|(A daffodil about ready to leaf out)|
Monday, February 27, 2012
If you love seeing flowers in bloom (and really who doesn't except mean people), then this year you don't need to visit a botanical garden, just head outside and look around your local neighborhood. Spring has come early according to quite a few plants. Spring flowers are in bloom!
You wouldn't know it by looking at the calendar. It might be late February, but as said by the many daffodils and crocuses sprouting forth on my property, all life is beginning to stir.
Crocuses in bloom on my property in late February?!? This beats last year's bloom date by over two weeks, and is the earliest since I have been living around Lower New York Bay for the past 20 years.
I even received reports from friends who live far north along the Hudson River, near Hyde Park, that their crocuses are in bloom too. Just more proof that this has been a very untypical and crazy winter indeed.
Saturday, February 25, 2012
The globe experienced its 19th warmest January since record keeping began in 1880. Arctic sea ice extent was the fourth smallest extent on record for January at 7.5 percent below average. Additionally, La Niña conditions continued during January 2012. According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, La Niña is expected to dissipate during the Northern Hemisphere spring. January 2012 also marks the 26th January and 323rd consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last month with below average temperatures was February 1985.
Global temperature highlights: January
- The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for January 2012 was the 19th warmest on record at 54.23°F (12.35°C), which is 0.63°F (0.35°C) above the 20th century average of 53.6°F (12.0°C). The margin of error associated with this temperature is +/- 0.14°F (0.08°C).
- Separately, the global land surface temperature was 0.88°F (0.49°C) above the 20th century average of 37.0°F (2.8°C), making this the 28th warmest January on record. The margin of error is +/- 0.31°F (0.17°C). Warmer-than-average conditions occurred across most of North America, the northern latitudes of Europe and Asia, southern South America, and most of Australia. Cooler-than-average regions included China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, south central Russia, much of the Middle East, northern India, north Africa, and southwestern Greenland.
- The Arctic Oscillation climate pattern played a role in temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere during January. The positive phase during the first half of the month contributed to well-below average monthly temperatures across Alaska and above-average temperatures across the contiguous United States. The negative phase during the second half of the month contributed to warmth in Canada and also to a cold snap that began during the last week in January across Central and Eastern Europe and north Africa.
- The January global ocean surface temperature was 0.54°F (0.30°C) above the 20th century average of 60.5°F (15.8°C), making it the 17th warmest January on record and coolest monthly ocean temperature since January 2008. The margin of error is +/- 0.07°F (0.04°C). The warmth was most pronounced across the north central and southwestern Atlantic Ocean, the central and western Pacific, and the southeastern Indian Ocean.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
If you are an avid beach walker, particularly in the winter when freezing temperatures and icy winds shut out lots of people, at one time or another you have probably experienced the excitement of seeing a seal hauled out on a beach to rest. Although such experiences are wonderful, the most memorable sights of seeing a seal for me take place in Sandy Hook Bay with New York City in the backdrop.
For centuries, harbor seals have been visitors to Sandy Hook Bay and to the much larger New York Harbor. In fact, Robbins Reef lighthouse, located near the entrance to the Kill van Kull in Upper New York Bay, gets its name from seventeenth century Dutch settlers. They called the area “Robyn’s Rift,” denoting a seal's reef, since seals were frequently found resting there.
Nowadays people are probably observing more seals than within the last three hundred years thanks in part to the U.S. federal Marine Mammal Protection Act passed in 1972, which makes it a criminal offense to kill, injure, disturb, or harass any marine mammal including seals. As a result, harbor seals have become the most abundant marine mammal seen in Sandy Hook Bay during the winter. This is an extraordinary natural event.
On remote beaches and exposed sandbars located downstream from one of the busiest and bustling harbors in the United States, harbor seals and others like grey, harp or hooded seals can be seen in Sandy Hook Bay. A nearby rookery on Swinburne Island, just south of the Verrazano Bridge in Lower NY Bay, also has seals hauled out year after year. Having marine mammals here is a wonderful reminder of the bay’s connection to the ocean, and the need to keep waters clean.
Remarkably, this urban estuary seems to suit the seal’s needs. The bay is protected from large ocean waves, there are distant sandbars and remote beaches for the seals to haul out of the water to rest, sleep, and digest food; and the bay sits adjacent to several deepwater sea channels that lead the seals to fish populations in the Atlantic Ocean and parts of Lower New York Bay.
Harbor seals migrate to Lower New York Bay every winter from either the coast of Maine or the Atlantic Provinces of Canada, where a majority of Harbor Seals mate and reproduce during the spring and summer. Following schools of migrating fish, seals start to appear in Sandy Hook Bay sometime in November, perhaps stopping to rest first along the way in Long Island Sound or Nantucket Sound.
In 2011, the winter population of Harbor Seals in Sandy Hook Bay was estimated to be well over a hundred. Some years there are close to 140 seals. This is an increase from a decade ago when there was just a handful.
