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Posts Tagged ‘Estuary’

rocking the boat 

 

What a weekend and week ahead New York City’s natural world and its stewards offers you! We have a barrel of FREE events, and a couple of cheap ones (as you know, paid events are the great exception on WildWire) that support green allies and cover basic costs.

 

Highlights include the Tour de Queens, a dog walk through Forest Park, Rocking the Boat’s big party and rowing day, kayaking in Red Hook, planting a “Pizza Garden,” birding and looking for horseshoe crabs. There’s so much more, and here are some choice options.

 

(And please forgive some compression. WordPress seems to freak out over longer posts.)

 

FRIDAY, JUNE 6

 

GARDENING, MANHATTAN, 3PM-8PM

 

It takes a special kind of genius to create a “Pizza Garden.” What better way to excite kids about going/growing green than to plant things that are great pizza toppings and seasonings? Genius, genius… Be part of the fun, along with the always-celebratory Time’s Up! eco-urban crew, by heading over between 3PM and 8PM (so feel free to rush over right after work) to the Children’s Magical Garden at the corner of Norfolk and Stanton Street on the Lower East Side. Earn your place at the Pizza Garden Harvest Party, coming this fall! Also, please consider making a donation to help install a fish pond and solar-powered waterfall (to reduce mosquito larvae), buy tools and soil. For more information please email Ellen at xupgardening@gmail.com

 

BIKING, MANHATTAN, 10PMMidnight

 

Stick with the Time’s Up! crew and roll up to Central Park for a moonlight ride! Meet at Columbus Circle (SW entrance of Central Park) for laughter, exercise, and communion with the sights and sounds of green spaces when they’re sunken into night’s blackness. 

 

 SATURDAY, JUNE 7

 

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 10AM-5PM

Splash with the Red Hook Boaters at Valentino Park from 10AM through 5PM on Saturday, and while you’re their, take in the Waterfront Arts Festival with Portside New York.

 

A fun bonus is that if you arrive by kayak, there will be a free “valet” service to safeguard your boat while you enjoy the arts, foods, crafts, and performances!

 

I checked the tides. If you’re paddling from the north, buck a weak flood tide current after lunch and make arrangements to depart a couple of hours after the festival is over. My solution to this is to bring a dinner to Valentino Park (some might chance it on fishing?) so that you can watch your boat while enjoying yourself. Southerners have an easier time, launching at 8AM or so and starting the return trip after an early lunch.

 

 IDENTIFICATION DAY, MANHATTAN, 1230PM-330PM

 

“Is that a man in there…or something?”

 

Ah, the big question at the center of John Carpenter’s science fiction/horror film remake, “The Thing.” If only the snowbound protagonists in Antarctica had the American Museum of Natural History nearby!

 

Bring your weird natural finds (bones, feathers, bugs, rocks, shells…and who knows?) to the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. Museum experts there will tackle the mysteries before us.

 

While you’re at it, check out the rest of the museum, of course. Especially the new horse exhibition! 

 

ROWING, BRONX

 

Come join Rocking the Boat’s end-of-semester celebration! See the pride as kids launch a new hand-crafted rowboat, and enjoy some time on the Bronx River’s thriving waters too! Last time I was there, I spotted egrets, an glossy ibis, swans, and other estuarine birds. More information at Rocking the Boat’s website.

 

 

CANOEING, BRONX

 

Paddle from the “Border to the Mouth” with the Bronx River Alliance! If you missed the Amazing Bronx River Flotilla, don’t fret and live in regret, see an egret! Register right away at http://bordertomouth60708.eventbrite.com/

 

 

 

BIRDING, BROOKLYN, 8AM-10AM

 

Learn the basics of birding (Lesson One: Get up early) with the Urban Park Rangers in one of our lesser-known jewels, the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park (East 33rd Street and Ave. U). Call 718-421-2021 for more information.

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-5PM

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 10AM and 5PM) on the Hudson River south of 72nd Street. Please dress for getting wet and know how to swim. Call the Downtown Boathouse for weather updates at 646-613-0740 and further information at 212-408-0219.

 

HIKING TRAIL VOLUNTEERISM, QUEENS, 9AM-1PM

 

If you love to hike, make that love meaningful by helping maintain local areas as part of National Trails Day. Alley Pond Park is a fantastic NYC resource and your work, side-by-side with the NY/NJ Trail Conference team, with increase the pleasure of it for yourself and others. You’ll focus on the trails near the Adventure Course, so meet at the entrance off the Grand Central Parkway and Winchester Boulevard, opposite the sanitation depot. Call 718-352-4793 for more information and mass transit tips.

 

HIKING TRAIL VOLUNTEERISM, STATEN ISLAND, 9AM-1PM

 

Or help out on some of the 35-miles of trail in the Greenbelt on Staten Island! Your hands will get dirty, and you’ll feel great about it. You’ll be provided with tools, gloves, and refreshments. Call 718-667-2165 for more information.

 

Or at 10AM

 

Another great Staten Island location to help out with its trails is Blue Heron Park Preserve. Meet at 222 Poillon Avenue between Amboy Road & Hylan Boulevard. For more information call 718-967-3542.

