Posts Tagged ‘amnh’


Full moon perigee of 2008 by Ron Hodges.

Full moon perigee of 2008 by Ron Hodges.

by Erik Baard


What a Wolf Moon this will be! Tonight will be the biggest full moon of 2009, and the glory it borrows from the sun will be reflected from every snowy rooftop, branch, and field…if the clouds break.

The moon increases in apparent size for two reasons. Routinely we observe an apparent swelling in the moonrise. Because of a quirk of human optical neurology we percieve the moon as larger on the horizon, rather than overhead. But the moon is also at times closer or further from Earth in different points of its elliptical orbit. Tonight is perigee, the closest pass. It will appear 14 percent larger and 30 brighter than what you’ll typically find for the rest of the year.

Near-full perigee moon. Captured Dec. 9 in Kingston, NY by Jeffrey Anzevino of Scenic Hudson.

Near-full perigee moon. Captured Jan. 9 in Kingston, NY by Jeffrey Anzevino of Scenic Hudson.

Of course, oldsters might tell a young’n that the moon was bigger and brighter when they were young. Well, they’re right in fact but there’s no way a human could detect it: the satellite is ever-so-slowly spiralling away from its host planet. Each year it stretches our gravitational bonds by about 1.6 inches (4cm).

The moon tantalizes us, draws us into the Cosmos beyond. At some level, this is our narrowness making us silly: we are born, live, and die in space as much as those who might do the same on any other world. Still, it remains a place of national posturing, from the Space Race of the 1960s to the emerging powers of India and China.

For an inner city child, however, the lure of the moon is that it reveals a real topography to his or her eyes from any street corner, even without expensive equipment or the crystal clear skies of the backwoods. As South Bronxite Neil deGrasse Tyson told me for a Village Voice article, a realm of personal possibilities was opened when he stared at the moon from his stoop through a pair of binoculars after his father took him to Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History.

“I saw the mountains and valleys and craters of the moon. It became another world, something to learn about,” he remembers. “I knew I wanted to be a scientist since I was nine years old and I never wavered.”

He is now an astrophysicist and the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium.

* As a side note, the mountains are seen better on a half or crescent moon, because features are seen in relief. Straight on, light bounces back up from every little crevice, washing out our view.

My own enjoyment of tonight’s delight takes me back to the wintry Snow Moon perigee of February 1988. I was staying over at Smith College with my then-girlfriend (who now works for an oil company — some things weren’t meant to be). Seeing her sleep inspired this poem (and forgive that WordPress always screws up spacing and formatting):


It is no matter of wonder
to me
that light should wander
from the nurturing warmth of the sun
across cold vast space

to the broad and barren moon

to the field of snow outside
to find

the peace of being lost

in my sleeping lover’s

black hair.

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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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Horenstein and rocks.


We’ve had some frustrating wifi problems and wanderings today and last night in trying to get this week’s WildWire posted, so please forgive the delay in alerting you to this great walking tour:


Sidney Horenstein’s If Manhattan Was Schist, It Wouldn’t Be Gneiss

Thursday, Jun 12, 2008
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Join Sidney Horenstein for a leisurely stroll among the intriguing rock formations of Fort Tryon Park and learn why, although the Bronx is Gneiss, it’s nice to live on Manhattan’s Schist.

Sidney Horenstein, Geologist and Educator Emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History, is your guide to the geological wonders of northern Manhattan Island.

Location: Meet at Margaret Corbin Circle at the southern entrance to Fort Tryon Park.


(Our full WildWire posting will follow this evening.)



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Redback salamander by Sarah Goodyear


by Erik Baard


Global warming is forcing the upward migration of reptiles and amphibians to cooler altitudes, according to an American Museum of Natural History researcher. While much has rightfully been made of the world’s visibly melting alpine glaciers, a desperate and quiet migration has been occurring, with creatures scaling slopes to escape the heat at the bottom of the mountains.


The alarm is sounded from Madagascar, where the AMNH Associate Curator of Herpetology Christopher Raxworthy has been studying habitats in the mountainous north. The shift uphill, by as much as 167 feet, was observed across the spectrum of amphibian and reptile species over a decade as temperatures rose slightly. By this century’s end there will be no escape and at least three species in that region will be doomed, he asserted in the journal Global Change Biology.


What does this have to do with New York City? Well, our own amphibian population is low and confined to small hills where chances for refuge are even more meager. That’s true not only for local rarities like the spotted salamander, but even for frogs and common species like the red back salamander (sitting in my palm in the photo by Sarah Goodyear above). As New York City Department of Parks and Recreation ecologist Ellen Pehek noted in our April 24 entry on Dusky Salamanders, these species prefer cool and damp areas.


On an outing to the Marshlands Conservancy in Westchester County with WildMetro (please consider joining this important conservation and education group as a member, volunteer, or trip participant), I learned that wetlands grass species have already begun creeping inland and upland by yards, yanking along with them the ecosystems they support. Global warming is a local threat. It’s quiet, but the losses have begun.




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rocking the boat 


What a weekend and week ahead New York City’s natural world and its stewards offers you! We have a barrel of FREE events, and a couple of cheap ones (as you know, paid events are the great exception on WildWire) that support green allies and cover basic costs.


Highlights include the Tour de Queens, a dog walk through Forest Park, Rocking the Boat’s big party and rowing day, kayaking in Red Hook, planting a “Pizza Garden,” birding and looking for horseshoe crabs. There’s so much more, and here are some choice options.


(And please forgive some compression. WordPress seems to freak out over longer posts.)






It takes a special kind of genius to create a “Pizza Garden.” What better way to excite kids about going/growing green than to plant things that are great pizza toppings and seasonings? Genius, genius… Be part of the fun, along with the always-celebratory Time’s Up! eco-urban crew, by heading over between 3PM and 8PM (so feel free to rush over right after work) to the Children’s Magical Garden at the corner of Norfolk and Stanton Street on the Lower East Side. Earn your place at the Pizza Garden Harvest Party, coming this fall! Also, please consider making a donation to help install a fish pond and solar-powered waterfall (to reduce mosquito larvae), buy tools and soil. For more information please email Ellen at xupgardening@gmail.com




Stick with the Time’s Up! crew and roll up to Central Park for a moonlight ride! Meet at Columbus Circle (SW entrance of Central Park) for laughter, exercise, and communion with the sights and sounds of green spaces when they’re sunken into night’s blackness. 





Splash with the Red Hook Boaters at Valentino Park from 10AM through 5PM on Saturday, and while you’re their, take in the Waterfront Arts Festival with Portside New York.


A fun bonus is that if you arrive by kayak, there will be a free “valet” service to safeguard your boat while you enjoy the arts, foods, crafts, and performances!


I checked the tides. If you’re paddling from the north, buck a weak flood tide current after lunch and make arrangements to depart a couple of hours after the festival is over. My solution to this is to bring a dinner to Valentino Park (some might chance it on fishing?) so that you can watch your boat while enjoying yourself. Southerners have an easier time, launching at 8AM or so and starting the return trip after an early lunch.




“Is that a man in there…or something?”


Ah, the big question at the center of John Carpenter’s science fiction/horror film remake, “The Thing.” If only the snowbound protagonists in Antarctica had the American Museum of Natural History nearby!


Bring your weird natural finds (bones, feathers, bugs, rocks, shells…and who knows?) to the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. Museum experts there will tackle the mysteries before us.


While you’re at it, check out the rest of the museum, of course. Especially the new horse exhibition! 




Come join Rocking the Boat’s end-of-semester celebration! See the pride as kids launch a new hand-crafted rowboat, and enjoy some time on the Bronx River’s thriving waters too! Last time I was there, I spotted egrets, an glossy ibis, swans, and other estuarine birds. More information at Rocking the Boat’s website.





