Among the items available for auction at the Littoral Society's recent Littorally Local event was a tour of Jamaica Bay's salt marshes with Don Riepe, the Society's Jamaica Bay Guardian. The winner of that item, Russ Comeau, sent us the following account of the excursion, on which he was accompanied by four avid birders.
Our adventure began on morning of September 28th, an hour before high tide, which is best to float Don’s boat into the beautiful marsh creeks where saltwater bay birds abound, buffered and oblivious to the hubbub of surrounding New York City.
Herons, Egrets, Gulls, and Cormorants were predominately present in good numbers, with a showing of waterfowl and Forster's Terns. A diversity of raptors included a Bald Eagle and Northern Harrier both sitting on the marsh, a Peregrine Falcon defiantly standing on an Osprey nest, as well as several circling Harriers, and treed Ospreys. Shorebirds were mostly absent on this tide.
We missed a few salty sparrow types that deftly dodged us, way too elusive to ID. Two different pairs of chattering Belted Kingfishers circled us as we slowly glided past their favorite overhanging snags.
Watching the birds (29 species, 1,400 individuals) fulfill their lives together in their own wild, sequestered world was soul-soothing, even humbling. But seeing the protected salt marsh habitat itself was the most impressive part. Clean, practically pristine to the eye, and we saw nowhere heavily invaded by phragmites (an invasive reed that crowds out native plants).
The salt marshes and upland islands Don showed us in the middle of Jamaica Bay are separated from disturbance, predation, and urban activity occurring on the surrounding mainland. The boat tour included but wasn’t limited to Rulers Bar, Black Wall, Ruffle Bar, Silver Hole, JoCo Marsh, East High Meadow, Spring Creek, Fresh Creek, Canarsie Pol, Elders West and East, Yellow Bar, Sunset Cove, and other birdy spots that only Don knows on Jamaica Bay. All places that one will never get to see on foot.
It’s not a far-away, exotic travel destination, not until you’re out there in this watery wilderness that's unlike anywhere else in New York City.
Thanks again to American Littoral Society for making the trip possible and so much gratitude to Don Riepe for taking us there and sharing a day of his life well-spent protecting Jamaica Bay as a refuge for the wildlife, and for the future.
Russ Comeau is a member of the South Shore Audubon Board of Directors, as well as the Queens County BC, Brooklyn BC, Linnaean Society of New York, NYC Audubon, North Shore Audubon, American Littoral Society, New York State Ornithological Assoc., American Birding Assoc., the Waterbird Society, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and Friends of Read Wildlife.