Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Jamaica Bay West Pond Restoration Update - The Breach is Closed

The West Pond Breach After Hurricane Sandy
What started out as an improbable goal is almost now a reality. Finally, after 4 years and a few months, the breach on the West Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, in NYC is closed. The shoring up of the breach continues and the loop trail is inaccessible to the public but the most difficult stage of the project in closing the breach is finished. The next step is the restoration of the pond to being a fresh water source. The West Pond breach closure and restoration was a hard fought quest that required patience, doggedness and skills in negotiating the many obstacles that were encountered along the way. There were many people who felt it was a waste of time and money and were all for leaving the breach as it was and letting the pond go to "waste". To quote one naturalist who, I won't name, "let it go back to what it was." Well we did (tongue firmly planted in cheek).

Shoring Up The West Pond Breach
I won't however dwell on the negatives and instead focus on the positives while thanking some of the people and organizations who deserve a shout out.  In 2012, when the breach occurred (see my 2012 report here) and the subsequent inaction set off alarm bells on whether the West Pond was lost forever. A few individuals began brainstorming on what to do. Doug Futuyma, Professor of Evolutionary at Stony Brook University and I began to discuss what were our options. Who could we get to back a West Pond restoration. We turned to New York City Audubon (NYCA) and thus began the discussions on a larger scale on what actions could be taken to get a restoration effort on track. Harry Mass, then president of the Board of Directors of NYCA, was very instrumental in securing the backing of the organization. He arranged for us to use their office at 71 West 23rd Street in NYC, where we began holding meetings and eventually formed the group "Birders Coalition for Gateway." The group included many like minded organizations, individuals and birding groups from NYC, Long Island, Queens and Brooklyn.

Finally The Breach is Closed
In any discussions, you want to negotiate from strength and we needed to show that the West Pond was utilized by many but how? The online petition to restore the West Pond that resulted in over 7,500 signatures with personal comments from people who had visited Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (JBWR) was a huge impact in getting that message across. That petition had its detractors and sadly did not enjoy the support and championing to promote its objective by many "key" individuals. Luckily, the few that did, made an impact. It was this piece of document that got a lot of attention by the right people. This I heard directly from sources within Gateway National Recreation (folks do pay attention to numbers). My thanks to all of you who took time out to sign and submit your personal account of what the West Pond meant to you. I also want to thank those of you who championed the petition and worked hard at getting signatures. One person in particular, Anne Lazarus, who along with some of her friends called and petitioned people wherever they went in an effort to get signatures. Thank you to all of you.

West Pond Assessment
This project would not be where it is today without the hard work of the members of "The Birders Coalition for Gateway" some of whom I worked directly with like - Doug Futuyma, Harry Mass, Susan Elbin, Seth Asubel and Jennifer Nersesian are just some. We would not be here without the support of Gateway National Recreation Area Management. They took a lot of heat and blame for allowing the breach to widen post Hurricane Sandy but when it mattered in getting the breach closed, management, led by Jennifer Nersesian and her able staff, like Patricia Rafferty came through. We would not be here without the backing of organizations like the Linnean Society of NYC, Brooklyn Bird Club, Queens County Bird Club, New York State Ornithological Association, Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, American Littoral Society - North East Chapter, Great South Bay Audubon Society, Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society, South Shore Audubon Society, American Birding Association and others who all supported the efforts. We were lucky to get support from unlikely quarters in Senator Chuck Schumer who went on record to support the restoration and Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist and environmental activist Margaret Atwood, who used her presence on Twitter to tweet out her support.

Advocates for a West Pond Restoration Attend one of many meetings at JBWR
Last but not least, a heartfelt thanks to all of you who in some form or another lent your support to a West Pond restoration. We would not have gotten anywhere without all of your activism in supporting a restoration. Your efforts in participating in the Jamaica Bay General Management plan all sent a clear message to the management of GNRA, that we are committed to preserving our wildlife and the habitats they use!

If you ever need my support for any of your projects, please feel free to seek me out. I hope someday soon I might run into any of you at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge where together we might enjoy marveling at the wildlife that once again occupy the West Pond.

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Banded American Oystercatchers Are Back At Breezy Point

7 American Oystercatchers were observed at Breezy Point in Queens NYC on 3-11. Of the 7, three were banded. After getting a read on the codes, I realized that I had documented all three at the site in previous seasons. The bands read as follows: U2, YAE and YAJ. Hopefully these birds will settle in and use Breezy Point as their breeding site.

Breezy Point in Queens is a critical stopover and breeding site for many birds including, American Oystercatchers, Piping Plovers, Common, Forsters, Least and possibly Roseate Terns. Please respect the roped off areas at Breezy Point and do not disturb nesting birds.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Townsend's Solitaire: A New State and Life Bird

This was one that had shown up in several areas in NY state. However, almost all of those reports were before I got into the game, including the 2007-8 from Oak Beach, on Long Island.

When this bird was reported in Southold Long Island, I decided this was the bird that I would make my first state and life bird of 2017. Mei Yee and Myles joined me for an early morning twitch and with the help of the Feustels, Menachem Goldstein and his mom who were on site before we arrived, I finally filled the hole on my state list while adding also adding Townsend's Solitaire as a new life bird.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Ross's Goose in the Bronx

When I saw an e-mail rather late in the evening on January 14th from birder Richard Aracil reporting a Ross's Goose from Pelham Bay. I was excited but also not happy. While I was happy to read that Richard had found the last Goose I needed for the borough; I was not happy that I got wind of its presence so late in the day. I decided that I would twitch the Ross's the next day and dragged along two other intrepid Goose seekers, young Myles and Mei Yee with me. They both thought it crazy to get up as early as I demanded (5:30 a.m.) but were game for the chase.

