Archive for the ‘Riverside Park’ category

NYC Wildlife After Hours

March 23, 2014

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Two nights ago, around nine o’clock, I leaned over the retaining wall at Riverside Park to look for raccoons, and found a raccoon looking right back at me. It was perched, as it were, on the broad stone ledge outside its den. We stared at each other, each apparently curious what the other might do. Neither one of us did much of anything.

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Just looking.

This raccoon and its family members have an ideal den spot with a broad ledge outside that makes it easy for them to loll and relax at the mouth of the hole.

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I’m looking at you.

When a man and two off-leash dogs came into view on the path below, the raccoon turned its attention away from me to watch the newcomers.

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The man was talking on his cell phone and kicking a ball for his rambunctious long-legged black mutt to chase, while a slow, imperturbable pug brought up the rear.  Neither man nor dogs noticed the raccoon high above their heads, watching their every move. Nor did they notice this human, even higher above their heads, also watching every move.

As it watched, the raccoon curled partway into its hole.

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We left it there, the dog and I, and continued our walk along the Riverside Drive promenade. On our way back, I again leaned over the wall.

But the raccoon was gone.

It had probably ducked back into its den. In my admittedly limited and unscientific observations, the Riverside raccoons are slow to actually leave the den for their evening forays into the park. They tend to hang out on the ledge for quite some time, singly or in twos, threes or even fours. They look around and sniff the air, occasionally ducking back into the den as if suddenly remembering they’d left the stove on.  Sometimes, when the weather is pleasant, a raccoon will groom itself or a mother will groom a kit, although I haven’t seen any grooming behaviors yet this season.  I can’t even say how many raccoons are living in the den this year. Eventually, though, one or another of the raccoons will leave the ledge and start making its way north along the wall. Only rarely do I see one heading south from the den, probably because the grand stone staircase quickly breaks up the wall, so that the raccoon would have to come down to the ground right at a spot that is well traveled by humans and dogs.

Here is the view from just above the den of Riverside Park, the Hudson River and New Jersey.

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Not bad. You might linger at the mouth of your den, too, if you had this view to look at.

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.

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Central Park after a snowfall.

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

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Down by the river, a solitary runner runs.

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But where are the rest of the animals?

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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Again this morning, snow.

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

Esau waits for me in Riverside Park.

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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.

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

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The pond in Morningside Park is sometimes frozen.

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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.

Walking My Way From Wasps to Rats

December 7, 2013

On a recent walk in Riverside Park, the dog stopped to investigate a fallen wasp’s nest.

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The dog investigates.

What a beautiful little structure. Let’s take a closer look.

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Look, one little creature seems to have died in the process of crawling out of a hole. How strange.

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But who precisely built this nest? What kind of wasp? A hornet? A yellow jacket?

It’s been my experience that naturalists, both professional and amateur, are eager to share, expand and refine their knowledge about the world we live in, and interestingly, the technology of social media provides a swift and effective way to share knowledge. I sent out a query on Twitter, asking “Whose fallen nest is this in Riverside Park?”

Matthew of Backyard and Beyond quickly replied, “Paper wasp, probably Bald-face Hornet.”  Andrew of Urban Ecology and Science Research soon responded with a photo of a much larger, enclosed nest hanging from a tree at Storm King Art Center, saying he was seeing these hives all over.

Wasp nest at Storm King Art Center. Photo: Andrew Collins

Wasp nest at Storm King Art Center. Photo: Andrew Collins

Chris of Flatbush Gardener believes Andrew’s hive to belong to Bald-faced Hornets, adding: “More visible without leaves,” which I take to mean that the nests seem to be suddenly everywhere only because they are more visible now that the trees are growing bare.

And it’s true: one sees things differently when trees are bare. One also sees, quite literally, different things, including, perhaps, hornet’s nests. There may be fewer birds around in winter now that most of the migrants have moved on, but the ones that stay, from Northern cardinals to Red-tailed hawks, are easier to spot when they perch on leafless branches.

