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Robotic herring gull by Festo.

Today is John James Audubon‘s 226th birthday. His exquisite images of North American wildlife are his homage to nature, especially birds. One aspect of birds’ beauty is their adornment, displaying colors rivaled in the animal world only by butterflies. Feathers far exceed fur in specialization in length and shape for display and survival. One of my most moving bird encounters was with a Glossy Ibis in the Bronx River.

But even the least showy birds, like the herring gull, entrance us with another for of beauty — flight. Even though we’ve crossed the globe with airplanes (and are paying the global climate disruption price for it) we still stare upward with awe and envy at birds sailing atop sea breezes. As a scientist and engineer, Leonardo Da Vinci was as in love with birds as Audubon.

Today at Germany’s Festo engineering firm, much of Da Vinci’s dream of mechanical bird flight has been realized, as reported by National Public Radio. This remote-controlled herring gull replica is a major achievement in the booming field of biomimicry, cribbing design tips from nature, with wings that torque and twist in several locations in a coordinated — graceful — way. Herring gulls over the Baltic seashore didn’t look askance at the robot among them.

See for yourself here:

The next step is to meld this machine with artificial intelligence for what might be called an “Audubonaton.” William Butler Yeats might would certainly lament that an immortal bird made of carbon fiber and plastic foam lacks the romance of one fashioned from “hammered gold and gold enameling,” but such is life post-Byzantium.

Perhaps the most appropriate technological response to the crises facing natural habitats is to use lessons from evolution to build a more sustainable society. The Biomimicry Institute seeks to contribute to solutions along that avenue through its AskNature program. But each acre of forest cut down, and each aquatic species overfished or acidified out of existence, and each wetland or meadow paved over for development, is a lesson lost. Conservation is key. Please support conservation efforts as a volunteer or donor. You can start close to home with a birthday present to NYC Audubon and help save the Four Sparrows Marsh!

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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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View from Fresh Kills South Hill. Photo by Emmanuel Fuentebella.

 

by Erik Baard

 

Not so many years ago, if you told people that you were getting up early on Saturday morning to rush over to Fresh Kills on Staten Island, they would have thought you were crazy or a highly-paid union worker. Today, a few savvy folks might peg you for a naturalist.

 

The world’s largest dump (actually, the world’s largest manmade structure, of sorts, in that it exceeded the volume of the Great Wall of China) is quietly transforming into the city’s second largest park, after Pelham Bay Park. You can witness the process yourself by signing up for a free tour now through November through this link. Don’t fret the competition to get a ticket – the tour I joined this weekend wasn’t booked up. Besides, you have, oh, a few more years of chances. The park officially opens in 2036.

 

 

My friend Emmanuel Fuentebella and I hit the road early, biking from LIC to South Ferry in 35 minutes. At the St. George ferry terminal on Staten Island we were picked up by a mini-bus operated by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation along with 11 other guests (many of whom were NYC Audubon affiliates and Audubon Society members). Our guide was Christina Somma Berrocal, a NYC Urban Park Ranger. We started learning about the site before we even arrived, as Somma Berrocal pulled out a cardboard cross-section of a trash mound (the site has four large ones, ranging between 140′ and 200′ tall), with a garbage core covered by layers of fresh sand, soil, topsoil and plantings.

 

 

Fresh Kills Vision by NYC Parks.

 

 

Perhaps the most critical component is also the thinnest and toughest, an “impermeable geomembrane.” That rugged black tarp is what stands between 2036’s gorgeous recreation area and wilderness preserve above (in the computer rendering immediately above) and frightening contamination. Tree plantings must be chosen carefully to exclude deep vertical roots systems, Somma Berrocal explained, to avoid any puncture risk.

 

At the moment the trash is being digested by microbes, which will actually cause the mounds to shrink a bit. But not before they’ve earned their keep! The methane (“natural gas” in daily parlance), organic chemicals, and carbon dioxide produced are tapped via long pipe networks (see the methane taps in the foreground of the above photo by Emmanuel). The natural gas is purified and sold to Keyspan (now part of National Grid), which in turn sells it to heat up to 10,000 homes at a time. I can imagine a “green” dry cleaner using the CO2 to spiff up designer suits for the local gentry.

 

Less immediately marketable is the leachate goo that landfills produce when water jazzes up microbial and fungal activity. That’s dried and shipped out to another landfill in West Virginia. As a side note, the five boroughs now send trash to Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina. Remember, the primary insight of environmentalism is that when things are thrown away, there is no “away.”

