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Saturday, September 25, 2004

A Class Trip to Mt. Loretto, Staten Island

A View of Lower Manhattan from ferry

(Photo credit - Rob J)

At the south end of Staten Island, facing Raritan Bay, are 194 acres of protected grasslands and coastal marine habitat. It's called Mount Loretto and was previously owned by the Catholic Archdiocese. It was through the efforts of "The Protectors of Pine Oak Woods" and various other conservation organizations that this area was designated a "Unique Area" by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Amazingly, within Mount Loretto's borders there are five ecosystems: marine/coastal, grassland, forest, and tidal and freshwater wetlands.

I was curious about the term "Unique Area" and found the following definition on the DEC's website:

[ ECL 51-0703 (4)]: "A state project to acquire lands of special natural beauty, wilderness character, geological, ecological or historical significance for the state nature and historical preserve and similar lands within a forest preserve county outside the Adirondack and Catskill parks" Definition: A parcel of land owned by the state acquired due to its special natural beauty, wilderness character, or for its geological, ecological or historical significance for the state nature and historical preserve, and may include lands within a forest preserve county outside the Adirondack and Catskill Parks.

It's a little vague but I suppose it gives the area some protection from future development. Here's some more information about Mt. Loretto:

Wilson's Snipe

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

I've been to Mt. Loretto many times over the last few years looking for birds. My friend Steve and I have made it an annual spring ritual to look for Wilson's Snipe during the first weekend in April. They're odd looking little birds whose cryptic plumage make them perfectly suited for muddy habitats. Last year we discovered that the various wet depressions found within Mt. Loretto's grassland were magnets for snipes. I've also been to the area as part of the annual spring "Birdathon" as it is a rich area for migrating songbirds. The class field trip, however, was the first time that I looked closely at Mount Loretto's diverse flora. As we examined the shrubs and wildflowers I also found it impossible not to explore some of the abundant insect population.

Fields of Goldenrod at Mt. Loretto

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Porceline Berry vine

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Dick Buegler was our trip leader and had a wealth of knowledge to share with our group. He started off with a brief history of the area. He then spent the rest of the afternoon teaching us about the area's plant-life. As we gradually made our way across the huge meadow washed with golden yellow flowers I began to get distracted from the macro view of the environment. Above the grassland various species of dragonflies patrolled their territories. At our feet, crickets and grasshoppers jumped for cover as we slowly walked up towards the top of the bluff overlooking the bay. At a patch of short grass near the edge of the cliff we found dozens of butterflies feeding on tiny flowers or chasing off interlopers. Some of the species of insects fed on the toxic, white sap of the milkweed plant only to become poisonous themselves. We carefully examined an Io Moth caterpillar that was found crossing the asphalt roadway. Covered with dozens of venomous spines, the brightly colored caterpillar is capable of causing painful skin eruptions.

Spider eating lunch

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Another predator

(Photo credit - Rob J)

A stinging caterpillar (Io Moth)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

While scanning the shoreline from the top of the bluff I noticed a bright orange patch on the rocky coast. It turned out to be a Red Beard Sponge (Microciona prolifera). I'm not sure if it washed up onto the shore or has managed to thrive within the tidal zone.

Red Beard Sponge (Microciona prolifera)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We ended up spending much more time at Mount Loretto than we had originally planned. I enjoyed learning about the botany and was amazed at the diversity in such a relatively small area. While looking down at a patch of grass I asked Dick how many species were within a square foot of green. From my brief introduction I was able to identify at least six...I'm certain that there were a lot more. Just as people are surprised when I show them how many different species of birds there are in New York City, Dick's knowledge of flora was enlightening and motivated me to take a closer look at the city's greenery.

New York Ironweed

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Female Blue Dasher

(Photo credit - Rob J)

As we were getting ready to leave David pointed out a Cooper's Hawk soaring over the grassland. It made me think about plants absorbing nutrients from the soil, the insects eating the plants, small birds eating the insects and predatory hawks eating the small birds...

