Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sea Robin Scenes

video

Sea Robin flesh is described as firm and tender when cooked. Great for a Julia Child bouillabaisse or for bait when fishing in the Long Island Sound, or so I’ve heard.

They can be seen at Beczak listening to Bizet, nodding their heads, fins swirling as they dance.

Sandra DeSando
Business and Grants Manager

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oyster Gardening—Month Six: The “Spat” on Oysters!


Beczak Environmental Education Center, located on the Yonkers riverfront, is part of the NY/NJ Baykeeper Oyster Restoration Program. In June 2009, six hundred “seed” oysters from Baykeepers’ Governors Island site were resettled in a floating cage hung off a piling in the Hudson River behind Beczak. Fifty of the oysters are in a sample study and kept in a separate cage. Educator Vicky Garufi checks them monthly to report back to NY/NJ Baykeeper. Watch this blog for her updates.


Having oysters at Beczak has been a great advantage to our education programs. This past fall we incorporated the oysters into our outdoor seining programs as an extra station for the larger class groups. Now, as part of our ongoing work with Yonkers Public Schools in which Beczak provides the labs for Riverside High School’s AP environmental class, we will study Hudson River oysters more closely.

November 17, I collected the larger sample of 550 oysters from the river, tossed them in a bucket, and drove them to the class of 10th graders that Beczak educators teach once a month. I introduced the role of oysters in the Hudson’s eco-system and we discussed why their population has declined drastically over the years. They learned about mollusks, both bivalves (oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops) and gastropods (snails) by viewing various shells.

Then the students worked in groups to measure the oysters, record each one’s length onto a data sheet, and identify its predators such as amphipods, mud crabs, and worms. I also showed them the string of oyster shells that secure to the cage when submerged in the river. The purpose of this is to collect spat. “Spat” is the larval form of oysters. When these oyster babies are released, they drift in the water and attach to hard substrates such as rocks, drift wood and different kinds of mollusk shells. November was the first time we spotted spat!

Finding spat is a great indicator that the river is getting cleaner and gives hope that oysters can once again survive and reproduce in the Hudson!

Find out more about Beczak’s oyster gardening program. Click on these links below.

Month One: The oysters arrive
Month Three: Oyster Check-up
Month Four: Students Observe the Oysters

NY/NJ Baykeeper Oyster Restoration Program
Beczak begins oyster gardening press release
“Moving Back Home” Hudson Valley Magazine



Vicky Garufi
Director of Education

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Commuting by Kayak


I ran from Beczak’s office to its marsh this morning to catch a glimpse of phenomenon I’d just heard about but never witnessed … a kayak commuter. And right in front of me, a yellow kayak pulled out of the choppy Hudson onto Beczak’s beach. A lean man unfolded out of the boat, took apart his paddle and placed it into a bag, hoisted his kayak onto his shoulder, carried it to nearby fence, and locked it up.

It was the practiced movements of any commuter.

I was amazed and a little jealous. I had driven to work that morning: he had an adventure. Who was this man?

Richard Scott, from Chestnut Ridge, NY—originally from England—and a software engineer at Aureon Labs in Yonkers.

“I've been commuting this way about 3 months. Today is crossing #45! I first had the idea earlier this summer during a walk at lunchtime when I saw the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club (YRPC) boathouse and the marina across the river in Alpine, NJ,” says Scott.

By car, Richard Scott’s 45-minute commute would take him across the Tappan Zee Bridge. In his preferred way, he drives 18 miles to the Alpine Boat Basin, in Alpine, NJ, where his kayak is chained to a tree in an undisclosed location. The second leg of the journey is a one-mile paddle across the river to Yonkers, NY. Leg three: stashing his gear and changing his clothes at YRPC and walking up the street to his workplace.

“I had no place to store my kayak on this side—getting permission from Cliff Schneider, the Executive Director of Beczak, to tie up here,” he said, motioning to the fence, “made all the difference.

“I soon realized that the crossing was feasible, in fact it is easy, and, I think, relatively safe. I don't understand why there isn't a small flotilla of kayakers crossing every day. What I have been most worried about is that someone may think of a reason why I am not allowed to do this, or may try to make it difficult,” Scott continued.

“It is a joy to cross this way—the river is incredibly beautiful in all weather conditions.”

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Gone but Not Forgotten


Many days this summer, my coworkers and I spotted a parakeet hopping around Beczak’s park all by its lonely self. Did the bird escape from the zoo? Someone’s home?

Parakeets are part of the parrot family. Presently, there are no longer any native parakeets in North America. All the parakeets we see in the wild are imported. The particular parakeet we see at Beczak seems to be a budgerigar. These birds are the most commonly sold parrot and frequently escape domestic life. They originally came from Australia. Their short hooked beaks are ideal for eating grass and crop seeds.

As it started to get colder and the leaves were changing color and falling, I wondered what would become of the parakeet with the winter season approaching. Then in mid-August, I noticed a large flock of sparrows picking at the grass. To my surprise, I saw the parakeet hopping among the smaller birds. It seems to have found a flock to follow!

I haven’t seen the sparrows or the parakeet for the last couple of weeks. I hope they all migrated south before winter begins. We will be on a watch for the striking parakeet. It will be in our thoughts throughout the cold winter days.


Dorene Sukup
Educator

Friday, October 30, 2009

Scouting the Hudson


As an Eagle Scout, one of my goals at Beczak was to develop a new and dynamic scout curriculum featuring an overnight camping program here at the center. My goal became a reality as Beczak held several “A Night at the Nature Center” programs this summer and fall. Two of our pilot groups were Pack 1 from New Rochelle and Pack 47 from Yonkers. Here are their experiences.

