Getting the Drop on Pitch Pine

Flora and Fauna Fridays

A weekly entry about the life of our estuary and watershed.
(Our apologies for the delayed publication.)

Photos and text by Erik Baard

Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) is a hardy little tree that’s native to the eastern US and coastal from the Chesapeake Bay to Acadia National Park, Maine. They thrive in a variety of harsh conditions from poor alpine scratch to low swamps. They protect dunes, stabilize shores, and feed birds and insects. These crooked and twisted trees are rarely used for lumber, but as you can imagine, they were in great demand for the resin pitch.

Physicists are fascinated by how a drop of room temperature pitch can be shattered by a hammer blow yet is experimentally shown to be a liquid (unlike ice, which is a true crystalline solid). The hardness and consistency of pitch, which is also malleable when heated, makes it extremely useful for preserving and waterproofing ships, railroad ties, and mine shaft supports. It’s also used to flavor wine, and sometimes medicinally. Outdoor enthusiasts often use pitch for lamps and torches, glue and wound binding, or even to make natural plastic widgets! Now research labs are following suit.

These trees are very well protected against fire by their specialized bark. In a worst case scenario, even a stump can spring to life with new branches. Their cones also pop open when exposed to intense heat, so they not only endure the flames but help regenerate the ecosystem.

In our region, you can enjoy pitch pine forests in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, Fire Island, and Long Island’s East End. But NYC parks have stands of them too,  including Hunters Point South Park just blocks away from HarborLAB. We’ll grow seeds gathered there at the HarborLAB GreenLaunch!

HarborLAB makes pitch pine seedballs to benefit our entire harbor. We’ve gathered cones with students and volunteers with Baruch College, New Jersey Institute of Technology, National Iranian-American Council, and Hunters Point Parks Conservancy. We learned our seed ball making technique from Seedball NYC, and how to get seeds from pine cones (by baking them) from the Greenbelt Native Plant Center of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation’s Natural Resources Group.

Pine seed. Photo and labeling by University of Miami: http://www.bio.miami.edu/dana/dox/altgen.html

Pine seed. Photo and labeling by University of Miami: http://www.bio.miami.edu/dana/dox/altgen.html

UN Women’s Day and Water

Water Wonk Wednesdays

A weekly column on water news, tips, and innovations.

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by Erik Baard

Today is the United Nations designated International Women’s Day. Let’s take this opportunity to recognize that where governments have failed their citizens, obtaining and protecting water is women’s work.

The Women for Science section of the Inter-American Network of Academies of Science maintains an excellent Gender and Water page, providing links to relevant women’s professional networks, data, issues and case studies, training manuals, and other practical resources. Another great resource for women seeking to enter water science and engineering is the Association of Women in Water, Energy, and the Environment.

Men still dominate the engineering agencies and companies that make clean and convenient water a fact of daily life in wealthier nations, but it’s women who fetch and defend water for billions of others, especially in Africa, Latin America, and South Asia. This work demands immense strength and daily determination for the many who must trek long distances in the search for water free or pathogens and chemical contaminants, and resourcefulness for those who must clean their water to safeguard their children from illness.

Some international agencies and nonprofits are promoting innovative ideas like micro-finance “water credits” through female community leaders and individual mothers.

In many regions the right to water for life is threatened by the taking of water for profit, for resale or use in development. industrial processes, mining, energy extraction, and agribusiness. This is especially true when those struggling for drinking and sanitation water are poor or from marginalized indigenous communities. There women must demonstrate great physical courage to confront those powerful interests.

The struggle isn’t only a rural one. The world is rapidly urbanizing, straining municipal water systems and creating sprawling fringe shantytowns where no waterworks exist. Even in established cities in wealthier nations neglect and disastrous decisions have dangerously fouled water for some, especially in lower-income communities of color. The women of Flint, Michigan joined the Women’s March in Washington to demand clean water. The DeLoitte Review recently took on the topic in an academic article called, “Thirsty for Change: The untapped potential of women in urban water management.”

