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Archive for June, 2008

Garter snake mating ball. University of Oregon.

 

 

 

by Erik Baard

 

 

Cross-dressers are more often straight than gay, but there’s something irresistibly amusing about the fact that our language paired the words “garter” and “snake” for a species later discovered to be promiscuously homosexual in drag.

 

Well, at least chemically in drag. Male garter snakes (which live in all five boroughs in a variety of niches, ranging from dusty lots and wet drainage ditches to Last Chance Pond) awaken from hibernation in spring before the far-less-populous females in an attempt to secure best mating placement. Some males will then emit feminine pheromones and linger by the burrow entrance of a hibernating female. When males show interest, the imposter will lead them away and trick them into thinking their deed is done. The imposter will then cease emitting feminine pheromones and hurry back to the burrow to have his chance with the actual female.

 

Of course, with many more males than females, the process remains a bit messy. A happy couple will soon find themselves at the center of a huge “mating ball” (see the photo above, from the University of Oregon) of writhing males and a minority of females. Some researchers have even postulated that by tricking other males into thinking that they are female, an imposter might better survive the cold early spring, insulated at the center of such mating balls.

 

But homosexuality in “nature” is certainly not reducible to trickery. It’s varied and nuanced, and in higher mammals apparently most often centered on emotional bonding and pleasure. Yes, much as in humans. I do not doubt that many of our pre-human ancestors were homosexual and bisexual. Two years ago the University of Oslo’s Natural History Museum restarted the periodic dialogue on this topic with an photographic exhibit of 51 such species called, “Against Nature.”

 

For me, the two most fascinating questions are why did homosexuality evolve and how did a sexual behavior coalesce in humans into a sustained and resilient Gay subculture? After all, while other species display homosexual behavior, only humans are Gay.

 

 

Many media stories about the 1,500 species in which homosexuality has been observed leap right to the phrase “gay animals.” As we look back on the weekend’s Gay Pride festivities, I think it’s important to bear (no pun intended but hey, I’ll roll with any bad pun) in mind a distinction between shorthand sexual definitions and a richer cultural and personal identification.

 

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Pelagia noctiluca swimming near Spain. Jellyfish photo by Oceana/Suarez

 

by Erik Baard

 

The Long Island City Community Boathouse hosted a “brunch paddle” from Anable Cove in Hunters Point down to “Dumbo Cove” in Brooklyn Bridge Park. On the way, one participant was surprised, and then reassuringly centered, by a simple encounter:

 

“Nature sightings started before we even left off when Dan saw a jellyfish bobbling around. There are jellyfish in the East River? Sure, that makes sense,” wrote Wren Longno.

 

As a tidal strait completing the circle of Long Island from the harbor to the Sound, the life of the East River (or as I prefer to call it, the Gotham Strait) is entirely oceanic. It’s easy to forget, however, with highrises, highways, skyscrapers, parking lots, airports, and sitting parks bounding the entire length of the waterway. The gulls, seaweed, salt air, and the humble jellyfish remind us of the salient fact of our location. We are ocean islanders.

 

But recent research has added a new dimension to our relationship with the jellyfish: their recent population boom might herald worldwide decline of marine ecology.

 

“When you knock out species, other species fill in the gap, sometimes from lower down the food chain. The problem with that in this case is that jellyfish are not exactly pleasant, they don’t have much commercial value, and they’re a pain in the neck for many communities,” said Dianne Saenz, North American communications director for Oceana, a global ecology advocate. Oceana provided the above photo, by Carlos Suarez, of the jellyfish now plaguing Spain.

 

We’ve over-fished sharks, turtles, and tuna, among other creatures further up the food chain. Jellyfish are reproducing without checks and have less competition for the feeding on fellow zooplankton. Once their biomass tips the scales in a region, even restocking fish won’t work because it’s hard to shoehorn species into vast seas of jellyfish. Indeed, some of the invertebrates eat the very fish (especially juveniles) we’d seek to reintroduce.

 

Waves of jellyfish are chasing swimmers back to shore in the Mediterranean. The Gulf of Mexico has been a pool of jellyfish in some recent summers. In Northern Ireland, global climate change is being eyed as possibly contributing to a jellyfish invasion that wiped out stocks of penned organic salmon. Chinese and Japanese fishers are trying to contend with jellyfish crowding out the fish that provide their livelihoods. We can’t even accurately measure how had the problem is, or how fast it’s advancing, because jellyfish don’t show up on radar, sonar, or satellite images very well. After all, they typically are composed of up to 98% water, less than one percent collagen, salt and other trace minerals.

 

One thing biologists often slap lay people for is referring to some creatures as “primitive.” I understand their argument; adaptation is measured in genetic success – longevity and progeny, not brains or beauty. Some, including the great Stephen Jay Gould, go as far as to say that bacteria rule the Earth, not our self-involved primate species. This pushes the argument too far; the facts are left wanting for a poetic thread. I believe in the inherent value of complex order within individuals as well as ecosystems. Whether your sentiments are those of an artist or an engineer, nature teaches an appreciation of refinement.

 

Yes, many species of jellyfish have a ghostly beauty, and they have a fascinatingly simple, elegant structure. They are most prominently a bell and tentacles (in most species). There’s no brain or central nervous system but they can see changes in light and shade with a 360-degree scope and can smell and touch. They thrive without specialized digestive, respiratory, or circulatory systems. Some glow with sublime bioluminescent displays. But I don’t want them crowding out the dizzying array of species who have developed in the 650 millions of years since its Cnidaria or Coelenterata phylum appeared on the scene.