Upon arrival the excited scouts head straight down to the river for an evening of river seining. While we do not catch dinner in our nets, getting into the water is thrilling. Once we have gotten out of our waders and rolled up the net, it is time to set camp and cook dinner. The scouts pitch tents throughout our park while the braver few plan to sleep under the stars. Meanwhile, the scoutmasters fire up the charcoal grills and cook up some hamburgers and hotdogs. Nothing beats a great barbeque in the park! After dinner has been cleaned up, the scouts build bird feeders from recycled materials achieving several requirements for the World Conservation Award. Then it is time for what is the highlight of the night for me…the campfire! Roasting marshmallows and making s’mores along the Hudson River can’t be beat! All of these activities can make a scout tired, so it is time to hit the tent. It is amazing how quiet and peaceful it is camping out in downtown Yonkers! Before the scouts head out in the morning, they participate in a park clean-up. Here, they are giving back to Beczak, as well as achieving more requirements for their World Conservation Award.

Scoutmaster Tom Flynn from Pack 47 writes: “On behalf of Cub Scout Pack 47 Yonkers, New York, I would like to thank you, Anthony and Jason for the excellent program you ran. The seining along with the bird feeders and campfire activities were thoroughly enjoyed by both the scouts and their parents. I would recommend this program to all scouting groups as it is both educational and fun. Thank you again.”

I can’t wait for the spring and encourage all scouts to spend “A Night at the Nature Center!”

Jason Muller
Educator and Outreach Coordinator

Thursday, October 22, 2009

OCTOBER Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown


This special monthly feature to The Tidal Zone blog recounts the highlights that led to Henry Hudson’s sail past the tidal marsh of what is now Yonkers’ Beczak Environmental Education Center on September 13, 1609.

October 1609—where is Henry Hudson?

The Half Moon is sailing south back down the “Muhheakunnuk” (later called the Hudson River). Hudson and his crew are cranky that the river is not a passage west to the Pacific and their bad mood bleeds into bad judgment. Near Peekskill, a native sneaks into the Half Moon’s cabin and is shot dead. The cook kills another as he attempts to climb aboard. As the ship nears Manhattan, about 100 natives chase the Half Moon by canoe. Hudson orders guns to be fired at them and several more natives are killed. The Half Moon reaches the mouth of the river on October 4 and sets sail across the Atlantic to home.

October 2009 finds the replica of the Half Moon right here, docked at the Yonkers Pier. I went aboard last week. As I walked down two small stairways, I swear I passed animal furs, muskets, sea chests, crockery and arrows. I found Captain Chip Reynolds in the hold eating stew while various guys in caps and woolen sweaters milled about. Now I know why it is called a full-scale time machine—what year was I in? Captain Reynolds will recount adventures as the 21st century’s Henry Hudson at Beczak Environmental Education Center this Saturday, October 24, at 7 PM. Life Aboard the Half Moon is $5—call 914 377-1900 x 13 for more information.

Lenore Person
Marketing and Communications Manager

Wind back the clock and follow the events that lead to the Half Moon’s sail up the Hudson River in 1609!

JANUARY Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
FEBRUARY Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
MARCH Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
APRIL Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
MAY Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
JUNE Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
JULY Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
AUGUST Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The River That Runs Both Ways


“The first time I came to Beczak, over twenty years ago, none of this was here,” singer/songwriter/captain Rick Nestler told me, referring to Beczak’s interpretive center and thick green tidal marsh.

I called Rick Nestler to chat about his famous song “The River that Flows Both Ways” because on October 25 he will be playing it at Beczak as part of River Songs, a jam session featuring dozens of musicians performing original songs about the Hudson.

Our conversation touched on events thirty years past and showed me how Beczak Environmental Education Center is part of the Hudson River’s activist heritage, a cousin to legendary river organizations like Clearwater and Ferry Sloops and connected to Hudson River troubadours Pete Seeger and Rick Nestler.

Here’s how. Back in the 60’s when the Hudson River was very polluted and dirty, folk singer Pete Seeger had an inspiration—if people sailed on the river, they would be moved to help clean it up. After much hard work the Hudson River sloop Clearwater was built and it sailed up and down the Hudson helping to spread the word of the environmental movement. The next step, Pete and others thought, was to build smaller boats that would sail out of other river communities. The Woody Guthrie was built for Pete (eventually donated to the Beacon Sloop Club) and the new group called Ferry Sloops in Yonkers tackled building the Sojourner Truth. This was in the 1980s and it involved people like Bob Walters, Joe Beczak, Rick Nestler and others. It was finally finished and sailed, but it took 5 years! After that the energy of Yonkers’ Ferry Sloops became Beczak Environmental Education Center.

“But back to ‘The River That Flows Both Ways,’” Rick Nestler continued, “While we were building the Sojourner Truth, I helped Pete Seeger sail the Woodie Guthrie to Troy. He told a crowd there, ‘I could be happy just sailing my little boat back and forth across the Hudson River.’ And that was the inspiration for ‘The River that Flows Both Ways.’”

Dom Pirone of the Hudson River Fishermen calls Rick Nestler “a real Hudson River Troubadour.” Joe Franklin of WOR-TV calls him “the Hudson River Balladeer.” Pete Seeger calls Rick, “the Terror of the River, raffish Rick Nestler.” Come hear him on October 25 in River Songs: A Celebration of the Hudson.


“The River That Flows Both Ways”
© 1980 Rick Nestler

Once the Sachems told a story
Of a land the Great Spirit blessed
And the people followed the legend
From the great water in the west.
They they stopped where they found
That the fishing was good
The earth it was fertile, Game ran in the wood

[Refrain twice]
And I could be happy just spending my days
On the river that flows both ways.

First came the trappers, then the traders
Their own fortunes for to find
And the valley treated them kindly
So the farmers followed close behind
Then the sloops sailed well laden 'round the batter
With flour from Yonkers, fur from Albany

[Repeat Refrain]

Writers and painters have shown its beauty
In its waters and on the shore
While musicians sing its praises
And keep alive the river's lore
with the sun settin' golden o'er the Palisades
Afternoon ends and the daylight fades

[Repeat Refrain]

Maybe it's the moonshine; maybe it's the starlight
Reflected in Haverstraw Bay
Maybe it's the fog that rolls off the highlands
At the break of a brand new day
But apple cider and pumpkins, strawberries and corn
Make the people of the river glad they've been born.

