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Archive for May, 2008

CDC photo of a feeding mosquito.

by Erik Baard

Last night I saw my first mosquito of the season, flying into my bedroom, hot on my carbon dioxide trail. I lost track of it, but minutes later I heard the soft buzz of menace in my ear. One must never underestimate the dangers of mosquitoes. Emperor Titus was driven made by one that flew up his nose and picked at his brain, buzzing ceaselessly until he was driven into madness and death. Well, at least according to the Babylonian Talmud, written by Jews hopeful that God at least took some vengeance on the sacker of the Great Temple of Jerusalem.

 

Actually, those ancient Jewish exiles aren’t unique in offering a slanted view of history centered on this insect. Consider yourself, a person who’s probably an environmentally aware reader. If I mention DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), the first person to spring to mind (okay, bad pun) is probably Rachel Carson. Her book, “Silent Spring,” and crusade against the chemical for its role in collapsing bird populations helped unleash one of the strongest currents in modern environmentalism, and led to the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Few remember Paul Hermann Müller, who won the Nobel Prize in 1948 for synthesizing DDT, which contemporaries saw as an incalculably humane achievement. Some credit the invention of DDT with saving upwards of 500 million lives. Even today, the mosquito threat is real. The species transmits diseases to 700 million people in tropical, often poor, regions each year. Over five million people, usually children, die from malaria annually. Mosquitoes also playing a central role in transmitting yellow fever, elephantiasis, dengue fever, Rift Valley fever, several encephalitis type diseases, and Ross River fever.

 

The fight over DDT usage, as policy leaders balance its risk to human health (in 1987 the EPA classified it as a “probable human carcinogen”) and the environment against its benefits. Of course, strains of mosquitoes in some regions developed a resistance to DDT in the intervening decades. Succeeding pesticides are also controversial. Locally, where 57 of the world’s 3,500 species of mosquitoes live, concerns over pesticides grew with aggressive spraying programs to eradicate insects potentially carrying the West Nile virus.

 

A few years back I wrote for the Village Voice about how New York City-bound containers of the insecticide malathion, made by Cheminova, was being stored at temperatures known to cause carcinogenic impurities. Spraying has continued in recent summers, affecting neighborhoods in areas as widespread as the South Bronx, western Staten Island, and northern Queens. A recent article in the Antigua Sun continues to raise the red flag.

 

One troubling passage on the malathion directions label reads:

“Malathion is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the USA.

The EPA doesn’t actually test malathion.  It approves the product based on information supplied by the manufacturer.”

In other words, our safety is in the hands of the industry, from the manufacturer down to the evidently often-negligent distributors.

 

Another aspect of the argument against malathion spraying is that our reaction to the West Nile threat could be overblown, perhaps even hysterical, given how infrequently the disease is fatal.

 

Some argue that given our relatively less-dense mosquito populations we might take less radical measures like wearing light-colored clothing (the species is drawn to dark colors), eating more repellent vitamin B1 (found in brown rice, blackstrap molasses, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, wheat germ, and soybeans, among other foods), applying cinnamon oil, deploying nets and screens, and introducing more animals that prey upon mosquitoes. One odd note: mosquitoes are highly sensitive to women’s menstrual cycles. I’m not sure what that says about interspecies sisterhood…

 

The environmental damage done by spraying is of increasing concern. Parallel to the bee decimation, lobster stocks are historically low. Both marine biologists and the industry suspect malathion spraying, as I reported in the New York Times. Of course there are worrisome inherent contradictions with an insecticide to be used against a wetlands species like mosquitoes when the directions read, as they do on malathion, “Avoid contaminating any body of water.”

 

Joel Kupferman of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project pointed out to me recently that sprayers near Soundview Park were unaware that just over a ridge they were covering was the Bronx River.

 

What is not heard often, however, is cost of losing mosquitoes themselves. Their importance as pollinators has been greatly underestimated. After all, sugar from nectar is the species’ primary diet, not blood. Males drink no blood at all, and females imbibe blood from a variety of species only as their prenatal nutrient “superfood.” In the Centers for Disease Control photo above, you see the mother-to-be salivating her anticoagulants into capillary and sucking up a meal). Without mosquitoes, our wildflower and community gardens would be impoverished. Mosquitoes and their larvae are a vital food source for shorebirds, amphibians, reptiles, dragonflies, and small fish.

 

I don’t expect to see green activists sporting “save the mosquitoes” tee-shirts, but sober policymakers should perhaps be more considered in their decisions.

 

 

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Manhattanhenge by Neil deGrasse Tyson. 

Editor’s note: Please accept my apologies that some editing and link work must be redone due to a wifi interruption and WordPress/Word glitch. It will be done tonight, but for now you can see the events and most of the needed information.

 

 

ALERT! Break out the “sacrificial” champagne. It’s time for Manhattanhenge! Come see the sun set through the grid of Manhattan as in this photo by astrophysicist and Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson. Both Thursday and Friday nights are good for this little wonder. Major cross streets like 42nd and 57th are especially good for viewing if you are on the East Side, in Queens or Brooklyn, or on the East River.