 

 

Jellyfish cookies

 

 

One solution, offered by the Japanese on the island of Fukui, is to eat them in cookies. But, as Florida State University food scientist Yun-Hwa “Peggy” Hsieh cautioned me, jellyfish don’t provide a complete nutritional protein. Once dried, what remains is nearly pure Type 2 collagen, she said.

 

According to Hsieh, Florida has the first large U.S. jellyfish export industry, mostly to Asia, but species in that region are smaller than in northern Asia. That means they have a higher waste proportion, and so they require more labor. In short, the real economic benefit is to tourism, by keeping beaches desirable, not the fish processor.

 

Cosmetics companies frequently send queries to Hsieh, seeking advice on turning jellyfish into Angelina Jolie pouts and other Cosmo Girl miracles. Hsieh politely takes their calls but the real goldmine, she believes, is in using their Type 2 collagen as a therapy for rheumatoid arthritis.

 

“Chicken collagen has been tested, but it seems that a more homogenous might be more effective. We may be creative and really original with this work, but I don’t have the research funding for that right now,” said Hsieh, who has grants to pursue other questions. “If I had a sponsor, I could easily produce more interesting data. I would like to do a clinical study on rheumatoid arthritis because the animal studies were very good.”

 

One can imagine a government program to seed industrial interest in using jellyfish for adhesives or biomechanics and implants, or a George Washington Carver of jellyfish promoting many uses for the species.

 

Regardless of the uses we find for jellyfish, one thing is for certain: we’re exhausting the seas for animal protein as terribly as we are the land. Lab-grown meat might a biotech savior at some point, but the ready solution is veganism.

 

As a media center with a boisterous vegan community, New York City is well positioned to help lead that culture change. In terms of wildlife protection, habitat preservation, and energy conservation (and resulting pollution and carbon emissions), glamorizing veganism might prove more critical to the world at large than our city’s leadership in mass transit, “green” building, and the humane density made possible by tree planting.

 

If you’d like to get active as a volunteer promoting ocean ecology, veganism, or natural sciences, contact the Mayor’s Volunteer Center for help finding a great organizational partner.

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Summer daylight and heat cycle by USA Today

 

 

by Erik Baard

 

A kid waiting to kayak at the Clearwater Festival last Solstice weekend asked me, “If this is the longest day of the year, then why isn’t it the hottest?” It’s a logical question, and I guess a common one. The incomparable Joe Rao addressed it in his New York Times astronomy blurb last week, and USA Today explored the question as well. The graphic above comes from USA Today.

 

In short, if Earth lacked an atmosphere, then surface temperature, apart from heat retained by rocks, would correlate with sun exposure. But our relatively stable atmosphere slowly and steadily receives energy from sunlight over the course of the spring and summer, as days lengthen. That energy, which we feel as heat, builds higher and higher until reaching its peak in July and early August.

 

I suppose an economist might call day length a leading indicator of summer, whereas as temperature is a lagging indicator. Swimmers and boaters (who are perpetually potential swimmers) know that this phenomenon of delay is even more pronounced with water temperatures.

 

Of course both air and water move around, so there’s a good bit of chaos and complexity to the fluid dynamics that make for summer weather and those late night skinny dips in open water that feel as warm as a bathtub. But the principle of heat retention is a far more powerful truth than its exceptions.

 

I’m also reminded of my good friend, David Grinspoon (with whom, for the record, I’ve never skinny-dipped), who joined us with comments about the Orion Nebula for the very first essay on Nature Calendar. He’s an astrobiologist (with an Earthly incarnation as a rhythm guitarist) with prestigious Mars and Venus robotic probe science assignments from both NASA and the European Space Agency, and serves as the curator of astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature. He’s devoted much of his career to the planet Venus. He notes that if there was intelligent groundling life on Venus, it won’t see dominant temperature zones as we see them, corresponding to latitude, but instead look skyward to temperate altitudes. This is because Venus has an atmosphere that’s so dense, and therefore conductive, that heat overloads long ago seeped across all geographic areas. The surface is now isothermic, meaning that temperatures at the poles and the equator are the same. It’s gotten so hot there, due to a greenhouse effect gone into overdrive, that David postulates Venusian life would prefer a cloud habitat

 

Of course, our cities perversely punish themselves, with air conditioners dumping extra heat into the dense local ecosystem through their exhaust, building electrical wires, regional transmission lines, and the power plants required to power them. Makes you wonder if there’s intelligent life on Earth.

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Pelham Bay

Birdwatching and salt marshes in New York City‘s largest park.

 

by Sheila Buff,

 

Pelham Bay Park is the largest park in New York City. It covers 2,766 acres in the northeast part of the Bronx. Within the park are many popular recreation areas: mile-long Orchard Beach on the Long Island Sound, two golf courses, miniature golf and a driving range, a stable, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and picnic grounds. If you look beyond all the recreational facilities, however, you’ll see that this park has a very diverse range of habitats–the most diverse of any park in the city or nearby. About 200 acres of the park are saltwater marshes; there are 13 miles of shoreline.

