Posts Tagged 'Jamaica Bay'

Three More Osprey

Pandion haliaetusThree young Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) bracketed by their parents at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refugee last week. They are on the verge of flying, and what flights! Soon, if they survive the hurdles of fledging and learning to hunt on their own (catching your first big fish must be something!), they will be venturing south into the unknown for the first time. One JBWR Osprey has been satellite-tracked to Venezuela, a journey of about two weeks. Wish these young ones luck. The first year is the hardest.

Painted Skimmer

Libellula semifasciataFlying gold at Big John’s Pond: a Painted Skimmer (Libellula semifasciata).

Tree Sparrows

Spizella arborea American Tree Sparrows (Spizella arborea). They breed in the tundra, and visit us during winter. These were seen at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Rufus-caps and sides, white bars on the wing, and a dark central spot distinguish them from the other little brown jobs that are the New World sparrows. (The omnipresent House Sparrow is actually a Eurasian species more related to the finches than our native sparrows.)

Sandy’s Effects, Continued

1898Nothing remains the same; this is the lesson of the earth. And it is particularly the lesson of humans on earth, having reached a stage where we are transforming the planet in unprecedented ways.

Here’s the USGS’s 1898 map of Jamaica Bay, crossed by a railroad down to Oceanus and Hammels. (“Oceanus” has disappeared from the map, sadly.) It looks differently now, with a lot less of the vital marshland that once ringed the southern end of the terminal moraine of Long Island and dotted the great bay itself. I’ve previously told some of the story of the transformation of this area into the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, when Robert Moses got a bird sanctuary and the MTA got the railroad.

That railroad is now the A train through Broad Channel to the Rockaways, which is still not running after being damaged by Hurricane Sandy. I took the alternate route, which might even be better, the Q52 from the Rockaway Blvd station. Better because the express bus stops right in front of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. At the Refuge, though, things are different. The path around the West Pond has been breached; Sandy punched out a channel into the Pond from the south.This has turned the (mostly) fresh water pond into a tidal corner of the larger Bay. It’s a radical change. While the tidal flats should be good for shorebirds, freshwater-loving waterfowl have abandoned the Pond. An important regional bird refuge has thus essentially been halved (the East Pond is in better shape). I, and many others, are hoping the NPS, which runs JBWR as part of Gateway National Recreation Area, engineer a solution. As of this date, though, the future status of the breach remains unclear. It isn’t just a matter of closing the breach; the Pond would have to be re-freshwatered. On the plus side, the salt may kill off the phragmites.
pinesMeanwhile, tidal wrack still clogs the area, north of the path, and, as pretty as these pines look, they are dying.

Dead Horse Bay

Yellow-rumped warblers and Green Darner dragonflies before we got to the landfill edge.One of two Royal Terns, Thalasseus maximus, both with bands on their left legs. Not a commonly sighted bird in the city; I didn’t know what they were at first. The smaller Common and Little Terns we see here during summer have already gone south. These Royals sound quite different from our regular terns, and one of them was excreting a lot. I later read that they defecate around the sides of their scrapes (nests) to build up a a hard rim of guano, possibly as a defense against minor flooding on the low-lying islands they breed on.The Asian or Japanese Shore Crab, Hemigrapsus sanguineus. Found about a dozen washed up on the beach perpendicular to the Gil Hodges Bridge. Three spines on each side of the carapace, red spotted claws, dark bands on the legs are your field marks for this invasive. Not good news for already fraught Jamacia Bay (Dead Horse being a nook on the north side of Jamaica Bay, if you haven’t wandered its singing glass beach.)

Jamaica Bay and Colombia

One of the male ospreys who breeds in Jamaica Bay was fitted with a GPS tracker this migration season. The bird is now “wintering” in Colombia. I put wintering in quotes because although migratory birds head south to avoid our winter, they go to places in Central and South America where winter is an extremely mild season, or if on the other side of the equator, actually summer. In essence, then, migratory birds move from summer to summer. Not a bad strategy, which maximizes access to food, but a hazardous one, involving long flights and the vagaries of weather and other pitfalls. It also doubles their chances of being screwed by habitat destruction, pollution, and general human savagery.

Bob Kennedy, who I know from Nantucket, is in charge of this project under the auspices of the NY Harbor Conservancy and Gateway NRA. Kennedy has also been tracking a Nantucket-breeding osprey for the Maria Mitchell Association for three seasons now. This bird also invariably spends our winter in a small patch of Colombia. Some ospreys head even further south, all the way to Patagonia. These migrations are just one aspect of the global interconnectedness of life — as was the DDT in the food chain that almost exterminated this species.

The picture above is of the 2011 generation of Jamaica Bay ospreys, taken on a foggy July 4th. I believe that it is the adult male from this nest, which is closest to the West Pound trail, that is the bird being tracked. Mated pairs separate after breeding but, if all goes well, return to their nests and each other in the spring.

Far Southern Queens

Yellow Queen Honey from Greenpoint.

To the Honey Festival at Beach 96th and the Boardwalk on the Rockaway Peninsula yesterday, where the beach was swarming with Black Saddlebags dragonflies. Like Monarch butterflies, the Black Saddlebags are migratory. (Until fairly recently, I didn’t know that some dragonfly species migrated. Natural history is an arena of near-infinite surprises.) There were some Monarchs along the beach and nearby, but the Saddlebags out-numbered them by perhaps ten to one. Not a single Saddlebag was seen perching, however, so no photos of the endless fliers. Like birds, dragonfly species have their characteristic behaviors; some fly way more than not, others tend to perch more.This is also a saddlebags, the less common Carolina Saddlebags, Tramea carolina. I saw it at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, where there were more Black Saddlebags and Green Darners and others. Firs time I’ve seen this species.

Among other sights at JBWR were a shy Barn Owl, a White Pelican, in flight (nearly as big as the three presidential chinooks that thuddered by), a distant Hudsonian Godwit, and over a hundred Mute Swans. Merlins and kestrels kept the air pulsing with threat. Also: Palm Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush, Solitary Sandpiper. ‘Tis the season of migration and molting; one late Red-winged Blackbird flew by without any tail feathers, and Northern Shovellers, the long-billed ducks, are back from their northern nesting. A Laughing Gull had a clam clamped onto its foot: what a predicament for both. One of the JBWR Ospreys is being tracked to its winter residence, but others are still around.This snail was higher than I am. Anybody know that small grape-like fruit?


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