Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Winter Solstice AND Lunar Eclipse

We’re heading to what the ancients might call a magical time. On December 21, during the longest night of the year, our round white Moon will rise and then darken into red for several hours.

This is the rare combination of a total lunar eclipse, when the Moon passes through the Earth’s shadow, and the Winter Solstice, the time at which the Sun is at its southernmost point in the sky.

“The Moon often looks blood-red during a lunar eclipse,” says Marc Taylor, Coordinator of the Andrus Planetarium at the Hudson River Museum. “It’s colored by the clarity of the atmosphere, and every earthly sunrise and sunset taking place at that moment.”

The geometry is like this, he explains.

MOON EARTH <---- [93 million miles] ---> SUN

The eclipse will become noticeable at 1:33 AM on December 21st. The darkest part will take 72 minutes. Unlike a solar eclipse, a lunar eclipse is totally safe to watch. “Through binoculars, the Moon will look brighter and you'll see more detail, but a lunar eclipse is really about the overall experience of seeing a darkened Moon hanging in the sky. It's best viewed with the unaided eye,” says Taylor.

In order for an eclipse to happen, there MUST be a full moon.

We know that the tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon. So does that mean that we will notice a higher tide on the Hudson River on December 21?

“Yes,” says Vicky Garufi, Beczak’s Director of Education, “although it may not be very noticeable here in Yonkers. Both the Moon and Sun cause tides on Earth’s waters. When the Earth, the Sun and the Moon are in alignment, the combined gravitational pull creates very high and very low tides. This is called a spring tide—the name has nothing to do with the season.” (Read more here.)

“There won't be another eclipse coinciding with a solstice (winter OR summer) until 2094. And that one will only briefly be visible from the East Coast,” says Marc Taylor. So stay up late or get yourself out of bed to look at the sky on December 21—you won’t have another chance for 84 years.

—Lenore Person

All around the world, the long dark night of the Winter Solstice causes people to gather around candles or bonfires to feast and “sing back the sun.” Beczak Environmental Education Center takes part in this tradition with its Winter Solstice Celebration on December 19.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Great Blue Heron

Beczak has been part of “Snapshot Day” since the DEC started this estuary-wide event eight years ago. This was my second time participating in the project with students from Saunders Technical School. What made it amazing this year was seeing one of my favorite birds in the Hudson Valley, the Great Blue Heron.

The Great Blue Heron is a fantastic water bird that grows to be about four feet tall with a wingspan that can be over six feet! It feeds mainly on fish and hangs out in shallow freshwater and seacoasts. I first saw the bird at the Kensico reservoir and always thought they looked like very laid back, interesting personalities. They never seemed too bothered by anything and took their time as they waded in the water and hunted for small animals to eat.

On Thursday, October 15, 2010, I was in charge of the seining portion of “Snapshot Day” at Beczak. I was walking down to our beach chatting with some of the students when I saw the magnificent Great Blue Heron standing in our tidal marsh. Beczak employees have seen it many times in the early morning or the late afternoon, but never at 9:30 AM. We froze and stayed silent as we watched the bird wading in the marsh. As we motioned to others and tried to find a camera, it flew off on its impressive wingspan, soaring over the marsh and upriver.

It was breathtaking to see such a big bird in Yonkers, especially for the students. Most of them have lived their whole lives in this area and have never seen anything other than a gull or a Canadian goose along the Hudson.

by Susan Juggernauth

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How to Create a Beach in a Box

At Beczak Environmental Education Center one of our most popular and interactive exhibits is our “Beach in a Box.” It's full of the treasures and artifacts we've collected along our marsh and beach. Every day the tide rises and falls and washes ashore exciting findings that give us clues to plants and animals found within the Hudson River and our watershed. Children love to come over to it and pick up the devils heads (water chestnuts), feathers, sea glass and more! You can do it too, here’s how…

How to create a Beach in A Box

Green Tip: Use a Clementine box or shoe box for your beach findings.

1. From any riverfront location, explore the beach at low tide for the following items.(insert Scavenger hunt pdf link)

2. Collect some sand and rocks.

3. Make sure to ONLY collect items that are non-living. Look for parts of animals (crab claws, oyster shells, bones, etc), or plants (seeds, bark, acorns, etc).

4. Bring back to your classroom and explore with your students.

5. Encourage your students to visit the river and collect items on their own time and contribute to the class beach in a box. Compare seasonal findings.

