Posts Tagged 'Staten Island'
Tags: flowers, Staten Island, trees
At the northern end of Clove Lakes Park in Staten Island is a Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) said to be 300 years old. I would not say it is extraordinarily tall, but it certainly is large-boled. That head on the right is a child’s, three others are hidden behind the tree. Tuliptrees can be the tallest trees on the East Coast. They often grow straight up, putting their flowers well out of reach. But the flowers will fall:And sometimes a younger tree will be within reach:
Tags: cicadas, insects, invertebrates, Staten Island
Nymphal husks of the Dog Day or Annual Cicada (Tibicen sp.), and the Periodic, 17-Year Cicada (Magicicada sp.). The Dog Day husk is from last August, if not the one before that, but its toes are still quite sharp. They don’t cut the skin, but they sure do cling to the little nooks and crannies.Tibicen on the left. A bigger animal in every way. Center and right are Magicicada. Note the slight size differential between these two Magicicada husks. I can’t tell the husks apart, but there are three species expected on Staten Island: M. septendecim, M.cassini, M, septendecula. This is the guide I’m using for the adults. They all have different songs.Cicada adults have two pairs of wings. This is one pair, one of many we saw Monday; most predators rip or clip these off, and all the recipes you see are for the de-winged insects. Magicicada forewing and hindwing (or underwing).
Tags: cicadas, insects, invertebrates, Staten Island
Seventeen years later, the genus Magicicada cicadas have emerged for the brief but glorious finale to their lives. Staten Island is the local epicenter for Brood II. Yesterday, Chris the Flatbush Gardener and I went in search of them, following an article in the Times that sent us to Clove Lakes Park. We scouted the north end of the park and found no sign of them. We went down to the southern end of Clove Lakes, and parked on Royal Oak Road, across the street from the park. The car was beside a tree, the front right wheel close to the curb. I called Chris’s attention to this, so that we wouldn’t run into a piece of broken curb on the way out. Then, looking down, I said, “They’re everywhere!”All over the grassy bit between the road and sidewalk; there were easily thousands of them to be seen as we walked a few blocks. Most were the shed nymphal husks, split down the back. Many of the husks were on the ground, but some were still attached to the trees. They climb up to latch onto something before they transform into adults, which essentially break out of the body of the nymph.There were also bits and pieces of the adult cicadas all over the place.They are being devoured, by pretty much everybody: birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians; (“Not by me!” says a friend emphatically). Their massive numbers are their strategy for getting through this gauntlet of predators.We neither saw, nor heard, a single live adult. Those that survived the rough passage from nymph to adult, and into the safety of the trees, were quiet. We need some more heat, and more cicadas, before the roaring begins. This week is going to get hot and I suspect the next two weeks will be cicadamaniacal. We did find one living nymph. It’s on my arm in the picture at the beginning of this post, as well as here:The tiny bark-grasping feet create an interesting sensation on the skin. But they’re harmless. Although this one did seem to excrete on me…
Tags: birding, birds, Staten Island
We went out to Prince’s Bay on the southwestern shore of Staten Island to look at the Purple Martin Colony at Lemon Creek Park. Purple Martins (Progne subis) are our largest swallow. On the East Coast, they pretty much nest exclusive in colonial human-made “houses,” which are usually patterned like little human mansions, or, this being NYC, “luxury” condos. They were one of the species hit by a double whammy of the eradication of old growth forest, with its ample supply of old woodpecker nests, which the Martins would recycle for nesting, and the introductions of House Sparrows and European Starlings, both aggressive cavity nesters that take over likely nesting holes.
But wait, before we got to the Martins, we walked along the beach and discovered a settlement of Bank Swallows. Holy skies swimming with swallows, Batman! The colony was only about a hundred yards from the Martins, so it was indeed a swallowy afternoon. A stiff wind was blowing from the west, so it was possible to watch the Banksters hanging in the air as they faced the breeze before veering off.Riparia riparia, of the wonderful binomial, are our smallest species of sparrow. They make tunnels in bank sides along rivers, coasts, etc., to nest in. (The family Hirundinidae has quite a variety of nesting strategies.) Since such landforms are inherently unstable — you can see the raw reddish earth where Sandy made new cliffs further east on the beach — these swallows’ nesting sites may shift from breeding season to breeding season.I recently purchased a 1964 edition of Bull’s Birds of the New York Area. Bull homonymly labels the location of this Purple Martin Colony as “Princess Bay,” but I trust his records more: the establishment of the colony dates to the 1950s. The Staten Island Museum and volunteers are in charge of maintaining it now. The older homes are screened off so that Starlings and Sparrows don’t try to muscle in on the territory.The male Martin is bluish/purplish black, the female rather less glittery, with a very pale underside as seen here on the top right. A couple of Martin decoys are attached to the houses to lure this acrobatic insectivores in, one of them tipped over like a drunken fowl. (These three are the real McCoy Martins, noisy, and fluttery.)
At cross-purposes, some idiot leaves large piles of cat food right next to the colony for the feral cats, and, inevitably, the rats and raccoons, all of them a serious threat to birds, eggs, and in this case, the young Martins who might happen to land on the ground on their first flights.
