Archive for July, 2008

With opportunities for free muscle-building forestry work to relaxing sunset kayak cruises, New York City is practically begging you to play outside!

Also, please absorb urban ecology smarts from the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities summer lecture series, which is another wonderful reason to visit Governors Island now that it’s truly becoming a central public space! Tomorrow you can learn about New York City’s natural history. More information here:


Editor’s note: Nature Calendar is a nomadic and sporadic enterprise lately because I don’t have a fully working laptop or office space, so I work in libraries when computers are available. Please forgive lapses. I will add to WildWire, place links into it, tag it, and otherwise improve it tonight and this weekend if I find a place to work overnight.



Enjoy duck’s eye views of the Fort Totten area with Urban Park Rangers! The bay, the Throggs Neck Bridge, and the old fort are beautiful and your new canoeing paddle and safety skills will equip you for greater adventures elsewhere. Ages 8 and up. To register, please call 718-352-1769. You might be too late for this week, but it never hurts to ask.

Meet at the entrance to the fort, north of the intersection of 212th Street and Cross Island Parkway.


Enter “Nature’s Playground” with the Urban Park Rangers! This weekly, nature-themed kids program teaches them about the creatures around them through fun activities. Head to the River Run Playground by entering Riverside Park at 83rd Street. More information: 212-628-2345


Family fun and learning at Wolfes Pond Park. Prizes to be awarded in silly categories, with a special award for “The One That Got Away.” That’s a tough one to call considering it’s all catch and release. Come to Hylan Boulevard and Cornelia Avenue. More Information: 718-816-6172 or 31


The New York Botanical Garden wants to turn your kids into Budding Botanists! This innovative early literacy program uses hand-on nature activities and stories to inspire study and reinforce letter-by-letter lessons. For ages 2–5. No registration required. Location: Bronx River Parkway (Exit 7W) and Fordham Road. More Information: 718-817-8700.


What? Camping for families in New York City? See what we would have lost if Staten Island had seceded? Pitch a tent (some are provided), build a campfire, and hike into the night to see High Rock Park’s nocturnal wilderness. Bring a flashlight and a sleeping bag and your sense of daring! To register call 718-967-3542.


The Lower East Side Ecology Center’s catch-and-release educational program runs on Fridays this summer. As always, the poles and bait are free and a wonderful introduction to the East River’s life and seasons. No registration needed. Go to waterfront promenade behind the amphitheater in the East River Park. For information and directions visit the Lower East Side Ecology Center website.


How often does a party make our streets safer? The rolling festivities of the monthly Brooklyn Critical Mass, often followed by a party with the cheerfully industrious greens at Time’s Up! For more information and gathering points, please visit the Time’s Up! webpage.



Ride to the ride! If you’re not feeling critical or massive, join the Time’s Up! crew for a cruise to the Coney Island Cyclone. For information and gathering points please visit the Time’s Up! website.



Join the Long Island City Community Boathouse for a sunset and skyline viewing cruise on the East River by kayak! For these weekly outings and other adventures, visit the LIC Community Boathouse calendar page.


The Urban Park Rangers will teach you everything you need to know to get started and try out your new skills on the trails. Each program highlights different bird types and special park areas for birds. Location: Salt Marsh Nature Center, Marine Park (East 33rd Street and Avenue U). More Information: 718-421-2021


The Urban Park Rangers want you to witness the dramatic transformation of the former Fresh Kills Landfill into Fresh Kills Park. On this bus and walking tour, you will have the chance to travel to the top of two covered trash mounds to experience the amazing views the site offers. Registration is required; please register here. Location: Tours depart from Eltingville Transit Center on Staten Island. More Information: 212-788-8277



Join the “Green Team” and help care for Brooklyn Bridge Park all summer long! Volunteers are the key to keeping one of New York’s most scenic parks beautiful and green for the tens of thousands of visitors who come every year. Swing by to help on Saturdays from 10AM-12PM or Tuesdays after work, from 6PM-8PM. More Information: 718-802-0603 x 18