 

BIRDING, BRONX 9AM-11AM

Grab your binoculars and start spotting birds you never thought you’d see in NYC! For many of you, this will mean a trip to North America (how exotic!), which in NYC parlance is the Bronx mainland. This monthly gathering at Van Cortlandt Park is a terrific way to start your Saturday. Enter the park at West 246th Street and Broadway. Call 718-548-0912 for more information.

 

And while you’re in the Bronx, why not bike straight across to…

 

HIKING TRAIL VOLUNTEERISM, BRONX, 1PM-4PM

 

Another National Trails Day site is Riverdale Park, and the Wave Hill folks are working hard to enhance the already great trails there. Join them as a fellow steward and reap the green karma! Meet at the Spaulding Lane parking lot at 675 West 252 Street. For more information, call 718-549-3200.

 

HIKING, MANHATTAN, 9AMNoon

 

Celebrate the High Bridge and the upper Manhattan heights with a hike covering this surprising section of Manhattan, with old growth forests, old lore, and tranquil spots. An artist from Kids Art Network will lead a creative activity at Riverside-Inwood Neighborhood Garden (RING), and hikers will get t-shirts, water, and snacks. Meet at RING (1835 Riverside Drive, where Riverside Drive, Dyckman Avenue, Broadway, and Seaman Avenue meet). For more information call 212-567-8272.

 

WALK, MANHATTAN, 1PM-3PM

 

Stroll with the Central Park Conservancy and rediscover a place both familiar and novel. Do you know where to find a hidden bench that tells time? Or a sculpture that celebrates fresh water? Well, neither do I, and I’m a native. Get in the know by meeting inside the park at Fifth Ave. and East 72nd Street, in front of the Samuel Morse statue.

 

Or, how about a twofer at Conference House, one of New York City’s secret haunts?

 

INVASIVE PLANT WALK AND WEED, STATEN ISLAND, 2PM-4PM and…

 

HORSESHOW CRAB WALK, 7PM-9PM

 

Conference House Park is at the deepest point of the Deep South of New York, and where Benjamin Franklin and John met with the British for one last chance for peace. The forces of Black Dick would invade the harbor (that being the nickname for Admiral Richard Howe, peace envoy and navy commander, so stop laughing) not long after. It stands today as the last pre-revolutionary manor house remaining in New York City.

 

After taking a quiet Staten Island Railroad ride or a bike ride through green and blue, grab a great lunch in quaint and charming Tottenville. Then stroll 15 minutes or ride over to Conference House Park. That’s where Hylan Boulevard meets Satterlee Street

. Turn left into the parking lot of the Visitors’ Center, where restrooms and tap water ar available.
 
 
 
 
 Once there…

 

STOP THE INVASION! No, not the British. Aggressive, non-native plants threaten the beauty and ecological health of our green spaces. Volunteers are yanking them out under the guidance of park staff. Personally, I suggest that they bring Wildman Steve Brill down to encourage people to eat the vanquished weeds – make a fun feast after the battle! Wear sturdy shoes and sunblock. To RSVP for this rain-or-shine event, or for any questions (such as bus and car pooling directions), please call Cheri Brunault at 718-390-8021, or email cheri.brunault@parks.nyc.gov.

 
 
 
       

Now here’s another chance to check out Tottenville. Dine or stroll, and then return to…

 

 

HUNT FOR HORSESHOE CRABS!

 

Photographically, that is. As we wrote about earlier, this is one of the city’s most ancient rituals. Beckoned by the moon and tides, this species comes to lay eggs ashore as it has done for nearly 500 million years. Again, gather at the visitor’s center.

 

 SUNDAY, JUNE 8

 

WALK, BROOKLYN, 11AM-5PM

 

Take a self-guided tour of Brooklyn’s Brownstone Garden District. There are more than a dozen private gardens and nine community gardens to see, including one threatened with eminent domain-enabled destruction. That garden features a cottage dating to the 1830s. Among the enjoyments to found at other gardens are the chance to see a master potter create an astonishing mini-Brooklyn Botanical Garden spanning three lots. Organizers also promise “a stream falling over mossy rock ledges into a stocked pond on a backyard mountain, a serene Japanese garden, and an 1839 farmhouse in a double-wide garden with century-old trees.” Oh, and then there’s the composting toilet.

 

The flush toilets, I suppose, are at the starting points: Thirst (187 DeKalb Ave., at  Vanderbilt Ave.) or The Forest Floor (659 Vanderbilt Ave. at Park Place). 

Tickets are $15 in advance ($20 the day of the event) to support the Annual Fall Bulb Give-away. Call 718-219-2137 for more information.  

 

BIKING, QUEENS, 8AM-2PM

 

Okay, so someone will eventually break the “Tour de” bike event formula, but it won’t be Queens. Kraftwerk is doubtlessly nodding in approval. The great thing about a Tour de Queens ride, however, is that it amounts to a world tour. (Okay, make that a Unisphere tour… the ride starts in Flushing Meadows, after all.) From Irish taverns to the Hindu Temple canteen to Filipino restaurant districts, you can gain weight while pedaling all day on this borough! As a volunteer ride marshal I will test this theory with gusto.

