Sunday 3 February 2013

Jamaica Bay, New York, Jan 2013

We British are famous for our obsession with the weather. For the most part our climate is fairly benign and it is easy for us to forget how disruptive big weather can be. Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the USA during late October and the effects are still being felt. The rail line out to Broad Channel was damaged in the storm and the island is now being served by shuttle buses from Rockaway Blvd., Subway Station. Travelling the couple of miles from the airport to Jamaica Bay should only have taken a very short time, but ended up taking nearly an hour and a half. The shuttle bus stops directly outside the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Centre at Google Earth ref;  40°37'2.19"N 73°49'26.25"W.
The path around West Pond has been damaged too. A wide chasm has opened up across the track and allowed the lake to escape back to the bay. Where there would normally be a great expanse of water covered in waterfowl, there was mud and a single Herring Gull. Out on the salt marshes were a few Brant Geese and some Canada Geese. I have a feeling that the tide probably fills the lake again at each high tide, but I have no idea whether the birds will return with the water. It is my belief that the West Pond used to be freshwater and it would be salt water brought up on the tide.

 There is another freshwater lake across the road, so I made my way over to John’s Pond and East Pond. These were also eerily quiet with almost nothing to be seen.  It struck me that the rail line must have been quite fragile to be damaged in a storm that left the screen hide at John's Pond untouched. Perhaps it was given a higher priority when it came to repairs. I had noted a few birds on the channel as the bus crossed the bridge onto the island, so I decided that my best bet to find anything at all would be to walk back to the bridge. The walk is a little over a mile and a half and took about 30 minutes. At last there were a few more birds here with Brant feeding on the receding tide and a few Ring-billed Gulls roosting while Herring Gulls dropped clams onto the hard parking surface in an attempt to break them open.

East Pond
From here it was easier for me to continue over the bridge to catch the bus back to Rockaway Blvd. The nearest bus stop was opposite 163rd St. at Google Earth Ref; 40°39'8.37"N 73°50'16.68"W. A Cooper's Hawk flew down from the rail and flapped back against the wind onto the island. Out on the water there were plenty of Bufflehead and a few flocks of Red-breasted Merganser flew through my field of vision as I watched. A distant Merlin flew low over the water and a couple of female Common Golden-eyes were seen. The visibility was poor and it was starting to get dark now. The Bufflehead number was mostly males. I expect that there were some females out there too, but were difficult to see in the conditions.

Birds seen; 17
Brant Goose 400, Canada Goose 30, Mute Swan 4, Gadwall 1, American Black Duck 4, Mallard 40, Bufflehead 160, Common Goldeneye 2, Red-breasted Merganser 35, Double-crested Cormorant 2, Cooper’s Hawk 2, Merlin 1, Ring-billed Gull 15, Herring Gull 35, Great Black-backed Gull 3, Yellow-rumped Warbler 1, Northern Cardinal 6.


  1. Poor Jamaica Bay...

    As for the ponds, both the West Pond and the East Pond were at least mildly brackish prior to the storm. Both were breached by Sandy. The West Pond, as you surmised, does fill up at high tide. Rumors are that the breach there will eventually be repaired but given the track record for even simple things like trail maintenance at the refuge I will believe that when I see it.

    The East Pond was breached on its east side where the rail tracks and a thin line of phragmites are basically all the separated the pond from the bay. The good news is that the breach is fixed, necessary to get the trains running again. The bad news is that we have no idea if the drainage pipe that is used to draw the water on the East Pond down for shorebird season is still functional.

    Big John's Pond is far enough from the bay that it was barely touched - the rail line went down so easily because it was right on the bay and the storm surge just went right through it.

    Hopefully the next time you get to New York we can meet up!

    1. Thanks Corey,
      Yes indeed, "poor Jamaica Bay". It really did look very sad. I hope that I came at a bad time on a bad day and that for the rest of the time there are a few more birds.
      Does the parks service run volunteer days where members of the pulic can offer their services to help repair the area?