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Posts Tagged ‘Jamaica Bay’

Jackrabbit at JFK Airport by Robert Horvath

Beavers might be honored by the city seal and mosaics at Astor Place, but bunnies know where the fun is. Coney Island derives its named from konijn, the Dutch word for rabbit. It’s fitting that this energetic and fertile creature (rabbits can get pregnant while already pregnant) would define the playground of our city. Today they, and other lagomorphs (they aren’t rodents) might serve as a model for our citywide recycling plan…or maybe not.

One thing is certain, however: the Easter Bunny belongs in New York City. Not only was the East Side once significantly German (Germany is the homeland of this myth), but nobody would question the self-identity of an egg-laying bunny dude named Peter around here.

Rabbits and other hares are indigenous to New York City, but the species seems to have evolved in Asia. The earliest fossil evidence for the emerging species, dating back 55 million years, was unearthed in Mongolia.

New York City’s section of Long Island’s southern edge is still hopping with rabbits and hares, especially on Jamaica Bay. At the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge you’ll spot eastern cottontails while JFK International Airport boasts a back-tailed jackrabbit population, which escaped from a cargo hold long ago.

Eastern cottontail.

Other rabbits of the more cuddly bunny kind, and therefore far less able to adapt to the wild, are irresponsibly and inhumanely abandoned in our parks and green spaces. Please consider adopting a rescued rabbit, or supporting or volunteering for the New York City chapter of the House Rabbit Society’s Rabbit Rescue and Rehab group. As herbivores, rabbits are a great eco-pet choice, giving you a far smaller carbon footprint as well as tons of love.

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Spreading smiles along with hay around newly planted trees on Jamaica Bay. A MillionTreesNYC event with the National Park Service and NYRP. I organized the Earth Day New York contingent.

Spring can bring emotional regrowth to you through exercise in nature. A critical insight illuminating American history is that Jefferson used the word “happiness” as a standard Enlightenment translation for the Classical Greek concept eudaimonia. Today academics translate this as “flourishing,” both in personal potential and value to the community.

Depression and chronic stress (and even severely stressful incidents) kill brain cells, deepening depression in a vicious cycle. The good news is that the brain is much more regenerative than once believed. Both exercise and natural experiences have been shown to alleviate depression, so do yourself and your loved ones a favor — combine those benefits by enjoying outdoor recreation and active volunteer work. These activities also tend to be social. Get started on a virtuous cycle of enjoying nature and sharing the accomplishments of stewardship with other caring people!

A few resources to get you going:

BIKING

PADDLING AND ROWING

CLIMBING

RUNNING

HIKING

GARDENING

TREE PLANTING AND CARE

BIRDING

SWIMMING

WALKING

May you flourish in every season!

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Prickly pear cactus in Jamaica Bay. Photo by Klaus Schoenwiese.

 

By Erik Baard

 

In my youthful urbanite naïveté I used to view the idea of a flowering cactus as a discordant mixture of elements, a kind of vegetative platypus. Little did I know that June brings forth gorgeous cactus flowers in the dry spots of own archipelago. Take a moment to admire the prickly pear, or opuntia, flower above.

 

When photographer Klaus Schoenwiese and I stumbled across this example at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, I was quite surprised. I knew the species only as a backyard garden item, and had never seen it flower. Naturally, or quite the opposite, we’ve all seen plenty of paper flowers tackily glued to cacti of many species in decorative gardening stores.

 

The prickly pear is our city’s only indigenous cactus, but I won’t complain about a lack of choice. Until a few years ago I didn’t know we had any at all! Some uncharitably characterize it was a weed because of its hardiness and easy propagation (though because of that quality, but a happenstance encounter with it in the wild isn’t likely. Make your way to Jamaica Bay and hike a bit, or even kayak out to its islands.   

 

Prickly pear cacti feed a wide array of birds (so don’t pluck them from the wild, please), and they are consumed with relish (and as relish) in cultures stretching from Mexico (where the plant is on the national flag) to Sicily. The fruit is delicious on its own and is made into jellies and drinks. In a nice self-perpetuating cycle, while the fruit is fermented into alcohol, research indicates that the skin (known as a source of anti-inflamatory compounds) might help cure hangovers. The young, flat leaves, or nopales (in Texas, “cactus paddles”), are served at breakfast for a daily start that’s rich in fiber and nutrients while lowering the glycemic effect. Another amusing circle completed by this species is that while it threatens to prick us with two kinds of spines, eating it reportedly improves platelet function. Enjoy a few recipes here and here. Or simply look for its red insect feeder’s possible contribution to your next imported bright red snack or garment.

