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The protected grasslands at Floyd Bennett Field are looking fine in autumn.You can fill your screen with these by clicking on them.

Much less of a pretty picture: on the rise of illiberal democracy there and here.

Mushroom Heaven

There was a lot of rain in September. That made the fruiting bodies of fungi very happy. This one was found like this. I don’t suspect Andy Goldsworthy….Deep under a beech. Very hard to reproduce their (fungi are more closely related to animals than plants) purples, at least as seen by my all-too-human eyes.

Still enslaved by Facebook’s “surveillance capitalism“?


It’s that time of year. Birds are on the move. Most are passing through NYC, but some are coming for the winter from further north. White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos are back in town. This is their Miami (the bagels are better). On Saturday, they were mixed up with warblers, flycatchers, and others migrating further south, sometimes much further south. Green-Wood was overflowing with birds. But then, the next day, Sunday, most had gone. Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum) above.A Black & White  Warbler (Mniotilta varia) with large moth. There was quite a struggle.Warbler won.

Three Wasps Walk Into A Bar…

I. Probably Common Thread-waisted Wasp, Ammophila procera, although the whole Ammophila genus sounds confusing for IDing via camera. So let’s enjoy that orange midriff.Members of the genus parasitize caterpillars and sawfly larvae for their young. A big, bold creature, spotted late last week supping the nectar of seaside goldenrod. Have been seeing these for a few weeks but this was the first time I could get a lens on one.With a sweat bee (Agapostemon) in the mix.II. Gold-marked Thread-waisted Wasp (Eremnophila aureonotata) nectaring on white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima). The gold marking, which is what “aureonotata,” means, seems to be the white gold on the sides of the thorax, seen below. I have a hard time picturing all the plumbing and wiring, as it were, going through that long narrow waist.The females make burrows that they provision with a single caterpillar. Like a lot of wasps, the adults are vegetarians. And note that there’s a dusting of pollen on underside of the body and legs.III. One of the Ichneumonidae family wasps. But which one? iNaturalist suggested a couple of Antipodian species, which was alarming… but a false alarming. suggested Cryptanura septentrionalis, no common name, and this looks good for a match. That’s an ovipositor not a stinger. Since her antennae were moving so rapidly, it’s hard to see them, but they are very long, with some white in the middle of them. She was rapidly sense-feeling the oak bark’s crevasses, presumably for lunch or something to lay her eggs into. No luck in finding any natural history about this species, except that it’s one of two in the genus found north of Mexico. All of the examples are from southern states. On iNaturalist, my example is the furtherest north reported; next nearest is Washington DC.Though the holotype specimen, named in 1945, was collected in Cleveland in the 1930s, and Cleveland, to be fair, is slightly further north than the Bronx.

Blue Waves

The other day, I counted a hundred Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) streaming past the apartment over ten minutes. The birds were on the move above 5th Avenue. I’ve had similar experiences in the last two weeks: clumps and waves and straggles of jays, heading south. The green places have been full of their strident cries and calls, too. None of our other east coast birds make so much raucous noise. And when I hear a particularly unique sound, it often turns out to be a Blue Jay.

These images were taken with my new camera, a Sony RX10 IV, which I purchased thanks to the help of some wonderfully generous contributors to this blog. I am still getting the hang of the camera, but these pictures turned out well on a gloomy day. For such an omnipresent bird, jays can be pretty elusive.

Trump inherited almost a half billion via tax fraud. I’ll bet he and his pirate crew have already looted us of much more in the two years since a majority of us voted for somebody else. And his dumb-fuck fans cheer him on.


The very next book I picked up after No Way But Gentlenesse was Tim Birkhead’s The Wonderful Mr Willughby: The First True Ornithologist. And the very first section break, after a discussion of Honey Buzzards, which Francis Willughby distinguished from Common Buzzard at the dawn of taxonomy, is this dingbat of three soaring raptors.

A book designer friend suggests, along the lines of fleurons, that these ornaments should be called ornithons or aviettes. You may remember the snake dingbat in America’s Snake. I like this trend! (Sneak preview: I’ve got another in a new novel I have on tap, and it’s not animal or mineral….)

The plot? Francis Willughby (1635-1672) died young. His mentor/science partner John Ray (1627-1705) finished up their work, foundational tomes titled (for short) Ornithology, History of Fishes, and History of Insects. Ray, who initially called himself Wray, has traditionally gotten the lion’s share of credit by history. Birkhead addresses the imbalance. His lads were co-workers, Willughby (spell-check wants to add the O) just had the misfortune of kicking off early.

Here’s something I found particularly interesting. Our heroes were young during the English Civil War. The Commonwealth Puritans were anti-intellectual, so they really tried to purge and transform the universities (Cambridge and Oxford). Where they succeeded was in displacing the lock the Anglicans had on everything. Theocracy thwarted by theocracy! Into the opening came those taking up the new mantel of science, less received truth from the ancients by way of the Bible than observation, experiment, personal experience. The “new philosophers” put some Bacon on the sandwich: of “histories of all kinds.”

The European Honey Buzzard, as Voltaire might have said, is neither (strictly) European, an eater of honey, nor a buzzard. They winter in Africa, putting paid to any notion they belong to either Africa or Europe. They generally eat wasp larvae, digging the grubs out with their short strong claws. They have scale-like feathers on the face, to protect them from understandably upset adult wasps. And while they look like buzzards (Buteo hawks), they’re more actually related to tropical kites. Birkhead argues they should be called Willughby’s Buzzard. I’ve only had some distant views of them in flight, in Sweden.

Here’s something completely different: rare Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles hatched on the Rockaways, a part of Queens, last month, for the first time ever this far north.

Time to downgrade the Supreme Court?

Swift Feather-legged Fly

Trichopoda pennipes, a parasitic fly of uncommon colorfulness. They lay their eggs on true bugs and have been used as biological control agents against squash bugs and the Southern Green Stinkbug, a crop pest with world-wide distribution. The hairy “feather” on the tibiae of hind legs can be seen here: this is a fringe of stiff hairs.

Another interesting anatomical feature visible here are the large halteres. Halteres are structures where the second pair of wings should be. Flies, as their order name Diptera tells us, have only two wings, but four wings are the insect standard. If you look at that next mosquito closely, your’ll see their halteres, looking like tiny dumbbells. These wobble about, evidently helping with balance during flight. On the fly, the halteres look like scales: they are right behind the wings, covering the waist like orange plates.


If you haven’t seen the fundraising appeal for this blog, take a look.


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