The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Cormorant

half impassable

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I’d say I was getting old, as if I wasn’t already there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few archive shots in today’s post, as your humble narrator is busy licking his wounds. A tear to the skinvelope on my left foot, a minor injury, has been causing me to walk “funny,” or at least funnier than usual. The changes in my normal gait have, over the course of the last few days, created a few sore muscles in the lower back. This, in turn, has transmitted along the entire spine. Accordingly, today, I’m a hunched over malcontent given to emanating odd sighs and groans whenever a transition from sitting to standing is required.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The foot injury itself is decidedly superficial, a few irritated and or raw spots on the top layer of skin that don’t “hurt” but which are uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the affected area is found deep within my shoe, and walking mile after mile has caused further irritation on the tender spot. I’m a bit like a tropical flower, it would seem – delicate. I can tell you that twenty years ago, I could have laughed off a bleeding hole the size of a ping pong ball, whereas today an overly large pimple is capable of reducing me to bed rest. Summon the clergy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, I have a long list of pedantic tasks to accomplish before the computer and a longer list of books that require reading. Unfortunately, infirmity means I won’t be walking that much for the next couple of days in the hope that my skinvelope will regenerate enough tissue to protect the underlying firmament of tendon and muscle. The back thing has to sort itself out, as usual.

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Upcoming Walking Tours-

Saturday, September 27th, 13 Steps Around Dutch Kills
Walking Tour with Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Sunday, September 28th, The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek
Walking Tour with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for tickets and more info.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 15, 2014 at 10:20 am

spoke deeply

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Year’s end archive shots begin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned last week, I’m a bit out of it and require a holiday recharge. Accordingly, a series of archive shots will be greeting you here at Newtown Pentacle until 2014 rolls into town. The shot above depicts a Jamaica Bay Cormorant, who was observed loitering at the Park Ranger’s dock at Breezy Point a few years back.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 23, 2013 at 7:30 am

writhing sharply

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Give thanks, or else.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For the holiday weekend, which is ultimately a vestigial harvest festival celebrated by some post industrial nation state that occupies a third of a continent (and militarily speaking- most of the planet- for those extraterrestrials and Otaku who might be reading this), Newtown Pentacle will be in single image mode.

Now, go eat the things you are supposed to, then go do your patriotic duty and shop. Our enemies in east Australasia would prefer if you did nothing instead, and just continued to grow fatter. Your job is to go eat a bird which is native to the continent, so get to it.

The shot above depicts another sort of endemic creature infesting North America, the humble Cormorant, which is lucky enough to not be considered food by the well fed masses.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 28, 2013 at 7:30 am

eery pinnacle

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Until you’ve had a flock of baby birds vomit on you, you haven’t really lived.

It seems that such regurgitation is just part of the daily grind here on South Brother island, an unassuming prominence found on the East River. Heavily wooded, the island is owned and managed by the Government(s) and it is usually “verboten” for primates to even visit.

from wikipedia

South Brother Island is one of a pair of small islands in the East River situated between the Bronx and Riker’s Island, New York City and is 7 acres (28,000 m2) in size. It is uninhabited. The other island, larger and better known, is North Brother Island. Until 1964, South Brother Island was part of Queens County, but it is now part of Bronx County. It had long been privately owned, but was purchased by the city in 2007. Together, the two Brother Islands, North and South, have a land area of 81,423 square meters, or 20.12 acres (81,400 m2).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Your humble narrator managed to insert himself into a scientific survey of the breeding colony of Cormorants, Herons, and Egrets which thrive upon the riverine island. The island has been allowed to go feral, and is positively overrun by seabirds. Upon arriving there via a Zodiac boat, one of the fellows employed by the NRG (Natural Resources Group) of the NYC Parks Dept. asked me if I knew what poison ivy looked like.

Informing him that he should just assume my general ignorance about all things, he remarked- you’re standing in it.

from wikipedia

Toxicodendron radicans, better known as poison ivy (older synonyms are Rhus toxicodendron and Rhus radicans), is a poisonous North American plant that is well known for its production of urushiol, a clear liquid compound found within the sap of the plant that causes an itching, or sometimes painful rash in most people who touch it. The plant is not a true ivy (Hedera).