 

When you’re eating a prickly pear, also consider its pedigree in scientific history. A youthful Charles Darwin was fascinated by his discovery that this cactus’ anthers, the bulbous tops to stamen, curl over to deposit pollen when touched.

 

If you fall hard for this yummy, curative, sustaining, beautiful, and surprising species, please consider bringing some of that verve to the New York Cactus and Succulent Society, which will next meet on June 19 at the Jan Hus Presbyterian Church at 351 E. 74th Street, before taking a break for July and August. Treasurer Richard Stone remarked to me that the organization is at this time quite elderly and not up for field trips to see our local wild cacti. Some young blood (with opuntia-enhanced platelet function?) with a willingness to organize an annual Prickly Pear Day (hiking, cuisine) might help perpetuate this important group.

 

And maybe a local organic farm might consider growing these locally?

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Wildwire-May22-28

 

As always we have a ton of FREE things to enjoy outdoors in New York City that put you in direct contact with nature. We hope you get out there, have fun, learn, and love your wild, wild city!

 

 

 

 

THURSDAY, MAY 22

 

Horticulture, Brooklyn

 

Each Thursday at 10AM the “VIPP Crew” tackles crucial horticultural and maintenance work throughout Prospect Park. It’s great exercise, you’ll meet a new circle of friends, and you can take quiet satisfaction in creating and preserving beauty for others. The day’s activities wrap up at 2PM.

 

 

 

FRIDAY, MAY 23

 

GARDENING, BRONX

 

Kids and sunflowers alike grow up healthy at the Sherman Avenue Community Garden. This green oasis at 955 Sherman Avenue (between East 163rd and East 164 Streets) has recently been redesigned, so come help inject new life into it on Friday, from 10AM until 2PM. For more information call 718.817.8026

 

HORSESHOE CRAB WALK, STATEN ISLAND
Revolutionary War history and deep, deep prehistory at once? That’s a heck of a two-fer, thanks to our NYC Park Rangers. Witness a ritual that has taken place for millions of years as horseshoes gather on Staten Island’s shores at Conference House Park. Meet at 7PM at the Visitor Center, where Hylan Boulevard and Satteries Street meet.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SATURDAY, MAY 24

 

 

BIKE LESSONS, ALL OVER THE PLACE!

 

This is a great weekend to have experts help you teach your child to bike ride. Clinics are being held in several place, so please check the Bike Month calendar directly. And make special note of the “Queens Bites” and “Biking is for Lovers” if you believe that bike entitles you to a few extra, yummy calories!

COMPOSTING WORKSHOP, MANHATTAN

 

The Manhattan Compost Project wants you to know the food scraps are powerfully fertile soil in waiting. Come to the 6B Garden at 1PM and BEHOLD THE POWER OF WORMS!

 

Like all New Yorkers, worms are very concerned about housing. You’ll learn how to care for worms in your own apartment and donate your product to community gardens or lavish it on your own plants. As any gardener can tell you, the best plant growers don’t have green thumbs, they have brown thumbs. No…wait, that came out wrong.

 

At the end of the free two-hour workshop you’ll have the option of buying a subsidized “worm condo” for $10.

 

 

 

 

NATURE WALK, MANHATTAN 

 

“Amble through the Ramble” with the Central Park Conservancy, a place of dense and diverse 38-acre woodland and streams. Learn your trees and a few birds too in this relaxing one-hour walk. No RSVP required – just make your way to the center of the park from 79th Street on either side by 930AM, early bird!

 

 

BIRDING HIKE, STATEN ISLAND

Not so many years ago, if you told your friends that you were going to hike through Fresh Kills, Staten Island, they would have though you were nuts. Actually, some of them still might, and that’s half the fun. The notorious landfill is rapidly transforming into a spectacular public park and preserve (pictured above). Come with NYC Audubon and park staff to see what’s already roosting and soaring, from hawks to songbirds.

This trip is free, but please RSVP. The trip meets at the St. George Ferry Terminal at 10AM and wraps up at noon.

PADDLING, Brooklyn

Venture to Brooklyn’s deep south and enjoy the famous hospitality of Sebago Canoe Club at their annual open house. You’ll get a chance to paddle Jamaica Bay and Paerdegat Basin, munch, and mingle while enjoying the beauty of their recent gardening. The festivities run from 10AM until 5PM.

 

WOODLAND RESTORATION

 

Each Saturday the Weekend Woodlands Volunteers clean, replant, and care for Prospect Park’s superb forest – Brooklyn’s last. Meet at the Picnic House at 10AM and wrap up this fun work at 2PM. Call 718.965.8960 for more information.

 

 

BIRDING, BROOKLYN

 

Get to know the 200 species of the dinosaurs’ closest living relatives living in Prospect Park on the introduction to birdwatching walk every Saturday. Meet the Brooklyn Bird Club guides at the Audubon Center at noon and stroll and learn until 130PM.

 

 

SUNDAY, MAY 25

 

 

BIKE THE TOUR DE BROOKLYN

 

You won’t find the Dodgers, but you will find pretty much anything else a major city would envy in Brooklyn. A great way to explore both its topography and spirit (and learn about the important work of Transportation Alternatives) is the annual Tour de Brooklyn. Hurry and register online, as required.

 

 

 

 

BLOOMING HIKE, BRONX

 

Why don’t you just go for a bloomin’ hike? Really. The NYC Park Rangers at Pelham Bay Park, our city’s largest, extend this sweetly simple invitation: “We’ll go looking for things in bloom. Come with us!”

 

Meet at the Pelham Bay Ranger Station (Bruckner Boulevard and Wilkinson Avenue) at 11AM for this casual and fun outing. Call 718.885.3467 for more information.

 

 

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN

 

What would the Summer on the Hudson Festival be without access to the water itself? Join the Downtown Boathouse veteran kayakers for a great experience for the whole family, paddling in a relatively quiet urban curve of the Hudson River estuary. This kicks off their season at Riverside Park South, which continues each Saturday after this weekend until October 12.

 

KAYAKING AND CANOEING, QUEENS

See great art at Socrates Sculpture Park and the Noguchi Museum with a wet butt (okay, hopefully dry if you’re coming out of a canoe) by paddling with the LIC Community Boathouse. Visit Socrates Sculpture Park’s beach at Hallets Cove (where 31st Avenue meets the East River) for walk-up tours of the cove. And feel free to hang out at the beach for fun banter as volunteers alternate between sitting, helping people into boats, and cleaning the shoreline.

 

NATURE WALK, BROOKLYN

 

Boy do those Prospect Park people work hard to provide natural experiences in NYC’s interior second city. Each Sunday (Saturdays too!) you’re welcome to stroll along for an hour to see the wildlife of this Olmstead gem. Meets at 3PM at the Audubon Center.

 

BIRDING HIKE, STATEN ISLAND

 

Set your alarm now and hustle down for a birding hike at Staten Island’s fantastic greenbelt. Meet at 7AM (ouch!) at the new Greenbelt Nature Center at High Rock Park, at 200 Nevada Avenue (off Rockland Avenue). Call 718.351.3450 for more information.

 

ASTRONOMY, QUEENS

 

This weekend the stars aren’t to be seen in Tribeca, they are to be seen from Bayside. Join the NYC Park Rangers’ monthly telescopic stargazer confab at Fort Totten Ranger Park. Get there by 730PM, and enter the fort entrance north of the 212 Street and Cross Island Parkway intersection. Call 718.352.1769 for more information. 

 

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY, MAY 28

 

STREET TREE CARE WORKSHOP, MANHATTAN

Grab a quick bite between your office and the historic Arsenal Building of Central Park where New York Tree Trust and Partnerships for Parks will be sharing fascinating and important knowledge about caring for young trees (we, as a city, are planting a lot of them!) for those who want to be on the green vanguard. Earn a Parks Volunteer Permit and free tools.

The class starts at 630PM and ends at 830PM. Register (or bring the workshop to your community) by calling 212.676.1929 or shooting an email to channaly.oum@parks.nyc.gov

 

 

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Horseshoe crabs at Plumb Beach. Photo by Klaus Schoenwiese. 

 

by Erik Baard

Horseshoe crabs having been laying and fertilizing eggs along our beaches, and the beaches of the continents as they were once assembled, for at least 350 million years and through several global mass extinctions. Somehow they’ve done all this mating without the help of MP3 players stocked with Barry White. A couple of years ago I was impelled to visit Plumb Beach, Brooklyn to investigate. I was lucky enough to have my extraordinarily talented photographer friend, Klaus Schoenwiese, with me. I hope you take the chance this Sunday, with the American Littoral Society. Check our WildWire, below, for details.

It was a magical night, set to the subtler music of crickets and lapping small waves. A yellow squash-colored full moon rose over eastern Rockaway Inlet, Jupiter shone brightly further south, and Ursa Major reeled across the northern sky. And Klaus observed another beautiful sight often glared out by the riotously incandescent city: bioluminescence. A tiny spot of sand glowed blue-green when nudged. Perhaps it was a juvenile jelly fish, since it was a tight source, not the mind of nebulous expanse one would expect from a patch of dinoflagellates saturating the sand.

 

Horseshoe crab mating train. Photo by Klaus Schoenwiese.

In Klaus’ photo of horseshoe crabs under the moon you’ll note the slipper shells and barnacles that are among the many species that make their homes on all surfaces these long-lived creatures (sometimes over 30 years, though they cast shells in youthful molting). Contrary to mythology, the pointed tail isn’t a stinger, but rather an ultraviolet light-sensitive periscope of sorts and a tool to right horseshoe crab when waves flip it on shore, leaving it vulnerable (despite a nifty ability to regrow limbs). Gleefully interfering with nature, we lifted and returned distressed specimens to the water.

 

Horseshoe crab flipped. Photo by Klaus Schoenwiese.

Every May and June you can spot horseshoe crabs swimming and crawling ashore in prime places like Jamaica Bay, Staten Island, and Plumb Beach. At the last location, the pattern was disrupted for a few years in the ’90s when sterile sand was dumped over the rich mud flats, depriving birds and horseshoe crabs of small snails and such to eat.

The females are significantly larger than the males, who desperately cling to their would-be mates (needy is the new black?). The female will haul herself to the intertidal zone’s highpoint and then partially bury herself into the wet sand to lay thousands of tiny, greenish eggs. At least one male will be in tow, and often several will descend upon her when she’s tucked in.

The males’ approach might be a terrible case study in the art of seduction, but it’s an efficient means of winning in what biologists call “sperm competition.” Besides, give the horseshoe crabs credit for one romantic touch, which human voyeurs can appreciate: they prefer to do it under a full moon.

The advantage of a full moon is that by laying eggs in the highest tidal point, subsequent high tides won’t wash away the eggs before they’re hatched and juveniles are ready to take their places in the deep bays or continental shelves a few weeks later. It will be ten years before you see them again, matured for reproduction. The lunar cycle and strictly defined mating ritual is so central to the horseshoe crab’s life that it has ten eyes (yes, TEN!) on its body. Additionally, there’s a row of optic sensors on its spike-like tail. The eyes and sensors are geared for measuring ambient ultraviolet light levels and for spotting mates. Mind you, this didn’t stop three of four amorous males from trying to mate with Klaus’ feet!

Horseshoecrabs. Photo by Klaus Schoenwiese.

As alien as their mating habits might be (or creepily familiar), horseshoe crabs are more a part of your daily life than you might expect. Each time you see pretty shorebirds and migrating birds in these areas, soaring over a strand, think of the humble horseshoe crab. This creature’s eggs are a critical food stock for the birds you’re admiring — so much so that they time their own annual cycles to it. You might also owe thanks to horseshoe crabs for your very ability to see: chitin from its shell and exoskeleton are a key ingredient in many contact lenses (as well hairspray and skin cream), and horseshoe crabs compound eyes and simple optic nerves have been a mainstay of medical optical studies for decades. Indeed, horseshoe crabs, which are not crabs at all, were the center of research that earned the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1967.

Another aspect of horseshoe crab physiology for humans is their blue-green blood (they use copper to carry oxygen, not iron), which sells for about $15,000 a quart. It’s chief value is a compound called Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL). LAL is a fast, reliable indicator of bacterial toxins in medicines (so good that the Food and Drug Administration requires use of it) and in the human body. That’s right: there’s a chance you’ve been injected with horsehoe crab blood and didn’t even know it. A hot field of medical and evolutionary research is the commonality of human and horseshoe crab complementary immune responses.

But as you can imagine, the more uses humans find for this slow-maturing species, the fewer remain in the waters. Populations have markedly declined in recent years. Bird advocates like the Audubon Society have taken up the cause of horseshoe crab protection. If the spirit moves you, get involved in the important work of protecting this ancient cousin.

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Glossy ibis in the Bronx River. Photo by Ted Gruber.

By Erik Baard

Up to a point, I love being ignorant. As an aspiring urban naturalist, I am frequently discovering my hometown’s exoticism. I had one such moment on Saturday, as I paddled up the Bronx River with a boathouse volunteer to help with the Amazing Bronx River Flotilla.

 

Stroke by stroke we left the west bank of the Bronx River mouth’s grocery store distributor truck lots, warehouse construction, and the old sanitation pier further behind. Retaining walls ended and broad mudflats footed the green, landfilled uplands of Soundview Park. Brilliant white birds stole our attention first – three great egrets and two large mute swans. But after that rush subsided, I noticed the smaller wader silhouetted above (photo by Ted Gruber) and was awed. It was an ambassador from ancient Egypt.

 

The first time I came across the hooked-bill face of an ibis, it had a human body and was busy teaching Isis spells to resurrect the dismembered Osiris. This was a depiction of the Egyptian god of wisdom, magic, and measurement. He derived his name, Djehuty, as well as visage, from the ibis. He is also credited with inventing writing, and Egyptian scribes often owned depictions of ibises. We more commonly know Djehuty through the Greeks as Thoth. That distinct bill (great for snatching up crustacens, snakes, and invertebrates) stirred Egyptian imaginations further, and they associated the bird, and Djehuty, with the similarly shaped crescent moon. The god is usually attended by a baboon (which is also an occasional incarnation), as Egyptians noticed how that primate seemed to howl at the moon.

 

As I read those enchanting stories, encountering a living descendent in the South Bronx was nowhere in my thoughts.

 

During the winter I’d flipped past the ibis in an Audubon Society guide, not having much faith in seeing one. Despite a population surge in the mid-twentieth century, it’s now listed as a species “of greatest conservation concern” in New York. Still, a dedicated birder can count on spotting them in our parts from spring through autumn (they winter in the Deep South); this absolutely breathtaking photo offers a closer look at a glossy ibis in Jamaica Bay, with its breeding plumage, rusty and iridescent green like a dogbane beetle.

But for all its ancient pedigree, the glossy ibis is a newcomer to America. Most scientists believe it arrived in the late 19th century. Now you might ask, “If it’s invasive, why would the Audubon Society be worried about it? Shouldn’t the organization be working to curtail it so that native shorebirds can survive?”

Well, this is partly because the glossy ibis seems to have arrived naturally, swept across the Atlantic Ocean by a hurricane as it migrated between Africa and Europe (this still happens today). And today it’s habitat is threatened by pollution and wetlands draining throughout its current range, even North Africa. Our continent is home to 21,000 ibises, about one percent of the global total, but we could end up serving as a global gene bank for the species.

 

Or maybe there’s an environmental grant waiting for a revival of the Egyptian solution to species preservation: Temple priests raised the birds in captivity so skillfully that archeologists have uncovered millions of ibis remains…sacrificed and mummified. Or not.

But the next time I see the moon at a crescent sliver, I will see ibis-headed Djehuty and smile knowing I once glided alongside him. I will hope, as a minor scribe, that I have honored him.

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Osprey nest relocated by Con Ed. Photo by The Wave.

by Erik Baard

A sharp-eyed photographer for The Wave, serving the Rockaways and the south shore of Long Island, recorded the gentle relocation of an osprey nest from a transformer box to a safer place atop a pole. Our thanks to Bernie Ente for passing the tip along.

 

Like many bird species, the osprey was hit hard by massive DDT insecticide spraying in the mid-twentieth century. That chemical, now banned in the U.S., is widely credited with saving hundreds of millions of human lives from malaria. But indiscriminate spraying took its toll on the environment. A critical problem was that DDT, which concentrates in fatty tissue up the food chain, interferes with calcium processing in birds and weakens their egg shells. Embryos died in “omelets.”

 

Biologist Rachel Carson sounded the alarm in her book, “Silent Spring.” She might have overstated her case (while being honest to what she believed and knew at the time), she helped spark an environmental movement for a new generation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency owes its creation in part to Carson’s advocacy.

 

In osprey population in New York City is rebounding, with nearly a dozen mating pairs in Jamaica Bay. The strange thing about osprey in New York City is that artificial structures like telephone poles have become their standard nesting sites. Sometimes poles capped with “osprey boxes” are erected for them in better locations, like the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

 

I sometimes see these “fish hawks” flying up from the disturbed surface of the water to their boxes with a fish grasped in their talons and barbed foot pads. I haven’t been lucky as often to spot the actual striking dive.

 

If there are young chicks in the nest, they have good reason to hope the hunt is a good one – the clutch hatches on a staggered schedule and older siblings starve the younger ones in lean times. Hey, you don’t have to be nice to be worth protecting.

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