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Posts Tagged ‘new jersey’

Safran and a banr swallow. Photo by Kevin Stearns.

 

 

by Erik Baard

 

If you want to score with New Jersey babes, wear red. At least if you’re a barn swallow. And on second thought, I’d advise swallows to do two things: avoid dressing for a role they’re not able to fulfill, and watch Star Trek.

 

One rare trait in the animal kingdom is self-recognition in a mirror. You probably didn’t grasp that the reflected figure was yourself until you were about 18 months old. Other primates and species as diverse as elephants, dolphins, whales, and magpies also shared the insight, some without special training.

 

Individuals of most species therefore rely entirely on community feedback for their sense of status, or in squishier terminology, “self-esteem.” A Current Biology report on an experiment with barn swallows (which we reported in our May 27 posting were darting around Fresh Kills) provides an excellent demonstration of this fact. Dig deeper with the full press release and video.

 

A study of 63 male barn swallows, captured from six colonies in New Jersey at the start of breeding season. All had blood samples drawn, to measure hormonal levels. Half of them were gussied up with a $5.99 nontoxic red marker to make their breast plumage match the richest shade of the population. The birds were then released and recaptured a week later. The enhanced males showed a spike in their testosterone levels at a time in their annual cycle when they should be slacking off.

 

A few swipes with a magic marker set off a fascinating loop of physical and neurological interplay, reminding us that the psyche is very somatic and that the sense of self is fluidly social.

 

The deeper hues attracted and retained more females, who read it as a sign of robustness, and that attention pumped up the bird’s biochemistry in line with his sense of social standing.

 

Some reports, and the researchers themselves, chuckled that the study proves “the clothes make the man.” I hold strong reservations against that emphasis.

 

An increased capacity for dominance through higher testosterone levels is vital to perpetuating the pigmentation’s potential genetic windfall, because envious rivals will spar with a male who has more mating opportunities. In a sense, one can view the testosterone boost as the endocrine system’s frantic game of catch-up as the altered males try to grow into roles for which they aren’t equipped. 

 

One possible sign that the ink job was a mixed blessing at best, that there’s a steep cost to primacy, is that the enhanced males lost weight. Is that because they spent so much time getting busy with the females, or was the competition from males taking its toll? Predators can also target a brightly feathered barn swallow more easily, perhaps leading to a few stressful encounters and energetic evasions. In nature, showy displays like plumage and antlers are outgrowths of a stronger and capable organism – truth in advertising, as University of Colorado at Boulder biologist Rebecca Safran, the lead author of the study, noted.

I wonder if a longer-term study would reveal greater mortality rates for the posers than the authentic alpha males. Also, now this is stretching the study much further out, I can imagine that isolating members of the species and leveling the pigmentation playing field in the same manner would in time cause sexual selection for females with greater visual acuity, to detect the chromatic fakes, or the evolution of new male signals of prowess.

 

Even among the Wodaabe people, where young men wear elaborate makeup and outfits (pictured below) to parade before marriageable women, special emphasis is made on height, white teeth, and perfection in the whites of the men’s eyes (to the point where they roll their eyes back to show off the purity). In short, catch their attention with the flashiness, but close the deal by proving your health.

 

Wodaabe

 

Wodaabe

 

Of course, we could have all saved ourselves a lot of time by heeding the central wisdom of Star Trek: any situation is made worse by a red shirt.

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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.)

 

FRIDAY, JUNE 6

 

GARDENING, MANHATTAN, 3PM-8PM

 

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

 

BIKING, MANHATTAN, 10PMMidnight

 

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. 

 

 SATURDAY, JUNE 7

 

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 10AM-5PM

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.

 

 IDENTIFICATION DAY, MANHATTAN, 1230PM-330PM

 

“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! 

 

ROWING, BRONX

 

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.

 

 

CANOEING, BRONX

 

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/

 

 

 

BIRDING, BROOKLYN, 8AM-10AM

 

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.

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-5PM

 

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.

 

HIKING TRAIL VOLUNTEERISM, QUEENS, 9AM-1PM

 

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.

 

HIKING TRAIL VOLUNTEERISM, STATEN ISLAND, 9AM-1PM

 

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.

 

BIRDING, BRONX 9AM-11AM

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…

 

HIKING TRAIL VOLUNTEERISM, BRONX, 1PM-4PM

 

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.

 

HIKING, MANHATTAN, 9AMNoon

 

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.

 

WALK, MANHATTAN, 1PM-3PM

 

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?

 

INVASIVE PLANT WALK AND WEED, STATEN ISLAND, 2PM-4PM and…

 

HORSESHOW CRAB WALK, 7PM-9PM

 

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…

 

 

HUNT FOR HORSESHOE CRABS!

 

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.

 

 SUNDAY, JUNE 8

 

WALK, BROOKLYN, 11AM-5PM

 

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.  

 

BIKING, QUEENS, 8AM-2PM

 

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.

 

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-5PM

 

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.

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS, 1PM-5PM

 

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.

 

GARDENING, QUEENS, 1030AM-1230PM

 

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. 

 

DOG WALK IN THE WOODS, QUEENS, 9AM-11AM.

 

 

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.

 

 

 FISHING, BRONX, 11AM

 

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.

BE A FORESTER (FOR THE DAY), MANHATTAN, 11AM-2PM

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

 

SEASHORE SAFARI, BRONX, 11AM-2PM

 

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.

 

CANOE, STATEN ISLAND, 11AM

 

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.