Poison ivy can be found growing in any of the following three forms:

  • as a trailing vine that is 10–25 cm tall (4 to 10 inches)
  • as a shrub up to 1.2 m tall (4 feet)
  • as a climbing vine that grows on trees or some other support

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The party split into two groups, and the one I accompanied headed into the stand of trees which comprises the center of the island. Thick and overgrown, the darkness of the place was palpable, and a raucous chorus of bird calls was emanating from the canopy above. The mission was to count the number of nests installed (in this section by Cormorants) and whenever possible- to count the number of eggs and or hatchlings.

The other group was busy exploring Heron territory.

from wikipedia

The Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), commonly abbreviated to just Night Heron in Eurasia, is a medium-sized heron found throughout a large part of the world, except in the coldest regions and Australasia (where replaced by the closely related Rufous Night Heron, with which it has hybridized in the area of contact).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This was by no means an easy task, given the sort of terrain encountered.

Once- the Newtown Creek’s watershed would have resembled this scene, thought a humble narrator, when a half digested fragment of fish dropped out of the sky and bounced off my boonie hat. It was quickly explained to me that this was normal, expected, and part of their daily round. The floor of the place was a spongy mass of fallen branches, mulch, and guano.

An intense smell of ammonia forced me back to the beach a couple of times.

from wikipedia

Regurgitation is used by a number of species to feed their young. This is typically in circumstances where the young is at a fixed location and a parent must forage or hunt for food, especially under circumstances where the carriage of small prey would be subject to robbing by other predators or the whole prey is larger than can be carried to a den or nest. Some birds species also occasionally regurgitate pellets of indigestible matter such as bones and feathers. Penguins are known to regurgitate in order to feed their young ones.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shooting conditions were difficult, with dense foliage and few clearings. The humidity was nearly unbearable. The instructions I had received from the group leader indicated that I should dress in long sleeves, full length pants, and wear heavy boots.

Conditions on the island indeed demanded such cautions, but heat and humidity plus the aforementioned ensemble worn with a hat while carrying a camera bag and around six pounds of camera and lens made for an uncomfortable morning.

Karmic justice, I suppose, for all the complaining about being cold I subjected you to during the winter at this- your Newtown Pentacle.

this page at nysl.nysed.gov lists all the complaint departments in New York State

Complaint Departments

New York State government information and resources on Complaint Departments.

Consumer Information

WWW.NY.GOV – cick on “Complaints.

Attorney General’s Office 

Consumer Frauds Bureau

Complaints – Includes a section on “Complaints for Other Agencies” to help people contact the appropriate agency…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It should be mentioned that I absolutely detest camping out, abhor hikes in the woods, and am- by definition- a City Boy. Nature wants to eat you, and will at the very first chance it gets. You might be disarmed by the coy attractions of these baby birds, but give them the chance and they’d rip you to shreds.

Then they’d vomit the bits back out onto the next guy who visits this island.

It did occur to me that this might be a safe haven in case of a zombie apocalypse, but the nearby North Brother Island would probably be a better choice. Seriously, I’m not just being paranoid, nature can be messed up, and given several recent headlines– might be time to start formulating a plan for upcoming Nights, Dawns, and Days.

from wikipedia

The bird family Phalacrocoracidae is represented by some 40 species of cormorants and shags. /ˈkɔrmərənt/ Several different classifications of the family have been proposed recently, and the number of genera is disputed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the real world, of course, such fancies fall before the hard materialism of the empirical mindset, and this mission I was accompanying dwelt naught upon such extravagant thinking. They were doing the hard work of field science, collecting data and samples for later analysis. The South Brother Island was acquired by the Parks people in 2008 and the notion of dedicating the tiny island(s) as a refuge for seabirds is actually pretty darned cool.

from nycgovparks.org

In 2001, the City assigned Parks jurisdiction over the publicly-owned lands extending outward from the shores of South Brother Island. The island itself was owned by Hampton Scows, Inc. The recent acquisition of South Brother Island was directly negotiated and completed with approximately $2 million in funds allocated by Congressman Jose Serrano through NOAA’s Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program.

