I have grown to respect the destructive power of plants on the move. Without natural forces to keep them at bay, invasive plants steal valuable sunlight, water and space from native plants that support indigenous animals. Vines hang on branches and add weight and wind resistance that cause damage.
Superstorm Sandy unleashed a storm surge on be New York and New Jersey area like never before in recent memory The erosion of sand along the shore of Dead Horse Bay recently exposed historical remnants of the area land filled a century ago . It was named after the horse rendering yards that disposed of the many urban horses that were the main source of transportation at the time. The beach is littered with century old glass and animal bones. Visitors enjoy exploring the artifacts and watching horseshoe crabs mate in the Spring.
While removing some invasive plants the ranger spotted this little American Toad. I had never before seen an amphibian in Brooklyn before!
Today I was introduced to a method for observing snakes in the wild, cover boards. Ranger Katherine took me out to the various sites to see if any snakes were lurking. They had both plywood or corrugated metal sheets secretly placed throughout the park. We had to use GPS and crawl through some undergrowth to access them. It wasn't easy , Swarming flies and ever present poison ivy. I was so glad I wore long sleeves and pants despite the heat, which kept me safe from ticks. It difficult work, but the rewards were great. We located and an Eastern Garter snake and an Easter milk snake. I assisted the ranger as she gently handled them. She measured their lengths both from the nose to tail and nose to cloaca. Then she placed them in a soft bag and weighed them with a pocket spring scale before they were released. For all the cover boards we lifted, we found twice as many mice as we saw snakes. I took some pictures of the cover boards with the thermal camera on my Ipad2 and it was interesting how it visually showed the difference in temperature despite their being right next to each other. Later, we found evidence of terrapins in the area. A mound of raccoon scat had the remains of what appeared to do terrapin eggs shells in it. It is sad that while that egg didn't survive, later we discovered a whole nest of opened shells near the shore, evidence that they probably hatched. Thank you Katherine for teaching me so much about snakes in out area.
Today I followed Ranger Tony where few are allowed. The endangered Piping Plovers and other shorebirds nest on the dunes off Ft. Tilden, a beach closed to the public after Superstorm Sandy demolished the peninsula. Tresspassers ignore signs as they walk dogs and ride vehicles through nesting areas, probably not realizing the harm they are doing to these senstive birds. Tony pointed out abandoned nests that were very inconspicuous in the sand. The shallowly scratched out holes in the sand, and their ever faint footprints leading to them were potentailly easy to step on. Any vechicle could easliy run over a nest. Even the egg shells were spotted and barely visible. Then there's the peculiar behavior of the parents that are incubating eggs. They see intruders long before they approach the nest and leave it. They seem to try to divert your attention from the nest by changing their posture as they scoot around and even pretend to have a broken wing. This confusion tactic also works as they chase their chicks and fledgling around the beach once they've left the nest. It certainly worked on me.
I learned how easily distracted theses birds can get and is extremely important to give them their space.
Today I started my first day in the National Park Service Teacher Ranger Teacher Program at the Gateway National Recreation Area. I participated in the weekly meeting for natural resources rangers of the Jamaica Bay division. They made me feel welcome as they discussed important announcements, assignments and issues, as well as our schedules . We as teacher rangers have the opportunity to observe and participate with ranger BioTechs with their research and work. One issue that came up was the disrespect some of the public had for the rangers. It's my hope that by sharing my experiences working with them, I will help educate myself and others about the important work they do for wildlife.