 

If you want to be part of the fun with street heroes Transportation Alternatives, REGISTER NOW! The ride is limited to 500 riders. Contact Transportation Alternatives for more information.

 

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-5PM

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 10AM and 5PM) on the Hudson River south of 72nd Street. Please dress for getting wet and know how to swim. Call the Downtown Boathouse for weather updates at 646-613-0740 and further information at 212-408-0219.

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS, 1PM-5PM

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 1PM and 5PM) arranged by the LIC Community Boathouse on the East River where Vernon Boulevard meets 31st Avenue in Astoria. You’ll see Socrates Sculpture Park’s beach at Hallets Cove and a wooden staircase on a wall. Please dress for getting wet and know how to swim.

 

GARDENING, QUEENS, 1030AM-1230PM

 

Or at least socialize with gardeners over a free birthday breakfast for Friends of Gantry Neighborhood Parks. But don’t be a moocher! Get out and help tend to western Queens trees and gardens with this friendly and hard-working crew! Meet at Gantry Plaza State Park, where 49th Avenue hits the East River in Hunters Point, Long Island City. For more information, email gantryparkfriend@aol.com. 

 

DOG WALK IN THE WOODS, QUEENS, 9AM-11AM.

 

 

There was an episode of the Twilight Zone in which a man narrowly avoided eternal damnation by declining an apparent invitation into Heaven because dogs weren’t allowed. Human loyalty to the pooch won him a place in the real thing.

 

 

Your bit of green heaven (okay, some might have to skip church for this, which I imagine could delay entrance) on Sunday morning is Forest Park. Urban Park Rangers will take you through the woods, which will simultaneously sooth and stimulate both you and the pup. Meet at the K-9 Korral Dog Run (Park Lane South and 85th Street). This event happens every two weeks, so make a habit of it! And those without a canine companion are still welcome to join the pack.

 

 

 FISHING, BRONX, 11AM

 

Have a face-to-face encounter with a local fish at Van Cortlandt Park through in this catch-and-release environmental program. The excitement of this experience can inspire new ecologists to learn the science they’ll need to be the next generation of stewards. Adults can be moved as well. Bring water and a snack, and NYC Parks will provide the equipment. Enter at West 264th Street and Broadway. For more information, call 718-548-0912.

BE A FORESTER (FOR THE DAY), MANHATTAN, 11AM-2PM

Put on your loin cloth (or maybe something more urban-conventional) and get over to the Dana Discovery Center (110th Street and Lennox Avenue) for a walk through Central Park’s diverse trees. Both native species and carefully cultivated and responsibly grown exotic species grace this gorgeous, densely verdant public space. For more information call 212-860-1376

 

SEASHORE SAFARI, BRONX, 11AM-2PM

 

Go the wet fringe of New York City’s largest park to see what lurks below! Seining nets will bring up fish, crustaceans and more in Pelham Bay Park. Meet at the Urban Park Ranger Station at the intersection of Bruckner Boulevard and Wilkinson Avenue. Call 718-885-3467 for more information.

 

CANOE, STATEN ISLAND, 11AM

 

Paddle Staten Island’s lovely Lemon Creek while others are sitting on the butts eating brunch! Call 718-967-3642 to register and get the meeting place.

 

MICRO-SAFARI, QUEENS, 11AM

 

Who’s so big? You’re so big! Well, at least compared with the stunning array of insects to whom the Urban Park Rangers are eager to introduce you. Meet at the Fort Totten Ranger Park, north of the intersection of 212 Street and Cross Island Parkway. Call 718-352-1769 for more information.

MONDAY, JUNE 9

 

BLOOMING WALK, MANHATTAN, 1230PM

 

Mondays are rough. Treat yourself to a delightful walk through Battery Park City’s blooming crabapples, rhododendrons, bleeding hearts, and Virginia bluebells. Horticulturalist Monika Haberland will take you on a River-to-River stroll through Wagner Park. For more information, call 212-267-9700.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11

WALK, MANHATTAN, 1PM-3PM

 

Stroll with the Central Park Conservancy and rediscover a place both familiar and novel. Do you know where to find a hidden bench that tells time? Or a sculpture that celebrates fresh water? Well, neither do I, and I’m a native. Get in the know by meeting inside the park at Fifth Ave. and East 72nd Street, in front of the Samuel Morse statue.

 

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Eastern gray squirrel in the Bronx. Photo by Steve Nanz. 

 

 

 

WildWire May 17-21

 

We’re LOADED with FREE outdoor activities this weekend and next week!

 

But first an important reminder: Bee Watchers 2008 needs volunteers. Scroll down a few days for more details, but here’s the skinny:

 

Orientation Locations
Alley Pond Environmental Center: May 19 6:00 PM
Central Park-North Meadow Recreation Center: May 21 6:00 PM
Greenbelt Nature Center: May 20 6:00 PM
Prospect Park Audubon Center: May 21 6:00 PM
Fordham University: May 22 6:00 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

WALK to learn about trees, squirrels, or horseshoe crabs!

