Archive for the ‘Domestic animals’ category

Urban Wild and Feral Life in Spring

March 21, 2014

Spring is officially here. Red-tails are nesting, peacocks are showing, and male mallards are acting downright crazy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Trees are still mostly bare, which means you can more easily spot wildlife.

And feral life. The feral cat colony in Morningside Park seems out of control this spring. The cats are everywhere around the pond, stalking  ducks and other birds.

IMG_0267

But that’s a topic for another post.

For now, let’s put away the ice rescue ladder, and celebrate the arrival of another spring.

IMG_0272

Below are links to a few of Out Walking the Dog’s odes to springs past:

Two-Eyed Prophecy of Spring

It’s Spring; Everybody Sing!

Spring Fling in Morningside Park: Be Still, My Heart

Spring in Three Cities

NYC Signs of Spring: Red-tails Nest and Mr Softee Sings

Winter World: Animals in Red

February 17, 2014
Winter world.

Winter world.

As the dog and I step off the sidewalk into a narrow path dug between snow mounds at the corner of Broadway and 108th Street, the sound of distant honking stops me in my tracks. Not the usual traffic sounds of Broadway, but the calls of wild geese. I shade my eyes and look up in time to see a large flock of Canada geese – an uneven, dark V, followed closely by a long single line – disappearing to the southwest over the solid old apartment buildings of Riverside Drive. “Oh,” I say out loud, struck by beauty.

At the top of the stone staircase that leads into Riverside Park, the dog pauses to show off his red shoes.

The red shoes: Dance, little dog, dance.

The red shoes: Dance, little dog, dance.

We descend the staircase, and enter the white winter world of a snowy city park. Everything is strangely quiet.

IMG_9022

Central Park after a snowfall.

Only a couple of dogs are playing in the 105th Street dog run.

IMG_9409

Down by the river, a solitary runner runs.

IMG_9422

But where are the rest of the animals?

IMG_9421

We retrace our steps to the path above, where a squirrel scoots across the top of the snow and leaps onto a tree trunk.

IMG_6244

The little creature leaves behind a scribble-scrabble of footprints in the snow, the record of many such forays out of the safety of the trees. Three crows call from the top of the plane trees, then fly, one at a time, out of the park toward Riverside Drive. Two house sparrows chirp.

And that’s it. No hawks, no juncos, no woodpeckers, no robins, no flocks of sparrows, no chickadees, no titmice. Where is everyone?

And then we hear a high-pitched call: “Tsip, tsip, tsip.”

Winter’s bare branches make it easy to find the caller: a female cardinal, perched in a tangle of branches beneath the retaining wall. Although I usually see cardinals in pairs, today the brilliantly colored male is nowhere to be seen.  The lovely bird kept just outside the range of my iPhone, so here is a photo from last winter of two females picking up spilled seed beneath a bird feeder on eastern Long Island.

IMG_0514

The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) stays with us year-round, and even in the depths of winter, the male keeps his brilliant plumage. (Thank you, Rob Pavlin, for the beautiful photo below.)

Cardinal in Central Park by Rob Pavlin

Cardinal in Central Park. Photo: Rob Pavlin

Cardinals are particularly stunning against a snowy background, but they’re gorgeous birds in any season.

IMG_2413

Cardinal in autumn in Central Park’s Conservatory Gardens. Photo: Melissa Cooper

Just look at that red.

Cardinal in Central Park, early winter 2012. Photo: Rob Pavlin.

You don’t often see animals in winter sporting such flashy colors.

Still, it’s not unheard of, is it?

The red shoes.

The red shoes ride the elevator home.

This post is for Nick and Zuri.

NYC, Again with the Snow

February 3, 2014

IMG_9343

Again this morning, snow.

photo-14

Here are a few images from our snows of the past month.

Esau waits for me in Riverside Park.

IMG_9210

Dog prints on the retaining wall high above the park.

Who's been walking on the wall?

Who’s been walking on the wall?

In Morningside Park, a feral cat makes its way along the cliff near the iced-over waterfall.

photo-11

The cat’s white legs look like little ice falls.

photo-12

The pond in Morningside Park is sometimes frozen.