 

And now, looking to the week ahead, we have lots of other FREE stuff to do in nature in the city! Seining and cycling, paddling and gardening, birding and stargazing!

 

FRIDAY, MAY 30

 

BIKING, MANHATTAN

What can I say? It’s Critical Mass! Celebrate bicycles for their promise of a cleaner and safer city, and remind drivers through a great, peaceful, and friendly presence that the roads are public and to be shared.

Gather up at 7PM in Union Square. The ride concludes at about 10PM and the route is not determined.

ASTRONOMY, MANHATTAN

 

Come see Mars, Saturn, and the Summer Triangle with dedicated members of the Amateur Astronomers Association from dusk until 10PM at Carl Schurz Park esplanade in Manhattan (where East 86th Street meets the water). If you have a telescope, bring it!

Contact Rik Davis for more information at 646-873-0252.

 

BIKING AND WALKING, BROOKLYN

Be an assuring presence on two wheels for fellow New Yorkers making their way home with SafeWalk, a program of RightRides for Women’s Safety. The program provides the protection of companionship to all, because simply not walking alone is a strong defense from muggings, sexual assault, and hate crimes. All you and other volunteer team members need to do is bike to the location of a caller and walk that person to a destination within a 10-15 block radius. Right now coverage includes the hours of 11PM-2AM and the neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and downtown Brooklyn.

Sign up as a volunteer and get an orientation by emailing safewalknyc@gmail.com. And if you need this service, don’t hesitate to call 866-977-9255 (walk)

 

SATURDAY, MAY 31

BIRDING, BROOKLYN

Roll out of bed and roll down the road (I always recommend biking) to the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park, Brooklyn by 8AM to see a wide variety of upland and estuary birds. The Urban Park Rangers will teach you the basics…starting with the fact that no matter how good you get, birding will always involve an amount of early rising! But the rewards of open trails, fascinating creatures, and time to gather your thoughts is worth the initial bleariness. The center is at East 33rd Street and Avenue U. Call 718-421-2021 for more information.

 

BIKING, QUEENS

The increasingly interconnected greenways of New York City include some gorgeous vistas, like the western Long Island Sound. Get to know the Little Neck Bay section (and Fort Totten and Little Bay Park) and while you’re at it, join Transportation Alternatives in lobbying for full bike access across the East River’s bridges linking Queens to the Bronx!

Meet up is at 10AM, at the Cryders Lane entrance of Little Bay Park.

 

SOLAR OBSERVING, MANHATTAN

You’re “not the only one, staring at the sun”…At least you won’t be on Saturday morning from 10AM until noon in Central Park, at the model sailboat-filled Conservatory Water (enter at 5th Avenue and 72nd Street). The Amateur Astronomers Association would like you to safely (approved filters) look at the surface of the sun, and learn about this average yet precious star. And while you’re there, check out the red-tailed hawk, Pale Male!

If you’re bitten by the astronomy bug, join the friendly stargazers at their 1PM meeting: 1 PM, AA HQ (1010 Park Avenue, at 85th Street). Call Rik Davis for more information: 646-873-0252

  

BIKING, MANHATTAN 

Teach your child how to bike and take in old growth forests in a single outing by heading up to the Inwood Hill Park Nature Center at 10AM. The event lasts until 1PM.

You’ll need to pre-register for this effective no-pedal instruction method (see this video to learn more) by calling 311 or visiting this page.

 

CHILDREN AND NATURE, MANHATTAN


We expect our kids to pick up languages fast, and to know how to make our newest gadgets work. Imagine what they could do as the family’s naturalists! Bring `em out to
Highbridge Park where kids 4-12 years old can learn about seeds (how they spread, why they are so important to plants and animals) on Saturday afternoon, from 2PM until 330PM. You must accompany your child to the Tower Terrace (enter the park at East 172 St. or East 174 St. and walk to the water) and register for the class with Linda Huntington by calling her at 212-795-1388 or emailing linda.huntington@parks.nyc.gov.

 
 

 

HIKE, MANHATTAN

 

Nature loves the edges of things. Life is most abundant at the shorelines (both above and under water) and the forest’s edge. The same goes for night and day – the action picks up at dusk and dawn, with crepuscular creatures busy at work. Enjoy the show as a hiker through Central Park’s North Woods. Bring a flashlight and meet at Belvedere Castle (midway through the park along 79th Street) at 730PM.

 

GARDENING AND WILDFLOWERS, STATEN ISLAND

Despite its pivotal role in Revolutionary War history, Conference House Park has fallen to insidious invaders! The mugwort isn’t coming, it’s already set in roots! Ditto for other invasive plants and trees that threaten indigenous trees and shrubs. In the process you’ll learn about the wildflowers now in bloom.

