Posts Tagged 'Nantucket'

Beach Things

blue crab leg"Nantucket bamboo"Great Black-backed GullSanderlings, Ruddy TurnstonesSpider Crab, barnacle motel

December moth

mothA mild night, and the outside light brought in these moths. The flash overexposed this one, creating the ghosts on the double paned sliding door.moth2Not enough light on this one, but check out the barbs on the rear set of legs.

It was unusually warm last week, in the last month of what has turned out to be the hottest year in American history. I saw butterflies and a bat, and heard the plop of frogs hurrying to cover as I approached.

The long and winding beach

The low winter sun made the vegetation capping the cliff cast long shadows of late Matisse dancers.

Calendars mean less than they used to, though: it was in the mid-60s, and there were fresh prints of bare feet in the sand, sign of a freer spirit than I.On the left, a male Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola), and on the right, a male White-winged Scoter (Melanitta fusca), the eponymous white in the wing more easily seen when the bird flies. Look for the Buffleheads in New York Harbor, among many other places, and the Scoters (there are two other species) off the Rockaways.The central supports of this brand new staircase have been completely undermined. Sandy or the nor’easter the week later may have done the final sweeping away of cliff here, but it was only a matter of time. Ozymandias on the beach.The cliff has some luscious looking clay in it. Or is that “unctuous”? (I understand that geologists are known for tasting their samples. Their dentists must role their eyes.)Egg case string from Knobbed Whelks. Each capsule is filled with multiple tiny whelks, miniatures — who could hear the sea in them? I guess that the pale one is very recent.

Old Fungus

That mushroom I photographed in October growing on this wooden fence was still there last week, looking rather lurid now.


My, what long bills you have. Dunlin, Calidris alpina, a species of sandpiper. A winter visitor in our region; these were walking just a few feet away from us on Hummock Pond a week ago. Their breeding plumage, as in so many other birds, is more colorful: rufus backs and black bellies. They breed along the northern edges of North America and Eurasia.

Speaking of Eurasia — well, somebody’s ‘asia anyway — two Northern Lapwings were on the other side of the Pond that day. This is a Eurasian breeder, very rare here, but a few have been spotted along the East Coast post-Sandy, including on Long Island.


I practically walked into this Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) a week ago on Nantucket. We were eye-to-eye for a moment, until it worked its way further into some kind of tiny-leaved elm. The island was flush with these nuthatches while I was there. I even saw a few White-breasted Nuthatches on the island, which I never have before. Here in NYC, the White-breasted are more common, but if you look, and listen, you should find some Red-breasted. I was struck most of all by how small this bird was. I’ve seen these many times before, from a distance of yards, often through binoculars, but rarely from just a foot or so, as I did this one initially. Size is tricky that way. The bird doesn’t look that small from a distance, but up close it is tiny. For comparison’s sake: a House Sparrow is 6.25″ in length, the Red-breasted 4.5″ in length.
“Red” is a fairly abused word in the common names of birds. This is more of a burnt orange. Females are paler, so this may be a female. This species is generally found in pine woods; this looks like a irruption year for these birds, meaning more will be coming down from boreal Canada than usual. Nuthatches stick close to trees and will often be seen hanging upside down from branches and pinecones. They are using their relatively long bills to probe under bark, into crevices, cones, etc. for invertebrates and seeds. They get their common name “nuthatch” because they use their bills to whack seeds open for the meaty nut. “Hatch” here is a form of “hack”; some wits say the birds “hatch” out the nuts in a Caesarian way.
Hamlet, mopey prince of Denmark, says “There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” This seems to mean he finally accepts his fate after all the preceding tsuris, even if he doesn’t know what that fate is yet (spoiler alert: it ain’t pretty). Just before this, he says “we defy augury” — which was originally a form divination via reading the flight of birds.

Hamlet paraphrases Matthew, speaking King James’s English, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father,” which suggest both the omnipotence and the one-ness of all. I don’t find the sky god concept a necessary fiction, but the connection between us and even the littlest birds is undoubted.

Beyond the Feathers

I usually only use my own photography here, but this image was too impressive to not share. It’s an X-ray of a young Peregrine falcon male who was caught up in some electrical wires on Nantucket recently and sent to the Humane Society/Fund for Animals’ Cape Wildlife Center (and on Facebook) for rehabilitation. There was no internal damage and the bird was expected to be released soon. Click on the image to getter a bigger view. Note the mighty keel of the breastbone (you may analogize a chicken here, turned upside down when roasted), to which the powerful muscles of the wings are attached.

More on Peregrines, who nest throughout the city and on every bridge across the Hudson. A good place to see them here in Brooklyn is the FDNY communications tower at Washington Ave. and Empire Blvd, where they regularly perch. The best views of the tower are from within the Botanic Garden.

Underside and inside

European paper wasp, Polistes diminula. Through a window. It was a cold morning, the first of the nascent fall, and this individual was hardly moving, waiting to warm up with the sun. This European import, introduced to the U.S. only in the late 1960s and now wide-spread, has markings similar to some of the yellow jacket waps, which are more aggressive. They may be mimicking the more dangerous animal to scare off potential predators. You can distinguish the mellower diminula (which can still sting) by its orange antenna; yellow jackets, in the genus Vespula, have black ones. Yes, I know, you’re probably rarely that close to note this difference…

Earlier, going into the shed, I found this diminula nest on the door (yellow jackets build concealed nests, usually underground):In the hexagonal cells, eggs:

Pearl Crescent

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos), on path around Marvin’s Woods.

Pulling “chestnuts” out of the etymological fire

The Chestnut Oaks, Quercus montana, are ripening in Prospect park. This species’ common name stems from the leaves, which are somewhat chestnut-like, although the acorn, over an inch long in this species, is all oak.The remains of a squirrel feast on what I believe is Yellow Buckeye, Aesculus flava, in the Vale. Included here because it’s related to the Common Horsechestnut, Aesculus hippocastanum: the shiny brown nuts or conkers of both are quite similar. Buckeyes are native to North America and are distinguished from the Eurasian horsechestnut — which is now widely cultivated here, and the species you are more likely to run into in the city — by having five leaflets instead of the horsechestnut’s seven.At last, actual chestnuts! This is some kind of cultivar of European or Sweet Chestnut, Castanea sativa, source of the chestnuts you roast on the open fire. I’m cheating a little here because this isn’t in Prospect Park, it’s on Chestnut Street on Nantucket. But for instructional purposes, note how the spiny husk is quite similar to American Chestnut, a few of which grow in Prospect.

So whence this confusing multi-use name “chestnut”? It goes back to the Old English chesten, the name for the sweet chestnut of Eurasia, the C. sativa of above. Chesten has a Greek source, the name for the nut of either Pontus, on the Black Sea, or Thessaly, which would be the same nut, methinks.

A special note for pot-heads: “sativa” is used in many botanical names, and is derived from the Latin verb for to sow.


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