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.


  1. Great blog, great report. Two questions: (1) what song is that in the beaver cam video? (2) you've cleared a tremendous amount of wood and garbage from that place - but doesn't the tide just keep dropping new stuff in the marsh? Is this a Sisyphus thing or will there be a day when you dust off your hands and say "There. All done."

  2. Thanks J. The song is La Femme d'Argent by Air. We used to think that all the debris came from the bay, but we were proven wrong by aerial photos from the 1950's that depicted a subdivision of cabanas surrounding the marsh. They were torn down and later scattered by a hurricane. So 95% of the marsh trash is cabana skeletons. In the year that I've been working in the marsh, I've only seen one big log float in from the bay. Therefore one day the work will be finished
    You mentioned in an earlier comment that you used to visit this place in the 70s, what did it look like then?

  3. All I recall is that it was an impenetrable, mosquito-ey mess and we weren't supposed to go back there (it was city beach, verboten to us). The dredging of the bay 8 or 10 years ago may have changed it as much as anything - a lot of the sand on Breezy's bayside is from that dredging. There is a guy named Tommy Ryan who who fishes off the dock, about 50 years old, he grew up right near there, always hung around Henny's and the dock, and I'll bet he knows a lot about the cove. It's been a bird haven forever, and whenever we found an injured duck or tern, we'd bring it to the cove, where we thought it would be safe from marauding gulls (we didn't have ospreys back then).

    On the other side of the cove, toward Roxbury, there is an area that Roxbury used as its dump in the 50's. They burned their garbage and just left it there. Take a walk along that beach now and you'll find melted glass, kitchen utensils, shards of pottery, tires, bedsprings, all sorts of crap. I'm sure a lot of that garbage found its way into the marsh over the years.

    Gateway probably has records about the cove. And before Gateway, that was NYC land, so the city may have archives. Breezy Point Cooperative celebrated its 50th birthday last year and made an effort to collect photographs and stories, so you might check in at the Coop office (next to the Blarney, in the shopping center). The cove isn't part of Breezy, but they'll have info about the bar that Hurricane Donna destroyed in 1960 (where the Bayhouse is now), and maybe some photos from the Yacht Club. They should have some record of how the boundaries of Breezy themselves came to be, and that would presumably involve a discussion of the cove and those abandoned cabanas (never heard of those cabanas, that was a surprise).

    There's a news photographer named Arthur Truss you might check out on Flickr and elsewhere. He took 1970's era photos of Breezy and Broad Channel and other areas that had become dumping grounds. His Breezy stuff is mostly over on the ocean side, but he might have some shots of the bayside.

    I'll ask my mother what she knows. She's summered in Breezy since 1955.

    P.S. Where did you find the name Rocky Point? Did you make that up? I've never heard that before.

    You're doing a great job with that marsh. This blog is going to be an invaluable resource for decades.

  4. Thanks J. The place has an interesting history and I've been meaning to track it all down. These are some good leads you've given me. I got some old aerial photos from Gateway and patched them together with more contemporary satellite images here:
    You can see that the biggest changes that have taken place since 1954 are the removal of the cabanas and the addition of the jetty.

    When we first started working the marsh was nameless as far as the Park knew. The closest thing with a name was Rockaway Point Yacht Club, which my friend mistakenly called Rocky Point Yacht Club, and that's how the marsh got it's name.

  5. Shervin,
    I've been walking to the"cove" from the Breezy bayside for about 50+yrs. I never saw or knew about the marsh you are working on until a few years ago when I noticed and investigated the stream that runs from the bay at high tide into the marsh.I thought it was just a high tide littered swamp until I met you last spring while you were working on it. You originally asked above what it looked like in the 70's and honestly, it didn't look much different than it does today.And those weren't cabanas that were there, they were actually summer homes of the Breezy Point cooperative that had to be relocated sometime in the 50's or 60's due to a change of land ownership. Some homes were moved to the other sites in Breezy, some were just left behind and eventually destroyed by storms and tide and neglect. My childhood friends and I used to go to the area to explore and collect remnants of the households left behind, like china,silverware, pictures, baskets, etc. to stock and decorate own little homemade summer forts and clubhouses. The cove was also where we went to learn to water ski because the water was always so much calmer there. And of course, as we got older, the cove was where we went to escape our parents and do what teen-agers do.....
    Anyway, the above poster suggested some good resources for more info. I am so sorry that I missed your clean-up and I hope Cindy explained that I was home passing a kidney stone. I didn't "deliver" until Monday nite but I promise you that the pain and 80hours of "labor" was much worse than naturally delivering a 9lb 1oz baby, which I did 28 yrs. ago, and your wife more recently.I have some ideas on getting more help for your next clean-up. Many students need community service credits for graduation and/or confirmation in the spring.It would be just a matter of getting the word out. I think I could help you on that end as it is something I have done with graffiti clean-up in my own neighborhood in Marine Park in the past. Please contact me an if you'd like to discuss this further. I understand from Cindy that you are moving out west for a while and I wish you all the best. You are a true urban hero in my book! Andrea

  6. Andrea, so glad to hear your delivery is over and done with. My thoughts were with you. On the day that I posted this, I was holding out a little hope that you might ride in on that massive tide, but it was probably a little too early in the day to be paddling.
    This is fascinating stuff, about your history in the cove. I want to know more, and also talk student volunteers. I'll email you soon.