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CorvusThere 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. CorvusThis 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. Corvus brachyrhynchosCloser to home, I often see or more usually hear American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) over my neighborhood. Corvus brachyrhynchosOn 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. Corvus brachyrhynchosThe 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. IMG_0955However, 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.


Pinus palustrisI’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.
UnknownA 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.Turdus migratorius


DipteraI found this dead fly inside the convoluted head of an organically-raised cauliflower from Salinas, CA, with its brain-like flowerets. Brassica! Diptera! The first day of spring!


Sciurus carolinensis

Raptor Wednesday

Buteo lagopusThis was my winter of the Rough-legged Hawks (Buteo lagopus). I’d never seen these tundra-evolved raptors before, but the good, cold, blistering winds from the north brought them down to the coast of Long Island, possibly in larger numbers than usual, where they searched for grasslands similar to their northern habitat. Floyd Bennett Field. In two of three trips specifically to see these birds, I was graced with several views. The last time I was there, there were at least two of the light morphs (they also come in a dark morph).

They hunt like Kestrels, hovering over the ground as they face the wind and beat their wings to say in place. There was a female Kestrel there as well, much smaller, of course, which made the comparison in the wing. In addition, there were a couple of Red-tailed Hawks and at least one Coopers. At nearby Marine Park, a Peregrine and Northern Harrier (another species that hunts over grasslands and dunes) were seen at the sunset. There was a mystery bird in the distance that may have been a young Red-shouldered Hawk, but opinions differed here. So six or seven species of diurnal raptor, all in Brooklyn, within a few miles of each other.

A few minutes after sunset, a Short-eared Owl flew 360 degrees around us.

There has been some grumbling about the winter. Yes, we can all celebrate the thaw and spring’s arrival now. But winter has its glories, which may be even more glorious for the discomfort experienced while attaining them.

Ravens Making Ravens?

Corvus coraxRemember when I saw a pair of Common Ravens flying and courting over a quiet (on the weekends) piece of the Sunset Park waterfront? It was a fantastic experience. I’ve been out to Bush Terminal Park several times since New Year’s Day, but didn’t have any luck in seeing the birds again until this weekend. I had, however, been hearing reports from others visiting the area who had seen the birds, so I knew they were still around. When I saw a tweet from the City Birder on Sunday about the birds gathering nesting material, I was out the door like a shot.

Arriving at Bush Terminal Park, a flock of gulls almost immediately took off, making me think they were fleeing from me. But there was a subadult Bald Eagle coasting overhead. The wind was fierce and cold, making all the birds move laterally along the coastline. (And making it really difficult to keep my camera steady!) I followed the eagle in my binoculars, towards a crowd of airborne gulls facing the buffeting wind. And there were the Ravens, seemingly hanging in the wind, jet black against the gray and white gulls.

I watched them return to the concrete pier three times to gather sticks, then fly along the coastline towards the north. Actually, only one would carry the stick. They have to be crafting a nest, sampling sticks for size, etc. If successful, this would be the first time this species has nested in Brooklyn since… well, the Pleistocene? (Traditionally, the birds were mountain and other upland breeders, but they have been making headways into urban areas, with Queens being the beachhead in NYC.)
Corvus corax


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  • Half hour later, at least 15 trucks still idling. And correction: it's Pier 7. 54 minutes ago
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