The acquisition was executed by The Trust for Public Land on behalf of the recipients of the NOAA funding, The Wildlife Conservation Society and The Point Community Development Corporation. The Trust for Public Land then donated South Brother Island to Parks for public ownership, management, and natural resource protection.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An interesting auditory effect was noticed, incidentally, which rendered the vocalizations of the avian multitudes into something akin to that which you would hear coming from a crowded lunchroom full of school kids. This blended with a syncopated call and response of what sounded like calisthenics PE over at Rikers Island, a short distance away.

Note- the island is strictly off limits (said status is zealously enforced by several of the different harbor officialdoms and gendarmes). I was the guest of a highly trained and dedicated crew who catechized me on the rules of the place and watched my every step to insure that no harm came to anything living here. It is illegal, in the extreme, to visit this place without prior approval from the authorities.

Despite my dripping sarcasm and good natured kvetching about the trip, the folks I was with are really fighting the good fight here, gathering data in difficult conditions in order to understand the breeding habits of endangered wildlife to foment the survival of said species in the harbor of New York.

check out this 2007 report from harborestuary.org, which contains data supplied by some of the folks on this trip, and is an earlier iteration of what they were up to just a few days ago.

Also:

June 16th, 2012- Newtown Creek Alliance Dutch Kills walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek Alliance has asked that, in my official capacity as group historian, a tour be conducted on the 16th of June- a Saturday. This walk will follow the Dutch Kills tributary, and will include a couple of guest speakers from the Alliance itself, which will provide welcome relief for tour goers from listening to me rattle on about Michael Degnon, Patrick “Battle Ax” Gleason, and a bunch of bridges that no one has ever heard of.

for June 16th tickets, click here for the Newtown Creek Alliance ticketing page

June 23rd, 2012- Atlas Obscura Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally- the “Obscura Day” Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills tour proved that the efficacy and charms of the Newtown Creek’s least known tributary, with its myriad points of interest, could cause a large group to overlook my various inadequacies and failings. The folks at Atlas Obscura, which is a fantastic website worthy of your attentions (btw), have asked me to repeat the tour on the 23rd of June- also a Saturday.

for June 23rd tickets, click here for the Atlas Obscura ticketing page

June 30th, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Kill Van Kull walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My various interests out on the sixth borough, NY Harbor, have brought me into association with the Working Harbor Committee. A member of the group’s Steering Committee- I also serve as the “official” group photographer, am chairman and principal narrator of their annual Newtown Creek Boast Tour, and occasionally speak on the microphone during other tours (mainly the Brooklyn one). This year, the group has branched out into terrestrial explorations to compliment the intense and extant schedule of boat tours, and I’m going to be leading a Kill Van Kull walking tour that should be a lot of fun.

The Kill Van Kull, or tugboat alley as its known to we harbor rats, is a tidal strait that defines the border of Staten Island and New Jersey. A busy and highly industrialized waterfront, Working Harbor’s popular “Hidden Harbor – Newark Bay” boat tours provide water access to the Kill, but what is it like on the landward side?

Starting at the St. George Staten Island Ferry terminal, join WHC Steering Committee member Mitch Waxman for a walk up the Kill Van Kull via Staten Islands Richmond Terrace. You’ll encounter unrivaled views of the maritime traffic on the Kill itself, as well as the hidden past of the historic maritime communities which line it’s shores. Surprising and historic neighborhoods, an abandoned railway, and tales of prohibition era bootleggers await.

The tour will start at 11, sharp, and you must be on (at least) the 10:30 AM Staten Island Ferry to meet the group at St. George. Again, plan for transportation changes and unexpected weirdness to be revealed to you at MTA.info.

For June 30th tickets, click here for the Working Harbor Committee ticketing page

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 5, 2012 at 12:15 am

occasionally titanic

with one comment

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Obsequious sarcasm will no doubt greet this posting, given the notion propagated by area wags that the Newtown Creek watershed is irrevocably poisoned, but early last week an expedition was mounted along the bulkheads whose express goal was to count and identify those avian lifeforms which inhabit its legend haunted shores.

Organized by the Newtown Creek Alliance Executive Director herself, our small party met in the wee hours of the morning at a coffee shop familiar to all residents of Long Island City and sallied forth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Two field experts consented to this mission, both familiar with the mores of ornithological clade and classification. Our group visited several sites which have often displayed a surprising diversity of birds, and over the course of our little expedition they described eleven distinct specie.

