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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cycling along the Brooklyn/Queens Coast

During the week I've been riding short loops around Prospect Park. On weekends, I've been taking a long ride on either Saturday or Sunday. This past Sunday I pedaled to Marine Park, Floyd Bennett Field, Ft. Tilden and Breezy Point. I met my friend, Paige, who is also a birder, and we spent most of the day "birking" along coastal Brooklyn and Queens.

It was high-tide when we parked our bikes at the Marine Park Saltmarsh Nature Center. A row of normally exposed wooden pilings were covered with the high water and a few Common Terns dove for fish nearby. I was scanning the shoreline from the retaining wall behind the nature center when I noticed a Spotted Sandpiper teetering along the boulders at water's edge. There were also a couple of Marsh Wrens gurgling from within the tall reeds that dominate the marsh. For the most part, there was very little bird activity at the saltmarsh to report.

From the Flatbush Avenue bike path we took a short detour into Floyd Bennett Field. The cricket field near the "North 40s" is usually a good place to look for birds, but the only animals we found flying around at that location were dragonflies. We continued riding to the "Return a Gift Pond". Unfortunately, as we peered through the openings in the wooden blind, it occurred to us that the pond might well have been renamed the "Return a Gift Algae Flat and Mud Hole". The only inhabitants were one optimistic Black-crowned Night-Heron and three worried Red-eared Sliders.

Several of the old runways/roads have been barricaded by the National Park Service to prevent illegal drag racing at Floyd Bennett Field. Shane recently mentioned to me that, since the speeding cars and motorcycles are gone, birds have been gathering at large rain water puddles along the pavement. Paige and I pedaled over to check it out.

Most of the water had already evaporated, but one tiny puddle still remained near a stretch of orange barricades. I counted six Least Sandpipers and a single Killdeer in a watering hole no more than 4 feet across. Surrounded by a seemingly vast stretch of concrete, I stared down at the thirsty birds and thought, "You guys could do a lot better".

Crossing the Gil Hodges Bridge brought us into the borough of Queens and onto the Rockaway Peninsula. We made a brief stop at Jacob Riis Park, so I could refill my water bottle, then headed west across Fort Tilden.

One of the effects of Hurricane Bertha's strong winds and swells was that it pushed a huge number of Moon Jellyfish towards the coast. Millions of these harmless jellyfish created a glistening slick along the shore. Many more remained in the water. Swimming among flotillas of the rubbery globs was like bobbing around in a tub filled with silicon breast implants. It was a little creepy. Less fun were the Lion's Manes Jellyfish which have arrived along our beaches earlier in the season than normal. Yesterday I was stung by one while swimming at Riis Park.

After a brief stop near the Silver Gull Beach Club, we continued riding to Breezy Point. The paved road ends at a parking lot. From that point, a fisherman's permit-only, 4-wheel drive sand road continues for 3/4 mile to the ocean. I don't recommend attempting to pedal down the road. There are sections of hard-packed sand that are ridable, but much of it is deep, loose sand. We pushed our bikes most of the distance.

It was low-tide and a wide expanse of wet, packed sand attracted flocks of gulls and shorebirds to the edge of the surf. I was pleasantly surprised to see a relatively large number of young Piping Plovers. These tiny shorebirds are listed as endangered in New York State (Federally listed as "Threatened") and nest along the beaches at Breezy Point. Most were commingling and feeding within flocks of common Sanderlings. We counted a whopping 17 of the minute, sand-colored plovers!

At the Breezy Point Cooperative beaches there were hundreds (possibly thousands) of pairs of nesting Common Terns. Residents of the cooperative have erected wood and string "arbors" above the beach access walkways to protect themselves from very aggressive parent terns. In my experience, most dive-bombing by Common Terns is purely for show and they rarely actually strike people. Near the edges of the dunes we found young terns in various stages of development. Some appeared to be recently hatched while others were already fledged and the size of their parents. Families of American Oystercatchers could be heard squealing up and down the beach, while Black Skimmers silently flew across the dunes towards the bay.

By 4pm the wind had picked up and was gusting out of the southwest. Sunbather's blankets were disappearing under sand drifts and the tiny, blowing grains were stinging my legs. As we headed north towards the bridge, I commented that the strong tailwind would make our return trip very quick.

I was nearly at the center of the bridge when I was startled by a cyclist passing me on my left. The pedestrian path is very narrow and it is common courtesy (not to mention safer) to alert a fellow cyclist when you are passing. Moments later he was followed by a young woman. I angrily shouted to her that she should warn people when passing. Once passed the peak of the roadway, I leaned way down on my handlebars and positioned my pedals parallel to the ground. There was a dangerous crosswind blowing off the water and I was attempting to decrease my wind resistance.

The young woman who had passed me a few minutes earlier was a couple of hundred yards ahead when I saw her go down. My guess is that a gust of wind caught her by surprise. Her front wheel jerked to the right, she overcompensated, then flipped off the bike.

She had terrible abrasions on her forearms, knees and chest. Her mouth and nose were bleeding as was a bump that was forming on her forehead. She never lost consciousness but was bleeding a lot. I told her to sit down and used my cellphone to call 911. Paige asked if the young man who also passed us was her boyfriend. She nodded her head, "yes". He had been traveling so fast that he was out of sight and probably wondered about his missing girlfriend. Paige gave her some tissues to hold on her head, then took off on her bike to find the girl's companion. While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, I stood in the pathway and signaled to approaching cyclists to slow down. Several people offered more napkins and other assistance.

It seemed to take forever, but eventually a bridge construction vehicle with a large flashing yellow arrow arrived to block access to the near lane. A few minutes later the ambulance pulled up. A pair of New York's bravest hopped over the railing and onto the pedestrian path. They quickly attended to the young lady. Paige held her hand and reassured her that everything would be fine. I just tried to stay out of the way and direct bike traffic. In addition, despite the shock, pain and blood, I managed to get a laugh out of her, which is an important part of emergency medical treatment. She didn't appear to have any broken bones, just a lot of road-rash. Incredibly, she hit her face hard enough to have sustained two fat lips, a bloody nose and a knot on her forehead, but didn't knock out any teeth.

Paige and I stayed until the EMTs wheeled her down the path to the toll plaza, where they could access the roadway and place her in the ambulance.

Now for my brief lecture:

Neither she nor her boyfriend were wearing helmets. I pointed out to both of them that most people don't get a second chance after they fly off their bicycle and hit their head! I wish her a speedy recovery and hope to see her out cycling someday, but wearing a really stylish helmet.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"


Yojimbot said...

Nice save u good samaritan you. One good tern deserves another!

~JohNnyIchi~ said...

i really, really, really like all your pictures! they are damn good!

magnetic rings

Pamela said...

yes.. .helmets.. AND, calling out when you're passing other cyclists and pedestrians. I've been thru a few close calls by speeding cyclists when I'm out birding - and it upsets me. (especially along the river, where sound is muffled)

My husband is an avid rider - and he is always concerned about those who give others a bad name with their rude or undisciplined ways.

Bina said...

I stumbled across your blog and hoped I could ask you a few questions. I'm a science reporter and I'm curious to know if you are still hearing mockingbirds now that it is August. Have you noticed more of them in recent years?

Rob Jett said...

In response to Bina's question - I'm still hearing mockingbirds, although they are less vocal now that the breeding season is wrapping up. I've noticed that there are more mockingbirds along the residential corridors that I cycle than in the city parks. Don't know why that is. In general, though, their local abundance seems about the same for the last 10 years.

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