Posts Tagged 'Staten Island'

Raptor Wednesday

Ran into a family of four Bald Eagles at Mt. Loretto on Staten Island. Haliaeetus leucocephalus: this is one of this year’s youngsters. The white head and tail feathers come in fully by age 4 or so. The bird was making a racket, calling its parents for food. Big, but still learning. An adult flew in with a fish; this one joined it, and then the other youngster, unseen and unheard before this, did as well. Eventually, both parents perched over the pond. There was something rather curious going at the other end of this pond. It looked like a mostly submerged, dead Canada Goose was being jerked about in the water (primaries were occasionally seen) and chomped on by at least two large Snapping Turtles. I do not think this escaped the eagles’ eyes. They are great scavengers. Probably the closest I’ve ever been to one of these birds. Looked so much bigger on the ground and in the water than up in a tree. From the back, I was reminded of a Turkey.The bird was poking at things in the water, picking some of them up.

We urged it to drop this (plastic bag, mylar balloon?). It did, luckily. The first year is fraught with hazards.

Some Birds

House Wren. Looks like they were nesting in this old snag.Brown-headed Cowbird male. The female was nearby.
Sign. Look up:Robins; late or second brood.

I usually only catch Little Blue Herons distantly, passing overhead at Jamaica Bay or bobbing distantly about in the marshes there. This one was hunting on Spring Pond in Blue Heron Park.These birds are about the size of Snowy Egrets, so rather smaller than Great Blue Herons. And, unlike the Great Blues, these are of a much more uniform color; this slate blue actually blends into the foliage well. The bird favors this horizontal stance while hunting, it’s head in near constant motion as it stalks. We saw it snag a frog and a fish, both flipped down the gullet without ceremony.There was a Green Heron in the mix, too.Saw this in Brooklyn before heading out to Staten Island. Didn’t pose the butt. Tobacco-junkie numbers are down, but their butts are still one of the most common forms of toxic litter.

How Great?

The Great Egret, Ardea alba.Working it.And another.

Black toes, yellow bill. White plumes once worth so much the birds were almost slaughtered to extinction.

Nymphs, Satyrs, Buckeyes, Monarchs

Common Wood-nymph (Cercyonis pegala).
Little Wood-satyr (Megisto cymela).(One of the eyespot patterns is torn.)Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia).Monarch (Danaus plexippus).

All spotted earlier this month at Mount Loretto State Unique Area. The Little Wood-satyrs are early summer fliers, which probably explains why I’m not too familiar with them. It’s hot out there in the meadows of Mount Loretto and I don’t think I’ve been there in July before.

Purple Martins

It’s been several years since I last ventured to the Purple Martin colony at Lemon Creek on Staten Island. There are at least half a dozen nests going now. It’s hard to count with all the comings and goings. Also, House Sparrows and European Starlings have taken some of the spaces, adding to the difficulty of counting. (Overly purple lures to attract the birds, like the ones at the far left and right of the above, were not counted.)Progne subis, the largest of our swallows. Progne, or Procne, was an unfortunate Greek mythological character whose husband cut her tongue out because he wanted to marry her sister Philomel. Procne and Philomel had their revenge, but it was gruesome enough to upset the gods, who turned Procne into a swallow and Philomel into a nightingale. Meanwhile, at Lemon Creek, there were fledglings perching and flying, as well as nestlings still in the condos and gourd-shapes. (Hollowed gourds were used by Native Americans for Purple Martin nests; the ones here are plastic, alas.)

This week, I will be celebrating the 200th birth of Henry David Thoreau. On April 17, 1852, he wrote “When I was young and compelled to pass my Sunday in the house without the aid of interesting books [because of the grim New England Sabbath], I used to spend many an hour till the wished-for sundown watching the martins soar (from an attic window) — and fortunate indeed did I deem myself when a hawk appeared in the heavens though far toward the horizon against a downy cloud — and I searched for hours till I had found his mate. They at least took my thoughts from earthly things.”
And John James Audubon, in 1831, judging the accommodations by their martin houses: “Almost every country tavern has a martin box on the upper part of its sign-board; and I have observed that the handsomer the box, the better does the inn generally prove to be.”


A tremendous crashing in the wetland thickets to our left brought forth this buck. He leaped into the meadow trailing phragmites from his rack. Note that the animal is tagged [#326?]; looks like this means he was given a vasectomy in an effort to cut Staten Island’s White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) population.This was at Mount Loretto State Unique Area on the weekend. Yesterday, we ran into a few more there, including this one right out in the open on the other side of the pond. Another was bedded down in the meadow not ten feet from the path. He let us walk by, but when we returned, and our eyes met, he skedaddled. And another.
Then we saw four in Clay Pit Ponds State Preserve. This one, one of a cluster of three in the cattails, looked just past fawn-hood.

Speaking of big critters, we also saw a couple of Wild Turkeys and a male Ring-necked Pheasant, and heard some Indian Peafowl, while on 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.)


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