Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day 18: Locals and Plovers

Last week's dramatic cleanup transformed the marsh. Those towers of wood and trash were mementos of my slow but steady progress. With them gone it suddenly felt as if I was starting from scratch. And there is a lot left to do. As I stared into the water contemplating this I heard human voices approaching from the road. I'd camera trapped a few people but I'd never actually encountered any in the marsh. It was an older man and his 30-something daughter. They were locals.

"I can't believe I've nevah been back heah," she said.
They asked why and for whom I was cleaning up the place. I said it was for the animals, the birds. Then he surprised me.
"You should get the people from Breezy to come out and help," he said in a Brooklyn accent thicker than a stack of bialys.
I asked if he thought the Breezy Pointers would actually be interested.
"F*** yeah," he exclaimed, sounding both proud and mildly insulted.
As they walked away he turned around and yelled at me, "you doin a good thing heah."
That's my next goal: enlist local volunteers. I'm embarrassed I hadn't thought of it before.

Halfway through cleaning the pond I walked out to the beach and found six piping plovers flitting about. They'd arrived fresh from the Bahamas, or South America, or some place warmer than here.

These little guys never asked for controversy, but in New York they can't seem to avoid it. Because they are a threatened species, and only nest on beaches, vast swaths of summer playgrounds are closed on their behalf. Some people are more than a little bitter about it. But there are plenty of beaches. Not so many plovers.

They're the reason I first started volunteering at Breezy ten years ago. Now they occupy the same space of my consciousness as cherry blossoms and short skirts: harbingers of spring. Watching one scurry down the sand is a bit like watching a wind-up toy on rocket fuel. They go this way:

And that way.

Then they swirl the sand with their feet as if waxing a car, and plunge in after anything that moves.

Their beaks emerge filled with what looks like mostly sand. How they sieve out the good bits I don't know.

Eventually they tire of me and wing it a hundred yards down the beach.

It was hard to break away from them but I eventually convinced myself to start a new log pile and finish cleaning the pool.

At the end of the day I walked back to the truck, still slightly disoriented by the mass cleanup and the scope of work remaining. But as I passed through the relocated hills of wood now consolidated by the road, I was reminded of something important. All of that used to be in the marsh.

High of 41, average wind NW @ 16 MPH, 4.5 high tide @ 02:23 PM, water level unrecorded.
Birds seen in marsh: robin, crow, ? flycatcher. Osprey seen above Riis landing.
Birds seen in bay: black brant, red breasted merganser, oystercatcher, piping plover

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Day 17: Supermoon and Jesus Converge on Marsh

Last Friday, Jamaica Bay Guardian Don Riepe rang to say he'd received a call from the Church of God based in New Jersey. They had 100 volunteers looking for a NYC location in need of cleaning. He nominated the marsh and wanted to know if I could be there. Sunday morning I frantically scouted the site to assess how best to command God's army. The supermoon tide had completely flooded the marsh. Where would I get the extra waders? Where would they pile the debris? There was no time to consider this trivia, because when I turned around there they were. Not 100, but 200 of them.

They were undoubtedly the most gracious, compassionate and spirited group of teenagers I've ever had the pleasure of working with. Before any of us had a chance to give marshing orders they attacked with the full fury of the Lord. Instinctively and methodically they shuttled loads from bank to roadside like so many leaf-cutter ants. They toiled with such zeal as to lead one to believe they were paid by the splinter. I took ten (that's how many waders we had) into the wet and hauled out massive logs I previously thought unmovable without the use of a dozen water buffalo. In two hours the group cleared away what took me five months to excavate.

I extend my sincerest gratitude to the 200 Church of God volunteers who joined us Sunday (btw, as soon as they'd finished with the marsh they went to clean up after the NYC half-marathon.) I hope they'll return someday to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Don plans to mobilize another 100 volunteers in April to move the unusable wood and garbage from the roadside to dumpsters. It is very possible that this marsh will be cleaned up by summer. I'm already feeling the pre-partum depression.

In other news: Andrew Baksh of BirdingDude took the last two wood duck boxes to install in Van Cortlandt Park. Camera trapping was excellent this past week. We added another undetermined-gender cat we'll call Daryl. That makes four ferals I've caught.

I post this last photo as a size comparison between the three most active marsh dwellers. The raccoon appears to be on synthol. Now that my woodpile backdrop has been removed I'll have to find another cam trapping spot.

Volunteer photos courtesy Don Riepe

High of 47, average wind E @ 10 MPH, 6.2 high tide @ 08:50 AM, water level unrecorded; all marsh flooded.
Birds seen in marsh: mallard
Birds seen in bay: black duck, black brant, red breasted merganser, grebe
Camera trap activity since 3/12: possum 2 nights; 2 raccoons 1 night; 3 cats: (Drew) 4 nights, (Cameron) 1 day, (Daryl) 2 nights; 3 humans on 1 day

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Day 16: Teenage Reconnaisance

A project in the shop limited my marsh time to just a few hours, but they were well spent. With all channels now clear, it's just a matter of letting the tide push the debris against the bank for easy scooping.

As I was moving logs through the water I heard the unmistakable sound of adolescent cackling originating from the beach. I turned and found perched atop the dune, teenagers, ten deep, whacking the grass and gawking at me as if I were the Montauk monster. I'm sure they were wondering where my orange vest and the prison guard were. From across the water we exchanged gazes for what felt like a half hour, equally fascinated, and then, with a few more sand kicks, snickers and grass swats, they headed off down the beach. As the weather warms I suppose I should expect more terrifying encounters like this.

There was little camera trap activity over the past week, but I did pick up our fifth species: a meadow vole.

High of 47, average wind SW @ 15 MPH, 4. high tide @ 12:46 PM, water level unrecorded.
Birds seen in marsh: mallard
Birds seen in bay: black duck, black brant
Camera trap activity since 3/6: meadow vole 1 night; 1 cat (Drew) on 2 nights and 1 day

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Day 15: Possum Nights

Work kept me away from Breezy for the past two weeks, assuring there'd be plenty to do. The water was at it's lowest point because of the quarter moon phase, but the droning rain transformed the marsh into the consistency of cookie dough. I spent the day cursing the wheelbarrow while attempting to clear the middle channel. Only one brute of a log refused me.

Didelphis virgiana dominated the past fortnight's camera trappings with seven nocturnal appearances.

Raccoons walked by on three nights. They are now using the wood pile as a boardwalk.

And we added another species: Easter bunny.

Two humans walked by on Saturday the 26th toting plastic grocery bags. Were they Breezy Pointers picnicking in the marsh? Shortcutters en route from Kate's Market Place? I'm intrigued by these people because A) the place might be the most remote corner of NYC, and B) the trail leads directly to the muckiest part of the marsh. Hopefully the bags and their contents left the way they came.

High of 48, average wind S @ 17 MPH, -.1 low tide @ 2:44 PM, water level unrecorded.
Birds seen in marsh: crow
Birds seen in bay: black duck, black brant, American wigeon, red-breasted merganser, grebe
Camera trap activity since 2/20: possum on 7 nights; raccoon on 4 nights; cats (Drew, Ghengis, Cameron) on 9 days/nights; rabbit on 1 night; 2 humans on 1 day