Starting out from Brooklyn, an amateur naturalist explores our world. "The place to observe nature is where you are."—John Burroughs
Plumb Beach is off the Belt Parkway between Sheepshead Bay and Flatbush Avenue. The Parks Dept.’s website calls it Plumb; Parks Dept. signs on site call it Plum; it is supposed to be named after Beach Plums (Prunus maritima). It has a unexpected history, although perhaps not for Brooklyn’s wild edges, capped more recently by tragedy. In the supposedly more savage natural world, it is one of the premier places for Horseshoe Crabs in the spring. It was surprisingly quiet on a recent late afternoon. But that may have been explained by an enormous NYS Envirnonmental Police vehicle and armored-vest (!) wearing rangers on patrol.Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) are starting to show up on the shore in preparation for flightward south.This Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) is already well out of breeding plumage. There were two Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus) scoottling along the shore. Other notable birds were pair of Oystercatchers passing offshore and two Snowy Egrets rising briefly from the marsh.A two-foot “sand shark” as I would have called them in my youth, missing a big chuck from the side of the head, the gills. Fraternal or by-catch? Holler if you know the species.
In the Henry Street Basin next to the old Port of New York Authority Grain Terminal* colossus, there were a pair or Mallards, a Gadwall, and a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers. And then there was this: Some kind of carp. Usually, the members of the Cyprinidae are freshwater fish. Here, next to the Gowanus Bay and a tank farm, where invisible guards order you off what seem to be public streets via a PA system, “fresh” water of any sort is pretty much a non-starter.
* This great ruin of a building was a bust from its beginnings when it was built to save NYC as a major grain port. It was sold off by the PANYNJ to a character who has done nothing with it for nearly two decades. That seems par for the course. I know two of his other (residential) properties: one’s remained a hollow shell for ten years. Meanwhile, the house he lives in looks abandoned, except for the security cameras, and often has squirrels living on the upper floors.
Last night as I watched the sun tuck behind the embankment of New Jersey, a fisherman beside me on the end of Pier 5 reeled this fish out of the dark water. He thought it was a Sea Robin, but I didn’t. It wasn’t that weird. Some research reveals it to be an Oyster Toadfish (Opsanus tau), a species with a high tolerance for hanging out in the bottom murk of polluted, junk-filled waters. Also known as oyster-cracker, ugly fish, mother-in-law fish, etc. It doesn’t have scales, but rather a slimy skin, hence the allusion to toads. The strong jaws are good for cracking oysters and other shellfish, but they will eat anything they can get. They are also known as a vocal species: males make “foghorn” like noises to attract females.
The bright yellow is the lure. Having maimed the 8″ long creature for sport, the fisherman extracted the hook and threw it back in.
I was enjoying the life above the Duckweed (Lemnaceae) recently, marveling that I’ve never seen so many Eastern Amberwings (Perithemis tenera).There were also a few Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis), making more Blue Dashers.A damselfly of unknown provenance was depositing eggs.
And then, along the edge of the lake, some disturbance from below. There was an agitated simmering, not quite bubbling. I wondered what it might be. Then, rising, a mass of little black fish, tightly clumped together at the surface, swarming over each other, some half out of the water momentarily. They were feasting on something. The individual fish visible on the edges of this mass had serious whiskers, barbels, making me think of some kind of catfish. What the hell, I took the plunge.I’m taking a semi-wild guess that these are Black Bullheads (Ameiurus melas); what do you think?The barbels are flush to the sides here.As an added benefit of my open-handed catch and release, the underside of the Duckweed, some of the smallest flowering plants anywhere, is revealed as purple.
Gasping at the surface near the pier, this fish was in trouble. Or so I thought. But it seemed to successfully dive back into the deeps, so it might have been feeding at something I couldn’t see on the surface. About 14″ long: what is it? And here, soon after low tide way up the Gowanus, a school of much smaller killifish, perhaps Mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus).