Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day 11: A Box and a Trap

Snowed in, again

This time I was prepared. We'd devised many repurposing projects for the wood we pulled from the marsh: osprey platform, bird blind, boardwalk, firewood for the summer campers at Gateway, etc. I needed something quick, so today I pulled an 8' x 3' piece of plywood, the perfect size for a wood duck box. I downloaded the plans from Ducks Unlimited.

The inside of the front is scored to give the little wood ducklings a staircase to climb for their debut.

Pretend that hole is a perfect oval, and it's not a bad start to our recycling program. The side is hinged for cleaning out old nesting material every season. In a month we'll fill it with wood chips and see if any prospective tenants show.

For the past month I've attempted to spy on our marsh wildlife via camera trap. Failure was met with on an epic scale. Was it the rechargeable batteries? The cold? The device itself? No, it was the incessant breeze of Breezy Point, causing the camera to take a photo every time a blade of grass or shred of plastic bag twitched. In a matter of hours the 2 GB card would fill up and kill the camera. So last week I aimed the lens at the only part of the marsh that never moves: the wood pile. And voila...

A mountain lion! Okay, a feral cat, and just barely, but it's progress. The photo would have likely been completely blown out were it not for my duplication of Camera Trap Codger's homebrew infrared flash filter. Thanks Chris.

Hopefully I'll trap a native citizen next week.

High of 35, wind NE @ 8 MPH, 4.6 high tide @ 12:57 PM, water level unrecorded; ice has pulled yard stick out. All marsh frozen.
No birds seen in marsh. Birds seen in bay: black brant, American wigeon, cormorant, black duck.
Lots of marsh grass washed up on shore.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Day 10: Deboating and Marsh Validation

"White ghost boat," the beached pleasure vessel on which uncounted Budweisers and bluefish met their ends, was Rocky Point's most gaudy landmark. She was even visible from Google Earth. But she never stood a chance against Broc's circle saw.

So we say goodbye.

Patricia Rafferty graced us with a visit today.

As the Coastal Ecologist for the NE region of the NPS, her dominion spans from Maine to Virginia. She has overseen many marsh restoration projects in Jamaica Bay and Long Island, and was curious about Rocky Point. She liked what she saw. The marsh, she said, is unique for it's range of habitat, supporting grasses typical of upper and lower salt marshes.
Here are the three dominant species, not including phragmites: Spartina patens, Spartina alterniflora, and ?

She also suspects that the dune hasn't always been there, and probably formed as a result of sand funneling through the two jetties to the east and west. If this is true, then the marsh used to experience a daily tidal inflow, not just on extreme high tides as it does now. A sequence of aerial photos dating back to the 1930's should reveal the truth. Stay tuned on that.

While Broc dismembered away, Kim Nora, Patti, Tony and I focused on clearing the area around the ex-boat.

The cleanup area was so spread out that I'll just leave you with this:

Many thanks to Kim-Nora, Broc and Patti for your marshwork today.

High of 42, wind WNW @ 9 MPH, -.7 low tide @ 1:33 PM, water level unrecorded; ice has pulled yard stick out. All marsh flooded and frozen 2-5" thick.
Birds seen: black brant, Canadian geese, northern mockingbird, unidentified raptor

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Day

Last night's snowstorm guaranteed today would be tough marshing. I went anyway, on a hunch that the tall grass would prevent at least some of the debris from getting buried. I was wrong.

After picking up a few chunks of foam (apparently the only trash impervious to snow), I decided today will be the day I explore the marsh. Not that I haven't before, but 90% of most days are spent toiling. Therefor I won't call this Cleanup Day 10, because there wasn't much cleanup going on.

The ground was littered with tracks. Miniature highways snaked around every log and sprout. Most of them were of the following four varieties: (The stick is exactly one foot long.)

I think they are 1) sparrow, 2) meadow vole, 3) eastern cottontail. I'm not sure about 4.

This was also my first opportunity to properly stalk the poor birds. 200 mm doesn't get you very close, so I had to rely on stealth, but not with the mockingbird. I could have walked up and kissed him if I was that kind of guy.

As I was snapping away, a flock of Canadians whooshed overhead. They had an intern.

The monstrous snow drifts on the jetty let me creep in close for a decent merganser shot.

Broc dropped by to check on me and scope out the boat he will be chainsawing next week.

After Broc and the birds left I pulled some winners out of our "interesting debris" pile and cast them in Toy Story 4: Toys in Swampland. In this scene, Private Billy and Pink Ape help Black Beauty back to her feet while Ollie Bengali looks on, salivating.

The whole day was a wonderful dose of solitude, a rare opportunity to take in the marsh and reflect on nothing. Next week back to work.

High of 32, wind WNW @ 18 MPH, 4. high tide @ 1:10 PM, water level at -10-inch mark. All water frozen.
Birds seen: black brant, Canadian geese, common merganser, northern harrier, black duck, American wigeon, northern mockingbird, ? sparrow, cardinal

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Day 9: Post-Storm/ New Year

Happy 2011 from the marshsicle

The post-Christmas storm didn't spare Breezy Point. Snowbanks piled four feet high lined State Road in places, and much of the marsh was buried under a foot of impacted crust. Ideal conditions for hauling a log sled, as Kim-Nora demonstrates:

We focused on clearing the area beside the ghost boats, which meant many long walks back and forth from the high-ground wood pile.

Dramatic before-and-after shots are harder to come by as the debris dwindles, but I think that's a good thing.

Perhaps the pile shot is more revealing.

Overall, we enjoyed an excellent year-opener. John Warren of Gateway NRA Public Affairs dropped by for a visit. Upon his arrival a sharp-shinned hawk swooped in and perched on a branch three feet from his head. As I pointed an accusatory finger at it stammering Hawk! Hawk!, John managed to catch a fleeting shot.

Thanks to Bill, Kim-Nora and Broc for your work today. And here's a behind-the-scenes glimpse of our evening routine: coffee on the 5-Train. Sorry for the wide-angle distortion; Tony doesn't actually have fiddler crab arm.

High of 39, wind WNW @ 10 MPH, -.5 low tide @ 2:35 PM, water level at -1-inch mark. All water frozen.
Birds seen: black brant, red-breasted merganser, common merganser, sharp-shinned hawk, black duck, American wigeon, western grebe, mockingbird