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Thoreau Thursday

Liriodendron tulipiferaThe purple, duck-billed buds of Liriodendron tulipifera. These are just over 2cm long and were taken from some recent windfall branches.

Thoreau seems to have become acquainted with “tulip trees” on Staten Island, where he lived from May-December of 1843, having gone there to tutor Ralph Waldo Emerson’s brother’s children. I read in one source that that there were no specimens of this species in his native Concord. The tree’s range does go into Massachusetts and Vermont, even Canada in some sources, so I wonder if they were all cut down by HDT’s time.

I needed a background, and Leslie Day’s Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City came in hand. This book does not actually include Tuliptrees because they are very rarely found on our streets. There was one right around the corner of my old Cobble Hill apartment. If you remember, that was where I found this Eastern Tiger Swallow caterpillar, which feeds on this tree.

Tomorrow is a sort of national or general strike against the extremism of the Trump regime. Not sure how much headwind they have, but Strike4Democracy has more details. Backyard & Beyond will join this action.

Meanwhile, March 8 is scheduled as a Day Without Women.

Until then, folks should read Engler & Engler’s This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-first Century.

Raptor Wednesday

A winter trip to Croton Point Park up in Westchester Co. has become a regular thing for Backyard & Beyond. Last week I took a group from Brooklyn Brainery up to see the Bald Eagles. It was the annual Teatown Hudson River EagleFest: there were volunteers with scopes stationed at the boat landing south of the train station (as well as other spots along the river); and a shuttle bus service to ferry us into the park.

On the train heading up, I spied five eagles perched in a little tree-thickened spit jutting out into the river just south of Sing Sing. I had been worried that sightings might be slim, since there wasn’t much ice on the river. A cold winter further north means more eagles heading further south on the river to look for open water. But it was in the high 40s.
Haliaeetus leucocephalusBut there were eagles in the scopes trained across the Croton River’s mouth. Nice to fulfill the mission of the expedition within ten minutes of getting off the train. From there we headed into the park itself, which is dominated by a capped landfill. This is maintained as grassland, habitat vital for various diurnal and nocturnal hunters. Some of our group got a quick glimpse of a Long-eared Owl harassed by songbirds before it flew over the parking lot.

Through the day, we saw a female American Kestrel and at least one juvenile Northern Harrier hunting over the hill. Two distant eagles cavorted over the hill. A pair of Red-tailed Hawks were seen repeatedly in the trees around the hill.Buteo jamaicensisAt one point, the male caught, or scavenged, a mammal and called for his mate with a sound I can’t recall hearing before. She appeared, and there was some dancing from tree branch to tree branch.A food transfer seemed to be in process, although we never saw the actual talon-off.Accipiter cooperiiThe next to last big bird of the day was this Cooper’s (Accipiter cooperii), making for five species of raptors. It was, you will not be surprised to learn, near the bird feeders at the Nature Center. There, a Carolina Wren (the ones around my parents’ house never came to the feeders) was joined by the usual winter crowd of Juncos, Cardinals, Songs, and Downies.

On the return train, we saw a mature Bald Eagle with a fish in claws being shadowed by a hopeful gull. The giant raptor flew low over the water and paralleled the train for a few seconds.

Cling On

Procyon lotor
Procyon lotorIt was a very chilly day.
Procyon lotor

FYI: There was such a demand for my Brooklyn Brainery Where the Wild Things Are NYC class that we’re doing it again on February 28th at 6:30.

Barking Mad Monday

FagusThe distinctive bark of Beech (Fagus), its typical smoothness broken up by age.CeltisHackberry (Celtis). On the young trees especially, these nobby, layered, butte-like protuberances are characteristic. The red hairs of a Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) vine find them a good place to anchor.HalesiaThis is a mature Carolina Silverbell (Halesia carolina).AesculusAnd this strange stuff is Fetid Buckeye (Aesculus glabra), better known as Ohio Buckeye. It does have a high odor. This beast was recently cut down in Prospect. Aesculus glabraSure looked fine inside. Unless this center of the bole means something…FagusAnd then there was this Beech, which toppled and took out some fencing and a swath of bamboo. The interior here is big enough for me with my arms akimbo. If not two of me, which, admittedly, might be a bit much.

Check out theorist of civil resistance Gene Sharp’s famous list of 198 nonviolent actions you can use/mix and match/collect ’em all.

Earth in Mind

img_2650David W. Orr’s Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment & the Human Prospect has been turning my mind over and fertilizing it with good compost.

“My point is simply that education is no guarantee of decency, prudence, or wisdom. More of the same kind of education will only compound our problems. This is not an argument for ignorance but rather a statement that the worth of education must now be measure against the standards of decency and human survival — the issues now looming so large before us in the twenty-first century. It is not education, but education of a certain kind, that will save us.”

(And pee-yew, it sure isn’t the fundamentalist poison Betsy Devos is selling — or buying, when it comes to her servant Senators.)

Someone who turns up several times in Orr’s book is Vaclav Havel. We should remember his conception of people power.  “Many more people realize, as Havel did, that arbitrary and inhuman power cannot deprive them of the inner freedom to make moral choices, and to make human community meaningful. They are shaping a redemptive politics of dissidence in the free world, nearly three decades after the fall of Communism. To measure the American dissidents’ success in electoral or any other quantifiable terms would be beside the point. For they are creating a “parallel polis”: the vital space where many, over the next four years, will find refuge from our age of anger, and learn to live in truth.”

And yes, that picture above was taken in the Bronx.

Wooly Bear

Pyrrharctia isabellaOur old friend the Banded Wooly Bear caterpillar, bearishly larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth, Pyrrharctia isabella. This was found behind a large piece of bark, which was put back. img_2643Have you heard the one about judging winter’s length/severity by the amount of black and/or orange on the animal? Turns out that the colors are just a factor of age: the orange expands and the black contracts during each successive molt.Pyrrharctia isabellaThe caterpillar is overwintering in a state of dormancy. They can actually freeze solid and thaw out without ill-effects. An Arctic Wolly Bear (I’m not sure it’s the same species) has such a short period of summer that it can stay in the caterpillar stage for a dozen years, growing a bit each summer before finally cocooning and reforming as an adult, when it lives for about a day.

I would not recommend living in a state of dormancy right now. Things to do instead.

Signs

pellet1Another Saw-whet pellet from our owl experience last weekend.pellets2In fact, once I started looking down, there was evidence that this owl and/or others having been hanging around a while. Such pellets can be dissected to discover which little mammals the little owls of the Bronx eat. whitewashMore evidence. While pines are often gooey with resin, this is white-wash, the polite name for owl droppings. “Mutes” is another term for such excreta. The OED seems a little unsure of the etymology here: mute, noun and verb for raptor feces, may stem from smelt, which is, frankly, Frankish for bird shit.

Which brings up the Un-Dear Leader. Ron Rosenbaum has an important piece in the LARB against normalizing Trump’s lies and politics of vindictiveness. It’s the story of how democracy is murdered.


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