IMG_9145

Other times, some kind of bubble machine prevents it from fully freezing.

Bubbling pools in Morningside Pond.

Bubbling pools in Morningside Pond.

After the snow, the sky clears and a hawk flies over the snowy landscape of Central Park.

Red-tail after a snowfall.

Urban Peacocks and Red-tails in Winter

December 9, 2013

Last night we saw tiny snowmen on the top of the retaining wall in Riverside Park.

IMG_8910

It wasn’t much of a snow, but it gave a mysterious look to the park at night.

IMG_8907

This morning in the drizzle, a Red-tail Hawk flew low over our heads as we were crossing Amsterdam Avenue. We tracked it as it soared into the animal gates that lead to the grounds of St. John the Divine.

IMG_2316

The hawk soared along the path of the grounds, then suddenly swooped upward. We found it perched with a second hawk towards the back of the cathedral.

IMG_8914

I have only my iPhone camera these days, so I can’t zoom in for a close look. But here it is with a slightly closer look.

IMG_8920

Moments later, as we continued to watch the hawks, Phil, the Cathedral’s white peacock, wandered past us, looking rather bedraggled.

IMG_8921

He was completely unfazed by a boisterous group of schoolkids who almost walked right into him as they came around the corner.

IMG_8925

Phil simply moved aside with no fuss or hurry.

IMG_8926

The dog, on the other hand, was definitely fazed by the sight of Phil. He moaned with frustration and strained at the leash.

IMG_8927

The poor fellow has been trying for a taste of peacock ever since he first encountered the three neighborhood peacocks five years ago.

Ah, well. We all have our dreams.

IMG_8912

New York Men, and Their Little Dogs, Too

November 17, 2013

New Yorkers, who come in all shapes and sizes, love their dogs, who also come in all shapes and sizes. Today we’re taking a look at city men who love – or, at any rate, walk – little city dogs.

Enjoy.

IMG_8669

Crossing Columbus Avenue and heading west.

Heading up from the Greenway in Riverside Park.

Near the 96th Street red clay tennis courts in Riverside Park.

On Central Park's Great Hill.

On Central Park’s Great Hill.

Riverside Park.

Riverside Park.

Riverside Park.

Riverside Park.

Walking west on W. 108th Street.

Walking west on W. 108th Street.

Riverside Park.

Riverside Park.

Hey, that's my dog.

Hey, Mister, that’s my dog. And he’s not that little.

And we’re back where we started.

Crossing Columbus avenue, heading west.

Crossing Columbus avenue, heading west.

Never the Same Walk Twice

November 13, 2013

You never know what you’ll find when you go out walking.

Today’s walk brought us:

A mysterious ziggurat by the Hudson.

IMG_8421

A tepee.

IMG_8417

A giant compass.

IMG_8405

Vertical objects, man-made and natural.

IMG_8415

Balanced stones on top of a stone in Riverside Park.

IMG_8322

Berries in Riverside Park.

IMG_8402

Osage oranges in Morningside Park.

IMG_8350

Never the same walk twice.

IMG_8403

What will tomorrow bring?

A Dog in New York

November 10, 2013
My house is a very very very fine house.

My house is a very very very fine house.

Lately I’ve been feeling grateful to my walking companion.

Just over five years ago, my family and I left the horizontal landscape of Dallas, Texas for the vertical world of Manhattan. Since then, like old-fashioned postal workers, the dog and I can fairly say that “neither rain nor snow nor heat nor gloom of night” has stayed us from our daily exploration of our neighborhood’s streets and parks.  Walking with Esau has led me to discover things about my city and its inhabitants – human, domesticated and wild – that I might never have known if the dog didn’t need to go out, and then go out again.

So today I just want to take a minute to admire the dog who gets me up and out, who poses patiently whenever asked, and who valiantly represses his predatory instincts long enough to allow me to watch the hawks, raccoons, squirrels, egrets, sparrows, peacocks, woodpeckers, ducks, and other creatures that share the streets and parks with us.

