Red-ish

Red-bellied Woodpecker. Another regular winter sight, often heard first. This one landed in the horse chestnut the trio of White-breasted Nuthatches were working over. Gleaners do like company. The multi-species flocking behavior of winter is always heartening to see.

Spring Slithers In

The spring equinox was hit yesterday about 6 p.m. in our time zone. So welcome to the first day of spring!Meanwhile, last Saturday morning there was still ice out at Great Swamp NWR. There was not a skunk cabbage to be seen, but a few frogs were calling, unseen, echoing in the watery woods.It’s a great place for snakes, in warmer weather. But we only spotted one, curled immobile in the sun.Eastern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus). I’d never seen one before. I thought at first this would the usual suspect of a Common Garter (Thamnophis sirtalis). But note the white mark in front of the eye. And see that pale lip? My companions pointed this out: Garters have dark vertical edges to their scales on the lower lip, making for lines coming down around the eye, as in this of a Common Garter from April, 2018:

A slender, long-tailed snake, the Ribbon favors semiaquatic habitats. This one had hauled out on one of the tussocks in this part of the NWR. They eat frogs, toads, small fish, and insects. Like the other members of the Thamnophis) genus, they’re fairly cold tolerant. This one was clearly gobbling up the sun.

Notably, the tail on this species can be up to one third its body length, hence presumably the “ribbon.” On a snake, the tail starts after the anal plate/scute.
***

The dreadful Electoral College, which keeps electing Presidents with a minority of actual votes, is in the news again. I’m for abolishment, but barring that, there’s a simpler way to undermine its anti-democratic purpose: the states can proportionally assign Electors instead of assigning them winner-take-all (which isn’t in the Constitution). Unsurprisingly, the Republicans, the minority, authoritarian, anti-democracy party, will fight hard to prevent this in some states. But not every state has to be on board.

Raptor Wednesday

Merlins like the lookouts.This one was way up there grooming.Of course that altitude makes for a photographic challenge, what with the sun, the other trees, the snow-slopped mucky slope…If you open up this image, you can see that there are a lot of flying things up there with the grooming falcon. Some kind of fly hatched out in the warming weather. Spring is a verb.

More about Merlins:
The name.
A closer look.

Spring Flies In

On Thursday, I saw two Phoebes in widely spaced parts of Green-Wood Cemetery. Clouds of insects were visible, too, so we know what these fly-catchers were hunting. The next day, when the temperature got close to 70, reports of Pine Warblers, usually the first warbler species of the year, came in from the cemetery as well. American Woodcock are crashing into the city, too, although I’ve yet to see one. This big fly was out and about, too.

Mammal Monday

It’s just remarkable how the sound of teeth gnawing on hickory shells travels in the winter woods.

A Cedar Plum

“DID you ever chance to hear the midnight flight of birds passing through the air and darkness overhead, in countless armies, changing their early or late summer habitat? It is something not to be forgotten. A friend called me up just after 12 last night to mark the peculiar noise of unusually immense flocks migrating north (rather late this year.) In the silence, shadow and delicious odor of the hour, (the natural perfume belonging to the night alone,) I thought it rare music. You could hear the characteristic motion—once or twice “the rush of mighty wings,” but oftener a velvety rustle, long drawn out—sometimes quite near—with continual calls and chirps, and some song-notes. It all lasted from 12 till after 2. Once in a while the species was plainly distinguishable; I could make out the bobolink, tanager, Wilson’s thrush, white-crown’d sparrow, and occasionally from high in the air came the notes of the plover.”

~ Walt Whitman, Specimen Days.

I was told recently that this book is hard to find in print, but here are two versions: the Library of America Whitman: Poetry and Prose includes it, and what patriot is without a copy of this volume? Also, Melville House has a handsome paperback edition of Specimen Days and Collect in its Neversink Library.

The name of this fascinating MH series comes from this passage in Melville’s White Jacket: “I was by no means the only reader of books on board the Neversink. Several other sailors were diligent readers, though their studies did not lie in the way of belles-lettres. Their favourite authors were such as you may find at the book- stalls around Fulton Market; they were slightly physiological in their nature. My book experiences on board of the frigate proved an example of a fact which every book-lover must have experienced before me, namely, that though public libraries have an imposing air, and doubt-less contain invaluable volumes, yet, somehow, the books that prove most agreeable, grateful, and companionable, are those we pick up by chance here and there; those which seem put into our hands by Providence; those which pretend to little, but abound in much.”

Both Whitman and Melville celebrate their bicentennial birthdays this year. Backyard & Beyond is on the case(s).

Kestrel Renewal

Well, here they are, kitty-corner from last year’s cornice nest. Have seen no mating as yet, but that sure doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any. Picture above from March 5th.

On Thursday, March 14th, at about 5:30pm, the same set up: both on the chimney pot after she flew there from a nearby roof pipe. Much vocalization from both.

Yesterday, Friday, around 9:15am. Heard first, as if often the case (can’t look out the windows every minute…). The male was stirring up a trio of Blue Jays. He held his own, didn’t budge. The female showed up. She perched on one pipe of a neighboring building, flew to a another pipe on the other side of the same building, and hey! She had prey. Which she clearly cached up there on the roof. Because she dipped down out of sight behind the parapet and reappeared to perch on the pipe on the other side of the building again. (These three photos of her are in sequence). We call this the Solar Building because its roof is filled with solar panels. Last year, it was a definite food-caching site. Presumably the falcons are stashing prey under the panels, where it can’t be seen from overhead.About 2:30pm yesterday, the female was seen eating on the solar bldg. She plucked and snarfed down what looked like a sparrow, the same thing she had up there earlier in the day. At one point, she dropped down to pick up a scrape she dropped. Not wasting anything but the feathers. She’s got to put on lots of weight for egg-making.

A big change from last year’s #BrooklynKestrels story is that the upright dead limb of the London plane tree across the street is no more. It was a regular perch for the falcons. It came down in a snowstorm this past November. Also this year, there’s no sidewalk shed around around our building: this hosted several House Sparrow nests last year, which probably meant the population of this Kestrel prey species was enriched.

One of the Staten Island Ferry’s big orange boats in the background. That’s Upper NY Bay, with the southern end of Ellis Island just visible to the right of the ferry.


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