Archive for the ‘Morningside Park’ 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

Red-tail at Work

March 10, 2014

I’m not sure what to make of the collection of twigs amassed by the Cathedral Red-tailed hawks atop Saint Peter’s canopy.

IMG_0154

I posed the question on Twitter, and love the response I received from Robert of Morningside Hawks: “If they were predictable, they wouldn’t be wild. And sometimes they do weird stuff because they know you’re watching.”

For now, at least, the hawks seem to be focused on refurbishing the old nest on Saint Andrew’s mossy shoulders.

IMG_0145

When I arrived at the nest this morning, it appeared empty. But as I crossed Morningside Drive to enter the park, I looked back toward the Cathedral in time to see a hawk swooping in from the north to disappear from view behind the saint’s head.  Although I could no longer see the bird, I could see twigs moving as the hawk rearranged nesting materials.

Then the hawk hopped onto the old man’s head and looked out over the park and nearby streets.

IMG_0145

What a view.

IMG_0144

Somehow, the poor saint looked especially sorrowful this morning, and the hawk, well, hawkish.

IMG_0143

After a few minutes, the big bird spread its wings and soared off to the southeast.

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.

Snow Day NYC with Peacocks

January 6, 2014

It was cold and snowy in the city on Saturday, so the dog and I bundled up. He’s the one with the blue boots. I’m the one with the blue hat. (My hat recently inspired some guerrilla art.)

Morningside Park is always magical in the snow.

IMG_9155

The little pond was frozen solid.

IMG_9145

A little boy and his father stopped to throw snowballs onto the ice. (Click photos to enlarge.)

Cross-country skiers slid across the fields, and dogs sniffed and romped.

IMG_9139

Heading up the great stone staircase, we spied three feral cats well camouflaged by snow and bare bushes.  Can you spot them? (Click the photos to enlarge.)

A white cat is balanced in the twigs, a gray cat is perched in the wire fence, and a white-and-black cat sits on the snow to the right.

Saint Luke’s Hospital loomed over us as we continued our climb.

IMG_9150

Sledders were at play on the slope just below Morningside Drive.

IMG_9154

On the street, the back of Saint John’s Cathedral invited us to explore.

IMG_9156

We walked over to Amsterdam Avenue and the unfinished towers at the front.

IMG_9157

We entered through the animal gates.

IMG_9159

“Oh, I want to eat his eyes,” exclaimed one of these lively little girls as they circled the snowman below. “They’re made of Hanukkah gelt!”

IMG_9160

Leaving behind the would-be cannibals, we headed into the Cathedral grounds.

IMG_9161

We spotted the resident peacocks. First one.

IMG_9163

Then two.

IMG_9165

And finally, three as Phil, the white peacock, preened inside the peacock house.

IMG_9167

A group of teenagers came clattering up the path. The girls squealed and shrieked when they saw the peacocks, running toward them to take pictures. The birds, accustomed to paparazzi, ignored the girls, even the one shivering in a strapless dress and bare legs. Humans. What can you do?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We gave a last look up in search of the neighborhood red-tailed hawks, but no hawks today. Just Gabriel forever blowing his horn atop the Cathedral as the stony apostles wait patiently in the cold.

IMG_9168

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

Summer Saturday in Morningside Park

July 15, 2013

Morningside Park is lush and full of animal and human activity these days.

A goose family swims past the little island in Morningside Park.

A goose family swims past the little island in Morningside Park.

On Saturday, a small brigade of dedicated kids and volunteers cleaned the park and the pond.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A turtle bobbed persistently for an elusive bite of apple.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Scores of turtles swam and basked near the pond’s mallard ducks.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The mallards are molting, which is why it looks at first glance as if there are nothing but females on the pond. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see that some green is still visible on the heads of the birds in the photos, indicating that they are, in fact, males.  The bright yellow of the bills is also a good marker; the bills of females are orange and brown. After breeding season, mallards molt and become temporarily flightless.  The males lose their distinctive feathers and go into “eclipse plumage,” which resembles the mottled coloring of the female. I’m not sure whether these boys are on their way in to their molt or on their way out. But in any event, within a few weeks, dull feathers will be replaced yet again with recognizable, jaunty bright colors.

This turtle reminded me of the White Rock Soda girl. What do you think?

