Thursday, September 1, 2011

Day 38: What Irene hath wrought

I took a two week hiatus from marsh work because my wife Irene spawned a Category 3 storm of our own:

We brought him home a few hours before the other Irene hit NYC. That night we huddled in the apartment watching movies beside our emergency pile of water-filled wine bottles, canned goods and headlamps. Although our East Village apartment sits on the cusp of the B and C hurricane evacuation zones, I had a feeling we'd be fine. But Rocky Point would inevitably be transformed. The storm surge combined with a freakishly high tide could either flood the marsh with new junk or suck the old junk out to sea.

Today I went to see what Irene did to the marsh. Here are a few scenes from my survey.

The most conspicuous effect was this logjam in the west channel. These timbers were already in the marsh, but the storm rearranged them into an effective dam. Water still flows below.

The western reaches of the marsh were vast floats of dead phragmites and other debris. The surge completely cleared some areas, as illustrated in the photo below. Before the storm, the top site looked like the bottom site.

How high did the water rise? At least two feet above the normal high-tide mark, as betrayed by a rack line on the culvert. Maybe the camera trap recorded documentary evidence? Well...

She was MIA, gone with the wind. There was no trace of her in the immediate vicinity, so I investigated the dispersal of the boards that formerly sat below the platform. Most had been swept into the logjam, and there I found her, floating on her back. Were it not for the logs, she might be well on her way to Nova Scotia right now. I rushed her ashore, but it was too late.

I'm familiar with those tricks for reviving waterlogged electronics, but all the rice in China couldn't dry out this unit. The lens and flash housing were fogged, and a film of rust covered the innards. Sadly, the expensive rechargeable batteries were equally toasted. But the card was intact. Here's the black box debriefing:

After a few hundred starling shots and one green heron, the last creature captured by Bushnell was this mockingbird (coincidentally, one of my wife's favorites). That was on Thursday the 25th.

Friday was eerily devoid of life, just a few false triggers. Then nothing until this on Sunday the 28th, just after midnight.

Bushnell continued to photograph the furiously whipping vegetation until Sunday evening, when she took her last picture, appropriately, of salt marsh grass.

She'll be sorely missed. We had some good times. As F. Gump would say, she was like a box of chocolates. I recorded 18 species with Bushnell over the course of eight months in the marsh. But she was wild, and Irene set her free. Mourning wasn't going to bring her back, and meanwhile, the marsh needed to be de-hurricaned.

On Martin's earlier recommendation, I asked Tony to wrangle me a seine net to replace the laborious rake-and-pitchfork routine. Urzula and I gave it a try.

And it worked beautifully on the west channel.

In the end, Irene did more harm than good, but the marsh took it like a champ and is already on the mend. Rocky Point saw storms much hairier than Irene pass through, and she'll see many more. After all, we're only halfway through hurricane season.

High of 80, max humidity 87%, average wind s @ 6 MPH, 6.5 high tide @ 10:55 AM. Moon 10% visible.
Water level recorded at 24 inch mark.
Birds seen in marsh: belted kingfisher, unidentified peep, mockingbird, green heron, osprey
Birds seen in bay: Canada goose, piping plover, semipalmated plover
killifish, Atlantic silverside and "snapper" bluefish observed in marsh

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