Posts Tagged 'reptiles'

The Morning Rush

rush hourNot exactly going anywhere at the moment.

Reptiles

There were a lot of lizards, which you would expect for a desert. They are tough subjects to photograph, though, being such dashers and darters. I got a few:r2lizardr1

r4This Garter subspecies was unfortunately run over by an earlier vehicle. Still kicking here, but extruding innards elsewhere, so it may not have made it.

Snake/Privatization

Elaphe obsoletaAn albino version of the New York native Black Rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta) being held by one of Prospect Park’s “Pop-Up Audubon” staffers recently.

This is the largest snake species in the state, reaching up to six feet in length. They get bigger in the South. Constrictors, Black Rat snakes squeeze their prey to death, and will eat anything from eggs to other snakes, with small mammals, including bats, a mainstay. That last menu item is a good clue for where you might find these snakes: they are excellent tree climbers. Generally a woodland species, they are also fond of barns and their attendant mice and rats, meaning they are a good friend of the farmer.

This guy normally lives in the Audubon Center at the Boathouse, which, unfortunately, will not be open on weekends in the near future. Instead, “Pop-ups” (a trendy term for “temporary” and subject to the weather; last Saturday’s was cancelled) will be positioned around the park under a flimsy tent — without the restroom, water fountain, cafeteria, air-conditioning, and safe space services that the Boathouse also provided. This is a bad state of affairs, particularly when one sees private parties using the facilities for weddings and the like. Now, the Audubon Center will be open later in May on Thursdays and Fridays, but weekends are the park’s busiest times. The fact that the Boathouse will be open on weekdays suggests that this decision isn’t one of funding, but one of fundraising. Money is to be made renting out the Boathouse for persons of means.

This is, as I have noted for many years, the inevitable result of privatization. Those with money get the goodies, and, perhaps more importantly, control the agenda about those goodies. The Prospect Park Alliance — an unelected entity, it must be remembered, that of necessity follows the course of which people will fund what projects — was set up to help fundraise for the park. It has done very many impressive things, remaking the park for the better after the disastrous abandonment of the urban by tax-supported white flight, subsidized suburbanization, and the long counter-revolution against the public sphere, that profoundly successful assault on American democracy. And, over time, under the administration of neoliberal tribunes like Koch, Dinkins, Giuliani, and Bloomberg, the Alliance and similar entities has been progressively pushed towards funding the majority of the park’s operations as public monies, and oversight, have been withdrawn.

Of course, compared to Central Park, which has reveled in the millions of the super-rich, Prospect is barely a glimmer in the eye of our masters of the universe. Meanwhile, parks without wealthy neighbors — in the Bronx, Queens, other neighborhoods of Brooklyn — simply hope to have a few drops of largess dribble down upon them, trickling down from the heady heights. When parks manifest the great gap between haves and have-nots, we know how far into the hole of injustice we’ve fallen.

Maryland Monument Memorial Parking Lot

Maryland Memorial Parking Lot

In a related notion, park lawns are much too precious to withstand large political demonstrations, but more than a week-long occupation by the likes of the disastrous Great Googa Mooga Shit Pile, this year boasting of its “temporary cell towers” so that 30,000 food lovers can Instagram pictures of their meals to their friends — that’s their example — why, sure! ConstructionLast Friday, preparations for this Friday’s GGMSP were underway at 7 a.m.

As a side-note — the snake of the minority constricts the majority of us — it should be noted that philanthropy is tax-deductible, which means that it is not actually charity, that is, given, sacrificed, without any promise of give-back. It’s a system that results in even more of the tax burden being pushed upon those who can not lawyer-, accountant-, and Congressperson-up.

Gifts of Sight and Sound

Sayornis phoebeSaturday was an epic day of nature exploration here in the wide world of the Borough of Brooklyn. In the morning, I took a friend and her mother birding in Prospect Park. We saw some 44 species of birds, a good-turn out for our visiting Virginia birder. In the late afternoon, I joined two other friends to explore Dead Horse Bay and the North Forty at Floyd Bennett Field. 50 species noted, with some overlap. All told, I spent about 9 hours walking, wandering, watching, and listening. return a gift pondThis is Return-A-Gift Pond at Floyd Bennett Field. Near sunset, there were 23 Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) hanging out here (another friend had counted twice as many earlier in the day; check out his picture of this same tree absolutely fruited with the birds).Ardea albaThis single Great Egret (Ardea alba) was completely outnumbered. Now, Night-herons, as their name suggests, do their best work after sunset. And after sunset, the spring peepers emerge. Vocally, that is. There are a few off-trail wetland spots in the North Forty, but the majority of these little frogs are right there at Return-a-Gift, throbbing the night with their calls. Even with the nearby sounds of Flatbush Avenue and frequent JFK jets blasting overhead, the sound of the massed frogs was profoundly impressive. I made a recording.

