The other day while birding around Jamaica Bay, I spotted a Laughing gull chasing a Great egret in the sky. At first glance you might think that gulls and egrets don’t get along, but as usual the situation was a bit more complex.
Watching this pair of birds resolve their differences was similar to watching a pair of children struggle over who owns what toy or the last chocolate chip cookie. A lot of bluster, bawling, and bullying.
In this the case, the birds were not conflicted about toys or cookies, but territory. The theme song for this story could have been the old Police song, “Don’t stand so close to me.”
Most likely the egret got too close to the nesting territory of the Laughing gull. Even though this gull is not large in physical size, it can become aggressive and harasses other wildlife, especially if something is threatening nest or young.
Even though the egret was most likely looking or a tasty fishy meal near the water’s edge, not gull eggs, the tall white bird was getting too close for comfort for the Laughing gull. Birds will often try to drive potential predators away from the airspace above or near their nesting territories.
In this case, the gull was pursuing and harassing the poor egret above and behind, out of reach of beak or claw. It was flying fast, matching the speed of the intruder. Eventually, the egret and the gull had enough. Both went their separate ways. A combative sight only to be seen when animals are breeding.
An outbreak of this animal “temper tantrum” might teach the Great egret to choose another location to forage for fish next time. Otherwise, is it possible to give both birds a time out?
In my opinion, Union Beach police were in way over their heads and were seeking a way out, not the best solution to the problem. Sadly many police officers along Raritan Bay & Sandy Hook Bay are untrained in dealing with wildlife issues. They are better suited to deal with difficult people rather than difficult animal problems. Ultimately it was the responsibility of NJ Fish & Wildlife to take care of the situation. The fact that NJ State Conservation officers (the same ones that give tickets along Raritan Bay to people for illegal fishing) didn't want to come out during Memorial Day weekend along with state biologists or wildlife veterinarians to determine the health and condition of the black bear is very disturbing and insulting to residents of the Bayshore region and to people who care about wild animals. A full account should take place of what occurred so corrections can quickly be made. This will not be the last black bear encountered near this urban-suburban estuary.
Large bear spotted in Union Beach 'put down' by police
BY ALEX NAPOLIELLO
NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Posted on May 28, 2017 at 9:49 AM
UNION BEACH -- A large bear that was spotted in the bayshore borough of Union Beach was put down, police said.
Union Beach police announced in a Facebook post early Sunday that a large bear reported in the area of Edmunds Avenue on Saturday "had to be put down."
"The decision was made to prevent an even more grave situation from occurring," police wrote on Facebook. "This is not the ideal outcome for us, however, as we know - human life takes precedent over animal life. Public safety will always be our number one priority."
The message was met with backlash on Facebook, with many people questioning the police department's decision to kill the bear.
"Why not tranquilize and relocate?" one post read.
"I am disgusted over this," another post said. "Do they not realize people were everywhere and could see the bear showed no imminent threat. Other measures could have been taken but that would have meant spending a little more time. An innocent animal was murdered."
From: Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW)
Published May 16, 2017 11:49 AM
An oystercatcher nest is washed away in a storm surge. Australian passerine birds die during a heatwave. A late frost in their breeding area kills off a group of American cliff swallows. Small tragedies that may seem unrelated, but point to the underlying long-term impact of extreme climatic events. In the special June issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, NIOO researchers launch a new approach to these 'extreme' studies.
Extremes, outliers, cataclysms: as a field of biological research, it's still in its infancy, but interest in the impact of extreme weather and climate events on nature is growing rapidly. That's partly because it is now increasingly clear that the impact of extreme events on animal behaviour, ecology and evolution could well be greater than that of the 'normal' periods in between. And partly because due to climate change, the frequency of such events is likely to increase.
Not 1 to 1
But how do we define extreme events in the first place? That's problematic, explain NIOO researchers Marcel Visser and Martijn van de Pol. "For climatologists, weather has to be warmer, colder or more extreme in some other way than it is 95% of the time. But that doesn't necessarily make it extreme in terms of its impact on nature. There isn't a 1 to 1 correspondence."
According to the researchers and a group of international colleagues, most of the evidence suggests that the impact varies depending on the species and the circumstances. "Obviously for a bird, the impact of a couple of extremely cold days in December wouldn't be the same as in April or May, when there are chicks in the nest." This makes it very difficult to predict the consequences of extremes.
Mass Die-Off of Whales in Atlantic Is Being Investigated
By TATIANA SCHLOSSBERG
APRIL 27, 2017
The New York Times
Humpback whales have been dying in extraordinary numbers along the Eastern Seaboard since the beginning of last year. Marine biologists have a term for it — an “unusual mortality event” — but they have no firm idea why it is happening.
Forty-one whales have died in the past 15 months along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Maine. In a news conference on Thursday, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries said that they had not identified the underlying reason for the mass death, but that 10 of the whales are known to have been killed by collisions with ships.
The agency is starting a broad inquiry into the deaths.
These whales “have evidence of blunt force trauma, or large propeller cuts,” said Deborah Fauquier, a veterinary medical officer at the agency’s Office of Protected Resources. These collisions with ships were “acute events,” Dr. Fauquier said, and were being treated as the “proximate cause of death.”