Friday, October 1, 2010


While holding our "Catch of the Day" program at the Beczak Environmental Center we caught an oyster toadfish in our seine. It was about an inch long and blended in well with our net. It was the first time we had ever caught an oyster toadfish so we were quite excited.
- Susan Juggernauth

[Oyster toadfish, known colloquially as "oyster crackers," are common along the Atlantic Coast as well as in New York Harbor. They have strong, sharp teeth that they use to crush shellfish and are a good indicator of salinity. Bones of oyster toadfish dating to 4,000 years ago were found by archaeologists at Dogan Point (HRM 39.5) in Westchester County. It is believed that the river was saltier in prehistoric times and certainly supported a robust oyster population, prime forage for the oyster toad. Note by Tom Lake, Hudson River Almanac.]

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Environmental Education is Key To Avoiding Disaster

I’ve joined a group of concerned environmentalists against drilling the Marcellus Shale, a rock layer found in New York, Pennsylvania and the southern Appalachian states, for natural gas. Sure, it could meet the nation's natural gas needs for more than two years. But this drilling technique, called "hydrofracking," also releases toxins including suspected cancer-causing compounds. And the U.S. Department of Energy lists produced water from gas drilling as among the most toxic of any oil industry byproduct. (Watch the film Gasland to find out more.)

Last week, John Bianchi, a reporter with World Journalism Institute Times Observer, contacted me for a quote on the BP oil disaster. I was glad to talk to him because in a way, drilling oil is like hydrofracking. If it’s done right, it shouldn’t cause any problems. But we can see where that logic has gotten us.

See below for the Bianchi’s article and video. It sums up the work of Beczak Environmental Education Center—to ensure the next generation will be more knowledgeable and more questioning before they sell nature.

Clifford Schneider, Executive Director

Environmental Education is Key To Avoiding Disaster
John Bianchi

Education is the key to success. For Beczak, a small non-profit environmental education center, education is the key to training future advocates of environmental issues. Crises, much like the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico can be avoided if future citizens and leaders are educated in ways to keep our planet healthy and safe.

“We do interactive hands on training about the environment,” Cliff Schneider, Director of Beczak said, “We train the future advocates of the environment.” Beczak’s mission is clear. It is important to inform young students about tough environmental issues in order to preserve and restore our environment.

With numerous programs targeted at younger students, Beczak aims to cultivate a generation of involved citizens. As we near almost two months of oil gushing into the Gulf many species are endangered and people search for answers. Beczak helps to provide those answers and teach people how to avoid future environmental disasters.

Beczak seeks to educate children through programs designed to inform through fun interactive learning. Hands on nature programs include ‘River Explorers’ which throughout the summer months encourage children to learn about their environment. These programs are specifically targeted at learning about the eco-system native to the lower Hudson valley but also target a broader range of environmental issues.

Children are encouraged to keep their surroundings clean and safe. Limiting pollution and understanding the dangers of littering are key components of preserving our planet. In time and with the dedicated efforts of centers like Beczak we can begin to restore our planet.

Many have compared this oil spill to the Exxon-Valdez tanker explosion. “I think it’s much bigger,” Schneider said, “It will have much broader impact.” The amount of oil pouring into the gulf will potentially damage ecosystems for hundreds of years to come.

With recent estimates of nearly 60,000 gallons a day of oil spilling into gulf stream waters, this current oil spill crises will have a massive impact on the ecosystem and our environment in years to come. “Hopefully we’ll be able to train more engineers, more scientists, more teachers, more investment brokers,” Schneider said, “So that they know the role of the environment. The crisis in the Gulf of Mexico concerning the BP oil spill has less to do with individuals trying to actively destroy the environment and more to do with simple negligence. Of course, this type of behavior can be just as devastating.

“What people need to know is that it is an eco-system,” Schneider said, “We all have a role to play.” Americans must keep this fact in mind when deciding tough environmental issues in the future. To ensure that our environment is livable and safe, we must take care of our planet and encourage our political and business leaders to take an active role in preserving our planet.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Beczak Experience - From the Eyes of the Eastchester High School Interns