[Repeat Refrain]

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Oyster Gardening - Month Four: Students Observe the Oysters


Beczak Environmental Education Center, located on the Yonkers riverfront, is part of the NY/NJ Baykeeper Oyster Restoration Program. In June 2009, six hundred “seed” oysters from Baykeepers’ Governors Island site were resettled in a floating cage hung off a piling in the Hudson River behind Beczak. Fifty of the oysters are in a sample study and kept in a separate cage. Educator Vicky Garufi checks them monthly to report back to NY/NJ Baykeeper. Watch this blog for her updates.

My month four oyster check-up coincided with a September Catch of the Day seining program with a fourth grade class from Christ the King School in Yonkers led by teacher Kathryn Burke. The class was eager to experience all the river has to offer. They wore their waders proudly as they dragged the net through the water, catching blue crabs, shrimp and various slimy fish.

As an added bonus to the program, I waded out to a piling in the Hudson and hauled up Beczak’s oyster cage and opened it on a work table. The students picked their way through the muddy oysters, counting and sorting 12 empty shells from the live oysters. Nine shells were empty last month, which means that three more oysters have died since August. Using rulers, the students measured the biggest oyster at 50 mm and smallest oyster at 30 mm. Boys and girls were elbow deep in mud, and excited to see the tiny amphipods, shrimp and mud crabs creep their way out of the oyster pile.

After all the oysters were recorded, the class ventured back toward the marsh to watch me crawl into the river to set the cage again. The tide had risen since I first pulled the cage and I literally had to swim in my waders to reach the piling! The students cheered me on as I placed the oysters safely back to the water. I was soaked! But it was worth it to see the smiles and joy on the children’s faces. Mission Accomplished!

Vicky Garufi
Director of Education and Outreach

Find out more about Beczak’s oyster gardening program. Click on these links below.

Month One: The oysters arrive
Month Three: Oyster Check-up

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Oyster Gardening

Beczak Environmental Education Center, located on the Yonkers riverfront, is part of the NY/NJ Baykeeper Oyster Restoration Program. In June 2009, six hundred “seed” oysters from Baykeepers’ Governors Island site were resettled in a floating cage hung off a piling in the Hudson River behind Beczak. Fifty of the oysters are in a sample study and kept in a separate cage. Educator Vicky Garufi checks them monthly to report back to NY/NJ Baykeeper. Watch this blog for her updates.

It’s month three of oyster gardening. In July, when our summer interns and I checked on our oysters for the first time, a photographer from Gannett Newspaper was clicking over my shoulder. Nine of the oyster shells were open and empty—telltale signs of a dead oyster.

The August oyster check is more private, just Dorene and I. We put on our waders and walked down to the river. A great blue heron—the first one of the summer—quickly takes flight as we approach the water. Small mud crabs plunge off the wire cage as we haul it out of the water.

Our hands drip with slimy green algae after we carry the oyster cage to the picnic table and pry open the traps. No more have died since last month! We measure the remaining ones with the office ruler. For the most part the oysters do not show much of a growth spurt; at 25 mm to 48 mm they remain close to the same size as the previous month. We pick and flick mud crabs, barnacles and amphipods and other predators from the cage, then wade back into the water to place the oyster cage back on its piling.

Vicky Garufi
Education Program Manager

Find out more about Beczak’s oyster gardening program. Click on these links below.

The oysters arrive
NY/NJ Baykeeper Oyster Restoration Program
Beczak begins oyster gardening press release
“Moving Back Home” Hudson Valley Magazine

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Paddle Party

Monday, August 17, 2009

Last Saturday, nineteen paddlers camped overnight on Beczak Environmental Education Center’s lawn. They were the 2009 crew of the Great Champlain-Hudson River Paddle, a fifteen-day kayak trip that covers 195 miles, starting at Fort Edward (forty-five miles north of Albany), and finishing at Pier 40 in Manhattan.

A dozen children and I painted a fourteen-foot WELCOME sign earlier that morning, and we tied it onto the riverfront fence to celebrate the paddlers’ arrival. We cheered and whistled as the men and women pulled up in their sleek red, orange and yellow sea kayaks. While the paddlers unloaded their tents and gear, children explored the river in sit-on-top kayaks provided by the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club and in Beczak’s waterproof waders as they seined for fish.

The children’s awe and excitement was contagious and I could almost see their daydreams of the river adventures they would have when they were grown up.

Dorene Sukup
Educator

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Marine Invaders

A few weeks ago an invader to the Hudson River was captured and brought to Beczak. The suspect had a shell that was about 3 inches across along with hairy claws. It may sound like something out of a science fiction movie but it was actually a Chinese Mitten Crab. The mitten crab is not native to the Hudson River. It actually made its way here in the ballast water on trade boats traveling from China and Korea.
The mitten crab is considered to be an invasive species in the Hudson River. This means that it could potentially have a negative impact on the natural ecosystem of the Hudson. I say potentially because these impacts are not known. Mitten crabs have not yet fully established themselves in the Hudson River, but if they do they could compete with other native species for food. They are also known to destructively burrow into riverbanks which could affect things such as earthen dams. Because of these reasons, the DEC asks that anyone who finds a mitten crab dead or alive notify them. The crab that was found here in Yonkers was collected by the DEC for further testing. Hopefully we will learn more about what the mitten crab means to the future of the Hudson River.

Jason Muller
Educator/Technology Specialist

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

AUGUST Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown

The Delaware Bay

This special monthly feature to The Tidal Zone blog recounts the highlights that led to Henry Hudson’s sail past the tidal marsh of what is now Yonkers’ Beczak Environmental Education Center on September 13, 1609.

