A small group of rugged hikers willing to brave the cold weather joined up with Marine Park’s Urban Park Rangers at the Salt Marsh Nature Center at 3302 Avenue U on Saturday morning, January 21st, to explore the marine ecology of Gerritsen Creek and learn about the different types of birds and waterfowl that frequent the area during the winter months.
The salt marsh is the general name for the ecosystem habitat and the tidal waters that flow in and out of Gerritsen Creek. It can be observed from the area behind the nature center and all along the nature trail out toward the sea.
After a short hike along the trail to observe the various birds, the group returned to the rear of the nature center to check the fish traps set out earlier by the rangers, but unfortunately there were no fish caught that day. This was the first time they tried to set out fish traps in the winter and usually have better luck in the spring, summer and fall. Instead, Charlie the turtle was brought out for everyone to see and touch.
With a cell phone mounted to a telescope, Urban Park Ranger Bradfield was able to give the group a closer look at the mussels that were attached to the base of the salt marsh grass along the shoreline. The grasses are a part of our coastline defense against storms as they form a natural barrier. “One square mile of marsh can take a foot off of storm surge,” he said.
The mussels provide food for birds and crabs. They filter the water and anchor the marsh grasses in place, while providing a nursery for bunker, striped bass and other fish species. The marsh and Jamaica Bay serves as a nursery for a lot of the commercial fisheries in the area, and all kinds of fish come there to breed, Bradfield added.
And the wildlife in the area has been increasing with a nice population of harbor seals at nearby Jamaica Bay and the addition of the very first bald eagles spotted nesting there this year, as well as a Red-shouldered Hawk spotted at the salt marsh that morning.
“Ospreys and bald eagles are high up on the food chain so they’re good indicator species,” Bradfield said. “This creates a healthy ecosystem and has implications for all kinds of things like human recreation and the food we eat.”
In addition to the bald eagle, hawk and osprey spotted in the area recently, several species of ducks, geese, seagulls, swans and other waterfowl were congregating by the mussel beds.
Bradfield said that a harbor seal was spotted in the creek about a week ago and that they come to the area often. “The different varieties of birds on the shoreline all go nuts when the seal comes here,” he said.