Canada Geese with Ross's Goose at Pelham Bay Lagoon, Bronx NY.
We got out on time and made it to Pelham Bay before light. Pulling into Orchard Beach, I decided to check the Gulls in the parking lot, which were mostly made up of Ring-billed Gulls. After a careful scan turned up nothing noteworthy, I then decided to check the Pelham Bay Lagoon since I had seen Canada Geese sleeping when we arrived. My hunch paid off as I spotted a lone white Goose sleeping among the many Canada Geese.

Ross's Goose at Pelham Bay Lagoon, Bronx NY.
We waited patiently and after about half an hour, the white Goose untucked its head and bingo a Ross's Goose was ID'd. I was ecstatic!!  This was the last "expected" Goose that I needed in the Bronx having already seen, Barnacle, Brandt, Greater White-fronted, Pink-footed, Cackling, Snow and Canada Geese. I was also happy for Maggie and Myles. It was Myles'2nd Ross's while it was the third for Mei Yee.  I hope the next Ross's Goose for the Bronx show up at Van Cortlandt Park, which if I got would make a sweep of all the expected Geese in one location. Now that would be worth pursuing. In the meantime, I will enjoy this one very much, thanks to Richard Aracil.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Bronx-Westchester Christmas Bird Count 2016

The Bronx-Westchester CBC held December 26 found a preliminary 116 118 species (updated on 1-5-17. Two new species were added to this 93 year count; the Pink-footed Goose and Cackling Goose remained for count day in Van Cortlandt Park. This brings the cumulative total of the count to 230 species.

Other highlights: Redhead in Edith G Read Preserve in Rye 55 Wood Duck on Crestwood Lake, Yonkers A high count of 1200 White-winged Scoter off City Island 180 Common Mergansers on Sprain Ridge Reservoir in Yonkers Tied high count of 7 Black Vultures 2 Black-bellied Plover at Edgewater Point, Mamaroneck, 11th count record Black-headed Gull at Five Island Park, 4th count record Iceland Gull in Rye Red-headed Woodpecker, Hommocks Rd, Larchmont A new high count of 9 Merlin New high count of 312 Fish Crow New high count of 12 Common Raven 130 Red-breasted Nuthatch, obliterating the old record of 33 in 2012 Nashville Warbler and Chipping Sparrow in Twin Lakes Park, Eastchester And 4 Red Crossbills in Greenwood Union Cemetery, Rye For the first time in 70 years the count missed Canvasback. Other misses included Black-crowned Night Heron, Brown Thrasher and Yellow-rumped Warbler.

The West Bronx which I captained had a good day in the field. Besides adding the Pink-footed Goose (a new Bronx Count Bird) and Cackling Goose to the overall list, the team had two saves. Golden-crowned Kinglet and Snow Goose were seen only by our teams. Congratulations to all those participated in the count and thank you for all your hard work in birding a borough that only seems to get attention when a rarity is found. Special thanks to Michael Bochnik who works tirelessly to out this all together and does all the number crunching as our compiler.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Banded Great Black-backed Gull

On September 16th, 2016, I observed and documented a banded Great Black-backed Gull at Nickerson Beach on Long Island. Research on the banding data for 8V2 revealed that the bird was banded as a chick at a nest on Appledore Island in Maine July 18, 2012. My resight was the first for this bird since banding.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Jamaica Bay New York City 2016 Shorebird Season

I am way behind on blog posts and I apologize to my faithful readers who have tolerated my tardiness. The one post that I must get to, is on the 2016 Shorebird Season at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. The past few seasons were filled with issues (like 2011) relating to the water level management on the East Pond and this season was not without some of that.

Every season since 2009, I have kept an eye on the water level management on the East Pond documenting the pond draw down process, the timing of the drainage and how much the pond needs to be lowered to facilitate the timing of the arriving Shorebird migrants. National Park Service has often times dropped the ball in managing the water level and this is when my knowledge pays off as I could quickly detect when something is amiss with the water flow. Often times than not, I get resistance as those in charge are reluctant to admit when there is an issue but persistence pays and it appears recent changes in management structure is paying dividends in terms of response time.

Short-billed Dowitchers and Dunlins
The East Pond was lowered quite a bit this season and I hope this aids in getting the pond to be more of a fresh water habitat than it is at the moment. Hurricane Sandy in 2013 had breached the East Pond and the salinity level was adversely affected but within a year had reached reasonable levels and continued to drop ever since. With the lowering of the water level, we had ample shoreline for birds but for whatever reasons, I found the numbers to be off from the thousands of birds we usually get stacked up on the pond. It is important to note that the historic data seems to indicate a downward trend in terms of volume. Something to keep an eye on and worth digging into more deeply for a deep dive analysis while keeping in mind that Hurricane Sandy opened up more feeding habitat in areas like Ruffle Bar, Little Egg and Big Egg Marsh.

Lesser Yellowlegs
Other than an early Ruff in June, there was nothing else noteworthy that was recorded on the pond for shorebirds. This year, it appeared we missed American Avocets and Buff-breasted Sandpipers. Neither of which are guaranteed but we do get them. Marbled Godwits were seen in the bay but only one recorded on the pond giving suspicion that there are other habitats outside of the East Pond that shorebirds might be using during migration.

Semipalmated Sandpiper
I continue to look for late shorebird migrants on the East Pond and as such, did manage to pickup a couple of Long-billed Dowitchers in September. Always a treat to see. Hopefully, I will get an odd bird or two in October through November as I still hold out hope for late Shorebird migrants. As of this post, the 2016 Shorebird Season on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay will be noted as mediocre.

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