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Raccoon in northern Manhattan by Omari Washington/NYRP

New York Restoration Project is at the forefront of bringing sustainable gardens and straight up wildlife back into the inner city. Its cleanups, reforesting, weeding, seining, and other programs draw volunteers and participants from all walks of life. After all, all hands are needed!

Apparently this masked intruder felt that a pair of eerily human-like hands was needed at the NYRP’s Nature Center on Sherman Creek. It slipped between a gate and a window, perhaps seeking shelter until nightfall. NYRP Education Manager Omari Washington was thrilled to photograph a raccoon so close up and in such good lighting, as this species is usually nocturnal. “I was surprised to see him or her crawl down the window in the middle of the day, given all of the activity around our office,” he said.

Washington’s excitement was tempered by broadly held concerns. “I was a little concerned about the health risk but I’m always excited to see more nature in our neighborhoods!,” he said. Raccoons, like other species, can carry rabies. Even when healthy, however, raccoons are considered vermin by many for their habit of opening our garbage cans to messily rummage.

But what could we expect from a dexterous, clever omnivore? Indeed, raccoons are literally wired to be engineers of sorts. Raccoons devote more of their brains to processing input from sensitive hands than any other creature. Therefore raccoon explore the world and learn about objects by feeling their way around and rolling things through their hands. In the course of feeling up a  latch, for example, they learn how it works — and they remember it! On North America, the raccoon occupied the trickster role in ancient mythology that we associated with monkeys in Asia and the fox in Europe. Raccoons have demonstrated such easily observable non-primate intelligence that some prominent scientists have strongly objected to their relative underrepresentation in comparative studies.

Raccoons evolved to primarily reside in forests, and Inwood Hill forest (the last natural one in Manhattan) is near Sherman Creek. A bit further south, raccoons thrive in Central Park, to the delight of tourists, though naturalists rightly fret over pilfered bird and turtle eggs. John James Audubon himself observed this.
We stripped away tree cover for centuries, however, so the adaptable raccoon has taken up residence in cities and in coastal areas. They’re easy to spot in spring because after a winter of sleeping, they need to eat. They drop up to half of their weight over the winter because they don’t truly hibernate; raccoon body temperatures remain constant during that long sleep, unlike their hibernating bear cousins. (Though some speculated relationships with weasels and foxes, the proof is in the DNA.)

Though the NYRP’s visitor was apparently alone, raccoons aren’t typically solitary creatures, as once was widely supposed. When not raised with their own kind, they can readily bond with other species, like humans and dogs.

In many areas of North America it’s illegal to keep a raccoon as a pet. Pet raccoons that are legal are bred for sale, which regardless of species is a moral crime when so many pets are killed at shelters when they aren’t adopted, and many more cats, rabbits, and dogs die abandoned to our streets.  When I found my own cat, Lewie, outside the Lewis H. Latimer Historic House six years ago, he was near death from what looked like a raccoon mauling (missing front paw, damaged back paw, emaciated and dehydrated because he could no longer fend for himself). The Humane Society of New York tested him, patched him, and now we’re buddies. But in fairness to the supposed raccoon, I’d bet Lewie started the brawl!

Lewie the bruiser with his stump. The work of a raccoon?

But there’s hope, courtesy of PhotoShop, in this image that’s gone viral.

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oyser invite, The River Project.

(Click to enlarge.)

 

Oh, the burden of choice! With a hyper-fun suite of Adventures NYC events sponsored by Backpacker Magazine adding to our usually full menu of eco-recreation, you may find your head spinning a bit!

 

 

As always, FREE is the rule and we have a mix of family-friendly events and adult socials. 

 

 

 

A few highlights include: a bat walk in Forest Park, kayaking in Central Park lake, wildflower appreciation in Pelham Bay Park, surfing in the Rockaways, fishing in Wagner Park, kayaking for mulberry picking with the LIC Community Boathouse, Brooklyn Critical Mass Bike Ride, and the Oyster hoopla in the invitation image above.

 

WildWire will soon be even more beefed up as we gather better data on New York State and National Parks in the area. We’ll also set up a special button so that you can instantly access each week’s listings on Nature Calendar.

 

We also intend to arrange special environmental service outings this summer, in cooperation with partners from the Nature Network (see out sidebar). Please join us as we do bioblitzes, seek spotted salamanders, photograph and video flying squirrels, and plant trees.

 

The easy things you can do immediately to help Nature Calendar continue growing include:

 

1)     Alert us to your events, especially when you need volunteers.

2)     Link to us (we will soon have a links page as well).

