Wednesday, May 30, 2012
The day after I observed a large school of Menhaden, also known as mossbunker, bunker and pogy, feeding near the shores of Port Monmouth, New Jersey, located along Sandy Hook Bay and downstream from New York City, the fish were back again today. It seems they can't get enough of this place.
In fact, more bunker were here to feed than yesterday. I spotted several large schools in the water. They appeared as slivery dark clouds splashing at the water's surface. The adult Menhaden are suspension-feeders that forage on small microscopic organisms such as zooplankton, larger phytoplankton and diatoms.
No doubt, Lower New York Bay is an important spawning and nursery area for Menhaden. In the past 24 hours, the fish have occupied a good piece of the downstream portion of the estuary, as well as Sandy Hook Bay.
The wait is on to see if the bunker will be back tomorrow to feed. Just how plankton rich are the bay's waters?
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
The first 90 degree plus day around Lower New York Bay and the heat and humidly was not lost on the Menhaden. Starting around 10am, not more than 15 to 30 feet out, I spotted two enormous black clouds in the water with a bounty of fins and snouts moving about. There was a heavy commotion of ripples in the water. The bunker were feeding.
The hullabaloo took place not far off the coast of Port Monmouth, NJ in Sandy Hook Bay. The abundance of microscopic phytoplankton and zooplankton in the estuary here must have tempted the menhaden to concentrate close to shore. The feeding frenzy went on for several hours until about 1pm.
As professor and ichthyologist, Ken Able from Rutgers University once told me, "Bunker love warm, tranquil, sunny days. This is when they come to the surface, often on the flood tide than on the ebb tide, to feed." Sure enough, the tide was coming in and it was calm, sunny day with a high temperature of 94 degrees. Perfect bunker banquet weather.
The menhaden could be seen feeding by swimming with their mouths open and swimming downward as to gulp in water to feed, then turning upward to break the surface with their snouts. The fish are filter feeders. While feeding they can filter between 6 and 7 gallons of water per minute of excessive amounts of plankton.
Right now, the Menhaden have returned to Lower New York Bay to spawn. Come fall, the fish migrate south to the North Carolina coast where they remain until March or early April.
For more information on Menhaden and the threats to this important fish of the bay, check out the website Menhaden Defenders.
Monday, May 28, 2012
Memorial Day. With an incoming tide, I watched one Snowy Egret and one Great Egret feeding in the shallows of a salt marsh near Horseshoe Cove, located on the bayside of the Sandy Hook peninsula, part of Lower New York Bay.
The Great Egret was foraging mostly by standing still, and waiting patiently for a fish, mostly KIllifish, to come near. Then catching the poor fish with a speedy thrust of its spear-like bill. The Snowy, on the other hand, was seeking a meal by energetically walking in the shallow water and stirring the bottom of the small creek to find a fish, mostly juvenile flounder. No matter the angling technique, the fish didn't have a chance.
Even though the birds were putting on quite a show, especially for the holiday tourists, typically I wouldn't think twice of the sighting. This area of the park is where quite a few snowy and common egrets can be seen fishing in the waters of the marsh. Yet, I was very surprised to find just how close at hand the two egrets were to the visiting public, perhaps no more than 30 feet away.
Usually, when egrets or herons are stalking in the mud or brackish waters of the bay for food, the simple sight of just one person in close proximity to the birds will cause the animals to stop wading and bolt from the blue waters. Not this time. Various people could be seen and heard chatting and coughing right in front of the birds.
So why the change in attitude from the egrets? It's anyone's guess, but I think it has to do with the season. It's nesting time folks! Late May and early June is typically peak heron and egret nesting time in Lower New York Bay. These two egrets are perhaps nesting nearby and seeking an easy meal to bring back to its mate.
One of the best nesting areas in the bay for wading birds are the twin remote islands known as Hoffman and Swinburne, located on the far eastern side of Staten Island. These man-made islands were created in Lower New York Bay to provide medical treatment and quarantine immigrants who had fatal diseases during the 19th century, such as yellow fervor. Today, the islands are managed by the National Park Service and function as prime nesting habitat for egrets, herons, and ibises. Egrets generally nest in colonies with other wading birds.
