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Events and Calls to Action

I’ll be leading these tours in the next few weeks:

August 27 and Sept 4, 9pm: Prospect Park ~ Night Listening with Brooklyn Brainery. Join us as we listen to the night. Register at the link. $5 (Updated: 8/27 is full, but there are still spots for 9/4.)

September 3rd, 6pm: Brooklyn Bridge Park ~ Bugs and Blooms. RSVP at link. Papilio polyxenes

Ridgewood Reservoir is a unique natural area in a city starved of them. The reservoir basins were drained, abandoned, and fenced decades ago, and, as it will, nature moved in. The powers that be generally frown on such things, instead of fostering them. Here’s a petition I urge you to read and sign to prevent these sunken gardens from being developed.

Sunday, September 21st is the People’s Climate March here in NYC. Your grandchildren will be expecting you to have been there.


Marmota monaxWho doesn’t need some whistlepig every once and a while? Marmota monaxOld-ivory yellow teeth and all: a defining characteristic of the Rodentia are their pairs of continuously growing upper and lower incisors.Marmota monaxGnaw, gnaw!


barclay1Today is Open House New York‘s Art Deco Scavenger Hunt, which I’m taking part in, so I wanted to share with you some of the city’s Art Deco wonders because many were inspired by the natural world. barclay2These first three photos from the Barclay-Vesey Building, designed by Ralph Walker for the New York Telephone Co.; the building today is utterly dwarfed by the neighboring WTC tower in height, but certainly not in terms of character, quirk, and decoration. barclay3“Art Deco” is a fairly loose term, but we tend to know it when we see it. The name is derived from the title of the 1925 L’Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industrials moderns in Paris; the tendency — it was never really a movement of manifesto and/or school — flowered between the two world wars. Jazz age streamlined, it is above all eclectic, incorporating cubist and medieval aspects, the machine age and the iconography of ancient civilizations; such crafts as stone-carving and metal-working with high steel and advanced, for the day, communications. GE1Some have called it modern classical; it was definitely not Modernism, the “International Style” of white boxes, which triumphed in the long run. Above is a detail of the original RCA Victor building at Lexington & 51st; subtly chamfered at the corners so that its narrow tower is actually eight-sided, this brick high-rise miraculously complements the church it towers over, the peak to its foothills; its spire-top, with its geometric lightning bolts and stylized faces with flame-like halos, is I think, a match for the Chrysler’s stainless steel rays as the most exciting in the city.

Virtually every building today is an interchangeable glass box or rectangle. That shit is cheap, after all, and that’s what counts to the tiny minds in charge, cost/revenue per sq. ft. But when you look at New York City’s skyscrapers, which buildings stand out? Which ones ones do you love? Sure, I like the Lever Building, most particularly its (open) secret brick spine, and, across the street, the Seagram’s Building has its moments, but I love the Chrysler Building, and 70 Pine St (originally Cities Service), and 20 Exchange (originally City Bank-Farmer’ Trust). There is no exuberance or joie de vie in a shiny, reflective glass slab on a grid of steel. There is no detail for the human eye, the human imagination, to grasp ahold of. Often, there is nothing human at all in these cold, corporate command and control towers, and their offshoots, the blank apartment towers.ChaninThe bronze frieze above the ground floor of the Chanin Building tells a loopy story of evolution on the three exposed sides: 42nd, Lexington, and 41st Sts.chaninBut keep looking up, because the forth floor has this band of lush foliage running around it. The Chanins were developers, no doubt as ruthless swine as their contemporary manifestations; but compare their face to the world with Donald Trump’s brute gracelessness. chaninThe Chanin lobby is also amazing, as are many of the lobbies is in these buildings. (Sadly, the lock-down state prevents many of them from being open to the public). One lobby that is still open is the Chryster’s Building. Imagine going up in those elevators ever day! The Chanin is diagonal the intersection from the Chyrsler’s stainless steel raptor and winged hubcap gargoyles, making this intersection the veritable Art Deco heart of the city.contrastI don’t need a building to reflect the sky when I can look at the sky. Consider the moral, philosophical, political distinctions between the cold and the warm, between the individual and the group, between citizen and corporation.

One Froggy Morning

frog1Green-Wood’s Valley Water, filled with tadpoles earlier in the spring, is now full of young Bull Frogs (Rana catesbeiana). At least, that’s what I think they are. The crowd including this frogpole, not yet completely transformed into an adult.frog2The lily pads spluttered as these little ones hopped, skipped, and splashed away, sometimes hitting several pads before find the shelter of the water. Most skedaddled well in advance of the camera.frog3But I managed to digitize a few of the dozens upon dozens of them.frog4The telephoto compresses space, so I’m not sure how close these two were. The mature frog would be a mouthful.

USDA Prime

Harmonia axyridisNot only does the Multicolored Asian Ladybeetle (Harmonia axyridis) come in multiple colors, they’re also found with a variable number of spots. Or none at all. That’s me in the reflection of those high-gloss elytra.

(Post title refers to the first release of the species in the U.S., which was done by the USDA. Subsequent releases may have been accidental.)

Harbor Heron Cruise

cruise1What could be better than being on the water of the NYC archipelago on a summer twilight? NYC Audubon’s Harbor Heron Cruises go up the East River tidal strait, passing under the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, 59th Street, Triboro/RFK, and Hell Gate bridges to check out the local rookeries. (A century and more ago, a rookery in the city would have meant something else indeed.)U ThantNaturalist Gabriel Willow was our guide, exemplary as always, but a bit under the weather because of a savage attack by caterpillars earlier in the day (it’s rough out there in the field). The first “stop” was U Thant Island, a little cluster of rocks offshore of the UN, named after that institution’s third Secretary-General. U ThantDouble-creasted Cormorants and Great Black-backed Gulls nest there, Cormorants up, the gulls down, on the rocks. Ardea albaMill Rock, south of Ward/Randalls Island, is nesting and roosting home to Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Black-crowned Night-herons, more Cormorants…Corvus ossifragusAnd Fish Crows (Corvus ossifragus). These coastal cousins of the American Crow are slightly smaller, but are really only distinguishable by their voice. While both species can make a lot of different sounds, the American has its classic “caw” call and the Fish a two-toned “cah-ah.” As it was evening, flocks of them were flying to roost for the night.Hell GateHell Gate Bridge, a rail-road only crossing. When my father worked summers for the Nantucket ferry in late 1940s, steamer trunks came “Via Hell Gate” by train to New Bedford. The Dutch Hellegat has nothing to do with hell or gate and was originally applied to the whole East River, which is awkwardly named since it isn’t a river, and meant a clear passage. That too was a misnomer, since the Hell Gate was hellish on boats until it was blasted out by the Corps of Engineers in the late 19th 6By the time we got to North and South Brother Islands, between the Bronx and Queens, the sun had sunk between Manhattan’s street valleys. Both islands are full of birds now, the Cormorants most especially visible, but have long histories of other uses. North Brother, like Blackwell’s/Welfare/Roosevelt Island, was once used as a place of punishment, asylum, and quarantine (“Typhoid Mary” Mallon died there); it’s abandoned institutional buildings are now completely overrun by green. Nearby was the vast penal colony known as Riker’s Island, reminding us we still attempt to isolate the unwelcome on islands (the DOJ is investigating official brutality and torture there).

Gabriel reminded us that a century ago, there would have been no harbor herons. Indeed, the fashion industry, which still has much to answer for, had reduced heron populations to such low numbers that organizations like Audubon were formed to save the last birds before extinction. Half a century ago, too, there would have been no herons, the harbor/estuary being too polluted to sustain them. While the week bought the terrible news of that study that showed 45% drop in invertebrate populations, we know we can do better, can coexist with other creatures, can foster the habitats in which they thrive, can enrich our own lives by recognizing the vital necessity of planet Earth.Chrysler Bldg

“As Big As A Lear Jet”

Sphecius speciosusA couple of years ago, I saw Cicada Killer Wasps (Sphecius speciosus) tunneling nests in two different tree pits in my neighborhood. One of those pits is again a nesting site. It’s notable on the block because it’s the only pit that has a good expanse of bare soil. This wasp was patrolling one of two tunnels here. I’ve read that several females may cooperate on digging one of the long tunnels.

The species name speciosus is from the Latin for showy or beautiful. True enough, but like many things of beauty, your standard human is afraid of them. The males, like all bees and wasps, don’t have stingers to sting. The females would rather save their sting for cicadas, meat for their young. So chill, and enjoy. My hand is inches from this one.

I’ve heard less than half a dozen cicadas in the last month. It’s only the beginning of August, though, and the Dog Days are just beginning.


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