3)     Tell others to visit our page daily.

4)   Provide technical help.

 

 

 

FRIDAY, JUNE 13

 

 

BIKING, BROOKLYN, 7PM-Approx. 10PM

 

Celebrate and liberate Brooklyn bicycling by participating in the borough’s peaceful and fun Critical Mass ride! Meet at Grand Army Plaza or the Brooklyn side of the Williamsburg Bridge. Red rear and white front lights make the ride to the event and home again safer. Besides, it’s pretty to see all of those blinking lights! Riding through Prospect Park at night is especially beautiful, communing with the sights and sounds that make a space “green” even when the color itself is submerged in the night’s darkness.

 

 

 

Stick with the crowd and you’ll usually find fun gatherings follow the event, often with the joyous Time’s Up crowd.

 

 

ASTRONOMY, FLOYD BENNETT FIELD

 

Saturn beckons you! Come enjoy this and other sights (even if we can’t enjoy them as sites yet) with telescope-equipped Art Kunhardt and Steven Lieber, friendly stargazers with the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York City. Visit the AAA’s Floyd Bennett Field webpage for more directions and details. 

 

 

SATURDAY, JUNE 14

 

BIRDING, MANHATTAN, 9AM-11AM

Hike in search of the Inwood red-tailed hawks and other raptors. Come to the Inwood Hill Nature Center, Inwood Hill Park. Enter park at West 218th Street and Indian Road. Call 212-304-2365 for more information.

FOREST CARE, BROOKLYN, 10AM-2PM

 

Volunteer to care for Brooklyn’s last forest. Yeah, stunning and sad to think it’s come to that, but the borough’s last forest is in Prospect Park. But you can help it thrive, make friends, and have fun along the way! The Weekend Woodlanders are quiet heroes and you can be one too. Meet at the Picnic House. Call 718-965-8960 for more information.

 

GARDENING, BROOKLYN, 10AM-NOON

 

Our great green friends at New York Restoration Project will help you learn how to attract butterflies to your garden. As powerful pollinators they will making your garden more robust while you rack up great karma points for preserving beautiful signature species of summer. Go to the Jane Bailey Memorial Garden in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (342 Green Street, near Provost).

 

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS (Two trips)

 

Long Island City Community Boathouse. See the group’s website  (www.licboathouse.org) for more information.

 

Dumbo Brunch Paddle, 10AM-5PM

A fun and exciting outing to one of New York City’s most beautiful
urban settings, made famous by numerous films and television shows. Dumbo
boasts a thriving arts scene and top-rated eateries include Bubby’s Pie
Company, Grimaldi’s Pizza, Jacques Torres Chocolate, and Brooklyn Ice Cream
Factory. Eat inside, or be responsible with garbage in the beautiful park.

“Mulberry Night” Paddle, 5PM-9PM

A cruise up the east channel of the East River, through Hell Gate, and
up to the west side of Randalls Island, where mulberries should be ripe.
We’ve nicknamed this place, “Mulberry Coast.” This trip will be featured on
Nature Calendar ( http://www.naturecalendar.com ). Feel free to bring any
food in a secure container you think will keep for the trip and mix well
with berries. Also, bring a sheet or tarp to spread on the ground to gather
berries after we shake branches and a container to bring some home. The
return trip will take us through sunset and potentially into nightfall.
Imagine drifting back along the east channel with berry-stained fingers in
the purple night.

 

 

BIKE “DRIVER’S ED”, BROOKLYN, 1PM-3PM

 

Do you want your kid to get healthy biking exercise and to one day explore this town on pedal-powered wheels? Great idea! But first help him or her become a safer urban bicyclist by taking Bike New York’s intensive, two-hour class, which is offered in partnership with the Brooklyn Public Library. This week’s class is to be held at the Flatbush Branch from 1PM-3PM. Click here for more information.

 

 

SURFING, QUEENS, NOON-6PM

 

Try to keep your chin off the sand and harder ground when you compete as a surfer or skate boarder in this rockin’ Rockaways event! The second annual Rockstock and Barrels festival. Boards of both kinds will be on sale at the event, at Beach 90th Street. Call 718-318-4000 for more information.

 

As a side note, wouldn’t it be great if someone started a free “walk-up” surfing program like we see with paddling? 

 

 

 

ROWING, BRONX, NOON-5PM

 

Come join Rocking the Boat for public rowing of its gorgeous, hand-crafted Whitehall boats on the thriving Bronx River! Meet at the Congressman Jose E. Serrano Riverside Campus for Arts and the Environment in Hunts Point. For directions, click here.

