Posts Tagged 'Dead Horse Bay'


Gleditsia triacanthosWellllll… not exactly. Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) pods posed to show off their curls.pod1So I brought these pods home, and two weeks later, they gave birth! Actually, some… thing emerged, cutting out circular escape passages after devouring the no-doubt tasty seeds within.pod2Here’s a list, which we must presume is only partial, of insects that enjoy this tree.pod3The cut-out portion of seed pod, and the bug.pod4


NicrophorusA carrion beeetle, also known as a sexton beetle, of the genus Nicrophorus, from the Greek for “carrier of the dead.” Found this on a mammal corpse on a path at Dead Horse Bay. The carcass was in curious state; some exposed bones were already whitened, but the main part of the body still had leathery skin/fur and did not smell pleasant. (Nothing like the Götterdämmerung of rotted chicken used to bait for carrion beetles here, though.) Not sure what the animal was: didn’t look big enough for adult raccoon; perhaps a feral cat, of which there are plenty in the phragmites.

So these Nicrophorus beetles — there are some 15 species in the U.S. — are remarkable for providing not just a nest egg of carrion for their young, but sticking around to help feed the wee larvae when they are just starting out as squirmy little rotten-flesh eaters.

The mites — you can spot two adults and see some young ones clustering on the beetle body as well — are symbionts, not parasites. Sources of carrion are extremely variable and unpredictable: so the beetles range throughout the landscape searching for it, carrying the mites (of at least four families), who eat fly larvae and couldn’t get around so well otherwise; the fly larvae is competition for the beetle larvae.

Nicrophorus marginatus is the most wide-spread of these beetles, but it’s very similar looking to N. obscurus and N. guttula, and they evidently can’t be separated based on overall appearance according to Bugguide.

Braiding Tide



Breeding season over, shorebirds are heading back south as the migration pendulum swings the other way. Here are a few of the species I saw this week along Brooklyn’s shoreline:Pluvialis squatarolaBlack-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola). Arenaria interpres, Haematopus palliatusRuddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) and American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus), which looks like it’s got a Blue Mussel (which shouldn’t be that hard, the area is littered with them).Arenaria interpresAnother view of a Turnstone, this time without the magic light of sundown on it.Charadrius semipalmatusBack to golden glow of sundown. Here’s a Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus). It has one of the smallest bills in the shorebird universe, where specialized foraging strategies have led to all sorts of bill lengths and shapes, from this little nubbin to the outrageous Oystercatcher schnoz.Actitis maculariusOK, so the edge of Sylvan Water in Green-Wood Cemetery isn’t exactly a shoreline, but Spotted Sandpipers (Actitis macularius) are as apt to be found on the edges of freshwater as on brine.Actitis maculariusThis is a juvenile, which entirely lacks the spots of a breeding adult (hey, I don’t name them). And that’s a dragonfly about to be brunch.

Gifts of Sight and Sound

Sayornis phoebeSaturday was an epic day of nature exploration here in the wide world of the Borough of Brooklyn. In the morning, I took a friend and her mother birding in Prospect Park. We saw some 44 species of birds, a good-turn out for our visiting Virginia birder. In the late afternoon, I joined two other friends to explore Dead Horse Bay and the North Forty at Floyd Bennett Field. 50 species noted, with some overlap. All told, I spent about 9 hours walking, wandering, watching, and listening. return a gift pondThis is Return-A-Gift Pond at Floyd Bennett Field. Near sunset, there were 23 Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) hanging out here (another friend had counted twice as many earlier in the day; check out his picture of this same tree absolutely fruited with the birds).Ardea albaThis single Great Egret (Ardea alba) was completely outnumbered. Now, Night-herons, as their name suggests, do their best work after sunset. And after sunset, the spring peepers emerge. Vocally, that is. There are a few off-trail wetland spots in the North Forty, but the majority of these little frogs are right there at Return-a-Gift, throbbing the night with their calls. Even with the nearby sounds of Flatbush Avenue and frequent JFK jets blasting overhead, the sound of the massed frogs was profoundly impressive. I made a recording.

But this was not the only sound of twilight. The choral frogs were seconded by soloist American woodcocks (Scolopax minor) a-courting. We heard their “peent” calls on the ground and then the dry whispery twittering they do in the air. It’s the males, showing off — I suppose “sounding off” is a better description. It was all about the sound for us hominids, anyway, although we did see one in the sky, with the curve of the moon behind him, and then we saw one plummet back down to earth just above the lighter path in front of us a couple of times.woodpecker nestA male Downy Woodpecker scooted out of this nest hole complex, attempting to draw us away, we thought, so it was a command we complied with.

Something unexpected: I heard the briefest bit of what I thought was the crowing of a Ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). I haven’t heard this sound in something like 35 years (they were common around the house when I was in high school), but it is distinctive. The species was introduced to North America as a game bird; there was an effort once at Green-Wood Cemetery to release them there for ornamental purposes. They are generally wiped out by predators, including cats. Anyway, I wasn’t 100% confident that that’s what I heard, but later I had found out another birder had heard the bird there earlier, and that was enough for me.

Waiting for the fairly reliable Q35, our binoculars all packed away, we watched something with huge wings fly heavily across Flatbush above us in the nine oclock dark towards us the Bay. Egret, heron, the Owl of Minerva? Whatever it was, it was a great nightcap.


The tooth on the left was found at Dead Horse Bay. I think it’s actually two fused together because of the four roots. This is what I photographed for my Mystery post early this month.

The one on the right was part of a horse’s skull found on the beach in Italy in the early 1970s.

Dead Horse Bay

Yellow-rumped warblers and Green Darner dragonflies before we got to the landfill edge.One of two Royal Terns, Thalasseus maximus, both with bands on their left legs. Not a commonly sighted bird in the city; I didn’t know what they were at first. The smaller Common and Little Terns we see here during summer have already gone south. These Royals sound quite different from our regular terns, and one of them was excreting a lot. I later read that they defecate around the sides of their scrapes (nests) to build up a a hard rim of guano, possibly as a defense against minor flooding on the low-lying islands they breed on.The Asian or Japanese Shore Crab, Hemigrapsus sanguineus. Found about a dozen washed up on the beach perpendicular to the Gil Hodges Bridge. Three spines on each side of the carapace, red spotted claws, dark bands on the legs are your field marks for this invasive. Not good news for already fraught Jamacia Bay (Dead Horse being a nook on the north side of Jamaica Bay, if you haven’t wandered its singing glass beach.)

A Very Strange Crab Indeed

A piece of barnacle conglomeration I found at Dead Horse Bay recently. Most species of barnacles need a surface to attach to, and sometimes that surface is other barnacles. These are a type of acorn barnacle, one of the two main groups. I understand differentiating the local species is difficult for the lay person. Give a shout if you know them on sight. Commonly seen species in the region are the Ivory barnacle, Balanus eburneus, which prefers less saline water (like Jamaica Bay, so this may be that) and the Northern rock barnacle, B. balanoides, which likes it saltier. A barnacle, as Cirripedia-mad Charles Darwin discovered, is actually a crustacean, akin to crabs and lobsters. A free-swimming animal in its youth, it has two distinctive larval stages, wonderfully called nauplius and cyprid. Then after swimming through several instars, most barnacle species settle down, literally, gluing themselves head/forehead first to a rock, pier, ship’s hull, or some such surface, and enveloping themselves within a carapace-like shell made up of (usually) six plates for an immobile maturity. The references to ship’s hull is a matter of some economic seriousness; humans have been scraping barnacles off boats since we took to the sea. The beak-like barn doors that protect the soft animal within its calcium fortress are visible in the above image; when feeding, these open to allow feathery modified legs that pull in plankton from the water. Barnacles at the mercy of the tide hunker down during the hours of low tide.There are many species of barnacles; I came across numbers ranging from 900-1100+. Pictured above are the ruins of Ribbed barnacles, Tetraclita stalactifera, which I found amid the rocks of Klein Bay, St John, USVI in January.


Yesterday, we took a walk along Dead Horse Bay and the North 40 Trail at nearby Floyd Bennett Field. Before we knew it, we’d been outside for more than six glorious hours.This is a transitional time, with both winter and spring bird species finding themselves rubbing shoulders, so to speak. The large raft of Greater Scaup that winters here is still around, although they will be heading north to breeding grounds soon. The raft wasn’t so big when we first arrived in the mid-morning, but as we stood there wave after wave of birds flew in, their massed wingbeats making a most extraordinary liquid sound.Dead Horse Bay, the site of an old landfill, is a wonderfully bizarre place of glass bottles and rusting metal and shoe soles and marbles and bricks and pretty much everything else from the garbage pile of the 20th century. It used to be that very few people ever went there, but now it’s quite popular for beach-combers, collectors, artists, etc. Indeed, two pre-teen girls were having the time of their lives, although I’m afraid I had to narc on them to their mother, further along the beach, since they were barefoot, which is practically suicidal with all the sharp glass and metal to be found there. We saw our first American Oystercatchers, a species that breed in our region (and yet another reason to make sure your dogs are leashed on the beach), of the year, as well as a single Ruddy Turnstone, still in its non-breeding plummage. The old pier here supports plenty of blue mussels and other goodies.The very low tide may have caught these two.The rock-like black objects blurred by sand in both the above images are actually mud snails, Ilyanassa obsolete, which will eat these fish corpses if something else doesn’t.
This is a Lady Crab, Ovalipes ocellatus; you usually only find their beautifully patterned carapaces on the beach, not the whole animal. The more usual crab whose remains are found is the Spider Crab, Libinia emarginata, evidently tasty eating for gulls.We went to Return-a-Gift Pond at Floyd Bennett Field to listen for frogs. This is one of the few fresh water ponds in Brooklyn where you can hear peepers. As it was only the middle of the afternoon and only just spring breaking, there were only a few sporadic amphibian calls, but the pond, seen here through one of the two bird blinds, had several Painted turtles, Green-winged Teal, Hooded Mergansers, Mallards, and a Northern Shoveler on it. On the North 40 trail, we saw our first butterfly of the year, a Cabbage White, and our first Eastern Phoebe, that early arriving harbinger of spring migration.

A Raft of Ducks

In Dead Horse Bay, thousands of Great Scaup, Aythya marila, are rafting together.


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