The Half Moon sails south along the east coast of what will one day be the United States of America. Captain Henry Hudson is looking for a sea that cuts through to the Pacific—a westerly passageway to the riches of Asia.

He stares at each river through his spyglass trying to discern if it is the one or merely the false hope of an estuary. He’s well acquainted with the wide-mouthed salty rivers that receive and release the tides of an ocean. His native England has the Thames Estuary, in which the River Thames meets the waters of the North Sea, and Amsterdam, where the Half Moon set sail, is built on the IJ Estuary.

After fair, hot weather for weeks, the Half Moon reaches the English settlement of Jamestown amid sudden gusts of wind and rain. Hudson calls for the ship to turn north again, hugging the shoreline.

The lookout reports a large bay. Hudson takes a sounding—the water is deep. His heart pounds as they sail into the wide waterway, yet after about nine miles it becomes too shallow and full of shoals. The current, moreover, sets outward with such force he realizes he is at the mouth of a large and rapid river. With an angry shout to his crew he orders a turnaround. The Half Moon goes back to sea and heads north again.

Lenore Person
Marketing and Communications Manager

Wind back the clock and follow the events that lead to the Half Moon’s sail up the Hudson River in 1609!

JANUARY Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
FEBRUARY Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
MARCH Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
APRIL Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
MAY Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
JUNE Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
JULY Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

One Happy Camper


Summer Adventures 2009 was the second year of summer camp at Beczak Environmental Education Center. Educators with degrees in marine biology and environmental studies ran the camp with assistance from ten Riverside High School students hired as counselors through a grant with Yonkers Public Schools. Thirty-five children attended during the two one-week programs, and enjoyed Catch of the Day Seining at Beczak’s beach as well as field expeditions to the Piermont wetlands, NJ Palisades, Greenburgh Nature Center and the Science Barge at the Yonkers Pier.

Here’s a letter from one happy camper.

Dear Beczak,

“Thank you for letting us go on the trips. They were real fun. My favorite part was when we went seining. It was fun. I liked all the fish we caught. The waders were really big. My favorite fish was the blue crabs. We caught a lot of striped anchovies. I learned about many fish. I learned the male blue crabs have a rocket shaped belly. The female blue crabs have triangle bellies. Thank you”

Sincerely,
Emily

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wet as a Drowned Rat

Monday, July 13, 2009

Before each Catch of the Day Seining program at Beczak Environmental Education Center, I, my coworkers, or volunteers always evaluate the beach, move driftwood, pickup garbage and set up our equipment. Today, when the interns and I went down to the beach, we smelled something bad. Something rotting. I took a look at the high tide line and found not just one, but two dead river rats washed up with flies buzzing all around them and part of their fur gone. They must have drowned during the storm.

That was a first for all of us. As we removed the corpses from the water, I thought about that expression “wet as a drowned rat.” I looked it up and found that this simile appeared in Latin nearly 2,000 years ago, and in English about the year 1500. What we discovered on Beczak’s beach was nothing new.

Dorene Sukup
Educator

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

July Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown

This special monthly feature to The Tidal Zone blog recounts the highlights that led to Henry Hudson’s sail past the tidal marsh of what is now Yonkers’ Beczak Environmental Education Center on September 13, 1609.

The compass on the Half Moon has been pointed west for over a month and it has led the ship to a fearsome place of ghostly white. The sailors have entered the foggiest place on earth, a place that would one day be called the Grand Banks of the island of Newfoundland, Canada.

When the sun breaks through, when they catch cod by the basketful and when their sounding line indicates that land is near, the men can put aside their worries. But when they hear the drums of this strange land’s people, or when the ship’s cat goes crazy, crying and running from one side of the ship to another, superstitions and distrust return like the thick fog.

By mid July the Half Moon has reached Penobscot Bay, in present-day Maine. Crewmen guardedly trade with natives. Robert Juet, Hudson’s first mate, records, “The people coming aboard showed us great friendship, but we could not trust them.” On July 25, anxiety flares into insanity. Juet takes an armed crew of six men to the native village and steals one of their boats. Later in the evening, a dozen armed men go back and drive the Indians away from their encampment, stealing everything they could, on the pretense the natives would have done the same to them. Fearful of an Indian counterattack, Hudson sails away at 5 a.m.

Lenore Person
Marketing and Communications Manager

Wind back the clock and follow the events that lead to the Half Moon’s sail up the Hudson River in 1609!

JANUARY Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
FEBRUARY Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
MARCH Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
APRIL Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
MAY Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
JUNE Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away

video

When I think about the month of June, bright sunshine and warm breezes come to mind. That was before this year. This June was more reminiscent of Seattle than the Hudson Valley! To put things into perspective, I took a look at the record books.

Using Beczak Environmental Education Center in Yonkers as a reference point we can see just how cool and wet this past month was relative to normal. The average temperature for the month of June is 71.2 degrees. This year the average was 67.5 degrees or 3.7 degrees below normal. This ranks June 2009 as the 8th coldest June all time. If we take a look at the precipitation total for the month, we had 10.06 inches of rain. This is 6.22 inches above our normal total for the month of June. That ranks June 2009 as the 2nd wettest of all time. Additionally, it rained on 23 of 30 days this month. What was the cause of our extreme weather?

The continuous wet weather was the result of a persistent trough of low pressure over the eastern third of the nation. Troughs allow cooler air from Canada to seep into the area while tracking storms in our direction. While we were under the trough, areas in the southern plains were under a ridge of high pressure. Texas all the way up to southern Illinois experienced temperatures well into the 90’s and 100’s.

In the coming weeks, a ridge of high pressure over the central part of the country will begin to move east. This will bring summerlike temperatures and drier weather to the Hudson Valley…finally!


Jason Muller
Educator/Technology Specialist

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Oyster Gardening

I went on a New York City adventure last week… not to see a show, visit a gallery or buy new shoes… but to collect oysters! Cliff Schneider, Beczak’s Executive Director, and I took Metro-North, the 1 train, and the South Ferry to Governors Island to participate in the NY Oyster Gardening Project in collaboration with the NY/NJ Baykeeper.