Water justice will be achieved only when women’s voices are heard inside board rooms and planning meetings. Women in water sciences are certainly making gains, and in industry and at the UN there’s a growing awareness that achievers should be honored. HarborLAB encourages young women to enter these disciplines and to apply for scholarships that might help them realize their goals, this Women’s Day and all days.

 

 

2017 Calendar is Shaping Up!

This is already shaping up to be an exciting year for HarborLAB. Below is a growing list of events, including some new programs. You can also visit our Calendar page:

https://harborlab.org/calendar/

To volunteer for any event, please email volunteer@harborlab.org with the program name and date in the subject line. You can email the same address with a general interest, such as gardening or environmental monitoring, in the subject line too.

What else might be coming? Our Staff Volunteers will be generating creative ideas throughout the year. We’ll also be adding many more work days at our GreenLaunch site as we bring in a laboratory and facilities, expand our orchard and indigenous habitat areas, create artwork, and more. Gardening and environmental monitoring teams will have many opportunities outside event dates for activities. We’ll add more Friday night events and Neversink Reservoir dates, and special service dates like Harbor Camp (Gantry Plaza paddles serving lower-income youth centers).

Annual highlights like the Clearwater Festival, City of Water Day, and Peace Lanterns Festival are certain. As we get nearer to dates, we might prune back smaller new events if they don’t attract sufficient interest. Get involved as a volunteer to secure them! 🙂

Some activities serving specific schools ad partnering nonprofits (youth and environmental organizations, for example) are posted to invite volunteerism, but aren’t open to public participation. If they look fun, join by helping out!

Events with UN designated day themes highlight important issues and connect local ecological concerns to work to improve our global environment.

Upcoming Events

MAR8 FDU Seedball Workshop
Tomorrow 8 PM · by HarborLAB
Fairleigh Dickinson University Florham Campus
Madison
MAR9 Reclaiming the Estuary: The Newtown Creek Experience
Thu 4 PM · by HarborLAB
LaGuardia Community College
New York, NY
MAR10 Meeting with our Congress Member Carolyn Maloney
Fri 6:30 PM · 4 friends are going
New York Irish Center
New York, NY
MAR18 UN World Water Day Bike Ride
Sat 10:30 AM · Ray Tan is going
Unisphere-Flushing Meadows Corona Park
New York, NY
MAR18 Kayak Instruction in a Pool
Sat 9 PM · 2 friends are going
Long Island City YMCA
New York, NY
MAR25 Red Cross Certification Day
Sat 10 AM · 6 friends are going
LaGuardia Community College
New York, NY
MAR26 GreenLaunch Work Day
Sun 12 PM · Mambo Tse is going
HarborLAB
New York, NY
APR1 No Foolin’ Work Party!
Sat 11 AM · Maribel Rodriguez Egipciaco is going
HarborLAB
New York, NY
APR13 Horseshoe Crab Survey Training
Thu 6 PM · by HarborLAB
NYC Audubon
New York, NY
APR15 Kayak Instruction in a Pool
Sat 9 PM · 3 friends are going
Long Island City YMCA
New York, NY
APR20 Horseshoe Crab Survey Training
Thu 6 PM · by HarborLAB
NYC Audubon
New York, NY
MAY2 HPCMS Parent Canoe Tour of Newtown Creek
Tue 12 PM
HarborLAB
New York, NY
MAY6 LIC Springs! 2017
Sat 12 PM · by Long Island City Partnership
Vernon Boulevard between 50th Ave & 46th Ave
MAY6 Sweep the Creek
Sat 1 PM · 1 guest
HarborLAB
New York, NY
MAY10 UN World Migratory Bird Day Seedball Making
Wed 6 PM
HarborLAB
New York, NY
MAY13 UN International Day of Families – Northeastern Queens Paddling
Sat 12 PM · by HarborLAB
Hermon A MacNeil Park
New York, NY
MAY21 Paddling at Little Bay Park
Sun 11 AM · 2 friends are going
Little Bay Park
JUN4 UN World Environment Day Paddling at Little Bay Park
Sun 11 AM · by HarborLAB
Little Bay Park
JUN5 UN World Environment Day Talk and Paddle.
Mon 6 PM
HarborLAB
New York, NY
JUN10 UN World Oceans Day at White Island!
Sat 4 PM · by HarborLAB
Marine Park (Brooklyn)
New York, NY
JUN17 Clearwater Festival Paddling!
Jun 17 – Jun 18 · 5 friends are going
HarborLAB
New York, NY
JUN24 Tentative – Paddling in Little Bay Park
Jun 24 – Jun 25 · by HarborLAB
Little Bay Park
JUN25 UN Day of the Seafarer Paddle
Sun 10 AM
HarborLAB
New York, NY
JUL15 City of Water Day Volunteer Team
Sat 5 AM · by HarborLAB
Governors Island
New York, NY
JUL29 Safety Team for Swim Across America
Sat 5 AM · by HarborLAB
Mamaroneck, NY
AUG5 Safety Team for Swim Across America
Sat 4 AM · 1 guest
HarborLAB
New York, NY
AUG6 UN Indigenous Peoples Day Paddle
Sun 10 AM
HarborLAB
New York, NY
AUG12 Perseids at the Neversink
Aug 12 – Aug 13 · by HarborLAB
Neversink Reservoir
Neversink, NY
AUG20 Float-In Theater!
Sun 8 PM · 3 guests
HarborLAB
New York, NY
Promote Event
More
SEP16 2017 Peace Lanterns Festival
Sat 1 PM · 4 friends are going
Gantry Plaza State Park
New York, NY
SEP23 South Brother Island Cleanup and Seeding
Sat 6 AM · 1 guest
HarborLAB
New York, NY
SEP29 UN World Tourism Day
Fri 6 PM
HarborLAB
New York, NY
SEP30 UN World Maritime Day Paddle
Sep 30 – Oct 1
HarborLAB
New York, NY
OCT1 UN International Day of Older Persons Paddle
Sun 11 AM · by HarborLAB
Gantry Plaza State Park
New York, NY
OCT5 UN World Teachers Day Paddle
Thu 3 PM
HarborLAB
New York, NY
OCT22 UN Day Paddle! Season Closer!
Oct 22 – Oct 23 · by HarborLAB
Gantry Plaza State Park
New York, NY

