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Wasp Tunnels

Of course, the giant wasps are going to get your attention, but the fresh dirt is also a good sign.I’ve seen Cicada Killer Wasps dig into the bare, hard-packed dirt of tree pits, but I’m guessing a gentle, grassy slope is more favorable.Sphecius speciosus excavate long tunnels, which they then provision with paralyzed cicadas. (How the hell do they get a cicada?) An egg is laid on the cicada; the wasp larva eats the cicada and pupates over winter. They’ll emerge next summer. Generations show site fidelity. This small bank in Green-Wood has been active for a couple of years at least. There’s a steeper slope in Prospect that has long been busy with these big wasps. Wherever you have cicadas, you’ll find these wasps, including in street pits and people’s gardens. (The Flatbush Gardener has five locations on his block, including his yard.)

This particular female seemed more territorial than usual. She got in our faces eight feet away from this hole. We moved along.


This Yellow-crowned Night Heron was belying its name and hunting during the day. Fiddler crabs were the bird’s target. Stalking oh-so-slowly until the final jab with this heavy bill. The crabs were swallowed whole. Watched half a dozen meet this fate over ten minutes. These herons nest here in the city, usually at its edges. In general, I don’t see them inland as much as Black-crowned Night Herons.

And, boy, do they like crabs! This Cornell page on diet lists ten different types of crabs, along with much else that goes into their gullets.

As a student of American history, I’ve taken it as a given there’s a deep state, founded in 1974 with the National Security Act. It’s not the “Deep State” Trump and his Fox choir rail about, but it certainly has grown some way beyond democracy.


The splat, the skin, & the pit.

Raptor Wednesday

Anticlimactic: that’s what the post-fledgling scene was for the #BrooklynKestrels. Two months of cornice work, followed by two weeks of sightings of a trio of fledglings. Then nada. Well, not quite true. The male parent has been spotted sporadically on the large car service antenna one long avenue block from the nest site. This is his old k-perch, but he rarely used it during nesting. The female parent was been sighted a few times in July, too, but I suspect she’s moved to her own territory. One or two of the female fledglings were spotted, too. Afraid we’ll never know where they went… or if they survived. Odds are not good. One statistic I’ve seen is that two of three raptors don’t live to their first birthday. But that’s an average.

Six months of American Kestrels outside our windows! Often right across the street, perching atop a raised fist of London Plane. Half a year of flying, screaming, killing, copulating, and killing some more (my goodness, they scythed through the local songbird population). Also hovering over passing Fish Crows; driving Red-tailed Hawks from the scene; stashing prey on a rooftop lined with solar panels and inside a hollowed knot in the Plane tree across the street (tiny little songbird feed sticking out it). What a glorious experience.

Keep your eyes on the sky. And the local cornices.

Brooklyn Botanic Axes Arborist

Two Monday’s ago, the management of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden cut down a quirky and beloved tree. Staff and community opposed the arborcide. The garden’s own staff didn’t think the gloriously stumpy “BBG Treehouse” needed to come down, so, like some capo di tutti capi, the institution got outside contractors to do the killing.

Then, on Monday the 30th, the BBG cut down the arborist who stood up for the tree! Alec Baxt, an eight-year Garden veteran, one third of the aborists on staff, was fired. I’ve never met Baxt, but from what I’ve read, read, and heard, he sounds like someone you’d want on your team.

Except, of course, he wasn’t “professional”: no, he spoke out, he protested. He was a good citizen, not just an employee. But that’s a surefire way to lose your job in this nasty neoliberal economy (even with a union; his union is appealing his summary dismissal). Whistleblowers in a non-profit? Welcome to 2018. The corporate mentality demands a cowed, submissive “family” of employees. No thinking, no criticism! They basically want serfs under them. Even in a botanical garden.

Democracy dies in darkness, they say, but it also dies at work, where we spend a good deal of our lives.

The Pharaoh at BBG is Scot (with one T) Medbury. He works for a board drawn from the ranks of our upper classes and, boy, we know how well they like workers. Some years ago, Board/Medbury got rid of the science staff and science mission in their effort to turn this grand old institution into what an anonymous insider calls a “posh park.” It’s more a wedding venue now than a botanical garden. The garden is on city land, by the way, and receives city funding. Medbury’s leadership betrayal of the garden’s civic mission, including ending a time-honored route to STEM careers for Brooklynites, was a real blow to the city, yet it went unnoticed by a Bloomberg administration busy making the city more accommodating to billionaires (…who sit on boards).

This president’s 2016 salary was reported as $291,210. I don’t know what the aborists and gardeners make, but you can be sure it’s rather less. The people who actually do the important work, as in so many other places, are undervalued, ignored, and belittled by cadres of vice presidents, senior vice presidents, and executive vice presidents, not to mention dictator-presidents (mostly men still, but now with corporate feminism women can be corporate ogres, too). You could prune a tangle of managerial deadwood from this organizational tree and nobody would notice.

Don’t get me wrong: the BBG does great things, but that’s because of the dedication and knowledge of its frightened and demoralized staff. And now, with Baxt’s firing, these workers know that the terrible swift sword of the HR department is always there to slice them down, like a hapless tree, in punishment.

Medbury, spare that tree!
Touch not a single sprout!
Everybody loved it:
Visitors, staff, especially kids
Who enveloped themselves in it.

Wait, what? Damn it,
You chopped it down!
And whoa! Now your vengeance
Takes a power saw to the staff.

(With apologizes to George Pope Morris.)

UPDATED: Andy Newman of the New York Times wrote about this. In case you find take overwrought, consider that this fine institution threw him, his photographer, and Baxt out of the garden…

Edgy Rock Dove

Monday Prep

A selection of recent sightings in Brooklyn and the Bronx to rev up your Monday morningI don’t think I’ve ever gotten a good picture of a Gray Hairstreak with wings open before.


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