Are you old enough to remember when there were a lot fewer Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)? By the 1960s, numbers were grim because of a history of assassination, egg-collecting, and finally DDT, which weakened their eggs so much the birds were actually crushing their own young during incubation. In 1969, there were an estimated 150 breeding pairs found between New York and Boston; there had been 1000 in 1940. But recovery has been so successful they are now considered of Least Concern on the world-scale. They also nest right here in Brooklyn.Last week, we went down to Virginia’s Middle Peninsula and saw oodles of them. Yes, oodles, not a particularly scientific term, but suggestive of their omnipresence. All these pictures are from that trip. For instance, crossing the Potomac Bridge, I counted seven over the river and one on a nest on the bridge. [Note to road-tripers, I was designated bird-spotter, not the driver.] At New Point Comfort Natural Area Preserve, we saw nine, perched on trees, old piers, what looked like a hunter’s blind, and on nests.This nest next to the Gwynn’s Island bridge shows their adaptability to the human environment.One was also perched atop the very tall mast of a yacht in Deltaville, the “sailing capital of the Chesapeake.” We also saw one chasing a Bald Eagle. Osprey’s are big, larger than Red-tailed Hawks, for instance, but still smaller than eagles.
And yesterday, back home in Brooklyn, we saw one fly over Grand Army Plaza with a fish in its talons. (Of course, I checked on the nest I can see from my window as soon as I got back: still sitting.)
That time I assisted the Maria Mitchell crew in banding baby Osprey on Nantucket:
Published December 8, 2015
Tags: fungus, lichens, Nantucket
Published December 7, 2015
Tags: lichens, Nantucket
Lichens are extremely sensitive to air pollution, so we don’t have all that many here in the city. We’re missing out on an amazing little universe as a result, one we’ve gotten used to not seeing. This is a perfect example of the way environmental destruction isn’t noticed: as species decline and disappear, we become used to what we see now in the present, forgetting what once was. Everything seems normal now, but isn’t, not by a log shot. Last week, however, I was thirty miles off the coast of Cape Cod, on Nantucket, where the frisky air is some of the cleanest on the East Coast. As a consequence, the place is a lichen wonderland. A similar habitat to Long Island, Nantucket thus serves as a window into our own past here. 89 species in 37 genera were noted in this quick survey in 2004. My examples here all come from the town, after two days of rain, a spot not surveyed then.Lichens are composite, symbiotic organisms, made up of fungus and algae and/or cyanobacteria. They come in some very interesting forms.
Lichens can grow on almost any surface. An ocean-nestled place like Nantucket means they’re thick on wood, both alive and dead (fences, houses), but higher elevations and drier places will see them on rock. The base of this hoary elm has a particular rich landscape of lichen.
Published December 22, 2014
Tags: Brooklyn, Gowanus, Nantucket
Sea foam lapping along a bayside. This froth is created the agitation of dissolved salts, proteins, fats, dead algae, and other organic matter churning around in every ounce of sea water.Here it’s along a sheltered bay, which is probably full of organic (and, sadly, non-organic) run-off from the land and not subject to annihilating wave action by the direct ocean.And then there’s this, the foaming Gowanus. I don’t think I want to know what this is made of… and being sucked out into the bay by the tide.
Ἀφροδίτη: Aphrodite’s name comes from the word for “foam,” for she was, according to Hesiod, foam-born, from the gore caused by the flung genitals of Ouranos (Uranus, the sky), who was castrated by his son Kronos. Botticelli that! Kronos, the old charmer, would in turn eat his own children, except for Zeus, who was spirited away as a baby. Zeus would later lead his vomited-up siblings in revolt against Cronus and the other Titans, casting the giants into Tantalus. Oy, those Greeks! I bet you never saw any of this in a Disney cartoon.
Heading towards ‘Sconset on the Milestone Road will take you past the Middle Moors, which are nicknamed “the Serengeti” on Nantucket.This nickname is probably the result of too many nature documentaries and the lesson that they usually teach: nature exists somewhere else and is exotic, something to sit back and enjoy from your living room without having to put up with foreigners and suspect plumbing. In fact, though, these 400 acres are maintained in coastal heathland and sandplain grassland, both rare habitats on the island and elsewhere. This landscape is exotic enough and doesn’t need external referents, thank you very much.
Once sheep grazed this area, making sure nothing ever grew very high. Left untended by those Mesopotamian herbivores (bought in after whaling lost its preeminence for the island economy in the mid 19th century) or, now days, human wielding mowers and fire, the land would quickly become a dense scrub thicket. Habitats are always in flow. Why should we stop them? In this case it’s largely because of the Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) and some other invertebrate and plant species that make this rare habitat home. Did you catch that reference to “Mesopotamian herbivores”? I picked that up in George Monbiot’s Feral, where he rages against sheep as the “white plague,” an invasive species which has devoured the British Isles and remains the main obstacle to re-wilding. Monbiot argues persuasively, because he calls up the science, that the British Isles, particularly the wet western edges of Wales and Scotland, used to be lush rain forest. Temperate rain forest, like our Northwest, which often takes second place to the glories of tropical rain forest, but are just as rich and wonderful. (The skirts of Dartmoor felt like rainforest when I trod under them last year.)
This is a very interesting book. I will admit to be bogged down in the initial chapters where the author seemed to be in the midst of mid-life crisis and an urge to find his inner animal and challenge the elements. Written very well, but I can take that or leave it. But his ultimate point kept me through to the far more exciting later chapters: we need to re-wild, largely by letting it alone, our world.
Chinese Mantid, Tenodera aridifolia, on Elvira’s window. Easily four inches long. This is a late summer classic, at least since 1896, when these Asian natives were first introduced into North America. There have been many introductions since, as these all-purpose predators will eat anything they can get their “preying” hands on; of course, that also means insects beneficial to your garden, too.
Hymenoptera, the insect order that includes the wasps, bees, and ants, are named after their “membrane wings.” But ants don’t have wings, at least not in the colony, where such appendages would get in the way. The reproductives, males and virgin queens, however, do have wings. The queens break their wings off after mating flights and start new colonies. The males, or drones, die off after their work is done. Last week, a subtle glittering in the grass caught my eye. It was this colony all a-flutter.