Katie Mosher-Smith, the NY Oyster Program Coordinator, greeted us as we stepped off the ferry onto Governors Island. She explained how oysters are vital to the wellbeing of the Hudson River Estuary, and how Baykeeper is encouraging the restoration of this keystone species. She distributed our cages and gear. The oyster counting was left to us. Cliff and I reached into our bucket of 2-year-old oysters and counted groups of 50 until we reached our total number of 600 oysters. “It’s like carrying a five pound bag of pistachios,” said Cliff as he hefted the bivalves and the cage back on to the South Ferry.

Cliff and I made a lot of new friends on Manhattan’s streets and subways as we answered questions about what we were carrying. We finally made it back to Beczak and placed the oysters into the tidal tank to hold them overnight.

The oysters are now hanging off a piling in the Hudson River. Beczak’s education department will measure 50 of the oysters once a month for Baykeeper’s sample study, and submit the data to Katie. I’m excited to see how these oysters will flourish in our brackish water. Stop by and see how the oyster project is going!

Education Program Manager
Vicky Garufi

Monday, June 15, 2009

What’s that Noise?

video

Thursday, June 11, 2009

On sunny days my co-workers and I eat lunch at the picnic table outside Beczak Environmental Education Center. There’s a birdhouse on a post a few feet away, facing the Hudson River, and we often see tree swallows swooping in and out.

Today, above all the usual bird chatter, I heard an aria of high peeping. Looking around, I noticed a swallow circling from the birdhouse, over into the marsh, and then back to the little house. On one particular rotation, the bird stopped on the birdhouse vestibule and displayed a small feather between its beak. A nest contribution!

I got a stepping stool and flashlight and peered in the birdhouse. I couldn’t see the baby birds, but sure heard them calling to their parents. I can’t wait to watch them get bigger and take their first flying lessons.

Dorene Sukup
Educator

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Great River Day Flotilla


This past Saturday was the official kick-off of the Quadricentennial that marks the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson sailing up our beautiful river. In celebration, a flotilla of historic ships gathered at 8:00 AM in New York Harbor by the Statue of Liberty to parade up the Hudson River. I was fortunate to be on the sloop Clearwater, representing Beczak Environmental Education Center, along with guests from the Metropolitan Water Alliance, the Society for the Education of American Sailors and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

We sailed past many celebrations along the river as well as out in the Hudson. For me, though, the best welcome was in Yonkers. We were met by an array of colorful kayaks from the Yonkers Paddle and Rowing Club. At the Yonkers Pier, a large and enthusiastic crowd cheered. A magnificent water spray by the John J. Harvey fireboat answered cannon salutes from shore. Next, we passed Beczak Environmental Education Center where families, staff, friends, and visitors lined the beach waving flags.

I was moved to see our beautiful waterfront environmental center and its lush marsh—a living, breathing oasis—between urban apartment buildings and a school bus parking lot. I thought of the thousands of children who enjoy this fantastic place and wondered how many new environmentalists are inspired and awakened at Beczak.

I stepped off the Clearwater in Tarrytown at 7:30 PM exhilarated by this once-in-my-lifetime celebration of the Hudson River.

Clifford Schneider
Executive Director

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

June Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown


This special monthly feature to The Tidal Zone blog recounts the highlights that led to Henry Hudson’s sail past the tidal marsh of what is now Yonkers’ Beczak Environmental Education Center on September 13, 1609.

The decision to break contract with the Dutch East India Company is done. In late May, freezing weather and dangerous icebergs off the coast of Norway pushed the Half Moon’s crew to near mutiny. Hudson used this opportunity to change the goal of the trip. Instead of the agreed upon route to China—sailing north around Russia—the Half Moon is now heading west to North America.

Through the month of June 1609, the Half Moon sails across the Atlantic. It’s unexplored territory for everyone on the boat. The force of the current, today known as the Gulf Stream, unnerves the sailors. Tension builds as more storms hit the little ship and the Half Moon’s foremast is swept overboard and her deck damaged. A temporary mast and foresail are erected during a calm.

The captain and his crew are all outlaws now. They’ve broken contract with their employers, came close to mutiny, and now they consider piracy. They spot another ship and attempt to catch her, chasing her most of the day, hoping to capture her for booty. But the other ship manages to outrun the clumsy Half Moon.

Lenore Person
Marketing and Communications Manager

Wind back the clock and follow the events that lead to the Half Moon’s sail up the Hudson River in 1609!

JANUARY Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
FEBRUARY Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
MARCH Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
APRIL Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown
MAY Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tugboat Rest Stop


When I look out of Beczak’s windows and see a tugboat and barge at a standstill in the Hudson, I’m mystified. Here’s the thing. Where I live, in Dobbs Ferry, tugs and barges continually move up and down the Hudson. But here in Yonkers, tugboat and barges often stop for hours, even days. Why?

I decided to ask Ed Zabonik, launch operator of the Yonkers Hudson River Pilots, just two doors up Alexander Street.

We chatted in his office, on the second floor of a small disheveled building. Ed gestured out the window at the Hudson River Pilot boat docked at an old pier. “Pilots are certified to take a barge between Sandy Hook and Yonkers, or between Yonkers and Norrie Point. My job is to drive the pilot boat boat out to meet the tugs coming through Yonkers. I ferry new pilots out with me and bring the off-duty ones back to land.”

Ed chuckled at my question about why tugs and barges stop in Yonkers. “They’re taking a break. Either they’re waiting for their next orders or there’s no place else for them to go.” He explained that while Yonkers is not an official Coast Guard anchorage, ships often stop here if the anchorages are full or if a boat has no place else to go. “It’s a calm, out of the way place to park for a while. They can be out there for two days or two weeks. The record number of barges I’ve seen anchored at Yonkers was sixteen!”