            Once the site of Siwanoy Indian hunting and fishing grounds and later the site of fashionable mansions, Pelham Bay became a park in 1888 when New York City bought and consolidated 28 private estates. All the houses, except the historic Bartow-Pell mansion, were torn down. In the 1930s, the park was developed as a major recreation site. Landfill was used to create a huge, mile-long beach with a massive bathhouse at Orchard Beach. Extremely popular ever since, Orchard Beach is often called the Riviera of New York City. The beach and surrounding area are always crowded in the warm weather; on a summer weekend, the 45-acre parking lot is jammed.

            The Thomas Pell Wildlife Sanctuary and the Hunter Island Marine Zoology and Geology Sanctuary were created in 1967, as part of an agreement that narrowly avoided having the wetlands of the park being turned into landfill by the city. The 375-acre Pell sanctuary along the Hutchinson River is all that remains of New York City’s original 5,000 acres of salt marsh. This area is bisected by the Hutchinson River Parkway; it is bounded by the bland apartment towers of Co-Op City on the east, by railroad tracks on the west, and by the New England Thruway to the north. The partially paved Split Rock trail runs along the western border of Goose Creek Marsh and provides some excellent views out over the tidal marsh. This can be a good spot for birding, but frankly, I find the traffic noise very oppressive. If you want to check it out, the trailhead is to the west of the Bartow traffic circle. The round trip is less than a mile.

            The Kazimiroff Nature Trail through the Hunter Island sanctuary is a much more pleasant walk. The trail is named for Dr. Theodore Kazimiroff (1914-1980), a dentist and local historian who was a leader in the fight to defeat the landfill proposal in the 1960s. The trail winds through 189 acres of one of the most beautiful sections of the park. The path is very easy to follow.

            Look for sign for the trailhead at the northern end of Orchard Beach (walk away from the promenade), about 30 yards before the Orchard Beach Nature Center at Section 2. Follow the trail as it leads into the woods of Hunter Island. In a few minutes if you look to the right you’ll see Twin Island. Actually, Twin Island and Hunter Island are islands no more. When Orchard Beach was expanded in 1934, 2.5 million cubic yards of sand,soil, and rock were used to fill the area between Hunter Island and Rodman’s Neck; in 1947, additional fill connected Twin Island to the tip of Orchard Beach. There is currently no safe access to Twin Island; Hunter Island is really now a peninsula.  The sheltered lagoon that was formed between the two islands is an outstanding place to see waterfowl, particularly ducks.

            In another few minutes, the trail forks to the left towarda stand of Norway spruce. These dense evergreens were planted by the Parks Department in 1918 as part of a reforestation effort.

            Follow the trail to the left. The spruces soon give way to large numbers of  thin black locust trees–look for the deeply furrowed bark and small, rounded, paired leaves. Black locust is a pioneer tree in forest succession. This tells you that the land here was once an open field‑-perhaps a pasture or a lawn more than 50 years ago. Your surmise will be proved correct in a few more minutes to the former site of the old Hunter mansion, which was demolished in 1937. Vestiges of the old gardens can still be seen here.  

            As you continue on, you’ll quickly come to a grove of white pines. The dense needles and comfortable horizontally layered branches make these trees a favorite roosting place for great horned owls (Bubo virginianus). Long-eared, saw-whet, screech, and barred owls are also sometimes seen here. They’re so well camouflaged that you’re unlikely to actually see any, but you should be able to see evidence of their presence, especially in the winter. Look for splashes of “whitewash” excrement on the trunks, branches, and ground around here. Look on the ground for grayish owl pellets. The pellets consist of the regurgitated indigestible parts‑-mostly the bones and hair–of the animals the owl eats. Pine trees of various sorts have been extensively planted throughout the park. The shelter they offer, combined with the large, open, rodent-filled expanses of Pelham Bay, make the park famous among birders for owls. Another excellent area to see owls here is in the dense evergreens near the Bartow-Pell mansion.

            As you continue on, you will notice the reforestation that Parks has been doing of the area, as well as the removal of invasive species.Some old chocolate-brown stone blocks strewn on either side of the trail are all that remain of the estate’s front gate. From here, the trail continues on the original winding road that connected Hunter Island to the mainland.

            The trail now leads through a large area of open, mature woodlands. The trees here are mostly oak and hickory, with some towering tulip poplars as well. As the trail curves eastward, you can catch glimpses of the Long Island Sound to your left.  The trail soon brings you out to a view over salt marsh to the Sound and you are now in the Hunter Island Sanctucary. Note the giant, rounded glacial erratics here. The really large gray boulder that sticks up out of the water is called Gray Mare; it was sacred to the Siwanoy Indians who once lived here. The flat, gray bedrock visible here is the southernmost extension of the bedrock that underlies most of New England–that’s why the shore is rocky here. Glacial scours, or deep grooves, can be seen on the surface. There are some side trails leading down to the rocks that are fun to explore, especially when the tide is low.

            The large building that you see on the shoreline to the north belongs to the New York Athletic Club. The large island just across the water is Glen Island. The island further to the northeast is David’s Island; the buildings on it are part of old Fort Slocum.

            The shore area here is an excellent place to watch hawks and ospreys migrating south in the fall. The best time of year is mid-September–you could see literally thousands of hawks go by in a single day. If you’re lucky, you’ll see an osprey snatch a fish from the water.