March 5: Habitat Planning to Honor UN World Wildlife Day!

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Today, March 3, is UN World Wildlife Day and what better way to honor it this weekend than by helping create thriving habitat areas along a polluted waterway? Just yesterday HarborLAB’s GreenLaunch on the Newtown Creek was designated by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat in recognition of our efforts to provide edible native plants for birds, milkweed for Monarch butterflies, clean water, shelter, and other support for native species. We also generate organic compost to enrich our poor soil.

This Sunday, March 5, from noon to 3PM turn sentiment into action by joining HarborLAB for an orientation at our Newtown Creek GreenLaunch (53-21 Vernon Blvd, LIC, NY 11101) and then walking over to Bricktown Bagel Cafe to plan our 2017 plantings, water systems, constructed habitat (mason bee and bat boxes to start), seedball activities, environmental monitoring lab, and more!

Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/133044087217291/

 

 

The Gracefully Gooney Woodcock

Flora and Fauna Fridays

A weekly entry about the life of our estuary and watershed.
This week’s entry by Erik Baard, Courtesy of Nature Calendar.

American Woodcock in Propsect Park by Steve Nanz.

By Erik Baard

In coming weeks keen-eyed birders will spot the quiet and nearly invisible migratory returns, solitary or in very small flocks, of one of New York City’s quirkiest birds.

While some birds, like redtail hawks and peregrine falcons, have attracted groupies through intelligence and fierce dignity, today we present a species that’s won the hearts of hardened New Yorkers through its ostentatious goofiness, the American Woodcock.

