Posts Tagged 'Brooklyn Bridge Park'

Winter Work

oneA bare patch in the snow finds Starlings, Robin, and White-thoated Sparrow rooting in the leaf litter. Snow cover definitely makes it harder to find seeds and invertebrates.Zonotrichia albicollisHere’s one of the White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis). This species comes in two forms: this is the white-striped, with the strong white stripe along the forehead. Zonotrichia albicollisThis is the tan-striped. This particularly bird flew here:fiveYou can see its footprints leading into this temporary cave created by the snow-bent grasses. I didn’t see the bird emerge the minute or so I watched.

Turdus migratoriusSnowy feet, muddy beak.

The Bear and Me

I wrote this essay for Humans and Nature on the resonances of William Faulkner’s “The Bear” right here in Brooklyn, a long way and a long time since the “big woods” of the south. But there are actual remnants of those lost big woods just down the street from where I live, which got me thinking. I believe readers of B & B will be intrigued by my thoughts over at H & N.

Twilight’s Last Gulls

IMG_0299This was a recent sunset over Governor’s Island. It was cold there on the edge of the water, colder than anywhere else around, but the sight was worth the bone-chill of time. But even when it’s not a technicolor spectacle — and this one reminded me of the many-initialed Turner — sunset on New York harbor is always a time to see a natural history marvel of another sort.IMG_0320It’s the gulls, mostly Ring-billed, moving to their night roosts. They are by and large silent. They seem to be moving just the outer halves of their wings, not quite gliding. Occasionally, one or two will do sudden plummets, like solos from the chorus. They were mostly heading north by northeast, along the East River, this time, but you’ll see them heading the other way to, in flight upon flight, sometimes just a few, sometimes crowds of fifty or a hundred. They are in search of roosts for the night. They look like effortless fliers, heading that last mile home to rest and peace. For an Earth-bound biped, it is a thrilling experience to see them coast upon the cold winds. IMG_0333


Anas rubripesSometimes in the shit-storm of bullshit that so overwhelms us, we just need to stop and look at the world. Given that it’s February and all the roses are imported from horror-stricken farms where the workers are brutalized and doused with toxic chemicals and then the roses themselves are stripped of their thorns — what the fuck is a rose without thorns? — it sure and hell is not a case of stopping to smell the roses. Come back in May and June for that, but remember that many varieties of even the live ones have be de-odored by their Dr. Frankensteins.

Instead, I offer you the speculum of an American Black Duck (Anas rubripes) beading a drop of water. And only a mere simulacrum of one, at that, an arraignment of digital data, a window of a window, but one that should still do something to set your hearts a-racing. How anyone could ever go back to the television again after seeing one of these with one’s own two eyeballs is beyond my understanding.

Feathers are colored in two ways or in a combination of these two ways: with pigments, or, as here, structurally. The duck’s speculum (the word means “window,” ladies) refracts the light striking it. The microscopic design of the feathers act as prism to broadcast what we read as iridescence. Structural color isn’t always iridescent, however: the blues, as in the Blue Jays, are structural not pigment.

And now consider what this must look like to another bird: birds can see ultra-violets that we can not because they have four cones to our three.

Duck Out of Water

Aythya valisineriaI don’t remember the last time I saw a Canvasback (Aythya valisineria). Whenever it was, the bird was in the water. This bright male surprised me on the rocks of Pier 4 at Brooklyn Bridge Park this afternoon. Aythya valisineriaFrom a distance, with a few Gadwall around him in the water and on the rocks, I didn’t think the white blob was alive. There’s lots of weird stuff floating in the harbor, after all, and catching on the rocks with the waves and the tide. Then I tried to remember which ducks were so white. Aythya valisineriaBut once he pulled his head from under his wing… this dark sloping forehead and long tapering bill are distinctive. And so, obviously, is that white “canvas” back (and, out of the water, belly).Aythya valisineriaAnd those eyes! Beautiful and mesmerizing.

This is one of our largest diving ducks. They are usually found in rafts with other Aythya genus ducks like the Scaups. When I posted this bird on the NY state bird list, a correspondent in Ithaca told me there were 50 of them up there amid thousands of Redheads, another duck not so common in NYC waters. I would like to see that.

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Gull’s Eye

Larus delawarensisThat’s not lipstick. Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis), the most common gull in the city.

Insistent Kinglet(s)

I have had two run-ins with Ruby-crowned Kinglets recently in Brooklyn Bridge Park. These birds are called kinglets because they are little kings, fearless creatures. They are the birds I’ve always gotten closest too; or, put another way, they are birds that have always gotten closest to me. Easily within hand’s reach. They have other concerns.

One was circling the little pond on Pier One on a chilly late afternoon.The crown, or crest, is also why they’re called kinglets. You often don’t see this since they can control its flaring. This bird had a thin line of scarlet running back along his head. It looked like a wound in the greenish gray of the plumage, cut into the brain. The bird was moving quickly, circling the pond, reed-to-reed, searching for food. December: invertebrate prey is rare. But there are egg masses and larvae in cocoons. It looked like this bird got three somethings in the several minutes I watched him. One sure sign was the wipe of the bill on both sides of a branch, cleaning the goo off. It took a lot of moving, though, to get that food.

The other sighting was more surpassing. This bird’s crest was vast, filling most of the top of his head. He was flying up against the very reflective metal of the Jane’s Carousel sign. Repeatedly. He was, in short, being territorial, trying to chase off another particularly persistent male Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Um, which was of course himself. I’ve heard of similar cases, but this was the first time I’ve seen this.

Now, testosterone in birds is usually a seasonal roller-coaster. Breeding season brings a surge of the stuff, which is associated with song ability and territory-staking. There shouldn’t be as much in winter (gonads, which are unneeded weight outside of the breeding season, physically shrink substantially in many migratory species). But this boy was hopped-up, flaring with ruby/scarlet/red. I generally take the Prime Directive in my interaction with nature, i.e. leaving it alone, but this seemed like a case where some interruption would be appropriate. This bird was spending a lot of energy bouncing off a slab of an unnatural mirror-like surface (I’ll bet the maker never thought of this possibility), energy better spent on food-searching on a very brisk day just a few minutes before sunset. The bird actually flew off before I waved it away, though.


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