Posts Tagged 'Staten Island'


Hemaris diffinisAnother critter hard to pin down. This is a Snowberry Clearwing Moth (Hemaris diffinis), named after one of its host plants and, more obviously, those see-through parts of the wings. This was moving quickly between honeysuckle blossoms, another of its caterpillar hosts, and proving hard to capture in the lens. Note that it mimics a large bee or wasp, sort of flying like one, too. Hemaris diffinisI thought at first this was a Hummingbird Clearwing (H. thysbe); it says here the species can be difficult to distinguish, but the legs on this specimen are definitely black, and that means diffinis.

Compare to the similar-sized Nessus Sphinx.


Sassafras albidumSassafras albidum drupe on its pedicel. Such sassy colors!

This should be eaten by a bird, the single seed within spread elsewhere, hopefully to germinate into one of these lovely three-leaf-type trees.

This wonderfully aromatic plant–from the roots to the leaves–was long used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes. It was also one of the major colonial exports back to Europe, for it was reputed to work on the pox! (It didn’t, but what-evs.) In addition, it was the original source for root beer, since banned as carcinogenic, and filé powder. To paraphrase a certain spider, “Some Tree!”

SI Surprise

Haliaeetus leucocephalusThis time of year, one visits Mt. Loretto Unique Area, a NYS DEC property on Staten Island, for the rich plethora of summer plants and insects, with some good birds thrown into the mix.

But as soon as we got out of the car the other day, we noticed two big dark birds in the distance behind the church on the other side of Hylan Blvd. Vultures, right? (This made me think that I have not seen a lot of vultures this summer.) But but but… no. Not vultures: too brown, flapping too much, not holding their wings in that vulturine dihedral… wait a sec! Yes, eagles. A mature third bird, with white head and tail, definitely put the frosting on that cake. All three were briefly perched on the old brick chimney near the church. IMG_9367An Osprey mixed it up with them. Here it’s buzzing one of the young eagles. Primarily fish-eaters and scavengers, Bald Eagles are not averse to taking young Osprey right out of the nest.

You may recall that last year there was breaking news that Staten Island was hosting a Bald Eagle nest. That may have been somewhat premature; it seems as if the birds were just practicing nest-building.

The two dark birds now are subadult, but I’m not practiced enough to tell how old they are. It takes five years or so to get that full white head and tail. I don’t know if we’re looking at a nest that produced two youngsters this year, but it sure looks like it. Let me know if you know more details.

Haliaeetus leucocephalusLater in the afternoon, while we were watching young Common Terns begging for food on the beach, we saw the trio of eagles again. Some terns went after them, one on one, so much smaller than the eagles. We were close enough to see one of young eagles wheel to its side and flare its great claws, which are as big as human hands, at the fearless terns.

UPDATE 8/10: I’ve gotten some confirmation that these are two yearlings. Congratulations, Staten Island!

Barn Swallow and Others

Hirundo rusticaFinding a swallow isn’t so hard, but finding one taking a breather sure is.Hirundo rusticaBarn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) breed in various places in the city; this female was at Bush Terminal, so I’d be willing to bet there’s a nest nearby. A couple of years ago, I watched another pair gathering mud for a nest under a pier at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Tachycineta bicolorWe have five species of swallows breeding in NYC. Tree Swallows can be seen nesting in the boxes at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge this time of year, but they also appear in our parks, so one may assume they make nests in local tree cavities, the old-fashioned way. The photo above was taken on Governor’s Island, where new nest boxes and meadow welcome them.

There are colonies of Bank Swallows on Staten Island‘s southern shore, where the terminal moraine turns into cliffs along Raritan Bay. Northern Rough-wing Swallows also breed on Staten Island (they like bank-sides as well, but will use other crevices, for instance in walls); they were also found breeding on Governor’s Island a few years ago, an expansion that hopefully continues. And SI also has a famous Purple Martin colony. (Actually, there’s more than one: I found some other SI Purple Martin houses occupied during the Great Cicada Year of ’13.)