Paddle from the “Border to the Mouth” with the Bronx River Alliance! If you missed the Amazing Bronx River Flotilla, don’t fret and live in regret, see an egret! Register right away at http://bordertomouth60708.eventbrite.com/






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.




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.




If you love to hike, make that love meaningful by helping maintain local areas as part of National Trails Day. Alley Pond Park is a fantastic NYC resource and your work, side-by-side with the NY/NJ Trail Conference team, with increase the pleasure of it for yourself and others. You’ll focus on the trails near the Adventure Course, so meet at the entrance off the Grand Central Parkway and Winchester Boulevard, opposite the sanitation depot. Call 718-352-4793 for more information and mass transit tips.




Or help out on some of the 35-miles of trail in the Greenbelt on Staten Island! Your hands will get dirty, and you’ll feel great about it. You’ll be provided with tools, gloves, and refreshments. Call 718-667-2165 for more information.


Or at 10AM


Another great Staten Island location to help out with its trails is Blue Heron Park Preserve. Meet at 222 Poillon Avenue between Amboy Road & Hylan Boulevard. For more information call 718-967-3542.



Grab your binoculars and start spotting birds you never thought you’d see in NYC! For many of you, this will mean a trip to North America (how exotic!), which in NYC parlance is the Bronx mainland. This monthly gathering at Van Cortlandt Park is a terrific way to start your Saturday. Enter the park at West 246th Street and Broadway. Call 718-548-0912 for more information.


And while you’re in the Bronx, why not bike straight across to…




Another National Trails Day site is Riverdale Park, and the Wave Hill folks are working hard to enhance the already great trails there. Join them as a fellow steward and reap the green karma! Meet at the Spaulding Lane parking lot at 675 West 252 Street. For more information, call 718-549-3200.




Celebrate the High Bridge and the upper Manhattan heights with a hike covering this surprising section of Manhattan, with old growth forests, old lore, and tranquil spots. An artist from Kids Art Network will lead a creative activity at Riverside-Inwood Neighborhood Garden (RING), and hikers will get t-shirts, water, and snacks. Meet at RING (1835 Riverside Drive, where Riverside Drive, Dyckman Avenue, Broadway, and Seaman Avenue meet). For more information call 212-567-8272.




Stroll with the Central Park Conservancy 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.


Or, how about a twofer at Conference House, one of New York City’s secret haunts?






Conference House Park is at the deepest point of the Deep South of New York, and where Benjamin Franklin and John met with the British for one last chance for peace. The forces of Black Dick would invade the harbor (that being the nickname for Admiral Richard Howe, peace envoy and navy commander, so stop laughing) not long after. It stands today as the last pre-revolutionary manor house remaining in New York City.


After taking a quiet Staten Island Railroad ride or a bike ride through green and blue, grab a great lunch in quaint and charming Tottenville. Then stroll 15 minutes or ride over to Conference House Park. That’s where Hylan Boulevard meets Satterlee Street

. Turn left into the parking lot of the Visitors’ Center, where restrooms and tap water ar available.
 Once there…


STOP THE INVASION! No, not the British. Aggressive, non-native plants threaten the beauty and ecological health of our green spaces. Volunteers are yanking them out under the guidance of park staff. Personally, I suggest that they bring Wildman Steve Brill down to encourage people to eat the vanquished weeds – make a fun feast after the battle! Wear sturdy shoes and sunblock. To RSVP for this rain-or-shine event, or for any questions (such as bus and car pooling directions), please call Cheri Brunault at 718-390-8021, or email cheri.brunault@parks.nyc.gov.


Now here’s another chance to check out Tottenville. Dine or stroll, and then return to…





Photographically, that is. As we wrote about earlier, this is one of the city’s most ancient rituals. Beckoned by the moon and tides, this species comes to lay eggs ashore as it has done for nearly 500 million years. Again, gather at the visitor’s center.






Take a self-guided tour of Brooklyn’s Brownstone Garden District. There are more than a dozen private gardens and nine community gardens to see, including one threatened with eminent domain-enabled destruction. That garden features a cottage dating to the 1830s. Among the enjoyments to found at other gardens are the chance to see a master potter create an astonishing mini-Brooklyn Botanical Garden spanning three lots. Organizers also promise “a stream falling over mossy rock ledges into a stocked pond on a backyard mountain, a serene Japanese garden, and an 1839 farmhouse in a double-wide garden with century-old trees.” Oh, and then there’s the composting toilet.


The flush toilets, I suppose, are at the starting points: Thirst (187 DeKalb Ave., at  Vanderbilt Ave.) or The Forest Floor (659 Vanderbilt Ave. at Park Place). 

Tickets are $15 in advance ($20 the day of the event) to support the Annual Fall Bulb Give-away. Call 718-219-2137 for more information.  




Okay, so someone will eventually break the “Tour de” bike event formula, but it won’t be Queens. Kraftwerk is doubtlessly nodding in approval. The great thing about a Tour de Queens ride, however, is that it amounts to a world tour. (Okay, make that a Unisphere tour… the ride starts in Flushing Meadows, after all.) From Irish taverns to the Hindu Temple canteen to Filipino restaurant districts, you can gain weight while pedaling all day on this borough! As a volunteer ride marshal I will test this theory with gusto.


If you want to be part of the fun with street heroes Transportation Alternatives, REGISTER NOW! The ride is limited to 500 riders. Contact Transportation Alternatives for more information.





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.




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.




Or at least socialize with gardeners over a free birthday breakfast for Friends of Gantry Neighborhood Parks. But don’t be a moocher! Get out and help tend to western Queens trees and gardens with this friendly and hard-working crew! Meet at Gantry Plaza State Park, where 49th Avenue hits the East River in Hunters Point, Long Island City. For more information, email gantryparkfriend@aol.com. 





There was an episode of the Twilight Zone in which a man narrowly avoided eternal damnation by declining an apparent invitation into Heaven because dogs weren’t allowed. Human loyalty to the pooch won him a place in the real thing.



Your bit of green heaven (okay, some might have to skip church for this, which I imagine could delay entrance) on Sunday morning is Forest Park. Urban Park Rangers will take you through the woods, which will simultaneously sooth and stimulate both you and the pup. Meet at the K-9 Korral Dog Run (Park Lane South and 85th Street). This event happens every two weeks, so make a habit of it! And those without a canine companion are still welcome to join the pack.





Have a face-to-face encounter with a local fish at Van Cortlandt Park through in this catch-and-release environmental program. The excitement of this experience can inspire new ecologists to learn the science they’ll need to be the next generation of stewards. Adults can be moved as well. Bring water and a snack, and NYC Parks will provide the equipment. Enter at West 264th Street and Broadway. For more information, call 718-548-0912.


Put on your loin cloth (or maybe something more urban-conventional) and get over to the Dana Discovery Center (110th Street and Lennox Avenue) for a walk through Central Park’s diverse trees. Both native species and carefully cultivated and responsibly grown exotic species grace this gorgeous, densely verdant public space. For more information call 212-860-1376




Go the wet fringe of New York City’s largest park to see what lurks below! Seining nets will bring up fish, crustaceans and more in Pelham Bay Park. Meet at the Urban Park Ranger Station at the intersection of Bruckner Boulevard and Wilkinson Avenue. Call 718-885-3467 for more information.




Paddle Staten Island’s lovely Lemon Creek while others are sitting on the butts eating brunch! Call 718-967-3642 to register and get the meeting place.




Who’s so big? You’re so big! Well, at least compared with the stunning array of insects to whom the Urban Park Rangers are eager to introduce you. Meet at the Fort Totten Ranger Park, north of the intersection of 212 Street and Cross Island Parkway. Call 718-352-1769 for more information.





Mondays are rough. Treat yourself to a delightful walk through Battery Park City’s blooming crabapples, rhododendrons, bleeding hearts, and Virginia bluebells. Horticulturalist Monika Haberland will take you on a River-to-River stroll through Wagner Park. For more information, call 212-267-9700.




Stroll with the Central Park Conservancy 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.



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Bumblebee on an eggplant flower East Harlem. Photo by Kevin Matteson. 


by Erik Baard


There can be no local foods, community garden, and green spaces movement in New York City without a healthy bee population, and that’s a resource we could lose. Our first defense is simply to look a little more carefully at our backyards and gardens.


Bee Watchers 2008 wants to train you to observe bees with free sessions in all five boroughs: at Alley Pond Environmental Center (May 19, 6PM), Central Park’s North Meadow Recreation Center (May 21, 6PM), the Greenbelt Nature Center (6PM, May 20), Prospect Park Audubon Center (May 21, 6PM), and Ranaqua, the Bronx headquarters of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation (May 22, 6PM). You’ll also be equipped with five native New York flowering plants and a sunflower.


For an informative flyer and contact information, click here:



Being a Bee Watcher is fun, but this is also an urgent mission that has the backing of the Greenbelt Native Plant Center, New York City Urban Park Rangers, and the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History.


“We’ve already lost some species. At least two bumble bee species that used to be quite abundant haven’t been seen in years,” said Elizabeth Johnson, manager of the Metropolitan Biodiversity Program at the American Museum of Natural History.


“At this point we’re trying to drum up business for bee watching,” added Kevin Matteson, a Fordham University biologist conducting the program.


A third of human food stocks depend directly on the services of pollinators, which include insects, birds, and mammals. In the northeast, we rely on bees most (like the bumblebee pollinating an East Harlem eggplant in the photo by Matteson above – click to enlarge). New York State boasts about 423 species. 


“Most people have no idea that we have so many local species. They’re amazed at the metallic shiny green ones, the blueish ones. It gets people excited,” Johnson said. (If you happen to spot a bee or other insect that fascinates you, drop a note to wildeyed@naturecalendar.com and we’ll share your observations with readers.)


While 219 species have been spotted living in NYC (54 in East Harlem and the South Bronx alone), nearly a fifth of those aren’t native, according to Matteson.


The mysterious population collapse of the honeybee, a species imported from Europe aboard sailing ships, has gotten considerable media attention, and rightfully so. But habitat destruction and exotic diseases could pose a great threat to our indigenous partners in sustaining edible and flowering local plants.


“We don’t know a lot about most of our native bees. Where do they live? What kinds of habitat needs do they have? We have a lot to figure out about pollinator service and it would help to know how quickly bees show up at their plants in the Spring, and how often, and then correlate that with surrounding land use,” Johnson explained.


The honeybee is an exceptional species not only for its production of the syrupy sweets, but for its large colony combs, which are occupied for years. They even huddle for warmth in winter. Most bees live in less enduring groups, or even in relatively solitary fashion: a queen might never see her offspring, laying eggs and sealing them off with provisions before moving on. Many burrow underground or bore into wood, crawl into hollow twigs, or even take over abandoned mouse holes.


Development often wipes out bee food sources like wildflowers or even invasive flowers. Paving also eliminates burrowing species from an area.


Your community garden or backyard is an oasis in the asphalt desert, but you might see fewer flowers, fruits, and vegetables because a building has gone up on what was a weed-strewn lot a block or two away. A green roof with plants that support bees and butterflies might compensate for that loss, but you won’t get it unless you’re armed with data supporting your case.


For the sake of your community’s green spaces, join Bee Watchers 2008 by calling Kevin Matteson at 646-3730250 or emailing him at kevmatteson (at) gmail.com.



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