Ed continued, “Sometimes you see the tugs leave the barge. That means the pilots need to go shopping. They tie up their tug at the Yonkers City Pier and catch a cab up to the A&P.”

I asked Ed if barges would be cleared out of the river on June 6, River Day, when hundreds of boats are expected to sail up the Hudson. He shrugged. “As of now, no one knows. The Coast Guard is the only agency that can close the river to commercial traffic.”

Lenore Person
Marketing and Communications Manager

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Blessing of the Hudson

May 13, 2009

“We give blessings to the river to honor what the river gives us and for the remembrance of our ancestors that have passed on. We feel their spirit is alive on the water.”

Tony Moon Hawk of the Turtle Clan of the Unkechaug Nation and Marcey Tree in the Wind of the Turtle Clan of the Ramapough shared these words on Earth Day 2009 at Beczak’s riverfront. I stood alongside them and a dozen other guests including local clergy, musicians, and community leaders to ask God’s blessings on the Hudson River.

Everyone had a moment to honor the waters of the Hudson in their own way, while, all around us, life continued to thrive. As the clergy took turns offering a ceremonial blessing, the rising tide brought plankton to feed the young fish in the marsh. As the river carried ashes of a burned white sage leaf and an ear of corn that Mr. Moon Hawk tossed in to honor the river’s gifts of food and a trade route, mummichogs lay eggs on the muddy bottom of the tidal pool.

Today I stood on the rocks of Beczak’s beach looking at the beautiful Palisades cliffs and taking in the cool morning air. I once again felt the quiet of the Hudson River connect me to my world.

Steve Ruff
Director of Programs

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

May Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown

This special monthly feature to The Tidal Zone blog recounts the highlights that led to Henry Hudson’s sail past the tidal marsh of what is now Yonkers’ Beczak Environmental Education Center on September 13, 1609.

“Turn her around”… “He’s a mad man”…“We’ll die here”… the Half Moon crew mutters to each other.

The Half Moon has been at sea for one month and by early May she is within thirty miles of Norway, right on schedule. But the sailors are bitterly cold and scared. The raging snowstorms, whiteouts and menacing icebergs make Dutchmen throw insults at English, who reply with shoves and punches.

But today is different. Perhaps it is the howling wind that unites them against their captain. “Put him out!” they demand together. It’s mutiny, punishable by death.

Backed against the bow of the boat, Hudson offers the crew a choice. They could sail southwest looking for the Indies by way of a sea just north of the English colony in Virginia, or they could search for a more northerly passage via Davis Strait. The sailors choose the warmer route. Hudson calls for the ship to turn back and head across the Atlantic, breaking his contract with the Dutch East India Company.

Two days later, another violent storm, the worst of the voyage, rocks the ship. The crew’s fear returns; Hudson stays in his cabin poring over maps.

Lenore Person
Marketing and Communications Manager

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Seahorse Scenes!

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April 25, 2009

Beczak’s seining season has just begun. From April to October, we give our visitors waterproof boots and pants called waders and show them how to drag a long fishing net through the Hudson. Last weekend, our seine team caught white perch, striped bass, pipefish, shrimp, and some kind of ball of sediment and leaves. Megan, one of our volunteers, began to search through this mud and realized that there was something living in it. To our surprise, it was a lined seahorse! The seahorse measured about two inches in length and was the first that I had caught this far upriver.

The lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus) is a close relative of the northern pipefish, a common catch in our net. While pipefish can be spotted up to 50 miles upriver in brackish water, the lined seahorse has more of a limited range. It can be found as for north as the Tappan Zee Bridge, but increases in numbers in the New York Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. Since this seahorse is so small, it was likely carried upriver by the strong currents.

Spotting a seahorse here in Yonkers was a very exciting find. This is just another example of why I always tell my students that you never know what you’ll catch in the Beczak seine net!

Jason Muller
Educator/Technology Specialist

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Return of the Mummichogs!

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I stood on the bridge that spans Beczak’s marsh channel. Ahead of me was the low marsh—the mucky portion that leads to the sparking Hudson. Behind me was the high marsh, lush with grasses. And below me, the tidal pool rippled with dozens of little splashes. It could only mean one thing—the return of the mummichogs!

Mummichog is the Native American name for “fish that travel in schools.” These small fish, no bigger than 4 inches, travel together in and out of Hudson River marshes with the tides. At low tide they swim in circles trapped in Beczak’s tidal pool, and as the water level rises they swim out to the river. Mummichogs find their favorite foods in marshes, too—small fish, crustaceans and plant matter. But there’s another important reason for the splashes in our tidal pool.

Marshes provide a safe haven for mummichogs to lay their eggs. This process is called spawning. Mummichogs spawn from April to August. They deposit their eggs at the bottom of the shallow water. There the eggs hatch and turn to tiny fish, around 7mm long. The small mummichogs wander around the marsh on their own until they reach 15-20mm long. At this point they will start swimming in schools and venture from Beczak’s marsh into the Hudson River.

Vicky Garufi
Education Program Manager

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Glimpse of the Palisades’ Past

I walked around Beczak’s marsh this morning enjoying, as usual, the view of the Palisades across the river. But today, two patches of yellow crowning the gray cliffs caught my eye. Could that be forsythia? I was pretty sure that forsythia is not a native plant. Was I was seeing a descendant of someone's landscaped grounds… a blooming ghost of one of the estates that used to top the Palisades?

I e-mailed Eric Nelsen, Historic Interpreter at Palisades Interstate Park and asked if there were any ruins on the summit of the Palisades directly across from Beczak. (Eric is Director of the Kearney House, the two hundred year old tavern across the river from Yonkers. Beczak staff call him “our neighbor across the street.”)

Eric replied, “Cliffdale, the estate of George Zabriskie, built in 1911.” He gave me a link to an article that confirmed my forsythia hunch. It said Cliffdale’s twenty-five acres included terraced gardens on the cliff edge. The mansion was demolished in the mid-1930s: John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased the property in 1930 and donated it, along with other cliff top properties, to the Palisades Park Commission with the stipulation that the Palisades skyline be returned to its natural appearance.

