Published March 27, 2015
One of the earliest disillusionments is the transformation of the beautiful seashell or river rock into something rather dull once it has dried out. Whence the magic of the beach-combing discovery, the footloose, and probably bare-footed, sojourn along the edges of the ocean/pond/lake/stream/river, where the gleaming thing captured our eye? I understand that shell collectors oil their shells for best effect and photographs. I just used water here.
As I understand it (but I’m no Governor of Florida or New Jersey), the problem is one of light, or rather our perception of light. When light hits a water- or oil- covered surface, it bounces back with some uniformity. Things look shiny and new, gleaming and jewel-like. When light hits a dried-out surface, all the gnarliness of that surface means the light will be scattered helter-skelter, looking dull and so over its celebrity.
Published March 25, 2015
Tags: birding, birds, Brooklyn
A rumor of an American Kestrel being heard and seen on Montague Street had my falcon-senses tingling Saturday. Exploring one of the alleys south of Montague, I faintly heard one of the birds, almost subliminally, just enough to make me look up: the little jet sliced the sky in half. Around the corner — voilà! — this female Falco sparverius was perched atop St. Borromeo. This is a fine falcon perch; the accretion of droppings up there suggest other birds like this venue, too.
This was one of three Kestrels sightings I had in the last week. (This could be the same bird I saw in Brooklyn Bridge Park.) Another female was in Green-Wood. News this morning of a pair in Red Hook suggests this, the most common of city raptor species, are getting busy.
Published March 23, 2015
Tags: birding, birds, Brooklyn
There are two species of crows here and along the East Coast: the American and Fish. It is hard to tell them apart by sight, but their voices are distinctive. Since this one wasn’t vocalizing, I can’t be sure which one it was. Fish Crows (Corvus ossifragus), as their name suggests, are usually associated with bodies of water. This bird was photographed at Floyd Bennett Field, part of the Jamaica Bay NRA, where I have heard both species. Not sure what’s being eaten here; has a look of carrion. Closer to home, I often see or more usually hear American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) over my neighborhood. On Saturday, I watched three gathering nest material around Joralemon St. Two of the birds were picking up sticks from some kind of wintery vine that had crawled up the side of a house and reached over the top. The third bird was… what, acting as lookout, scout? Crows often maintain multi-generational family units, with a yearling or two sticking around the help the parents with raising a new generation. It is rare to see a lone Crow — “one is for sorrow” according to the old rhyme, but pshaw to that!; look closer, that lone black bird could be a Raven. The Crows returned to this spot several times over a few minutes, suggesting the nest location was close. But the blocks of Brooklyn present a fortress wall to those who would explore the inner wildernesses of collective backyards. However, there was an unusual break in the street front around the corner, and we saw the crows flying into the conifer here in the background. One of the spring-blooming Witchhazels (Hamamelis) is flaring yellow.
I’m becoming obsessed with Pinus palustris, the longleaf pine that once covered 92 million acres of the southeast from Maryland to Texas, but now exists in only a handful of preserves. I’ve not seen it in its natural state, only as old lumber repurposed. That’s a piece of it above, one of the benches at Brooklyn Bridge Park. I wrote about the strange coincidence of that wood being in my neighborhood for Humans & Nature. Here, with more pictures, are a couple of things I wrote when the picnic tables were new (again): Grain of the Universe and Against the grain.
A friend lent me her copy of Longleaf As Far as the Eye Can See where I learned much more about the trees and their world. Longleaf savannah is some of the richest habitat in the world: one survey at Fort Bragg (vast military bases have preserved the habitat, first by default and now by recognition that they couldn’t have a better place as a training ground) found 500 species of flowering plants per square kilometer. A square meter may hold 50-60 species. Some 30 genera are endemic to longleaf forests, which are really meadows, savannas, prairies. In comparison, the entire Appalachian province, with all its magnificence of trees and wildflowers, supports a (known) total of 2 endemic genera.
This longleaf savannah woodland is an evolutionary adaptation to fire — the region has some of the highest concentration of thunderstorms. The trees can grow for centuries, through firestorm after firestorm (since long before indigenous Americans used fire as their preeminent technology). They do not grow as massively as hardwoods, though: one profiled tree, for instance, nearing its 400th year, has a diameter of 14″. And it is still growing: according to the tale of its rings, it put on more girth between 1917-37 than it had in its previous hundred. These are trees that just get into their stride after a century or more.
It’s the older trees that have red heart fungus, which softens the heartwood. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers favor these for their cavity nests, which take a while to make and which they re-use. The destruction of over 95% of the wooded savannah has consequently meant these birds are on the Endangered Species List. Another fascinating connection is the high incidence of carnivorous plant species that make their home in bogs within the longleafs. “There are few other places on earth where so many plants have, in so many wonderful and diverse ways, restorted to the consumption of meat.”
Long-time readers may know of my interest in the Two-spotted Ladybugs of Brooklyn Bridge Park. I wrote about them for Humans and Nature this week. I hope you’ll visit and read this and other interesting takes on the intersection of humans and nature.
Some of my recent JSTOR Daily work may be of interest to you.
In the field:
And as of yesterday, there was one spot left on my April 4 spring Listening Tour with Brooklyn Brainery. We go in search of Brooklyn’s spring peepers and American Woodcocks’ mating “display” — which is most aural since it takes place after sunset.
I’ll be doing a Jane’s Walk in celebration of the urban vision of James S.T. Stranahan on May 3rd. Whenever I meet people for a walk or project in Prospect Park, I say “let’s meet at the Stranahan statue” and damned if anybody knows what I’m talking about. I’d like to make the statue, and the man, better known. Without him, Brooklyn would probably look very different. Extra bonus here: I’ll be wearing a top hat.
I’m also doing a Listening Tour for NYC Wildflower Week on May 9th at 6am (pencil this one in; final schedule isn’t published yet).
Of note also: the genius behind Wildflower Week, Marielle Anzelone, is fundraising for a forest in Times Square and getting plenty of attention for it. But funds are better than attention, so consider contributing to the project here.