 

Pelham Lagoon

 

            The trail now leads you back along the inlet between Hunter and Twin islands. The salt marsh along here is quite interesting…and fragile so take care when walking . Tall cordgrass lines the water’s edge; behind it is a low-growing salt meadow. Look for saltmarsh plants such as glasswort and sea lavender here. The salt marsh is one reason there are so many ducks, geese, cormorants, grebes, and other water birds here. The shallow, tidal waters edging a salt marsh are highly productive of the vegetation and small crustaceans, fish, and other foods these birds need.

            Continue to follow the path along the salt marsh and back past the old causeway. You’ll be back at your starting point in another five minutes.

Hours, Fees, and Facilities Pelham Bay Park is open daily from dawn to 1 am, unless signs are posted otherwise. Orchard Beach is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day from 7 am – 8 pm (beach closes at 7 pm), and off-season from 7 am – 6 pm.  During the summer, there is a fee for parking:  $6 on weekdays and $8 on weekends for cars; $8 on weekdays and $10 on weekends for buses. Restrooms, water, pay phones, and a seasonal snack bar are available at the bath house complex on Orchard Beach. Dogs on leashes only; be prepared to clean up after your pet.  Pursuant to Parks rules and regulations, dogs are never allowed on beaches; however, as a courtesy leashed dogs are allowed on the sand from October 1 to May 1.

 

Getting There:

 

Pelham Bay Park is the last stop on the Lexington Avenue IRT 6 train. The station is a very long walk from the main part of the park. In the summer, the Bx5 and Bx12 buses run from the subway station to Orchard Beach. The rest of the year, you’ll have to take the Bx29 bus that goes to City Island, get off at the traffic circle on City Island Road, and walk north along the park road about a mile to Orchard Beach.

            From the Bruckner Expressway or the New England Thruway, take the exits for Pelham Bay Park/Orchard Beach and follow the signs to the parking area at Orchard Beach. From the Hutchinson River Parkway, take the exit for Orchard Beach/City Island and follow the signs.

 

Get Involved:

WildMetro and NYC Audubon will lead a free tour of Pelham Bay Park on July 19. Register online for this great event, and please consider volunteering for these two groups, which are at the forefront of conservation and urban ecological restoration.

 

Also, ask the Bronx staff at Partnerships for Parks about local, grass roots volunteer efforts to nurture Pelham Bay Park!

 

Read more of Sheila Buff’s work at her website.

 

 

 

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Blue Heron Park. Photo by NYCDPR

 

Happy Solstice! Summer is here, and life is booming. Make sure you head down to Jamaica Bay to see cacti, horseshoe crabs, and diamondback terrapin turtles! Or get lost in a world of wildflowers and butterflies in Pelham Bay Park. As for the loveliness above…never again will you speak ill of Staten Island without feeling a bit foolish.

 

A few special events on Saturday are worthy of your attention and support. Sustainable South Bronx and the Bronx River Alliance are having outdoor benefits to support their revitalization of their shared community. The Gowanus Dredgers invite you to celebrate, care for, and canoe the canal. Staten Islanders are reasserting the second half of their borough’s name with a booming paddle culture. Kayak Staten Island opens its season of free paddling Saturday at noon (continuing until 5PM) as part of “Back to the Beach” day.

Just head to Midland Beach (Zone 5), all the way at the end (south-west terminus) of Father Capodanno Boulevard.

And of course, there’s the Clearwater Festival! To maximize your Clearwater fun, join with Time’s Up! for a rail and ride combo trip to the festival.

 

And below, as always, a listing of FREE events to get families, couples, singles, and bands of buddies outdoors in the big city!

 

SATURDAY, JUNE 21

 

 

BIRDING, BROOKLYN, 8AM-10AM

 

Learn the basics of birding (Lesson One: Get up early) with the Urban Park Rangers in one of our lesser-known jewels, the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park (East 33rd Street and Ave. U). Call 718-421-2021 for more information.

 

 

FORAGING, QUEENS, 915AM-11AM

Join Naturalist “Wildman” Steve Brill in an exploration of the wild food and ecology of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The Ecology Program lasts approximately 90 minutes, to be followed by Brunch at the Museum and a Queens Museum of Art Highlights tour.

Hundreds of herbs, greens and berries grace our parks in early summer, and the sunny meadows and byways of Flushing Meadows Corona Park overflow with wild plants in season. This free event, which includes a “Wildman” indoor presentation and tour, is part of a Queens Museum of Arts’ senior citizen event.

Some of the late spring herbs and greens we’ll be looking for include tasty violets, corn-flavored chickweed, mild, chewy common mallow; sow thistle, which tastes like lettuce; Asiatic dayflower, which tastes like string beans; and burdock, with a potato-artichoke flavored taproot, and artichoke-flavored flower stalk.

Early summer berries, such as mulberries and juneberries, may also be dropping fruit, ripe for the picking!

Register yourself or your loved one at the Benjamin Rosenthal Senior Center (45-25 Kissena Boulevard in Flushing, NY) by calling 718-886-5777. Meet at the center.

 

 

 

 

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 930AM-1130AM

 

Sebago Canoe Club offers public paddling on Saturday morning and Wednesday evening. The program is free, but you’ll need to pay a $10 insurance fee that is not kept by the club. While you’re there, be sure to check out there great new garden and native plantings! For more information about the Open Paddle program, which has limited seating, please visit their webpage.