 

BIKE to learn about NYC’s green movement and arts (with a loaner program on Sunday)!

 

PLANT trees given for free to homeowners and gardeners!

 

HIKE through northern Manhattan!

 

FISH the East River!

 

 

 

 

 

SATURDAY, MAY 17:

FISHING – QUEENS

Come to Rainey Park between 1PM and 5PM to celebrate and shape the future of parks on the western Queens waterfront with Green Shores NYC, a community group that has been fostered by Partnerships for Parks. This rain or shine event includes catch-and-release fishing with I Fish NY, and live music and informative displays.

 

 

GARDENING – BRONX, MANHATTAN, QUEENS

Free trees from New York Restoration Project!

Clean the air, make the birds happy, and beautify your property with a free tree, thanks to the New York Restoration Project! Homeowners can swing by the green markets of Sunnyside, Queens and Inwood, Manhattan for their trees.

Bronxites can hop over to the YM-YWHA’s Environmental Fair (5625 Arlington Avenue at 256th Street) to adopt their trees.

Species include Red Bud, Dogwood, Cherry, Crabapple, Service Berry, Linden, Sweetgum, Oak, Tulip Poplar and Buckeye trees, ready for planting. First come, first served, so hurry!

 

 

 

 

HIKING – MANHATTAN

Join a NYC Hiking Meetup Group exploration of Upper Manhattan parks!

The NYC Hiking meetup group is hoofing it through northern Manhattan’s city and states parks. Meet at the 1 Train at 215th. Street and Broadway at 10AM. You’ll see old growth forests, marsh grasses, a meeting of the Harlem River (really a strait) and Hudson River (really and estuary at this latitude). You’ll be glad you joined this active group!

 

ROWING – BRONX

Row with Rocking the Boat!

Explore the vibrant Bronx River in a beautifully handcrafted rowboat with Rocking the Boat. Community rowing hours are 1PM-5PM at the Jose E Serrano Riverside Campus for Arts and The Environment.

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY, MAY 18

WALKS – BROOKLYN

 

Learn about New York City’s “other rodent” at the “Nuts about Squirrels” lecture at the Fort Greene Park Visitor Center (Myrtle Avenue and Washington Park) at 12PM.

 

Learn Your Trees!

 

Don’t leaf (couldn’t resist) Fort Greene Park Visitor Center right after the squirrel talk. Stay for a tree walk to learn about our local trees.  Starting at 1PM, you’ll stroll beneath the verdant spring canopy leaning to identify trees by bark, buds, and blossoms.

More Information: 718  722 3218

 

PADDLING – QUEENS

Kayak and Canoe with the LIC Community Boathouse!

Come to Socrates Sculpture Park’s beach at Hallets Cove in Astoria for free paddling with the LIC Community Boathouse between 1PM and 5PM.

BIKING – MANHATTAN

 

Lower East, Higher Green!

 

Bike through what should be the future of New York City with the Green Apple Tour. Explore gardens, greenways and riversides. Learn about composting, solar power, green buildings and more. The tour covers the Garden District and Lower East Side and is based on the fabulous Green Map System. This is an easy, two-hour ride, and all ages are welcome.

 

Meet at the Temperance Monument in Tompkins Square Park (Ave. A & East 9th St.) at 11AM.

 

BIKING – QUEENS

 

Bike ride with your kids – bikes and helmets provided!

 

 

Get to know Long Island City, famous for its waterfront and arts scene, while learning basic bike mechanics and riding safety skills. This trip focuses on youth aged 10-15 years old, and parents and teachers are welcome. Recycle-a-Bicycle provides instruction, bikes, and helmets for those without, but make sure you register ASAP (rideclub@recycleabicycle.org).

 

Meet at 46th Ave. and 5th St., down the block from the charming LIC Bar at 10AM. Wrap up the ride at 330PM.

 

 

WALK – BRONX

 

Join author and naturalist Betsy McCully, author of City at Water’s Edge, at Wave Hill for a slide-illustrated talk and nature walk as she discusses the geological and ecological forces that have shaped this region and the human forces that impact them.  Her book is available in the Wave Hill Shop.

 

 

 

WALK – BROOKLYN (Jamaica Bay)

Scoot down to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge at 7PM for an evening with one of our city’s most ancient resident species, the horseshoe crab. Don Riepe of the American Littoral Society leads the way. For more information or to register call 718 318-9344 or e-mail driepe@nyc.rr.com.

 

TUESDAY, MAY 20 

Tuesday, May 20, 2008 – 10-11 am.
Roll the carriage or toddle the toddler to Fort Greene Park for Babies, Books and Blooms. Brooklyn Public Library & Urban Park Rangers present story time and nature crafts. At Fort Greene Park Visitor’s Center.

 

 

 

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Bladderwrack seaweed at Roosevelt Island. Photo by Erik Baard. 