 

 

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 930AM-1130AM

 

Sebago Canoe Club offers public paddling on Saturday morning and Wednesday evening. The program is free, but you’ll need to pay a $10 insurance fee that is not kept by the club. While you’re there, be sure to check out there great new garden and native plantings! For more information about the Open Paddle program, which has limited seating, please visit their webpage.

 

 

TREE CARE, QUEENS, 930AM-NOON

 

Friends of Gantry Neighborhood Parks are a jolly crew of do-green-gooders, or is that green-do-gooders? Get out and help tend to western Queens trees and gardens with the friendly and hard-working crew! Meet at Brasil Coffee House at 49th Avenue and Vernon Blvd. in Long Island City for a little treat – a pick-you-up snack. By 10AM you’ll be pruning trees, cleaning pits, and fertilizing. If you don’t have a green thumb, you can still help a lot – they need photographers, traffic directors, and people to assist more experienced hands. It’s a great chance to learn. For more information, email gantryparkfriend@aol.com.

 

 

 

HIKING, STATEN ISLAND, 10AM-3PM (Padded estimate)

 

Part of Adventures NYC, enjoy trek through eight miles of forests, streams, ponds, and meadows as you cross the glorious Greenway from Great Kills Park to Willowbrook Park. Wear hiking boots and bring water and a snack.  

Arrive at the Great Kills Park parking lot where Buffalo Street meet Hylan Boulevard.

 

 

FISHING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-1PM

 

See the fish, be inspired by the fish! This kid-friendly catch-and-release outing (rod and bait provided) to Wagner Park is enhanced by fish-related art projects. Children’s songwriter Suzi Shelton and her band will perform songs from their new CD, No Ordinary Day.

 

And while you’re thinking of Wagner Park…

 

 

BIRDING, MANHATTAN, 11AM-1PM

 

Learn from a naturalist about the birds nesting and resting in the parks that stretch from “river to river” (okay, technically neither this latitude of the Hudson River nor the entire East River is a river…so, estuary to strait?). Binoculars and field guides will be available to help you along. Meet at Wagner Park, and call 212-267-9000 for more information.

 

 

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 11AM-1PM

 

“Amble through the Ramble” of Central Park and trade in glare and grit for 38-acres of streams and woods, the street grid for a maze of pathways. Meet at Belvedere Castle (enter at 79th Street on either side and walk to the park’s longitudinal center) and wear comfortable shoes.

 

 

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.

 

 

CANOEING, MANHATTAN, NOON-3PM

 

Another fun Adventures NYC event awaits those over eight years old who make the first-come, first-served cut. Gather at the Dana Discovery Center in Central Park (110th Street & Lennox Avenue). For more information, call 212-860-1376

 

 

 

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 both Saturday and Sunday. 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.

 

 

 

CANOEING AND BIRDING, BROOKLYN, 11AM-3PM

Paddle out along Gerritsen Creek with the Urban Park Rangers for a rare trip to “lonely White Island” where birds abound. Gather at the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park (East 33rd Street and Avenue U). For more information and to register, call 718-421-2021.

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 11AM-1230PM

The Central Park Conservancy Garden is a 70-year old treasure. Each Saturday from April 5 through October 25, a garden staff person will stroll with you as he or she explains its history, plantings, and design. Meet at the Vanderbilt Gate, where Fifth Avenue meets 105th Street.

 

WALKING, BRONX, 11AM-2PM

It’s a world of wildflowers…at least for the past 130-250 million years. We newcomer species types have the privilege of naming them. Come see and identify the beauties of Van Cortlandt Park. Enter the Enter the park at West 246th Street and Broadway. For more information, call 718-548-0912.

And while you’re in the Bronx (and call to see how early you might finish the walk), why not bike straight across to…

 

GARDENING, BRONX, 1PM-3PM

Join “passionate plantsman” David Culp at Wave Hill as he shares marvelous new perennial cultivars for your garden.  Walk around the gardens with David to observe how new plants and old favorites can be combined artfully.  Select plants available in the Wave Hill Shop. Come to 675 West 252nd Street. Call 718-549-3200 for more information.

 

SALT MARSH EXPLORATION, MANHATTAN, NOON-3PM

 

Learn to know mummichogs from mummenschanz and how tough marsh life can be. Swing over to the Inwood Hill Nature Center. Enter the park at West 218th Street and Indian Road. Call 212-304-2365 for more information.

 

RUNNING, KINDA-SORTA, STATEN ISLAND, 1PM-3PM

 

Make Dad sweat a little on Father’s Day with a “Chubby Hubby Fun Run” and other amusing races at Clove Lakes Park. Meet in the oval, at 1150 Clove Road, by the playground. As for the pie eating contest…I suppose it’s too much to hope they’re vegan, organic, local…  J

For more information, call 718-816-6172

 

 

WALKING, BRONX

 

Few creatures are as adventurous yet delicate as butterflies – imagine a life in which you emerge from a cocoon entirely transformed and immediately set off on a winged journey through places you’ve never seen. Actually, that sounds like something we all might envy at times. Join this Adventures NYC program to appreciate those fluttering through our largest city park, at Pelham Bay. Gather at the Pelham Bay Park Ranger Station, where Bruckner Boulevard and Wilkinson Avenue meet. For more information, call 718-885-3467.

 

 Prospect Park Discover Tour

WALKING, BROOKLYN, 3PM-4PM

 

Nature is a few steps and eye openers away with Prospect Park’s Discover Tours (seen at the top of the page) on Saturdays and Sundays. In June the focus is on the plants and animals that thrive in the parks’ waterways – streams, waterfalls, and Brooklyn’s only lake. Meet at the Audubon Center.

 

 

NIGHT WALKING, QUEENS, 8PM until…mwuh hah hah!

 

The bats, owls, raccoons and untold mysteries await you in Forest Park. Bring a flashlight and your courage if you join this Adventures NYC tour. Gather at the Forest Park Visitor Center (Woodhaven Boulevard& Forest Park Drive). Call 718-846-2731 for more information.

 

 

SUNDAY, JUNE 15

 

 

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 8AM-10AM

Walk beautiful Inwood Hill Park with Mike Feller, Chief Naturalist for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Learn about your local flora and fauna, and how you can help restore and protect their habitats. Dress for a hike from hats to shoes, and feel free to bring a field guide and notepad if you like. Enter the park at 218 Street and Indian Road. Meet on the little bridge on the eastern end of the salt marsh.

 

BIRDING, STATEN ISLAND, 9AM-NOON

Don’t hate the birds for dragging you out of bed when your friends are sleeping off Saturday’s debaucheries. The early rise and journey to Staten Island is well worth it! The friendly and knowledgeable Urban Park Rangers will introduce you to your local avian stars, and the techniques you’ll need to fully admire them. Meet at Blue Heron Park Preserve (222 Poillon Avenue between Amboy Road and Hylan Boulevard). Call 718-967-3542 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.

 

 

FISHING, QUEENS, 11AM

 

Catch-and-release fishing in Kissena Park (my childhood park!), with some equipment provided. Meet behind the Kissena Playschool (Oak Avenue and 164th Street).

 

FISHING, BROOKLYN, 11AM

 

Catch-and-release fishing in Prospect Park, with poles and bait provided. Meet outside the Audubon Center.

 

 

FISHING, MANHATTAN, 11AM

 

Drop a line in Central Park, with equipment provided. Meet at the Dana Discovery Center at 110th Street and Lennox Avenue. For more information, call 212-860-1376.

 

 

HIKING, MANHATTAN, 11AM-2PM?

 

The “Northwest We Go” hike starting at Fort Washington Park has someone at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is feeling cryptic and scary. I find that intriguing… “A serious trek through the three northwest parks of Manhattan. Bring plenty of water, good shoes, and binoculars–you never know what we will see.”

 

No phone number or more specific instructions are provided. Spookier still. Sounds like a job for 311. One thing Nature Calendar can tell you, however, is that you’ll be in fantastic peregrine falcon country!

 

 

 

CANOEING, BRONX, 11AM

 

Learn the basics of canoeing with the Urban Park Rangers at Van Cortlandt Park. It’s a first-come-first-served event, so hurry up! Bring water, sunblock, and a snack to the park entrance at West 246th Street and Broadway. For more information, call 718-548-0912.

 

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM-230PM

Have the famed heather gardens, and more, of Fort Tryon revealed to you by expert horticulturalists. The panoramic views of the Hudson River and Palisades are marvelous. There’s a nifty preview video here. Go to the Heather Garden entrance at Margaret Corbin Circle in Fort Tryon Park, where Cabrini Boulevard and Fort Washington Avenue meet.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

WALK, MANHATTAN, NOON-115PM

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.

 

 

WALKING, BROOKLYN, 3PM-4PM

 

Nature is a few steps and eye openers away with Prospect Park’s Discover Tours (seen at the top of the page) on Saturdays and Sundays. In June the focus is on the plants and animals that thrive in the parks’ waterways – streams, waterfalls, and Brooklyn’s only lake. Meet at the Audubon Center.

 

 

TUESDAY, JUNE 17

 

OYSTER GARDENING HOOPLA, MANHATTAN, 530PM

 

Come celebrate and learn about the New York Oyster Program and the NY-NJ Baykeeper Oyster Gardening Program from Harbor School students and expert ecologists. The event is hosted by oyster-restoring pioneer estuary group The River Project. Come to Pier 40, at the end of Houston Street. The full invitation is above.

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 18

 

 

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM

 

“Amble through the Ramble” of Central Park and trade in glare and grit for 38-acres of streams and woods, the street grid for a maze of pathways. Meet at Belvedere Castle (enter at 79th Street on either side and walk to the park’s longitudinal center) and wear comfortable shoes.

 

 

GARDENING, BRONX, 1PM

 

Learn from Laurel Rimmer at Wave Hill how to make a killer salad with greens and herbs you grow yourself (and are available at the garden shop) – bonus points for those opting for indigenous species! Okay, so it’s more about eating than gardening in the immediate sense. Munch. Go to 675 West 252nd Street. Call 718-549-3200 for more information.

 

 

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 530PM-730PM

 

Sebago Canoe Club offers public paddling on Saturday morning and Wednesday evening. The program is free, but you’ll need to pay a $10 insurance fee that is not kept by the club. While you’re there, be sure to check out there great new garden and native plantings! For more information about the Open Paddle program, which has limited seating, please visit their webpage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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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carrot.jpg

By Erik Baard

This Easter weekend you expect to see an energetic, toothsome creature energetically digging for carrots. You just don’t expect him to be a guy named Steve, or that one of his favorite patches is in Manhattan.

Wildman Steve Brill” is a self-described forager who leads tasting tours of urban parks, and publishes guides and wild plant cookbooks. Indeed, he was arrested once on orders of then-NYC Department of Parks and Recreation Henry Stern for “eating my parks.” Brill has since made peace with the authorities.

The ancestor of agricultural carrots, pale purple-white like the inside of a clamshell, enthralls him. “They’re delicious, and make great cakes, cookies, and soups. And they hold together a lot better than commercial carrots,” he enthused. Eat them early in their lives; the long, edible taproot soon becomes woody and tough.

But might they be, counter-intuitively, less nutritious than mass-market varieties? After all, the wan root (shown above in a photo by Steve Brill) lacks the orange flare we associate with beta-carotene. Actually, the original strains are also nutrient rich.

The wild carrot, part of the Apiaceae family, is also known as Queens Anne’s Lace and Bishop’s Lace for its fine, biennial flowers that bloom in summer, to the delight of butterflies. But it’s not as fussy as those monikers might imply. “They thrive in sandy, overgrown areas,” Brill noted. As with all things in New York, the key to a worthwhile gathering of wild carrots is location.

Brill remembers his first, uninformed, sampling. “I was quite disappointed. I was using field guides by botanists who wouldn’t know a kitchen if it fell on their heads,” he recalled. “The carrots were as small as the graphite in a pencil.”

Two places where populations of this Old World invasive, but widely tolerated and still cultivated, plant are robust enough to satisfy Brill’s discerning palate and hearty appetite are Manhattan’s Central Park and Inwood Hill Park. A few other places where naturalists have noted Queens Anne’s Lace include Kissena Park in Queens, Prospect Park in Brooklyn (and its flowers have even been spotted poking out of a chain link fence near the Atlantic Yards), and along the waterfront of Staten Island. Some good nearby suburban spots for wild carrots include Westchester’s Untermeyer Park and Tibbets Brook Park, and Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Just keep your eagerness in check or you might face a greater hazard than Peter Rabbit did in Mr. McGregor’s garden. “That plant has a deadly look-alike, water hemlock,” Brill warned.

So please, stay among us for a while longer by paying due caution; losing Socrates was enough. Besides, the Wild Carrot Society sounds like it would be a lot more fun to join than the Hemlock Society. Make sure you go first with an experienced plant scientist or naturalist, and keep this check list of distinguishing features in mind: bi-pinnate and tri-pinnate leaves, steams and leaves covered with fine hairs, and a root that smells like a carrot. Another reassuring sign can be a red flower at the center of its pale bunches.

Others, recognizing the unusual chemical properties of Queens Anne’s Lace have investigated its use in folk medicine as a contraceptive. That’s an application that exceeds the wildness of public park tours, even when led by “Wildman Steve Brill.”

And now we hope find wholesome motivation to go a-digging by perusing a few recipes from the quirky Brits at the Carrot Museum.

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