 

  

BIRDING, STATEN ISLAND, 9AM-11AM

The Urban Park Rangers are merciful: this Staten Island birding venture at Blue Heron Park Preserve starts an hour later. They will teach the basics of birding and take you on the trail to test your new skills. Hikes focus on different species of birds, so repeat trips are rewarded. If you’re not sufficiently motivated to haul out of bed in the morning, bear in mind that the gorgeous photo at top is of Blue Heron Park Preserve. You might consider volunteering to keep it thriving.

Come to Blue Heron Park (222 Poillon Avenue between Amboy Road and Hylan Boulevard) to get in on the action. Call 718-967-3542 for more information.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

GARDENING, BROOKLYN, 10AM

 

Learn how to build raised planting beds (siting, construction, and filling) so that you can have a more bountiful garden. At the same time, you’ll get to know the dynamic staff of the sponsors, New York Restoration Project and Just Foods, and the volunteers of your host, Madison Street Association Community Garden. Go to 974 Madison Street (J or Z to Broad Street station).

 

 

FOREST CARE, BROOKLYN, 10AM-2PM

 

Volunteer to care for Brooklyn’s last forest. Yeah, stunning and sad to think it’s come to that, but the borough’s last forest is in Prospect Park. But you can help it thrive, make friends, and have fun along the way! The Weekend Woodlanders are quiet heroes and you can be one too. Meet at the Picnic House. Call 718-965-8960 for more information.

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS-BRONX-QUEENS, 10AM-430PM

 

The Long Island City Community Boathouse is paddling from Anable Cove up to the South Bronx and down again to Hallets Cove in Astoria. See the group’s website (www.licboathouse.org) for more information.

 

 

 

NATURE WALKING, STATEN ISLAND, 10AM-NOON and 3PM-5PM

 

Stroll into the Summer Solstice on Staten Island. Learn about plants, animals, and natural history at beautiful and historic Conference House Park. We will hold two nature walks: one from 10 a.m. through 12 p.m., and the second from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information and directions, please visit this page.
To RSVP for this rain-or-shine event, or for any questions, please call Cheri Brunault at 718-390-8021, or email at cheri.brunault@parks.nyc.gov.
 
 
 
   

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-5PM

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 10AM and 5PM) on the Hudson River south of 72nd Street or at Pier 40, where West Houston Street hits the water, both Saturday and Sunday. 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.

 

CANOEING, BROOKLYN, 11AM, 1230PM and 2PM

Canoe the Lullwater (How peaceful can a water body sound? Oh right, there’s the “Pacific Ocean.” Never mind) in Prospect Park. Sign-up at the Audubon Center begins at 1030AM to hit the water at 11AM, 1230PM, or 2PM. First-come, first-served.

 

GARDENING, QUEENS, 11AM-1PM

Celebrate the sun, enrich the Earth. That’s the Queens Botanical Garden way! Learn about decomposers, recycling, and the composting process. Kids are welcome, and can even make a compostable and recyclable summer craft! The garden is an easy ride on the 7 train to Main Street, Flushing. Stroll down to 43-50 Main Street. Registration is encouraged. To register, call 718-539-5296 or email compost@queensbotanical.org.

 

BIOLOGY FOR KIDS, BRONX, 11AM

Don’t you love it when the government asks that you bring your kids to the woods with the instruction “Please bring two clear 2-liter bottles,” with no explanation? Well, in this case the woods are lovely Van Cortlandt Park, and this website provides a rather innocent and fun explanation for the whole venture.

Enter the park at West 246th Street and Broadway. For more information about this educational event, call 718-548-0912. No reservations required.

And if you fall in love with this green space with quiet fresh water fishing, nature walks, and active recreation, consider volunteering to better it for the next generation, and even next summer! 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 11AM-1230PM

The Central Park Conservancy Garden is a 70-year old treasure. Each Saturday from April 5 through October 25, a garden staff person will stroll with you as he or she explains its history, plantings, and design. Meet at the Vanderbilt Gate, where Fifth Avenue meets 105th Street.

 

 

ROWING, BRONX, NOON-5PM

 

Come join Rocking the Boat for public rowing of its gorgeous, hand-crafted Whitehall boats on the thriving Bronx River! Meet at the Congressman Jose E. Serrano Riverside Campus for Arts and the Environment in Hunts Point. For directions, click here.

 

 

BIKING, BROOKLYN, 1PM-4PM

 

Come down to the DUMBO Summer Celebration for Kids and teach your youngster to ride, thanks to Bike New York and Recycle-a-Bicycle. The class is free, but you must register. For details, please visit the Bike New York website.

 

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 1PM-5PM

Paddle and care for one of New York City’s future Bruges, but greener. Hey, ambition never hurt! The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club welcomes you to their 2nd Street launch for a day of estuary discovery and stewardship. Visit the group’s website for more details.

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM

Discover some of the city’s most beautiful wildflowers, some of them rare. Go to the Inwood Hill Park Nature Center. Enter park at West 218th Street and Indian Road. Call 212-304-2365 for more information.

 

FORAGING, BROOKLYN, 1PM-4PM

 

Forage with Wildman Steve Brill in the richness of the start of summer in Prospect Park! Here’s his enticing invitation:

“Because Prospect Park includes so many varied habitats, it’s loaded with shoots and greens in early summer, and many of these are edible and medicinal. And the berries, wild and cultivated, are spectacular.