The first time we visited Beczak, we were intimidated by the people we saw along the way. Coming from a racially homogenous bubble, venturing into downtown Yonkers was, at the least, an adventure. We were only partially joking when we claimed that everyone wearing red was part of a gang, even if they were under the age of ten. Pulling into the Beczak parking lot, we couldn’t help but notice that we were conveniently located across the street from the Yonkers city jail. As we stared across the street, two policemen were escorting a man in handcuffs into the jail. We looked at each other and the same look was mirrored on all our faces. What are we getting ourselves into?
Over time, we began to feel more comfortable in our new surroundings. The four of us were surprised when we first were given the tour of Beczak, since we wouldn’t have thought that an urban area would have such green space. The park was larger than we expected, complete with a marsh, tidal pool, campfire, and beach area. People often came to the park with strollers and dogs in tow. While taking some kids on a scavenger hunt, we noticed a display board showing how the whole area used to be a landfill. We were amazed at how Beczak was able to restore such a pristine area from a grimy, polluted wasteland.
During the programs, we would sit idly in the back and observe. By the end of the experience, we could recite entire lessons by memory. We were most shocked at how much environmental knowledge the children have at such a young age. It’s great that they are growing up with the environment in mind. When Vicky asked the kids what the “whiskers” on catfish are called, we looked at each other, dumbfounded. The children fought to say “barbels!” first, but we had never heard the term before.
After the first few experiences of seining, we realized that we had underestimated the patience and versatility needed to work with young children. After a day of teaching and allowing children to experience the natural habitat around them, we were wiped! However, the knowledge that we exchanged and the personal encounters we had were well worth all of our time and effort. We all enjoyed making new friends each day as the children seemed enthusiastic and willing to learn. However, the most interesting part of this entire experience was the myriad of facts we absorbed by working here. If asked on the spot, we could recite the exact length of the Hudson (315 miles) and the location of its source (Lake Tear of the Clouds, Mt. Marcy - 5,000 ft in elevation). We also learned about the various species of fish and wildlife found within the Hudson’s entire estuary. We now know the names, translations, and identifying characteristics of marine life (Mummichog is Native American for “fish that school”). It sounds nerdy, but we would exclaim various facts when applicable in everyday conversation with friends.
Overall, this experience has allowed us to strengthen our understanding of environmental science, our interpersonal work skills, as well as our awareness of our own surroundings. We realize the ramifications of malignant actions and how the river and all aspects of the ecosystem must be held responsible for human selfishness. This internship has also reinforced our decision to enter the field of environment science to remedy situations like our current Gulf Coast crisis. We will take each lesson we’ve learned with us and apply it to our lives. Life is like seining; you never know what you’re going to catch.

Raina Gandhi
Nicholas Parisi
Andrew Raffo
Gianluca Salza

Monday, May 3, 2010

Resurrection Tour

What’s the riverfront like in your town? Can you get to it? Why or why not?

The 3rd – 6th graders of South Church, in Dobbs Ferry, talked about these questions last Sunday morning before leaving on an Eastertide/Earth Day field trip called Resurrection Tour. Our quest was to see if new life could happen out of environmental degradation.

My family’s VW was the sweep in the five-car caravan. First stop: Anaconda Wire and Cable. We parked at the Hastings train station, climbed to the overpass and looked down on the football field of gray cement along the river. It was the remains of the factory that had dumped oil and solvents into the river for decades. The buildings were demolished earlier this year; the first step in containing the contaminants.

We drove south into Yonkers and stopped in the parking lot of the Greyston Bakery. “This bakery, run by Buddhists, hires people who have a hard time getting jobs—those who have been in prison, or are homeless, for instance,” said Mark, an environmental lawyer and one of the leaders of Resurrection Tour.

Next stop: Beczak Environmental Education Center, two run-down, riverfront blocks south. We walked through its lush green park and stood on a small bridge spanning a tidal marsh. Kalle and Ben jumped on rocks at the river’s edge; Sasha and Armand got their feet wet. Bob Walters, one of the founding board members of the Center, met us and told how regular people—fishermen, factory workers—had the vision to turn this old Navy Militia Site and former factory social club into a park and environmental center. The man-made tidal marsh—home to many creatures—was build with funds from a lawsuit against the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line for an oil spill.

Our final stop was Groundwork Hudson Valley’s Science Barge, where Bob Walters serves as Director. This floating urban farm grows tomatoes, squash and other foods in water, not earth. The Barge shifted on the wake of a powerboat. Children peered into the cisterns filling with fresh rainwater. “We give our produce to the Franciscans for their soup kitchen,” said Bob. “And, we’re working with the homeless on creating a community garden for them.”

On the way home Claudia, an environmental psychologist and one of the Resurrection Tour leaders, asked the children in her car what they remembered from the morning. “The Anaconda fire and soon-to-be remediation, Greystone hiring formerly incarcerated, Beczak marsh, hydroponics.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bald Affection

Every day that I have been at Beczak this winter, I look out at the river and wonder when I am going to get that wonderful chance to see a bald eagle standing on an ice floe like so many others have. My coworkers have even seen eagles eating fish on the ice!