Come down for an afternoon of purposeful exercise at 2PM – water, gloves, and tools provided. Volunteers will gather at the visitors’ center at the intersection of Hylan Boulevard and Satterlee Street. To register and for directions by car, bike, train, and bus, contact Cheri Brunault at 718-390-8021 or by emailing cheri.brunault@parks.nyc.gov.

 

TREE WALK, BRONX


Learn your trees with the experts at Van Cortlandt Park (
246th Street and Broadway). Gather at 11AM at the western entrance, wear comfortable shoes, and enjoy an unhurried time in the greenery. Call 718-548-0912 for details.

 ROWING – BRONX

Row with Rocking the Boat!

Explore the vibrant Bronx River in a beautifully handcrafted rowboat with Rocking the Boat. Community rowing hours are 1PM-5PM at the Jose E Serrano Riverside Campus for Arts and The Environment.

 

 

 

SUNDAY, JUNE 1

 

BIRDING WALK, BROOKLYN

 

Prospect Park is rich in bird diversity, and the Brooklyn Bird Club want to take you right up to the “front doors” of their often-hidden nests! Pay a happy visit to our avian neighbors, many of whom now have young in their nests, by meeting up with the group at 8AM at the Audubon Center (Lincoln Road and Ocean Avenue entrance) for the two-hour walk. Call 718-287-3400 for more information.

 

BIRDING WALK, STATEN ISLAND

 

You can’t go wrong birding in a place named for one of the more beautiful species. Urban Park Rangers will teach you how to get started in birding while in none other than Blue Heron Park Preserve (222 Poillon Avenue between Amboy Road Hylan Boulevard). Join them at 9AM, and call ahead with questions – 718-967-3542 

CANOEING, BRONX

 

Come paddle with the Urban Park Rangers in the lagoon of New York City’s largest park, Pelham Bay Park. Kids eights years old and up and adults can explore and inhabit this lesser-known idyll starting at 10AM. The launch is at the NW corner of the Orchard Beach parking lot. To register, call 718-885-3467

. Registration is rolling until filled.
 
 

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 10AM and 5PM) on the Hudson River south of 72nd Street. Please dress for getting wet and know how to swim. Call the Downtown Boathouse for weather updates at 646-613-0740 and further information at 212-408-0219.

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 1PM and 5PM) arranged by the LIC Community Boathouse on the East River where Vernon Boulevard meets 31st Avenue in Astoria. You’ll see Socrates Sculpture Park’s beach at Hallets Cove and a wooden staircase on a wall. Please dress for getting wet and know how to swim.

 

MARINE BIOLOGY, BROOKLYN

 

See “What Lurks Beneath” the Gerritsen Creek with naturalists at the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park, Brooklyn (East 33rd Street and Avenue U). Meet up at 11AM, and start netting wet wildlife. For more information call 718-421-2021

 

BUTTERFLY WALK, MANHATTAN

Meet up at the 106th and 5th Ave. entrance into Central Park at 11AM for an exploration of local butterflies and moths. Call 212-860-1376 for more information.

FLOWER WALK, MANHATTAN

Fort Tryon is worth the visit for its amazing heather garden alone. But poke around for other delightful blooms in the Alpine Garden and other areas with expert horticulturalists. Not to mention the Hudson River views from on high! Meet at 1PM for the 90-minute walk and talk, starting at the Margaret Corbin Circle, Fort Tryon Park (Cabrini Boulevard and Fort Washington Avenue).

 

NATURE WALK, BROOKLYN

 

Each Saturday and Sunday you’re welcome to stroll along for an hour to see the wildlife of Prospect Park. Meets at 3PM at the Audubon Center.

 

CAMPING 101, MANHATTAN

Learn the basics of camping in Manhattan, of all places! Come to the Inwood Hill Nature Center at 2PM by entering the Inwood Hill Park at West 218th Street and Indian Road. For more information, call 212-304-2365.

 

TUESDAY, JUNE 3

 

While the rest of the nation is trying to discern what motivations lurk beneath the surface of politicians, you can be discovering what wondrous life is thriving in beneath the surface of the western Long Island Sound. Orchard Beach is apparently the place to see and be seined these days (okay, I’m sorry). Come to the Orchard Beach Nature Center at Pelham Bay Park at 3PM. For more information call 718-885-3466

.
 
 

 

 

ASTRONOMY, BROOKLYN

 

Saturn hasn’t been gentrified yet, though Mars night cave as quickly as Brooklyn one day. Just kidding…sorta. But come see both, and the Summer Triangle, with the generous Amateur Astronomy Association. They love sharing their joy in cosmic appreciation, so come along! Meet at 10PM at the war memorial on Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn Heights, across from the Park Plaza Restaurant. For more information, email cadman@aaa.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

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View from Fresh Kills South Hill. Photo by Emmanuel Fuentebella.

 

by Erik Baard

 

Not so many years ago, if you told people that you were getting up early on Saturday morning to rush over to Fresh Kills on Staten Island, they would have thought you were crazy or a highly-paid union worker. Today, a few savvy folks might peg you for a naturalist.

