Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May marsh visit

I visited the marsh on May 7 - I hadn't been for more than a year, and was very curious.  May had always been a good time to be here: Horseshoes and birds were legion, the spartina was profuse, everything was having babies and eating each other, tides were extreme, the weather was ideal. In fact, the May of 2011 was probably the most exciting month I ever spent in the marsh. Not this time, except for the weather part. Amazing what a difference five days can make.

Tony tells me the herons and willets have since returned. He also reports a highly-anticipated osprey-on-the-platform sighting. We're all waiting for the day a young osprey couple starts up a family here.

Upon composing this before-and-after, I realized that much has changed on the marsh horizon since we started this project five years ago, thanks to Hurricane Sandy and the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere:

A few notable observations: the marsh's eastern boundary is now covered in grass where it was once covered in very uninviting black algae and unidentifiable slime:

And near the main channel, many small sprouts appeared. No doubt they're easier to ID now, but any help from the botany experts here would be much appreciated:

After our brief visit we joined Tony in setting up five exclosures for piping plovers. Here's wishing them a productive, disturbance-free season.

High of 69, 4.4 high tide @ 3:05 PM.
Water level unrecorded.
Birds seen in marsh: red winged blackbird
Birds seen in bay: black brant, Canadian geese, oystercatcher

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Winter Retrospective, December 2013 - April 2014

The New York winter of 2013-2014 was rather rough, with relatively low temperatures and well over four feet of accumulated snow. Road conditions were a deterrent, keeping me from visiting Gateway NRA as much as I would have liked. Yet, I still managed the occasional trip.

At the end of 2013, on the afternoon of December 22nd, several Sanderlings were seen foraging along the shore, just outside the marsh. This fellow decided to change location and was kind enough to pose for an in-flight photo.

A group of Canada Geese, which are rather common in the area, do not appear in the least bit disturbed by the elements as they forage in the marsh on February 22, at 11:28 AM.

Meanwhile, later that same day, just after 2:00 PM, at Breezy Point bay-side, this Snowy Owl was observed and photographed. Its visit was part of a large-scale irruption, which has seen these beautiful predators come further south than is usual and in fairly substantial numbers. Several were also observed over at Floyd Bennett airfield over the preceding and following weeks; I personally saw three in one afternoon.

An early morning visit to the marsh on March 22 revealed the characteristically “toed-in” tracks of a Piping Plover, just to the east of the estuary. It would appear that a feral cat was following along, perhaps in search of a meal. Abandoned domestic pets are a constant man-made threat to nesting birds throughout the Rockaways.

Still appearing to be a bit barren, one can readily see evidence of the movement of the tides into and out of the marsh, in the attitude in which the vegetation has been laid. This image was made on March 22nd.

Later on the same morning, a pair of American Oystercatchers, along with a flock of Herring Gulls, forages at the beach in front of the marsh. The American Oystercatcher is a constant presence near the marsh during breeding season. The four species of Gulls most often observed in this area also include Ring-billed Gulls, Laughing Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls.

Meanwhile, at West Beach on the morning of April 12th, Piping Plovers had already arrived in their search for nesting territory. These endangered birds are ideally camouflaged for an environment that includes sand, shells and other natural debris. They are often difficult to spot until they move. This particular stretch of beach later revealed at least two nests.

Prior to a visit to the marsh on April 26, I took a walk towards Breezy Point. This Eastern Towhee was one of several observed along the vehicle access road.

Arriving at the marsh later that afternoon, evidence of unsettled weather was seen. Although rain threatened, the skies cleared shortly afterwards.

That same day, having been forewarned by Tony, I came upon a small group of young volunteers, who live nearby in the Breezy Point Co-Op, doing their bit to restore the marsh. Undeterred by the threatening weather, the group set about their task.

Led by Mr. Robert Espinoza, the group proudly displays their “catch-of-the-day” in the form of bags filled with plastic refuse, as well as the remains of a hobbyist’s remote-controlled model airplane. Aside from the large and small bits of human-altered timber brought in by the tides, plastic, in the form of various containers, construction materials and especially bags, is a major eyesore. Small groups of young people are ideally suited to the task of clearing this light-weight material from the marsh and its environs.

As the youngsters proceed with the task at hand, a Laughing Gull looks on.

Then, just to prove that one never knows what will be witnessed in and around the Gateway complex, during an April 27th walk along West Beach, this fishing trawler was photographed high and dry on the shore in front of the Breezy Point Co-Op. Anchored close in-shore, it had been caught unawares when the tides receded. When queried, a crewman shrugged his shoulders and simply stated that, “I guess we were not paying attention.” One wonders what the vessel’s owners thought!

Rocky Point Marsh needs your help. To volunteer for service contact National Park Services Ranger Tony Luscombe at: dcalato6@gmail dot com

For more photos of Rocky Point as well as other locations within the Gateway NRA complex, visit: www.frankdesisto.com

Text and photos by Frank V. De Sisto