Archive for the 'Backyard' Category

The Morning Sun

Saturday dawned at 49F, the coldest day since some time back in the early spring. A small huddle of Palm Warblers were exploring Bush Terminal Park with me.
A couple of hours later, I spotted this White-crowned Sparrow in Green-Wood.
Earlier, when I entered G-W around 9:30, it was still cool but the sun was out. There wasn’t much insect activity yet: I saw a few flies and heard a cricket. So this was noticable: these Eastern Yellowjackets were already up and about, streaming in and out of their ground nest under a funeral monument. Good morning back at ya, ladies!


When a body meets a body coming through the…
Black Swallowtail caterpillar fit to pupate.
The Asteroid, AKA Goldenrod Hooded Owlet.
A reprise of the Common Buckeye caterpillar.
Five were seen in the same small patch.
The blue spines!
Our old friend the Monarch. On the same day, two days ago, a female was laying eggs nearby. This has not been a great year for Monarch caterpillars in Green-Wood.
An addendum to last Friday’s post on Tiger Swallowtails.
This is a brand new chrysalis.

This is hard to read, but the unspeakable has become our reality.

Raptor Wednesday

Summer is quiet when it comes to raptors, unless you have American Kestrels breeding down the street.But now fall is in the air. This Red-tailed hawk perched on a #BrooklynKestrel landmark recently. One of the local falcons, now days generally heard more than seen, was not happy about it. The kestrel’s alarms calls got me to look outside.
Coast Guard ship in the harbor beyond.
Another day, another RT or the same one? This building is just to the left of the one with the chimney pot. Someone’s observation on iNaturalist pictured one just down the street from here yesterday.
This one dropped down to the roof here three times from various perches around. Came up with nothing. What was the attraction?
Balancing on one leg is not unusual, but usually the bird will bring the other leg up into the breast. Here it just hangs down. It’s raptor contrapposto!


Something I wrote on the origins of the general strike.

American Kestrel Update

Tis the season for copulation.Note how the male’s talons are bunched up. He can’t, after all, grab hold of her back with those sharp claws. I noticed this in an Instragramer’s photo of mating Osprey recently, where the scale was rather larger but the principle the same.
Bird mating is brief. The balancing act — flying in place essentially — and the fact that he can’t claw her are most conducive to making the process fast. Also, considering the high frequency of matings, are there a lot near misses for the requisite cloacal contact?


Raptor Wednesday

Local falcons:American Kestrel. This one was a long avenue block from the Green-Wood linden. The same male, I think, perched atop Sunset Park High School.Another day. Just a few blocks away, atop the tall antenna at 5th/40th. A different male, I think, because of the much greater amount of russet on the breast (not just the play of light). A long-unseen sight! Coming out of Green-Wood’s obscure 4th Avenue entrance, we noticed something atop St. Michael’s nine blocks away. A bit of telephoto on the anomaly revealed the silhouette of a Peregrine, which we haven’t spotted up there since spring. The bird flew towards us before angling towards the northwest. Note what sure looks like a wing of some prey up there. Almost a week later, same situation: walk out of Green-Wood, notice something odd in the distance, apply telephoto. This time, the falcon perchedperched, perched until I got to 42nd St., the location of Mike’s Spike. I was aiming to get out front, that is, with the sun behind me. But the bird flew off as I made my way to 43rd St. Later in the day, however, the bird was back, as witnessed from the apartment. And has been spotted, if it’s the same one, thrice since that day.

I get pretty excited when I see a raptor. The city is surprisingly rich with them, as I aim to document with these Raptor Wednesday posts. So far this year I’ve had 312 raptor sightings within NYC limits.

But the city is also full of deadly hazards for raptors. A big one is that private citizens AND the Parks Department continue to use rat poison. Rats are prey for Red-tailed Hawks, Snowy Owls, and others. The poison moves up the foodchain: last week a Red-tailed Hawk was killed in Prospect Park. The Park suspended the use of poison, but only after the bird was dead. A friend tells me a Snowy Owl on Governor’s Island met the same grim fate last year. Poisoned birds are constantly being delivered to local bird rehab facilities; most of the dead ones are never found. The stuff needs to be banned.