 

By Erik Baard

 

One one the many torments my “poor, sainted mother” (as she calls herself) endured from me was a screamingly Pavlovian response to the jingle of the ice cream truck as it rumbled down 159th Street in Flushing, Queens, where I was raised. Little did I know then how intimately my love of the sweet dessert, the salty harbor, and my maternal heritage were bound.

 

A very common, yet fascinating, plant growing in our estuary is bladderwrack seaweed, scientifically known as fucus vesiculosus. Just a few of its other common names are popweed, black tang, rockweed, bladder fucus, seawrack, sea oak, black tany, cut weed, and rock wrack. I snapped the above picture of a healthy mat of its bubble form on riprap rock fringing Roosevelt Island (click to enlarge).

 

Bladderwrack is quite widespread in sheltered bays and inlets in the northern hemisphere, and has ancient pedigree. It’s a close relative of the first plants to colonize land. Of course the distinctive feature of this species is its air sacks, which lift fronds toward the surface, an evolutionary edge in the competition for sunlight for photosynthesis. Today beds of bladderwrack shelter young fish and crustaceans, and stabilizes intertidal sediment by slowing water movement.

 

You might not realize it, but there’s a very good chance you’ve eaten bladderwrack. Ice cream is one of the most common food products to include bladderwrack seaweed. Mass market foods often list it in the ingredients as simply “kelp” or note the chemicals derived from it, especially carrageenan. That thickening agent is named for the organism from which it was first extracted, Irish moss, known in Irish as carraig.

 

Iodine, beta carotene, and potassium are also refined from bladderwrack, though less often in recent years, and this seaweed has traditionally been used to treat thyroid illnesses and (with less solid evidence) obesity. Recent research also points to applications fighting estrogen-dependent diseases like breast cancer.

 

While people with certain medical conditions can suffer complications from consuming too many concentrated supplements made from bladderwrack, in Japan the plant is enjoyed as a popular food in its natural state. Sadly, there could be a pollution danger from eating bladderwrack growing in our harbor (as excited as we are about the estuary’s ongoing ecological recovery). Please consult the Department of Health and Department of Environmental Protection (dial 311) regarding any culinary experimentation.

 

 

Asian cultures are known for seaweed cuisine, but for thousands of years the Irish have eaten dulaman and dyed fabrics with it.

   

I can easily picture that kind of trade in a place like my maternal ancestral home of Sligo, Ireland. One of Ireland’s most popular traditional songs, about a monger of edible seaweed marrying (perhaps threatening to elope with) a seaweed dye monger’s daughter, makes that fancy all the more vivid. An interesting note on the lyrics is that in Irish, or Gaeilge, the gatherers and sellers of seaweed were addressed by the same noun as the product itself. That lends itself to some playful word-painting, comparing the fair hair and dark cap and black shoes of the suitor (or rogue?) to the top and base of the plant.

 

Dulaman

A ‘níon mhín ó, sin anall na fir shúirí
Oh gentle daughter, here come the wooing men
A mháithairin mhín ó, cuir na roithléan go dtí mé
Oh gentle mother, put the wheels in motion for me

Curfá: Chorus:
Dúlamán na binne buí, dúlamán Gaelach
Seaweed from the yellow cliff, Irish seaweed
Dúlamán na farraige, b’fhearr a bhí in Éirinn
Seaweed from the ocean, the best in all of Ireland
Tá ceann buí óir ar an dúlamán gaelach
There is a yellow gold head on the Gaelic seaweed
Tá dhá chluais mhaol ar an dúlamán maorach
There are two blunt ears on the stately seaweed
Bróga breaca dubha ar an dúlamán gaelach
The Irish seaweed has beautiful black shoes
Tá bearéad agus triús ar an dúlamán maorach
The stately seaweed has a beret and trousers

(Curfá 2x) (Chorus 2x)
Góide a thug na tíre thú? arsa an dúlamán gaelach
“What are you doing here?” says the Irish seaweed
Ag súirí le do níon, arsa an dúlamán maorach
“At courting with your daughter,” says the stately seaweed
Rachaimid chun Niúir leis an dúlamán gaelach
I would go to Niúir with the Irish seaweed
Ceannóimid bróga daora ar an dúlamán maorach
“I would buy expensive shoes,” said the Irish seaweed

(Curfá) (Chorus)
Ó chuir mé scéala chuici, go gceannóinn cíor dí
I spent time telling her the story that I would buy a comb for her
‘Sé’n scéal a chuir sí chugam, go raibh a ceann cíortha
The story she told back to me, that she is well-groomed

(Curfá) (Chorus)
Cha bhfaigheann tú mo ‘níon, arsa an dúlamán gaelach
“Oh where are you taking my daughter?” says the Irish seaweed
Bheul, fuadóidh mé liom í, arsa an dúlamán maorach
“Well, I’d take her with me,” says the stately seaweed
Dúlamán na binne buí, dúlamán Gaelach
Seaweed from the yellow cliff, Irish seaweed

(Curfá) (Chorus)
Dúlamán na binne buí, dúlamán Gaelach
Seaweed from the yellow cliff, Irish seaweed
Dúlamán na farraige, b’fhearr a bhí, b’fhearr a bhí

Seaweed from the ocean, the best, the best
Dúlamán na binne buí, dúlamán Gaelach
Seaweed from the yellow cliff, Irish seaweed
Dúlamán na farraige, b’fhearr a bhí, b’fhearr a bhí
Seaweed from the ocean, the best, the best

B’fhearr a bhí in Éirinn

The best in all of Ireland

 

The song has enjoyed many modern interpretations:

 

 Anúna

 

Clannad

 

Altan

 

Celtic Woman

 

A dance remix

 

And fan of the song even gives it the anime treatment.

 

I hope all Irish love their mothers as much as they love dulaman seaweed!

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Great Egret by Bernie Ente

by Erik Baard

A skeptic might say that a naturalist hoping for the Great Egret to visit the Newtown Creek is a bit like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin. Happily, the skeptic would be wrong.

This morning, Bernie Ente snapped this quick shot of one above the English Kill (one of the most polluted sections of the creek) with a cheap point-and-shoot camera. I thought after bumming you all out with my biodecathection essay for the past couple of days, you deserved this marvelous moment.

The beautiful Great Egret is internationally known as the Audubon Society’s symbol. The society was formed over a century ago when a fashion for feathered hats wiped out 95% of the Great Egret population. Citizens were sparked into action, and they formed one of our nation’s earliest conservation movements and made history when national wildlife protection laws were passed. Today the threat to this species is less visible and dramatic, but equally real: our wetlands are receding at an alarming rate due to pollution and at times thoughtless development. Without healthy marsh grasses, this species of bird will just as surely die off as if hunters set their sites on them.

I’ve most often seen egrets on Mill Rock Island just south of Hell Gate, and they’ve been reported at North Brother and South Brother islands, and the islands of the Arthur Kill. You can recognize them easily by their yellow bills, black legs, and white feathers. In flight they flex their necks into an S shape, and their wingspan is impressive at well over four feet (more than a meter).
Though a mate to the bird in the photo was on a nearby muddy bank, often a great egret will be spotted as the sole representative of its species among many other birds, all congregating. This is normal, and perhaps understandable for a creature that starts life with a battle to the death with siblings in the nest! As adults, Great Egrets hunt alone, stalking small amphibians and fish, snakes, and crustaceans in the shallows of coves and inlets like Anable Basin, Bushwick Inlet, Fresh Kills, and the Newtown Creek. Mill Rock is in the center of the East River, but has a delightful little cove notched into its northern side.

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By Erik Baard

 

Today we celebrate the 14-legged messenger of estuarine recovery, the gribble.

 

Gribbles might look like Pikachu  (the preview box doesn’t work for this link, but clicking it will lead to an image) but countless of these speck-sized crustaceans (photo by Seattle Department of Transportation, click to enlarge)are devouring piers throughout New York Harbor, forcing reconstruction at a cost of millions upon millions of dollars. And in forgotten little historic corners of our once-working harbor, derelict barge-to-rail lifts, docks, and railroad ties disintegrate into their four-part maws.

 

Gribbles (of which there are 56 species) and shipworms, another woodborer, were absent from large swaths of the harbor for generations because pollution levels were too high, and oxygen levels too low, for them to survive. Indeed, in a truly Orwellian twist of language, ours was known to sailors as a “clean harbor” because local waters were such a toxic broth that unwanted critters would die off of ships.

Now we appreciate that the gribbles’ return heralds the ecological recovery of our vital waterways.

 

For a long time the logic of the gribble diet was a mystery: gribbles lack the nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their bellies that symbiotically allow termites to survive on the carbon riches of wood. In short, they were endlessly gnawing through wood that provided little nutrition or energy to them. The secret, it turns out, is geometry. Old wood in seawater, like our harbor estuary, has a slimy surface. That, scientists have discovered, is the true diet of a gribble. And by tunneling through wood, and having succeeding generations of gribbles widen those tunnels, gribbles dramatically increase the surface area on which the nitrogen-rich microbial slimes can grow. A feast for generations of gribbles to come. What’s even weirder is that microbes cling to gribble’s excretory plates, called pleopods, to catch nitrogen bound in waste ammonium. It’s a partially self-perpetuating cycle.

 

So when you see those riddled hunks of rotten wood break away from a pier, think “gribble farm.”

 

Humanity may have played an important role in transporting gribbles aboard wooden ships, but the species has been thriving long before the invention of the simple raft. In terms of ecological niche, the crustaceans take the place occupied by fungi on land, converting the tough material of dead wood into a mush that is a rich base for new growth. Over time, natural driftwood and unanchored seaweed (gribbles munch down the holdfasts that anchor seaweeds) can travel thousands of miles. One might argue that our acceleration of this process and the increase of volume but not diversity of wood (only a few types make useful keel lumber) might have reduced the biodiversity of gribbles. And our marine construction techniques might also be introducing an artificial selection: one species, L. tripunctata, can take down piers treated with the toxic wood preservative creosote (a carcinogen for humans) through a symbiotic partnership with bacteria that degrade the coal-derived chemical.