 

The world’s largest dump (actually, the world’s largest manmade structure, of sorts, in that it exceeded the volume of the Great Wall of China) is quietly transforming into the city’s second largest park, after Pelham Bay Park. You can witness the process yourself by signing up for a free tour now through November through this link. Don’t fret the competition to get a ticket – the tour I joined this weekend wasn’t booked up. Besides, you have, oh, a few more years of chances. The park officially opens in 2036.

 

 

My friend Emmanuel Fuentebella and I hit the road early, biking from LIC to South Ferry in 35 minutes. At the St. George ferry terminal on Staten Island we were picked up by a mini-bus operated by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation along with 11 other guests (many of whom were NYC Audubon affiliates and Audubon Society members). Our guide was Christina Somma Berrocal, a NYC Urban Park Ranger. We started learning about the site before we even arrived, as Somma Berrocal pulled out a cardboard cross-section of a trash mound (the site has four large ones, ranging between 140′ and 200′ tall), with a garbage core covered by layers of fresh sand, soil, topsoil and plantings.

 

 

Fresh Kills Vision by NYC Parks.

 

 

Perhaps the most critical component is also the thinnest and toughest, an “impermeable geomembrane.” That rugged black tarp is what stands between 2036’s gorgeous recreation area and wilderness preserve above (in the computer rendering immediately above) and frightening contamination. Tree plantings must be chosen carefully to exclude deep vertical roots systems, Somma Berrocal explained, to avoid any puncture risk.

 

At the moment the trash is being digested by microbes, which will actually cause the mounds to shrink a bit. But not before they’ve earned their keep! The methane (“natural gas” in daily parlance), organic chemicals, and carbon dioxide produced are tapped via long pipe networks (see the methane taps in the foreground of the above photo by Emmanuel). The natural gas is purified and sold to Keyspan (now part of National Grid), which in turn sells it to heat up to 10,000 homes at a time. I can imagine a “green” dry cleaner using the CO2 to spiff up designer suits for the local gentry.

 

Less immediately marketable is the leachate goo that landfills produce when water jazzes up microbial and fungal activity. That’s dried and shipped out to another landfill in West Virginia. As a side note, the five boroughs now send trash to Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina. Remember, the primary insight of environmentalism is that when things are thrown away, there is no “away.”

 

 

A few times we caught a whiff of something not-so-fresh at the North Mound of Fresh Kills. “It smells like badly burned bacon,” remarked fellow-traveler Melody. But those moments were truly the exception, and a useful reminder of the admirable audacity of the endeavor.

 

 

View from the North Mound of Fresh Kills. Photo by Emmanuel Fuentebella.

 

There’s plenty of encouragement from nature, however. Emmanuel snapped some wonderful photos contrasting the Manhattan skyline with the landscape rolling out from the North and South Mounds. To start, only 45% of the 2,200-acre site was actually used for garbage piles. The rest is composed of wetlands, creeks, and grasslands rich with wildflowers. Black locust and cottonwood trees are shading lowlands.

 

South Mound wildflowers. Photo by Emmanuel Fuentebella.

 

 

Before our vehicle even stopped, we saw an enormous turkey vulture aloft over the former wastelands. At the North Mound we were dazzled by the wheeling figures of two osprey silhouetted against a cloud-dappled sky. One of our group, Annie, identified them even at that height by the finger-like feather pattern at their wing tips.

 

 

Osprey gliding. Photo by Emmanuel Fuentebella.

 

 

 

As the trip unfolded there were treated to sightings of egrets, cormorants, an oriole, mallard ducks in a fresh water collect (where I imagine there might also be snapping turtles), and a zigzagging barn swallow. Opal, Meloday’s daughter, explained that the erratic “kamikaze” flight pattern meant it was feeding on insects in flight.

 

 

My biggest thrill was spotting a sharp shinned hawk. In truth, I wavered between that identification and calling it a Coopers Hawk and was clueless either way; I was playing the odds. The juveniles of both species look quite similar, being a dab brown, and it was Opal who sorted it out. Adults are easier to distinguish, and some birders call lanky Coopers Hawks “flying crosses” while sharp shinned hawks are “flying mallets.”

 

 

Blue herons and killdeer are also reliable finds, Somma Berrocal said. The killdeer often lay eggs on the infrequently traveled gravel paths, because their speckled eggs blend so well, she added.

 

We didn’t see deer but Somma Berrocal informed that over 200 of the species now on Staten Island. I imagined them sneaking across the Outerbridge Crossing or graceful Bayonne Bridge, but she stunned me by telling us that the deer swam to the island from New Jersey. How brave and hungry must a deer be to stealthily swim tidal waters plied by oil barges?

 

Curious humans aren’t yet permitted to visit the site by boat, but rowers and paddlers should seek the site’s inclusion in the NYC Water Trail. It would make a wonderful destination, even if for specially arranged tours (as with our landside excursion). And an early dialog might help prevent some well-intention mistakes from being implements, such as the large, artificial launch conceived for Fresh Kills (NYC Parks’ computer generated image below). A soft shoreline, even if created with deposited sand, would be safer, more pleasant, and ecologically friendlier.

