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Falco sparveriusThis male Kestrel (Falco sparverius) made two fruitless passes at the noisy scrum of Monk Parakeets at the Green-Wood gate. The parakeets are a little longer in body-length but have shorter wingspan than these small falcons, so I wonder if they ever succumb to attack. Certainly the parakeets provide food for raptors; I’ve found their scattered feathers under nearby trees. The Merlin I posted about on Monday was in the same area just a few minutes after I saw this bird fire off into the distance.Falco sparveriusThis one was rather higher up than the Merlin, but these shots are still fair-to-middling. Such an interesting pattern (the blue wings tell us it’s a male) compared to other hawks, even it’s genus-siblings the Merlin, Peregrine, and Gyrfalcon. Of course, never mind those other raptors: DNA shows that the falcons, family Falconidae, are related to…parrots. I still automatically go to the hawks when I want to check the falcons in the new Sibley, but he’s properly moved them.

Still Hanging On

In early November, I found four adult Two-spotted Ladybeetles (Adalia bipunctata). Adalia bipunctataAnd without looking very hard. I just stood under the tree and looked up.Adalia bipunctata

Zane York: Curious Remnants

Zane YorkZane York at work. He’s having a solo show tonight through Dec. 14 at Causey Contemporary, 29 Orchard St. NY NY.ZYP0109-SwampDarner -800pxThe opening revels are from 6-8. I’ll be there.

White Oak

Quercus albaThe pale underside of some Eastern White Oak (Quercus alba) leaves found on Mt. Taurus.Quercus albaThis is another specimen of the tree, two weeks later, in Green-Wood. It’s been a spectacular fall. Q albaSame tree, with some Hedgehog Galls. I also explore these fuzzy galls a little more here.


bear1On the liturgical calendar, today is St. Martin’s Day. In the late Middle Ages, “Martin” was often the name given to bears abused and belittled in circuses and other equivalents of side-shows. This is not coincidental, Michel Pastoureau shows in his fascinating The Bear: History of a Fallen King. bear3The Church waged a long war against bears, which in Europe were already being represented in Neanderthal and Cro-Magon painted caves, the very caves bears may have lived in. (These would have been cave bears, now extinct; Pastoureau is most concerned with the brown bear, now pushed to remote parts of Europe and threatened everywhere there.) The Germanic tribes who butted against Roman expansion were bear-worshippers. The Viking Berserkers wore bear shirts, which is what “berserker” means. Kings and other heroes once proved themselves by battling bears man-to-bear. The nurturing she-bear raised various Greek and other mythological heroes. The hyper-sexualized male bear threatened female humans, as did the quasi-bearish Wild Man, whose hairiness was akin to the bear’s. Bärenfähigkeit means the capacity to become a bear. Half-bear/half-human figures populated the old tales.

This all enraged the Church, who promoted the (foreign) lion as the true king of the beasts and painted the bear as a tool of, if not actually, Satan, in its efforts to stamp out old forms of non-Christian worship. St. Martin’s Day was laid over older celebrations of the beginning of bear hibernation, a sure sign of the coming winter.

Rich in cultural references, Pastoureau’s book reminded me of a couple of things. I’ve only dipped into Phillip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy, where giant bears play a critical role, an interesting comparison with the Christianology of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s character, Beorn, a sort of werebear. The name Beorn — and Bjorn, Bern, Ursula, Arthur, and many others — all come from various languages for “bear.”

Pastoureau has also written three books on the history of colors. I’ve read Blue and Black and and recommend them.

“In killing the bear, his kinsman, his fellow creature, his first god, man long ago killed his own memory and more or less symbolically killed himself.”bear2Bear ceramics at Cortlandt St. R train station by Margie Hughto. “Trade, Treasure and Travel” originally placed in 1997, survived the World Trade Center bombing and was reinstalled in 2011.

Pigeon Hawk

Falco columbariusA really nice and extended look at a Merlin (Falco columbarius) yesterday in Green-Wood. The bird gave me the big, beady eyes, too.Falco columbariusThese falcons are known for perching for a long period of time, eyes on the lookout for the prize. The surroundings were busy with Blue Jays and Monk Parakeets, both roughly the same size as this small raptor, so a bit of a stretch as prey.Falco columbariusThe faint Fu Manchu “mustache” mark is visible in these photos, coming down from the eye. This species has a broad range in North America, with three distinct populations; East Coast birds are usually “Boreal” (a.k.a Taiga), Falco columbarius columbarius. A sort of medium roast bird compared to the very light Prairie and very dark Pacific subspecies. Half a dozen other subspecies are found across northern Eurasia.Falco columbariusNote also the “eyebrow.” This species also known as Lady Hawk and Pigeon Hawk.

New York is the very southern end of their breeding territory, with only a few records in the state, generally in the Adirondacks. We see it here in NYC during migration. But sometimes at other times as well. I got a good picture of one last January in Green-Wood, practically right next door to yesterday’s location.

Last Dragonfly

dragonflyI took this picture through a window and at some distance. This was actually a sculptural element on the wall of a florist’s. But the two-foot wingspan reminded me of the ancient dragonflies. The extinct Meganeura genus, preserved in some pretty spectacular fossils, had wingspans up to 25″ (65 cm) around 300 million years ago.


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