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Look No Further For Groundcover

Where have all the flowers of spring gone? Long time passing….

Pier 1 at Brooklyn Bridge Park has a rather spectacular understory layer in its seventh year. From the top left: Celandine-poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), and wild ginger (Asarum canadense). And hiding their lights under their bushel of leaves: Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum).
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I like these so much I’m repeating it: Articles of Impeachment for Trump.

Wood Thrush

If the rich fluty yodeling of a Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) hadn’t alerted me, I probably wouldn’t have noticed their nest.You can just see the top of the bird’s head here, rusty orange, with white eye-ring.And the heavy spotting on the breast.

Tis the season. Clutch size for this species is 3-4. The eggs are blue/bluish, slightly paler than the classic Robin’s egg blue. Incubation is done by the female and lasts 13 days. The species is declining across its range; one factor may be acid rain, which leaches calcium from the soil, resulting in decreases of calcium-rich invertebrate prey needed during breeding. As a side note, this was in the Thain Family Forest in the NYBG, which boasts that it’s the last old growth patch in NYC: the yellow signs of a recent pesticide application were still up.

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I was recently reading some of Stephen Jay Gould’s essays — from his famous monthly run in Natural History, which have thankfully all been collected — and thought, wow, here is a voice sadly missed. What else I’ve read of him so far, The Mismeasure of Man and Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale ad the Nature of History, are richly rewarding; and now I intend to go deeper. This appreciation by Matthew Lau concurs.

Bipunctata in Sunset Park

Two-spotted Ladybug (Adalia bipunctata). Back in 2012, I reported to the Lost Ladybug Project that I found some of these critters in catalpa trees in Brooklyn Bridge Park. From the LLP, I learned that mine was the third New York State record for this species, and the only one in NYC. There was much rejoicing.Yesterday, I found them down the street, in some street tree swamp white oaks (Q. bicolor) on 5th Avenue here in Sunset Park. These trees are still young enough that I can reach into their leaves and branches. The invasive Harmonia axyridis like these same trees.

There is some color variation in the Adalias, as you can see (and the black ones have four spots…). Like many a living insect, these lady beetles are hard to photograph. They also seem to have a loose grip on the leaves; they’ll often fall off if I touch the leaf intending to turn it toward the camera, but luckily they can fly. Not so the larval stage of the species; these gator-like forms have a good grip and steady jaws.

Other Rooftops

Atop Kingsland Wildflowers recently, I couldn’t help notice that it wasn’t the only rooftop garden in the area. These neighbors seem to be volunteers, blown in by the wind, deposited by birds, etc. I saw some mosses, perhaps they showed up first? I don’t know what any of these plants are. I’ll take a better eye the next time, and perhaps some binoculars.This island of grasses (hollow right down to the ground?) was swaying in the wind.

Remember the cattails I found on a roof on Furman Street. Curiouser and curiouser.

Vigilance Against Poachers

Yesterday, some bird poachers were interrupted in Prospect Park by Park Rangers and park staff. Earlier, one of the poachers actually walked through a group of birders with a caged American Goldfinch in one hand and a glue stick (used to trap birds, a variation on bird lime; very nasty stuff) in the other.

It’s illegal to kill, capture, trade, etc. migratory birds and bird parts, including feathers, nests, and eggs.

Also recently: several people were caught wet-handed stealing turtles from the park. Meanwhile, over in the BBG Wedding Venue, a patch of ramps, no easy thing to propagate, was raided. Ironically, the BBG has posted on foraging for ramps, when what they should have done is say onions and leeks and scallions are more than good enough for all you cooking needs.

What unites all these thefts from the natural commonwealth? Money, of course! One of the bird catchers evidently admitted he was paid to capture the bird for the other. The turtles were probably headed for the market. I know of five people whose “business model” is actually teaching people to forage in the city.

If you see such destructive greediness in the wild commons, call the Park Rangers 718-421-2021; Park Enforcement Patrol (less effective): 718-437-1350; and/or 311. Here are the numbers for NY state DEC’s Environmental Conservation Officers. If you’re elsewhere, put the local authorities on your phone.

Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay. Called by Linnaeus Corvus cristatus. Still a Corvidae.

In his five volume Ornithological Biography,* written to accompany The Birds of America, Audubon begins the Blue Jay section with “Reader, look at the plate in which are presented three individuals of this beautiful species, — rogues though they be, and thieves, as I would call them, were it fit for me to pass judgement on their actions.” (Friends, Romans, countrymen…)

*Lucy Audubon helped with the editing (JJ’s Franco-American orthography was iffy; he thee’d and thou’d all his life after learning English surrounded by Quakers), and Scotsman William MacGillivray acted as ornithological editor. MacGillivray’s Warbler (Geothlypis tolmiei), named in his honor, is a West Coast bird that resembles the Mourning Warbler (Geothlypis philadelphia) found (with difficulty) on this end of the country.

Lucy’s Warbler (Oreothlypis luciae), a Sonoran Desert speciality, is not named after Mrs. Audubon, although the 13-year-old Lucy Hunter Baird who inspired the name was herself named after Lucy Audubon. Her father, Spencer Fullerton Baird, was a great friend of the Audubons (JJ named Baird’s Sparrow after him; Coues named Baird’s Sandpiper after him). Lucy’s, the smallest warbler species, was named by J.G. Cooper, son of the William Cooper who was honored with the hawk. Charles Bonaparte named the hawk after Cooper, but Audubon thought he had priority for the naming of this species, calling it after Lord Stanley, so there was some bad blood over this. None spilled, of course… except for the hawks’. This digression could go on…
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Here’s a first draft of what articles of impeachment for Donald J. Trump could look like.

Rusty Blackbird

In celebration of Prospect Park’s 150 years of habitat: a uncommon Rusty Blackbird.

Backyard and Beyond

Euphagus carolinusA male Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) was working its way through a goopy edge of the Lower Pool in Prospect Park.Euphagus carolinusIt was tossing wet leaves around like a stevedore and plucking the goodness out of half-drowned Sweetgum balls.Euphagus carolinusGorgeous patterning here in the non-breeding plumage. Bright shadow seems to favor him more than direct sunlight: Euphagus carolinusRusty Blackbirds are a species in trouble, with “chronic long-term and acute short-term population declines” according to the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group, formed to try to get a handle on the issues involved. This page talks about the reasons numbers have dropped so precipitously, including habitat destruction in the southeast and climate change in the boreal north.

This shallow edge of the Pool, leaf-littered as all get-out, is akin to the wet bottomlands the species favors. Keep the “mess”! Also, the fence, since it keeps out the illicitly unleashed dogs running…

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