Two young men with baseball gloves were captivated by the turtle on the rock. “I haven’t seen a turtle in, like ten years,” said one. When he realized there were turtles everywhere, swimming just beneath the surface of the water, he couldn’t tear himself away from the pond.

IMG_2751

Soon a group of ducks swam over, hoping for a hand-out.

IMG_2753

An interesting new sign has appeared near the pond, in addition to the “Do Not Feed the Wildlife” notices that are often displayed.

Do not touch or remove wildlife from park.

Do not touch or remove wildlife from park.

Really, my fellow citizens, what have you been up to while I’ve been away?

A large flock of pigeons lay about on the grass across the path.

Just a few of many resting pigeons.

Nap time for pigeons. These are just a few of a very large flock, almost all recumbent.

Nearby the turtle-watchers played catch.

IMG_2761

As we headed up the grand stone staircase, I spotted a feral cat mostly hidden in dense vegetation. Interestingly, the dog had no idea the cat was present until I stopped to take its picture.

IMG_2764

“In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps (or sits) tonight.”

On the grassy slope just below Morningside Drive, a girl sat in quiet meditation.

IMG_2767

Just another summer Saturday in one of my favorite New York parks.

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

It’s Spring, Everybody Sing!

April 11, 2013

Today is a little chillier, but the last few days have made the birdies sing. Here is the song I heard them singing.

Oh, it’s spring. Yes, it’s spring.

IMG_1124

Magnolias are budding.

IMG_6842

Peacocks are showing.

IMG_1089

Fruit trees are blooming.

IMG_1162

Turtles are basking.

IMG_1108

Willows are greening.

IMG_1113

Yeah, it’s a beautiful day.

IMG_1169

Can I have an amen?

IMG_1138

NYC’s Hawk-a-Day Club

March 18, 2013
Atop the head of Saint Andrew high on the Cathedral of St John the Divine.

Atop the head of Saint Andrew high on the Cathedral of St John the Divine.

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.

IMG_0151

Red-tail in Riverside Park at dusk.

On the back of the Cathedral of St John the Divine.

Nesting on the shoulders of St Andrew.

Nesting on the shoulders of St Andrew.

In Central Park.

IMG_7620

Red-tail (Pale Male?) near Fifth Avenue.

On a high-rise near Morningside Park.

High above the city.

High above the city.

On another high rise on Broadway between 109th and 110th Streets – on the same spot where I recently watched a pair of hawks copulate.

img_9478-2

On a tree near the statue of General Franz Sigel at 106th and Riverside.

Hawk above 106th and Riverside.

Hawk above 106th and Riverside.

On a water tower, looking over 110th Street.

IMG_0528IMG_0531

Beautiful.

IMG_0395

NYC Red-tails: Nesting on St John the Divine

March 12, 2013

Seen from the front, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine at 112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue is a lovely, forever unfinished hulk of stone.

A lovely, perpetually unfinished hulk.

A lovely, perpetually unfinished hulk.

But for now I’m more enamored of the Cathedral’s less commonly appreciated back.

St. John the Divine, as seen from

St. John the Divine, as seen from Morningside Drive

Because on the shoulders of a long-suffering saint (well, aren’t they all?) high on the back of the Cathedral is one of the most picturesque hawk nests in the city.

Nest resting on the shoulders of a saint.

There a red-tailed hawk often perches atop the saint’s head and gazes east over Morningside Park and Harlem Valley, as it did a week ago when I showed the nest to Kelly Rypkema, biologist and host of Nature in a New York Minute. (Thanks, Kelly, for letting me use your camera that day!)

Red-tailed hawk on saint's head. (Thanks to Kelly Rypkema for letting me use her camera!)

Red-tailed hawk on saint’s head. (Thanks to Kelly Rypkema for letting me use her camera!)

Esau and I visited the nest again last Thursday as a light March snow fell.

Hawk and saint in the snow.

Hawk and saint in the snow.

A pair of hawks has been nesting and raising young here since 2006. Robert of Morningside Hawks gives a fine history of the nest. For two years, the female, known as Isolde, nested with a male known as, you guessed it, Tristan. When Tristan died in 2008, a male called Norman, for (possibly ecclesiastical) reasons beyond my ken, paired with Isolde. According to Morningside Hawk’s history, the pair has successfully fledged a total of nine babies since 2008.