Come out for the first Riverside Park Community Volunteer Day of the Summer! The goal on this day is to reclaim an overgrown slope at 153rd Street so that it can be a beautiful community resource. Tasks include weeding, planting, watering, and building a new retaining wall. There will be activities for volunteers of all ages. Bonus: From 1 p.m. – 2 p.m. there will be a free picnic lunch for all volunteers, and the Austin Walker Quartet will provide jazz entertainment. Information: Contact Isaac Fleisher, North Park Project Coordinator at isaac@riversideparkfund.org, 212-870-3070, or 646-241-9379.


Enjoy the views of the Bay, the Throggs Neck Bridge, and Fort Totten, all from the water as you learn the basics of canoeing skills and safety. Ages 8 and up. Location: Meet at the entrance to the fort, north of the intersection of 212nd Street and Cross Island Parkway. Information: 718-352-1769


Paddle through the heart of one of the city’s great parks, Flushing Meadows/Corona Park, home of the Queens Museum, Hall of Science, and Unisphere (with resident hawks). Learn canoe basics to make future adventures possible. Information: 718-846-2731


Gather bits of nature in Van Cortlandt Park and bring them together in unique and artistic ways! Get the creative juices flowing as we look to nature to inspire! Location: Enter the park at West 246th Street and Broadway. Information: 718-548-0912


See how plants and trees have adapted to vastly different environments only yards apart as you walk from Orchard Beach to the Pelham Bay Park forest. Location: Pelham Bay Ranger Station (Pelham Bay Park, Bruckner Boulevard and Wilkinson Avenue) Information: 718-885-3467


Explore the rolling hills of Crotona Park to learn how the terrain was formed and what the Wisconsin glacier left behind. Location: Crotona Nature Center, Crotona Park. Enter the park on Charlotte Street & Crotona Park East. Information: 718-885-3466


Take a “Treemendous Hike” with the Urban Park Rangers to see the green giants of Prospect Park in the borough’s last forest, and learn about why trees are so vital to our environment. Location: meet outside the Audubon Center. Information: 718-421-2021


Capture pictures of nature in Kissena Park without a camera or an easel with leaf rubbings and prints. Location: Meet behind Kissena Playschool, off 164th Street & Oak Avenue.


“Amble through the Ramble” to enjoy one of New York City’s most alive places with the Central Park Conservancy. Pass over streams, under arches, through the woods along a maze of pathways in this secluded 38-acre woodland respite. Location: Belvedere Castle (mid-Park at 79th Street). Information: 212-772-0210


Okay, this is the real deal: saltwater canoeing over a yellow submarine and beside shorebirds in the Coney Island Creek from Kaiser Park. Paddling experience is required, and it’s worth building your skills for this. Information: 718-421-2021.


The ground is rolling with color. Come to Van Cortlandt Park to delight in it! Enter the park at West 246th Street and Broadway. Information: 718-548-0912


New York City too tame for you? Go see “Where the Wild Things Are” in the North Woods of Central Park, a 55-acre designated Forever Wild site. Rock formations, waterfalls, and wildflowers are just a few of the spectacular surprises that await. Don’t forget the birds! Location: Dana Discovery Center, Central Park (110th Street & Lenox Avenue). Information: 212-860-1376


Think oil is precious? Try soil. Learn the essentials of outdoor composting from choosing your bin to harvesting and using your finished product. No prior experience is necessary. Location: Botanical Square Children’s Garden (Botanical Square South and East 201st Street)


The Urban Park Rangers want you to witness the dramatic transformation of the former Fresh Kills Landfill into Fresh Kills Park. On this bus and walking tour, you will have the chance to travel to the top of two covered trash mounds to experience the amazing views the site offers. You can also spot turkey, vultures, red-tailed hawks, and ring-necked pheasants. You won’t believe your eyes! Registration is required; please register here. Location: Tours depart from Eltingville Transit Center on Staten Island. More Information: 212-788-8277



Sneak a peek at these six-legged wonders, which are vital to our everyday survival. Discover what they do for us and how we can help them! Location: Meet by the comfort station off Elton Place.

Learn home gardening tips from the New York Botanical Garden’s experts, who will give demonstrations. Location: Bronx River Parkway (Exit 7W) and Fordham Road. Information: 718-817-8700


Lots of details from our friends at Conference House Park:
Enjoy the outdoors and be a steward of your local natural areas! There are a variety of important stewardship tasks to accomplish at Conference House Park this season. Volunteer workdays are a fun way to meet your neighbors, experience a beautiful park, learn about nature, and improve your local greenscapes. Possible activities: Removing non-native plants to improve ecosystem health; planting native species as seed, seedlings, or stakes; preparing sites for planting by removing debris; installing erosion control fabric; several other interesting and useful tasks.
Details: We will gather around the flagpole outside the Visitors’ Center at 2:00pm. Sturdy shoes and long pants are recommended. If you’re sensitive to poison ivy, a long-sleeve shirt is a good idea. Gloves and any needed tools will be provided. Tap water and restrooms are available at the Visitors’ Center. Please RSVP if you plan to attend. For RSVPs and questions, please call Cheri Brunault at 718-390-8021, or email at cheri.brunault@parks.nyc.gov. This event is rain or shine.


Just the term “orienteering” conjures images of the intrepid, autonomous spirit of those who blazed trails for the rest of us. Yes, we have GPS now but there’s something deeply satisfying about being guided by the Earth’s magnetic field. Learn the basics of navigating by using a map and compass as you explore Prospect Park in an Orienteering 101 class. Location: Meet behind the picnic house (Prospect Park West at 3rd Street). Information: 
Phone number: 718-421-2021


Explore the rolling hills of Crotona Park to learn how the terrain was formed and what the Wisconsin glacier left behind. Location: Crotona Nature Center, Crotona Park. Enter the park on Charlotte Street & Crotona Park East. Information: 718-885-3466


Bring the family to the Rockaways for some amazing seashell crafts! Location: 52nd Street and the Boardwalk.


Inwood Hill Park is full of wonders and mysteries, as you’ll discover as you embark on the (Urban Park) “Rangers in the Night” walk. You’ll cross from the Inwood Hill Nature Center to Dyckman Street. Enter park at West 218th Street and Indian Road. Information: Phone number: 212-304-2365


Weekend VIPP is a great way to meet other people who love Prospect Park. Help care for Brooklyn’s favorite Park and make it your own!

Saturday, July 12, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Help paint fences, pull weeds and have fun in the Park with volunteers of all ages. Meet at Parkside and Ocean Avenue entrance.

Click here for more information about volunteering.

Weekend Woodlands Volunteers
Join a team of volunteers committed to the ongoing restoration of the Park’s woodlands.
Every Saturday, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Prospect Park is home to Brooklyn’s last forest, and this group of volunteers is helping to ensure that it remains healthy and beautiful for future generations to explore and enjoy. Meet at the Picnic House. Call (718) 965-8960 for more information.

Click here for more information about volunteering.

Click here to see the Picnic House on our Interactive Map.


There are more than 200 species of birds in Prospect Park, and every Saturday you have a chance to learn where they are and how you can spot them., thanks to the Brooklyn Bird Club. Meet at the Audubon Center.
 Click here to view the Audubon Center on an Interactive Map.


Make amazing crafts with all-natural materials at the Prospect Park Boathouse. All-natural and recycled crafts bring a world of nature to kids’ fingertips! Go to the Audubon Center.
Click here to view the Audubon Center on an Interactive Map.