But this was not the only sound of twilight. The choral frogs were seconded by soloist American woodcocks (Scolopax minor) a-courting. We heard their “peent” calls on the ground and then the dry whispery twittering they do in the air. It’s the males, showing off — I suppose “sounding off” is a better description. It was all about the sound for us hominids, anyway, although we did see one in the sky, with the curve of the moon behind him, and then we saw one plummet back down to earth just above the lighter path in front of us a couple of times.woodpecker nestA male Downy Woodpecker scooted out of this nest hole complex, attempting to draw us away, we thought, so it was a command we complied with.

Something unexpected: I heard the briefest bit of what I thought was the crowing of a Ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). I haven’t heard this sound in something like 35 years (they were common around the house when I was in high school), but it is distinctive. The species was introduced to North America as a game bird; there was an effort once at Green-Wood Cemetery to release them there for ornamental purposes. They are generally wiped out by predators, including cats. Anyway, I wasn’t 100% confident that that’s what I heard, but later I had found out another birder had heard the bird there earlier, and that was enough for me.

Waiting for the fairly reliable Q35, our binoculars all packed away, we watched something with huge wings fly heavily across Flatbush above us in the nine oclock dark towards us the Bay. Egret, heron, the Owl of Minerva? Whatever it was, it was a great nightcap.

Lizards!

Something I was not aware of. Didn’t think we had any lizards at all up here in New York, except for the introduced Italian Wall Lizards. But there are actually four species in the state, three natives and the Italian, which I’ve seen in Queens. Both the Five-lined Skink and the Eastern Fence Lizard are found in the Hudson Highlands (although why the parks people had to go to Ohio for a picture I don’t know). Now I have to find them. Stay tuned for a sunny day in the spring.

Lil’ Snapper

A baby Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) has the unfortunate characteristic of blending in quite well with a road. South Cross Road, in Bradford, Mass., to be exact. While in the area last week, I saw several Painted turtles and a few others I could not identify who didn’t make it across that road and other death strips. This little one, though, had a helper… your friendly blogger.Remember, if helping a turtle across a road, move it in the direction it is heading. Given several decades of staying off the roads and out of a Great Blue Heron’s gullet, this guy might become one of the giants.Snappers have small plastrons, or bottom shells, compared to our other turtles. What they lack in protective defense, then, they make up with strong jaws at the end of a long neck (note that species name serpentina, like a snake) as well as sharp claws.

And check out the tiny freshwater clam hitching a ride there at the shoulder. There’s never a malacologist around when I need one.

On Nantucket

Going to Nantucket is like going two weeks back into the past. Spring comes a little later there, even in this year of early spring. Although just a touch more north of us here in NYC, the island is thirty miles off-shore and surrounded by an ocean holding onto its cold. The Japanese Flowering Cherries that were finished here about two weeks ago were in full bloom there. I never knew there to be so many of these trees on the island. Of course, when surrounded by such shameless show-offs, I retire to the simple beauty of the crab apples. A month and a half after my last visit to Squam Swamp, the oaks were still unbloomed:although the understory was popping. Starflower (Trientalis borealis).Give me a shout-out if you know what these are. UPDATE: Julia in comments tells me these are Quaker Ladies, a white variation of the Bluet (Houstonia caerulea), which tends to be blue off-island.A fern unfolds. While most if not all of ferns have this fiddlehead-shaped emergence, most are not edible “fiddleheads.”Being so thoroughly damp, and having relatively clean air (and lots of it! the island is wind-swept, and if you’ve ever had your bare legs sand-blasted on a windy beach…) the island is full of lichen (at least 89 species according to this report), on wooden fences, relatively new roofs (?), and, of course trees.

A dead bumblebee allows closer examination. The order Hymenoptera are named for their “membrane winged” bodies. Also, they have four wings, (flies, Diptera, have two) usually very hard to see even if the insect is still. But here you can see the smaller underwing half exposed and just trace its outline through the larger upperwing. Another dead example:

I looked out the window and noticed a male Northern Cardinal quite close by to the house on a low bush. That seemed a little odd so near the house. I glanced down and saw what the bird may have been worrying about:A Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). This one looked big. My brother told me he had seen a snake in the yard earlier, and two days later I hear one, possibly the same, slither into the brush. Check out Sarah Oktay’s article about the first ever hibernaculum of Garter and Milk snakes found on the island this spring. The author, one of the lucky snake-finders, is the managing director of the UMass Nantucket Field Station, and has written extensively about many other aspects of the island’s natural history.

Staten Island’s Frog

We interrupt this blog to remind you that while I sometimes range far and wide (Iceland, New Mexico, Nantucket, etc.) my heart remains right here in the great outdoors of the urban conglomeration that is New York City.

