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Posts Tagged ‘Pelham Bay Park’

American Bittern. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The East River is NYC’s premier waterway and as founder of the LIC Community Boathouse and HarborLAB, I’ve made it my paddling home. At sunset, ferry boats filled with skyline gawkers will nearly flip to the west, and East River bridges set the scene for countless films. But for a kayaker, it’s the wilderness refuges of its islands and inlets that make this tidal strait endlessly fascinating.

Returning to Randalls Island from Governors Island in the Sunday morning calm after City of Water Day, Caroline Walker and I paddled through the outskirts of Hell Gate toward Mill Rock. I was admiring Great Black-backed Gulls at rest and Double-crested Cormorants perched on the island’s rip rap skirt while drying their wings when I spied something a bit different — a bird with the shape of a heron but markings similar to an American Woodcock. Caroline described it as “brindled,” which is pretty apt.

As we drifted past, a handful of cormorants and gulls took off while most ignored us. The misfit bird, however, walked quickly and deliberately into the brush that grew down from a turf mound to the rip rap line. It seemed to almost instantly disappear among the twigs and leaves. I didn’t have a camera.

After some research yesterday, I realized how lucky Caroline and I were! We had spotted an American Bittern. This species has fantastic camouflage for its reedy habitat, and so is rarely seen. Sadly, its population is declining rapidly with diminishing wetlands (though I’m comforted that its conservation status remains “least concern“). Good places to seek them are Pelham Bay Park (join Wild Metro for a volunteer day) and Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. But they can pop up well away from salty shores. Prospect Park Lake, in the heart of Brooklyn, may have drawn this other one.

For those not lucky enough to glimpse this stealthy heron, there’s still a chance to hear its odd call, the second part of which sounds to me like someone repeatedly unstopping a PVC pipe. Strange that a creature would evolve to be invisible only to concurrently acquire a voice that earns it nicknames like “Stake Driver, Thunder Pump and Mire Drum.”

The American Bittern I observed was silent, so I have something to look (or rather, listen) forward to!

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Pelham Bay

Birdwatching and salt marshes in New York City‘s largest park.

 

by Sheila Buff,

 

Pelham Bay Park is the largest park in New York City. It covers 2,766 acres in the northeast part of the Bronx. Within the park are many popular recreation areas: mile-long Orchard Beach on the Long Island Sound, two golf courses, miniature golf and a driving range, a stable, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and picnic grounds. If you look beyond all the recreational facilities, however, you’ll see that this park has a very diverse range of habitats–the most diverse of any park in the city or nearby. About 200 acres of the park are saltwater marshes; there are 13 miles of shoreline.

            Once the site of Siwanoy Indian hunting and fishing grounds and later the site of fashionable mansions, Pelham Bay became a park in 1888 when New York City bought and consolidated 28 private estates. All the houses, except the historic Bartow-Pell mansion, were torn down. In the 1930s, the park was developed as a major recreation site. Landfill was used to create a huge, mile-long beach with a massive bathhouse at Orchard Beach. Extremely popular ever since, Orchard Beach is often called the Riviera of New York City. The beach and surrounding area are always crowded in the warm weather; on a summer weekend, the 45-acre parking lot is jammed.

            The Thomas Pell Wildlife Sanctuary and the Hunter Island Marine Zoology and Geology Sanctuary were created in 1967, as part of an agreement that narrowly avoided having the wetlands of the park being turned into landfill by the city. The 375-acre Pell sanctuary along the Hutchinson River is all that remains of New York City’s original 5,000 acres of salt marsh. This area is bisected by the Hutchinson River Parkway; it is bounded by the bland apartment towers of Co-Op City on the east, by railroad tracks on the west, and by the New England Thruway to the north. The partially paved Split Rock trail runs along the western border of Goose Creek Marsh and provides some excellent views out over the tidal marsh. This can be a good spot for birding, but frankly, I find the traffic noise very oppressive. If you want to check it out, the trailhead is to the west of the Bartow traffic circle. The round trip is less than a mile.

            The Kazimiroff Nature Trail through the Hunter Island sanctuary is a much more pleasant walk. The trail is named for Dr. Theodore Kazimiroff (1914-1980), a dentist and local historian who was a leader in the fight to defeat the landfill proposal in the 1960s. The trail winds through 189 acres of one of the most beautiful sections of the park. The path is very easy to follow.

            Look for sign for the trailhead at the northern end of Orchard Beach (walk away from the promenade), about 30 yards before the Orchard Beach Nature Center at Section 2. Follow the trail as it leads into the woods of Hunter Island. In a few minutes if you look to the right you’ll see Twin Island. Actually, Twin Island and Hunter Island are islands no more. When Orchard Beach was expanded in 1934, 2.5 million cubic yards of sand,soil, and rock were used to fill the area between Hunter Island and Rodman’s Neck; in 1947, additional fill connected Twin Island to the tip of Orchard Beach. There is currently no safe access to Twin Island; Hunter Island is really now a peninsula.  The sheltered lagoon that was formed between the two islands is an outstanding place to see waterfowl, particularly ducks.

            In another few minutes, the trail forks to the left towarda stand of Norway spruce. These dense evergreens were planted by the Parks Department in 1918 as part of a reforestation effort.

            Follow the trail to the left. The spruces soon give way to large numbers of  thin black locust trees–look for the deeply furrowed bark and small, rounded, paired leaves. Black locust is a pioneer tree in forest succession. This tells you that the land here was once an open field‑-perhaps a pasture or a lawn more than 50 years ago. Your surmise will be proved correct in a few more minutes to the former site of the old Hunter mansion, which was demolished in 1937. Vestiges of the old gardens can still be seen here.  

            As you continue on, you’ll quickly come to a grove of white pines. The dense needles and comfortable horizontally layered branches make these trees a favorite roosting place for great horned owls (Bubo virginianus). Long-eared, saw-whet, screech, and barred owls are also sometimes seen here. They’re so well camouflaged that you’re unlikely to actually see any, but you should be able to see evidence of their presence, especially in the winter. Look for splashes of “whitewash” excrement on the trunks, branches, and ground around here. Look on the ground for grayish owl pellets. The pellets consist of the regurgitated indigestible parts‑-mostly the bones and hair–of the animals the owl eats. Pine trees of various sorts have been extensively planted throughout the park. The shelter they offer, combined with the large, open, rodent-filled expanses of Pelham Bay, make the park famous among birders for owls. Another excellent area to see owls here is in the dense evergreens near the Bartow-Pell mansion.

            As you continue on, you will notice the reforestation that Parks has been doing of the area, as well as the removal of invasive species.Some old chocolate-brown stone blocks strewn on either side of the trail are all that remain of the estate’s front gate. From here, the trail continues on the original winding road that connected Hunter Island to the mainland.

            The trail now leads through a large area of open, mature woodlands. The trees here are mostly oak and hickory, with some towering tulip poplars as well. As the trail curves eastward, you can catch glimpses of the Long Island Sound to your left.  The trail soon brings you out to a view over salt marsh to the Sound and you are now in the Hunter Island Sanctucary. Note the giant, rounded glacial erratics here. The really large gray boulder that sticks up out of the water is called Gray Mare; it was sacred to the Siwanoy Indians who once lived here. The flat, gray bedrock visible here is the southernmost extension of the bedrock that underlies most of New England–that’s why the shore is rocky here. Glacial scours, or deep grooves, can be seen on the surface. There are some side trails leading down to the rocks that are fun to explore, especially when the tide is low.

            The large building that you see on the shoreline to the north belongs to the New York Athletic Club. The large island just across the water is Glen Island. The island further to the northeast is David’s Island; the buildings on it are part of old Fort Slocum.

            The shore area here is an excellent place to watch hawks and ospreys migrating south in the fall. The best time of year is mid-September–you could see literally thousands of hawks go by in a single day. If you’re lucky, you’ll see an osprey snatch a fish from the water.

 

Pelham Lagoon

 

            The trail now leads you back along the inlet between Hunter and Twin islands. The salt marsh along here is quite interesting…and fragile so take care when walking . Tall cordgrass lines the water’s edge; behind it is a low-growing salt meadow. Look for saltmarsh plants such as glasswort and sea lavender here. The salt marsh is one reason there are so many ducks, geese, cormorants, grebes, and other water birds here. The shallow, tidal waters edging a salt marsh are highly productive of the vegetation and small crustaceans, fish, and other foods these birds need.

            Continue to follow the path along the salt marsh and back past the old causeway. You’ll be back at your starting point in another five minutes.

Hours, Fees, and Facilities Pelham Bay Park is open daily from dawn to 1 am, unless signs are posted otherwise. Orchard Beach is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day from 7 am – 8 pm (beach closes at 7 pm), and off-season from 7 am – 6 pm.  During the summer, there is a fee for parking:  $6 on weekdays and $8 on weekends for cars; $8 on weekdays and $10 on weekends for buses. Restrooms, water, pay phones, and a seasonal snack bar are available at the bath house complex on Orchard Beach. Dogs on leashes only; be prepared to clean up after your pet.  Pursuant to Parks rules and regulations, dogs are never allowed on beaches; however, as a courtesy leashed dogs are allowed on the sand from October 1 to May 1.

 

Getting There:

 

Pelham Bay Park is the last stop on the Lexington Avenue IRT 6 train. The station is a very long walk from the main part of the park. In the summer, the Bx5 and Bx12 buses run from the subway station to Orchard Beach. The rest of the year, you’ll have to take the Bx29 bus that goes to City Island, get off at the traffic circle on City Island Road, and walk north along the park road about a mile to Orchard Beach.

            From the Bruckner Expressway or the New England Thruway, take the exits for Pelham Bay Park/Orchard Beach and follow the signs to the parking area at Orchard Beach. From the Hutchinson River Parkway, take the exit for Orchard Beach/City Island and follow the signs.

 

Get Involved:

WildMetro and NYC Audubon will lead a free tour of Pelham Bay Park on July 19. Register online for this great event, and please consider volunteering for these two groups, which are at the forefront of conservation and urban ecological restoration.

 

Also, ask the Bronx staff at Partnerships for Parks about local, grass roots volunteer efforts to nurture Pelham Bay Park!

 

Read more of Sheila Buff’s work at her website.

 

 

 

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Manhattanhenge by Neil deGrasse Tyson. 

Editor’s note: Please accept my apologies that some editing and link work must be redone due to a wifi interruption and WordPress/Word glitch. It will be done tonight, but for now you can see the events and most of the needed information.

 

 

ALERT! Break out the “sacrificial” champagne. It’s time for Manhattanhenge! Come see the sun set through the grid of Manhattan as in this photo by astrophysicist and Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson. Both Thursday and Friday nights are good for this little wonder. Major cross streets like 42nd and 57th are especially good for viewing if you are on the East Side, in Queens or Brooklyn, or on the East River.

 

And now, looking to the week ahead, we have lots of other FREE stuff to do in nature in the city! Seining and cycling, paddling and gardening, birding and stargazing!

 

FRIDAY, MAY 30

 

BIKING, MANHATTAN

What can I say? It’s Critical Mass! Celebrate bicycles for their promise of a cleaner and safer city, and remind drivers through a great, peaceful, and friendly presence that the roads are public and to be shared.

Gather up at 7PM in Union Square. The ride concludes at about 10PM and the route is not determined.

ASTRONOMY, MANHATTAN

 

Come see Mars, Saturn, and the Summer Triangle with dedicated members of the Amateur Astronomers Association from dusk until 10PM at Carl Schurz Park esplanade in Manhattan (where East 86th Street meets the water). If you have a telescope, bring it!

Contact Rik Davis for more information at 646-873-0252.

 

BIKING AND WALKING, BROOKLYN

Be an assuring presence on two wheels for fellow New Yorkers making their way home with SafeWalk, a program of RightRides for Women’s Safety. The program provides the protection of companionship to all, because simply not walking alone is a strong defense from muggings, sexual assault, and hate crimes. All you and other volunteer team members need to do is bike to the location of a caller and walk that person to a destination within a 10-15 block radius. Right now coverage includes the hours of 11PM-2AM and the neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and downtown Brooklyn.

Sign up as a volunteer and get an orientation by emailing safewalknyc@gmail.com. And if you need this service, don’t hesitate to call 866-977-9255 (walk)

 

SATURDAY, MAY 31

BIRDING, BROOKLYN

Roll out of bed and roll down the road (I always recommend biking) to the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park, Brooklyn by 8AM to see a wide variety of upland and estuary birds. The Urban Park Rangers will teach you the basics…starting with the fact that no matter how good you get, birding will always involve an amount of early rising! But the rewards of open trails, fascinating creatures, and time to gather your thoughts is worth the initial bleariness. The center is at East 33rd Street and Avenue U. Call 718-421-2021 for more information.

 

BIKING, QUEENS

The increasingly interconnected greenways of New York City include some gorgeous vistas, like the western Long Island Sound. Get to know the Little Neck Bay section (and Fort Totten and Little Bay Park) and while you’re at it, join Transportation Alternatives in lobbying for full bike access across the East River’s bridges linking Queens to the Bronx!

Meet up is at 10AM, at the Cryders Lane entrance of Little Bay Park.

 

SOLAR OBSERVING, MANHATTAN

You’re “not the only one, staring at the sun”…At least you won’t be on Saturday morning from 10AM until noon in Central Park, at the model sailboat-filled Conservatory Water (enter at 5th Avenue and 72nd Street). The Amateur Astronomers Association would like you to safely (approved filters) look at the surface of the sun, and learn about this average yet precious star. And while you’re there, check out the red-tailed hawk, Pale Male!

If you’re bitten by the astronomy bug, join the friendly stargazers at their 1PM meeting: 1 PM, AA HQ (1010 Park Avenue, at 85th Street). Call Rik Davis for more information: 646-873-0252

  

BIKING, MANHATTAN 

Teach your child how to bike and take in old growth forests in a single outing by heading up to the Inwood Hill Park Nature Center at 10AM. The event lasts until 1PM.

You’ll need to pre-register for this effective no-pedal instruction method (see this video to learn more) by calling 311 or visiting this page.

 

CHILDREN AND NATURE, MANHATTAN


We expect our kids to pick up languages fast, and to know how to make our newest gadgets work. Imagine what they could do as the family’s naturalists! Bring `em out to
Highbridge Park where kids 4-12 years old can learn about seeds (how they spread, why they are so important to plants and animals) on Saturday afternoon, from 2PM until 330PM. You must accompany your child to the Tower Terrace (enter the park at East 172 St. or East 174 St. and walk to the water) and register for the class with Linda Huntington by calling her at 212-795-1388 or emailing linda.huntington@parks.nyc.gov.

 
 

 

HIKE, MANHATTAN

 

Nature loves the edges of things. Life is most abundant at the shorelines (both above and under water) and the forest’s edge. The same goes for night and day – the action picks up at dusk and dawn, with crepuscular creatures busy at work. Enjoy the show as a hiker through Central Park’s North Woods. Bring a flashlight and meet at Belvedere Castle (midway through the park along 79th Street) at 730PM.

 

GARDENING AND WILDFLOWERS, STATEN ISLAND

Despite its pivotal role in Revolutionary War history, Conference House Park has fallen to insidious invaders! The mugwort isn’t coming, it’s already set in roots! Ditto for other invasive plants and trees that threaten indigenous trees and shrubs. In the process you’ll learn about the wildflowers now in bloom.

Come down for an afternoon of purposeful exercise at 2PM – water, gloves, and tools provided. Volunteers will gather at the visitors’ center at the intersection of Hylan Boulevard and Satterlee Street. To register and for directions by car, bike, train, and bus, contact Cheri Brunault at 718-390-8021 or by emailing cheri.brunault@parks.nyc.gov.

 

TREE WALK, BRONX


Learn your trees with the experts at Van Cortlandt Park (
246th Street and Broadway). Gather at 11AM at the western entrance, wear comfortable shoes, and enjoy an unhurried time in the greenery. Call 718-548-0912 for details.

 ROWING – BRONX

Row with Rocking the Boat!

Explore the vibrant Bronx River in a beautifully handcrafted rowboat with Rocking the Boat. Community rowing hours are 1PM-5PM at the Jose E Serrano Riverside Campus for Arts and The Environment.

 

 

 

SUNDAY, JUNE 1

 

BIRDING WALK, BROOKLYN

 

Prospect Park is rich in bird diversity, and the Brooklyn Bird Club want to take you right up to the “front doors” of their often-hidden nests! Pay a happy visit to our avian neighbors, many of whom now have young in their nests, by meeting up with the group at 8AM at the Audubon Center (Lincoln Road and Ocean Avenue entrance) for the two-hour walk. Call 718-287-3400 for more information.

 

BIRDING WALK, STATEN ISLAND

 

You can’t go wrong birding in a place named for one of the more beautiful species. Urban Park Rangers will teach you how to get started in birding while in none other than Blue Heron Park Preserve (222 Poillon Avenue between Amboy Road Hylan Boulevard). Join them at 9AM, and call ahead with questions – 718-967-3542 

CANOEING, BRONX

 

Come paddle with the Urban Park Rangers in the lagoon of New York City’s largest park, Pelham Bay Park. Kids eights years old and up and adults can explore and inhabit this lesser-known idyll starting at 10AM. The launch is at the NW corner of the Orchard Beach parking lot. To register, call 718-885-3467

. Registration is rolling until filled.
 
 

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN

 

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

 

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.

 

MARINE BIOLOGY, BROOKLYN

 

See “What Lurks Beneath” the Gerritsen Creek with naturalists at the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park, Brooklyn (East 33rd Street and Avenue U). Meet up at 11AM, and start netting wet wildlife. For more information call 718-421-2021

 

BUTTERFLY WALK, MANHATTAN

Meet up at the 106th and 5th Ave. entrance into Central Park at 11AM for an exploration of local butterflies and moths. Call 212-860-1376 for more information.

FLOWER WALK, MANHATTAN

Fort Tryon is worth the visit for its amazing heather garden alone. But poke around for other delightful blooms in the Alpine Garden and other areas with expert horticulturalists. Not to mention the Hudson River views from on high! Meet at 1PM for the 90-minute walk and talk, starting at the Margaret Corbin Circle, Fort Tryon Park (Cabrini Boulevard and Fort Washington Avenue).

 

NATURE WALK, BROOKLYN

 

Each Saturday and Sunday you’re welcome to stroll along for an hour to see the wildlife of Prospect Park. Meets at 3PM at the Audubon Center.

 

CAMPING 101, MANHATTAN

Learn the basics of camping in Manhattan, of all places! Come to the Inwood Hill Nature Center at 2PM by entering the Inwood Hill Park at West 218th Street and Indian Road. For more information, call 212-304-2365.

 

TUESDAY, JUNE 3

 

While the rest of the nation is trying to discern what motivations lurk beneath the surface of politicians, you can be discovering what wondrous life is thriving in beneath the surface of the western Long Island Sound. Orchard Beach is apparently the place to see and be seined these days (okay, I’m sorry). Come to the Orchard Beach Nature Center at Pelham Bay Park at 3PM. For more information call 718-885-3466

.
 
 

 

 

ASTRONOMY, BROOKLYN

 

Saturn hasn’t been gentrified yet, though Mars night cave as quickly as Brooklyn one day. Just kidding…sorta. But come see both, and the Summer Triangle, with the generous Amateur Astronomy Association. They love sharing their joy in cosmic appreciation, so come along! Meet at 10PM at the war memorial on Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn Heights, across from the Park Plaza Restaurant. For more information, email cadman@aaa.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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American Woodcock in Propsect Park by Steve Nanz.

By Erik Baard

In recent weeks keen-eyed birders have each night spotted the quiet and nearly invisible migratory returns, solitary or in very small flocks, of one of New York City’s quirkiest birds.

While some birds, like redtail hawks and peregrine falcons, have attracted groupies through intelligence and fierce dignity, today we present a species that’s won the hearts of hardened New Yorkers through its ostentatious goofiness, the American Woodcock.

If you manage to spot one despite its exquisite cinnamon, gray, beige, and pale orange camouflage in the leaf litter, you’ll note its extraordinarily gawky four-inch bill, more than a quarter the length of its seemingly no-necked, stout body. Then it’s on to the high-crested, buggy eyes set behind its ear holes. To make that odd arrangement of features work, its brain is uniquely positioned: upside down, with the cerebellum resting above the spinal column.

“Back on January 21, 2003, I was shocked to see one on the sidewalk at 18th Street and Park Avenue South. It was probably killed when it flew into a window,” recalled artist and outdoorsman Steve Sanford. “There was a postal delivery guy just standing over it for a long time, wondering what it was, it looked so strange to him.”

And of course, its name is tailor made for preadolescent snickering and email spam filtering. A host of alternate names sound a bit like party drinks: timberdoodle, bog sucker, mud bat, mud snipe, and Labrador twister.

That latter name, however, hints at why their devotees are now clearing their schedules of after work commitments and redirecting their morning jogs to mucky corners of parks. The woodcock’s spiraling mating display, an aerial dance at dusk and dawn, is a signature of Spring that delights the eyes and ears.

“Some of these birds who wintered in southern states are passing through,” said NYC Audubon President Peter Mott, referring to New York City’s place on the eastern seaboard’s migratory flyway. “Those that are staying are setting up their courtship territories. In just a week from now they should be starting their courtship flights.”

You’ll need to visit a wooded area edging a fresh water body and a small clearing. Two places Mott recommends are the Ramble in Central Park (a section called “The Oven,” near the boathouse), and the East Pond of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, which is also a favorite spot for the tireless Brooklyn Bird Club. Other places known for woodcocks include Pelham Bay Park and Givans Creek Woods Park in the Bronx, the Staten Island Greenbelt,  and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, where the photo above was taken by Steve Nanz (click to enlarge).

Where males have formed a loose gathering, called a lek, individuals bob and rotate on the ground in twilight hours, making a peent sound before suddenly jumping into flight. They ascend steeply in a spiral up well over 100 feet, “making a chirping sound with their wings. Then they’ll plummet to earth and hope a female was watching.”

While the males’ ground call is utterly prosaic, the twittering sound made by air passing through specialized feathers of their fast-beating, rounded wings is soothing. The downward glide is accompanied by a vocalization that naturalist Aldo Leopold called a “soft liquid warble.” Marj Rines has audio samples on her great website.

Still, overall it’s a pattern familiar to anyone who’s ever observed a “Sk8ter Boi”: call attention, perform a trick, hope it was witnessed by a pretty girl.

Such acrobatic displays demonstrate vigor, and to produce pleasing wing song a woodcock must be ideally formed with a span fringed with three very fine feathers – a sonic flaunting of symmetry – that advertises genetic viability for robust offspring. A strong start is critical for hatchlings that are nearly independent soon after emergence, reaching adult form in weeks.

The woodcock’s odd face is no less a product of ruthless natural selection than a lion’s fangs. Those oddly set eyes provide nearly 360-degree vision. The woodcock beak is not only long, but articulated and sensitive toward the tip, so that it can probe the mud more effectively for worms and other invertebrates; they can eat their weight, about 10 ounces, daily. Put those two features together and you have a bird that can watch for predators above while simultaneously feasting on what’s below.

The transitional forest ecosystems for which the woodcock has evolved are equally refined, but have been challenged in recent decades. Most conservationists believe this is what accounts for the species’ 55% drop in population since 1960. Poorly-conceived development is a huge problem, of course, but another factor might surprise you. Our attentive forest managers have prevented many forest fires, blights, and other natural means of tree felling, denying the woodcock clearings for mating displays. Clearings also allow for new growth like meadow, understory plants, and a dense covering of saplings to provide resting protection from owls.

When Mott was asked which of these unique characteristics made him so fond of the woodcock, he said his pleasure was in the sharing. “I enjoy taking people to see them,” he said. Funny how a bird that leads a relatively solitary life can bring us together.

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