 

One question I’d like to explore is whether gribbles limit the width of their tunnels, or at least entrances, to the diameter of their pleotelsons, a rear end plate that they can use as a defensive barrier. Or does their burrowing cause the home log to crumble before any particular tunnel is likely to reach such widths? Or has a communal effort to adjoin pleotelsons been observed?

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by Erik Baard

Three kayakers launched into the Hudson River estuary from the 56th Street annex of the Downtown Boathouse late Saturday afternoon for a leisurely outing. The paddle was fun but unremarkable. It was upon their return near sunset that things became quite unusual.

As one of the paddlers, Tim Gamble, shared with others on the NYC Kayaker email list hosted by the Hudson River Watertrail Association, a seal appeared and got friendlier than any on record in these parts:

“It was very curious and followed us, popping up, first behind, then in front again. It seemed very interested and was getting closer and closer. So I made the classic keetch keetch noise and held my hand out like I had some food. It always works with dogs, so I figured it might work with a seal too. The seal swam closer and closer, and then put its paws up on my front hatch. It looked at me once more, then hauled itself up ONTO MY FRONT HATCH COVER. It sat up there for about 30 seconds while I carefully balanced, then it jumped back in the water on the other side of my boat. Really incredible!!!”

Indeed. Though seals are curious and playful creatures, marine mammal protection groups in the New York City area seek to deter overeager humans from unintentionally harassing them, and must often tend to stranded animals. When a seal initiates contact so boldly, it’s cause for alarm.

“That seal’s behavior was absolutely bizarre,” said SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology science professor and Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island president Arthur Kopelman. “That shouldn’t happen. That seal was in need of help or was used to being fed by people. You should call the stranding hotline at that point.”

Immediately after being told of the incident by Nature Calendar, Kopelman alerted biologist Kimberly Durham, the rescue program director of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. Kopelman noted that in photos posted elsewhere, the young seal seemed to be recovering from an injury to its left eye.

Durham told Nature Calendar that her organization has been monitoring the juvenile, which they believe is healthy, since March 15. She strongly admonished against any kind of interference that would alter a seal’s normal conduct, such as summoning it. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration levies heavy penalties on those found to feed or harass seals, dolphins, whales, and other wildlife.

Gamble, and the experienced kayakers who shared  his close encounter, are harbor veterans and committed estuary preservationists who never approach seals hauled out for rest or chase them down in the water.

Back in December of 2001, a pod of kayakers observed seals hauled out at Swinburne Island, a former crematorium off the coast of Staten Island that’s now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. I returned with them a week later to confirm that sighting and report on it for the New York Times. It was newsworthy because until then no community of seals had lived in the harbor for over a century. Individuals might have swam in here and there, but there was no populated “haul out.” Now seal watching at Swinburne Island is so reliable that New York Water Taxi promotes tours in late autumn.

Last week, kayakers voyaging down the Buttermilk Channel to Red Hook, Brooklyn for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation inauguration of the NYC Water Trail saw a seal on Governors Island’s small beach. The small seal that decided to befriend Gamble was photographed hauled up on the Downtown Boathouse’s 72nd Street floating dock hours earlier (captured in the photograph above by Elizabeth Powers). A harp seal, an arctic species that accounts for less than one percent of local sightings, sojourned on the former Downtown Boathouse dock in Tribeca a few years ago.

All five boroughs can claim seal sightings in the new millennium. The event is exciting for eye witnesses but no longer cause for a NYC media sensation. Seals live in our relatively warmer waters between November and June before heading north to the Gulf of Maine and the Canadian Maritime Provinces.

Seals once gathered here in such multitudes that linguistic legacies remain; Robbins Reef lighthouse comes down to us from the Dutch “rob,” for seal. But harbor seals are less sociable than they appear, congregating at haul-out spots that offer safety and convenience, not necessarily camaraderie (excepting oddballs like Hoover, the talking seal). Such locations are ideally near food, though they’ll swim over twenty miles for a good meal.

Today’s pinniped restoration comes as New Yorkers are stampeding to their waterfronts and splashing into their waterways to paddle, row, and swim. Aquatic coexistence between the harbor’s two largest resident mammals is inevitable. If deftly handled, that could be a great thing for both species.

“Kayakers are out there on the water all winter and could provide information beyond the traditional seal count week,” said New York Aquarium animal curator Paul Sieswerda, who is leads annual seal counting expeditions by motorboat to Swinburne Island with Kingsborough Community College. The aquarium reported roughly a dozen seals in its previous counts, but a single outing is unreliable because individuals tend to “spy hop” and reemerge elsewhere, getting tallied redundantly, or stealthily slip past even sharp professionals.

Sieswerda encouraged kayak boathouses to post a marine mammal and turtle spreadsheets to their websites and offered to pass that data along to the Riverhead Foundation so that “a picture will form over the years of just where the seals are and what times they can be expected.”

Photographs are critical, especially now that the 72nd street juvenile has been documented. Harbor seal mating and courtship occurs underwater, but evidence is mounting that New York has become a breeding area. “I’m absolutely sure I’ve got photos of pregnant females,” Kopelman said, adding that his surveys evidence that one of the outer islands of the Long Island Sound is particularly fecund for grey seals, a much rarer species.

