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.
And we’re back where we started.
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.
And we’re back where we started.
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.
Thank you, Esau dear. You can take five now.
On Monday, the dog and I took a long walk in Central Park with my friend Mary, who is in town performing with Taylor Mac in a wonderful production of Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan at the Public Theater. Go see it, if you can.
The Pool, a lovely little body of water near West 103rd Street, was painted with autumn colors.
Mallards bobbed and dabbled everywhere.
Wait a minute, those aren’t all mallards. Check out that duck on the left, below.
That ain’t no mallard. Let’s take a closer look.
A beautiful reddish head, but definitely not a Redhead. A white breast and clean white markings curving up either side of the back of the neck. Very handsome. What is he? No clue. Well, we’ll look it up when we get back to the apartment.
We wandered on along the Loch and through the North Woods to the Conservatory Garden, which stretches from 106th Street to 103rd along the eastern edge of the Park. It’s actually three distinct, beautifully maintained gardens, one French, one Italian, and one English.
In the French Garden, the dog took a breather in front of a huge mass of brilliant, yet touchingly fading mums.
In the English Garden, beneath the “Secret Garden” statues of a Pan-like Dicken and a rather nymph-like Mary Lennox, a koi and a water lily entered into an inter-species communion of color.
The dog (or is it the mop?) mused on late-season flowers and the passing of time.
Later, we looked for our duck in the bird books. He looked unmistakeably like a Northen Pintail – except that he had no pintail. A visit to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds reassured by saying that in eclipse (non-breeding) plumage the tail feathers are “much shorter and wider than in breeding plumage.” That clinched it: a Northern Pintail. A visit to a favorite site, Bruce Yolton’s Urban Hawks confirmed that on Sunday Bruce had photographed a Northern Pintail in the Pool, a sighting he called “unusual for the Park.”
Here is a last look at our handsome duck.
To see more urban ducks, visit the archives of Out Walking the Dog. Better yet, try stopping by the Pool yourself. Or the Reservoir. Or the Harlem Meer. Or the Lake. Or the Pond. Or any body of water in any park anywhere near you.
Or hell, forget the ducks. Just go for a walk. It’s beautiful out there.
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.
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.
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.
They came one by one, and in between each runner, Fifth Avenue was empty.
Soon several powerful women ran past.
Two wheelchair racers kept pace together, one bent completely forward over his legs.
In East Harlem, north of 110th Street, there were just a few onlookers.
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.
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.
Police helicopters kept watch overhead.
The dog posed among fallen leaves.
Burnished autumn colors glowed.
A feral cat crossed the path ahead of us as we neared Central Park West and 106th Street.
The dog posed at Stranger’s Gate, although his attention remained riveted on the spot where he had seen the cat.
One last look before we go.
I’m a charter member of NYC’s Hawk-a-Day Club. Anyone can join, and the entrance requirements are, well, not too tough. Basically, all you have to do is spend some time outside, preferably in or near a park, and look up. Because these days, the city’s raptors, particularly its burgeoning population of red-tailed hawks, are pretty easy to spot.
Over the course of the past six weeks or so, I’ve regularly – even, yes, daily – seen red-tails…
in Riverside Park.
On the back of the Cathedral of St John the Divine.
In Central Park.
On a high-rise near Morningside Park.
On another high rise on Broadway between 109th and 110th Streets – on the same spot where I recently watched a pair of hawks copulate.
On a tree near the statue of General Franz Sigel at 106th and Riverside.
On a water tower, looking over 110th Street.
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.
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.
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.
One winning entry will be selected at random. All entries will be read with interest, but interest will have no bearing on your chances.
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.)
December 18th is around the corner, folks. So get those entries in, and please help me spread the word.
Walking just got easier along Riverside Park’s upper promenade on Riverside Drive.
On Wednesday, it looked like this at 107th Street and Riverside Drive.
But yesterday, all that was left of the tree was sawdust and a pathetic bit of stump.
Gazing south to 105th Street, we spied the heroes of the scene toiling away on yet another downed tree.
The tree crew from East Greenwich Tree Service has been working in Manhattan since Sunday.
Yes, Sunday. The city hired them to cut down potentially hazardous trees before Sandy reached its peak.