Tags: birding, birds, mammals, Staten Island
A journey into the eroding underbelly of Staten Island.These were a surprise. Peacocks, screaming their haunting woman-in-peril scream on the grounds of the Seguine Mansion. Flannery O’Connor, who lived on a farm with 40 peafowl, said about the carrying voices of these birds, “To the melancholy this sound is melancholy, and to the hysterical it is hysterical.” From a block away, and not photographed, we watched a feral cat walk out into the middle of a lane of Seguine Avenue and sit there, that placid-seeming cat-sitting attitude, as a raccoon ambled across its bow. Ok, enough with Surrealism for now. Wolfe’s Pond, namesake of Wolfe’s Pond Park. Pairs of ospreys and Foster’s Terns were hunting here, and a pair of Mute Swans lorded it over everybody else. The southeastern half of the park seems to be technically closed, since Sandy, but we walked right by some Parks employees who said nothing to us; we’d come via the beach.And a rocky beach it was in places, with Laughing Gulls on it.Also a dead Northern Gannet. I wanted you to see how big this beak is.And at the other end of the hand scale, this (half) inch-worm was making its way… We saw, and heard no sign of Brood II, but our real mission here will be detailed tomorrow.
This is brand new Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) leaf, pinky-nail-sized, still to unfold into its characteristic mitten-like shape. That was the extent of early spring growth on these giants of our forest one weeks ago, so when I noticed a patch of rich green way up on a branch of a mature specimen of this species:I wondered what it could be. Because it was so high, this is the best picture I could manage. In the binoculars, this looked small-leaved, not unlike parsley. Any idea what it might be?
(For possible answers, check out the comments below.)
Tags: amphibians, Salamanders, Staten Island
In the mid 2000s, I wrote to the Times again to protest the dispossession of a red-tailed hawk, popularly known as “Pale Male,” by the plutocrats of 5th Avenue — although, since I wanted it published, I didn’t use the word “plutocrat.” (Since then, I’ve decided I’m totally against naming wild animals, a grossly Adamic practice, imperialistically anthropocentric, the cute side of the pernicious exploitation of the natural world, but I know I’m fringy on this; the mob is deeply desirous of turning celebrity or marquee animals into pets.) But, my point, and, patience, Little Grasshopper, I am digressing towards it, is that today is the first time my hands have ever been in the Times.
Last week I tagged along with Marielle and Hugh on their weekly trip to Staten Island for Marielle’s Spring Time series, being published every Thursday until the start of summer. I wanted to see some amphibians. I turned over a piece of wood to see what we could see. Behold, some pale orange ants, scurrying millipeds, and a Red-backed salamander, Plethodon cinereus. Now, the Americas have more species of salamanders than the rest of the world combined, although the animals seem to have originated in Eurasia. In North America, species range in size from barely two inches long to nearly three feet long. Some, like the big hellbenders, are fully aquatic, others mostly subterranean – the Spotted Salamander can live up to a dozen years, but will spend less than six months of that above ground, emerging to migrate to vernal pools and wetlands to reproduce – but all depend on moisture; the terrestrial species usually only emerge from cover at night or after rains. The Red-backed is a member of the family Plethodontidae, which is exclusively New World and includes about 230 of the 380-odd known species of salamanders on the planet. Plethodontidae are lungless and breath through their skin, hence their imperative to stay moist. The presence of this animal is a good sign of the health of this particular patch of wetland/woodlands.
Unlike lizards, salamanders have moist smooth or warty skin, not scales, and lack claws. Like lizards, their tails can snap off and then a new tail regenerate, but never quite as well as the original, so if handled they must be handled carefully, without grabbing the tail. Another distinction between lizard and salamander is that it’s very hard to catch a lizard, but not so hard to catch a salamander.
And it’s easy to kill them. They must run gauntlets of cars on roads through their territory; they must survive silted, dammed, and polluted water bodies, drained and “developed” habitats; acid rain and other toxins; and etc. (the damned et ceteras we make!). They are not nearly as abundant as they once were. The great hellbenders, gloriously unusual creatures, in particular have been hard hit and are endangered in several states.
Salamanders have long been associated with fire, probably because they often shelter under bark, and when that bark was lit aflame, they fled, thus looking like they were “created” by fire. Cf. Aristotle and Pliny. Besides being actual animals, salamanders have become legendary, particularly in alchemy, with its obsession with transformation and transmutation. The word itself is ultimately derived from the Greek via the Latin, but may stem from sources further east. “Salamander” has also over time meant a fire-eater, a woman who lives chastely amid the fires of temptation, and a soldier who exposes himself to battle-fire. Today, it’s also a restaurant kitchen broiler.
When this particular Red-backed salamander curled into a ring in the palm of my hand, I thought of Ouroboros, the mythic serpent or dragon that swallows its own tail, a symbol of eternity and infinity, a symbol of the cycles of the natural world.
We found two woodland wildflowers in bloom yesterday on Staten Island:Trout Lily, a.k.a. Yellow Adder’s Toungue (!) Erythronium americanum. Lots of these handsome, mottled leaves poking out of the carpet of leaf litter. Note that the particular plants above are single-leaf. It’s the ones with two leaves that produce a flower:A buzz of insects were flying around these blooms:and several of these Red-necked False Blister beetles (Asclera ruficollis – h/t to Bug Guide) were sticking to them.
And this is the eponymous Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica. Quintessential wildflower: small — about 3/4ths inch long — and with its pink lines, lovely.
Thanks to wildflower maven Marielle Anzelone for identifying these for me. Also saw Blue Cohosh and Virginia Waterleaf, both of which are rare for the city, but neither was yet in bloom.