A Birder Call to Action: Please Help Save the West Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

Text by Leica Birding Team’s Doug Gochfeld

If you’re living in the United States, you most likely heard about Hurricane Sandy, in 2012, and the damage it wrought upon some of the East Coast, especially coastal New York and New Jersey.

If you’re a birder living in the United States, especially if you’ve traveled around the east at all, you’ve also probably heard of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

One of the iconic views of the West Pond was seeing scads of waterfowl on the pond in the winter, with the legendary skyline of New York City in the background. Photo © Don Riepe.

One of the iconic views of the West Pond was seeing scads of waterfowl on the pond in the winter, with the legendary skyline of New York City in the background.
Photo © Don Riepe.

One of the centerpieces of the refuge is the West Pond, which was designed as a large (~45 acre) fresh water or brackish pond, with some adjoining freshwater marsh.  It remained as such until the immense storm surge during Hurricane Sandy breached the dike surrounding the pond. When the water receded, it left a huge gap in the dike, and the place that used to be a thriving freshwater ecosystem is now a tidal, saltwater covered, mudflat that is a biological desert.

The West Pond was listed as the only significant freshwater habitat in coastal New York City, and now there are none. It played host to several thousand fresh-water reliant waterfowl every winter, and many more on the southbound and northbound migrations every spring and fall. During the summer it was a breeding haven for species that relied on this type of freshwater ecosystem (and not just birds!), and both the spring and fall migrations saw it host an incredibly diverse array of birdlife that crowded into this regionally unique habitat. However, since the breach, the biodiversity in this ecosystem has plummeted.

The West Pond is the single best place to see White-faced Ibis in New York State. This species is a rare vagrant to the region, but this individual was one of the several that have showed up on the West Pond over the last decade. © Sean Sime.

The West Pond is the single best place to see White-faced Ibis in New York State. This species is a rare vagrant to the region, but this individual was one of the several that have showed up on the West Pond over the last decade.
© Sean Sime.

 

This Black-bellied Whistling-Duck was one of the first individuals of this species ever seen in New York. It appeared on the shore of the mostly freshwater West Pond in the summer of 2010. ©Steve Walter.

This Black-bellied Whistling-Duck was one of the first individuals of this species ever seen in New York. It appeared on the shore of the mostly freshwater West Pond in the summer of 2010.
© Steve Walter.

Right now the NPS is still mulling over the various ways to deal with the breach, and there is a very real possibility that the plan they will proceed with is to just leave it the way it is.

You can lend your voice to the call to restore the West Pond to the unique place it has been since the middle of the 20th Century: The only large coastal freshwater ecosystem in the largest metropolitan area in the USA. Urban birding is a very dear cause to the Leica Birding Team, so join with us in trying to help return this important piece of habitat along the Atlantic Flyway, by signing the petition:

 SIGN THE PETITION AT THIS LINK:

Save Jamaica Bay’s West Pond!

 

This is just a taste of the numbers of ducks that normally called the West Pond home before it ceased to be a pond. The numbers of Scaup and Ruddy Ducks shown here are often even several fold higher than shown here at their winter peak. Don Riepe

This is just a glimpse of the numbers of ducks that normally called the West Pond home before it ceased to be a pond. The numbers of Scaup and Ruddy Ducks at their winter peak, are often even several fold higher than what is pictured here.
© Don Riepe

 

From the entire Leica Birding Team, thank you for taking action on this important cause.