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Red-tail hawk overlooks Riverside Park.

Squirrels, too, have fewer places to hide. And if I may act for a moment as a squirrel real estate agent, I’d like to recommend a couple of deep and lovely tree holes as fine living quarters.

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Roomy studio apartments with unobstructed river views.

Non-living natural things – what ecologists call abiota – also emerge from obscurity in winter. The structure of the land, its slopes and cliffs, all hidden in summer by leafy trees, bushes and undergrowth, reveals itself.  And the Hudson River, seen in leaf-edged glimpses through much of the year, reclaims its place as a central feature of the far west side of the island.

Pointing the way to the Grant's Tomb National Parks Service Visitor's Center in Riverside Park around 123rd Street.

Pointing the way to the Grant’s Tomb National Parks Service Visitor’s Center in Riverside Park around 123rd Street.

After the leaves have fallen, plants too reveal surprises. In summer, the two bushy plants below appear to be a single solid and impenetrable mass of green, the shoots drooping like willow branches all the way to the ground. But in late fall and winter, a beautiful hiding place is revealed at their heart where an animal like a fox, if only Riverside Park were lucky enough to host a fox, might curl up undetected.

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The dog investigates.

The fallen leaves now cover the ground, obscuring its features and camouflaging small creatures. This seemingly empty patch of leaves was actually hopping with life, as junkos, house sparrows and squirrels scratched, dug and pecked for nuts and seeds.

Hidden animals.

Hidden animals.

Look. There goes one now.

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Deep leaves often bury natural structures, like exposed tree roots or rat holes. Or dogs.

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Leaves half-bury the dog.

Here the dog investigates a rat hole at the base of a tree. Who’s there?

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The dog investigates.

The other day, a naturalist friend, Kelly of Nature in a New York Minute, knowing my interest in rats, kindly brought me a NYC booklet with the elegant title, Preventing Rats on Your Property. I’ll write more about it some other time, but the fundamental message  is simple: “To control rats, you have to remove everything they need to survive: food, water, shelter and ways to get around.” My own block has seen a bit of a decrease in rat activity since a few once-slovenly neighbor buildings started better securing their trash and closing up burrows at the base of street trees. But even so, rats still run rampant in the area. On a brief late night walk a few days ago, the dog and I saw three rats within two blocks.

And remember, the rats you see are just the tip of the ratty iceberg; beneath the surface of the street live scores – or hundreds – of others.

But wait, how is it I am talking about rats? I was talking about leaves, wasn’t I, and how they veil and reveal natural structures. Or was I talking about changing seasons? Or ways of seeing? Or, no, it was about naturalists sharing information. Oh, I remember now, I was talking about a wasp’s nest. Yes, a wasp’s nest. And here we are at a rat’s nest.

Well, that’s the way it is when you go out on a ramble. Even when every walk starts and ends at the same place, as so many of mine do, you never know where the path will take you along the way.

The Gingko: Stinky, Yes, But Also Edible

November 29, 2013

Newsflash: If you can get past the extraordinary stench and the toxic outer flesh, the fruit of the gingko tree is edible.

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Who would have thought it?

After all,the Gingko tree seems to have gone to a lot of evolutionary trouble to discourage predation of its potential progeny, starting with the extraordinary stench of its fruit (Gorgonzola cheese gone bad? dog shit? trenchfoot?). Then there’s the toxic outer flesh that can cause blisters and skin peeling.  Oh, and the fact that the fruit can be poisonous when consumed in large quantities or over a long period of time.

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None of those qualities deterred the charming and friendly Chinese lady I encountered this morning in Riverside Park, where she was digging in the leaves with a stick.  When I asked what she was digging for, she said, “Gingko fruit.”

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Her accent was so heavy that at first, I thought she was saying “Cocoa fruit.” Then I saw her collection.