(If you hover over the photos, arrows will appear so that you can click through the slide show)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thank you, Esau dear. You can take five now.

IMG_6486

NYC Marathon Runners and Central Park in Autumn

November 6, 2013

Last Sunday, the day of the New York Marathon, autumn arrived in earnest. Temperatures dropped from the 60s to the 40s, and gloves were suddenly in order.  The dog and I walked across Central Park’s northernmost stretch to cheer on the amazing runners. Notice the bundled-up spectators and the bare limbs of the runners.

IMG_8110

We joined an enthusiastic crowd at Duke Ellington Circle at Fifth Avenue and 110th Street at the northeast corner of the park. Musicians were playing beneath the statue of the Duke, and the mood was happy.

IMG_8103

The super-elite leaders had already passed by, but the runners counted as among the swift. It would be hours yet before the rest of the pack reached Central Park.  When they crossed 110th Street, the marathoners had already run around 23 miles, passing through Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan. All they had to do was now was run the length and width of Central Park.

That’s all.

They came one by one, and in between each runner, Fifth Avenue was empty.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Soon several powerful women ran past.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Two wheelchair racers kept pace together, one bent completely forward over his legs.

IMG_8116

In East Harlem, north of 110th Street, there were just a few onlookers.

IMG_8115

Later in the day, there would be crowds of people to cheer on the huge mass of runners still to come.

The dog and I didn’t stick around to see it, though. We headed back toward the park. Children played, and rolled around, claiming the closed-off  part of 110th Street as their own.

IMG_8106

A colorful kite man got off his bike, and prepared to fly a celebratory kite or two.

We entered the astonishingly beautiful park and walked west along the Harlem Meer.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Police helicopters kept watch overhead.

The dog posed among fallen leaves.

IMG_8126

Burnished autumn colors glowed.

IMG_8139

A feral cat crossed the path ahead of us as we neared Central Park West and 106th Street.

IMG_8141

The dog posed at Stranger’s Gate, although his attention remained riveted on the spot where he had seen the cat.

IMG_8145

One last look before we go.

IMG_8148

A Day in the City: Words and Wildlife

November 3, 2013

Sometimes a single day in the city bridges many lives and many ways of living. Yesterday was one of those days, brimming with nature and culture, wildlife and art.

In the morning, a little dog sat under a flame tree in Riverside Park near 108th Street and the Hudson River.

Dog on Fire.

Little dog and tree conflagration.

In the afternoon, I crossed the East River to Brooklyn, where I spotted a giant rodent in a parking lot.

Squirrel eats Williamsburg.

The squirrel that ate Williamsburg.

I headed to Acme Studio, where Words After War, a new organization dedicated to “building a community of thoughtful, engaged and skilled veteran writers,” presented its first public event, an absorbing panel discussion focused on writing about war.

Entering Acme’s extraordinary space through the loading dock, I was greeted by another enormous animal, this one lost in profound contemplation.

ACME

ACME

The panel was moderated by Quil Lawrence, an NPR correspondent who covers issues relating to the approximately two and a half million men and women who have returned from deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, you read that right. Although less than one percent of Americans serve in the military, nearly two and a half million have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many on multiple tours of duty. These young men and women come home to a country that doesn’t really even know where they’ve been, let alone what they’ve been doing. Words After War is working to change that.

The panel featured three very different young writers, two of them veterans:

Matt Gallagher (author of Kaboom, co-editor with Roy Scranton of Fire and Forget)41DAaDaQrAL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_

Brian Castner (The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows)
41uHyTgK5ML._AA160_

and Katey Schultz (Flashes of War).
61G8LQRZKpL

After the panel, feeling thoughtful, I walked west to the East River.

The setting sun touched the city with a golden splendor.

Bridge to Beauty.

A Bridge to the Setting Sun.

An entire continent lay hidden behind Manhattan’s skyline.

The sky glowed.

My city, my city.

I turned my back on the sunset to find that the light in the northwest was growing colder, although a few buildings now shone as if lit with an inner light.

As I began the walk to the subway, the East River ferry pulled into its dock.

And back in Manhattan after dark, the raccoons of Riverside Park were just beginning their day.

Surveying the kingdom after dark.

Surveying the kingdom.

Happy Halloween from Henrik Ibsen and Me

October 31, 2013

Most of you know my dog from his occasional appearances on this blog. You may know him as the neighborhood rat catcher, as a tireless explorer of urban nature, as the unwitting subject of my research, and as a supremely patient model.

IMG_8046

A sign at St. John the Divine: “HOLD CLOSE THY LOVED. Please keep dogs on a leash.”

Some of you may even remember the first time he impersonated the great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

ibsenandme1-1

Ibsen in the snow.

But what you don’t know – I myself only found out last week, when I took the photo below – is that for his own mysterious reasons (ah, who can fathom the mind of such a dog?), Strider, aka Esau, has been secretly perfecting his Ibsen impression.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Morningside Park: Sunbathing Turtles, Molting Mallards, Feral Cats

June 21, 2013

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All the rain we’ve had recently means the animals in Morningside Park are living the lush life.

IMG_2385

Green, green and greener.

And the sunshine brings out sunbathers.

Turtle pile-up.

Turtle pile-up.

Turtles are everywhere, on the rocks and in the water.

Female mallard and turtles.

Female mallard and turtles.

Today, mallards and turtles are the dominant species in the little pond.

Cooling off.

Cooling off.

Now that the excitement of breeding season is over, male mallards are molting into eclipse plumage. Drab feathers replace the brilliant iridescence of breeding plumage.

Molting mallard.

Molting mallard.

Not every bird is on the same schedule. The head and neck of the duck below glitters and shines, although he is well into his molt.

IMG_2387

Still breaking out the bling.

Each year during their molt, ducks lose their flight feathers, rendering them especially vulnerable to ground predators. What ground predators, you may wonder, do ducks have to worry about here in our urban park? Well, feral cats, dogs off the leash and, possibly, raccoons. Morningside Park’s feral cats have been more visible than ever this past winter and spring.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s no coincidence that someone is regularly feeding the cats.

IMG_0371

The spot for the feedings is right by the great stone staircase, on the cliff behind the pond. The pond and its surrounding vegetation draw nesting ducks as well as sparrows, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, robins, night herons, egrets and many other species. The cats are beautiful animals, and I understand the impulse to care for them. I understand trapping, neutering, vaccinating, and releasing them. But feeding them? Given what we now know about the devastation to North American songbirds since cats were established in the New World, do we really want to be feeding them?

We know a lot about the negative impacts of feeding wildlife, and I was happy to see these signs in Morningside Park.

Please Don't Feed Waterfowl.

Please Don’t Feed Waterfowl.

The signs address intentional feeding. But inadvertent feeding, in the form of trash and dropped food, is what keeps our rodent population so healthy – and I’m not just talking about squirrels, like the one below.

IMG_0384

Squirrels don’t need bakery rolls.

Our urban ecosystem works best without hand-outs. Let them forage for themselves.

IMG_2411

Top Posts of 2012, Part One

December 28, 2012
The dog and I thank you.

The dog and I thank you.

As the end of the year approaches, the dog and I would like to thank our loyal readers for their regular visits to Out Walking the Dog. And as our community continues to grow, we’re  delighted to welcome readers – and commenters – from all over North America as well as Great Britain, Italy, Finland, Spain, Japan, Australia, South Africa, and beyond.

Here is the first installment of Out Walking the Dog‘s Ten Most Popular Stories of 2012.  These stories, all written and published in the past year, cover topics that include waiting dogs and feral cats, the effect of human-generated trash on wildlife, the arrival of coyotes on Staten Island, squirrels, and the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. (Oddly, the most popular story of all remains a post I wrote in 2010: Mastodons in Manhattan: How the Honey Locust Tree Got its Spikes. It has received far and away the most hits each and every year for three years now. Go figure.)

Most Popular Stories, Ten through Six

White kitten, Randall's Island, NYC.

White kitten, Randall’s Island.

10. Lives of City Cats: The Working and the Feral explores the lifestyles of NYC felines from cats that work to keep delis and bodegas mouse-free to feral cats that roam urban parks and streets. Free-roaming cats, both domestic and feral, cause a surprising amount of ecological damage as they kill birds that evolved without defenses against these efficient non-native carnivores. Are Trap-Neuter-Release programs a humane response to feral cat colonies or part of a larger ecological problem?

NYC Red-tail Eats Rat.

NYC Red-tail Eats Rat.

9. The Trash of Two Cities: How Our Trash Kills Our Hawks is a favorite post of mine. In it, I trace the 2012 deaths of NYC raptors to NYC’s overabundance of trash. Secondary poisoning kills raptors that consume rats laden with rodenticides (see post #6, below). All animals, including rats, seek food, water, and a safe place to rear their young. NYC provides all three in abundance, with trash providing most of the food that sustains our sizable rat population. The key to effective pest control is keeping our trash off-limits to animals. A visit to Philadelphia leads me to compare that city’s solar-powered compacting trash cans with the open cans and dumpsters of New York.

8.  The Waiting Dogs of NYC is a photo essay of New York’s ubiquitous waiting dogs. Dogs wait for their owners outside restaurants, shops, post offices. Some wait in pairs, some wait alone. Some wait happily, some wait anxiously. My dog, too, waits. But the bond between an urban dog and its owner is strong.

Esau waits.

Esau waits.

NYC coyote: Mark Weckel.

NYC coyote: Mark Weckel

7. Another NYC Borough Falls to the Coyote muses over the first documented sighting of a coyote in Staten Island’s Fresh Kills landfill. How did the coyote get to Staten Island? What research is being done in NYC to find out more about where our urban coyotes are living? “As I’ve been saying for a couple of years now, coyotes are coming, people. In fact, they’re here.”

6. Good-bye, Riverside Park Red-tail documents the community reaction to the demise of a red-tailed hawk known as Mom who nested each year in Riverside Park.  Over the years, Mom survived a string of bad luck, including the death of a mate from secondary poisoning (see post #9 above) and the destruction of her nest with three nestlings in a storm.  But last year was a tough one for NYC’s hawks with at least four dying from rat poison. We visited the charming memorial put up in the park at Mom’s nesting site.

Riverside Park Memorial

Riverside Park Memorial

Check back before the new year for the top five stories of 2012.

Win a Prize in our Urban Nature Contest

December 7, 2012

Out Walking the Dog announces our first URBAN NATURE CONTEST!

Still the Same Hawk: Reflections on Nature and New York

THE PRIZE

Still the Same Hawk: Reflections on Nature and New York
edited by John Waldman, Fordham University Press

This newly published collection on a subject close to my heart features essays and articles that explore the relationship between nature and New York City. Writers include Robert Sullivan, Betsy McCully, Christopher Meier, Tony Hiss, Kelly McMasters, Dara Ross, William Kornblum, Phillip Lopate, David Rosane, Anne Matthews, Devin Zuber, and Frederick Buell.

Out Walking the Dog is proud to have a personal connection to the book through this painting by Charlotte Hildebrand.

Painting by Charlotte Hildebrand

Painting by Charlotte Hildebrand.

Out Walking the Dog originally commissioned the painting to illustrate Urban Hawk Snatches Chihuahua?  In that post, we pondered the line humans like to draw between meat animals and pet animals, and the reactions of city dwellers when one of our more revered wild animals, a red-tailed hawk, ignores our distinction. The illustration was spotted on Out Walking the Dog by the editors of Still the Same Hawk, and appears (in black-and-white, but still looking fine) as an illustration to Robert Sullivan’s essay, My Time Spent in the Nature that People Would Rather Not Think About.

THE RULES: HOW TO ENTER

Send me a description of an encounter you’ve had with urban wildlife. This may be as simple or elaborate as you like. You may write a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a poem, a dialogue, a haiku, whatever strikes your fancy.  Be sure to include your name and mailing address, so that, should you be the lucky winner, I can mail you your prize without delay. Send via email to: Outwalkingthedognyc@gmail.com.

THE SELECTION

One winning entry will be selected at random.  All entries will be read with interest, but interest will have no bearing on your chances.