We’ll begin a lush juneberry bush, growing near the park’s Grand Army Plaza entrance. One the the tastiest fruits in the world, it’s astounding that these berries, which taste like a combination of blueberries, apples, and almonds, have never been cultivated.

Nearby, we’ll find corn-flavored chickweed, in season all year. Then we’ll proceed southeast to a vast stand of celery-flavored goutweed, stopping for lamb’s-quarters leaves at the edge of the path.

Further on we’ll find vast stands of burdock, a despised “weed” with a delicious edible and medicinal root.

Near the picnic house, we’ll harvest sweet, flavorful mulberries in quantity by shaking the branches over a dropcloth. Related to figs, you can use these berries in any fruit recipe.

Afterward we’ll look at the nearby domestic plum tree to see if it’s bearing it’s luscious fruit this year. Then we’ll check out the top of a ridge to hunt for spicy poor man’s pepper, hedge mustard and field pennycress, all members of the mustard family.

If we’re lucky and it’s rained beforehand, we find a gigantic gourmet chicken mushroom and there could be savory wine-cap stropharia mushrooms sprouting from wood chips anywhere.”

Steve asks for a donation of $15, but no one is turned away by this generous and wild soul. Call 914-835-2153 right away to reserve a spot.

 
 
 
 
 

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM-3PM

 

“Amble through the Ramble” of Central Park and trade in glare and grit for 38-acres of streams and woods, the street grid for a maze of pathways. Meet at Belvedere Castle (enter at 79th Street on either side and walk to the park’s longitudinal center) and wear comfortable shoes.

 

WALKING, BROOKLYN, 3PM-4PM

 

Nature is a few steps and eye openers away with Prospect Park’s Discover Tours (seen at the top of the page) on Saturdays and Sundays. In June the focus is on the plants and animals that thrive in the parks’ waterways – streams, waterfalls, and Brooklyn’s only lake. Meet at the Audubon Center.

 

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS, 5PM-9PM

 

Yin and Yang, fire and water. Balance yourself (well, uh, literally, since you’ll be in a kayak) by participating in the LIC Community Boathouse’s paddling portion of the Socrates Sculpture Park Summer Solstice Celebration! (Now say that five times fast…) See the group’s website (www.licboathouse.org) for more information.

 

 

ASTRONOMY, MANHATTAN, 9PM…maybe

 

Join Peter Tagatac, an Amateur Astronomers Association member, as he explores the heavens. Visit neighbors like Saturn and its moons, or our own moon – look for the mountainous fringe to stand in stark relief to the blackness of space. You can usually find him at the northern end of the Great Lawn, hence his blog, Top of the Lawn

 

SUNDAY, JUNE 22

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 8AM-10AM

Walk beautiful Inwood Hill Park with Mike Feller, Chief Naturalist for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Learn about your local flora and fauna, and how you can help restore and protect their habitats. Dress for a hike from hats to shoes, and feel free to bring a field guide and notepad if you like. Enter the park at 218 Street and Indian Road. Meet on the little bridge on the eastern end of the salt marsh.

 

WALKING (With yer pooch!), QUEENS, 9AM

You, your dog, Urban Park Rangers, and the woods of Forest Park. What could be better? Even if you don’t have a dog, come along and play. Come to the K-9 Korral Dog Run (Park Lane South & 85 Street) and join the pack!

 

HIKING, BROOKLYN, 10AM 

 

March to the marsh! Get to know the plants and wildlife of a fragile-yet-vital ecosystem, right near home! You’ll learn about how the Marine Park refuge can be protected, and why that’s important to our species as well as the diversity of life on site. Meet at the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Maine Park (East 33rd Street and Avenue U). For directions and more information, call 718-421-2021.

 

HORSESHOE CRAB VIEWING, BRONX, 10AM

They’re stunningly ancient (the dinosaurs came and went in a wink for this species), they have coppery blue blood, they save human lives, and they’re gentle. Go love the horseshoe crabs at Orchard Beach! Meet at the Orchard Beach Nature Center. Call 718-885-3466 for information.

Also, it’s worth the effort to learn how you can protect this species. Yahoos are devastating local populations by using them for bait, which threatens not only this important neighbor, but also the migrating birds who feed on their eggs.

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-5PM

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 10AM and 5PM) on the Hudson River south of 72nd Street and on Pier 40 (west end of Houston 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.

 

CANOEING, STATEN ISLAND, 11AM-3PM

Learn the basics of canoeing with the Urban Park Rangers in Willowbrook Park. Meet at the comfort station off of Elton Place, where Victory Boulevard meets Forest Road, east of Rockland Avenue.

 

WALKING, BROOKLYN, NOON

“Come, let’s explore the ravine…” It sounds like scene-setting dialogue from a cheesy horror tale, but in this case you’ll be rewarded with “a guided tour of old-growth woodlands, streams, rustic shelters, and local wildlife” in Prospect Park. Meet at the Audubon Center.

 

WALK, MANHATTAN, NOON-115PM

Stroll with the Central Park Conservancy for a cross-park promenade and rediscover a place both familiar and novel. Do you know where to find a hidden bench that tells time? Or a sculpture that celebrates fresh water? Well, neither do I, and I’m a native. Get in the know by meeting inside the park at Fifth Ave. and East 72nd Street, in front of the Samuel Morse statue.