Photo by Brian Curry for The New York Times

Nature, as I like to say almost daily, is all around us, even in the city. Case in point: the New York Times today reports that a new species of Leopard frog has been discovered. Here, in New York City, specifically on Staten Island. The Northern and Southern Leopard frogs somewhat overlap in the region, but this is an entirely different genetic beast, as yet unnamed (not that it doesn’t know its name, thank you very much). It’s obviously been here all along, of course, but like the purloined letter, even what is right in front of our faces often remains unseen.

Frog habitat, like that of all amphibians, is very much freshwater dependent. Staten Island’s course of development, a cancerous post-WWII growth, has blighted much of the landscape on that island, but the borough still has a strong component of undeveloped (undrained, unfilled, etc., how I’d like to say unpolluted!) land locked up in parks and the Greenbelt. This Leopard frog is another reason to remain aware of the threats these spaces, and their myriad species, of which there are many we don’t know anything about, always face.

Iguana Iguana

The western edge of Klein Bay is rocky, but I scrambled about three-quarters of the way along its edge the first morning of our trip. I wanted to see the sun come up over Dittlif Point peninsula (unseen to the left in the above image). I found a nice flat rock to stand on – it was too wet from the night’s surf to sit on -and while waiting heard a noise behind me.

St. John, like Virgin Gorda, is hopping with lizards, anoles, and geckos, most of them just a few inches long. And I do mean hopping: they will often jump to get ahead of you. This one, for instance, was barely 1.5 inches long.

But this morning’s noise-maker was a three-foot long iguana.It was obviously waiting for the sun, too, on an outcropping a couple of yards above me.

I don’t think Virgin Gorda, which is smaller, has a drier and more cactus-dominated habitat, has any of these long-tailed reptiles, so this was my first opportunity to see one. So we spent some time waiting for the sun to crest the land, iguana and I. But just as the sun was cresting, it was suddenly obscured in clouds. I scrambled back in time to take shelter under a maho tree before it started to pour. Luckily, these tropical downpours are brief this time of year. I then found this on the way to our villa:I think it’s a piece of shed iguana skin. It looks like it came from the chin, where those large eye-like spots are. It seemed a red-letter day, and was eager to tell my crew about my finds, all before they even awoke.It turned out, however, that this was just the beginning of the iguana watching. We had them as neighbors, just a few feet way. Seven was the high count one day. They loved to hang out atop the trees and bushes and palms right next to the house. I saw one crossing the road slowly, dinosaur-ishly; another time I saw one scramble up a tree rather quickly, monkey-ishly. They were by the side of the roads, in trees, all over, even downtown in Cruz Bay.Unlike a lot of things on the island, iguanas are native to the region. The very name seems be a Spanish version of the Taino name. Though plenty fierce-looking, they are herbivores. Their common name is Green Iguana, Iguana iguana, and are most immediately differentiated from the endangered Lesser Antillean iguana by the bold stripes on their tails.

Tentative IDs

Wildness forensics continues: we found this skull in a kettle pond on the top of Highland Park. I think it’s raccoon: note those molars and check out this PDF to see what you think. On Cypress Ave, we found another mammal, this time definitely a raccoon, that was road kill.

In nearby Machpelah Cemetery, where we paid a visit to the great Harry Houdini (he didn’t answer our knock, however), we found:Lesser celandine, Ranunculus ficaria, or pilewort (yeah, good for piles according to folk medicine). (Noticed that this is all over Prospect Park, too.)A violet, Viola spp. Perhaps a dog violet?A close up showing the flower’s lure to pollinators. Step into my parlor, my pretties. Remind me to take some photos of the leaves too, since that can help with identification.

Un-pictured, because they were too fast for me: Italian wall lizards! We saw three, and were willing to take bets there were lots more. I’ve been looking forward to running into them. While there are no native lizards in New York, this species is found in the city because they’ve spread out from an introduction on Long Island in the late 1960s. I’ve heard they are all over the Rock Garden at NYBG, and a while back I saw a picture of a Manhattan kestrel bringing one home to provision its young. Personally, however, I’d never seen one in the scales before. A quiet cemetery with lots of stone surfaces, and plenty of hidey-holes from falling-to-pieces masonry, not to mention the nice warm sun, seems to present the perfect habitat. But watch out for those falcons! Earlier, we’d seen either a merlin or kestrel flying parallel to the moraine with something long and skinny dangling from its claws….

Along with the woodchuck in Green-Wood, this is turning out to be a spring of lovely discoveries in cemeteries.


Share

Bookmark and Share

Join 243 other followers

Twitter

Nature Blog Network

Archives


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 243 other followers