud the Manhattan skyline for the first time in months. Yet the marsh life seemed invigorated by this weather, lining the channels to stab at the mud. Among them was this yellowlegs, a marsh first for me.

And this peep. In case you're not acquainted, peeps are a complex of five small sandpipers that look more like siblings than distinct species. Please leave a comment if you can ID this one. [update: it's a pectoral sandpiper in transitional plumage, ID courtesy Don Riepe]

The platform camera captured a green heron in a state of intense concentration on some mystery object. At this altitude, probably not a fiddler crab.

This sparrow also made a few appearances. Please leave a comment if you can ID. [update, it's not a sparrow at all... it's a female red-winged blackbird. ID courtesy Don Riepe]

The platform camera trap tally for the week ending 07/20/11 included: sparrow 5; red-winged blackbird 1; starling 3, green heron 1; osprey 6. The osprey pair visited 6 of 7 days, usually in the morning, spending an average 90 minutes each time. Though it's too late for them to lay any eggs, they have begun nest-building.

The building material appears to be largely composed of dried algae and phragmites. Here's their week's progress.

Guest marsher Jon Santos, having recently survived a nasty bout of whooping cough, dropped in to help clean up and fill his battle-weary lungs with marsh freshness.

Higher parts of the marsh were about as parched as I've seen them, thanks to the recent heat and low tides. The scattered, desiccated bodies of hermit crabs in the bay front channel attested to the harsh conditions. Aside from a few puddles, water was restricted to the main channel, and it wasn't pretty. But clean up is always easier when the debris and ground are dry. We managed to clear a respectable swath from the marsh middle.

As we raked, a large shadow suddenly sliced through the grass, drawing our gazes skyward to a massive female peregrine falcon towing a solitary least tern in hot, angry pursuit. "Brass balls," Santos muttered. Indeed. The tern appeared less than least, roughly the size of the falcon's tail feathers. It brazenly chased its would-be assassin around the marsh, coursing through the reeds and bashing into a tree before disappearing into the east. For want of a camera at that moment I offer this rendering.

High of 85, max humidity 94%, average wind () @ 4 MPH, 5.0 low tide @ 12:18 PM. Moon 79% visible.
Water level recorded at 4 inch mark.
Birds seen in marsh: great egret, yellowlegs, black skimmer, least tern, common tern, mockingbird, unidentified peep, peregrine falcon
Birds seen in bay: laughing gull, herring gull, common tern, black skimmer, least tern, semipalmated plover


  1. Hey Shervin...congrats on the bird sightings and the ospreys who seem to think your platform is very suitable for them! I believe the second bird in question from the platform is a saltmarsh sparrow..its not a common bird to see as its secretive and limited to areas like yours at Rocky Point. I'll ask a friend about the peep and let you know!

  2. Saltmarsh sparrow... that would make sense. Thanks Lisa.

  3. You guys cleaned up so much in the middle! I'll be there to help next week! And it's so cool that the ospreys are nesting!

    - Sarah