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM-230PM

Have the famed heather gardens, and more, of Fort Tryon revealed to you by expert horticulturalists. The panoramic views of the Hudson River and Palisades are marvelous. There’s a nifty preview video here. Go to the Heather Garden entrance at Margaret Corbin Circle in Fort Tryon Park, where Cabrini Boulevard and Fort Washington Avenue meet.

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM-230PM

Take a little time to “discover the secret places where art and nature meet in Central Park.” You’ll scale to commanding heights of Belvedere Castle (your meeting point, accessible by both west and east 79th Streets), tranquil Shakespeare Garden, and life-filled Turtle Pond. For more information about this “Heart of the Park” walk, call 718-628-2345

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS, 1PM-5PM

 

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.

 

WALKING, QUEENS/BROOKLYN, 1PM

Explore the resurgent natural areas of Highland Park and the Ridgewood Reservoir through this walking tour. Voice your concern about plans to raze forested areas for artificial turf ball fields. Once you learn of the beauty of this place, turn that passion into action by linking with local preservationists and naturalists.

Meet at the Lower Highland Playground (Jamaica Avenue and Elton Street) and wear comfortable shoes. Bring water, sunblock, and snacks too. For directions and advocacy information, please visit this website.

 

WALKING, BROOKLYN, 3PM-4PM

 

Nature is a few steps and eye openers away with Prospect Park’s Discover Tours (seen at the top of the page) on Saturdays and Sundays. In June the focus is on the plants and animals that thrive in the parks’ waterways – streams, waterfalls, and Brooklyn’s only lake. Meet at the Audubon Center.

 

ASTRONOMY, QUEENS, 730PM

For some novice/parochial New Yorkers, eastern Queens is one of the final frontiers. Little do they realize that lovely, green Fort Totten Ranger Park is a launch pad for much more intrepid exploration! Hop aboard with the monthly Astronomy Club and start the adventure! All ages are welcome. Enter the park at the main fort entrance, north of the intersection of 212th Street and Cross Island Parkway. For more information, call 718-352-1769

 

TUESDAY, JUNE 24, 2008

 

 

GARDENING AND COOKING, BRONX, 1PM

 

Learn how to infuse your sweets with garden-grown herbs. Grow them yourself (gear up at the on-site garden store), and bonus points for indigenous species! The good folks at Wave Hill have linked with a talented chef from Great Performances to blend green with sweet. Head up to 675 West 252nd Street, and call 718-549-3200 for more information.

 

 

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 25

 

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM

Stroll with the Central Park Conservancy for a cross-park promenade and rediscover a place both familiar and novel. Do you know where to find a hidden bench that tells time? Or a sculpture that celebrates fresh water? Well, neither do I, and I’m a native. Get in the know by meeting inside the park at Fifth Ave. and East 72nd Street, in front of the Samuel Morse statue.

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 930AM-1130AM

 

Sebago Canoe Club offers public paddling on Saturday morning and Wednesday evening. The program is free, but you’ll need to pay a $10 insurance fee that is not kept by the club. While you’re there, be sure to check out there great new garden and native plantings! For more information about the Open Paddle program, which has limited seating, please visit their webpage.

 

 

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Editor’s note: Sorry for neglecting Nature Calendar a bit this week. My grandmother died on Saturday so I was shuttling back and forth for the wake and funeral, while also trying to find ways to financially support myself. And now back to what’s up in our urban wilderness community!

 

Tom McIntyre\'s photo of a black skimmer.

 

 

by Erik Baard

 

 

It was after ten o’clock and we were standing on a small pier on duckweed-covered Turtle Pond in Central Park. Brad Klein of the New York Bat Group held his echolocation detector and patiently peered out, from water to full moon-brightened sky. Not a bat blip was heard, but a graceful visitor descended upon the stillness.

 

“Could you hold the bat detector, please?,” he asked urgently, and suddenly I felt like Robin, wondering what else Klein had in his bat utility belt. Out came a powerful, focusable flashlight. In moments Klein was expertly spotlighting a bird with a black back and white underside and long, pointed wings that beat slowly as it flew inches over the water. It briefly scaled the darkness only to swoop down again to trace another edge of the pond.

 

A black skimmer. I recognized this novelty of the inland Manhattan night only because I’d been introduced to the estuary and ocean species earlier in the evening through legendary urban naturalist Marie Winn’s slide show and lecture. She was at the American Museum of Natural History to share findings garnered through researching her new book, Central Park in the Dark.

 

On another night, Tom McIntyre of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York City, snapped the shot of the black skimmer above at the Conservatory Water.

 

Klein was deployed to the park as part of the AMNH event, which included astronomers and moth enthusiasts. Though he’s an avowed bat guy, and will co-lead AMNH “bat walks” on July 18 and 25, there was no disguising his thrill at the sighting. Black skimmers aren’t extraordinarily rare, and populations have stabilized over the past three decades. But they are exceptional. Among American birds, only this gull and tern cousin has an asymmetrical beak, which Cornell University’s bird page describes as “knife thin.” The lower half is flexible and sensitive, and drags just below the water’s surface until it bumps into a crustacean or fish and the red and black beak snaps shut. It’s aerial fishing by brail. Their brown eyes are equally unusual: they have vertical slit pupils, like a cat.

 

Below is another shot, by Cal Vornberger, of a skimmer slicing the water off Long Island at dawn.

 

 

Cal Vornerberger photo of a black skimmer.