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Unmistakeably gingko. I realized we were standing beneath an enormous gingko tree. “Very tasty,” she said. “Very good.”

While I have no plans to harvest and cook gingko myself, here is a fascinating post by someone who did just that. Chichi at Serious Eats describes the Gingko as “the Camembert of nuts” and the taste as “complex and utterly good to eat.” While I believe her, I doubt I’ll be trying any of these gingko recipes any time soon. I’ll just stick to my admiration of the Gingko’s glorious golden leaves.

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Note: If you decide to harvest gingko fruit, wear gloves when peeling to avoid a  bad skin reaction.

And if you’ve ever eaten gingko, or if you plan to, please leave a comment to tell us about it.

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Leaves Are Down

November 24, 2013

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Suddenly it’s freezing in NYC. On an early afternoon walk in Riverside Park, the temperature is still in the 20s.

Most branches are bare.

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Snow lingers on downed leaves in the shady spots beneath the retaining wall.

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A leaf carpet glows golden.

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The staircase at 116th Street is also carpeted in gold, thick with the lovely fan-shaped leaves of the Gingko tree.

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But the beautiful carpet reeks of rotten feet or sour vomit, thanks to the stench of the gingko tree’s fleshy, easily-crushed fruit.

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The fossil record shows ancestors of today’s Gingko biloba, also known as the Maidenhair Tree, date back over 250 million years. Native to China, the trees seem to thrive in NYC.

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A few steps further on, oak and maple leaves have transformed the wire fence into a wall of brown.

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I’ve never seen this before.

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Here the leaf carpet is brown.

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Bare branches make for good viewing of the river.

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Good hawk viewing, too. Today we see only a flock of dark-eyed juncos and a few mourning doves. But a few days ago, a red-tailed hawk watched over Riverside Park for at least twenty minutes.

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As we head out of the park, the dog poses under our favorite flame tree, its fire extinguished.

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Just a couple of weeks ago, the same tree blazed with a fiery glory.

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If you’re lucky enough to see leaves still hanging on the trees, enjoy them. They won’t last long.


				

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.

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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.

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A tepee.

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A giant compass.

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Vertical objects, man-made and natural.

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Balanced stones on top of a stone in Riverside Park.

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Berries in Riverside Park.

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Osage oranges in Morningside Park.

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Never the same walk twice.

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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)

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

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NYC September Beauty: Who Needs … ?

September 28, 2013

All week, day after day, the city has sparkled under high blue skies. Today in Riverside Park, New Yorkers seemed to be asking who needs anything else, when you have this, this sun, this light, this beauty, this life?

Who needs the beach when you have Riverside Drive?

"Who needs the beach?"

“Who needs the beach?”

Who needs trendy yogurt shops when you have an ice-cream cart?

Who needs trendy ice cream shops?

“Who needs trendy ice cream shops?”

Who needs a private garden to tend when you have a park?

Who needs a private garden?

“Who needs a private garden?”

Who needs the library?

Who needs the library?

“Who needs the library?”

Who needs a bed to make?

Who needs a bed?

“Who needs beds?”

Who needs yoga class?

Who needs yoga class?

“Who needs yoga class?”

Who needs clothes?

Who needs clothes?

“Who needs clothes?”

Who needs a photography studio?

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“Who needs a studio?”

Even Esau wants to know: Who needs guard dogs?

Who needs guard dogs?

“Who needs guard dogs?”

Eating and Keeping Cool in NYC Heat Wave, Fledgling Style

July 19, 2013

Baby birds hatch and fledge throughout the summer.  Yesterday morning, an adult European starling (on the right) and its two fledglings fed from an unidentifiable pile of garbage.

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“How do you do this feeding thing?”

Both youngsters seemed quite capable of feeding themselves, and did so, helping themselves to scraps from the ground. But just as some kids are more independent than others, one of the young birds seemed to prefer being fed by its parent. (Male and female starlings look the same. In the photo below, you can make out a couple of spots of iridescent feathers developing on the drab, easily-camouflaged baby.)

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Mom, I’m hungry.

It stayed close to the parent, and begged for food, cheeping loudly and insistently.

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Did you hear me? I’m hungry!

The parent fed it, then returned to feeding itself. When it flew up to the ledge of the retaining wall behind it, the baby immediately followed.

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HUNGRY.

Again, the parent fed it, then flew off, leaving the youngster momentarily alone.

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Hey…

The parent had flown half a block south to cool off in a clogged water fountain at the Tot Lot playground. Moments later the babies followed to see what was going on.

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Soon the parent was routed by another adult, who refused to share bathing rights, and battled another adult that attempted to step into the fountain. The victor took a long and lively bath, watched for a while by the vanquished and then by a youngster.

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When he flew off, the vanquished took a quick, restrained dip.

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And then it was kiddy time at the pool.

One.

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Two (with an observer).

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And three.

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Eventually the young starlings flew away, and a little sparrow moved in for a drink.

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Raccoon Bonanza in Riverside Park (w video)

June 23, 2013

Last night at dusk, the great retaining wall of Riverside Park was crawling with raccoons.

Four raccoons on the retaining wall in NYC's Riverside Park.

A mother raccoon (right) and her babies on the retaining wall in NYC’s Riverside Park.

This is the same den I’ve been watching for years now. In 2009 or 2010, before the raccoon rabies epidemic hit, I once saw six raccoons emerge from this den, like clowns from a clown car. Last night, seven racoons climbed the wall.  Seven! Back in early April, I watched a mother raccoon carry a baby along the wall, clearly looking to move it into a new den. My guess would be that this is the same mother with her litter now old enough to be exploring the world under her supervision.

A small crowd had gathered to watch and photograph the raccoons.

"Excuse me, what kind of animals are those?"

“Excuse me, what kind of animals are those?”

Usually, the raccoons on the wall go unnoticed. But the sheer number of animals moving on the wall attracted attention. As they made their way along the stones, they popped in and out of various hidey-holes. Personality differences among the raccoons seemed evident. One, in particular, seemed reluctant to leave the safety of the den, peeping out and retreating several times even as the others had already moved out along the wall.

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Some observers reported that in addition to the mother and babies, there was a “medium-sized” raccoon. They wondered if they were looking at a mother and father with a litter. This is highly unlikely, as male racoons don’t stay around after mating to help raise the young. In fact, adult males will often harm young raccoons. It’s more likely that the medium-sized raccoon is a juvenile from last year’s litter that is still living with the mother. I’ve watched a mother care for, and wash, her slightly older babies here in August 2011.

Wall walker.

Wall walker.

If this is indeed the case, then there may be five babies, which fits the average raccoon litter size of 2-5 kits.

The little kittenish fellow in the picture below is following after its mother, but still uncertain of its footing on the wall.  Apologies for the blurry, grainy photos, but it was quite dark. I’ve enhanced most of these photos to make the images clearer.

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Baby raccoon trails mother back to den.

Below, two babies greet their mother as she returns to the den.

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Here a raccoon peeps out of a hole a little north of the main den. Could this be the same hole where I heard growling that night in April when the mother ducked inside with the baby in her mouth? Or is this another baby? Or another juvenile? Size is difficult to estimate from a distance, so … hard to say. In any event, this individual stayed put while the others were on the move.

IMG_2456Here is a video of the mother waiting with two babies while a third makes its way along the wall to join them.

 For much more on the raccoons of NYC, visit Out Walking the Dog’s Raccoon Archives.

Crows and Sparrows from NYC to British Columbia

May 4, 2013

Many of the birds we saw on our trip to British Columbia have counterparts back east, whether the same species or a closely related species.

A male White-throated sparrow surveys the area in Riverside Park, New York.

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White-throated sparrow.

 This little fellow was singing up a storm about two weeks ago, fluttering in not-yet leafy bushes and shrubs quite low to the ground. Here he seems to be giving me the old stink-eye from beneath his extraordinary yellow “eyebrows”.

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Below is a male golden-crowned sparrow in Garden Bay, British Columbia.

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Here he is again in the same location, but on a brighter day. Look how much paler and less gray his throat and breast appear below. The golden-crowned sparrow is found only along the Pacific coast, while the white-throated ranges over much of the continent.

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Crows are found all over the continent. Back in March, this group of common crows was delightedly bathing and playing in a large puddle in Riverside Park. (If you place cursor over image below, arrows will appear so you can click through the slide show.) There were five or six crows, but they flew off by ones and twos, eventually leaving just one crow to wallow in the puddle.

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Back in the late 70s, I co-founded a theater in Portland, Oregon called Crows & Roses Theater Project. Portland has long been known as the “City of Roses,” but for us, it was the “City of Crows and Roses.” Turns out crows abound all over the Pacific Northwest, and are extremely successfully at adapting to suburban and urban environments.

For a fascinating discussion of urban crows, inspired and anchored by the author’s observations of crows in her Seattle neighborhood, read Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

In British Columbia, crows are everywhere.

A crow fans its tails as it looks over the harbor.

A crow fans its tail as it looks over the harbor.

Here is a sunlit crow.

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Below, a crow perches high on a barren tree.

Or could the bird below possibly be a raven? I heard ravens frequently in the woods, and saw them on several occasions calling and flying. I also heard one making a kind of strange high-pitched constant call as it flew that I had never heard before.

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Yet another crow engaged in a turf battle with a gull in the harbor. When it circled up to this tree, its feathers looked quite a bit the worse for wear.

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It repeatedly soared down to the rocks at the water’s edge.

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But if the gull became aggressive, it took off and lit on the tree.

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Then it would fly back down. Must have been some good seafood down there.

A Canada goose also figured in the scenario.

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The goose was mostly left to its own devices, ignored by gull and crow, even when it mounted the rocks.

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Back in Vancouver, a flock of crows mingled with a mallard and a coot at the water’s edge.

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I wondered if any of the crows I saw were Northwestern crows rather than American crows. Northwestern crows, which are found only along the upper Pacific coast, are described as being slightly smaller than the American crow. They specialize in scavenging along shorelines. My guidebook claims they are most easily distinguished by their lower-pitched, hoarser voices. Next time, I’ll listen more closely.

Happy May Day

May 1, 2013

Happy May!

Phil, the white peacock of Saint John the Divine.

Phil, the white peacock of Saint John the Divine.

People, flowers, wildlife and pets are out in force.

Art meets cherry trees on the grounds of St John's.

Art meets cherry trees on the grounds of St John’s.

Fine weather to sit with your dogs.

Sitting in the shade with the dogs.

Sitting in the shade with the dogs.

Or your birds.

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A bird cage with six parakeets becomes mobile atop a laundry cart.

Here’s a closer look at one of six happy parakeets on their outing to the river.

Oh, what a pretty bird.

Oh, what a pretty bird.

Fine weather, too, for human lovebirds.

On the Greenway by the Hudson in Riverside Park.

On the Greenway by the Hudson in Riverside Park.

Or for sitting alone near the forsythia.

On the retaining wall of Riverside Park.

On the retaining wall of Riverside Park.

Wherever you go and whomever you’re with, keep an eye out for color.

Tulips in Riverside Park.

Tulips in Riverside Park.

And enjoy the flowers before they go.

Magnolia carpet in Riverside Park.

Magnolia carpet in Riverside Park.

The brief life of flowers, and the word “enjoy,”puts me in mind of William Blake’s poem, Eternity:

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.

Happy May!

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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.

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Magnolias are budding.

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Peacocks are showing.

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Fruit trees are blooming.

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Turtles are basking.

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Willows are greening.

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Yeah, it’s a beautiful day.

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Can I have an amen?

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