Mammal Monday

Dead raccoon’s back foot.
Exterior wanted in. Interior didn’t want the exterior inside. Exterior got in.
Lots of squabbling in the trees now, two three four five squirrels racing up and down, leaping between trees. I saw two squirrels fall recently, one from about eight feet in a squirrel-tussle and one from even higher as a Red-tailed Hawk made a bold attempt to get lunch. Both seemed to shake it off.
This was one of at least seven on three neighboring trees who froze when a Red-tailed sailed low through the trees. Frozen, but not silent. They make a very distinctive sound when they’re threatened or worried like this. This one was still sounding off when I passed underneath.

A Visitation of Grackles, Part II

This one landed in a sidewalk tree and then came down to the sidewalk in front of us.
And went for a snack!
Too fast and too close to get focused on. Something flavored with orange cheese product, perhaps? Junk food is junk food, whoever eats it.

A Visitation of Grackles, Part I

A flock suddenly appeared the other day right outside the apartment. They stuck around for a couple of hours. Here are various members of the group. Yes, snacks were had.
A malfunctioning gutter is a standby bathing and drinking spot for the local Starlings, House Sparrows, and Mourning Doves. The Grackles put it to use, too. About sixteen of them in this photo.

They were not as noisy as they can be in springtime, but some of their delightful calls could be heard.

Scars, Buds, Etc.

What Core and Ammons in their handy Woody Plants in Winter call the “downy line across the top” of the leaf scar of a butternut (Juglans cinerea). The tawny suede-looking thing up there.
Mustache-like, but at the top, or outer edge of the scar.
Now, here’s the genus-mate eastern black walnut (Juglans nigra) for comparison. No mustache.
Sure, a lot of buds and leaf scars are tiny, necessitating magnification, but some are bold. The lustrous bud of American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), for instance.
This extremely fat red horse-chestnut (Aesculus x carnea), not at all sticky like standard horse-chestnut buds (Aesculus hippocastanum).
Norway maple (Acer platanoides).
This lipstick may be a magnolia.
And this is deceiving. Not buds but the work of Oak Rosette Gall Wasps (Andricus quercusfrondosus) and, of course, the oak itself.

Watering Hole in the Ice

Beckett says somewhere that we spend our life “trying to bring together in the same instant a ray of sunshine and a free bench.” For birds in winter, it’s an open bit of water. The sunshine is gravy.
Back in October I spied on the birds bathing under the little weeping variety of bald cypress by the Sylvan Water in Green-Wood. The other day the pond was mostly iced-over. But under the overhanging branches, a small opening was calling. And Tufted Titmice, Black-capped Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, and White-throated Sparrows were answering.
For bathing and drinking.
And, in the tangle of branches above, drying and grooming.


Verso Books is offering its U.S. Anti-Fascism Reader, on a century of anti-fascist struggle, available as a free e-book.

This Boston Review piece on the struggle ahead with the white nationalist party is also informative.

The Threats to the Insects

A special feature in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is a series of articles on the global decline of insects in the Anthropocene. “Nature is under siege,” begins the introduction to the gathered paper of a symposium sponsored by the Entomological Society of America in November, 2019.

The threats, short-handed as people, are: global warming, climate disruption (heat, storm intensification, fire, drought) introduced species, insecticides, pollution, urbanization, agriculture intensification, deforestation, nitrification (fertilizers).

People obviously have to be part of the solution, and, unusually for a science journal the final article is an explanation of 8 simple actions people can do:

Create habitat:

Convert lawns into diverse natural habitats
Grow native plants
Reduce pesticide and herbicide (or, at home, stop it!)
Limit use of external lighting
Lessen soap runoff from washing vehicles & building exteriors reduce use of driveway sealants & de-icing salts

Increase awareness and appreciation of insects:

Counter negative perceptions of insects
Become an educator, ambassador, and advocate for insect conservation
Get involved in local politics, support science, and vote
For these purposes, spiders are “insects” and subject of much irrational fear.

Raptor Wednesday

Three days of pair-bonding for the American Kestrels. No copulation seen; it’s a bit early for that.
One morning a Cooper’s Hawk chased them from this chimney pot. I was alerted because of the kestrel screaming.