Look at how the wind is blowing the hawk's feathers.

Another view of hawk and saint.

Sadly, Norman is rumored to have died during Hurricane Sandy. But in the past month, I’ve watched two hawks at a time bring twigs to the nest. I never learned to identify Isolde or Norman as individuals, so I can’t tell you which hawks I’m seeing. I assume one is Isolde, and the other a new male. Whoever they are, I’m thrilled that nest-building is going on apace.

In fact, NYC’s upper Manhattan hawks have been incredibly active over the past month. I watched a pair copulate on a building at 109th Street and Broadway, and have been seeing at least one raptor almost every day, whether in Riverside Park, Central Park, or outside my window. Red-tails are by far the most frequently sighted.

Red-tail at 106th and Riverside Drive.

Red-tail at 106th and Riverside Drive.

But I’ve been lucky enough to spot my first Merlin zooming north along Riverside Drive, and two peregrine falcons, one a mature male perched on a water tower, the other a juvenile perched on a school.

So look up, New Yorkers.

Raptors are all around us, perched on water towers and tree limbs, soaring overhead and swooping low, mating on high-rises and nesting on bridges. Keep your eyes open, and LOOK UP.

A Riverside red-tail.

A Riverside red-tail.

Cleaning Up After Sandy: A Tree Crew

November 2, 2012

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.

The tree at 105th Street took part of the playground fencing with it.

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 info@morningsidepark.org to let the Friends know how many people you will be bringing.
To find out about other volunteer opportunities, check NYC Services or your local park, shelter or ASPCA. I just received emails from Kicy Motley at kmotley@pubadvocate.nyc.gov that there are clean-ups going on tomorrow in Staten Island and several locations in Riverside Park. email for info.
I’ll post more volunteer links soon.

Lives of City Cats: The Working and the Feral

February 13, 2012

Once upon a time, cats were common fixtures in NYC stores, greeting customers in the doorway of the fishmonger or lounging in a patch of sunlight among resoled boots in the display window of the shoe repair store. The corner deli, the candy store, and the Chinese laundry – Manhattan’s equivalent to the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker – each had a resident feline.

They weren’t pets, these cats. They were working animals, who paid for their room and board by working nights in rodent control, and days in customer development, allowing people like me to scratch their ears.

Several cats still work my stretch of Broadway. Most impressive is the fine, fat beast attached to Samad’s Gourmet between 111th and 112th Street. Friendly and self-assured, the cat loafs outside the store in fine weather, and has been seen trundling into neighboring shops, just to say hello.  On a mild January day, it helped out in the sales department of the neighborhood vintage record seller.

Would you buy a used record from the cat?

But not all neighborhood cats are living the good life of Samad’s cat.

Ten days ago, I encountered this black cat on the retaining wall of Riverside Park.

Maybe the cat is on the lam from a nearby apartment. Or maybe it’s a member of Riverside Park’s small feral cat colony, which shares an indoor space with the occasional homeless person.

Riverside Park cat colony. Photo from April 2010.

Volunteers have trapped each animal, and taken it to a veterinarian where it is neutered or spayed before being returned to the park. By preventing the cats from breeding, the proponents of the Trap-Neuter-Return program hope the colony will eventually die out.

Feral cat in Riverside Park, 2010.

Meanwhile the volunteers quietly provide food and water,

Who else eats at this buffet?

and advocate for the protection of the cats.

A hodgepodge of baskets and boxes

I don’t know how many cats are cared for in Riverside Park, although I have never seen more than three.

But surely, as the presence of the black cat on the wall indicates, there will always be a new recruit, whether an unwanted pet dumped in the park, or a runaway in search of greener pastures, finding its way to the easily accessible food and shelter.

Across the country, there is a dawning awareness that domestic cats, both feral and pet, are fierce and effective predators that can have a devastating affect on birds and other wildlife. A recent study cited by the American Bird Conservancy estimates that cats may be responsible for over half a billion bird deaths each year. Approximately half of that astonishing number is attributed to feral cats and the other half – that’s 250,000 dead birds – to pet cats that are allowed outside. Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute told the New York Times in 2011, “Cats are way up there in terms of threats to birds — they are a formidable force in driving out native species.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love cats.

