Archive for the 'Other' Category


The Cumaean Sibyl spoke in oak leaves, which, when scattered by the wind, tended to result in the most ambiguous prophesies.

In John Dryden’s bouncing-ball translation (Aeneid 6, 126-129), she says to Aeneas:

The gates of hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
But to return, and view the cheerful skies,
In this the task and mighty labour lies.

The hill of Cumae is close to Lago Averno, which was called Avernus in the classical period. This was one of the entrances to Hades, the one guarded by the three-headed dog Cerberus. (Man, that’s a riot-lot of barking!) Trojan-boy Aeneas — I didn’t not like Virgil’s suck-up nationalist fantasy — didn’t have far to go to slip the hound some narcotic and descend.

2000-ish years later, apropos: algae in the Averno’s waters turned the round lake a dark red in summer. It was a sight on the road from Napoli and Pozzuoli to Parco Azzurro, where we lived up on the terraces. From which we could see Cumae. More prosaically, the hotels along the beach would suck up all our water in summer, so we had to use the outside tape, which had to be boiled. One day, it was regular, potable inside water that filled the tub with twitching red larval something or other.

This is a cratered and caldera’ed landscape. Historically a trampoline. Parts of old Pozzuoli (Puteoli)) are now underwater. Other parts used to be underwater; c.f. the “Temple of Serapis“. The U.S. Navy’s Carney Park, also nearby, is ringed by the steep walls of an old volcano. In my day in the early 1970s, there was a drive-in theater there along with the baseball diamonds. Carney Park — our military myrmidons never name an overseas facility after a local — is where I discovered how poor my eye-sight was: I couldn’t read the scoreboard at the football game. I got glasses, but have never been to another football game.

And It’s Only Friday

A water strider.

Talk about pressure! Here’s the full whistleblower complaint about Trump’s illegal attempt to get Ukraine to interfere with U.S. elections. He got away with soliciting foreign interference in 2016, so of course he would try again. It goes both ways: at least 12 governments have made payments to Trump properties since he’s been in office. (The Trump Crime Family continues to profit from the Presidency.)

Pence, Pompeo, and Barr are all implicated in the Ukraine crime. Believe nothing they say. Swearing an oath to these ethics-free, morally-depraved creatures means nothing. The unstable, mentally incontinent President — 62.9 million Americans voted for this piece of shit, when his entire scam of a life was plain to see — could do anything, so expect the worst.

Over breakfast, you don’t want to hear what I have to say about that gargoyle Rudy Giuliani. Suffice to say all the scumbags and turds are bobbing in the Trump toilet.

Remember that this is the crew leading the assault on the environment, the atmosphere, the air, the water, the soil, our food, the animals, your children, the planet’s future. This is the team running America’s concentration camps. This is the authoritarian party.

Fridays For Future.

Support the impeachment process by calling your member of Congress.


Long-time readers may know of my interest in the Two-spotted Ladybugs of Brooklyn Bridge Park. I wrote about them for Humans and Nature this week. I hope you’ll visit and read this and other interesting takes on the intersection of humans and nature.

Some of my recent JSTOR Daily work may be of interest to you.

In the field:

And as of yesterday, there was one spot left on my April 4 spring Listening Tour with Brooklyn Brainery. We go in search of Brooklyn’s spring peepers and American Woodcocks’ mating “display” — which is most aural since it takes place after sunset.

I’ll be doing a Jane’s Walk in celebration of the urban vision of James S.T. Stranahan on May 3rd. Whenever I meet people for a walk or project in Prospect Park, I say “let’s meet at the Stranahan statue” and damned if anybody knows what I’m talking about. I’d like to make the statue, and the man, better known. Without him, Brooklyn would probably look very different. Extra bonus here: I’ll be wearing a top hat.

I’m also doing a Listening Tour for NYC Wildflower Week on May 9th at 6am (pencil this one in; final schedule isn’t published yet).

Of note also: the genius behind Wildflower Week, Marielle Anzelone, is fundraising for a forest in Times Square and getting plenty of attention for it. But funds are better than attention, so consider contributing to the project here.Turdus migratorius

International Migratory Bird Day 5-11

Saturday, May 11, is International Migratory Bird Day. The title speaks for itself, I think. It’s a celebration of the billions of birds that migrate from the south to the north this time of year, and an educational opportunity to note the hazards of these fraught migrations.

IMBD is traditionally a time for birdathons, which raise money for good causes by getting people to pledge for each species seen by teams, and this year is no exception, although perhaps the causes are exceptional.

The Brooklyn Bird Club is raising money to buy some a mature Pin Oak and, hopefully, several saplings, for the Butterfly Meadow near the top of Lookout Hill in Prospect Park. The meadow was slammed by Sandy, which downed three mature oaks. All were grand old specimens, and notable for the insects they fed, and hence the migratory songbirds that fed on the insects. Check out this link for more information, to sign up and take part on a team, and/or donate.

Also, three great birders have teamed up to honor Starr Saphir, the legendary Central Park birder who passed away this past February. Donna, Lenore, and Sandy are raising funds for the American Bird Conservancy’s Cerulean Warbler Fund, in honor of Starr’s favorite bird. This spectacular cerulean blue animal well illustrates the hazards of these epic migrations; its habitat in Colombia has been reduced by 90% due to human activity, and the Fund is attempting to preserve what’s left. For more information and/or to contribute to team “Friends of Starr Saphir,” email

By coincidence, I am doing one of my Listening Tours on May 11 as part of NYC Wildflower Week. This start at 6am and runs about an hour and half, so you can get plenty of birding in during the rest of the day. Click here for more information and to sign up.

Stocking Stuffer

seed podsIt’s never too late to subscribe to this blog, or, for the winter festive season, give a gift subscription to a friend. Just add your email in the slot on the upper right there and click the button. For your giftee — that special, thoughtful person who really appreciates an extremely cheap gift from the heart — just add their email, and let them know that they’ll get a confirmation notice, as you will for your subscription, that they’ll have to OK. Because we just can’t go and subscribe people randomly, evidently.

As always, this blog is free to you and uncluttered by those stupid-ass internet ads from various hucksters around the globe. New posts comes out most every day or every other day, or whenever I feel like it. I’m usually on topic, but occasionally I wander as I wonder, and vice-versa, and hope you like coming along for the journey.berriesHappy holy/holi/holler-days!


make the best gifts. For the natural history nerds on your list, here are all the books I’ve noted on this blog. And these are my four my most recent reviews if you want to jump ahead:

Once and Future Giants by Sharon Levy

The Dawn of the Deed by John A. Long

Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead

Empire of the Beetle by Andrew Nikiforuk

What are you reading and recommending these days?
blogger's picksFrom the staff picks shelf at Spotty Dog Books and Ale, Hudson NY. Technically I’m not on staff there, but through the magic of the internet…

Autumn Equinox

At 5:05 a.m. (Eastern), the sun crosses the celestial equator and autumn begins. In NYC today, the sun rises exactly due east (6:36 a.m.) and sets exactly due west (6:44 p.m.).
This much larger-than-life image of a leaf is found at the 1 Train South Ferry subway station. Art for Transit by Doug & Mike Starn.

Last of the Curlews?

The last, the very last, Passenger Pigeon died in captivity (1914). So did the last Carolina Parakeet (1918). The last Heath Hen, named Booming Ben, died in the preserve set aside for the species on Martha’s Vineyard (1932).But we don’t know where or when (or even if) the last Eskimo Curlew died. The species, Numenius borealis, is presumed extinct, but some people still have hope. Hope being a thing with feathers, after all. Theses birds once migrated in enormous flocks through the Mississippi Valley and the Atlantic Flyway: two million a year were killed for their prized flesh in the late 19th century. The last confirmed sightings were in the early 1960s.

This specimen is found in the collection of the Maria Mitchell Association on Nantucket.

I find taxidermy pretty damn depressing, as far from the marvelous vivacity of the living animal as can be. Flaubert writes in Madame Bovary, “Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars” (Steegmuller trans.), and I feel something akin to this about such stuffed animals. Yes, we try to represent, to memorialize, to speak, this creature, but we fail spectacularly.

And now all we have are some glass eyes to look into.Which means we can see a small reflection of ourselves…I think of Plato’s Cave, where we are imprisoned, watching a fractured shadowplay we think is the real thing.

You can read about hunter/conservationist (not considered a paradoxical combination back then) George H. MacKay’s thorough documentation of the dwindling population of these curlews on Nantucket in the last quarter of the 19th century in this paper. My fellow urban naturalist Rob Jett, the City Birder, has put an Eskimo Curlew on a T-shirt to celebrate the species. Not to say memorialize…

E Pluribus Unum

Happy Interdependence Day.


Audrey Yoo and Ivana Kottasová of The Brooklyn Ink produced this very nice profile of me:

Nature Blogger from Brooklyn Ink on Vimeo.


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