More about rat poison and predators who eat rats. And here is something about alternatives to poisons.

The Tall One

The tallest trees here in the east are usually Tuliptrees (Liriodendron tulipifera), sometimes also called Yellow Populars. The tallest tree in Green-Wood Cemetery is one. According to their new map, “Alive at Green-Wood,” it’s 110 feet tall. This is the “toy camera” setting of my camera, for a change of pace. Samuel Morse’s remains are found nearby. Even closer is a Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) nest, hung with as much care as a Christmas stocking in a poem.

FYI: Should special counsel Robert Mueller be purged, there are rallies planned around the nation.

Raptor Wednesday

In winter, my eyes are always looking for the anomalies in trees. There are plastic bags and balloons, unfortunately, as well as the more welcome clumps of leaves from old squirrel dreys, and sagging Baltimore Oriole nests persisting past their usefulness (at least to birds), and big footballs of paper made by wasps. And then, sometimes, there are the silhouettes of raptors. This Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), for instance. Most of the Coops I see are juveniles, browner with lots of white flecking on the back and having vertical markings on the front, not this red. This is an adult, or sub-adult. The eyes, for instance, aren’t quite the red of an adult (juveniles will have yellow eyes). A second year bird, perhaps? 

From May through September, I didn’t see an Accipiter (baring Sparrowhawks in Sweden). Do they nest in the city at all? Yes: Staten Island and the Bronx have records for Cooper’s. Sharp-shinned were recorded breeding a little farther out, on Long Island, in the first state breeding bird atlas 1980-1985, but not the second, 2000-2005.

I thought I saw a Sharpie the other day, flying, but I didn’t have binoculars. I was reminded that my sightings of perched Sharpie’s are quite limited. The male is about the size of a Blue Jay, the female a little bigger, so this is one little hawk. My one excellent view, through a window in Massachusetts, stays with me because I couldn’t believe that that hawk shape could get so petit.

Acer Color

Is that spotting something amiss? (Well, not amiss if you’re a fungus.)

Trump’s corporate puppet on the FCC is trying to end net neutrality, a disaster for democracy. So it’s “break the internet” in protest in advance of Thursday’s vote. Once again, I’d rather join people in the streets, but until then…

Red Star

Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) amid oaks and others.

Hannah Arendt, who died on November 4th, 1975 wrote this: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.” (Alabama Republicans the latest marks of demagoguery.)

The Spider Who Stayed Out in the Cold

This large Araneus diadematus orb-weaver has been living outside a Bronx living room window for nearly three months now. That included the last of summer, when a large window fan blew out towards her, making the web bounce like a trampoline.

The web spans the breadth of the window. When she isn’t in its center, hanging face down, she-spider is tucked up into the top right of the storm window frame, with two legs on the web to keep in touch. She prefers the night, which of course is never that dark here in the city. We only once saw her wrapping some prey… or was it an egg case?

Bits of leaf and plumed seeds, however, were often seen stuck in the usually rather tatty web. The first big, but brief, freeze, didn’t seem to faze her. On the 16th, when the video below was shot, she was devouring the lower right quarter of the web, having taken out the lower left earlier that day. The silk proteins, crazy strong material as you probably know, can be recycled this way.

Then she disappeared. The web too. But then, last Tuesday, there she was again! A Thanksgiving miracle!

The Cross Orb-weaver, so named because some to them have a cross-shape on their abdomen, is a cosmopolitan species. They were evidently imported from across the Atlantic some time past.

Lifespan doesn’t jump out in online material about this species: six to twelve months, evidently, for orb-weavers. The male, by the way, is much smaller, and, when attempting to mate, approaches gingerly so he doesn’t get eaten.

Hmm, perhaps, given the times (well, all times) women should take a lesson from that.

And here’s another moving view on my Instagram.

Update: the spider is still going strong today, Tuesday 11/28/17.


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