As I pondered this jealous feeling, I also realized that though I have studied the historical environmental effects surrounding bald eagles and the laws that protect them, I do not know much about their behaviors.

This is when I did some research and fittingly enough for the month of February, I learned two interesting things. The first is that bald eagles in this area begin their mating season around our Valentine’s Day in mid month.

The second is that like some monogamous couples in the Hudson Valley area, bald eagles have one mate for life. They search for their mate once they reach four to five years old and can partake in amazing in-flight ritualistic dances during their courtship. Some dances include talon holding in the air and then falling to the ground before letting go. Once they do mate, eagles can produce eggs for up to 30 years and choose which years they want to lay eggs. If the weather, habitat or environment isn’t right, they will opt out of laying eggs for that year, just like some human couples!

I have learned that there are great similarities between bald eagles and humans. I just wonder if one bald eagle showers gifts like chocolate and jewelry on its mate like we do at this time of year…

Susan Juggernauth

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Oyster Gardening - Month Seven: “Oysters on Ice”

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.

What happens to oysters when the water temperature drops and the river freezes? Do oysters hibernate like some mammals? Do they migrate like some fishes and birds?

I was very excited to participate in the oyster restoration project with NY/NJ Baykeeper but I was the first to admit that I was no oyster expert. For instance, I really didn’t know how oysters survived the winter.

I did some research before our last cold snap and, to my surprise; I learned that oysters could tolerate freezing water but not freezing air. When the water temperature drops below 32 degrees and the river becomes covered in ice, oysters temporarily stop growing. They survive in their tough shells and then continue growing when the ice thaws and the water temperatures rise.

Because our oysters are in a cage that hangs from a piling—not resting on the river floor like they would be in the wild—I needed to make sure they were secured and fully submerged at the lowest tides during the winter.

Right now at Beczak the oysters and I are in hibernation. I have stopped recording and submitting the data for the winter season. I will continue in March when the water temperature is slightly warmer and more tolerable for me to enter the river and pull the cage out. Be sure to check in on their status!

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
Month Four: Students Observe the Oysters

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

Friday, January 15, 2010

Ice, Ice and Away

January 12, 2010

Last winter I remember when it was so cold that the entire width of the Hudson River was frozen. I watched as boats had to cut the ice as they traveled north.

It hasn’t been that cold yet this winter, and the ice is not continuous from the east to west shorelines. But there is a lot of ice traveling.
I’ve been pulled to Beczak’s marsh, mesmerized by the view of ice traveling up and down the river. Slowly it travels north, but when it travels south man does it travel. A huge piece of ice, probably 6 feet in length, looked like it was traveling at the speed of a jet ski. How cool would it be to surf on that ice!

Dorene Sukup

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Tidal Marsh Meditation

I am the newest member of Beczak’s education department. I applied for a position here because I was interested in hands-on environmental education, but I did not know much about the Center apart from what I read at its website.

My first days at work were spent inside and at schools. It was not until I went down to the beach looking for water chestnuts that I realized just how serene and special Beczak’s marsh and the waterfront are.

I was standing at the marsh’s edge when it hit me that I was listening to birdcalls and waves crashing and very little of anything else. Maybe it was just the time of day that I was out there, or just a freak occurrence that no planes, boats or trains were passing by, but I realized I had never experienced more serenity anywhere in Yonkers than at Beczak’s riverfront. I glanced across the water to the Palisades and looked as far up and down the river as I could. A sense of peace and well-being enveloped me.

I have lived in Yonkers for about six years now and have heard all sorts of rumors about the dangers that lurk in downtown Yonkers. I have even been warned of working in the polluted Hudson River in such an urban environment. However at that moment, looking out at the water and the surrounding non-developed land, I was thrilled to be right there, right then. I was impressed with the transformation of the river from the polluted waters it once was to the crisp, enjoyable scene that lay before me. It is heartening that amidst all the development there could be such a place as our tidal marsh where people can enjoy and learn about this amazing river.

This experience opened my eyes to the joys of Beczak, the tranquility of the Hudson River and the promise that Yonkers holds. If a river of this magnitude could change so dramatically at the insistence of a small group of people, imagine what could happen to the city of Yonkers with the increasing influence of Beczak and its community of river-lovers. This is one more transformation I cannot wait to be a part of.

Susan Juggernauth