The big orange boat is one the Staten Island Ferry fleet.



Here’s a year-long time-line of Trump’s incitement of his fascist base, leading up to the putsch attempt. A year seems hardly enough for a man who began his presidential campaign with a racist onslaught and quickly took up the America First Nazi-lovers label; signaled his approval of the murderers in Charlottesville; and ordered his Department of Justice to downplay white supremacist terrorism.


There is no silence in Brooklyn. Human noise is constant. Even late at night the nearby highway is a drone of grey noise, and the D train screeches as it rounds the corner. And that’s the quietest time of all. Inside Green-Wood, things are notably improved, buffered, dampened. Even there, though, the sounds of near constant maintenance during weekdays are a given.

But still, you can actually hear the world in there. There are the bird calls and songs, of course. Blue Jays, sure, are screeching banshees, but think also of the little ones like White-breasted Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice, and Black-capped Chickadees. They do make a racket with their constant chatter. I’ve heard sounds this winter from Chickadees that I don’t believe I’ve ever heard before. Consider too the Dark-eyed Junco, White-throated Sparrow, American Goldfinch foraging and talking amongst themselves. Seven squirrels squabbling in a couple of side-by-side trees, their vocalizations and their scrambling claws on bark combining into a big loop-de-loop whoop: who needs a troop of monkeys? Then there’s the telegraphy of woodpeckers tapping out their meals. They’ll also call, churping and chipping — blade on a whetstone on a cold day?
And, in this case, the broken branch of a big tuliptree, caught up there by the fork and twisting in the wind. The squeaking of wood on wood at the impromptu joint, that too, you can hear.
An Ent’s ear?

In Praise of Geography

Tim and Máiréad Robinson earned a living by making maps. Both passed away in the early wave of COVID last spring. They were in their 80s, but god-damn the eugenicist scum who blithely write off “underlying conditions” as an excuse. (This crowd of filth, the base of a GOP lately heard bleating about how divisive calls for impeachment are, is of the kind that deny that there were victims at Sandy Hook, to the extent of harrying parents of the children killed.)

Tim Robinson wrote books about the Aran Islands, the Burren, and Connemarra, what he called the “ABCs” of western Ireland. His subject was the “web of placelore,” the cultural encrustation of human habitation of the land, which he teased out by walking, for years, over the terrain.

I’ve read Stones of Aran, in which he details his walk around the edge of Arainn, the biggest of the Aran Islands (volume 1, Pilgrimage), and then through the interior (volume 2, Labyrinth). So good. I’m reading the first volume of his Connemara trilogy, Listening to the Wind, now. It’s better.

There’s a chapter in this latter book about remains that encapsulates Robinson’s method. On foot, he explores the depths of human presence in the land, from the pre-historic to what’s remembered by the old fisherman to what he himself sees, hears, smells, all the while paying particular attention to the names on the land: Irish, anglicized Irish, and English. (“Irish placenames dry out when anglicized, like twigs snapped off a tree.”)

The chapter, “The Boneyard,” discuses the prevalence of burial sites for unbaptized babies, not allowed on “consecrated” ground because of the cruelty of the Church; the local use of dog welks to make purple dye (albeit on a smaller scale than with the famed murex of Tyrian purple); the prevalence of tiny forams in the oceans, where they’re major players in the carbon cycle, and on the beaches when they die; and the site of a labyrinth made by a “land artist” in 1971, which the artist did not want pin-pointed on the Robinsons’ map. Robinson points out that the stones, like these other bones, hardly belong to the artist now.

In college, I majored in geography, which of course means “earth writing.” It is good to get back to a master of it.

NYRB Classics published the two-volume Stones of Aran here in the U.S.
Milkweed Editions has published Listening to the Wind, the first volume of the Connemarra trilogy. I’m not clear on whether they’ll do the other two volumes.
Penguin UK has the complete trilogy.

“Individually, none of the names I have mentioned is of much intrinsic interest. But if we think of all the place names that humanity has applied to the surface of this planet as constituting a single vast fingerprint, can we neglect even its most minute particularities in trying to identify ourselves?”


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