THE DEADLINE

Entries must be received by Tuesday, December 18th at 7 PM.

The drawing will take place later that night or the following morning. The prize will be mailed via Priority Mail on December 19th. This means that, if the United States Post Office does its part and if you reside in North America, you’ll probably receive the book in time for Christmas.  (I will send the book anywhere in the world, but no guarantees of when it will arrive.)

AN EXHORTATION

December 18th is around the corner, folks. So get those entries in, and please help me spread the word.

Good luck!

(Did you know you can follow Out Walking the Dog on Twitter and Facebook?)

Gimme Shelter

December 6, 2012

IMG_9876

A branch-and-leaf structure recently appeared in Riverside Park.

What is it?

What is it?

A closer look reveals a solid low doorway from which the proprietor – or a shaggy interloper – can keep an eye on the grounds.

My house is a very very very fine house.

My house is a very very very fine house.

Built with fallen branches and leaves by an unknown architect, the above ground tunnel looks something like a sleeping animal covered with leaves.

A sleeping animal covered with leaves.

Long, low and leafy.

Tall branches leaning against a tree make for a taller space.

At the other end.

At the other end.

The walls are tightly woven, like the brambles of the 100-year forest that sealed Sleeping Beauty from the world.

Dog inside.

Dog inside.

And leaves are thickly strewn.

Walking the tunnel.

Walking the tunnel.

The structure both hides and reveals.

The view from within.

The view from within.

And speaking of tunnels as well as of hiding and revealing, my friend Charlotte of The Rat’s Nest blog recently observed a gopher near her house in Los Angeles. She videotaped the little rodent with her iPhone as it repeatedly popped its head out of its hole, looking rather like a large thumb, then disappeared. Charlotte reports that she could actually hear the gopher tunneling in the earth.

The rodent holes I see in and around Riverside Park are not gopher tunnels. These, my friends, are rat holes, and as swiftly as the Parks Department fills them in, the rats dig them out.

Entrance to rat tunnel.

Entrance to rat tunnel.

This particular spot, most recently filled in after Hurricane Sandy, sometimes becomes a huge gaping sinkhole leading in and out of the mysterious tunnels where rats live much of their lives, sheltered from predators. Intriguing, but…

I think I’ll stay above ground.

Above ground action.

Above ground action.

For more on man-made structures in Riverside Park:

Riverside Park Weekend: The Tepee Builders

Journey North: Beyond Manhattan’s Easter Island

Beauty and the Tepee: Central Park and Riverside Park Go To the Mat

Johnny Burdock Seed, or You’ve Been Burred!

November 25, 2012

We spent Thanksgiving on Long Island.

Esau the dog near Mecox Bay. (Note how all plants are brown, killed when the bay flooded its banks during Hurricane Sandy.)

Returning to the city, I let my guard down as the dog and I strolled along the upper path in Riverside Park. I was daydreaming, working out a problem in a short play I’m writing. Suddenly I noticed the poor dog was limping. Leaves were hanging off his hind legs, but leaves don’t make a dog limp.

The culprit? My old enemy. Burrs!

Esau, you’ve been burred!

I pulled off the leaves to reveal the hated seeds of the burdock plant.

Burrs on both hind legs.

The evil burdock plants that line the path  had once again entangled my dog’s fur with sticky seeds, turning the poor beast into Johnny Burdockseed, an inadvertent carrier spreading the gospel of burdock wherever he might go.

Still distracted by my thoughts, I didn’t think to take off my mittens before pulling out the burrs.

Grrr. These things are almost impossible to pull out of thick knitted fabric. They break apart easily, and stick to everything they touch, even bare skin. For more on the incredible sticking properties of burdock and the amazing invention they inspired, watch Kelly Rypkema’s video on burdock.

Here are burrs dangling off a burdock plant, like ornaments on Morticia Adams’s Christmas tree.

But lest the brown withered stalk make you think the plant is on its last, er, legs, just take a look at those big healthy-looking green leaves. This burdock is here to stay.

Damn you, burdock. Leave my dog alone.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,226 other followers

%d bloggers like this: