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Posts Tagged ‘cornell’

Harvested beach plums. Photo courtesy of Cornell University.

When explorer Giovanni da Verrazano sailed into New York Harbor in 1524, he remarked on the multitude of this sweet fruit thriving in sand. In 1609, Henry Hudson was similarly delighted. This vision of our estuary is long lost, but not irrecoverable despite massive urbanization.

Imagine waterfronts swaying with white flowers that grow into delicious plums the size of fat cherries. We can do it inexpensively in a way that’s a fun learning experience for youth!

Beach plum flower. Photo courtesy of Cornell University.

These indigenous fruits are better known in luxury summer communities like the Hamptons, Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, and Nantucket. They’re difficult to grow in yields demanded commercially, but but there’s nothing stopping us from making them a signature of New York Harbor again, from waterfronts to nearby community gardens and schools. The NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and Friends of Gateway are leading parallel efforts to replant beach plums in key sites like Soundview Park, Floyd Bennett Field, and Plumb Beach. Regarding the last location, many already mistakenly call it “Plum Beach,” so we have a happy instance of reality catching up to a misnomer!

A community effort could share the fun of beach plums on a much greater scale. As some readers know, I founded the Newtown Pippin Restoration and Celebration to plant hundreds of apple saplings throughout the five boroughs, with a special focus on our local heirloom variety. That project is now maturing (two new orchards this season, on Governors Island and in Red Hook!), thanks to the support of New York Restoration Project, Green Apple Cleaners, Slow Food NYC, the Greenbelt Native Plant Center, and a host of other allies and volunteers. Looking to the future, I spoke with Cornell University plant ecologist Dr. Thomas Whitlow, who is the leading expert on beach plums in New York, about how we might contribute to the return of beach plums.

Thanks to Friends of Gateway, I’ve delivered beach plum bushes and elderberry trees to Greenpoint, Red Hook, Astoria, Dumbo, Manhattan, and LIC. What Dr. Whitlow envisions is having students gather beach plums at the East End of Long Island, enjoy them (perhaps we could makes jams with a local canning instructor) and then germinate the seeds. In partnership with a native plant group, the seeds could be potted and grown for distribution to public spaces.

If you’d like to be part of this, please drop a note to erikbaard@gmail.com and we’ll get started!

Wild beach plums. Photo courtesy of Cornell University.

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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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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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Panting hawk in Flushing, Queens.

 

A glance at this red-tailed hawk brings to mind its famed cry, which Cornell University notes is dubbed into the beaks of hawks and eagles in movies and television shows ad infinitum. In reality you’re seeing a hawk pant.

 

 

The iconic Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is home to a pair of hawks whose nest is in the Indian Ocean, so to speak. But that exposure, perhaps worsened by glaringly reflective metal, drove this bird down below the shade of the tree canopy. My kayaking and biking buddy, Richard Furlong of LaGuardia Community College’s ESL program, found himself ten feet below this hawk while in the park for the Tour de Queens and took these shots (click to enlarge).  

 

Red-tailed hawk near the Unisphere. Photo by Richard Furlong.

 

Another friend, Emmanuel Fuentebella, captured the other hawk in these photos as he (I believe, since it looked smaller) watched the crazily busy skateboarding circle at the base of the Unisphere.

 

red-tailed hawk in the Unisphere. Photo by Emmanuel Fuentabella.

 

Red-tailed hawk in Unisphere. Photo by Emmanuel Fuentabella.

 

I was shocked at the idea of a hawk scooting under leaf cover to close to the ground, even though a friendly Queens knitter, Helen, told me of a red-tailed hawk living at a local courthouse that was equally unphased by human company. It’s still commonly believed that red-tailed hawks will soar to cool down, with temperatures dropping with rising altitudes. Skepticism is building, as shade seeking is far more apparent. Also, soaring is an effective territorial and mating display, explaining many hours spent aloft while not hunting.

 

 

Other bloggers (http://www.fordham.edu/politicalsci/profs/fleisher/NYC_hawks.html, http://adevolution.wordpress.com/2008/04/26/update-animal-profile-red-tailed-hawks-of-flushing-meadows/) have noted that the Unisphere hawks are very attentive to their nests, giving rise to hopes for a new generation. I worry that the heat, which is LOUDLY breaking in a storm as I type, might endanger eggs or hatchlings.

 

Ferruginous hawks, a more heat-adapted North American desert species, suffers markedly higher infant mortality rates as temperatures rise. Though nests seem to be located regardless of shading, adults and hatchlings alike seek shade. Strangely, the first motivation for fledglings to leave the nest appears to be to find shade (not to mothers everywhere – send junior packing by turning off the air conditioner). Another surprising aspect of ferruginous hawks’ is that their remarkably large gapes might be an adaptation to pants more effectively in addition to consuming large prey.

 

As a small side note, hawks’ young were found to die from heat stress in greater numbers when ill fed. I wonder if there’s a compounding problem here, with potential prey hunkering down, even under ground, to remain cool while riding out heat waves.

 

Let’s hope for the best, and watch and learn.

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