 

Fresh Kills kayak launched envisioned by NYC Parks.

 

 

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Yellow warbler at Ridgewood Reservoir. Photo by Steve Nanz.

 

 

 

The graveyard’s a fine and verdant place,

But none, I think, do there play ball or race.

 

…with apologies to Andrew Marvell            

 

 

 

by Erik Baard 

 

City Council District 30 in western Queens boasts some of the widest swaths of green in New York City, but much of that consists of cemeteries. The stony highlands of the terminal moraine make for bad farmland, so elders in preceding generations set those tracts aside for burials. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is now trying to build more ball fields and tracks in the area, but finds itself running into opposition from more restless living residents, including the candidates vying to represent the district in a special election on June 3.

 

The controversy has two key facets. First, the city has chosen a thriving wild space, Ridgewood Reservoir, for its new facilities. Secondly, the agency proposes to use potentially dangerous artificial turf on the new ball fields (and in parks throughout the city – more than 100 sites when installation is complete).

 

The Ridgewood Reservoir hasn’t provided water to residents for five decades and it became a possession of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation in 2004. Basins have grown over with seeded-on forests on the 50-acre site, and it helps sustain more than 120 bird species, including seven classified as endangered.

 

 

 

 

The $46 million NYC Parks plan would bulldoze 20 acres of land for sports while residents complain that similar facilities at nearby Highland Park are falling into disrepair. NYC Audubon has “strongly urged the Parks Department to commit to no net loss of forest cover.”

 

The Natural Resources Defense Council summed up the crisis this way:  

For not yet heeding the call to preserve this unique natural setting in the heart of New York City (but with the understanding that it is not too late for a change of course), we award the Parks Department plans to develop the Ridgewood Reservoir landscape with an Earth Day 2008 Bad Apple designation.

This video, produced by the invaluable Rob “CityBirder” Jett (and including photos by Steve Nanz – the yellow warbler above was taken by Nanz at the reservoir) provides an excellent overview of the imperiled reservoir wilderness area.

Artificial turf, a chief component of which is crumb rubber derived from used tires, poses potential health hazards to children and performs none of the services of plant life. The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene acknowledges that the threat demands more testing, but encourages play on the plastic fields as an alternative to obesity. The tradeoff is a false one, or at very least an entirely unjust one to demand citizens accept.

 

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, a former Parks commissioner, has called on the agency to halt installation and allow independent testing of the artificial turf. CUNY psychology professor William Crain sent samples over to Rutgers University chemist Junfeng Zhang who found hazardous concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), according to NY State Department of Environmental Conservation standards. One sample contained highly carcinogenic benzo(a)pyrene at more than eight times above levels deemed acceptable for soil.

 

 

The New York Environmental Law Project has also taken up the cause, providing a very informative summary page.

 

 

The reservoir and artificial turf plan was raised at a recent candidate forum hosted by the Historic Districts Council. Each candidate, seated in alphabetical order, commented in turn. Republican Anthony Como has said in the past that some of the land surrounding the reservoir might be built over for recreational use. At the forum he stated that in such a small habitat area it was impossible to eliminate sections of growth without affecting the ecosystem of the rest. Democrat Elizabeth Crowley (for whom I’m doing low-level volunteer work: get-out-the-vote phone banking, carrying literature as she pounds the pavement) often mentions her enjoyment of playing ball with her sons but in this case opposed any recreational development, calling the unofficial refuge an “enchanted land” for visitors. Democrat Charles Ober also railed against the plan, questioning the City’s logic in cutting down “5,000 trees” while asking volunteers to help plant a million trees. Republican Tom Ognibene who that evening announced himself as a skeptic of global warming, has argued before that the reservoir should be maintained as an emergency backup resource. At the forum he focused on the artificial turf aspect of community concerns. He conceded that he supported the introduction of the substitute based on the best information he had available at the time, but asserted that he now believes more testing is needed.

 

As I rode my bike home from the forum, I noodled through the broader implications of the Ridgewood Reservoir issue. It seems our city might be best off if future developments by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation adhered to three principles:

 

 

1) Preservation and restoration of wild spaces is first priority.

 

I don’t need to lecture NYC Parks about the value of green and blue areas. The Forever Wild program is fantastic, and I support transferring public wetlands into its administration. When I find myself disagreeing with NYC Parks so strongly over land use, it pains me.

 

Using hardy indigenous plant species (some are far less prone to invasive species competition than others) and adaptive xeriscaping, natural habitat areas can be created affordably.

 

 

2) New built spaces must incorporate athletic recreation.

 

New developments, especially those sited near residences, should be required to include places for active play and fitness. The declining sport of baseball is very land-intensive. Basketball, roller hockey, water polo, and volleyball are just a few space-efficient team sports – so much so that they can be placed on the rooftops of new stores.

 

3) We must foster a culture change toward outdoor, eco-recreation.