 

“What’s kind of weird is that these birds live in the Rockaways, so I wonder how he found this place. I hope he’s getting enough fish to make the trip worthwhile,” Klein said. “Sometimes they’ll nest on a flat roof though, so maybe he’s got a home on top of one of the buildings nearby.”

 

Now I was in on the mystery as well as the beauty. It’s funny how one casual comment can deepen a natural experience that way. My head was filled with images of this creature wingedly loping its way above the pizza parlors of Bay Ridge and over the harbor’s booze cruises, the tall ships of South Street Seaport and the last shoppers at Bloomingdales, to arrive at this humble pond. And then I pondered the possibility that this lonely night stalker was an unsung neighbor of Pale Male, the famed subject of Winn’s earlier book, Red-tails in Love.

 

The romantic solitude of this nocturnal visitor to our most celebrated park struck me more profoundly when I read up on the species. They are known for being gregarious, and hunting in large groups. Do others in the Rockaways take notice when this one nightly veers away from them? Are there blotchy eggs in the shadow of a roof’s lip, or chicks below a ventilating fan, as a substitute for the shadowed sandy “scrape” depressions where they shelter?

 

Birders report seeing more two skimmers at once in Central Park, so perhaps we’re witnessing the start of a new colony. Or perhaps, come winter, Central Park’s rare black skimmers will reunite with their kind in the other end of their migratory habitat, the Caribbean, never to part again?

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Clearwater Festival 

 

 

by Erik Baard

 

I’m excitedly anticipating my chance to step sideways into a greener parallel culture this weekend with the Clearwater Festival, and I hope you can join in. I say “sideways” because while many green gatherings in NYC are slick and smart previews of possible sustainable futures, this “Great Hudson River Revival” is an odd amalgamation of innovation and anachronism, of renewable energy and creaky sailboats (and creaky sailors).

 

While continuing to support and enjoy the established festival in Westchester County, might it be time to strike out in new directions here in NYC?

 

Thousands of people gather on the Croton Point Park grounds each June for a weekend of music and other performances, nautical life and lore, and building environmental awareness. Estimates vary, but an attendance high point was reported as 15,000. At root, the campout concert a fundraiser for the sloop Clearwater, which sails the length of the Hudson River carrying educators who preach the environmental gospel and introducing generations of young people to the joys of living with nature. The continuing voyage began with folksinger Pete Seeger, who vowed in the 1960s, to “build a boat to save the river.”

 

Many stretches of the Hudson River were written off as dead at that time, sludged over with sewage where it wasn’t sterilized by toxic industrial releases. Seeger’s quest, despite long odds, wasn’t entirely quixotic. He added his considerable creativity and energy to the environmental movement, which was roused by Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” Seeger is widely credited with playing a key role in the passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act. In the past three decades the Hudson River has become cleaner than in anyone’s lifetime.

 

Over that same time, however, folk music has declined in popularity. In a sense, while the Clearwater Festival started as a way for folk musicians to use their popularity to raise environmental awareness, that dynamic has flipped: “green” is so trendy now that it’s subsidizing folk music.

 

New blood, new funding, and a renewed sense of mission could come with an additional Clearwater Festival at Randalls Island.

 

The music would have to appeal to a younger demographic; positive message hip hop, rap, and new rock. The environmental message would resonate strongly if tied to PlaNYC and health issues like asthma, cancers, lead, and stress-related diseases, which stem directly from our urban ecology. 

 

Randalls Island faces three boroughs (Manhattan, to which it belongs, and Queens and the Bronx), and each opposite waterfront is chockablock with lower-income public housing. East Harlem has the highest density of public housing in the U.S., while the Queensbridge Houses complex in Long Island City is the largest in North America.  The South Bronx is famous both as a place of environmental injustice and marvelous community-based green initiatives like Friends of Brook Park and Sustainable South Bronx.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bordering Harlem River and East River (below Hell Gate) are part of the Hudson River estuary, as defined by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Dockage for the sloop is viable on the west side. Pedestrian and mass transit links, while not perfect, are extensive. Icahn Stadium is already home to popular concerts, and there are many open areas on the landfill-unified Randalls and Wards Islands for tabling and event tents. If instead of a chlorinated water park, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation now focuses on creating a gorgeous wilderness restoration, we could look proudly upon a new annual mega-destination.

 

Governors Island is an invaluable asset to our city, and on July 26 will be the site of the City of Water Day, a confluence of harbor mavens convened by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance. It’s the harbor’s navel, and a splendid place of parkland and historic buildings. But access is everything for a grass-roots event that’s inclusive of the poor as well as the comfortable.

 

Perhaps there couldn’t be camping at the Randalls Island event, but there’s no need to replicate all aspects of the mother festival. Plenty of people would come for a day trip, and because the stadium is enclosed, attendees could choose to pay for major attraction concert tickets or to opt for the free music and entertainment on the open greenswards. Walk-up paddles, planting, crafts, and other public participation activities could be offered for free or at affordable prices.

 

I proposed this to the Clearwater organizers a few years ago, when I was the environmental program manager at Citizens Committee for New York City. While they were concerned about the danger of siphoning off too many visitors to the Croton-on-Hudson festival, they were also quite open to new possibilities. The catch was that we New York City greens would have to put it together for ourselves. Are we up to that yet?

 

 

 

And again, in the meantime, come up to the Clearwater Festival this weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

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