Tag Archives: Swinburne Island

The Last Seal of Winter

By Vladimir Brezina

We saw plenty of wildlife—dolphins, turtles, sharks, birds—last month in Florida. But no seals.

So yesterday we paddled down to Swinburne Island, where seals have never yet failed us, during the winter months. But spring is now, finally, upon us, with temperatures warming dramatically—time for the seals to return north, to their summer homes in Maine and Canada. We may have left it too late…

We paddled around Swinburne a couple of times, sat and scanned the water, waited expectantly… Nothing.

Then, just as we were about to leave, a lone seal head popped up.

The last seal of winter…

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Seals & Submarine

By Vladimir Brezina

Crossing Ambrose Channel

Last Saturday: Air temperature in the twenties (Fahrenheit) in the morning, struggling up into the thirties during the afternoon. Colder on the water, of course. Water temperature around forty-five degrees Fahrenheit. Definitely drysuit weather, with gloves or pogies a requirement (and hot tea!). Partly sunny, with increasing clouds. Moderate northerly wind, becoming southeasterly in the afternoon. Current indicating a trip to points south. A perfect day to visit, once again, the seals of Swinburne Island, with maybe the Yellow Submarine of Brooklyn thrown in!

In the event, we saw only two, perhaps three, seals (which kept their distance, so no good photos) at Swinburne Island—a similar low number as on our last trip a month ago, and as reported by other kayakers so far this winter. In previous years, we’ve always seen ten or more seals at Swinburne by this time in the season. A little worrying…

And, bizarrely, the Yellow Submarine seems to have gotten a fresh coat of yellow paint (and some fresh graffiti) recently! Compare

Yellow Submarine, November 2010

Yellow Submarine, November 2010


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Yellow Submarine, November 2013

Here are all the photos (click on any photo to start slideshow).

This Year’s Visit to the Swinburne Island Seals

By Vladimir Brezina

Last week’s excitement about the East River Dolphin reminded us that we hadn’t seen our old friends, the Swinburne Island seals, in almost a year, since last April in fact. So on Sunday we paddled down to visit them again.

We paddled up to Swinburne Island in what we hoped was a stealthy manner, cameras at the ready.

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Unfortunately, with the morning’s forecast of significant winds and, presumably, waves and spray—which in the event did not materialize—I left my non-waterproof DSLR, with its telephoto lens, at home. So both of us were limited to our little waterproof cameras—not really suitable for capturing the details of distant seal heads in the water.

And soon there were heads popping up all around, peering at us with a cautious curiosity. Now and then one advanced daringly close, then immediately crash-dived with a snort and a loud splash.

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If you look at the photo above closely (click on it to enlarge), it shows seven seal heads. Altogether, by counting the number visible simultaneously or nearly simultaneously all around, we estimated that there were at least 15 seals around us, although there could well have been many more. There were a few small seals, presumably babies.

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As usual, the seals preferred to observe us without being themselves observed. They popped up directly behind our boats and peered at us intently, then immediately dived as soon as we turned around.

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As the seals heads rose out of the water in upredictable locations around us for a few seconds before disappearing again, we snapped away in the hope of capturing the decisive moment.

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And indeed, in some shots, when we later examined them at home, there were seals in places where we had not even noticed them at the time…

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Swinburne Island itself, although clearly hospitable to seals and seabirds, seemed more desolate than on our previous visits, even more empty of the ruins and dead trees that had covered it, probably as a result of the visit of Hurricane Sandy back in October of last year.

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Then it was time for some tea on the water, if possible out of the cold wind. We considered rafting up in the lee of Swinburne Island itself, but it was clear that hundreds of gulls would seriously object. We ended up having our tea off the neighboring island, Hoffman, where the local opposition was less intense.

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After tea, with the current now turned in our favor, we paddled back to the Verrazano Narrows on our way home.

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And, in the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Nature had a final bonus ready for us—a porpoise (or perhaps another dolphin), calmly surfacing, arching its back, diving again…

It was in almost exactly the same spot where we had observed another porpoise two years ago, in late March 2011. Come to think of it, that previous sighting was the subject of the very first post on Wind Against Current :-)

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Together with the sighting of the dolphins and seals in the East River last week, it’s hard not to feel that marine mammals are really coming back to New York Harbor!

Next up, I believe we are ready to encounter at least a  medium-sized whale…

Seals and Swells on Sunday

By Vladimir Brezina

On Sunday, Johna and I paddled once more to Swinburne Island to see seals.

Swinburne Island, a small island in New York Harbor just south of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, hosts a healthy population of seals every winter. We’ve already visited them once this winter. But now in April, especially with spring arriving so early this year, we were wondering if the seals would still be there.

We were not disappointed!

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Seals Revisited

By Vladimir Brezina

Every winter, Swinburne Island in New York Harbor is home to a healthy population of seals. And every winter, we paddle out to see them.

But so far this year, our seal-watching trips have all gone awry in one way or another. Last time, we ended up having quite a different kind of adventure in Red Hook, Brooklyn

So, on Saturday, Johna and I made a determined effort to paddle out to Swinburne Island. Here are a few photos.

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The Other Islands of New York City: A History and Guide, by Sharon Seitz and Stuart Miller

By Vladimir Brezina

The Other Islands of New York City: A History and Guide, by Sharon Seitz and Stuart Miller. Third Edition 2011.  The Countryman Press, Woodstock, VT; distributed by W.W. Norton, New York.

How many islands are there in New York City? Even lifelong New Yorkers would have trouble answering this question. Several of the islands, of course, are home to millions.  A few other islands have mythical fame: Liberty Island, Ellis Island, Rikers Island… But next to them, sometimes just a stone’s throw away, are many other islands.  Some have long supported their own small human communities; others have colorful histories but today are inhabited only by birds and rats.  This unique book tells the histories and human stories of 45 of the “other” islands of New York City.

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Where the Wild Things Are: Kayaking with Marine Mammals in New York City

By Vladimir Brezina and Johna Till Johnson

Kayaking in the waterways of New York City is a distinctly urban experience. Instead of quiet nature, New York City kayakers are treated to the sights and sounds of the city and close-up views of a man-made marine ecosystem of seawalls, docks, piers, ferries, tugs, barges, tankers, cruise ships, huge bulkers and container ships, and a myriad marine-industrial activities. The energy of the city is ever-present.

Yet, nature is present too. Between petrochemical plants, there’s a remnant of a beach, or salt-water marsh. Gulls watch from pilings. Rafts of ducks and geese float in the backwaters between piers and nest in odd corners.

And every now and again we receive a reminder that the waters of New York City are really those of the Atlantic Ocean, where wild things are.

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