Thursday, June 8, 2017

Post Work Citizen Science

     After work, I had some time to kill before horseshoe crab monitoring at Plumb Beach. Before heading there, I visited the Salt Marsh in Marine Park, then rode my Bike to Plumb and walked the beach before getting to work.
     When I visited Puerto Rico back in 2016, I managed to drop a lens of ours (55-300mm) right into a stream. It was really cruddy (to use gentler words). So recently I just replaced that lens- with a new 55-300mm lens, nice for summer time because I like to photo little insects and such-- which a 500mm lens is just no good for. So today was a chance to make sure it worked well (I purchased one in a box that had been opened and was over $100 cheaper from B&H), so onto my trusty bike I rode off to the marsh...
A yellow crowned night heron preens as the tide comes in at the salt marsh.

A different yellow crowned night heron foraging in the tall grasses, wonder what this bird is looking for?

Fiddler crabs are a favorite food of the yellow crowned night heron, and I bet these are what it was after. These crabs are all over the muddy sediment. Just look for the little holes and mud pebbles, mud excavated by the crab and discarded outside their little homes.

A black crowned night heron, a sharp looking bird, I love their contrasting colors in their plumage and those strawberry red eyes.

This is a species of crab spider. I enjoyed these little aster flowers as they were full of different invertebrates. Many had these crab spiders on them, laying in wait, well camouflaged for capturing an insect thinking its about to score a meal.

A species of true bug, also perfectly camouflaged-- perhaps to avoid becoming someones meal to feed in peace. Many true bugs eat plant juices from leaves or stems... others use their specialized mouth parts to eat insect juice. Their mouths are made for piercing and putting them on the ultimate juice diet. 

A snowy egret in the zone, on the hunt for fish and small crustaceans.

I then met my friend and coworker, Christine at Plumb Beach. We were greeted by a mockingbird who soon ducked for cover-- at first we thought it was us... but then a low peregrine flew over head and dove at a large flock of shorebirds down by the water. Starting our pre-monitoring beach visit off with a show!

The beach had LOTS of semipalmated sandpipers, dwarfed by laughing gulls and even a fledgling starling.

Off-leash dogs ran the beach, spooking the birds often, sending them into a flurry of flapping and circling to find a spot on the disappearing beach to land.

As the tide came in, so did what we would later be looking for... Horseshoe crabs!

As we measured our paces, a coupled pair lay in the surf, the female on the left, the male behind her, on the right.
Paces are measured so we can properly walk the length of the sample area and hot all 100 sample sites. We split into two sampling teams, each hitting 50 of the 100 sites.
We joined up with NYC Audubon once again for this outing, we have one more planned for ourselves in 2 weeks, as the egg laying season comes to a close.

We get really stoked when we get crabs in our sample set, this one get us a male and a female.

Not every animal makes it into our sample, and this is just the way it works, giving still a snapshot of the density of crabs on this beach, utilizing its sand for egg laying.
Even though we might get zeros in our sample, we often see sights like this on a good night, two males compete for a spot on the back of a female.

Like a scene out of an old black and white movie, where entangled lovers wash up on the beach... except these have an exoskeleton, covered in barnacles and slipper limpets, and their hollywood tradition dates back 450 million years.

Sometimes your sample puts you right in the thick of it, but you can only count crabs in your quadrat that are in front of your toes, this sample got us 3 males and 1 female.



3 males trying for one female, the left most male looks like he has it right.

Oh, hello moon!
With an early hightide, we had some decent day light even into the start of our tagging, which started just after 8:15 PM.

A drill bit equipped with a cork stopper drills a shallow hole to insert a tag with an ID number. For each crab we record the number tag assigned, its sex, and diameter across where its eyes are then returned to the water.

(This is what the tag helps with-- the crab I reported a month back came back with a certificate, and it was tagged last year just across the channel in Dead Horse Bay!)
Using giant calipers to measure (in centimeters-- this is science, folks-- metrics!).
We tagged 45 crabs, and for the last 5 I took the wheel, err- drill. Christine grabbed a few shots and mentioned how "I look so serious." When I am working, especially with animals, this is my business face, I work with a goal in mind to make things happen quickly and efficiently so the animal can get back to what it needs as soon as possible.

More photo credit to Christine as I pop a tag into place so this little male can be identified if ever encountered again.