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Brilliant Disguise

This hairy, burly flier certainly suggests a bumble bee head-butting her way into the nectar and pollen.But, taking it from the top, the characteristic eyes of a fly let us know that this is a bee-mimicking fly. In addition, the two wings literally point to Diptera, the order of flies, named after their two wings. Bees have four wings (paired, they can be hard to separate by eye). The Narcissus Bulb Fly (Merodon equestris) introduced into North America from Europe in the mid 19th century, probably in bulbs…. The larva eat out the bulbs of narcissus, amaryllis, daffodils, etc.


Black-crowned Night-heron stalking the shallows at low tide.A slow, patient hunter, but given to snapping the neck rather suddenly, making that breeding plume corkscrew. Is this to throw water droplets off the bill?What’s for lunch? This bird is another all-purpose devourer. In this case — three separate cases while I watched — it was worms for lunch.Marine worms, Polychaeta (I guess).Nycticorax nycticorax, the redundant “night raven.” Choate in the Dictionary of American Bird Names says Linnaeus thought the bird’s “kwok” call was corvid-like. Did he actually hear one? They’re cosmopolitan around the tropical zone and get well into the northern temperate, but not up into Sweden as far as I can tell.


Yellow-crowned Night-herons, Nyctanassa violacea, at the Salt Marsh Nature Center.“Where the yellow-crown’d heron comes to the edge of the marsh at night and feeds upon small crabs” wrote Whitman in Song of Myself. The low tide here reveals fiddler crabs amongst the marsh grasses. This one grabbed a crab with some nearby seaweed, took the dual mouthful to the water, and shook the crab and seaweed apart. The crab went plop in the shallows, but was instantly fished up and tossed into the mouth.Right down the gullet. Sure got dark early for that crab.

Of course, these birds will also eat whatever they can catch, from worms to small mammals. A Black-crowned Night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) also seen here recently was chased by a relay of Red-winged Blackbirds as it flew over the marsh. The blackbirds were protecting their territory and nests from another lusty predator — which we’ll catch up with tomorrow.It’s usually difficult to see the yellow in the crown on a bright day. The violet on the back, which is the source of the specific epithet violacae, however, is sort of visible here. A gray violet…

Raptor Wednesday

What a racket! Twice recently I’ve come across a storm of American Robins sounding their strident chip alarms. A perching Red-tailed Hawk was the source of the commotion both times. In this second case, a buzzing Northern Mockingbird was in on it, too, repeatedly razzing, sometimes even clipping, the big raptor. When the hawk flew out, the Mockingbird stayed with it around the Sylvan Water.ourSoon after, but hnheralded by any pissed-off songbirds, this Red-tailed flew up off the ground to land here before taking off to a higher perch.

Reports of three young hawks in the Green-Wood nest. Reports of a nestling in Tompkins Square Park dying: rat poison remains a serious threat up the food-chain.
Out at the Salt Marsh, at least two heads of baby Osprey were seen here recently. One can be seen between the two adults. Looking much a mini Loch Ness monster.

We are approximately a week or so away from baby American Kestrels outside our window. Or so we judge from last year; the Wild Bird Fund has already started receiving fledglings picked up off sidewalks around the city. Monday afternoon, both male and female kestrels were in the air chasing a Red-tailed Hawk out of the neighborhood. A little later, the perching female kestrel was swooped on by a neighboring Northern Mockingbird. And so it goes…

Yesterday morning, there were two males and one female American Kestrel on the solar building. All three of them were adults.


Lichens, like other lifeforms, are sensitive to air pollution. So the relative scrubbing of the air in the last few generations — before the Republican counter-revolution — has brought back lichen communities to NYC. Cemeteries are the one of best places to see lichens because they don’t have the road traffic of the streets and have both trees and stones, the substrates lichens thrive on.These pictures were taken last month at a Torrey Botanical Society walk in Woodlawn Cemetery. The tour leader was one of the authors of a paper in the Society’s Journal about the discovery of a Usnea lichen species that hadn’t been seen here in two centuries.

Start Your Week Right

An Eastern Kingbird perching near invasive honey bee hives.But not hunting.Doing… some calisthenics?Whoa…
Forcing up a pellet…With that done, the bird returned to zooming amongst the bees.This is a wad of exoskeleton bits. (Much like good french fries, insects are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, but instead of a surface layer of oil-seared carbohydrates, insects have chitin.) There were three other similar castings at the base of this tombstone.


“Brooklyn with its hills.”
“The ample hills of Brooklyn.”
The view from the morainal hill.

Here’s Whitman again, talking of the borough I’ve lived in for a quarter century. Hills? You ask quizzically if you’ve never walked up Union Street from Carroll Gardens across the Gowanus Canal up to Grand Army Plaza. Whitman was a great walker, and that’s the only way to discover Brooklyn’s Romanesque topography.

The hills are too shallow to really notice by car and the subway simply bores through them. The buildings and grids of roads obscure the topography. Of course, instead of the Eternal City’s seven, we actually have just one, a long, curving hillock that reaches 220 feet above sea-level at its highest. This is the Harbor Hill moraine, the depository of the glacial bulldozer. It’s pieces of upstate, jumbled till, bouldery erratics. It stretches, roughly, from the south of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights through Sunset Park, and Park Slope, and turns east at Prospect Heights. Through Crown Heights and Cypress Hills the great mole hill moves into Queens and then keeps going to the end of Long Island. The names of these neighborhoods have their altitude (if not attitude) written into them, although admittedly “Sunset Park” is a bit ambiguous, although its view isn’t.
An Atlantic Fiddler Crab, on the mucky edge where Brooklyn peters out into Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic.

Both Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery nestle on the divide between moraine and outwash plain. Their eastern-most sections are as flat as Flatbush and Flatlands, names of neighborhoods on the other side of the moraine, out there in the outwash plain that used to stretch a hundred miles south when all that water was locked up in ice. Both Green-Wood and Prospect also have the borough’s highpoints: Battle Hill (220ft) in the cemetery, Lookout Hill (196ft) in Prospect. Combined with Mount Prospect (198ft) above Grand Army Plaza, across Flatbush Avenue from the park, these are the highest spots in the borough. Fiddler better watch out…


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