Butterflies

At Berkeley, the Harrison’s plantation on the James River, we thought we had an Monarch among the ghosts of Declaration of Independence signers and presidents.But looking closer, we discovered the famous Monarch mimic, the Viceroy (Limenitis archippus). The black band across the hindwings is the tell. And the diminutive size compared to the big orange royals.Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus). These do not get this far north. Pawpaw is major larval food plant for these.This is the spring form.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucous).There is a dark, intermediate form of females of this species as well as a yellow. Here’s the dark.

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Biodiversity Day

Well, the picture of the aphid on the street oak tree leaf that feeds the ladybug was too blurry to use, but you get my drift… . We certainly merit an extra post today for biodiversity.

This is the husk of the larval stage of the Winter Firefly (Pyractomena borealis). As firefly maven Sara Lewis explains, the Pyractomena genus is fairly unusual among the fireflies. Most fireflies pupate underground. Members of this genus crawl up trees and get in the nooks and crannies of the bark to metamorphosis into an adult beetle. This gnarly bark belongs to a butternut or white walnut (Juglans cinerea), a rarer and rarer tree these days because of a fungal butternut canker. The trees tend to look like hell (a couple at Morris Arboretum look like hell warmed over). These two were hidden away in the forests of Inwood; our Torrey Botanical guide led us to them. Catkin of male flowers of the butternut. The ground underneath was littered with these, as well as with a few old nuts from last fall. These two trees are still kicking. The small red female flowers were visible above through binoculars.The adult firefly emerges a milky white. The soft exoskeleton needs to harden off and darken before this critter is ready to fly.

Raptor Wednesday

Brooklyn’s airspace can be crowded. On Raven Day, the subject of my last two posts, I watched a Red-tail Hawk and Common Raven chase each other. Another Red-tail joined the fray, but didn’t stay long. Sometimes the R chased the RT, sometimes the RT chased the R.Both birds were quite vocal: hoarse guttural calls from the raven, higher-pitched screeches from the hawk. The Raven really let go with the calls when the hawk was perched.
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Marilynn Robison has an extraordinary essay in the June Harper’s on the necessity, for the wealthy, of poverty. “What really matters here is how people are valued; they are not valued sufficiently to sustain democracy.”

Speaking of democracy, there will be a rally for biodiversity at NYC City Hall this morning at 10. Organizers want the City Council to pass a resolution in support of a UN biodiversity agreement and to take action on local conservation issues.

More Ravens!

Books have been written by the intelligence and culture of ravens. It’s extraordinary to be near these largest of the songbirds, listening to their hoarse chatter. They’ve certainly figured out how to live in urban areas. There’s both the wild, in this case duck eggs, and the domestic, in this case chicken eggs from Costco. After the end of the persecution that forced them into remote fastnesses, they’ve re-bounded, and expanded into non-traditional habitat. The first Common Raven nest sighting I know about in NYC was in Queens. On January 1st, 2015, a pair were cavorting down at the end of 39th Street here in Brooklyn (past the fence, it’s all bay until New Jersey), where I was ecstatic to see them.
The Sunset Park/Green-Wood corridor has been a raven runway since. In 2016, I saw a family of five from my windows. Yes, this one broke off this twig. Experiment/play. All the pictures here are from the encounter last week with a family of six

A.C. Bent, for instance, notes that they are to be found where “they are least likely to be disturbed.” He never met these city-slickers.

Ravens!

Four Common Grackles chase a Common Raven near Green-Wood Cemetery’s neo-gothic entrance. The Grackles nest in pines in this area. As soon as this Raven was escorted off-site, I turned around to see another of the huge corvids further in the cemetery. Then, I heard them. The Class of 2019 has six members! More pictures soon. You may have learned (in corvid school?) that a pinkish-red mouth indicates a young Raven. Mature birds have black mouths. But this is slightly less clear-cut then it sounds.

For these pictures, look to where the bill meets the cheek/malar: they’re still showing their awkward nestling gums!
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I found out about this publication recently: Natural History of NYC Parks and Gull Island, (Transactions of the Linnaean Society of NY vol 10, 2007). I’ve only had time to read the first piece on the geology of Inwood Hill, but I peeked ahead:

110 species of butterfly on record for Staten Island; with recent records (up to 2006) for 76 species; 36 species was the high single day count in 1991.

15 species of salamander historically found within NYC bounds. Six of those are still supposed to be around.

A.C. Bent & Co. on Raptors

Arthur Cleveland Bent published twenty-one volumes in his Life Histories of North American Birds between 1919 and 1968. The last two volumes were posthumous. They originally came out in the U.S. National Museum Bulletin. Later they were republished by Dover. There’s an internet edition now.

The Dover paperbacks are a standard sight in used book store natural history sections. But I’d never seen the volume(s) on raptors until last month. Turns out Bent produced two volumes on diurnal and nocturnal raptors, originally published in 1937 and 1938. The Dover edition I purchased at Oasis Books in Gloucester Court House, VA, came out in 1961. One Frank Schoff put his name and “1962” inside Part 1. “3/62” is written in Part 2, but seems to be in a different hand. These covers, though….

Bent’s method is to cite the literature, his own (evidently extensive) notes (dating back to the 1880s), and many correspondents. There are a fair number of collaborators, too. For instance, the Eastern Sparrow Hawk (what they used to call American Kestrel) chapter is written by one.

It’s all wonderfully anecdotal stuff. There is some great material in these things. But if you’ve never delved into them, beware! Bird-people were a bloody bunch back in the day. Egg-collectors, bird shooters, stomach content turner-outers (to see what the birds ate) galore.

Bent goes to subspecies level. It was also an era of “splitters,” meaning rather more species than are now accepted.

Here, for instance, is how I use such archaic material. Driving south, we saw a good number of Ospreys. More recently, I counted five kettling together over Woodland Cemetery in the Bronx. I’ve often wondered how many of these fish hawks a habitat can contain. Bent, writing before DDT, speaks of regular colonial breeding. E.g.: in 1911, Gardiners Island, at the eastern end of Long Island, had an estimated 200 nests. The island is about 3000 acres. Through the magic of ebird, I thought I’d check out how many Osprey have been reported there recently. However, there’s not a single report from the island! The island, rather remarkably, has been privately owned by the same family… for nearly four centuries. There are no ebirders in the current crop, evidently.
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It seems to be World Horseshoe Crab Day… I’ve written quite a bit about these creatures.

Recent Birds

Spotted Sandpiper. A few have been working their way around the edges of the ponds in Green-Wood.Black-throated Blue Warbler.Eastern Kingbird.Hooded Warbler female.Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Female, much plainer than the showy male.Most of our migrants are insectivores, but these big-beaks are seed-crushers.
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George Boorujy’s Gang of Warblers is now available as a print. Very reasonably priced, and buying will benefit the continuation of the Audubon Mural Project.


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