As the seal population continues to grow in Lower New York Bay, so too are the threats to their continued existence. Lots of people will try to get as close as they can to the seals when they should be viewing these wild animals from afar. If too many people disturb a haul-out site, the seals will abandon the place and never return. Seals often select a haul-out site to rest and relax specifically because the place is isolated from people. Beach walkers, especially when walking a pet, need to take care not to make their presence known, either visually or audibly.
Kayakers also need to be especially careful when paddling in the water with seals because the boats have the same profile as a shark and can stress an entire group of seals. Boaters and kayakers need to observe at a safe distance away from seals. At the slightest sign of danger, seals will slip back into the water where they will swim away, perhaps never to return.
Haul out sites are important areas in Sandy Hook Bay and Lower New York Bay for seals to feel safe. Everyone needs to be educated to ensure the seal population here remains wild, healthy, and free, particularly in this urban jungle!
Monday, February 20, 2012
It was a damp, cool morning near North Beach at Sandy Hook, a peninsula located downstream from New York City that separates Lower New York Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. The sky was dark and gray, there were light southerly winds, and low temperatures in the upper 30s. The weather gave the early morning a balmy feel for February.
It's been an awfully mild winter around New York City. Although there have been some cold snaps and storms, there has not been much in the way of snow except for a dusting to a few inches from a few quick moving cold fronts. Then temperatures turn mild once again.
One bird species that seems to be enjoying this mild winter are Sanderlings. Flocks of Sanderlings, small shorebirds, have been active all winter foraging for food along the edge of beaches around Lower New York Bay and close to the ocean.
Recently, I watched 30 or more Sanderlings running up and down the beach at Sandy Hook. They were making precise and synchronized turns along the water's edge, just like an engaging little mechanical toy. So cute, they couldn't be missed.
The birds were seeking a tasty meal on this damp day of small crabs or mollusks, and burrowing marine worms or amphipods. Anything that would be appetizing, even carrion or junk food left by people. Sanderlings are not picky eaters.
Perhaps this is why these birds tend to be so plentiful here in this urban coastal environment. Lower New York Bay fortunately has an abundance of what they seek: long, sandy beaches with rough, crashing wave action on which to spend the winter and look for food.
This is not always the case in other parts of North America. Over-development along coastal areas is destroying winter home and habitat on which these small shorebirds depend on for feeding and resting areas in the winter, and staging areas during migration. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, American populations of Sanderlings may be declining, perhaps as much as 80 percent since the early 1970s.
On this day, however, Sanderlings seem to be content working the beaches near to New York City. They forage with quick probing action with their bill in wet sand, then without warning they move with short fast runs up and down the edge of the beach, within the intertidal zone. Valiant individuals could be seen chasing receding waves to pick up a food item or two before the next waves crashes down.
This delightful bird nests far above the Arctic Circle on dry, rocky tundra, generally close to lakes or ponds. Once the breeding season is over, the birds will lose their breeding plumage and become one of the palest shorebirds along the east coast, with a brilliant white belly and a bright silver back.
It is amazing that for such a small bird, only about 8-inches in length, Sanderlings have one of the longest wintering ranges of any bird. The Sanderling is one of the most extensive wintering shorebirds, it can be seen on nearly all temperate and tropical sandy beaches throughout the world, from New England to the tip of South America, from England to the tip of South Africa.
Yet, nothing really can compare to seeing Sanderlings in and around Lower New York Bay. There is simply something beautiful and delicate about the sight of small birds readying themselves for the season to come in one of the most urban coastlines in the world.
Friday, February 17, 2012
Red-winged blackbirds are back! I saw and heard my first Red-winged Blackbirds of the year. There were about half-a-dozen male birds flying around the Comptons Creek marsh the other day.
Even if this winter season along Lower New York Bay has felt more like one long chapter of early spring, the first sight of Red-winged Blackbirds along tidal waters is a real sign of the coming of spring. The question is when?
While rumors of spring and warmer weather always grow more quickly when the first sight of a flock of all male Red-Winged Blackbirds makes news, it is unclear how symbolic these birds may really be of spring's arrival. In years past, it is not been unusual for the birds to come back in the midst of a snow storm or preceding a blizzard.
Yet, I am hoping that the birds this year know the weather and long-range forecasts better than people do. Wildlife are much more in tune with the length of daylight for seasonal cues and the availability of food resources, like seeds and insects.
Ever since the winter solstice in December, daylight has lengthened. Generally just a minute or two per day, but cumulatively noticeable to wildlife. In fact, since January 1st, we have gained nearly an hour and half of daylight. No doubt, the days are getting longer, and the sun is slowly climbing higher in the sky. The promise of spring is near.
Lengthening days and warmer temperatures have already made me reflective for this passing winter. On days when high temperatures are in the 50s, you can feel spring in the air even though the calendar says February and it is still technically winter.
Even so, the throaty mating call of a male red-wing has quicken the pulse a bit for things to come.