 

Wilderness areas aren’t exclusively for birders. Hiking, rowing, paddling, rock and tree climbing (in designated areas), and other activities can be as physically demanding as any typical weekend sport while also introducing young minds to the science and excitement of exploring nature. And we’ve seen that habitat can thrive in spaces like the reservoir that aren’t amenable to the uniform grass required by ball fields, leaving public servants in the utterly perverse position of destroying green, lush natural spaces so that artificial grass can be installed.

 

There is no park as grand as our harbor. Protected bike paths should be means of bringing green into neighborhoods by using green medians; they should offer access to habitat areas but not slice them up. Bike paths can weave neighborhoods together so that young people are exposed to new foods, cultures, and ways of living. Cycling is civics.

 

 

And so is voting. As the old punchline goes, “Is this a personal fight or can anyone join in?” A habitat like Ridgewood Reservoir is a boon for all New Yorkers, and this most egregious use of artificial turf will only embolden officials to spread it over public spaces in all five boroughs.  

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Sand tiger shark. Photo by J.L. Maher/WCS

 

 

Editor’s note: Yes, there are sharks swimming wild in New York City’s open waters! It took tremendous discipline to hold back this fantabulous Nature Community item by Paul Sieswerda, animal curator of the New York Aquarium (and a rare fellow Frisian New Yorker). But now you have it, for the first weekend of NYC’s public beach swimming season!

 

One sad note is that in the time between his writing and today, the aquarium’s longest-lived shark passed away. Bertha, a sand tiger shark photographed here by J.L. Maher of the Wildlife Conservation Society, was caught off the coast of Coney Island and lived at the aquarium for 43 years. Her species is so common in the New York Bight that the aquarium has traded young ones for others species from around the world. I had a kayaking encounter with another species of shark near the Narrows a few years back, but that tale will wait for another day.

 

 

“Sharks and the City”

 

By Paul Sieswerda

 

As Curator at a public aquarium, I am often above, in, or under the ocean’s surface and I think that I’m not alone in having brief shivers when the thought of what sea creatures may be eying my activities passes through my mind.  It’s just a flash of trepidation and doesn’t slow me down, but I have to admit to it. 

 

Sharks, of course, are prominent on that list of imagery and probably somewhat realistic in tropical waters. But in New York?  You’re right, that’s crazy. 

 

However…

 

The Chamber of Commerce may not like to publicize it, but the waters around New York are full of sharks.  Fortunately, the species are not man-eaters or dangerous, but sharks are plentiful and varied.  It should be stated however, that one of the most horrific episodes in shark attack history took place very close by.  In 1916, four fatal attacks took place along the New Jersey coast within the first twelve days of July, in Beach Haven and  Spring Lake, and miles inland, in Matawan Creek. Another victim was also attacked in Matawan, but survived with the loss of a leg.  That history changed the world’s image of sharks when Peter Benchley popularized the factual story in the book, Jaws.  Of course, the movie seared the fear of shark attacks further into the psyche of a worldwide population. The fishing fleet off Montauk catches enough monster sharks to keep the impression in the back of most New Yorkers’ minds.  However, experience settles those fears for New York swimmers since the chance of a shark attack ranks about in the same neighborhood as the risks as from asteroids.

 

Our native sharks are benign to humans.  Local species are fish eaters like the sand tiger shark or scavengers like the smooth dogfish.  There are sandbar sharks as well cruising off Coney Island beach.  These sharks are happy to hunt fish and leave humans completely alone.   In fact, sand tiger sharks and sand bar sharks rarely take bait from fishermen, so they are not often caught on hook and line.  The dogfish are another story, and many striper fishermen are disappointed to pull in a dogfish instead of a fat striper.

 

Sand tiger shark. Photo by J.L. Maher/WCS

 

Sand tiger shark, Carcharias taurus

The New York Aquarium has a number of sand tiger sharks on display.  One specimen lived in the collection over 40 years.  How long do they live? The shark in the photo, Bertha, was the longest living shark recorded at an aquarium and it was probably a couple of years old when it was captured.  Since then, the Aquarium has supplied itself and other institutions with sand tiger sharks.  Local fishermen catch them in their nets and notify the Aquarium.  Since these sharks are usually small they can be transported fairly easily.  Some have been sent as far away as Japan.  A “pupping”  ground seems to be along the southern coast of Long Island.  Young sand tigers are caught each year incidental to the fishermen’s target species.

 

            First Come, First Served

Sand tigers have a strange method of development. The embryos practice hunting within the mother!  This cannibalism before birth is called oophagy.

 

Eggs are produced in the shark mother’s two uterine tracks, one after another.  As the first egg develops into an embryonic shark, it eats the next developing embryo.  This continues until the birth of the two babies that have grown in each uterus.  They grow strong feeding on their potential siblings.  At birth, the young sand tiger sharks are forty inches (100 cm.) in length, and completely ready to hunt on their own.                                              From : Sharks by P. Sieswerda

 

The adult sand tigers are usually about seven feet in length.  They have two equal sized dorsal fins set at the rear half of the body.  The nose is pointed and often upturned.  The most prominent feature are the teeth that Richard Ellis, author and naturalist, calls the “wickedest-looking teeth in all of sharkdom.” 

