Posts Tagged 'Jamaica Bay'

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?

No pipeline in Jamaica Bay

There is a petition against the plan to put a natural gas pipeline through Gateway National Recreation Area, with a large metering facility at Floyd Bennett Field. These kinds of things do not belong in a place that was set up, to quote the original Congressional legislation, “to preserve and protect for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations an area possessing outstanding natural and recreational features. [...]the Secretary shall administer and protect the islands and waters within the Jamaica Bay Unit with the primary aim of conserving the natural resources, fish, and wildlife located therein and shall permit no development or use of this area which is incompatible with this purpose.” The fossil fuel industries are well represented in the U.S. Congress, so I hope you will consider signing this to help block this bad idea.

Friends In Need

The city and federal government are teaming up to work on Jamaica Bay together. Note especially this graf: “The new partnership also calls for the creation of a conservancy or friends group dedicated to the bay, to encourage philanthropy. Similar conservancies have helped other large parks in New York City, including Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, find new streams of revenue, but they tend to be in affluent neighborhoods. Given that the bay is ringed by largely working- and middle-class communities, however, it is uncertain how successful that effort will be.”

Now there’s a rare moment of ideological clarity in the Times. Our class-based “public” park system means the rich favor their own, and poorer sorts get the leftovers. Neoliberalism’s brute redistribution of power has left us begging at the feet of the plutocrats for those “other streams of revenue.” We must pray it continues to trickle down.

“Please sir, may I have some more park?”

The Grossly Ironic Visitor Center

A post in honor of Le quatorze juillet:

One might think that conservation and conservatism have much in common, but not in this country, where conservatism is a perverse amalgam of the defense of privilege, corporate oligarchy, talibany fundamentalism, racism, and misplaced class resentment.

A U.S. Congressman, with no public input, is attempting to change the name of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refugee to the James L. Buckley Visitor Center. A petition has been gotten up to oppose this renaming by fiat. Also, many are drawing a blank at the name Congressman Bob Turner is proposing. Not those in the small but influential Conservative Party, however, who Turner is trying to score points with. Buckley was a one-term U.S. senator for New York from 1971-1977 who won 38.7% of the vote in a six-candidate race. He represented the Conservative Party, originally formed to combat the liberalism of the state Republican Party (those were the days!). New York ballots allow for cross-party listings, meaning minor parties can have substantial clout by aligning with the two major parties: this essentially boils down to the Conservative Party with the Republicans and the (idiotically named) Working Families Party with the Democrats.

Like his McCarthyite brother William of the National Review, Buckley used his share of their Texas-oilman father’s plundered loot of Mexico to further his ideological birthright. Putting his name on a conservation-orientated building is particularly grotesque.


The very red eye of an adult Eastern Towhee feeding its noisy, grey fledgling, well into a thicket but visible through binoculars, a caterpillar meal. A Cormorant sanding on the beach with its lower bill wedged into a hardshell clam. Who had who there? A Buckeye, keeping low, but unmistakable with that eyespot pattern.Low to the ground, too, the Prickly Pear, in bloom, and six feet off it, the Yucca filamentosa..
In a curl of milkweed, an Ailanthus webworm moth, cloaked in finery.And everywhere, the Tree swallows. Small bill, large mouth, all the better for scooping insects from the sky.

On Jamaica Bay

Aboard the Golden Sunset out of Sheepshead Bay with the American Littoral Society’s Jamaica Bay Ecology Cruise. Looking across Jo Co’s Marsh towards You Know Where, which is about nine miles away as the crow flies. Speaking of flying, JFK is immediately to the right, launching planes one after the other, including the somewhat terrifying A380, which can hold 500 passengers. Jo Co’s Marsh is the largest island of salt marsh extant in Jamaica Bay. The tide is low. You can get some sense of the dense soil anchoring this marsh here:Actually, the marshes of Jamaica Bay have been disappearing for a while now, through in-fill, rising water, and far too much nitrogen,* most of it from the four wastewater treatment plants that ring the bay. In-fill is no longer possible, since we finally recognize the vital importance of salt marshes to life, and the city is committed to reducing nitrogen, but there’s no stopping that rising water-level… even if some benighted theocracies like North Carolina are attempting to ban the science of climate change and make illegal planning for its effects. A nice illustration of the way a salt marsh borders uplands. This is a portion of the northern edge of that long barrier beach we call the Rockaways, somewhere between Queens and Nassau Counties. Next to the water is Spartina alterniflora, the cordgrass that can take saturation with salt water twice a day at high tide. Right above it, looker paler in this washed out low-res image, is Spartina patens, which can handle flood a couple of times a month at very high full and new moon (spring) tides. Right above that, some shrubbery and pioneering trees like black locust and cottonwood. Beyond, further in, oaks and maples of a climax forest.

OK, some more good news. Half a century ago, you would have been hard pressed to see egrets, osprey, peregrines, and even herring gulls in Jamaica Bay. Herring gulls, and Great Black-backed gulls, the largest in the world, and Ring-billed gulls, and Laughing gulls, are now commonplace. Great egrets are now almost common, and a good early spring day in Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge will reveal the Greats as well as Snowy egrets, along with Great Blue and Little Blue Herons, Tri-colored herons, and Black Crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-herons. Ospreys, with their five-foot wingspan, now nest in several Bay locations, including on a boat hull in the middle of Jo Co’s Marsh. We saw three peregrines on the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge, then another, or perhaps the same, three falcons on Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge, the odd number suggesting a family. There are many more species of fish now found in the Bay then there were in, say 1975.

Oops, but don’t forget that some idiots built JFK in a marsh. Managing bird populations to avoid strikes with the endless jets is now a full-time occupation for the Port Authority. They’ve shot tens of thousands over the years, but sometimes something as easy as letting the grass grows has better results. Roosting gulls on the ground want to be able see all around, so tall grass will send them elsewhere.

*As a supercharging nutrient, excess nitrogen causes algal blooms, which suck much of the oxygen out of the water, leaving little for other plants. It’s all downhill from there for everything else in the water. Lawn-slaves in America who have nitrogen fertilizer spread on their precious, but ecologically criminal, green lawns also contribute to these dead-zones.


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  • "Son of a beech" Jonathan Swift, college boy, having fun with someone named Wood. Puns being timeless... 2 hours ago
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