Thursday, March 31, 2011
On Sunday, March 13, I reported my first sight of the year of an American Oystercatcher. It occurred near the tip of Sandy Hook. The Oystercatcher was alone and looked tired. I wondered privately if the bird would find a mate.
Well, I am happy to report that I have now seen my first pair of American Oystercatchers this year at Sandy Hook. Both birds were spotted near Spermaceti Cove a few days ago. They were hearty and healthy.
Of course, I have no idea if this pair of Oystercatchers included the same bird I spotted earlier in March. Yet, it seems reasonable. There are just so many nesting American Oystercatchers at Sandy Hook, and the birds usually mate for life.
All the same, these adult birds will commit about six months of their life to raise a family. The birds will soon make a nest among the dunes well above the high tide line. The nest will be a shallow depression in the sand lined with broken shells and pebbles, sometimes even bits of beach trash. One to four eggs will be laid.
Before long, they will start another generation of American Oystercatchers right here in Lower New York Bay.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
It has been a week or so since I have seen any mergansers swimming in Lower New York Bay. Today, I saw over a dozen, both male and female swimming and foraging for food near the Bayshore Waterfront Park in Port Monmouth, NJ, located along Raritan Bay. They provided some morning entertainment.
The Red-breasted Merganser is a slim, fish-eating bird commonly seen during the winter in Lower New York Bay. It feeds mostly on small fish and crustaceans.
The bird will migrate during mid-spring to its nesting site located around lakes and rivers within the northern landscape of Canada, Alaska, or Maine. Migrating flocks will fly in V-formations or single lines. Birds are typically on the breeding grounds by mid- to late May.
|Male is on the left and female is on the right.|
The Red-breasted Merganser is a lively fishing bird. It will forage by diving and swimming underwater. On this day, it seemed the birds were working together as a group to drive schools of small fish into shallow water, where the birds were scooping them up without diving. Pretty smart stuff. Who said birds had small brains?
Enjoy the sight of these birds while you can. Soon they will depart Lower New York Bay to start a family up north. Have no fear, Red-breasted Mergansers will return next winter. The birds will start arriving in November.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Spring is in the air, and so are flying Great Egrets. In the last few weeks, I have started to see more and more Great Egrets feeding in wetlands and flying over water. They have returned from their winter feeding grounds down south to nest in Lower New York Bay.
|A Great American Egret recently seen flying near Sandy Hook Bay|
Wading birds, such as Great and Snowy egrets, Glossy Ibises, and Black-Crowned Night Herons return to Lower New York Bay from warmer wintering grounds that are not too far away, such as the Chesapeake Bay or the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Early spring, these beautiful coastal birds are feeding heavily near tidal creeks and coastal wetlands. By April they are busy nesting high in treetops close to the water on one of the remote islands around New York City, such as Hoffman or Swinburne islands located off Staten Island, not far from the Verrazano Bridge.
|Egrets and other migratory wading birds begin arriving now at rookeries around Lower New York Bay|
At the same time as these birds are nesting, the adults will fly off during the day to nearby wetlands around Raritan Bay on the Jersey side. Places like Pews Creek marsh in Middletown Township, the Navesink River, or Cheesequake State Park in Old Bridge Township allure the herons to feed and bring back food for their young.
|One famous nesting site for herons and egrets are the islands off of the eastern end of Staten Island: Hoffman and Swinburne islands are now important places for different wading birds to breed without being harassed from humans|
This two-state connection of harbor herons was first noticed by New York City Audubon watchers in 1980 at Pralls Island in the Arthur Kill on the western side of Staten Island. Years later, the birds have spread out to other isolated islands and natural spots far away from people. The population growth of herons and egrets, birds once scarce and rare to see, demonstrates just how well water quality is improving, the protection of open space is working, and how wildlife cares little for man-made boundaries. To wildlife it is just one big bay to forage for food.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Can you sense it? Evidence of spring is bursting up all over the place with the sight of flowers in bloom, butterflies flying, Spring Peepers calling, and an ever increasing warming sun. Our little part of the world seems poised to erupt into the sights, sounds, and fragrances of spring. Yet, winter lingers.
|Evidence of winter still remains with the sight of seals in Sandy Hook Bay|
Winter is hanging on tough. Temperatures are still unpleasantly cold and last week we woke up to an angry inch or so of fresh snow. Moreover, local weather forecasters are calling for at least a week of below normal temperatures.
The truth is we shouldn't count winter out yet. Even though by St. Patrick's Day the real severity of winter is essentially over and spring officially arrives around mid-March, it takes time before we can get out and keep out our flip flops and t-shirts.
|March snow can be a cruel event as people look forward to spring|
March and early April is a season unto itself. It is a time in the Lower New York Bay region when late winter meets early spring. The weather is highly changeable. One day might be sunny and seventy degrees, and less than 12 hours later the weather could be dreary, cold with several inches of snow on the ground. Snow is never out of the question during late March and early April.
|Daffodils in bloom is a sure sign of the coming of spring|
Spring arrives slowly. First the sun has to warm the soil, then spring rains discharges nutrients from the soil into streams, creeks, and tidal estuarine waters. Natural nutrients from decomposing plants and animals will help to enrich local waters to create vast populations of plankton. Tiny, microscopic plants and animals will help to feed small, newly active fish, shellfish, and crabs. These small critters will in turn help to feed larger fish and crabs, which in turn will feed migrating seabirds and shorebirds; and resident fishermen and hungry returning Ospreys from the tropics.
It all starts with the sun. Spring makes a great leap forward in April as the sun climbs higher in the sky and daylight lengthens by an hour and sixteen minutes. By April 30th, there is about 14 hours of daylight. This is good news for plants and sun-loving people.
Every person who resides year-round in Lower New York Bay seems to have her/his own special and often unique first sign of that spring is near. For me, it is the return of Ospreys. Soon after St. Patrick's Day, Ospreys come back from their wintering grounds in Central and South America, the Caribbean, or Florida to their favorite nesting platform in Lower New York Bay. They fly as much as 200 miles a day to reach our rich tidal waters to start another generation. Just like people, these fish hawks anticipate warmer temperatures and the bounty of spring fish runs in local waters. The first sight of an Osprey in late March frequently reminds me of the important ecological connection between the air, land, and water. Everything is connected in the environment.
|The return of Ospreys is a sign to me that spring is not far away|
The good news is that though the seasons are teetering on the brink, real winter has ended in Lower New York Bay. Snow ceases to be a factor in April. As spring flowers slowly emerge from the moist ground, hummingbirds begin to arrive, and songbirds begin to nest, there is just something seductive about the coming of spring. Can you sense it, there is a feeling of rebirth in the air.