Chances are pretty good when you see a hungry heron, egret or ibis feeding in some part of Lower New York Bay, the bird has flown in from its nesting site on one of the remote and vacant islands around New York City. For the last several years New York City Audubon has been monitoring the islands to make sure the birds are breeding unharmed. To find out more about the Harbor Herons Project in New York Harbor, please check out the New York City Audubon webpage.
As I departed Horseshoe Cove, the egrets were still foraging and putting on a free summer show for the tourists. Who knows, without these isolated islands around New York City, there might not be any herons or egrets to watch forage and feed in Lower New York Bay. Imagine how uninteresting life would be without the sight of these attention-grabbing wading birds.
Sunday, May 27, 2012
By RONDA KAYSEN
Published: May 24, 2012
AS the standards for environmentally friendly construction rise, a Brooklyn developer has a new goal: renovate an apartment building so it generates as much energy as it uses.
When the developer, Voltaic Solaire, finishes a $1 million rehabilitation of a 19th-century brownstone at 367 Fifth Avenue in Park Slope next year, the facade will be covered with a solar skin and a solar awning will sit on the roof. The panels will generate 18,000 watts of energy a year, enough to power all six units in the 7,000-square-foot building. Voltaic Solaire is so confident in its ability to create a “net-zero” building that utilities will be bundled into the rent.
As a demonstration, Voltaic has nearly completed a five-story showroom in Carroll Gardens — a triangular building called the Delta, on the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Ninth Street. Even without a southern exposure, the solar system generates enough energy to power the 2,700-square-foot property.
“If we can obtain sustainability at this location, it can be obtained anywhere,” Ronald F. Faia, the chief financial officer of Voltaic Solaire, said of the Delta’s poor light and odd configuration.
Each of the five floors at the Delta has a mere 450 square feet of space, and is equipped with Murphy beds and collapsible tables. A studio and a triplex will eventually be turned into a bed-and-breakfast.
Solar panels alone cannot generate enough energy to reduce a building’s usage to zero. So to achieve the net-zero goal at the Park Slope property, the developers installed LED lighting, insulated pipes and energy-efficient windows and appliances. They will add foam barriers at the walls, the foundation and the facade to prevent air from escaping. The Delta, using the same techniques, was built from the ground up. “The system will work, but you need the whole package,” Mr. Faia said. “You need the energy conservation and you need the right windows.”
On cloudy days, the buildings will draw energy from the grid. But Mr. Faia expects the panels will generate enough energy annually to cancel that out. Solar thermal panels will heat the water.
The Park Slope project may be the first city multifamily to be energy-neutral, although the city does not track the data. “You don’t have a lot of contractors with experience in super-low-energy housing,” said Russell Unger, the executive director of the Urban Green Council, an affiliate of the Green Building Council. “People understand insulation, but they don’t understand air sealing.”
Voltaic Solaire is the general contractor for its projects. The team oversees details down to the light switch covers. The towel racks, designed by Mr. Faia, are made with scrap metal. The recycled concrete flooring has bits of recycled glass in it, and the stairwell is made with scrap mosaic tiles. The result is a bare-bones industrial aesthetic.
The Delta windows cost 15 percent more than traditional ones. But a report by McGraw-Hill Construction found that a green retrofit increases property values by 6.8 percent and rent by 1 percent. Mr. Faia expects to recoup 65 percent of the solar installation costs through state and federal tax credits. Rents at the Park Slope apartments will range from $1,600 a month, for a studio, to $2,600 for a two-bedroom, with utilities included. At the Delta, the studio will cost $125 a night, the triplex $400.
In the end, though, energy efficiency comes down to the person living in the apartment. A developer can install three-watt bulbs, but to no avail if the tenant leaves them on all day.
“Conservation is key,” said Carlos Berger, the chief executive of Voltaic Solaire. “If you have solar panels, it doesn’t mean that now you can leave the lights on all the time.”
