Posts Tagged 'Staten Island'

Raptor Wednesday

Look, up in the sky! It’s a… oh, let’s cut to the chase, comix book fans. It is a mature Bald Eagle. A pair have been nesting in the area for a couple of years now. (Remember, in 1974 there were no breeding pairs in New York State AT ALL. In 2017, there were 323 breeding pairs in the state. With their assault on the environment/health/the future, Republicans are driving hard to return to that zero base-line.)

This is the way this flyby went down. In the distance, we saw an Osprey coming inshore with a fish. The eagle intercepted it. As Ben Franklin noted, our national symbol is a pirate and scavenger. The Osprey dropped the fish, but the hump of beach ahead of us blocked our view of what happened after that. Several moments later, however, the eagle flew along the narrow beach right over our heads. There was some prey clutched in those hand-sized talons.Heading towards the nest, I’ll wager, with lunch. The prey is pretty mangled in that mighty grip, but seems to show a lot of scales. Fish is the one of the main foods of this sea eagle.The width of the plank-like wings when one of these flies over is unbelievable.

Spotted Dweller of the Coast

A very vocal shore bird this time of year makes you think there’s a nest nearby.Spotted Sandpipers are the shore birds you’ll see inland. In Brooklyn, that means the edges of Prospect Lake and Sylvan Water in Green-Wood host them during migration. Teeterbird is one of their common names, for their habit of bobbing their tails up and down. This is the most widespread breeding sandpiper in North America. Among their range of habitats, they can be found up to 14,000 feet. All this suggest their binomial, Actitis macularius, which I’ve translated for the title of this post, is limiting. In this case, this bird was definitely on the shore. We wondered if there might be young around, but didn’t see anything and thought it best just to keep moving. Those hind nails!The females take the lead in establishing territories, males take the lead in parental care.

Beach Patrol

An old map I once saw named this section of Staten Island’s southwestern shore “Red Bank”. Herring Gull. One of the Raritan Bay channel markers (“red-right-return” to the sailors) had an even bigger gull on it. Indeed, the world’s biggest: a Greater Black-backed Gull, who made a sortie after a fish-laden Osprey. The Osprey held firm.Not an uncommon sponge find. But I’ve never seen such recently washed ashore ones.This color! Red-beard Sponge (Clathria prolifera)?An unknown crab… updated via iNaturalist as the invasive Asian Shore Crab (Hemigrapsus sanguineus).The beach was littered with dead filleted fish, fish heads, and two big, rotting corpses. I think these latter were Sheepsheads. This is the lower jaw of one them. Yes, they have teeth! Too bad they don’t crunch up their killers, right? The seaweeds exposed at very low tide.

Visited the same area almost exactly a year ago, and the big difference this time was that there were no Bank Swallows seen nesting in the bank.

Various Insects

Polished Lady Beetle. The gloss on these things! You can see the trees overhead reflected in the elytra*.Red-banded Leafhopper. You must get close to this little one to see this wild pattern.Invasive European Wool Carder Bee. They hover very much like flies and are quite territorial. All over now, they were first detected in New York in 1963.Oleander Aphids.So many wasps, so little time!A Least Skipper, first one I’ve seen. In the marsh area of Pier 1, Brooklyn Bridge Park. *Beetle forewings have evolved into hardened coverings for their hindwings. These coverings are called elytra. Elytron is the singular. On this firefly they are opening in preparation for flight……beetles are not the greatest fliers in the insect world.

Speaking of flying: hot off the scientific press is news that captive-raised Monarch Butterflies don’t know how to migrate. Here’s another abstract.

Isn’t Monarch-raising rampant in schools? Who will tell the teachers? What about other butterflies and moths? Hobbyists are mentioned, too, since in-door raising of wild-caught Monarchs also results in the loss of the ability to orient south. But not all butterflies and moths are migratory… yet the study found that commercial Monarchs have differently shaped forewings than wild ones.

To market, to market; it is devouring the world.

I looked up the National Association of Biology Teachers… and noticed that one of its funders is Monsanto. The Octopus surrounds us.

Mammal Monday

Ondatra zibethicus: muskrat! As busy as the proverbial beaver.Thoreau reveled in calling them “musquash.” (See Geoff Wisner’s collection of HDT on animals.)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Senator Susan Collins says the President has assured her he won’t be asking his Supreme Court candidates about Roe v. Wade. Two things: 1) Trump’s record on lying tells us he’ll say ANYTHING to try and get what he wants; and 2) the list he’s using is from the Federalist Society, an organization openly dedicated to transforming the American court system. The people on the list have already been asked about Roe.

Also, Senator Collins seems to think it’s legit for someone — who will in all probability have his case(s) in front of SCOTUS — pick another of the justices.

Glossy Ibis

The first time I saw a Glossy Ibis was in Jamaica Bay. I didn’t even know we even had ibis in the Americas. There are actually three species found in the U.S. The Glossy, Plegadis falcinellus, gets up as far as southern coastal Maine during the breeding season. The White-faced is a prairie states breeder and the White is a Florida native. An occasional White-faced or White will show up in these parts. This Glossy was on Staten Island recently.Doing a little bathing, a little foraging, in a small pond that looked like it would dry up by the deeps of summer.

The Year in Raptors

Suddenly, every local Rock Dove and Starling is in the air. They swirl this way and that, creating visual confusion: which way do your eyes go? Then just as suddenly, the long tail of a Cooper’s Hawk concentrates the eye in the airborne melee. The Accipiter is hunting, surfing over the tops of buildings, jetting through the alleys between. Sunset Park, the neighborhood I look out on from up here on the top of the moraine, is the bird’s forest.

New York City is raptor country. Plate glass, rat poison, and all the vile two-legged enemies aside, this town is full of hawks and falcons.

Over the past year, I tried to keep track of the number of raptor sightings I had here. When I started thinking about doing so in late 2016, one a day was the minimal count, and I wanted to see if that could be maintained. My total of 331 is obviously just slightly less than that on average. (I spent 49 or so of the year’s 52 weeks here in the city.) Closed curtains to block the sun, combined with breeding season (half of all birds at nest), meant summer had runs of several days without a single sighting. My best single day’s count was five, a record reached half a dozen times.

A raptor a day, or almost every day, it should be said, keeps the doctor away.

Note that these aren’t necessarily separate individuals. For instance, I started noting the Peregrines atop the Industry City smokestack, the subject of an upcoming Raptor Wednesday, in late December; subsequent daily instances were all probably one of the two birds first definitely seen up there 12/24.

The species:

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
Peregrine (Falco peregrinus)
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Merlin (Falco columbarius)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius, formerly Circus cyaneus)
Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)

This list is roughly in order of frequency. Only the Goshawk, a rather unusual occurrence in the city, was a solo instance (after I made multiple attempts to see it, by the way). A notable absence: the occasional winter-visting Rough-legged Hawk, but I didn’t often get to Floyd Bennett Field and other coastal areas they prefer when they’re down here. Unlike 2016, Osprey did not nest atop a light at the waterfront parking lot this year, so they were not a potential sight from my window during breeding season.

Elsewhere, trips to Virginia, Great Swamp NWR, Croton Point Park, two fall hawk watches, and Sweden (nine new species of raptor!) added substantial numbers to the grand total of 470. (The frequency of sightings in Sweden and the two hawk watches within short drives from NYC were so fast and furious I just threw up my wings and only counted species seen.)

Pictured above is a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk perched in Green-Wood Cemetery, 12/17/17. Pictured below is an adult Cooper’s preening on a fire-escape a third of the way down the block, 12/26/17. Long-time followers may remember that a juvenile Cooper’s perched on the same fire-escape, at virtually the very same exact spot, in April 2017.

And we’re off to a good start for 2018: One Peregrine Monday. Two Peregrines Tuesday (one screaming bloody murder over a perched Red-tailed Hawk). Also yesterday, a male Kestrel perching on the fire-escape pictured above in the cold, cold morning, and a Cooper’s on the mid-day prowl.

Red Meadowhawks

Obelisking meadowhawk of the Sympetrum genus. This abdomen-up position minimizes the amount of heat hitting the body.The Sympetrum are difficult to distinguish out-of-hand in the field. This could be the White-faced, Cherry-faced, or Ruby-Faced.This male was the only specimen seen at NYBG. The females are even harder to distinguish, but they all know the drill: the sex parts are all unique for the individual species. This dragon made many sorties and perched in multiple spots within a very short compass, but he always faced the pond.Another, this time on Staten Island. Note that segment 2 of the abdomen doesn’t seem as keel-like as the one in the first three pictures. Also the only example seen at this location. They seem to like the perch and foray style, unlike, say, the gliders, which are constantly on patrol in the air.

Swamp Loosestrife

Decodon verticillatus is also called water-willow and whorled loosestrife. The flowers are spectacular, but you sure have to get close to them.These leaves certainly look rather “willowy,” but the species isn’t related to Salix. It is related to Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), the dreadful invasive, but D. verticillatus is a native from Maine to Louisiana. Talk about liking to get its feet wet! It grows in fresh water. One source says muskrats like to munch on these bulbous underwater bits.

Great Golden Digger

Busy as a wasp. A Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus).She builds a nearly vertical burrow with cells off of a central tunnel, each stockpiled with paralyzed grasshoppers and katydids for her young.


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