Every time that your humble narrator attempts to name a bird, corrections flood in, and accordingly this link is offered to the birdsbugsbuds.com blog by Shari Romar (who was one of the folks who undertook this trip) for genus, family, or common name. Additionally, Ross Diamond wrote a description of the day at this Newtown Creek Alliance page (wonder who that weirdo in the red baseball cap is, standing on the fence like he owns the place).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the spots decided on for this mission was obvious, as the multiple decade long abandonment of the Maspeth Creek tributary by industrial interests has resulted in the formation of significant “habitat” along its wooded shorelines. Cursed by a large CSO (Combined Sewer Outfall) at its terminus, Maspeth Creek often exhibits large slicks of garbage, fats, and other sediments which find their way into the wastewater flow. Nevertheless, the decaying shorelines provide ample purchase for coastal grasses and other marsh plants to grow.

This vegetation, in turn, offers hiding places for small fish and crustacea which attract birds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Maspeth Creek has been, and often still is, used as an illegal dump- of course. These sunken automobiles are de facto “iconic” Newtown Creek shots, and often photographed by thrill seeking urban explorers- including your humble narrator.

What made my morning, however, was the cormorant hunting in the waters amongst them. As described in earlier posts, and by all accounts, there is a startling diversity of benthic and littoral life to be found here- in waters recently described by at least one NY State environmental official as “anoxic, and a dead sea”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Firmly held, your humble narrator clings to the belief that if the human infestation could only forget about finding new ways to exploit Newtown Creek and it’s tributaries- whether it be burning garbage to generate electricity, or the installation of vast new populations along its shores, or just finding a way to not have raw sewage belch filth directly into the water every time it rains– that nature itself would and could perform the necessary remediation of its poisons.

Adaptation and the evolutionary process, rather than some cold and industrial methodology, might be all that is required.

On the other hand, some mutant race of atavist cormorants might arise from the Newtown Creek, leading to the extinction of mankind itself so maybe we should just pave over the place- as suggested by certain members of the aforementioned community referred to as “area wags” at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

closely questioned

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

The last few weeks have seen your humble narrator not so humbly leading groups of enthusiasts around the Newtown Creek on walking tours. This is a tremendous exertion for one such as myself, for to be seen by so many diminishes me. Unfortunately, a lot of the places I’d really like to show off are remotely located, with limited if any access. One of these spots is Maspeth Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once a major tributary, and now quite minor, Maspeth Creek has been largely abandoned by industry. It’s depth is shallow, and is beset by an enormous CSO (Combined Sewer Outfall) at its terminus. A “floatables boom” cuts it off from the main body of the Newtown Creek and causes great amalgamations of trash to agglutinate in shallows and along its banks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Somehow, despite the endemic pollution in the sediments and mud and the constant flow of sewage, nature has begun to take the waterway back unto itself. My understanding is that the sediments here are teeming with invertebrates, worms and crabs and the like, which draw in exotic fauna like the Cormorants in the first shot and the Kingfisher Yellow-crowned Night Heron pictured above. One of the more disturbing aspects of a recently announced DEP/DEC plan to install aeration wands here (to raise the levels of dissolved oxygen in the water) is that the project will most likely obliterate this colony of birds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I have personally observed fish and eels swimming in the water here, which is quite obviously what has drawn these breeding colonies of birds to the spot. Cormorants in particular are diving birds which eat fish and crabs, which indicates that there is enough oxygen in the water to support… fish and crabs. How I wish that some of the dozens of people who I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the Creek with in the last few weeks were the engineers in Albany and Manhattan who cook up these plans, but they don’t seem to be interested in coming here.

Also:

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An NCA event, which I for one am pretty stoked about:

April NCA meeting hosts Dr. Eric Sanderson

Tonight. Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 6pm


Ridgewood Democratic Club, 
6070 Putnam Avenue, 
Ridgewood, NY 11385

In addition to important updates from our members – in particular the Bioremedition Workgroup has been very busy! – we will be hosting a special presentation on the “Historical Ecology of Newtown Creek”.

