Owling

Did you see this essay on owl etiquette? Food for thought, before you spit up the bones and fur. Personally, I wouldn’t announce an owl location on social media, but I very much like his point that owls are excellent ambassadors for recruits for friends of the wild. Because the planet has enough enemies already. (But not too friendly: the Harry Potter phenom has led to a rush of people wanting owl pets. No, no, no!)

Anyway, after I read this piece I went looking for owls. Yes, in Brooklyn! A Long-eared Owl was photographed in the borough not so long ago, in a area known for it’s Great Horned Owls. I don’t know of anybody else saw the Long-eared besides the photographer; it’s a most unusual species for Brooklyn. Gotta wonder if a GHO ate it…

I didn’t see any owls of any feather, but I found two pellets under different trees.Pellets, if you’re just joining us, are the regurgitated indigestible parts of prey. For owls, they usually look mouse-gray and filled with tiny bones. Owls are most known for spitting them up, but other species, including raptors, gulls, even kingfishers, do so as well.

Raptor Wednesday

This fire escape is about one third of the way down the block. In the mornings, Mourning Doves, Starlings, and House Sparrows are wont to huddle here to catch the warming rays of the sun, sheltered from the predominately western wind. When this male American Kestrel appears, everybody else flees. I’ve spotted him up here twice now this month.
Another day, this time during the afternoon: a mature Cooper’s Hawk on the same fire escape. I have seen this one — and I think it’s the same bird — here three days in the last month. Last time he (and I think he might be male because he doesn’t look that big) was there twice in one morning; both times he flew towards our building, presumably veering to go through the alley.

A definite raptor hot spot, visible from my desk. Unlike in previous years, I haven’t noted any Kestrels atop the large antenna at 40th Street & 5th Avenue this year. Last year at this time it was a regular perch. And St. Michael’s church, at 42nd Street and 4th Avenue, another raptor landmark last year, has only hosted one Peregrines so far this year.

Raptor sightings in Brooklyn so far this year: 36. Saturday I had a record six, all individual birds: two Peregrines seen together; two adult Red-tails seen together; and male and female Kestrels separated by six blocks. All were within 3/4s mile of home.

Waterfowl Counting

Four of us braved the element of a cold NNW wind coming off the bay to count waterfowl for an annual NYSOA survey. We were assigned to two segments of the Brooklyn waterfront, Bush Terminal Park and the Brooklyn Army Terminal pier. The latter was quiet; large bays on either side of the pier had rough water; calmer water to the south had a small raft of scaup in it. We did see our only loon of the day there, a Red-throated.Bush Terminal had rather more Black Ducks and Mallards than I would have expected. There were also a couple of handfuls of Buffleheads and smaller numbers of Gadwall (top) and Wigeon (above). Four male Red-breasted Mergansers nipped and chased each other as if they wanted to prove something. One of the many feral cats that infest the waterfront.This one wasn’t on the beach for a tan. I’ve never seen one try to take a duck, but I bet they try.

The Fields of Sweetgum

Just a part of one of the large spreads of fallen Sweetgum balls I’ve ever come across recently.
Not pictured here are the Dark-eyed Juncos that were taking advantage of the windfall. The tiny Liquidambar styraciflua seeds are a big source of winter food for birds.

Nasty Circle: What’s Old is New Again

I once had the privilege of touring the attic of the American Museum of Natural History. In the mid-90s there were still shelves upon shelves of model heads up there illustrating the supposed “racial” categories of a century ago. Back in that era of eugenics, an Italian was considered to be of a different race from a neighboring Swiss. You can guess who was at the top and bottom of these bogus, power-based white-supremacist hierarchies. Founded and led by so-called “scientific” racists and eugenists, the AMNH has never come to grips with its long-discredited past as an intellectual bulwark for all the old devils of America, now so horribly resurgent under the deranged flailings of Dirty Donald.

Last I checked, there’s still a diorama at AMNH named after Madison Grant. This supremely horrible person — yes people thought so then, too — once caged an African man in the zoo. He also wrote one of the foundational texts of American racism, which was, along with Henry Ford’s filth, hugely inspirational for the Nazis.

Which brings me to the present. You may know that David Koch, of the notorious Koch brothers — sons of a John Birch founder; those rotten fascist apples didn’t roll far — has lavishly plastered his name all over NYC’s cultural institutions. (Of course, philanthropy as cultural money-laundering, turning blood money into art and culture, has a long tradition in this country.) AMNH has a Koch-funded exhibit that soft-peddles global warming.

And take a gander at the museum’s board of trustees. One name sure jumps out: Rebekah Mercer, another right-wing horror show who funds Breitbart, Trump, Bannon (until Fire & Fury, anyway), and the resurgence of fascism. So much so that there’s going to be a demonstration against Mercer’s presence on the board January 21 at 1pm. A social media source clued me into another board member, hereditary builder Richard LeFrak, who’s a long-time ally of Trump in the city’s corrupt development biz. What other horrors are hiding in plain sight on this list? Who is following the money? Not the museum, certainly, they’re just cashing the checks in a ghastly amoralist way.

No reason to pick on AMNH, though. The money at the heart of the entire structure of philanthropy is suspect. For instance, at the end of the year, I received several email appeals from the chairwomen of the board of another local institution. I’m afraid I feel constrained from naming it because of the real and precedented threat of retribution against friends who work there. The chair pleaded for our pennies for such causes as biodiversity. Curious, I looked her up: she and her husband, a hedge-fund troll, fund the Republican assault against the environment (and democracy).

As reminder, if you need, here’s a succinct catalog of the profound damage Trump and the Republicans have done after a year.

Sturnus vulgaris

When Pluto was “demoted” as a planet I was taken aback by the reaction. It was like people had lost an invisible childhood friend. But science changes, refines, and, yes, overturns old verities, and this is process is much more interesting to me than a sentimental connection to something learned in childhood.

Contra that guy who claimed that everything he needed to know he learned in kindergarten — what a dullard he must be among grown-ups (admittedly a dwindling portion of the species) — I live to learn new things every day.

For instance, I found this explanation of bird species, speciation, and naming fascinating. Genomics is turning things upside down. Gene expression, which is what actually makes me me and you you (a lot of people don’t seem to get that cloning something leads to a genetic copy but not a flesh and blood duplicate) is, unsurprisingly, something we share with the other animals.

Boots For Scale

I wear a 9/9.5. These are rabbit prints.

There were some other curious prints in the snow on the frozen Bronx River that I could not figure out. No tail, as in a muskrat, and although rather canine-looking, (but too big for fox?) they looked too close together for coyote. Perhaps a cat whose prints, Bigfoot-style, had gotten bigger in the thaw-freeze cycle. I was too far away, unfortunately, to get pictures. Disturbingly, there were also human footprints on the ice.Found right across the street at the entrance to the park.


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