Discover the Prospect Park you never knew! Meet birds and other wildlife on this walk, guided by a naturalist. Every Saturday & Sunday, 3 – 4 p.m.
Learn how to look for birds and explore the secrets of nature on this expert-guided walk through the Park’s most scenic landscapes. Meet at the Audubon Center.
 In July: Amazing Mammals. Discover which mammals have come out of hiding in Prospect Park during this beautiful summer month.

Discover Tours In August: A Bug Bonanza. See which critters crawl throughout Prospect Park and how they are an essential part of this urban ecosystem.

Discover Tours In September: Ravenous Raptors. Learn how talon-wielding birds of prey use Prospect Park as a bountiful hunting ground.

Click here to view the Audubon Center on an Interactive Map.


Conservatory Garden Tour, Central Park. This tour highlights the history, design, and unique plantings of the 70-year-old Conservatory Garden. The tour is led by Garden Staff, and takes approximately 75 minutes. Meet at the Vanderbilt Gate, Fifth Avenue and 105th Street. No RSVP needed.

The National Park Rangers want you to see local fish face-to-face at the Carnarsie Pier. Rods provided, or you can bring your own. For more information: http://www.nps.gov/gate/


Roll through Prospect Park in the night with friendly greens, lights a-blinking and bells a-ringing when not in quiet awe of the beauty of this place at night. For more information and gathering places: http://times-up.org/index.php?page=moonlight-ride-prospect-park

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by Erik Baard


As I walked past the Sunnyside Railyards yesterday I spotted a tree with a crown that each year is generously laden with green-gold pods. It’s rising up from beside the tracks, reaching eye level for strollers on the south side of the overpass. It occurred to me that while I’ve seen this kind of tree countless times throughout my life, I didn’t know its name.


When I focus on a tree these days, the first question I ask is its name, followed by “can I eat it?” For the latter obsession, I blame Wildman Steve Brill. The foraging instinct that he reawakened in me is useful not so much as a survival tool as a prime mover toward general ecological knowledge. Once I’ve asked that, the other questions come flooding: If I eat it, with what species am I now competing for food? If I can’t eat it, what chemicals are there to thwart me, and why? What species are able to eat it and what’s different about their physiology? Did those species co-evolve with the tree because they are superior vectors for spreading seeds?


Anyway, I did some digging and found some foresters who want us all to do some more digging…to uproot the species.


Oh, “Tree of Heaven!” Oh, “Ghetto Palm!” It’s amazing how a species can be viewed with such difference. We’ve already considered how the pigeon is “revered and reviled,” to use Andrew Blechman’s phrase, as a carrier of both the Holy Spirit and disease. Anthropologist Mary Douglas defined dirt, as opposed to soil, as “matter out of place.” The Ailanthus tree is indeed “out of place”; it’s an invasive species from eastern and southern Asia and northern Australasia. I also guess it doesn’t help that the male flowers of this tree smell like cat urine.


I couldn’t find a reason for its more flattering moniker, translated from the Ambonese in Indonesia. Folk medicine practitioners do make some intriguing claims for the tree though; Asian tradition holds that the bark is good for lowering heart rate, reducing muscle spasms, and, well, delaying a particular spasm that could cause your Fourth of July fireworks to shoot off a little too soon. Maybe it was an Ambonese wife who named the tree?


The inimitably New York name stems from the hardiness of this tree. Even when the city fails to green a community or lot, Ailanthus trees will find a way to grow. Park Slope has its London planes, while back alleys have the ubiquitous “poverty tree.”


That ability to thrive in urban wastelands spotlights another similarity between pigeons and ailanthus trees: despite being so opportunistic, they are usually benign to other, indigenous species because they specialize in unclaimed niches. There are places, however, where Ailanthus can be a destructive force. At forest fringes and clearings, or where new forests are being seeded, Ailanthus squeezes out slower-growing but essential native trees. One good case of this is Conference House Park on Staten Island. Volunteers are needed to yank young Ailanthus on Monday, from 1PM through 4PM. But be careful not to pluck similar-looking sumac, ash, black walnut, or pecan.


If you can help, RSVP by calling 718-390-8021 or emailing cheri.brunault@parks.nyc.gov as soon as possible.


And even as you’re thrashing the Ailanthus out of our city’s bucolic frontier in southern Staten Island, keep some gratitude in your heart for the shade it provides us when it seeds into the toughest hardscapes of the urban core.

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by Erik Baard



One of the stupider “sports” people have come up with is pigeon shooting, where the birds are released from boxes into the line of yahoos’ ready fire. In a 1902 debate over a bill banning the sport from New York, a state senator compared that lack of humanity and sportsman-like behavior to shutting a doe up in a barn and then blasting her as she ran out the open door.


As nearby as Pennsylvania the practice persists, and New York City birds are being stolen to supply the madness. Fortunately, In Defense of Animals is part of the vanguard to stop it. This week the group conferred its first $2,500 award for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a person netting pigeons, also known as rock doves, in NYC. The recipient was Desi Stewart, a street sweeper with the Doe Fund. He spotted Brooklyn resident Isaac Gonzalez spreading seed and netting many pigeons on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation officer arrested Gonzalez, who pleaded guilty in Manhattan Criminal Court on June 26, 2008.


It’s a shame Gonzalez didn’t go to prison, if only because we’ll miss the small ironic pleasure of letting him know of his idiocy in trapping for deathly amusement birds whose intelligence might have made them useful allies in alleviating the sufferings of confinement. Kindred criminal spirits in Brazil, at least, were smart enough to attempt to employ the birds as jailhouse smugglers, complete with little pigeon backpacks!


Pigeons have a growing fan base outside “the clink” (is my mother the only person who still uses that expression?) too. National Pigeon Day  was Friday the 13th in June, appropriately enough for such a besotted bird. In Defense of Animals, the United Federation of Teachers Humane Education Committee, the New York Bird Club, and luminaries ate pigeon-shaped cookies…and perhaps scandalously snuck a few crumbs to their avian honorees. The contributions of this species, including astonishing heroics in war, rescue, and acts of touching personal loyalty were recounted.  


City Councilman Tony Avella, who’s taken the lead on a number of animal rights issues, shared a moving observation. “They are often a city child’s first contact with nature and an elderly person’s only friends,” he said.


One might wonder why there isn’t a greater effort to control pigeon populations, for fear that they might crowd out other, indigenous species. To understand how little worry ecologists have in this regard, here’s a simple exercise: plant your own lush garden or grove of indigenous plants and trees and wait for the pigeons to show up. Or simply visualize the trees on your block being filled with pigeons. It simply won’t happen. The “rock dove” species feeds on the ground and prefers barren areas much like its ancestral cliff sides in Asia Minor. In other words, buildings and asphalt. Not that city life is kind to pigeons. In the wild they live about 14 years, but typically reach only two in urban areas. They do, however, breed a lot more.


If you’d like to get involved in the responsible care and control of pigeons in the city, try volunteering for Pigeon Watch. And remember, if you witness a pigeon netting in the five boroughs of New York City, call New York State DEC Officer Joseph Pane at 718-482-4941. If you need help in rescuing a pigeon of any age or condition, please visit New York City Pigeon Rescue Central. For the simple enjoyment of learning more about this species, one great place to start is Andrew Blechman’s book, Pigeons, which he calls “the world’s most revered and reviled bird.”


All this brings to mind that we’re at a sad centennial: it was in 1908 that zookeepers posted a $1000 reward (more than $23,000 in today’s dollars) for fertile, wild passenger pigeons. That awakening to the crisis was too late and the reward was never collected. Over-hunting and habitat destruction wiped out that species, which once filled North American skies in flocks of billions. Martha, the last of her kind, died in captivity in 1914. I’ll write more about this missing species of pigeons in coming weeks.

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