Dr. Eric Sanderson, senior conservation ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and author of “Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City” (Abrams, 2009), will describe recent studies of the historical ecology of Newtown Creek, describing the original wetlands, creek channels, topography and vegetation of the area. He will show a series of 18th and 19th century maps of the watershed of the creek and discuss the process of synthesizing them into an integrated ecological picture that can be used to inform and inspire natural restoration and cultural appreciation of the Newtown Creek watershed. This work is part of the Welikia Project (welikia.org), an investigation into the historical ecology of the five boroughs of New York City and surrounding waters. The Welikia Project on Newtown Creek is funded by The NYCEF Newtown Creek Fund of the Hudson River Foundation.

And this Saturday,

Obscura Day 2012, Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills

Saturday April 28th, 10 a.m.

Your humble narrator will be narrating humbly at this year’s Obscura Day event on April 28th, leading a walking tour of Dutch Kills. There are a few tickets left, so grab them while you can.

“Found less than one mile from the East River, Dutch Kills is home to four movable (and one fixed span) bridges, including one of only two retractible bridges remaining in New York City. Dutch Kills is considered to be the central artery of industrial Long Island City and is ringed with enormous factory buildings, titan rail yards — it’s where the industrial revolution actually happened. Bring your camera, as the tour will be revealing an incredible landscape along this section of the troubled Newtown Creek Watershed.”

For tickets and full details, click here :

obscuraday.com/events/thirteen-steps-dutch-kills-newtown-creek-exploration

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 26, 2012 at 12:15 am

Double-crested Cormorant, I presume?

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

A common sight on the East River and other NY waterways are the diving antics of Cormorants. Breeding colonies of them can be found at several locations- notably U Thant and South Brother Islands. Your humble narrator, amongst other inadequacies, is no expert on ornithology but a bit of research has led me to believe that this is a juvenile Double Crested Cormorant.

from wikipedia

The Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) is a member of the cormorant family of seabirds. It occurs along inland waterways as well as in coastal areas, and is widely distributed across North America, from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska down to Florida and Mexico. Measuring 70–90 cm (28–35 in) in length, it is an all-black bird which gains a small double crest of black and white feathers in breeding season. It has a bare patch of orange-yellow facial skin. Five subspecies are recognized.

The Double-crested Cormorant is found near rivers, lakes and along the coastline. It mainly eats fish and hunts by swimming and diving. Its feathers, like those of all cormorants, are not waterproof and it must spend time drying them out after spending time in the water. Once threatened by use of DDT, the numbers of this bird have increased markedly in recent years.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A diver, the Cormorant feeds on invertebrates like crabs, or vertebrates like fish, and frogs. It swallows its prey head first, after flipping the unfortunate critter into the air. It is said that there is a specie of cormorant which is trained by both Chinese and Japanese fishermen, who affix a metal ring about the captive bird’s neck to discourage swallowing, to accomplish their industry. Apparently, this is a global phenomena.

from heraldryclipart.com

In England, according to Willoughby, they were hoodwinked in the manner of the “Falcons”, ’til they were let off to fish, and a leather thong was tied round the lower part of their necks, preventing them from swallowing the fish. Whitlock tells us “that he had a cast of them manned like Hawks, which would come to hand.” He took much pleasure in them, and relates that the best he had was one presented to him by Mr Wood, Master of the Cormorants to Charles I. (Thomas Bewick’s British Birds-1826). The Cormorants have been used as symbols of nobility, indulgence, and in more modern times a totem for fishermen and a bountiful catch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When the Cormorant goes into one of it’s dives, it might go as deep as 25 feet and be underwater for as long as a minute. This particular specimen was diving at Hells Gate, on the East River. One marvels at the idea of training a Cormorant to carry some sort of low light camera to the shattered bottom of Hells Gate, with its current swept carpet of wrecked ships dating back to Dutch times.

from web1.audubon.org

The Double-crested Cormorant is the most numerous and widespread North American cormorant. This large, dark waterbird is the only cormorant that occurs in large numbers inland, near fresh water, as well as on the coast. Cormorants (from the Latin for “sea crow”) are often seen floating low in the water, neck and bill raised, or perching upright near water to dry their outstretched wings.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 9, 2010 at 12:32 pm

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