 

 

A few times we caught a whiff of something not-so-fresh at the North Mound of Fresh Kills. “It smells like badly burned bacon,” remarked fellow-traveler Melody. But those moments were truly the exception, and a useful reminder of the admirable audacity of the endeavor.

 

 

View from the North Mound of Fresh Kills. Photo by Emmanuel Fuentebella.

 

There’s plenty of encouragement from nature, however. Emmanuel snapped some wonderful photos contrasting the Manhattan skyline with the landscape rolling out from the North and South Mounds. To start, only 45% of the 2,200-acre site was actually used for garbage piles. The rest is composed of wetlands, creeks, and grasslands rich with wildflowers. Black locust and cottonwood trees are shading lowlands.

 

South Mound wildflowers. Photo by Emmanuel Fuentebella.

 

 

Before our vehicle even stopped, we saw an enormous turkey vulture aloft over the former wastelands. At the North Mound we were dazzled by the wheeling figures of two osprey silhouetted against a cloud-dappled sky. One of our group, Annie, identified them even at that height by the finger-like feather pattern at their wing tips.

 

 

Osprey gliding. Photo by Emmanuel Fuentebella.

 

 

 

As the trip unfolded there were treated to sightings of egrets, cormorants, an oriole, mallard ducks in a fresh water collect (where I imagine there might also be snapping turtles), and a zigzagging barn swallow. Opal, Meloday’s daughter, explained that the erratic “kamikaze” flight pattern meant it was feeding on insects in flight.

 

 

My biggest thrill was spotting a sharp shinned hawk. In truth, I wavered between that identification and calling it a Coopers Hawk and was clueless either way; I was playing the odds. The juveniles of both species look quite similar, being a dab brown, and it was Opal who sorted it out. Adults are easier to distinguish, and some birders call lanky Coopers Hawks “flying crosses” while sharp shinned hawks are “flying mallets.”

 

 

Blue herons and killdeer are also reliable finds, Somma Berrocal said. The killdeer often lay eggs on the infrequently traveled gravel paths, because their speckled eggs blend so well, she added.

 

We didn’t see deer but Somma Berrocal informed that over 200 of the species now on Staten Island. I imagined them sneaking across the Outerbridge Crossing or graceful Bayonne Bridge, but she stunned me by telling us that the deer swam to the island from New Jersey. How brave and hungry must a deer be to stealthily swim tidal waters plied by oil barges?

 

Curious humans aren’t yet permitted to visit the site by boat, but rowers and paddlers should seek the site’s inclusion in the NYC Water Trail. It would make a wonderful destination, even if for specially arranged tours (as with our landside excursion). And an early dialog might help prevent some well-intention mistakes from being implements, such as the large, artificial launch conceived for Fresh Kills (NYC Parks’ computer generated image below). A soft shoreline, even if created with deposited sand, would be safer, more pleasant, and ecologically friendlier.

 

Fresh Kills kayak launched envisioned by NYC Parks.

 

 

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Yellow warbler at Ridgewood Reservoir. Photo by Steve Nanz.

 

 

 

The graveyard’s a fine and verdant place,

But none, I think, do there play ball or race.

 

…with apologies to Andrew Marvell            

 

 

 

by Erik Baard 

 

City Council District 30 in western Queens boasts some of the widest swaths of green in New York City, but much of that consists of cemeteries. The stony highlands of the terminal moraine make for bad farmland, so elders in preceding generations set those tracts aside for burials. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is now trying to build more ball fields and tracks in the area, but finds itself running into opposition from more restless living residents, including the candidates vying to represent the district in a special election on June 3.

 

The controversy has two key facets. First, the city has chosen a thriving wild space, Ridgewood Reservoir, for its new facilities. Secondly, the agency proposes to use potentially dangerous artificial turf on the new ball fields (and in parks throughout the city – more than 100 sites when installation is complete).

 

The Ridgewood Reservoir hasn’t provided water to residents for five decades and it became a possession of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation in 2004. Basins have grown over with seeded-on forests on the 50-acre site, and it helps sustain more than 120 bird species, including seven classified as endangered.

 

 

 

 

The $46 million NYC Parks plan would bulldoze 20 acres of land for sports while residents complain that similar facilities at nearby Highland Park are falling into disrepair. NYC Audubon has “strongly urged the Parks Department to commit to no net loss of forest cover.”

 

The Natural Resources Defense Council summed up the crisis this way:  

For not yet heeding the call to preserve this unique natural setting in the heart of New York City (but with the understanding that it is not too late for a change of course), we award the Parks Department plans to develop the Ridgewood Reservoir landscape with an Earth Day 2008 Bad Apple designation.

This video, produced by the invaluable Rob “CityBirder” Jett (and including photos by Steve Nanz – the yellow warbler above was taken by Nanz at the reservoir) provides an excellent overview of the imperiled reservoir wilderness area.

Artificial turf, a chief component of which is crumb rubber derived from used tires, poses potential health hazards to children and performs none of the services of plant life. The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene acknowledges that the threat demands more testing, but encourages play on the plastic fields as an alternative to obesity. The tradeoff is a false one, or at very least an entirely unjust one to demand citizens accept.

 

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, a former Parks commissioner, has called on the agency to halt installation and allow independent testing of the artificial turf. CUNY psychology professor William Crain sent samples over to Rutgers University chemist Junfeng Zhang who found hazardous concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), according to NY State Department of Environmental Conservation standards. One sample contained highly carcinogenic benzo(a)pyrene at more than eight times above levels deemed acceptable for soil.

 

 

The New York Environmental Law Project has also taken up the cause, providing a very informative summary page.

 

 

The reservoir and artificial turf plan was raised at a recent candidate forum hosted by the Historic Districts Council. Each candidate, seated in alphabetical order, commented in turn. Republican Anthony Como has said in the past that some of the land surrounding the reservoir might be built over for recreational use. At the forum he stated that in such a small habitat area it was impossible to eliminate sections of growth without affecting the ecosystem of the rest. Democrat Elizabeth Crowley (for whom I’m doing low-level volunteer work: get-out-the-vote phone banking, carrying literature as she pounds the pavement) often mentions her enjoyment of playing ball with her sons but in this case opposed any recreational development, calling the unofficial refuge an “enchanted land” for visitors. Democrat Charles Ober also railed against the plan, questioning the City’s logic in cutting down “5,000 trees” while asking volunteers to help plant a million trees. Republican Tom Ognibene who that evening announced himself as a skeptic of global warming, has argued before that the reservoir should be maintained as an emergency backup resource. At the forum he focused on the artificial turf aspect of community concerns. He conceded that he supported the introduction of the substitute based on the best information he had available at the time, but asserted that he now believes more testing is needed.

 

As I rode my bike home from the forum, I noodled through the broader implications of the Ridgewood Reservoir issue. It seems our city might be best off if future developments by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation adhered to three principles:

 

 

1) Preservation and restoration of wild spaces is first priority.

 

I don’t need to lecture NYC Parks about the value of green and blue areas. The Forever Wild program is fantastic, and I support transferring public wetlands into its administration. When I find myself disagreeing with NYC Parks so strongly over land use, it pains me.

 

Using hardy indigenous plant species (some are far less prone to invasive species competition than others) and adaptive xeriscaping, natural habitat areas can be created affordably.

 

 

2) New built spaces must incorporate athletic recreation.

 

New developments, especially those sited near residences, should be required to include places for active play and fitness. The declining sport of baseball is very land-intensive. Basketball, roller hockey, water polo, and volleyball are just a few space-efficient team sports – so much so that they can be placed on the rooftops of new stores.

 

3) We must foster a culture change toward outdoor, eco-recreation.

 

Wilderness areas aren’t exclusively for birders. Hiking, rowing, paddling, rock and tree climbing (in designated areas), and other activities can be as physically demanding as any typical weekend sport while also introducing young minds to the science and excitement of exploring nature. And we’ve seen that habitat can thrive in spaces like the reservoir that aren’t amenable to the uniform grass required by ball fields, leaving public servants in the utterly perverse position of destroying green, lush natural spaces so that artificial grass can be installed.

 

There is no park as grand as our harbor. Protected bike paths should be means of bringing green into neighborhoods by using green medians; they should offer access to habitat areas but not slice them up. Bike paths can weave neighborhoods together so that young people are exposed to new foods, cultures, and ways of living. Cycling is civics.

 

 

And so is voting. As the old punchline goes, “Is this a personal fight or can anyone join in?” A habitat like Ridgewood Reservoir is a boon for all New Yorkers, and this most egregious use of artificial turf will only embolden officials to spread it over public spaces in all five boroughs.  

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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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