 

These teeth, however, indicate that they are fish eaters and not prone to take bites out of large animals (species that do are a real danger to humans). Although they look ferocious, sand tigers have adapted a mouthful of fangs that are designed to effectively grasp slippery fish. Most sharks must continually swim at a speed that gives them lift, but sand tigers are able to keep from sinking by holding a gulp of surface air internally, allowing them to cruise at slow speed and save energy for quick lunges that catch their prey unaware. In aquariums, it was found that sand tigers needed a minimum depth in their tanks, not for any space requirement, but to allow them enough distance to launch themselves above the surface to gulp air.

 

 

Most New Yorkers will not see sand tiger sharks except at the New York Aquarium, but it may be interesting to know that when gazing out from a Brooklyn or Long Island beach, or even sharing the surf, there are sizeable sharks out there playing out their lives, with little threat to people and deserving only the slightest twinge of fear. Knowing the facts is comforting, but I think it’s human to worry a little.

 

Or is it just me? 

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Black crappie. Credit NYC DEC. 

by Erik Baard

 

This unfortunately named cousin of more celebrated sunfishes might want you to know that its name is derived from “crapet,” a word in the Quebecois dialect of French referring to species of the family Centrarchidae.

 

If I had my way, I’d just entirely rename the species as black scrappie, because you can’t have more moxie than this: one of its chief foods is the young of its own predators, such as northern pike and walleye. That’s right, “You gonna try’n eat me? Well, watch me eat your baby first!”

 

They also eat insects, crustaceans, and zooplankton.

 

If you plan to feast on crappies (apparently that’s more delicious than it sounds), you’ll have to venture outside of NYC. While Kissena Lake, Wolfe’s Pond, Silver Lake, Clove Lake, Prospect Park Lake, Van Cortlandt Lake, and other local freshwater bodies abound with this species, they are governed by “no kill,” catch and release policies. Use either plastic lures or live minnows, and seasoned anglers recommend “spider rigging,” that is arraying fishing poles in a spoke pattern from a single spot. Specialized hooks prevent damage to the fish.

 

Enjoy discovering this crepuscular species (seen in a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation image above) at dawn or dusk when they emerge from marsh grass areas, weed beds, or from under sunken logs and rocky ledges. They’re active all year long, even under a cover of ice (ice fishers love them), but start congregating and spawning in vegetative beds when temperatures reach over 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That means this is a prime time to reel in a crappie. 

 

And remember, no laughing at their name. At least not while they’re dangling above the water surface and can hear you.

 

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Wildwire-May22-28

 

As always we have a ton of FREE things to enjoy outdoors in New York City that put you in direct contact with nature. We hope you get out there, have fun, learn, and love your wild, wild city!

 

 

 

 

THURSDAY, MAY 22

 

Horticulture, Brooklyn

 

Each Thursday at 10AM the “VIPP Crew” tackles crucial horticultural and maintenance work throughout Prospect Park. It’s great exercise, you’ll meet a new circle of friends, and you can take quiet satisfaction in creating and preserving beauty for others. The day’s activities wrap up at 2PM.

 

 

 

FRIDAY, MAY 23

 

GARDENING, BRONX

 

Kids and sunflowers alike grow up healthy at the Sherman Avenue Community Garden. This green oasis at 955 Sherman Avenue (between East 163rd and East 164 Streets) has recently been redesigned, so come help inject new life into it on Friday, from 10AM until 2PM. For more information call 718.817.8026

 

HORSESHOE CRAB WALK, STATEN ISLAND
Revolutionary War history and deep, deep prehistory at once? That’s a heck of a two-fer, thanks to our NYC Park Rangers. Witness a ritual that has taken place for millions of years as horseshoes gather on Staten Island’s shores at Conference House Park. Meet at 7PM at the Visitor Center, where Hylan Boulevard and Satteries Street meet.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SATURDAY, MAY 24

 

 

BIKE LESSONS, ALL OVER THE PLACE!

 

This is a great weekend to have experts help you teach your child to bike ride. Clinics are being held in several place, so please check the Bike Month calendar directly. And make special note of the “Queens Bites” and “Biking is for Lovers” if you believe that bike entitles you to a few extra, yummy calories!

COMPOSTING WORKSHOP, MANHATTAN

 

The Manhattan Compost Project wants you to know the food scraps are powerfully fertile soil in waiting. Come to the 6B Garden at 1PM and BEHOLD THE POWER OF WORMS!

 

Like all New Yorkers, worms are very concerned about housing. You’ll learn how to care for worms in your own apartment and donate your product to community gardens or lavish it on your own plants. As any gardener can tell you, the best plant growers don’t have green thumbs, they have brown thumbs. No…wait, that came out wrong.

 

At the end of the free two-hour workshop you’ll have the option of buying a subsidized “worm condo” for $10.