These forsythia’s yellow branches offer a fleeting glimpse of the Palisades’ past, visible only to springtime hikers stumbling through the ruins of Cliffdale and visitors to Beczak who chance to look up at the cliffs at the right time in April.

More about Cliffdale: http://www.njpalisades.org/cn2008_01-02.htm

Lenore Person
Marketing and Communications Manager

Thursday, April 16, 2009

April Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown

This special monthly feature to The Tidal Zone blog recounts the highlights that led to Henry Hudson’s sail past the tidal marsh of what is now Yonkers’ Beczak Environmental Education Center on September 13, 1609.

Pieter Claesz Still Life

The night before the Half Moon is due to depart Amsterdam, Henry Hudson asks his wife, Katherine, to make his favorite meal. Oysters. A platter of palm sized belon, harvested from the BĂ©lon River in Brittany, that taste of the sea. Hudson eats with his wife and sons John, Richard and Oliver. This will be his third voyage in three years and he savors the food, his chair, the dishes and warm apartment.

Early the next morning, he and his son John leave for the harbor and board their boat.

On April 6, 1609, the Half Moon sets sail. Two days later, she clears the island of Texel, leaving all Dutch land behind. For the next month, Henry Hudson captains his ship in the direction of the North Cape of Norway, as per his contract with the Dutch East India Company. He has been stuck in these ice-clotted Artic waters before.

Lenore Person
Marketing and Communications Manager

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Spring has Sprung!

The temperature has risen, melting all signs of winter. Trees are budding, plants are getting greener, and new plants are sprouting from the dark rich soil of the Beczak marsh. What signs do you see that tell you spring is here?

Dorene Sukup
Educator

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Devil's Heads!


“Mr. Jay, what is this?” It’s a common question when a student hands me a water chestnut. The water chestnut, dark in color and full of pointy spikes, triggers the imagination like few other objects which appear on our beach at Beczak. “Could it be a sharks tooth, or maybe an egg?” “How did it get here?”

While the story of the water chestnut isn’t quite as exciting as what it generates in the minds of our students, it is still an interesting find. The species that we see in the Hudson River is the European water chestnut (Trapa natans). This invasive plant found its way into the Hudson River in 1884 possibly as an introduced source of food for waterfowl or an escaped plant from a water garden. The water chestnut grows in fresh water and may quickly overspread native plant species. This has the potential to alter the Hudson River ecosystem.


If the water chestnut grows in fresh water, how do we find the nuts here in Yonkers, where the water is brackish? The answer is simple – the tides. In fact, the tides will carry the floating chestnuts all the way to the beaches of Sandy Hook, NJ where swimmers will painfully step on them. Consequently, the locals like to refer to them as Devil’s heads!

Jason Muller
Educator/Technology Specialist



Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown

This special monthly feature to The Tidal Zone blog recounts the highlights that led to Henry Hudson’s sail past the tidal marsh of what is now Yonkers’ Beczak Environmental Education Center on September 13, 1609.

Henry Hudson does not have a ship of his own. Although he has been at sea since he was a boy and has already captained two other sea expeditions, he must depend on his employers for a vessel.

In March 1609, the Dutch East India Company assigns the Halve Maen to Hudson. She is a fast sailing yacht, but lighter than usual and cramped for an eighteen-man crew. Hudson complains of the choice, saying, “she will prove difficult to handle in foul weather.” The director, Dirk Van Os, replies, “The Half Moon is the only ship at the disposal of the Dutch East India Company... We can give you no other ship. If you do not want the Half Moon, the Company will be obliged to find another Captain to carry out this assignment.”

The directors instruct Hudson to sail no later than the fifteenth day of March. But Hudson delays; still conflicted about the route he will take to the Spice Islands of the Orient.

Lenore Person
Marketing and Communications Manager

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kayaking Begins

I took a walk to the riverfront to get some fresh air on this warmer than usual March day. Standing on the beach, I turned towards the sun and felt my face relax. A kayaker paddling upstream—we waved and smiled to each other sharing in the great moment.

Beczak Environmental Education Center is right next door to the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club. Seeing their kayakers on the Hudson River means spring is quickly nearing!

Vicky Garufi
Education Program Manager


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Eagle Sighting

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Many people ask me, “Do you see eagles at Beczak?” I tell them that sightings have been made, but I’m usually in the office that doesn’t face the river. As of today, however, my reply has changed.

My co-worker Jason was walking along the path to check the marsh when he spotted a bald eagle on Beczak’s beach. The eagle was feasting on a big, tasty striped bass. Jason called me at my desk from his cell phone. I grabbed the camera and my jacket and walked very quickly down to the beach. I was too late to see the eagle eat his catch, but I was thrilled to look up and see the magnificent bird gliding in circles overhead. I have seen my first eagle!

Dorene Sukup
Educator

Monday, February 23, 2009

February Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown

This special monthly feature to The Tidal Zone blog recounts the highlights that led to Henry Hudson’s sail past the tidal marsh of what is now Yonkers’ Beczak Environmental Education Center on September 13, 1609.

Petrus Plancius map from 1599.

Sky blues and sunset purples bring a calm beauty to Petrus Plancius’ map of the world, drawn just ten years ago in 1599. Henry Hudson traces the routes he has sailed with his finger, remembering the utter whiteness of the frozen sea. He and Plancius, the freethinking Dutch astronomer and cartographer, are in Hudson’s Amsterdam apartment. Speaking in Latin—their common language—they discuss the route Hudson should take when he sails for China in two months. The Dutch United East India Company has hired him to find a northeast passage. But is that possible? No one has succeeded yet. Open books and unrolled maps cover the table, telling the discoveries of Ferdinand de Soto, who claimed a new world for Spain, George Weymouth, who claimed another part for the English, as well as Hudson’s friend Captain John Smith of the English settlement of Jamestown in the colony of Virginia.

