Archive for the 'Backyard' Category


Harmonia axyridisHarmonia axyridis on 5th Avenue. At this rate, why even bother taking shelter for the winter?Harmonia axyridisOn the contrary, let’s stay out all day and night…

In case you missed it in the hullabaloo over Hamilton, on Friday, the President Elect of the United States of American settled the fraud suit against him for his “university” scam. That will cost him $25 million, but I’m sure that means we’ll end up paying it, and so much more, because no greater con man has ever held such power in this land.

Sunset Park Elm

UlmusI’ve been photographing this big American Elm in Sunset Park for the last year.UlmusThe long shadows if not the temperature tell of the days drawing nearer. Today’s the first day of the end of daylight savings time, meaning an hour sooner sunset, and we’ve still a month and more to go to the shortest day. Let’s revel in the voluptuous dark of the night.shadowsAnd the calligraphy of sunlight and swooping branches…

City of Roosts

Rebecca Solnit is a writer I’ll follow anywhere. A few years ago, she produced an atlas of San Francisco that just called to my old geographer’s heart. Infinite City was followed by Unfathomable City, in which she teamed up with Rebecca Snedeker for an atlas of New Orleans. unknownNow she and the wonderfully named Joshua Jelly-Schapiro have produced Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas. (Each of these volumes, on cities which are both quintessentially American and un-American, are ensemble works with many collaborators.)

In introducing the latest, Solnit writes “A city is a machine with innumerable parts made by the accumulation of human gestures, a colossal organism forever dying and being born, an ongoing conflict between memory and erasure, a center for capital and for attacks on capital, a rapture, a misery, a mystery, a conspiracy, a destination and point of origin, a labyrinth in which some are lost and some find what they’re looking for, and argument about how to live, and evidence that differences don’t always have to be resolved, though they may grate and grind against each other for centuries.”

And they do inspire you to do your own mapping, the streets you walk, the reach of your eyes from the moraine.

For instance, consider the city as an avian nesting, roosting, and perching space. House Sparrows in every stoplight cross-tube, Rock Doves under bridges, awnings, cornices. The human architecture of the city provides the necessary nooks and crannies. The decay of certain aspects fosters some species, for instance Kestrels, who nest in cavities. (Architects could incorporate even more such spaces intentionally in new buildings.)

The Peregrine scrapes on bridges and buildings, including Brooklyn’s House of Dentention. This year I heard about a Red-tailed Hawk nest on a fire-escape. Usually the Red-tails use trees, but Fifth Avenue apartment buildings of billionaires and university libraries of millionaires’ children are known to host them as well. And then there are the backyards.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know that I’ve been blessed to live in two different neighborhoods with tall church spires that are regular raptor perches. Peter & Paul in Cobble Hill was a very reliable place to see Peregrines, probably the ones from the nearby prison. St. Michael’s in my new neighborhood of Sunset Park has a flat topped cross that is a virtual butcher’s block for Peregrines.

St. Augustine in Park Slope: Kestrels. St. Agnes in Carroll Gardens: Red-tails. But also these massive antennas: the FDNY tower next to the BBG: Peregrines. Bishop Ford High School: Red-tails (a pair recently), Peregrines. You may have your favorites, too.

Brooklyn was once the “City of Churches” because there were so many of them and because they stood out of what was largely a low-rise place into the 20th century. The building boom of the last generation, which has thrown up so many generic glass towers, too many of shoddy quality, has done much to muddy the borough’s horizon. But there are still spires from which raptors can command all before them. Indeed, there are churches on which I’ve never seen a raptor, and that strikes me as positively weird.img_1153November 4, 7pm.

Twilight of the Gods


Sunset Park Elm

treeFall is coming! And about time, too! tree2The state of the elm. From this southwesterly perspective, it is hanging onto the slope of the moraine with everything it has.

Previous states of the elm.

Shelter From The Rain

beetle2On the edge of the storm, a beetle clings to the outside of the kitchen window.beetle1Slick wet glass, mind you. Last seen heading further up to the frame. Early October, Brooklyn.

Should I submit this to to see who can identify it from this angle? Or would that be cruel? Actually, we have a good look at the here, if not the patterning of the topside. I think it could probably be narrowed down a bit. Tiger beetle?

View From The Moraine

img_9734A green lacewing (Chrysopidae) paused briefly on the window recently.