If you manage to spot one despite its exquisite cinnamon, gray, beige, and pale orange camouflage in the leaf litter, you’ll note its extraordinarily gawky four-inch bill, more than a quarter the length of its seemingly no-necked, stout body. Then it’s on to the high-crested, buggy eyes set behind its ear holes. To make that odd arrangement of features work, its brain is uniquely positioned: upside down, with the cerebellum resting above the spinal column.

No one name can quite frame the whimsical asymmetry of this species. Its alternate names sound a bit like cocktail drinks: timberdoodle, bog sucker, mud bat, mud snipe, and Labrador twister.

That latter name, however, hints at why their devotees are now clearing their schedules of after work commitments and redirecting their morning jogs to mucky corners of parks. The woodcock’s spiraling mating display, an aerial dance at dusk and dawn, is a signature of Spring that delights the eyes and ears.

“Some of these birds who wintered in southern states are passing through,” said NYC Audubon past President Peter Mott, referring to New York City’s place on the eastern seaboard’s migratory flyway. “Those that are staying are setting up their courtship territories. In just a week from now they should be starting their courtship flights.”

You’ll need to visit a wooded area edging a fresh water body and a small clearing. Two places Mott recommends are the Ramble in Central Park (a section called “The Oven,” near the boathouse), and the East Pond of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, which is also a favorite spot for the tireless Brooklyn Bird Club. Other places known for woodcocks include Pelham Bay Park and Givans Creek Woods Park in the Bronx, the Staten Island Greenbelt,  and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, where the photo above was taken by Steve Nanz (click to enlarge).

Where males have formed a loose gathering, called a lek, individuals bob and rotate on the ground in twilight hours, making a peent sound before suddenly jumping into flight. They ascend steeply in a spiral up well over 100 feet, “making a chirping sound with their wings. Then they’ll plummet to earth and hope a female was watching.”

While the males’ ground call is utterly prosaic, the twittering sound made by air passing through specialized feathers of their fast-beating, rounded wings is soothing. The downward glide is accompanied by a vocalization that naturalist Aldo Leopold called a “soft liquid warble.” Marj Rines has audio samples on her great website.

Still, overall it’s a pattern familiar to anyone who’s ever observed a “Sk8ter Boi”: call attention, perform a trick, hope it was witnessed by a pretty girl.

Such acrobatic displays demonstrate vigor, and to produce pleasing wing song a woodcock must be ideally formed with a span fringed with three very fine feathers – a sonic flaunting of symmetry – that advertises genetic viability for robust offspring. A strong start is critical for hatchlings that are nearly independent soon after emergence, reaching adult form in weeks.

The woodcock’s odd face is no less a product of ruthless natural selection than a lion’s fangs. Those oddly set eyes provide nearly 360-degree vision. The woodcock beak is not only long, but articulated and sensitive toward the tip, so that it can probe the mud more effectively for worms and other invertebrates; they can eat their weight, about 10 ounces, daily. Put those two features together and you have a bird that can watch for predators above while simultaneously feasting on what’s below.

The transitional forest ecosystems for which the woodcock has evolved are equally refined, but have been challenged in recent decades. Most conservationists believe this is what accounts for the species’ 55% drop in population since 1960. Poorly-conceived development is a huge problem, of course, but another factor might surprise you. Our attentive forest managers have prevented many forest fires, blights, and other natural means of tree felling, denying the woodcock clearings for mating displays. Clearings also allow for new growth like meadow, understory plants, and a dense covering of saplings to provide resting protection from owls.

When Mott was asked which of these unique characteristics made him so fond of the woodcock, he said his pleasure was in the sharing. “I enjoy taking people to see them,” he said. Funny how a bird that leads a relatively solitary life can bring us together.

EPA Clean Water Rule Rollback

Water Wonk Wednesdays

A weekly column on water news, tips, and innovations.

 

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President Trump issued an executive order yesterday to roll back the Clean Water Rule issued by President Obama to extend 1972 Clean Water Act protections to smaller streams and wetlands that feed rivers, lakes, and estuaries. President Trump stated that this reversal reflected his emphasis on economic activity and states rights. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is leading a coalition to litigate against President Trump’s order. The New York Times published a useful article about this debate.