This gentleman told me of working up in the bucket on Sunday in 50-mile an hour gusts.
He also showed me impressive photos on his iPhone of cars smashed by trees. He said he likes to take the photos before they clear the trees, and he remembers exactly where each car was located. The job now is to clear streets and sidewalks.
After that, they’ll move into the parks. And in fact, directly below the team inside Riverside Park, a large tree with a huge root ball was blocking the upper path. To get a sense of just how huge, look at the little pedestrian coming along the path on the left.
A man from the Parks Department conferred with the team.
I asked him how much damage Riverside Park had sustained. He said he didn’t know exactly, since his priority has been to clear the streets for emergency vehicles and to keep people safe.
I told him I had heard that Morningside Park had lost a lot of trees, which he confirmed. (Scroll down for information on volunteering tomorrow in Morningside Park or your local park.) We talked about the storms over the past couple of years that have caused our parks to lose a substantial number of trees in the parks, including last October’s freak snow storm that took down 1,000 trees in Central Park.
“You know how they talk about a once-in-a-hundred years storm, well, we’ve had four of them in the past few years,” said the man from Parks. “Well, they’re gonna have to think of a new way to describe these storms.”
And they – I mean, we – are going to have to face the facts about climate change, and come up with new ways of living and working to protect our city and our planet.
Meanwhile, thanks to the tree guys for their hard, necessary work.
Post Sandy Volunteer Cleanup in Morningside Park
- Saturday, Nov. 3rd from 10am – 12 pm
116th Street and Morningside Drive
- Dress for outdoor work. Equipment will be provided.
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org to let the Friends know how many people you will be bringing.
It’s the day after Labor Day, and even this hot summer is drawing to a close. The air is thick and heavy today as what’s left of Hurricane Isaac passes us. And I’m thinking about summer in the city.
The way the colors are brighter than at any other time of year.
The way Amsterdam Avenue comes alive in the heat.
On 108th Street, a prayer meeting closes the street.
Over on Broadway, too, August colors shimmer.
On 59th Street, a plumed carriage horse was working hard, maybe too hard.
Animals of all species need to slow down, cool down, and take it easy.
The cat pictured in the above photo isn’t just any tabby. It’s the (locally) famous Samad’s Gourmet cat,
a very cool kitty, well known on the street, who is not above moonlighting in record sales.
But the photo just above was taken in cooler days, in the middle of winter, when a working cat doesn’t mind a little extra responsibility. Mid-summer is a whole other story.
But perhaps the cat comes alive on a summer night, as the Lovin’Spoonful classic has it:
Cool cat lookin’ for a kitty
Gonna look in every corner of the city,
Ah, let’s just let the Spoonful tell it:
I’m home! After a wonderful month in Dallas, rehearsing and performing my play, NYC Coyote Existential (more on coyotes in Dallas in a future post), New York’s parks seem impossibly green. As I wrote in the play, the summer green of the Northeast can seem “almost hallucinogenic, layer upon layer of vertigo-inducing green, like something out of Apocalypse Now or H.P. Lovecraft, the color alive and sentient.”
Of course, everyone here in NYC is busy complaining about the heat. But hey, after a month in Dallas with one day after another of three-digit temperatures, well, I’m just not buying all the moaning. Sure it’s hot, and yes, it’s soupy. NYC heat is like going a few rounds in a clothes dryer with a wet towel. Hot. But Dallas at 108 degrees is like walking straight into a giant pizza oven.
The biggest difference is that here in NYC, we walk everywhere, to the subway, to the supermarket, to the hardware store, so we’re actually out in the heat. Pretty much wherever you need to go, you walk to get there.
In Dallas, not so much.
Dallas is a quintessential American car city, where many people walk only from air-conditioned car to air-conditioned home to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned store to … well, you get the idea. So as long as the air-conditioning is working, you can avoid the full impact of that mind-boggling heat. The animals, of course, seek natural cooling sources, which means, first and foremost, water. Here, a mixed group of waterbirds cools off and feeds at the White Rock Lake spillway in East Dallas.
I’ll write more about Dallas and its animals soon. Right now, though, I’m celebrating NYC in the dog days of August.
On Thursday evening, as we drank margaritas on the roof of our apartment building, a fat, phenomenally red moon – the Sturgeon Moon – rose in the east, and a red-tailed hawk landed atop the school next door. The hawk perched in the deepening shadows so long that I wondered if it was going to stay all night. When it finally flew off, its wide wings caught the light of the moon and lit up for a split second like the wings of a predatory angel.
No, I don’t have pictures. You’ll just have to take my word.
Down in the apartment, a tiny green inchworm – more like a quarter-inchworm, really – clung doughtily to the kitchen faucet.
It reared its unimaginably small head and seemed to be trying to figure out where to go. I put it on a nearby jade plant, where it will probably either die or gobble up my only plant before transforming into a moth ready to gobble up my winter clothes. But how did it get onto the faucet in the first place?
And on Friday, six flights down and one block east, a small but mighty ant carried a huge, winged, red-headed carcass (identification, anyone?) up and down a fence railing, the iron so beautifully rusted that it resembled wood.
In Central Park, the water has turned completely green with algae, and the willows appear to be melting in the midsummer heat.
A fat freckled fish lurks near the shore.
And this morning in Riverside Park, the wall leaners and sitters are out in force.
A dryad with her cat sips a cold drink and gazes at the passing world.
After a while, the nymph hoists the gigantic cat onto her shoulder
and heads up the hillside.
I am so lucky to be back in Manhattan, where dryads carry giant cats through the streets and parks.
Ever since 2010, when I came face to face with a young female coyote in Central Park, I’ve had coyotes on the brain. As my regular readers know, I’m fascinated by (some might say, obsessed with) the urban coyote phenomenon and bowled over by the extraordinary story of migration as these highly adaptable wild dogs have spread out of their native home in the Great Plains, across the continent and into every imaginable habitat, including our suburbs and cities.
Another winter has come and gone with no new coyote sightings in Manhattan. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t going about their business nearby. For years, coyotes have been quietly living and breeding in the Bronx (where I suspect the photo above was taken). Recent coyote sightings in Queens induced the usual breathless, frothing-at-the-mouth coverage by local media.
Today I have five happy bits of New York City coyote news:
1. A recent article by Sindya N. Bhanoo in the New York Times Green Blog looked at New York’s urban coyotes with refreshing calm and genuine curiosity. Bhanoo uses well-chosen quotes – from a researcher, the head of the urban park rangers and even a high school student involved in a coyote study – to educate readers about urban coyotes, reassuring the frightened (simply seeing a coyote is not cause for alarm), cautioning the foolish and/or sentimental (don’t feed, don’t approach, etc.), and even pointing out the possible benefits of having a top predator in the hood (rodent and deer control).
2. Today, Proteus Gowanus, Brooklyn’s interdisciplinary art gallery and reading room, was the starting point for a coyote walk.
Led by artist Dillon de Give, the walk was intended not to look for coyotes, but as a way to imagine how a coyote might travel through Brooklyn. Sticking to green spaces whenever possible, Dillon led walkers into Manhattan and north to Hallett Nature Sanctuary at the south end of Central Park. Hallett, a one-acre area that is off-limit to both dogs and humans, was used as a resting spot Manhattan’s coyote visitors in 2006 and 2010.
3. Next weekend, de Give will embark on his annual Lah walk.
According to Dillon’s website:
“Lah” is an annual project that commemorates the spirit of Hal, a coyote who appeared in Central Park in 2006 and died shortly after being captured by authorities.
Lah illustrates how a coyote might find its way into Manhattan with a reverse human journey out of the city: a hike retracing a potential coyote-like path through greenspaces. Citing examples of juvenile coyotes that have made long dispersal trips, the walk averages around 50-60 miles.
The walk has been performed solo, in a group, and in a pair.
In 2010, I joined Dillon and his fellow Lah walkers on the first leg of their journey from Hallett to the north end of Central Park, leaving them at Frederick Douglass Circle to continue their way north for several days.
4. On Saturday afternoon, March 31st, Frank Vincenti, Director of The Wild Dog Foundation, will lead a Coyote Lecture in Forest Park in Queens. Frank is a passionate advocate for co-existing with coyotes, and will be talking about coyote natural history. I’m guessing he will also talk about the growing population of NYC coyotes, and the latest DNA research showing that many Eastern coyotes carry wolf genes, acquired during their long migration by inter-breeding with a remnant population of Red wolves. For more information, visit the NYC Parks Department or call (718) 846-2731.
5. And last, an invitation for NYC readers to join me for a staged reading of my hot-off-the-presses new play:
New York City Coyote Existential
(a short play with science & songs)
This is a bare bones reading in a small gallery space at Proteus Gowanus. It will feature the wonderful actress Mary Shultz as The Coyote with music by Thomas Cabaniss. Please be aware that seating is very limited, and is first come, first served.
Check back soon for updates on New York’s coyote news.
UPDATE, March 2012: I finally succeed in spotting one of New York City’s lovely black squirrels. Not in Central Park but in Washington Square Park: Black Squirrel in NYC.
A fellow nature lover recently told me of seeing a black squirrel repeatedly in the northern end of Central Park.
The squirrel usually seen in NYC parks is the Eastern gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensus. Eastern grays love hardwood forests that provide them with acorns, berries, bark, insects and tree buds. In the old days, before the virgin forests of the east were cleared, it was said that a squirrel could travel the entire east coast in the treetops, without ever touching ground.
And travel Gray squirrels did, and sometimes, perhaps, still do. Audubon and other early American naturalists called it the Migratory squirrel for its mass migrations through the trees, which Charles Joseph Latrobe described in 1811:
“A countless multitude of squirrels, obeying some great and universal impulse, which none can know but the Spirit that gave them being, left their reckless and gambolling life, and their ancient places of retreat in the north, and were seen pressing forward by tens of thousands in a deep and sober phalanx to the South …”
Other nineteenth century writers describe Gray squirrel migrations that lasted up to four weeks and involved hundreds of thousands of animals.
Today’s Gray squirrels live in whatever wilderness remains to us, while also thriving in the suburbs and in urban parks. Black squirrels, according to most researchers, are a melanistic color morph, or variation, of the Gray squirrel, the color resulting from an excess of melanin, a dark pigmentation. Essentially, black squirrels are simply black Grays.
I’d heard of black squirrel populations in other parts of NYC, including Union Square Park and the grounds of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. City parks can be like islands, separated by streets instead of water, where inbreeding leads to swift manifestation of unusual genetic traits, including melanism. Was a nascent population of black squirrels emerging in Central Park? I decided to go squirrel hunting.
The morning glowed with sunlight that failed to warm.
Despite the bitter cold, someone appeared to be meditating on a point of land that jutted out into the still-unfrozen Pool, the little pond at 101st Street.
A mixed flock of ducks paddled about, and a few came over to see if I was offering food. (I wasn’t.)
Across the Pool, Buffleheads, a particularly adorable duck species, dove and surfaced, flashing their big white heads and sides.
Buffleheads, like scaup, mergansers and canvasbacks, are diving ducks, capable of swimming underwater to feed, while Mallards, like American wigeons, teals and shovelers, are dabbling ducks, tipping up their tails to feed with their heads underwater. Mallard ducklings regularly dive underwater to avoid predators, although duckling predators also include water dwellers, like snapping turtles and fish.
But I digress. A good walk makes for many digressions. I resumed my hunt for the black squirrel, heading south through the park all the way down to 89th Street.
Along the way, I saw a huge flock of Common grackles. (Birder friends, these are grackles and not some kind of blackbird, yes?)
The flock was accompanied – or, perhaps, infiltrated – by a solitary bluejay.
I saw perfect squirrel hideouts.
I saw squirrel dreys, or nests, including this one high in a tree.
And, inevitably, I saw squirrels. Just a few, due to the cold, and all of them normal Grays, like this little fellow in the fork of a tree.
So I’m still looking for my first black squirrel.
When I returned home, I discovered that while I was traipsing the Park’s north end, a black squirrel had been hanging out down at the southern end, near Wollman Rink.
