Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Days 45 and 46: Marsh, farewell

My apologies for the radio silence. Much has transpired since I posted last, and this, I regret, will be my penultimate post. I'll explain later, but first, let me dutifully recount the events of the last two cleanup days. The first was October 10th, when Rocky Point was besieged by more monarchs then Willy and Kate's wedding.

Wherever there was goldenrod there were butterflies. So consumed were they with their migratory feast that they forgave the big black lens violating their personal space.

Tony, Broc, Moshe and I spent that afternoon inching massive logs out of the water with the help of a come-along. It was back-breaking stuff, but we managed to get them high enough to dry out and prevent them from being reclaimed by the next big tide. We were all too occupied to take pictures but here's how it went down:

The camera trap disappointed again. Pointing down at the platform, it yielded only a few shots of phoebes, sparrows, and other small fry. Don't get me wrong, I think these little guys are swell. But I wanted something new.

So I tilted it up to aim at the opposite brace. A week later, I returned to check the results.

And darned if I didn't camera-trap my first fish. A bunker (aka menhaden), slowly being eaten by the osprey perched atop the mount.

A total of four bird species were subsequently captured. Clockwise from upper left: fish crow, flicker, mockingbird, kingfisher. The framing made for an interesting size comparison.

How do I know it's a fish crow? I don't, really, but here it is eating a crab.

October 19 was not an easy cleanup day. The rain fell on an epic scale. An oppressive haze of swirling mist punctuated by jolts of sideways rain clouded the marsh sufficiently to obscure the bay and the city beyond. But I couldn't leave, because it was to be my last day in the marsh, maybe for a long time. A confluence of events compelled me to move back to my hometown of Portland, Oregon, and I couldn't take the marsh with me. 

The irony was piercing. No lazy Indian summer farewell, none of the familiar birds flitting about. Marsh dwellers know better than to linger during a storm. Just me and the brutal downpour. It was as if the marsh was trying to shoo me away like Timmy did Lassie. 

Then, as I waded around looking for debris to ceremoniously rake up, this appeared. At first glance I took it for a shred of plastic. 

It's called salicornia, or Virginia glass wort. It was there all along, but in Autumn it turned this neon, impossible fuchsia. I didn't know such a thing could exist outside of the sci-fi realm. 

After staring at it a while I hauled my last load of wood to the culvert, where I launched this operation a year ago. And there I considered all we'd accomplished.

We had a good run. And with that, I bow to the marsh, the NPS, Breezy Point, Jamaica Bay, New York City, and all of the wild creatures that dwell therein, or just stop by on their way somewhere else. I hope they find refuge here. 

What will happen to Rocky Point marsh? Check back soon for the final installment.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Day 44: Raptors and phrastic

Somebody sneezed and then it was autumn. Nowhere was this more apparent than the marsh, whose long summer of sweltering heat and mosquitoes surrendered overnight to cool breezes and migrating raptors. I was very hopeful that the maiden deployment of camera trap #2 would yield a bird of prey. And it did. One photo of an unidentified juvenile accipiter (lower right corner).

This portrait left much to be desired. Fortunately, the raptors made up for it with a live show that lasted all day. Adults and juveniles darted in and out of the treeline by the dozen, inciting the marsh's refugee songbirds to repeatedly dive for cover. Rocky Point is a smorgasbord for bird-eating birds, and death from above took many forms: accipiters, merlins, peregrines, oh my!

They shared the sky with another voracious aerial predator (of fuel): the Airbus A380-800, AKA the world's largest passenger plane. This is the Lufthansa subspecies, buzzing the marsh on it's daily migration from JFK to Frankfurt. It may not look like much, but 526 people are crammed into that thing.

Moshe, Urzula and Kim-Nora plus me made four in the marsh today.

We consolidated our efforts to clear the mouth of Matchstick Alley. With most of the big wood gone, we turned our attention to the ubiquitous phrastic, my term for the moist, concentrated mixture of dead phragmites and plastic debris that sometimes results from the action of tides and delinquent New Yorkers.

Not long ago it covered much of the marsh, smothering the native flora and choking the channels. It now clings to a precarious existence in only a few remaining nooks.

Moshe went in deep to eradicate the stuff.

While Kim-Nora and Urzula raked and scooped.

And hauled it off to the pile.

This before-after would have been much more dramatic had I not been shooting into the sun, but there it is.

And one more, depicting one of the smaller alcoves in Matchstick Alley.

Thank you Kim-Nora, Urzula and Moshe for your marsh husbandry and compassion. Rocky Point is very lucky to have friends like you.

High of 74, max humidity 72%, average wind (NNW) @ 15 MPH, 5.3 high tide @ 03:24 PM. Moon 58% visible.
Water level unrecorded
Birds seen in marsh: osprey, merlin, peregrine, unidentified accipiters, Canadian goose, flicker, warbler, kingbird, mockingbird, black-backed gull