A Lenape man sitting along the river Muhheakantuck, over 3,650 miles away, is equally lost in his thoughts. The previous evening, in the Meeting House, he heard a startling prophecy from a tribal elder. “A big boat is coming on the horizon. Those on it will change our way of life forever.”

Lenore Person
Marketing and Communications Manager

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Beczak's New Residents

If you recently visited Beczak, you may have met the newest additions to our aquaria collection: 3 red-eared sliders. Compared to Gloria, our snapping turtle, these sliders are very docile. In fact, they are easy to handle and won’t try to bite your finger off!

Red-eared sliders live in fresh water, meaning they would not be found in the brackish Hudson River water here in Yonkers. While sliders like to spend most of their time wading, they also enjoy basking in the sun. When it is time for dinner, I feed them a balanced diet of yummy fish, veggies, and reptile pellets.
Many visitors wonder if our sliders are males or females. Here are two clues I tell them to look for. Once the turtles mature, the females will be larger than the males. Yet, males have much longer nails on their claws. This is an adaptation which is used during mating. The males will wave their long nails in front of the females as a way to get their attention. Now that you know how to tell the difference between male and female sliders, stop by Beczak and help us name our new residents!

Jason Muller
Educator/Technology Specialist

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tortilla Chips and Hotdogs for Bait!

The fish and turtles in Beczak’s indoor aquariums eat every other day. We feed them fish from the Hudson River. Mummichogs and Atlantic silversides are caught during our seining programs and stored in the office freezer. However, this week we ran out. Time to go fishing! Beczak educator Jason Muller ventured out into the snow last week to set fish traps in the marsh. He filled the traps with hotdogs and tortilla chips. “I thought the oil and salt would attract fish,” he explained. In just a few hours, about ten mummichogs nibbled on the chips and were trapped! We put them in a zip lock bag and placed that in the freezer. Today is feeding day. We will chop up almost all of our catch for our white perch, striped bass, and crayfish. The blue crabs, red-eared sliders and common slapping turtle will eat the thawed mummichogs whole. The hungry animals will have a great lunch!

Vicky Garufi
Education Program Manager

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

January Hudson Quadricentennial Countdown

This special monthly feature to The Tidal Zone blog recounts the highlights that led to Henry Hudson’s sail past the tidal marsh of what is now Yonkers’ Beczak Environmental Education Center on September 13, 1609.

2009 is the Quadricentennial, or 400th anniversary, of Henry Hudson’s 1609 voyage up the Hudson River. It was Hudson’s third attempt to find a shorter trading route to the Orient—the existing route, around the southern tip of Africa, was lengthy and dangerous with piracy.

In January 1609, Henry Hudson signed a contract with the Dutch United East India Company to find a northeast passage to Asia. His fee for leading the expedition was 800 guilders; his wife would get an additional 200 guilders, plus more, if he failed to return in a year. The contract was quite specific as to where Hudson was meant to explore. He was told to leave about the first of April and sail around the Arctic Ocean north of Russia, into the Pacific and on to the Far East… contract terms that Hudson would soon ignore.

Lenore Person
Marketing and Communications Manager

Monday, January 26, 2009

Beczak’s Visitor

At 9 AM today, while I was opening up the Beczak Environmental Education Center, I found a small brown bird lying in a ball on the ground. Its feathers were puffed up, which is what birds do to conserve their body heat. I picked it up and checked its wings and feet to see if the bird was hurt. Everything seemed fine except one of its eyes wouldn’t open. I tried to warm the bird by rubbing it gently between my gloves. When that didn’t seem to work, I fetched a piece of felt to wrap the bird in, and brought it inside.

I put the bundle in a shoebox on my desk and took a close look. Its bill was yellow and black, and it had a rusty-colored eye line and crown. There was a small dark spot on its chest. These arks identified it as an American Tree Sparrow, or Spizella arborea, which I double-checked in National Audubon Society: The Sibley Guide to Birds. This common Hudson Valley bird winters in small flocks in brushy habitats alike the Beczak marsh.

In a few hours, the bird began to move around. I could tell it had defrosted, and I released it back to its winter home.

Dorene Sukup
Educator

Saturday, January 17, 2009

How Low Can it Go?

After several years of mild winters, the Hudson Valley has been blasted by an arctic air mass. This frigid air blew out of Alaska where temperatures fell as low as -69 degrees! While we didn’t experience those types of extremes around here, Yonkers has not seen temperatures near zero in several years. Areas up and down the Hudson saw wind-whipped snow and temperatures falling below zero. Large sheets of ice now cover the river.

Saturday’s temperature of 3 degrees begs the question, how low can it go? Well, all we have to do is take a look back into the record books. On February 9, 1934, Central Park fell to an all-time record low of -15 degrees. Moving upriver, Albany saw the temperature drop all the way to -28 degrees on January 19, 1971. Will we ever see temperatures that low again here in the Hudson Valley? I think that is a question which will be debated for some time to come.

Jason Muller
Educator/Technology Specialist

Monday, January 12, 2009

Winter Tides at Beczak

Cold weather and water bring new sights to the Hudson River. Occasionally I even spot eagles on ice floats or soaring above the Palisades! So upon my return from the holidays, I took a walk down to Beczak’s riverfront at low tide. I saw small pieces of flat ice along the shoreline, and a giant, flat piece of ice lodged in the marsh’s channel.

The stranded pancake of ice in Beczak’s marsh is a result of the Hudson River’s tides. Because the Hudson is an estuary—which means that the salty tides of the Atlantic Ocean regularly rise and flood the river—the Hudson River has a high tide and low tide. It takes about six hours to go from high tide to low tide.

As the last tide fell and water drained from Beczak’s marsh, the ice float sank to the mud and was left behind in the channel.

It was truly a beautiful scene to bring in 2009.

Vicky Garufi
Education Program Manager