Grasshopper on Milkweed

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Mount Loretto, Staten Island, 9/25/2004

Bird List:

Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Cooper's Hawk
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Tern
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Red-eyed Vireo
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
American Goldfinch

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mallard, Ring-necked Pheasant, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird

Plant List-

Acer platanoides (Norway maple)
Acer pseudoplatanus (sycamore maple)
Acer rubrum (red maple)
Acer saccharinum (silver maple)
Ailanthus altissima (tree of heaven)
Betula populifolia (gray birch)
Celtis occidentalis (hackberry)
Juglans nigra (black walnut)
Liriodendron tulipifera (sweetgum)
Maclura pomifera (osage orange)
Morus alba (white mulberry)
Paulownia tomentosa (Royal Paulownia)
Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore)
Prunus serotina (black cherry)
Pyrus sp. (crab apple)
Quercus palustris (pin oak)
Quercus rubra (red oak)
Sassafras albidum (sassafras)
Taxus sp. (yew)
Tilia americana (American basswood)

Cornus amomum (swamp dogwood)
Cornus racemosa (gray dogwood)
Elaeagnus umbellata (autumn olive)
Hibiscus syriacus (rose of Sharon)
Myrica pensylvanica (bayberry)
Rhus copallina (winged sumac)
Rosa multiflora (multiflora rose)
Rosa rugosa (wrinkled rose)
Sambucus canadensis (common elderberry)
Syringa vulgaris (lilac)
Viburnum dentatum (arrowwood viburnum)

Ampelopsis brevipedunculata (porcelainberry)
Calystegia sepium (hedge bindweed)
Celastrus orbiculatus (Asiatic bittersweet)
Hedera helix (English ivy)
Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle)
Solanum dulcamara (bittersweet nightshade)
Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy)

Allium vineale (field garlic)
Ambrosia artemisiifolia (common ragweed)
Ambrosia trifida (giant ragweed)
Arctium sp. (burdock)
Artemisia vulgaris (common mugwort)
Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed)
Aster novae-angliae (New England aster)
Aster laevis (smooth aster)
Cirsium vulgare (bull thistle)
Commelina communis (Asiatic dayflower)
Daucus carota (Queen Anne's Lace)
Gnaphalium obtusifolium (sweet everlasting)
Lemna sp. (duckweed)
Linaria vulgaris (butter and eggs)
Melilotus alba (white sweet clover)
Oenothera biennis (common evening primrose)
Pastinaca sativa (wild parsnip)
Phytolacca americana (pokeweed)
Plantago major (common plantain)
Polygonum sp. (smartweed)
Rudbeckia hirta var. pulcherrima (black-eyed Susan)
Solanum carolinense (horse nettle)
Solidago rugosa (rough-leaved goldenrod)
Solidago sempervirens (seaside goldenrod)
Taraxacum officinale (common dandelion)
Trifolium pratense (red clover)
Trifolium repens (white clover)
Verbascum thapsus (common mullein)
Vernonia noveboracensis (New York iron weed)

Lolium perenne (wild rye grass)
Panicum virgatum (switch grass)
Phragmites australis (giant reedgrass)
Setaria faberi (nodding foxtail grass)
Spartina alterniflora (saltmarsh cordgrass)

Butterfly List-

Cloudless Sulfur
Clouded Sulfur
Orange Sulfur
Cabbage White
Black Swallowtail
Curly Crescent
American Snout
Sachem Skipper

Dragonfly List-

Black Saddlebag
Carolina Saddlebag
Blue Dasher
meadowhawk sp. (sympetrum)

Additional Species-

Io Moth caterpillar
Wolly Bear caterpillar
Banded Orb-weaving Spider
various grasshopper species

1 comment:

bonnie said...

Hooray, hooray, you identified my sponge!

I'm a Jamaica Bay paddler (out of Sebago, do I know a friend of yours perhaps?); went out for a paddle today around low water (very very very low, full moon, spring tide) and was amazed to see these flaming red-orange sponges growing on the pilings of the Cross-Bay Bridge. Never saw anything quite so brilliant in our local waters!

Picture to go up soon.

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