Pudding (1999-2012), an indoor city cat, ponders what to read next.

But if cats are truly an invasive species causing potentially serious harm to the ecosystem, then free-roaming cats raise surprisingly complex and far-reaching questions, among them how to ethically and humanely manage feral cat colonies and even our own pet cats.

Feral cats are found all over New York City in parks, parking lots and alleys between buildings.

A small colony lives in Morningside Park. With its population of ground-nesting birds, its rough terrain and bushy undergrowth, Morningside is well-suited to the little feline predators.

White cat soaks up some rays on a mild January day in Morningside Park.

On Randall’s Island, in the shadow of the Triborough – er, I mean, the RFK – Bridge, a marmalade kitten stretches,

while its sibling, or friend, keeps pale green watch on passing humans.

Two grown cats groom and watch the world go by from an East Harlem lot,

while a few blocks away, on a rare grassy patch, two kittens hone their predatory skills with a game of hunter-and-prey.

Readers, I welcome your thoughts on cats, both feral and pet.

The Curious Osage Orange Tree

November 6, 2011

On a recent walk through Morningside Park, Osage Oranges, also known as hedge apples and horse apples, littered the path below Morningside Avenue.

Osage Orange, aka Hedge Apple

Wondering whether the strange orbs provide a seed bonanza for squirrels and raccoons, I gazed up at the overhanging branches where plenty of the softball-sized fruits were still hanging on the branches. (For an Osage Orange fruit dissection, visit Birder’s Lounge.)

Osage Orange on the Tree

The Osage Orange is a curious tree. Native to eastern Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, its wood was used by the Osage Indians to craft superb hunting bows. French trappers who encountered the native population and their bows named the tree bois d’arc, literally meaning “wood of the bow.”  In the Protean, shape-shifting tradition of living languages, the bois d’arc eventually transformed into the Bodark tree.

“Growing up on the prairies of Oklahoma, one of the first trees I learned was the hedge apple or bow dock, as we ungrammatically called it,” wrote Gerald Klingaman, retired University of Arkansas Extension Horticulturist in a brief and lovely article on the Osage Orange. According to Klingaman and other sources, settlers in the Great Plains planted the fast-growing Osage Orange in hedge rows to create a living fence, a thick, thorny barrier that kept livestock in and unwanted varmints out. Barbed wire, invented in the 1870s, would eventually replace the Osage hedge rows, but the trees are used even today as fence posts. A stand of them is said to make a fine wind break.

My trusty field guide to New York City Trees asserts that the “state champion” Osage Orange is growing in someone’s yard out on Staten Island.  (That would be 342 Seguine Avenue, if you care to visit.)  I don’t know what it means to be a state champion tree. What qualifies a tree as a champion?  Is it size or conformation or age or health or connections in high places or … what?

Well, whatever it is, my obsessive research has to stop some time (sadly, I do have other things to attend to), and there are, after all, things in the world that I really don’t need to know. I’m pretty sure the meaning of being a tree champion falls into that category.  So, enough. We will now draw a veil around the New York state champion Osage Orange tree, and move on with our lives.

Until next time.

Halloween Walk in Morningside Heights

November 4, 2011

On Halloween morning, Canada geese and pigeons grazed the ball fields like a mixed herd of small ruminants on the Great Plains.

Sparrows were almost hidden in the brown grass.

Snow from the freak weekend snowstorm lingered on the little island across the pond,

while turtles basked on the northern bank – the day after a storm storm!

An amorous mallard pair courted, perhaps mistaking Halloween for Valentine’s Day.

Although I haven’t spotted Morningside’s small pack of feral cats in quite some time, I did see one beautiful, well-dressed, and mostly tame kitten. (You can’t see her ears very well in this photo, but check out that beautiful, homemade tail.)

At the base of the 114th Street stairs, Esau posed with the park’s resident faun and bear.

I’ve always imagined the bear was stalking the faun, but Ephemeral New York, a blog I love, calls the statue “tender … sweet and magical.”  I’ll be taking another look.

A pair of abandoned pants waited patiently for their owner.

Back on the street, a mid-sized devil helped himself to a friend’s take-out food.

Then the young devil headed into the corner store, affectionately known as Crack Deli (don’t ask).

Oh, I do love New York.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,240 other followers

%d bloggers like this: