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Posts Tagged ‘Birds’

Among local birds, Turkey Vultures have perhaps the keenest sense of smell.

Turkey vultures migrate through our region at this time of year, bringing with them stories as old as the dinosaurs. With their bare heads and large size, it’s easier to imagine this species’ hotly debated dinosaur origins than those of a hummingbird. But one less obvious way the Turkey Vulture reminds us of how birds’ ancestors survived a mass extinction 65 million years ago is its keen sense of smell.

It’s commonly thought that birds are nearly entirely visual and auditory. After all, the portion of their brains devoted to processing the bouquet of a flower, the funk of a friend, or the reek of a rotting carcass is typically very small. But for some species, like Turkey Vultures, smell is critical. It can aid navigation, locate food, or certify kinship.

Paleontologist Darla Zelenitsky of the University of Calgary in Canada compared fossil skulls with those of modern birds (and tapped existing data) to determine how much of their circuits were aimed at smell. It seems the ancestral birds’ sense of smell greatly sharpened after the cataclysm, believed to have been an asteroid collision with Earth. More here from ScienceNOW. One can imagine buzzards circling the skies of a world of death.

Turkey Vultures and other carrion eaters play a critical role in recycling nutrients and curbing the spread of disease by acting as nature’s cleanup crew. Though their diet, defensive arsenal of projectile vomit and poo, and undertaker visages creep many people out, these birds soar gracefully on thermal vents (here gyring Fibonacci is at it again) and they can even save human lives: Turkey Vultures are sometimes used to locate natural gas leaks because they’re drawn to the smell of an additive, ethyl mercaptan.

Though Turkey Vultures fly great distances and their physiology reminds us of a remarkable global period, they’re actually pretty localized. Vultures in other parts of the world are unrelated, providing a striking example of convergent evolution — similar mutations exploit similar opportunities, and in the end you get a similar animal or plant despite genetic isolation. To find a close relative of the Turkey Vulture just head down to a local wetland. If you’re lucky you’ll spot it — the far more celebrated Blue Heron.

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After millions of years in the air, birds might be a bit insulted that they’re blamed for downing planes when one of these giant metal leviathans hurtles into their flock. I mean, imagine a whale crash landing into your bicycle parade and then complaining of “bike strikes.”

Still, many people have asked for links to learn more about bird strikes, and the estuary birds of our region. So here’s a quick link list!

BIRD STRIKES:

Nonprofit:

http://www.birdstrike.org/events/signif.htm

FAA:

http://wildlife-mitigation.tc.faa.gov/public_html/index.html

Rotors:

http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2008/11/21/319198/bird-strike-emerges-as-open-rotor-concern.html

 

BIRDS OF NYC:

NYC Audubon:

http://www.nycaudubon.org/kids/birds/

NYC Birds:

http://www.nycbirds.com/

Brooklyn Bird Club:

http://www.brooklynbirdclub.org/trips.htm

Cornell University Database:

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/

 

And now a hot apple cider toast to the pilot! Let’s hope the authorities focus on better detection and avoidence and not fewer birds!

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Neighborhoodcats.org photo of JFK cat protest.

Neighborhoodcats.org photo of JFK cat protest.

by Erik Baard

Australia is learning that it’s traded one form of “cute overload” for another, and there might be lessons for New York City.

 

As reported in this article, Australia attacked its cat overpopulation problem in the interest of preserving its indigenous bird species. The trouble is, without the feline predators around, a rabbit population explosion ensued, stripping away ground foliage needed for safe bird nesting.

 

The conflict between cat lovers and conservationists, which is often an inner one, spans the globe. In NYC it’s found focus on Jamaica Bay and the JFK Airport. Emotional pleas and conservation science studies have crashed upon walls of bureaucracy in recent years as airport officials cleared out a stray cat population. One ironic twist is that some airport managers have claimed that the cats are attracting birds, with their food and feces, and posing a hazard to planes. While bird strikes are very real, environmental concerns on Jamaica Bay center on ground nesting birds.

 

Cats are the flashpoint where empathy and responsibility crash in on themselves.

 

We feel for the cats, cast off in a breach of our social contract with them as a companion species. Activists might have a point in calling the feral ones, though born outside of human housing, “homeless.” That’s certainly true for abandoned pets. But we also grasp the suffering that attends habitat loss and losing young, as birds and other small species struggle to hold on under assault from feline predators.

 

Our sense of responsibility is weighty because we’ve both marginalized local species to a fringe of habitat and introduced an effective predator.

 

The greatest point of consensus is that cats should be adopted only responsibly (for life, and neutered), and that they should be kept indoors. But in cases where colonies already exist, sterilization and reintroduction seems is the most humane and effective means of dealing with the cat population. Infertile cats will still hold territory, preventing a rapid repopulation of the area by breeding cats from adjacent neighborhoods. With rats, another species that’s forever the subject of population control schemes, denying food helps disperse a population and keep them busy seeking sustenance instead of breeding. When social animals have a central food source, they gather and find mates, and have the surplus energy to breed and bear young.

 

Just ask the rabbits down under!

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Hi All!

NYC’s greenest restaurant, Habana Outpost, is hosting a “Winter Warm Up” talk and happy hour. Learn about Prospect Park and the Audubon Center while mixing with fun and friendly teachers. Oh yeah, and enjoy Habana Outpost’s delicious food, party atmosphere, and ecological model before it shuts on Oct 31!

More info through this link:

http://habanaworks.org/

And read the details below!

I hope to see you there!

Erik

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Event Info
Host:
Type:
Network:
Global
Time and Place
Date:
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Time:
5:00pm – 7:00pm
Location:
Habana Outpost
Street:
757 Fulton Street
City/Town:
Brooklyn, NY
Contact Info
Phone:
7189095580
Email:

Description

Next Winter Warm Up: Prospect Park Alliance!

The happy hour for teachers continues…with a presentation from our neighbors in Prospect Park about their Audubon Center!

Here are the details from our series calendar:
“Located in the historic Boathouse, the Prospect Park Audubon Center is a unique place where talented Park staff challenge students to actively explore the natural world around them. Audubon Center staff teach by asking questions, engaging students, and exploring Prospect Park’s 585 acres of meadows, ponds, waterfalls, and woodlands. All Programs at the Audubon Center support New York State Learning Standards and New York City Performance Standards to promote student achievement in science, math, and language arts. Our programs offer exciting learning opportunities for each season, to complement any environment- or science-based curricula. Programmatic themes for Nature and Science include: Birding, Meadow, Winter, Water, Soil, and Forest.”

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Alchemy at Gowanus Studio Space.

Alchemy at Gowanus Studio Space.

TONIGHT: Free admission to a party of environmentalists and art lovers!

Beer by Kelso of Brooklyn!

DJ Dave “Roosting Box” Nardone!

What’s all the fuss about?

Well, sometimes hardened urbanites think that it would take green alchemy to create habitat on our mean streets. The good folks at the Gowanus Studio Space in Brooklyn (119 8th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Subway: F or G to Smith/9th St. or F, M or R to 4th Ave./9th St.) have conjured just that, featuring reclamation artist Atom Cianfarani’s guerilla habitat restoration, “Suspended Nurseries” and “For the Birds.”

The Alchemy show focuses on how discarded commodities can be reused to investigate our relationship with nature, and perhaps even benefit it. “Suspended Nurseries” and “For the Birds” make use of our waste and ignored resources like rainwater to quietly overlay our city’s hardscape with sustaining ecological niches. Native species rejoice!

And you too!

Poke around these websites for directions and more information:

http://www.gowanusstudio.org/

http://www.atomsdream.com

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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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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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