Monday, August 29, 2011

Summer cleanup and initial hurricane report

Look closely at these two marshes. (click to enlarge)

Yes, clever reader, they are one and the same.

This is thanks to the hundreds of volunteers who donated a Saturday to haul a few boards and rake a few piles. In three weeks we're going to make our last big charge of the season. The goal is to move the piles of wood and debris surrounding the marsh into dumpsters. If you're reading this and want to lend a hand, follow these directions and meet us at Rockaway Pier anytime between 10AM and 2PM on Saturday, September 17th. Bring work clothes, water and lunch, and we'll provide the gloves, tools and everything else. Leave a comment if you have any questions about getting there.

Some of you asked about the hurricane's effect on the marsh. I haven't been out there yet, but Tony made quick survey today and noted that the bayside dune appears shorter, and a few half-ton logs appear to have been liberated from the main pool. Did the hurricane flush out the marsh for us?  I'll post a full report Thursday, hopefully with camera trap hurricane action, so check back then.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day 37: Pole adjustments

No ospreys visited the platform this past week, although I saw one circling overhead today. The best camtrap capture was this juvenile night heron, who dropped by for a quick survey.

I think I set a record for how many starlings you can fit on an osprey platform. Eighteen by my count, not including the fifty just out of frame, squabbling over who gets to defecate on the camera next.

I mount and retrieve the camera trap using a 28' pole made from two pieces of PVC pipe with a hook jammed into the end. Someday I'll post a video of the process, which has been described to me as both mesmerizing and pathetic. The pole saves me from hauling an extension ladder back and forth from the marsh, but I pay for it with wracked nerves and burning forearms. It's always a wobbly affair that can take up to five minutes. As the camera whips around, it sometimes captures Dali-esque visions of the marsh.

To speed the mounting process, the pole would need some high-tech mods. So I replaced the zip tie spacers with bolts and wing nuts to keep the hook from swiveling. Then I clipped the "safety barb" off the end of the hook, to keep it from snagging the wire. And finally, I replaced my old wire with a shorter loop of heavier gauge. The upgrade works like a charm. 

It used to be easy to get dramatic before-and-after cleanup shots. But now, most of the heavy debris lies beneath the surface.

A few plasticy corridors remain, however.

I called it an early cleanup day and headed back to the shop where acres of reclaimed marsh plywood await the table saw. I still aim to recycle as much of the wood as I can. Next project: bat boxes. 

They'll be the wall or post-mounted type, like this. And they'll be free to anyone who's willing to pick them up, so leave a note if you want one.

High of 80, max humidity 87%, average wind (na) @ 8 MPH, 5.2 high tide @ 11:41 AM. Moon 84% visible.
Water level recorded at 10 inch mark.
Birds seen in marsh: common tern, unidentified peep, mockingbird, green heron, white egret, osprey, forster's tern
Birds seen in bay: common tern, laughing gull

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Day 36: Marsh casserole, with a side of bad juju

Bad juju would have been understandable on day 13, but day 36? I'm only marginally superstitious. But I tend to believe that rotten luck comes in threes. And today, it did indeed.

Last week, Russ graciously offered me the use of his jumbo double-wheeled wheelbarrow. Being alone today, I was going to get a lot done with that bad boy. But the tires needed air. A few seconds after I plugged in, something started crackling inside. Before I could hit the release valve, an ominous bubble blistered up and without further ado went off like a howitzer. Russ, I owe you a tire.

I usually wear Tony's size 12 rubber boots, a bit big for me. Today I saw a pair of size 11's flopped over in the corner. They were ancient, covered in dust, and had a strange aroma, but they fit like Cinderella's pumps. Into the marsh I went. Two seconds later that unmistakable sensation of moistness where there should be dryness took hold. I leapt out of the water but it was too late, the tops of my socks were soaked. Upon closer inspection, I found the boots lacerated with more creases than Charles Bronson. 

No problem, I thought. The cam trap will cheer me up. I'd been looking forward to checking it all week. The shorebirds are migrating, the raptors are chasing them, whatever. I really thought I'd catch something special. What did I get? One hundred pictures of starlings. 

They weren't even doing anything interesting, just loitering, by the dozen, playing havoc with the motion sensor. Here's the tally: starling (too many to count), osprey 1, female red-winged blackbird 1, mockingbird 1, great blue heron 1 (on marsh). My worst haul yet.

Anyway, the three pieces of juju were over, and they weren't debilitating. While cleaning up, I noticed  evidence of luck -both good and bad - scattered throughout the marsh. Like a melting jellyfish. The lives of jellyfish are about as dictated by luck as anything you'll find in nature. They drift helplessly through the ocean, their course plotted by the currents, their fate determined by the tides. Last night, a sandy death was simply in the cards for this individual.

An empty egg case. The little skate that emerged from it was no larger than a nickel. With any luck, it will one day stretch five feet across.

Even trash can be traced to past luck.

And then there's this marsh, the luckiest marsh in New York City.

High of 82, max humidity 73%, average wind W @ 4 MPH, .3 low tide @ 12:42 PM. Moon 91% visible.
Water level recorded at 8 inch mark.
Birds seen in marsh: common tern, unidentified peep, yellowlegs, goldfinch, mockingbird, green heron
Birds seen in bay: semipalmated plover, oystercatcher, common tern, laughing gull

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Day 35: Platform video and new volunteers

Last week, for the first time, I set the platform camera trap to video mode. Nearly two hours of footage were captured. Here's the highlight reel (no audio).

The misplaced nesting material is especially entertaining. Not that these birds are here to entertain me. The tally for the past week goes as follows: osprey 4 (over three days), starling 4, sparrow 2, flicker 1 (first sighting at marsh).

Our cleanup crew grew to five today with the addition of Kelly M., Emma S. and Martin A.

And of course, Rocky Point's own Sarah V.

We focused on the middle marsh, where large patches of debris prevent spartina grass from growing. When the marsh floods as it did today, we trade in the wheelbarrow for more primitive technology, as Emma demonstrates.

Martin coaxes the tiny bits of plastic out of the submerged grass.

During an impassioned raking session, Kelly went in. An exciting moment for all. To date, nobody has swamped their waders at Rocky Point. Would Kelly be the first?

Not this time - evasive maneuvers kept her afloat. Dignity suffered only minor injuries.

We cleared our target area in less than four hours. Here it is in 60 seconds:

In case you missed that:

Thanks again to Thursday's crew, come back soon.

High of 81, max humidity 90%, average wind ESE @ 8 MPH, 6.1 high tide @ 12:14 PM. Moon 21% visible.
Water level recorded at 20 inch mark.
Birds seen in marsh: black skimmer, common tern, unidentified peep, unidentified accipiter
Birds seen in bay: n/a