 

 

 

 

NATURE WALK, MANHATTAN 

 

“Amble through the Ramble” with the Central Park Conservancy, a place of dense and diverse 38-acre woodland and streams. Learn your trees and a few birds too in this relaxing one-hour walk. No RSVP required – just make your way to the center of the park from 79th Street on either side by 930AM, early bird!

 

 

BIRDING HIKE, STATEN ISLAND

Not so many years ago, if you told your friends that you were going to hike through Fresh Kills, Staten Island, they would have though you were nuts. Actually, some of them still might, and that’s half the fun. The notorious landfill is rapidly transforming into a spectacular public park and preserve (pictured above). Come with NYC Audubon and park staff to see what’s already roosting and soaring, from hawks to songbirds.

This trip is free, but please RSVP. The trip meets at the St. George Ferry Terminal at 10AM and wraps up at noon.

PADDLING, Brooklyn

Venture to Brooklyn’s deep south and enjoy the famous hospitality of Sebago Canoe Club at their annual open house. You’ll get a chance to paddle Jamaica Bay and Paerdegat Basin, munch, and mingle while enjoying the beauty of their recent gardening. The festivities run from 10AM until 5PM.

 

WOODLAND RESTORATION

 

Each Saturday the Weekend Woodlands Volunteers clean, replant, and care for Prospect Park’s superb forest – Brooklyn’s last. Meet at the Picnic House at 10AM and wrap up this fun work at 2PM. Call 718.965.8960 for more information.

 

 

BIRDING, BROOKLYN

 

Get to know the 200 species of the dinosaurs’ closest living relatives living in Prospect Park on the introduction to birdwatching walk every Saturday. Meet the Brooklyn Bird Club guides at the Audubon Center at noon and stroll and learn until 130PM.

 

 

SUNDAY, MAY 25

 

 

BIKE THE TOUR DE BROOKLYN

 

You won’t find the Dodgers, but you will find pretty much anything else a major city would envy in Brooklyn. A great way to explore both its topography and spirit (and learn about the important work of Transportation Alternatives) is the annual Tour de Brooklyn. Hurry and register online, as required.

 

 

 

 

BLOOMING HIKE, BRONX

 

Why don’t you just go for a bloomin’ hike? Really. The NYC Park Rangers at Pelham Bay Park, our city’s largest, extend this sweetly simple invitation: “We’ll go looking for things in bloom. Come with us!”

 

Meet at the Pelham Bay Ranger Station (Bruckner Boulevard and Wilkinson Avenue) at 11AM for this casual and fun outing. Call 718.885.3467 for more information.

 

 

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN

 

What would the Summer on the Hudson Festival be without access to the water itself? Join the Downtown Boathouse veteran kayakers for a great experience for the whole family, paddling in a relatively quiet urban curve of the Hudson River estuary. This kicks off their season at Riverside Park South, which continues each Saturday after this weekend until October 12.

 

KAYAKING AND CANOEING, QUEENS

See great art at Socrates Sculpture Park and the Noguchi Museum with a wet butt (okay, hopefully dry if you’re coming out of a canoe) by paddling with the LIC Community Boathouse. Visit Socrates Sculpture Park’s beach at Hallets Cove (where 31st Avenue meets the East River) for walk-up tours of the cove. And feel free to hang out at the beach for fun banter as volunteers alternate between sitting, helping people into boats, and cleaning the shoreline.

 

NATURE WALK, BROOKLYN

 

Boy do those Prospect Park people work hard to provide natural experiences in NYC’s interior second city. Each Sunday (Saturdays too!) you’re welcome to stroll along for an hour to see the wildlife of this Olmstead gem. Meets at 3PM at the Audubon Center.

 

BIRDING HIKE, STATEN ISLAND

 

Set your alarm now and hustle down for a birding hike at Staten Island’s fantastic greenbelt. Meet at 7AM (ouch!) at the new Greenbelt Nature Center at High Rock Park, at 200 Nevada Avenue (off Rockland Avenue). Call 718.351.3450 for more information.

 

ASTRONOMY, QUEENS

 

This weekend the stars aren’t to be seen in Tribeca, they are to be seen from Bayside. Join the NYC Park Rangers’ monthly telescopic stargazer confab at Fort Totten Ranger Park. Get there by 730PM, and enter the fort entrance north of the 212 Street and Cross Island Parkway intersection. Call 718.352.1769 for more information. 

 

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY, MAY 28

 

STREET TREE CARE WORKSHOP, MANHATTAN

Grab a quick bite between your office and the historic Arsenal Building of Central Park where New York Tree Trust and Partnerships for Parks will be sharing fascinating and important knowledge about caring for young trees (we, as a city, are planting a lot of them!) for those who want to be on the green vanguard. Earn a Parks Volunteer Permit and free tools.

The class starts at 630PM and ends at 830PM. Register (or bring the workshop to your community) by calling 212.676.1929 or shooting an email to channaly.oum@parks.nyc.gov

 

 

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