Does this seal baby boom signal a broader ecological recovery? Kopelman isn’t sanguine.

The Clean Water Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act (more stringent in the U.S. than anywhere else) have certainly contributed to the rebound over the past three decades. Flounder, striped bass, squid, and alewife, and crustacean stocks must be adequate to support the NYC returnees and their pups. But is the food chain contaminated from the bottom up?

“Coastal ecosystems are in a lot worse shape than they had been. I’m surprised regularly that we don’t see a reduction in seal populations. I’m sure if we studied them we’d find they have high levels of toxins” in their bodies and brains, he said, citing garbage and poisons like methyl mercury (from power plants and industry) to organic chlorines that exist beyond their intended uses in pesticides and herbicides to become general biocides in the environment.

The most intensive study of New York Harbor’s pollution challenges has been conducted by the New York Academy of Sciences. Among the locally active groups translating that information into action are Storm Water Infrastructure Matters, the River Project, and Riverkeeper.

Much of the support these groups get, both financial and volunteerism, comes from recreational water users. What’s good for the seals is good for us.

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By Erik Baard

Easter eggs are hunted in “Eggstravaganzas” and “Eggstreme” events across the city, from the Bronx Zoo to the Queens Zoo, and south to the Leon Kaiser Playground in Brooklyn and the West Brighton Zoo on Staten Island. But the best-hidden eggs in the very center of Gotham right now may be those laid by Winter Flounder.

The mighty machinery of our industrial port city has been stayed so that the roughly million tiny eggs (the fertilized flounder eggs magnified in the photo above are from a Virginia Institute of Technology laboratory) dropped by each mature female can be deposited right on the sandy substrate, and incubate undisturbed for two or three weeks.

“From February first through the end of May for the past several years we’ve suspended dredging the shipping channels where the eggs are laid,” said William Slezak, Chief of the Harbor Operations Branch of the U.S. Army Corps of engineers. Winter flounder prefer sheltered shallows with cool water, such as you’ll find in the kills (Dutch for creek, a linguistic colonial legacy) surrounding Staten Island, Newark Bay (a main commercial hub of the mid-Atlantic region), Jamaica Bay, and Raritan Bay.

That surprising deference to a not-so-pretty bottom feeder reflects not only how far natural resources public policy has come hereabouts, but how dire the winter flounder crisis has become.

“It’s pretty amazing that winter flounder is steering dredging policy in the harbor these days. These ‘conservation windows’ are certainly very progressive, working our way around a species’ critical periods to cause as little harm as possible,” said Queens College marine biologist John Waldman, author of Heartbeats in the Muck. “But something has happened and the local stock is really crashing.”

Waldman, who grew up on the western Long Island Sound, recalls that in his youth the species was “common as hell.” Now, after a decline in population that began in the ‘70s, “You can fish all day and catch one or two.”

Waldman points to a pincer of culprits threatening the species: global climate change and “a whole suite of hungry mouths.”

The species is clearly sensitive to warmth; when water temperatures cross 73 degrees Fahrenheit (23C) they bury themselves in muddy bottoms and wait out the heat wave. A few degrees more and they are dead. Also, as Waldman pointed out, a change in water temperatures could disrupt previously reliable detritus-based food production at the microbial level before it can rain down to the flounders below.

As for all those “hungry mouths,” winter flounder certainly remain prized by local anglers, including those in New Jersey ready at this very moment to sneak out from family gatherings to hook them; fishing season for the species begins today. But natural predators, often themselves benefitting from government protection, are removing much more winter flounder, both in terms of numbers and biomass. Species like striped bass, bluefish, summer flounder and fluke, and even seals in the Gateway National Recreation Area, are feasting on winter flounder. Cormorants are a new arrival to our estuary, having expanded their range north. These extraordinarily effective fishing birds put greater pressure on an already stretched resource.

But there’s some cause for optimism about the estuary as a whole, even if winter flounder fans aren’t ready to pop the cork on the champagne. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration section for Ecological Applications views the species as a maritime canary in a coal mine, signaling befouled habitats in decades past. Note this report based on data from decades past:

Winter flounder are particularly susceptible to pollution (Grosslein and Azarovitz 1982). The eggs are laid directly on the substrate and therefore any toxins in the sediment can affect their viability. This species’ close association with the benthos also potentially exposes the fish to sediment toxins. Grosslein and Azarovitz (1982) noted that few larvae survived in polluted estuaries, and that winter flounder were entirely absent from polluted sections of NY/NJ Harbor. In particular, winter flounder experience increased mortality as a result of exposure to insecticides, especially DDT (Buckley 1989).

But now, while winter flounders are scarcer than ever, their re-colonization of our bays and inlets testifies to a cleaner and healthier estuary.

“It’s interesting, a kind if dualistic situation. The Upper Bay and some of these other places in the harbor were once written off as wastelands, and now they’ve recovered so much that they are recognized as productive ecosystems,” Waldman observed. “So in a way, there’s some good news here.”

Yeah, but just try to get a flounder to see any situation from both sides.

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