Saturday, May 8, 2010

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

Again, one takes the useful A train. The same train that took us to the northern tip of Manhattan took us from the bowels of Brooklyn to Broad Channel in Queens, a community that seems (to me) more familiar depicted on screen than in life. It has 'flavour'.

It is surrounded by water. The train, on its way to the barrier island of the Far Rockaways, travels on a narrow spit of land through the middle of this wide bay and its islands.

JFK is over the blue expanse to the east, with planes constantly landing and taking off, noisily; the wide, equally noisy Cross Bay Boulevard splits Broad Channel in two. Houses nearer the rail line are beachy and small, characterized by concrete yards and ornaments, low chain link fences and inhabitants who are perhaps a threatened breed. Old school New Yorkers. White, Irish and Italian, middle class, at home on the water, never without a boat, or something that floats. Homes on the water are larger, on low stilts. Tides leave a detritus of broken reeds and bottle caps at the high water mark.

A ten minute walk got us to the wildlife refuge. Entrance is free and the visitors' centre was graced by some wildflowers in a vase. Nice touch. We were there in late April and spring was new, with a bite of cold in the air. We had hidden two baguette sandwiches along with bird book and cameras in Vince's backpack. Warned (and inspired to visit by) Lambert, we knew that picnicking was illegal.

I really take issue with this. Surely most picnickers are not animal-feeding, bird-strangling, litter-strewing vandals? In fact, I think all picnics should be inspected, and based on the contents should be allowed to proceed or not. Baguettes in Doritos out. Potato salad in Coke bottles out. Wine in and Bud out. Plastic bags out, tin plates in. But I digress. Where was I?

Ah. The West Pond, around which a broad gravel path circles.

Beach plums (Prunus maritima) were in full froth. A wonderful native plant for seaside and otherwise sun-filled but wind-battered locations. They are great in rooftop gardens with full sun. I like field trips for the extra inspiration or reminders they provide for gardens that need designing or planting.

I saw this long-armed shrub everywhere. It looked like a honeysuckle but had no scent. Help needed with ID, please.[7-19-11: Lonicera tartarica, invasive honeysuckle]

Invasive but deliciously-scented autumn olive (Eleagnus umbellata) was everywhere. Ellen says the berries are edible, so now I like it a little more. But it is a pest, along with its Russian cousin...

Below, bayberry (Myrica pennsylvanica) in spring - I'd never seen it at this stage before the waxy blue berries take over. This is another good rooftop plant, drought and wind-tolerant.

We hunkered down in the stiffening breeze and ate our pate-laden baguettes furtively while looking out at the West Pond's ducks. Wishing for binoculars. We had passed some mega-lenses and camouflage-coloured telescopes on our walk and were feeling decidedly inadequate.

Beside our wooden bench was this, looking like a cress? Sea rocket? It was everywhere in open-cut land, growing in bushy mounds about five inches high. There was also a lot of poison ivy. Expanses of it.

Almost back at the visitors' centre we passed this beautiful little green glade. It seemed to belong to another country.

My first wild flower, a native columbine, Aquilegia canadensis.

I think this is a pitch pine.

And the first red shoots at the bare tips of a tall sumac.

We crossed the six lane Cross Bay Boulevard to the East Pond, the one over which JFK's jets take off, thundering. The sign posted said TICKS. Great. Poison ivy and ticks. It was one of the first things I learned about Vince on his website's bio: He hates ticks. And last year he came down with the worst case of poison ivy I have seen. I think he's wondering what on earth he's doing on the East Coast.

But the path to the East Pond was very pretty. I preferred it to the other side. Birdsong everywhere, the light as green as the young birch leaves.

A boardwalk protected us from the worst of the mud.

Below - this is where we should have brought the forbidden picnic. A single bench stood at the water's edge, under old trees. Waterbirds dabbled, dived and took off. A birder with a telescope like a canon in a ship of the line (is that why Canon is called canon??) studied them expertly. He wasn't very friendly. Maybe because he hadn't brought a picnic.

I cracked up as I was about to sit on the bench. It had poison ivy sneaking up it. I think this must be a misanthropic ranger's idea of joke.

Three weeks later and a package has arrived per DHL. Inside was a pair of very nice Zeiss binoculars.

Now we can go back. It isn't the most peaceful spot in New York, but it is beautiful, and there is a lot to see. And a lot to fend off. Watch your back. And pack a civilized picnic. The fight must go on. We shall never surrender!

More about the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge


  1. All that time I thought New York's streets was where the adventure was...
    I know better now, the East Pond with it's Ticks and it's Poison Ivy.
    What will you pack, for your next pique-nique there? Baguette and Jambon Beurre sandwiches...
    Can't wait to read

  2. "Beach plums in full froth..."
    Half the world away, that fills me with delight!

    And I'd like a house like the third picture, please!

  3. Marie!

    I have reported you to the Picnic Police. They are now on the lookout for backpack bearing Smoothies.

    Glad to see that you two are enjoying spring. Cape Town has turned rainy.

  4. LOL, the picnic police, it sounds like a song... "The picnic police, they live inside of my head..." Anybody?

    Any way, I digress. Just wanted to mention that I, on the other hand, when it comes to National Parks and similar protected areas, tend to stick to the rules like a fly on cheese, no questions asked, rather submissively.

    For my defense, I can say that I have first-hand experience in standing on the other side of the fence, trying very hard to enforce protection policies and educate the public.

    Granted, not all public is dumb, nor all those who wander, lost. My National Parks were reefs. Gloves and a knife down below played the role of a picnic and litter above the surface. Still.

    There are rules, when I understand them, that I'd rather not break, even when I know I won't do any harm. Others might.

  5. Beence is right, of course.I'm of the "if you could carry it in, you can carry it out" philosophy.

  6. I have wanted to go there for ages... maybe when the dust of spring planting settles. And I'm going to check my pantry for a jar of autumn olive jelly. You might have to wait till the fall, but I aim to convert you!

  7. I guess you're right Beence, rules are there for a reason specially when it is comes to National Parks and protected areas. No need for any pique-nique police of any kind...

  8. I believe your honeysuckle is Lonicera maackii - a thuggish reseeder.

  9. ahhh! i love this place! i actually have only been in the dead of winter--we did a bonbon photoshoot there once... these photos are gorgeous marie--am so glad you had a beautiful saturday!


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