 

MICRO-SAFARI, QUEENS, 11AM

 

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.

MONDAY, JUNE 9

 

BLOOMING WALK, MANHATTAN, 1230PM

 

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.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11

WALK, MANHATTAN, 1PM-3PM

 

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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Sand tiger shark. Photo by J.L. Maher/WCS

 

 

Editor’s note: Yes, there are sharks swimming wild in New York City’s open waters! It took tremendous discipline to hold back this fantabulous Nature Community item by Paul Sieswerda, animal curator of the New York Aquarium (and a rare fellow Frisian New Yorker). But now you have it, for the first weekend of NYC’s public beach swimming season!

 

One sad note is that in the time between his writing and today, the aquarium’s longest-lived shark passed away. Bertha, a sand tiger shark photographed here by J.L. Maher of the Wildlife Conservation Society, was caught off the coast of Coney Island and lived at the aquarium for 43 years. Her species is so common in the New York Bight that the aquarium has traded young ones for others species from around the world. I had a kayaking encounter with another species of shark near the Narrows a few years back, but that tale will wait for another day.

 

 

“Sharks and the City”

 

By Paul Sieswerda

 

As Curator at a public aquarium, I am often above, in, or under the ocean’s surface and I think that I’m not alone in having brief shivers when the thought of what sea creatures may be eying my activities passes through my mind.  It’s just a flash of trepidation and doesn’t slow me down, but I have to admit to it. 

 

Sharks, of course, are prominent on that list of imagery and probably somewhat realistic in tropical waters. But in New York?  You’re right, that’s crazy. 

 

However…

 

The Chamber of Commerce may not like to publicize it, but the waters around New York are full of sharks.  Fortunately, the species are not man-eaters or dangerous, but sharks are plentiful and varied.  It should be stated however, that one of the most horrific episodes in shark attack history took place very close by.  In 1916, four fatal attacks took place along the New Jersey coast within the first twelve days of July, in Beach Haven and  Spring Lake, and miles inland, in Matawan Creek. Another victim was also attacked in Matawan, but survived with the loss of a leg.  That history changed the world’s image of sharks when Peter Benchley popularized the factual story in the book, Jaws.  Of course, the movie seared the fear of shark attacks further into the psyche of a worldwide population. The fishing fleet off Montauk catches enough monster sharks to keep the impression in the back of most New Yorkers’ minds.  However, experience settles those fears for New York swimmers since the chance of a shark attack ranks about in the same neighborhood as the risks as from asteroids.

 

Our native sharks are benign to humans.  Local species are fish eaters like the sand tiger shark or scavengers like the smooth dogfish.  There are sandbar sharks as well cruising off Coney Island beach.  These sharks are happy to hunt fish and leave humans completely alone.   In fact, sand tiger sharks and sand bar sharks rarely take bait from fishermen, so they are not often caught on hook and line.  The dogfish are another story, and many striper fishermen are disappointed to pull in a dogfish instead of a fat striper.

 

Sand tiger shark. Photo by J.L. Maher/WCS

 

Sand tiger shark, Carcharias taurus

The New York Aquarium has a number of sand tiger sharks on display.  One specimen lived in the collection over 40 years.  How long do they live? The shark in the photo, Bertha, was the longest living shark recorded at an aquarium and it was probably a couple of years old when it was captured.  Since then, the Aquarium has supplied itself and other institutions with sand tiger sharks.  Local fishermen catch them in their nets and notify the Aquarium.  Since these sharks are usually small they can be transported fairly easily.  Some have been sent as far away as Japan.  A “pupping”  ground seems to be along the southern coast of Long Island.  Young sand tigers are caught each year incidental to the fishermen’s target species.

 

            First Come, First Served

Sand tigers have a strange method of development. The embryos practice hunting within the mother!  This cannibalism before birth is called oophagy.

 

Eggs are produced in the shark mother’s two uterine tracks, one after another.  As the first egg develops into an embryonic shark, it eats the next developing embryo.  This continues until the birth of the two babies that have grown in each uterus.  They grow strong feeding on their potential siblings.  At birth, the young sand tiger sharks are forty inches (100 cm.) in length, and completely ready to hunt on their own.                                              From : Sharks by P. Sieswerda

 

The adult sand tigers are usually about seven feet in length.  They have two equal sized dorsal fins set at the rear half of the body.  The nose is pointed and often upturned.  The most prominent feature are the teeth that Richard Ellis, author and naturalist, calls the “wickedest-looking teeth in all of sharkdom.” 

 

These teeth, however, indicate that they are fish eaters and not prone to take bites out of large animals (species that do are a real danger to humans). Although they look ferocious, sand tigers have adapted a mouthful of fangs that are designed to effectively grasp slippery fish. Most sharks must continually swim at a speed that gives them lift, but sand tigers are able to keep from sinking by holding a gulp of surface air internally, allowing them to cruise at slow speed and save energy for quick lunges that catch their prey unaware. In aquariums, it was found that sand tigers needed a minimum depth in their tanks, not for any space requirement, but to allow them enough distance to launch themselves above the surface to gulp air.

 

 

Most New Yorkers will not see sand tiger sharks except at the New York Aquarium, but it may be interesting to know that when gazing out from a Brooklyn or Long Island beach, or even sharing the surf, there are sizeable sharks out there playing out their lives, with little threat to people and deserving only the slightest twinge of fear. Knowing the facts is comforting, but I think it’s human to worry a little.

 

Or is it just me? 

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