Book Gifts To Keep On Giving

Have you reached the anti-gift stage yet? Most of the crap that will be given with the best of intentions this holiday season will be thrown out soon, adding yet more to the garbage we so heedlessly produce and litter the entire world with. And this after the production of that needless junk has caused wanton environmental damage. Coming or going, the unnecessary, indefensible, effluvia of consumption (once a disease, always a disease): you’ll feel so much better when you just say “no!” to what are essentially “gifts of death.”

The best things in life, after all, aren’t things, but if you must give things, the hand- and home-made gifts are the ones that count. And books, the best food for the mind. Here are a few that have inspired me this year:
Beyond-Words-Jacket-for-WebCarl Safina’s Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel may well be the natural history book of the year. It has certainly challenged and enriched me and made me think differently. I saw Safina lecture this week in person, and you can see a version of his talk, which I highly recommend, here.

If you think I can get a good rant going, you should try Joy Williams’s Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals. She is particularly incendiary about hunting, or killing as she prefers to plainly call it, and has no truck with the likes of Ducks Unlimited, which works to conserve land and water… only to kill more ducks. 93% of us don’t hunt, and yet we’re held in thrall (as are all the federal and state agencies dedicated to helping hunters kill more animals) by this subset of the gun-nut psychosis.

Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything is several years old now but evergreen. This would make a great one for someone younger on your list, as well as an excellent refresher for everyone else.

(Speaking of what’s old being new again, here are all the books I’ve mentioned in these posts over the years for more inspiration.)

Akenfield_1024x1024Slightly off track, Ronald Blythe’s Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village is back in print. It’s an excellent antidote to too many Miss Marple mysteries and postcard-cute English villages.

After serving as a nurse during the Civil War, Walt Whitman suffered a stroke. His recovery included watching the natural world go by. Specimen Days, his collage-like collection of notes and reminiscences, moves from remembrances of New York and Brooklyn in the early 1800s to the bloody horrors of the war to the consolations of nature. “Literature flies so high and is so hotly spiced, that our notes may seem hardly more than breaths of common air, or draughts of water to drink. But that is part of our lesson.” The Library of America Whitman should be in every American’s library. Melville House’s Neversink Library edition is another great option.

It would, perhaps, not hurt to give the gift of my blog posts to someone you hold dear. Like Walt, I find much consolation in observing and learning about our world and trying to convey my discoveries to the public. And people have told me they enjoy getting my posts by email in the mornings. It’s often the first thing they look at before the onslaught of the day. That is as fine a gift to me as is imaginable.

Katydid Nights

Since Sunday night, a katydid has been stridulating out beyond the Back 40. It’s a Common True Katydid (Pterophylla camellifolia), the one that says its own name. Once upon a time, nearly a century ago, this species was presumed extirpated from NYC, but it has clearly returned. Katydid-katydidnt & etc.

The Horticulturist remembers childhood visits to her Grandmother’s Florida in summer, when the whole house would throb with the sounds of these insects. I’ve really only heard them locally. For there are, in fact, several species of katydids here in the city. You can hear them in individual street trees as well as massing in choral frenzies in the parks. They, and the crickets, are the insects of the night. These sultry nights of August are their time of the year. Walking down Union Street from Park Slope to Cobble Hill the other night after 11 pm, I heard the Greater Angle-wing (Microcentrum rhombifolium) repeatedly. This one makes making two different sounds in street trees: a ticking I liken to a safe tumbler spinning and a periodic lisping “tzip”.

Although they are night-singers, katydids can be seen during during the day, which is when all the previous katydid appearances in this blog have occurred:
In the Back 40.
On the inside of the front door.
In a local meadow.
In another state.

Snails on Saturday

Cepaea nemoralisThe rain in the middle of the week bought the snails out in the Back 40. Half a dozen were visible from the door for the rest of the week. All are the big ones, Cepaea nemoralis, an introduced species. I’m sure there are others. These two were getting frisky.

More snails: the surprising abundance of snail species in my concrete backyard was one of the inspirations for this blog five years ago. I will be moving in May, to a deluxe apartment in the sky… well, the 4th floor, anyway, of a walk-up, in Sunset Park, and not deluxe by the plutocratic democracy-squelching standards of our second Gilded Age, but… Cepaea nemoralis…home is where the shell is.


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