Meanwhile, I’ve learned from a favorite naturalist in England that across the Big Pond, in the U.K., black squirrels are a source of serious controversy. All Gray squirrels are considered an invasive species there, as they drive out the native red squirrel population. But there’s something about black Grays that … well, more on black squirrels in a future post. Meanwhile, do let me know if you see any unusual squirrels around your neck of the woods.
Coyote Sightings in Queens: Is the Situation Dangerous?
Residents of Jamaica, Queens have reported sightings of coyotes near the Locust Manor LIRR station. According to the usual media hype, they are being “terrorized” by dangerous predators. It’s impossible to tell from the reporting whether there is one coyote, spotted many times, or several. It’s also difficult to ascertain whether the coyote(s) have shown behavior that is worrisome or potentially dangerous. Often people, especially city dwellers, panic at the very idea of a wild animal among us. Simply seeing a coyote, even in a residential or commercial area, is not in itself cause for alarm. Most coyotes are naturally fearful and wary of humans, and try to keep their distance.
Removal or Relocation
If the situation in Locust Manor is determined to be dangerous, the city or USDA will respond accordingly. Usually, if an individual animal has shown itself to be aggressive, it will be trapped and killed. If it is considered a nuisance rather than a threat, authorities may attempt to trap and relocate it. In 2010, a 30-pound female coyote took up residence for a month in Central Park’s Hallett Sanctuary. She began venturing out of the park at night, and was eventually trapped in Tribeca and relocated to an undisclosed location within city limits.
How well relocation works, either for the coyote or the neighborhood, is an open question. Leaving aside Manhattan Island, research in other communities indicates that many relocated coyotes try to return to their original area (and often don’t make it, hit by cars as they attempt to cross busy roads). The public likes to think of relocation as more humane than killing, a happy compromise for all, but the truth is, as so often in nature, more complex. Most areas that are suitable for relocation of a wild animal already have a resident population of the species that will not welcome an interloper.
Removal is also unlikely to be a permanent solution to a neighborhood’s problem. The qualities that drew a coyote to settle in a particular area (available food, water and shelter) will, in all likelihood, eventually attract new animals into the void created by the removal.
It’s Our Turn To Adapt
Once confined to the Great Plains, coyotes are in the process of colonizing the entire country, a process that began about a hundred years ago. They have evinced a remarkable ability to adapt to the dramatic environmental changes we humans have created, including the loss of traditional habitat. Sooner or later, we must accept their presence in our communities, and learn to co-exist with them. Like it or not, it’s our turn to adapt.
Still, we humans need to adjust our behavior to accommodate the new reality of coyotes in our midst. Below are basic guidelines, compiled from wildlife biologists, on living with urban and suburban coyotes.
LIVING WITH COYOTES
Keep cats inside. Cats, astonishingly effective little killers of birds and rodents, are often killed in turn by coyotes. If you love them, keep them inside.
Supervise and leash your dogs. Keep smaller dogs under close supervision, even in a fenced yard. Don’t leave pets out at night. Never leave a pet tied up outside without close supervision.
Supervise small children when they play outside, even in a fenced yard.
Don’t feed the animals. Pet food, garbage, and your cat or small dog are all food to a wild animal. Secure your garbage, and don’t feed your pets outside.
Enjoy watching coyotes from a distance, and never try to lure them closer with food. If you like coyotes, do not try to “make friends” with them. A common saying among coyote experts is, “A fed coyote is a dead coyote.” Feeding leads the animal to become habituated to humans, which may lead to aggressive demands for food, or to perceived aggression when a coyote approaches too closely.
If you see a coyote, make yourself appear large and potentially threatening by waving your arms and shouting. Let the coyote know that encounters with humans are thoroughly unpleasant and should be avoided. Blow a loud whistle or horn, or bang pots and pans. Don’t run. Running may trigger the coyote’s instinct to chase.
A coyote that is aggressive towards people needs to be removed, which generally means killed.
Report aggressive animals immediately. But remember: just spotting an animal does not mean it is a threat. Seeing a wild animal may be, in fact, an opportunity.
Keep wildlife wild.
Day by day, New York City’s trees are dropping their leaves. But less than a week ago, the parks glowed.
Burnished autumn colors shone on the trees of Central Park.
Burnished autumn colors also shone on … the monks of Central Park.
Ah, New York. One never knows, do one?