Skimmer Fore and Aft

Libellula pulchellaFemale Twelve-spotted Skimmers (Libellula pulchella) seen on Staten Island and Brooklyn.Libellula pulchella

Staten Inferno

sIOn Wednesday, I offered up a little slice of heaven in New York City, a NY-state protected piece of Staten Island. Sadly, though, a lot of Staten Island has been turned into hell, another slab of the undifferentiated suburban sprawl that has trashed so much of the rest of the US, through mis-guided development, greed, ignorance and stupidity, and, last but not least, political collusion and corruption. (Not to mention federal and private banking policies that red-lined our own form of suburban apartheid.) BloomfieldMy Virgil through the rings of the developers’ underworld of SI was David Burg of WildMetro, an advocacy organization for metropolitan nature. (All opinions here are my own, although David is no slacker when it comes to opinions.) We looked at the Bloomfield lowlands south of the Goethals Bridge, part of a big 676-acre track that had been slated for the obscenity of a NASCAR racing complex, but is now supposed to be filled and re-developed for industrial uses. This area boarders salt marsh, Old Creek, and the Arthur Kill, and is a prime candidate for flooding — Hurricane Sandy debris had to be removed from the site — necessitating massive infill to raise the level 10-20 feet. It’s supposed to be a “marine port and logistics center.” Near where I live in Brooklyn, the existing port facilities go largely unused.

Among other things unused: the centers of many Staten Island towns and villages, hollowed out by the local malls. When the developers and their paid agents the politicos scream “jobs, jobs, jobs!” as the basis for their profit-taking from the commonweal of nature, they mean temporary construction jobs and low-wage service jobs in the big box stores, a smokescreen to prevent you from seeing where other jobs could and should be encouraged. So another mall is going up across the street from the mall on Veterans Road West. woodchipsThe city is spending millions to plant a million trees, while, meanwhile, millions of trees are being chopped into wood chips, as in this pile on an 11-acre site scraped of life. g1This is a fenced-in thicket between the box store’s parking lot (most of this kind of development is blacktop, parking spaces, flat expanses of nothing in a brute landscape) and road. It’s a parody of a “nature preserve,” in which the last of the very rare Torrey’s Mountain Mint, elegized here by my friend Marielle Anzelone, grows. Pycnanthemum torreiIt’s like a Guantanamo for flowers, noted David. The caged plants are symbolic of an entire meadow and surrounding forest habitat lost, the remnants slowly being choked with vines. It isn’t just in Africa where preserves barely hold onto species. Quercus marilandicaAnother habitat island: some unusual Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica). The only place this species is found in New York State is here on Staten Island. There are some protected stands in the nearby Clay Pits Pond State Park, along with the tree’s near-twin Post Oak, (they are barrens-siblings), but this thicket was just there, in no-person’s zone, hence vulnerable to so many whims.

Someone told me recently my posts were getting heavy lately with reports of invertebrate numbers crashing, Passenger Pigeons passing, bees, bats, monarchs etc. But that’s the reality of our times, and our responsibility. Still, let let me end here on a bit of optimism:holdoutSalt marsh. Green Herons. Fiddler crabs. Blue crabs. Right next to the Arthur Kill.

Butterfly Meadow

LorettoThe glorious meadow at Mt. Loretto, a New York State “unique area” at the southern end of Staten Island. (Used to be a lot more like it, of course… SI’s development mirrors the post-war suburban destruction of unique areas.) It was abloom with butterflies recently. Here are a few of the species I saw: Phyciodes tharosPearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos).Cupido comyntasEastern Tailed Blue (Cupido comyntas), in an uncommon open-winged pose.Calycopis cecropsRed-banded Hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops). A species I’ve never seen before. This is the northern edge of its range; it is more common in the deep south. The “hairs” off the tail wagged in the air like antennae, and the spot looks vaguely eye-like. It was hard to tell which end was which, probably the point. Cercyonis pegalaCommon Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala) was another species I’m not familiar with. Cercyonis pegalaA nice surprise.

Other species: Spicebush Swallowtail, Red Admiral, Tiger Swallowtail, Silver-spotted Skipper (the most numerous), Cabbage White, Monarch (2x), one of the Ladies, and these damn confusing skippers:skipperskipper2skipper3skipper4Two different examples of the same species, I think.

I thought I had a pretty good day, even if I later found a list of the butterflies of Staten Island (Richmond Co.) that had 112 species on it. Sometimes you see the snow leopard, sometimes you don’t. One thing I did see when I pulled my eyes from the butterfly-graced, grasshopper-heaving meadow was a huge, dark bird flying so low and slow that I thought it must be a vulture. But it was a mature Bald Eagle, coasting towards Raritan Bay. A pair nest in the area.


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  • Dreamed about how hard it is to photograph damselflies. In a barbershop. In front of a heating duct which melted my phone. 14 minutes ago
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