Dr. Fauquier said that the number of whale strandings was “alarming,” and that she hoped the investigation might give a sense of what kind of threat this presents to this population of humpback whales and those around the world.
Forget about waiting 30 minutes after you eat to go swimming. There is more important advice to follow this summer.
People need to wait up to 72 hours after it rains before going swimming in the ocean, estuary, or river in or near New York Harbor, including the northern Jersey Shore and south shore of Long Island.
The reason – local waters are often polluted with urban/suburban runoff, pet or domestic animal waste, trash and garbage, and raw sewage from stromdrain pipes that discharge directly into the water, and leaking water logged sewer pipes or antiquated sewage or wastewater treatment facilities. In some places, water quality after a rainstorm can be hazardous to your health.
Much of this filth is coming from combined sewer systems (CSS). These old wastewater treatment facilities collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater into one pipe. According to the EPA, “under normal conditions, it transports all of the wastewater it collects to a sewage treatment plant for treatment, then discharges to a water body. The volume of wastewater can sometimes exceed the capacity of the CSS or treatment plant (e.g., during heavy rainfall events or snowmelt). When this occurs, untreated stormwater and wastewater, discharges directly to nearby streams, rivers, and other water bodies.
Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) contain untreated or partially treated human and industrial waste, toxic materials, and debris as well as stormwater.”
Approximately 70% of sewer systems in New York City are combined. On the New Jersey side around New York Harbor, there are over 200 Combined Sewer Outfalls. Each of these outfalls is permitted and designed to discharge untreated sewage and stormwater when it rains to overwhelm aging and overbuilt stormwater infrastructure.
Both New York and New Jersey combined sewer systems discharge more than 40 billion gallons of raw sewage annually into local waters. That’s pretty gross!
Each outfall may overflow with raw sewage when there is even a very small amount of precipitation, like a tenth or twentienth of an inch. All the waste from people flushing toilets will discharge directly into the water. This waste will frequently remain in the water for up to 72 hours.
All this dirty water becomes a toxic cocktail that can cause infections and disease and make people very sick.
Viruses are believed to be the major cause of swimming-associated diseases, and are responsible for gastroenteritis, hepatitis, respiratory illness, and ear, nose, and throat problems. Gastroenteritis, which can also be caused by bacteria, is a common term for a variety of diseases that can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, stomach ache, nausea, headache, and fever. Other microbial diseases that can be contracted by swimmers include salmonellosis, shigellosis, and infection caused by E. coli (a type of enteric pathogen). Other microbial pathogens found at varying concentrations in recreational waters include amoeba and protozoa, which can cause giardiasis, amoebic dysentery, skin rashes, and pink eye.
Government officials normally test local waters during the summer only once a week, usually on a Monday morning. But if it rains on a Wednesday or Thursday the water quality will suffer and it will not be picked up by routine processes.
Now you know. Don't get sick this summer from swimming or surfing. Always wait three days after it rains before going into the water.
Looked what spring woke up! Newly arising out of a deep winter sleep within loose land and leaf litter around New York Harbor, it’s was a lone Eastern box turtle. The little reptile was sunning itself on my front porch.
I spotted the box turtle the other morning. My best guess, the little critter was a bit chilled after a chilly evening. Morning low temperatures were in the 50s. It needed a dry, sunny place to warm-up.
Since reptiles, including turtles, are ectothermic or cold-blooded, their body temperature is largely dependent on the ambient air temperature. Ectothermic creatures take on the temperature of their surroundings.
Ectothermic animals are more energetic when temperatures are warm and more sluggish when temperatures are cold. Basking in the sun controls their muscle activity and digestive system through external metabolic processes. The metabolism for ectothermic animals speeds up when it’s hot, and runs slowly when it’s cold.
The box turtle was most likely basking in the warm morning sun to increase its body temperature and metabolism. It didn’t stay long though. A common woodland creature, box turtles will return to forests or the edge of forests to forage for a variety of food, including berries, grasses, spiders, snails, and earthworms.
But I'm sure the little critter didn't go far. Eastern box turtles usually live within an area less than 700 feet in diameter. They are amazingly versatile reptiles and inhabit a wide variety of habitats around New York Harbor, from the edges of wetlands to forests to grassy fields. Their favorite habitat, though, is a moist forested area with plenty of underbrush to hide from sneaky predators, including raccoons and foxes.
Although not aquatic, box turtles will often venture into shallow water, like puddles, to bathe. During hot periods, turtles may also submerge in mud for days at a time to cool off.
Eastern box turtles are long-lived creatures. Commonly they reach 30 to 40 years of age. Sadly, many in captivity will not live that long due to the transfer of human diseases to turtles and frequently poor care.
Always keep wild animals wild. Never take a wild box turtle as a pet.
Sensual things are about to happen beneath the murky surface waters in New York Harbor. Hard clams are getting ready to spawn.
As air and water temperatures begin to warm, the next generation of chowder clams, littlenecks and cherrystones are about to be born. Although this natural event is not as exciting to observe as coral spawning in the Great Barrier Reef, it’s proof there are rich natural resources thriving in New York Harbor frequently unnoticed by many folks.
