Posts Tagged '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.

Fragile Forktails

Ischnura positaA mature female Ischnura posita. Ischnura positaAn immature female. Inch-long damsels, these. Eat more mosquitos, ladies!

Ischnura positaA mature male. The exclamation mark on the shoulder is tell-tale for this species, but it can fade with age.


“Creeping along the endless beach amid the sun-squall and the foam, it occurs to us that we, too, are the products of sea-slime.” H.D. Thoreau on Cape Cod.

I walked from the Lemon Creek Fishing Pier to Conference House Park along the Raritan Bay shore of Staten Island recently. Mt. LorettoThe red glacial till of the cliffs were pockmarked with old Bank Swallow nests.beachThe beach was shelly in parts, seaweedy in others.summerSurprisingly few people were to be seen over the couple miles of beach on a summer weekend. IMG_6695Fishermen had plundered through, though, leaving this four-footer to the maggots.Erythemis simplicicollisAlong the phraggy edges past the cliffs of Mt. Loretto, some Odonates patrolled. This is a female Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis).Great Beds LightGreat Beds Light, in Raritan Bay, off the southwestern tip of Staten Island. Named after the great beds of oysters once found there. The beach had a good number of oyster shells on it, so there are still some, but there’s been no oyster harvesting from the great estuary that surrounds New York City in nearly a century. The Billion Oyster Project is trying to change that.Great Beds LightOspreys have nested on top of the light. rocksThis marker on the rocks near the entrance of the Arthur Kill has been taken over by Double-crested Cormorants. rocksThey’ve crowded their nests onto all the available horizontals.Conference HouseThis is the view from the 1680 Billopp House, now known as the Conference House because of the unsuccessful peace parley held here in 1776. We can pretend there isn’t an industrial watercourse right on the other side of those trees and imagine the view not so different 300 years ago.Platanus occidentalisThere are some magnificent American Sycamores on the grounds; that’s my 20″ long backpack for scale.


Sterna hirundoA Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) was raising vocal hell. Then it started to fly straight at me, arrow-like. I instinctively flinched as it passed over head. No fool I. The bird spun around, and returned for another strafing. I’ve been here before. This kind of dive-bombing is classic nest protection strategy for terns; that little black head and red bill coming at you means business. The business is simple enough: they want you to get away from their eggs or young. The Commons’ cousins the Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisaea) will buzz even closer, and sometimes actually whack you in the head; they will also shit on you in a coup de grâce we probably shouldn’t take for editorializing, or should we? It is best to wear your backpack on your head when you’re near an Arctic Tern breeding colony, as in, say, Iceland, where swarms of them are like big angry bees overhead.Sterna hirundoThis past weekend seemed rather late in the season for a nest — in our immediate area, I know of Common Tern nests on the unused piers on Governor’s Island — but there was a fledgling to protect on the beach. I couldn’t get a photo of that particular young one, who was loudly squawking for eight-to-ten square meals a day (fish, plucked from the water). Further up the beach, though, this bird, which I think was another individual, was fairly amenable to being photographed. Sterna hirundoThe adult in the top photo is still in full breeding plumage. It’s winter look will be more like this youngster, although both feet and bill will be dark.


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