Monarch Migration

Yesterday was pretty extraordinary. Between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m., I watched just over a hundred Monarchs drift by our apartment windows, some as close a few feet, others as far as a third of an avenue block away. They’re awfully small at that distance, but still distinctively fluttering. Flight is meandering, but still swift and purposeful. Mexico, here we come!

Some where up high, others below eye-level. Some skimmed just above the roofs. These latter had to rise up to get beyond the London plane trees lining the edge of the park. There were undoubtedly more: I wasn’t on the lookout the entire two hours.
Then, a few hours later, I found a host of them around the buddleia at Valley Water. I counted about 30 here,
They would erupt into the air when a truck went by. This always makes me think I’m in a magical realist plot-line.
One of them was tagged! I’ve never seen a tagged Monarch below. I’ve reported it and will let you know what I hear back.

Tremex columba

We’re going in reverse order. About a month ago, I posted pictures of Long-tailed Ichneumenon Wasps. The female was ovipositing deep in a hickory tree. Her target: the larvae of this creature, a Pigeon Horntail, which I saw this last week.

The Pigeon Horntail lays her eggs in old wood. This happens to be another hickory, by the way. Couldn’t hang around to see if this was the tree she chose.

The horntail can be seen here, as can the longer ovipositor. Males also have the “horn” or cornus. These creatures may look fearsome, but they do not sting. (So many misperceptions of wasps and bugs in general!) Why “pigeon” though, which is also represented in the binomial?

In addition to laying eggs, this horntail deposits some Cerrina unicolor fungus with her eggs. This is a wood-rotting fungus which breaks down cellulose, helping to make it suitable for the larvae to eat. The predatory Long-tailed Ichneumenon may be able to sense the fungus, which is what leads her to find deeply buried larvae inside trees.

Horntails (and sawflies and wood wasps) are in a suborder of Hymenoptera, Symphyta. The other suborder of Hymenoptera is the Apocrita, which includes the narrow-waisted wasps, ants, and bees (in other words, all the things most people think of when they think of Hymenoptera).

Last year, I saw one of these dead on the side of 4th Avenue here in Brooklyn. This is the first I’ve seen alive.

If you want to leave some nurturing fungi in the wood of this blog….

Here’s a view of a slide in the Palisades from my old friend Adam’s boat one early November day few years ago. We first met as college roommates in 1983. He’ll be buried today near Stamford. ז״ל — may his memory be a blessing. It certainly will be for me. A.C.E., 1963-2021.

Flies Beware

Eastern Wood-peewee

Gall Update

Zopheroteras guttatum on Quercus texana. Nutall oak has a common name, but the tiny wasp that commandeered the tree’s chemistry to induce this structure doesn’t.
Under 2mm in size, but flamboyantly patterned. Inside is the larval wasp.
Here’s another species on the same tree: Furry Oak Leaf Gall Wasp (Callirhytis furva)..
And another: Oak Leaf Gall Midge (Polystepha pilulae). This one is induced by a midge, not a wasp.
Lobed Oak Gall Wasp (Andricus quercusstrobilanus) on swamp white oak (Q. bicolor). One of the biggest of the 39 species of Cynipid gall wasps seen within 2.5 miles of my Brooklyn home. (Although these can be much smaller on other swamp whites here.) This one is a stem gall; the others here are leaf galls.
Many of these galls are detachable; they fall of their own accord. With autumn approaching, others will come down the ground as the whole leaf falls.
The larval wasp, or midge or mite, gets protection and food from these structures. What, one wonders, does the tree get out of this? Well, they do contain and isolate the pest away from the main body of the plant. Is that so galling?

Cherry Tree Cut

Raptor Wednesday

A trio of American Kestrels in September.


A soft rain of pieces of cucumber magnolia fruit reveals a tree, thickly cloaked in big, thick leaves, busy with Red-eyed Vireos, Catbirds, four different species of thrush. Across the road, the noisier fall of hickory husks point to squirrels at work.

Monarchy Monday


Just a couple of Red-eared Sliders.
A Common Slider.
Another Common Slider, in a different borough.
Eastern Painted.

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20 Years

I abandoned the absurdly high-salaried and beyond-bullshit dot-com world just weeks before the attack on the World Trade Center in September, 2001. The cafeteria in our office building, Cross & Cross’s magnificent Deco-fantasy Twenty Exchange, was on the top floor, so those who went in early for breakfast saw it from on high.

I saw, felt, and smelled it from Brooklyn, from my old subway stop, from my roof. 

It has been estimated that at least 22,000 and as many as 48,000 civilians have been killed by the U.S. in the “war on terror” since then. The cost to democracy here has been devastating. The damage done by the reactionary incompetents of the Bush regime, only in power because of a partisan Supreme Court, was a greater blow to the nation than the terror attack.

That Fall was long and lingering. In another time, it would have been called glorious. I spent a lot of time in Prospect Park, just a couple avenues up the moraine from where I lived. A Great Blue Heron was in the area of the Pools, just beyond some fencing. I mean, just beyond. The gigantic bird was almost within hand’s reach. It was an extraordinary opportunity to study it up close.

As winter stretched into the new year, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks courtshipped and mated in front of everybody. That spring they would nest just over the circling Drive. In summer, their two young would fly right past you, past startled nannies, excited dogs.. I reported my sightings to my mother, the bird-watcher in the family. She was dying of pancreatic cancer. She gave me a pair of binoculars. Swift 8x20s. This is when I became a bird-watcher


A more recent Great Blue. Literally: a juvenile seen in the past week.
The death beam, destroyer of birds and insects. American martyrology is a ghastly business.


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