A version of this article appeared in print on May 27, 2012, on page RE6 of the New York edition with the headline: Off-the-Grid Living In Brooklyn.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Yesterday was a day worth mentioning. Short-billed Dowitchers were spotted in the early morning hours during low tide on the mud flats of Conaskonck Point in Union Beach, NJ located along Raritan Bay, and found in the western portion of Lower New York Bay.
The Dowitchers must have recently flown in from their far away wintering grounds in the Caribbean or coastal South American. The birds appeared famished and didn't mind too much me taking their picture.
With their long bill (it's only short compared to the Long-Billed Dowitcher), these squat and stout sandpipers were foraging slowly in the wet mud and shallow water for small mollusks and crabs, and marine worms.
There were about a half-a-dozen of the Dowitchers. They were all stocky birds, about a foot in height, with a bright rufous colored neck and lengthy bills twice as long as their head.
Up they came following the Atlantic Flyway, an amazing highway in the sky for migratory birds that extends the length of the coast from South America to Canada. Along the way, birds can find natural places and open spaces to take a break, feed, and rest up for their continuing long journey. Although much of the New York metropolitan area is an urban landscape, the Lower New York Bay region including Jamaica Bay still contains some of the best natural habitat to suit the needs of many birds seeking to refuel and refresh themselves.
The birds can't slack off too much, though, and they don't stay long in any one spot. Just enough to fill up and take five before they take wing.
Not surprisingly, the Short-Dilled Dowitchers didn't hang about too long. The next morning, the birds could not be found. They needed to get a move on to start the next generation of Dowitchers. Off they flew perhaps very early in the morning to their breeding territory in the subarctic tundra of far-flung eastern Canada.
Their visit was brief to New York Harbor, but hopefully well worth it.
Friday, May 25, 2012
Not everything you find along the edge of Lower New York Bay is going to be cute and comely. The other morning as I was walking along the edge of the bay, I came across several icky-looking Spider Crabs that had been washed up by the high tide.
Common Spider Crabs (Libinia emarginata) are one of the most easily recognized inhabitants of the bay, but they sure are ugly. With a carapace about 4 inches in width and legs that are about 12 inches in length, the crab get its name because of its resemblance to both crabs and spiders. Yet, this long-legged crustacean is in fact a crab, not a spider as its name calls to mind.
The species belong to the arthropod family, related to Blue-Claw Crabs, Lobsters, Crayfish, and shrimps. Spider Crabs, however, are creepy, weird looking creatures. The carapace of this crab is round and spiny, with nine small spines running down the back. The crabs attach bits of algae, mud, and seaweed to many thin, sticky hairs all over their bodies for camouflage. The disguise works well to make Spider Crabs appear stinking and threatening.
Spider Crabs are nothing like savory Blue-Claw Crabs or Lobsters, they look anything but edible. Even though I have read that some folks in Europe and South America eat them. Good Luck!
Spider Crabs are scavengers. They will eat anything they can find including carrion, in other words, dead and putrefying flesh. Nasty stuff, right.
In spite of all this, though, Spider Crabs are really pretty easy crabs to like. Unlike mean-spirited Blue-Claws or Lobsters that are always seeking an opportunity to pinch you and draw first blood, Spider Crabs move slothfully. Their claws are narrow and not as strong as many other crabs. Given that Spider Crabs eat mostly dead things, the ends of the claws are used to scoop up bits of detritus and algae.
In fact, Spider Crabs are one of the most non-threatening scavengers in Lower New York Bay. They are relatively slow moving, non-swimming crabs that have poor eyesight. The crabs find food by using sensing organs on the end of each of their walking legs. This allows them to identify food on the bottom of the bay as they walk over it.
Spider Crabs are also highly tolerant of pollution. They can live in polluted water, even in marinas where there is oil from boats. They can also tolerate low oxygen areas of the bay where other fish and crabs cannot. This hardy and resilient disposition makes Spider Crabs the perfect inhabitant of Lower New York Bay.
So while Spider Crabs might appear as creepy crabs that only a mother might love, this lanky and gangling crustacean has quietly been living its life in the bay for thousands of years helping to clean up the bay of dead organic matter. Spider Crabs live their life silently and really don't bother anybody. Don't we wish some people could be this way too.