Clams are commercially important bivalves. So much so that the hard clam fishery in the harbor comprises about 50% of New Jersey’s hard clam landings, according to the New York and New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program. Of course due to ongoing poor water quality, all clams from the harbor currently must be cleansed before they are sold to market. In New Jersey this is accomplished through depuration in two plants in Monmouth County.” One plant is located in the Borough of Highlands and the other in the Borough of Sea Bright.
Don’t know what a hard clam is? You probably have seen or tasted many in your life and didn’t know it. Hard clams, also known as quahogs, are one of the most abundant shellfish species in local estuarine waters. If you have ever walked along the edge of the bay, you have most likely stepped upon a hard clam. They are tough clams with thick, rounded shells that can grow to 4 inches or longer.
A hard clam’s most noticeable feature is the streak of deep purple within the shell’s interior. It’s the only clam in the harbor with a splash of purple inside. Coastal Native Americans regularly used the shells of hard clams to make wampum, white and purple shell beads used in traditional ceremonies as a system of recording important events.
Starting in May, hard clams or quahogs produce gametes or reproductive cells. When water temperatures around Lower New York Bay reach above 68 degrees F, watch out! Billions if not trillions of eggs will be released and fertilized in the water column. One single female clam can release 16 to 24 million eggs per spawn. Hard clams will spawn several times between May and October or when water temperatures are between 68 to 73 degrees F.
Once eggs have been released and fertilized, free-swimming larvae will grow for a week to 24 days. During this time, the clam larvae will develop a tiny foot that will be used to crawl and “investigate” the bottom of the bay before finding a sandy or muddy home to settle. When a minuscule clam has found a home to inhabit, it will anchor itself by thin threads secreted from a gland on its slimy foot. The settled clam will then slowly metamorphose into a juvenile clam, developing siphons, a digestive system, and gills. It will stay in one place for the rest of its life, in the shallow salty waters of Lower New York Bay.
A Hard Clam density map on the New Jersey side of New York Harbor
But the fun doesn’t stop here. Researchers at the Smithsonian Marine Station tell us that approximately 98% of all juvenile clams begin life as males; however, with increased age and size, sex ratios in the population even out, and approximately half of the males later change to females. It’s a complicated life even for a clam.
While many hard clams typically have a life span of 4 to 8 years, some can be long-lived creatures of the bay. Sometimes a single clam, if not eaten or harvested, can live for more than 30 or 40 years.
Many don’t make it though. Hard clams are near the bottom of the food chain, just about everything loves to take a bite out of a clam, from fish to crabs to gulls.
What do clams like to eat? Like many bivalves, hard clams are filter feeders. They use their gills to filter food particles from the water. The clam will take in water, plankton and nutrients through one siphon sticking out of its shell, and from another siphon it will eject unused water and waste, but in this case the waste is cleaner water. Thus the name “filter feeder.” Bivalves act like aquarium filters, cleaning up waters as they feed. Certainly a very important activity in a very turbid estuary.
For most folks, though, clams are all about tasty coastal cuisine. Littleneck clams are often served raw, on the half shell. Cherrystone and chowder clams are served as baked clams and used in dishes such as clam chowder and linguine with clam sauce. Bon appetite!
It is always disturbing to read about greedy, stupid people who go out of their way to systematically plunder NY-NJ waters of an important and protected natural resource, and at the expense of the many honest fishermen who play by the rules.
Striper Poachers Keeping NJ Conservation Officers Busy
BY NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
MAY 15, 2017
On the Water Magazine
Striped bass fishing, and the violations that sometimes go with it, have been heating up in the Newark Bay Complex and Hudson River.
On Sunday, April 9, 2017, DFW’s Bureau of Law Enforcement Conservation Officer Holmes and Lt. Kuechler patrolled the Newark Bay Complex. The officers inspected 15 fishermen and issued 10 summonses for violations of possession of undersized striped bass and possession of striped bass over the daily limit.
On the weekend of April 15, Lt. Kuechler, CO Holmes, CO Driscoll, and CO Ocampo patrolled the Newark Bay Complex and Hudson River. The officers inspected 65 anglers, issuing a total of 40 summonses for violations including possession of undersize striped bass, possession of striped bass over the daily limit and interference with the duties of a conservation officer.
The “bite” continued the next weekend with 29 anglers inspected and 18 summonses issued. The officers found 12 bass under the legal size limit, 9 taken over the daily limit and one instance of interference with the duties of a conservation officer.
Yesterday was a rare spring Sunday. The weather was beautiful from start to finish, with plenty of sun, blue skies, warm temperatures, and breezy southerly winds. A perfect day to take a beach walk at Sandy Hook, part of Gateway National Recreation Area and located at the entrance to New York Harbor.
It was an interesting walk to say the least that reveled more than just the usual pieces of flotsam and jetsam washed up by the tides. First of all, the Piping plovers I observed were still busy incubating eggs on a nest.
Usually by the third week of May, little Piping plovers begin hatching out of eggs around New York Harbor. Eggs hatch in about 25 days, and cute downy young are soon able to follow parents in foraging for marine worms, tiny crustaceans, and insects along the edge of the beach.
Timing seems to be a tad late this year, maybe due to chilly, wet spring weather that might have delayed nesting. Possibly birds are arriving a little later too?
Even stranger was the sight of seeing petite Piping plovers nesting under large metallic enclosures. It looked like small birds living in very large birdcages in the middle of an open beach. Sort of like a weird French art film.
Yet those odd-looking birdcages play an important role in the survival of Piping plovers. The little stout birds would not be able to outlive the ever-increasing gauntlet of prowling predators that continually seem to be after them, from hungry raccoons and foxes, to bullying gulls, coyotes, and crows, to sneaky Norway rats and feral cats. Greater amounts of garbage left on beaches, including candy wrappers and soda cans, attracts more and more predators, including foxes, skunks, raccoons, crows, and gulls.
Large gulls and crows can terrorize breeding pairs of piping plovers, causing them to abandon nests. Although plovers may nest again if eggs are destroyed, young raised later in the season often don't survive as well as those raised in May and June.
A special circular pen, called an “exclosure” made out of metal mesh fencing helps to keep predators out. Its holes are large enough, though, for plovers, both adults and chicks, to move through as they please.
Metal cages may seem like a strange sight on a beach, but these enclosures help to stop the decline in Piping plover populations. According to the National Park Service, “The main factor affecting nest failure was predation (44% of failed nests). Predators, especially crows and coyotes have a significant impact on the reproductive success of piping plovers, least terns, and other shorebirds nesting at the national seashore. Many populations of predators have increased due to their ability to take advantage of human-provided foods. This has resulted in unnaturally-high predation pressure to nests, chicks, and adults.”
Usually starting sometime in April, wildlife biologists with the State of New York, New Jersey, or the National Park Service (depending on the management of the shoreline) will survey beaches to locate nesting Piping plovers. Once a nest is found, placing a wire enclosure over the nest will protect it. This provides protection from predators, while allowing the plovers to come and go for feeding.
Signs are also posted near the nesting site to inform people to keep out. Excessive human disturbance can cause Piping plover parents to abandon the nest, exposing eggs or chicks to the summer sun and predators. Interruption of feeding may stress juvenile birds during critical periods in their development.
These adorable little shorebirds need all the help they can get. The Piping plover became a protected species under the Endangered Species Act on January 10, 1986. Along the Atlantic Coast it is designated as threatened, which means the population would continue to decline if not protected. The Endangered Species Act provides penalties for taking, harassing or harming the Piping plover.
How to help:
Forbidding Forecast For Lyme Disease In The Northeast
March 6, 2017
Heard on Morning Edition
By MICHAELEEN DOUCLEF
Last summer Felicia Keesing returned from a long trip and found that her home in upstate New York had been subjected to an invasion.
"There was evidence of mice everywhere. They had completely taken over," says Keesing, an ecologist at Bard College.
It was a plague of mice. And it had landed right in Keesing's kitchen.
"Not only were there mouse droppings on our countertops, but we also found dead mice on the kitchen floor," says Keesing's husband, Rick Ostfeld, an ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y.
The Hudson River Valley experienced a mouse plague during the summer of 2016. The critters were everywhere. For most people, it was just a nuisance. But for Keesing and Ostfeld, the mouse plague signaled something foreboding.
"We're anticipating 2017 to be a particularly risky year for Lyme," Ostfeld says.
A hurricane passes directly over New York City. In just one hour, the harbor rises 13 feet and floods over wharves, causing rivers on each side of the island city to converge.
Anyone living in New York would assume this is Hurricane Sandy that devastated the region just a few years ago. It’s actually the Great Hurricane of 1821.
“This is not the first time the region faced a hurricane the size and strength of Sandy and it goes to show that another Hurricane Sandy could occur in the future,” said Bryce Wisemiller, Project Manager, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District.
He said coastal storms like Sandy aren't new, but what is are the stakes. Today we have more development and people living on our coast. We also now face an unpredictable climate change and sea level rise which could further compound coastal flooding.
Wisemiller is project manager on what could possibly be one of the largest U.S. Army Corps of Engineers studies ever undertaken that will look at ways to safeguard communities in the New York and New Jersey Metropolitan region from future hurricanes.
A multi-agency team will work with communities to recommend a combination of risk reduction measures to enable adaptation to an unpredictable future. Those on the team express that what will also be required is an adaptable mindset.
Recently, Wisemiller and two other key Army Corps team members discussed the study and answered questions and concerns the public may have.
The high temperature near Sandy Hook Bay , NJ on May 18, 2017
The first day of summer arrived early around New York Harbor. A subtropical high over the western Atlantic waters brought a few days of summer after a few chilly, rainy months of spring.
High temperature readings on Wednesday around New York Harbor were in the upper 70s to upper 80s, depending on where you were located. A taste of things to come.
By Thursday afternoon, everyone was feeling the heat. According to the National Weather Service in Upton, NY:
Central Park broke their record - 91 degrees F (90 was the old record set in 1936)
Islip, NY tied a record reaching 89 degrees F. This ties the record of 89 previously set in 1977.
Newark set a new record – 91 degrees F
Break out the shorts and sunscreen! The heat is not going away. According to a long range forecast by NOAA for the upcoming summer season, expect above normal temperatures.
If it hasn’t happened yet, it soon will. Always near Memorial Day weekend does this special natural event take place at sandy beaches around New York Harbor.
Beach rose plants are starting to bloom. Call it what you will, saltspray rose, seaside rose, dune rose, beach rose, or even the wrinkled rose, a rose by any other name found around New York Harbor is Rosa rugosa.
Although this ornamental plant is believed to originate from Japan, it flourishes here among the high dunes, poison ivy, and beach plums along certain sandy strips around the harbor, and along the Jersey Shore and southern shore of Long Island.
This wild beach rose blooms pretty rose pink or sparkling white three-inch round flowers. So sweet smelling and fragrant, the flowers attract a wide variety of pollinators, including several species of bees and wasps. The plant welcomes these pollinators with open flowers to help spread the love to other wild beach rose plants. While the plant can bloom to early autumn, the height is usually during late spring and early summer.
Come early fall, as the flowers fade, beach roses will welcome birds and mammals as the plant produces bright orange-red rose hips or seed pods. They are about the size of a large berry and are edible, though a bit tart tasting with some sweetness, like a crabapple. Roses are in the same family as apples, so there is a resemblance of rose hips to apples in flavor and form. Rose hips are also a great source of vitamin C. Of course never taste rose hips from plants that have been treated with a pesticide or herbicides, only wild plants.
So enamored was Swedish botanist, Carl Peter Thunberg, of the form and flavor of beach roses that he imported the plants to Europe from the Far East, where they eventually found their way to America by the late eighteenth century. Supposedly, Thunberg adored the crinkly petals of the beach rose flowers so much that he was the first one to give the plant it’s scientific name, the “wrinkled rose” or Rosa rugosa.
The plant does well in nutrient-poor soil along the shore, where shifting sands, full sun, and salt spray provide a favorable environment for the beach rose to grow, but where lesser plants often perish. No doubt, it’s a tough rambling rose, and it has the thorns to prove it.
The birds are back! Look out towards the water and you may see a medium-sized bird with black, white, and gray feathers flying over the open water looking for something tasty to catch in its red and black-tipped bill.
Common terns have returned to New York Harbor! Flying from far away tropical places where many of the North American population winters along the coast of South America and Caribbean islands. They have come back to our estuary to fish, nest and raise a family.
To many folks, terns look like gulls. Certainly both terns and gulls have webbed feet, forage for fish and have lots of white feathers, but there are also major differences between terns and gulls.
Terns are generally slender and sleeker than gulls, graceful fliers with pointy beaks to catch a fish. On Common terns, the beaks are sharp like harpoons, and long, making up about 75% of the bird’s total head length. Straight, long, pointy beaks indicate an expert fishing bird. This means terns are not interested in stealing your snacks or scraps, but are continuously thinking about a seafood meal.
Terns almost always plunge straight into the water from heights between 20 to 50 feet in the air to catch a small fish, with many terns hovering briefly over shadowy waters below to get a fix on prey before diving in headfirst. Gulls do not dive; they often swoop down and scoop up a fish or anything else that looks appetizing from the surface.
As a child, seeing a tern was a rare sight. Today, Common terns have once again become a regular summer resident around New York Harbor. The birds can be observed raising families on beaches at Sandy Hook in New Jersey and at Breezy Point in Brooklyn, both located at the harbor’s entrance; and at Conaskonck Point in the Borough of Union Beach, NJ, as well as other seaside spots.
Within the most urban coastline in America there is good news for the Common tern. Their habitat is expanding. In recent years Common terns have colonized several decommissioned piers along the water’s edge on Governors Island, specifically on the piers of Buttermilk Channel. In 2013, New York City Audubon counted a total of 181 nests and banded 100 chicks. This is an amazing success story. A resurgence of harbor life.
Yet, there is more work to be done. Common terns are still listed as a threatened species in New York State and a species of special concern in New Jersey. During their breeding season the birds are vulnerable from people, dogs, and boats getting too close to nesting colonies. Coastal development and competition with gulls for prime nesting habitat is also forcing terns to breed in just a handful of places. In addition, terns are being put at risk from global warming, which is transforming coastal areas as sea levels rise.
Let’s work together to continue restoration and preservation efforts for Common terns. One day they may truly become a common bird around the harbor.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the oldest recorded Common Tern was at least 25 years, 1 month old, when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in New York.
Watch where you step this spring! Horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) are beginning to crawl ashore on beaches around Sandy Hook Bay, Raritan Bay, Jamaica Bay, and other shallow estuarine sites around New York Harbor to mate on full and new moon evenings in May and June.
Yet another spawning season for Horseshoe crabs has commenced, an annual rite of spring that has connections going back for more 450 million years. For all those Jurassic Park movie fans, that is 230 million years before the first dinosaur!
Known as “living fossils,” Horseshoe crabs are harmless, ancient creatures that have been effectively unchanged through time. They are more closely related to spiders and scorpions than to crabs, but are really a prehistoric family of animals unto themselves.
In late April, Horseshoe crabs begin their migrations from deeper ocean waters into estuaries to breed. First to arrive are often males, waiting for available females to appear at beaches. Sort of like a primitive singles bar, minus a colorful tiki bar.
But alcohol isn’t needed here. When a single female crab crawls out of the surf, she will release chemical cues called “pheromones” that will help to attract a male to breed. A male will then grasp a single female from behind with special appendages shaped like tiny boxing gloves located on the end of the first pair of his walking legs. With a male in tow, they will move together in the intertidal zone, the area on a beach that is above water at low tide and underwater at high tide, to deposit and fertilize between 60,000 and 120,000 lime green eggs in batches within wet sand.
In approximately, two weeks to a month the eggs will hatch. The youngsters will be about the size of a human fingernail and will look like a near–replica of an adult, though tailless. The small crabs will leave the eggs and head straight to the water where they will grow in sandy shallow areas around an estuary. It will take the next 8 to 12 years for a crab to mature sexually before it can migrate back to bay beaches to breed.
Although the largest population of spawning Horseshoe crabs in the world can be found in Delaware Bay, the nearby busy and bustling waters of New York Harbor has a population of crabs too. Around here, few people welcome this incredible natural wonder. Those that do, though, will often know when and where to find them by the dozens, hundreds, and perhaps even thousands along the shore.
A red-tailed hawk injured by a flame at the Kingsland Landfill. The flame is caused by the burning off of methane created by decomposing garbage. Credit: Vincent Tullo for The New York Times
Invisible ‘Bird Killer’ Lurks in Revitalized New Jersey Meadowlands
By RICK ROJAS
APRIL 26, 2017
The New York Times
NORTH ARLINGTON, N.J. — From some vantages along the rolling meadow, the gleaming Manhattan skyline can be seen clearly in the distance, rising above the tall grass, beyond the water, roadways and fixtures of industry that dot the New Jersey horizon. But on a bright and tranquil Sunday morning, all of that feels almost a world away.
Don Torino has spent much of his life around here, and he has watched as this stretch of the New Jersey Meadowlands has been transformed from a wasteland that sometimes forced residents to pinch their noses into something of a natural treasure. He pointed out the different species of birds — a northern harrier and an American kestrel, among them — that called out and swooped through the air as evidence of that evolution.
“Unfortunately,” Mr. Torino said, “you have a bird killer in the middle of it.”
He walked over to a pipe that emerged from one of the hills like an IV from a forearm, coiling around to a stack that released a flame that was virtually invisible, except for a glassy haze. It burns continuously, sometimes reaching close to 20 feet high and temperatures of almost 1,000 degrees.
It is one of the signs that the mounds here were formed not by nature, but rather by the mountains of garbage that built up when the area was an open landfill. Kingsland Landfill, as it is still known, has been closed for almost three decades, and in the years since, it has been covered, leaving behind the golden brown foothills that have become a draw for birds looking for a meal.
From: University of Cambridge
Published April 24, 2017 03:08 PM
Scientists have found that a caterpillar commercially bred for fishing bait has the ability to biodegrade polyethylene: one of the toughest and most used plastics, frequently found clogging up landfill sites in the form of plastic shopping bags.
The wax worm, the larvae of the common insect Galleria mellonella, or greater wax moth, is a scourge of beehives across Europe. In the wild, the worms live as parasites in bee colonies. Wax moths lay their eggs inside hives where the worms hatch and grow on beeswax – hence the name.
A chance discovery occurred when one of the scientific team, Federica Bertocchini, an amateur beekeeper, was removing the parasitic pests from the honeycombs in her hives. The worms were temporarily kept in a typical plastic shopping bag that became riddled with holes.
NASA satellite imagery from 2015 shows massive algal bloom in the Atlantic Ocean near New York Harbor and along the Jersey Shore and south shore of Long Island.
From: Stony Brook University
Published April 25, 2017 07:15 AM
Ocean warming since the 1980s is linked to the spread of toxic algae, according to a newly published study led by Dr. Christopher Gobler, marine science professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University.
Climate change is predicted to cause a series of maladies for world oceans including heating up, acidification, and the loss of oxygen. The study, published online in the April 24 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and entitled, “Ocean warming since 1982 has expanded the niche of toxic algal blooms in the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans,” demonstrates that one ocean consequence of climate change that has already occurred is the spread and intensification of toxic algae.
A team of scientists led Dr. Gobler used high-resolution ocean temperature data along with the growth response of two of the most toxic algae in the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans called Alexandrium and Dinophysis. Their study demonstrates that since 1982, broad stretches of these ocean basins have warmed and become significantly more hospitable to these algae and that new ‘blooms’ of these algae have become common in these same regions. Alexandriumand Dinophysis present serious health concerns as they make neurotoxins and gastrointestinal toxins that can cause paralytic and diarrhetic shellfish poisoning in humans.
“Toxic or harmful algal blooms are not a new phenomenon, although many people may know them by other names such as red tides,” said Gobler. “These events can sicken or kill people who consume toxin-contaminated shellfish and can damage marine ecosystems by killing fish and other marine life.”
The problem is worsening.
According to the Lower Hudson Prism: "Corydalis incisa, or Incised Fumewort, is an East Asian member of the Fumariaceae family so far only known from a few counties in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and the Discrict of Columbia. The species is highly fertile and reproduces by seed explosively ejected from the fruit.
Invasive ‘Incised Fumewort’ Could Choke Out Native Plants Along The Bronx River
May 8, 2017 6:11 PM
CBS New York
EASTCHESTER, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A pretty little plant with no natural enemies is spreading south out of the northern suburbs toward New York City.
Naturalists are worried it could choke out native plants.
As invaders go the corydalis incisa is a benign looking plant with bright green leaves, purple pink flowers, migrating along the banks of the Bronx River.
“This is moving fast. It was first found in 2014, and now it’s continuous from here to the Bronx,” Professor Christina Andruk told CBS2’s Lou Young.
In Eastchester, researchers from Iona College are trying to figure out a way to stop the spread of the corydalis incisa or incised fumewort.
It’s an imported plant with no natural enemies or competitors.
Spring is in full swing and everything seems to be alive and on the move around New York Harbor. Birds are everywhere and many are getting ready to breed.
No matter how annoying you might think they are, gulls are a big part of the bird life around the harbor. In any kind of weather, wind or temperature, you can always find at least a few stoic gulls inhabiting the edge of the estuary, relaxing or soaring with their stretched-out wings searching for a bit of food. They are really extraordinary birds to observe.
Although quite a few people think all gulls are the same, a gull is a gull. In fact, each gull is different. The term gull refers to members of a group of 23 North American bird species that belong to the family Laridae. Around New York Harbor, I have spotted around 10 different species of gulls including Great black-backed gulls, Lesser black-backed gulls, Herring gulls, Bonaparte's gulls, Glaucous gulls, Ring-billed gulls, Iceland gulls, Franklin's gulls, and recently Black-headed Gulls. All amazing sea birds and fine-feathered friends to admire for their hardiness, adventuress, and acrobatic flying skills.
One of my favorite gull species to study is the Laughing gull, a mostly warm-weather resident. It just wouldn’t be summer without the gaudy raucous calls of Laughing gulls at beaches, piers, and parking lots. It’s a bold nasal sound of a small feathered creature laughing at you. Certainly a well-named bird. Combine this call with a beautiful head of crisp black feathers and a reddish bill, and the bird provides entertaining sounds and sights around New York Harbor.
Over the past several weeks, many Laughing gulls have been migrating northward from wintering areas around the Gulf Mexico and as far south as northern South America. They are moving onward seeking a safe place to raise a family, the next generation of Laughing gulls.
Come early May around New York Harbor, a lot of Laughing gulls are establishing nesting colonies, mostly on remote islands around Jamaica Bay or on sandy secluded beaches near the tip of Sandy Hook. The gulls prefer to nest in large colonies with other gulls and also other species of water birds including terns, Black Skimmers, and American Oystercatchers.
As if the East River is not polluted enough, an oil spill occurs near the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge Park! Aging pipelines and few inspections often contribute to failures and many oil spills in the United States. We can do better - Go Solar!
The East River was never known as the cleanest body of water in the world, but an oil spill at the ConEd plant at the base of John Street in Dumbo — right next to Brooklyn Bridge Park and some of the most expensive real estate in Brooklyn — is alarming.
The area smelled heavily of oil (a bit like a mixture of gasoline and motor oil) when we checked out the scene Tuesday afternoon. There was an oily sheen on the banks of the river near the Jay Street entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park, causing a multicolored discoloration on the sand.
On Sunday, the failure of a transformer at the ConEd substation containing 37,000 gallons of oil released an unknown amount into the East River Sunday. ConEd immediately began cleanup of the substance, known as dielectric fluid, a type of mineral oil, according to the Coast Guard and Con Ed, Gothamist reported.
As John A. Manderson, a research biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s northeast fisheries science center says, “Our ideas of property rights and laws are purely land-based. But the ocean is all about flux and turbulence and movement.”
Written by Erica-Lynn Huberty,
Erica-Lynn Huberty is an author and artist living on Eastern Long Island
What Do Millions Of Dead Fish Mean For Our Planet?
03/06/2017 08:22 am ET | Updated Mar 06, 2017
The air was pungent as I neared the Shinnecock Inlet—a majestic length of water connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the Peconic Bay, on the Eastern tip of Long Island. Down the rickety steps to the back deck of a defunct beach club garnered the pitiful sight of hundreds of wide-eyed silver bunker fish, immobile but swirling atop a graveyard of fish sunk below the surface. Breathtakingly eerie, at once beautiful and horrifying, the scene was a fraction of what residents awoke to days prior, on November 14, 2016.
Known as a fish kill, this particular event was not caused by pollutants in the water, though residents immediately feared it might be. An earlier fish kill in the mouth of the Peconic River had been caused by poor water conditions. In 2015 three fish kills left hundreds of thousands of bunkers dead between the Peconic River in Riverhead and Reeves Bay in Flanders, an area with chronically low-dissolved oxygen and increased nitrogen pollution.
This most recent fish kill is widely believed to be the result of bunkers chased by natural predators—bluefish and striped bass—into the canal. The locks are set to close at certain times, depending on the tides, and that Monday’s “super moon” contributed to bad timing all around.
Fish kills have been regularly recorded since the 1930s, but the vast majority have occurred from 1998 to the present. Deaths of over 50 million fish during this time period, in the United State, U.K., Norway, China and other countries, are linked to poor water quality or man-made environmental disasters.
Eastern Long Island has long been revered as a place of natural beauty and important ecosystems. Previous to 1860, when the Shinnecock Canal was built, there were naturally occurring fish kills inhabitants used to their advantage, spreading the fish on crops to help them grow.
A large fish kill is upsetting to some because of the stench and sight alone (how many Hamptonites today would tolerate acres of dead fish adjacent to their favorite farm stand?). The Southampton Town Trustees and bay constable coordinated during this latest fish kill with local fishermen to harvest many of the bunkers, since bunkers are still used for bait. But to most, a large-scale fish kill signifies something more foreboding than foul-smelling landscaping practices. It is the graphic reminder of the potential extinction of our own food supply and the ill-health of the earth we need to feed us.
It's a violent world. Another sad example of why we need a better mental health system in the United States. Despite the ongoing knowledge that 1 in 5 Americans experience a mental illness each year, and that many Americans with serious mental illness die years earlier than other Americans from treatable medical conditions, our nation is often reluctant to make the investments necessary to provide effective prevention, treatment, and recovery services for mental illness as it does for other health conditions.
05/06/2017 12:59 pm ET | Updated 1 day ago
Man Allegedly Shoots Squirrel With Bow And Arrow For ‘Giving Him A Look’
“I took it personal,” he said, according to a criminal complaint.
By Hilary Hanson
A man from Staten Island, New York City, is facing animal cruelty charges after prosecutors say he killed a squirrel with a bow and arrow for a patently absurd reason.
Jonathan Mangia told investigators that he shot and killed the animal on Tuesday because it “gave him a look,” according to a criminal complaint that DNAInfo obtained. He reportedly said he had thrown rocks at the squirrel to scare it away from his home.
“Then the squirrel gave me a look and I took it personal,” Mangia said, according to the complaint.
Mangia also allegedly told police that after being shot, the squirrel was able to flee and remove the arrow from its own body, according to the New York Daily News.
It’s unclear whether that’s true, but an environmental conservation officer spotted the animal dead, covered in blood, and also noticed blood near the window of Mangia’s property, Staten Island Live reports.
The New York Police Department’s 122nd Precinct tweeted about the arrest, referring to it as “illegal hunting” and stating “save archery for the range.”
No doubt there is plastic in the Arctic Ocean from the streets and communities around New York Harbor. Once plastic gets into the water, it moves and everything is connected in the environment.
The Arctic Ocean Is Clogging With Billions of Plastic Bits
Pollution is now as dense in the northernmost ocean as it is in the Atlantic and Pacific.
APR 20, 2017
The Arctic Ocean is small, shallow, and—most importantly—shrouded. Unlike the other large oceans of the world, it is closely hemmed in by Asia, Europe, and North America, with very few watery entrances in and out. Some oceanographers call it the “Arctic Mediterranean Sea,” a nod both to its between-the-terra-ness and its similarity to that smaller ocean.
Often, that remoteness has played to its ecological advantage. Very few ships pass through the area (with all their attendant pollution and environmental disruption), at least compared to nearby waterways like the Bering Sea. It also helps that much of the Arctic freezes over every winter.
But a paper released this week in Science Advances argues that its location is now harming it. The first survey of the region has found that roughly 300 billion pieces of floating plastic, most of them tiny but visible to the unaided eye, have clogged the planet’s northernmost sea. The plastic, having been carried to the pole over decades, now has very few ways out.
In other words, the Arctic Ocean has become the Northern Hemisphere’s “dead end” for floating plastic.
“Our data demonstrate that the marine plastic pollution has reached a global scale after only a few decades using plastic materials,” said Andrés Cózar Cabañas, a biologist at the University of Cádiz. It is, he said, “a clear evidence of the human capacity to change our planet. This plastic accumulation is likely to grow further.”
The survey was carried out while the research vessel Tara circumnavigated the pole in late 2013. The same Tara cruise also surveilled local plankton populationsand observed the aurora.
Warmer Oceans Increase Likelihood Of Toxic Shellfish, Study Finds
Thanks for the poison lobster, El Niño.
By Ryan Grenoble
01/11/2017 03:33 pm ET
The neurotoxin domoic acid inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” after hundreds of sooty shearwaters ingested the poison in the summer of 1961 and, well, lost their minds.
The crazed birds likely consumed domoic acid via small fish like anchovies and sardines.
It also tends to collect in shellfish, like clams, crabs and lobsters. And, according to a study published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it may become more prevalent as oceans warm, threatening birds and humans alike.
Researchers at Oregon State University, the University of Oregon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife studied the prevalence of domoic acid over the past 20 years in the Pacific Northwest, and found it strongly correlated with water temperatures that are warmer than normal.
For now, warmer waters typically stem from events like El Niño and a decades-long climate cycle called “Pacific decadal oscillation,” the study found. It isn’t yet clear how climate change, which also warms the oceans, might affect the toxin’s prevalence.
“When water’s unusually warm off our coast, it’s because the circulation and patterns in the atmosphere has changed, bringing warm water from elsewhere — and this is happening at the same time that we also see high domoic acid in shellfish,” Morgaine McKibben, a doctoral student at Oregon State and the study’s lead author, told E&E News.