Archive for the ‘Fall’ category

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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Zelda, the Wild Turkey of Battery Park

November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving from Out Walking the Dog

A wild turkey has been living in New York City’s Battery Park since 2003.

Zelda the wild turkey of Battery Park.

Zelda the wild turkey of Battery Park.

The turkey is called Zelda after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, who supposedly roamed the area around Battery Park during one of her many breakdowns. See any resemblance?

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Zelda Fitzgerald as a teenager.

Zelda (the turkey, not the Fitzgerald) appears to be a tough old bird, having survived for a decade in a highly urban park, subject to wind, snow and 2012′s Hurricane Sandy which flooded the park with a 13-foot storm surge.

I first heard about Zelda soon after I moved home to Manhattan in 2008 after almost twenty years away. In those early years of my homecoming, I found myself in a fairly continual state of wonder as I encountered the wild creatures that share our city. Raccoons! Hawks! Peregrine falcons! Seals! Dolphins! Coyotes! Deer! Wild turkeys! I was smitten with Zelda before ever seeing her, touched by her appearance and survival on our crowded island where great flocks of her ancestors once thrived.  Several times, I set out for the southern tip of Manhattan to meet her.  But she proved elusive quarry, and as the years passed, I fretted that she might die before I ever laid eyes on her.

Last week, my quest to see Zelda was finally rewarded.

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Accompanied by my intrepid friend Mary, I walked south along the Hudson River Greenway to Battery Park.  Although Mary can watch an entire flock of wild turkeys from her house on the eastern shore of Maryland, she signed on with gusto to the quest for Zelda.

It was a beautiful day to walk along the river.

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Ferry plying the Hudson.

Somewhere in Battery Park City, we passed a large flock of Brant.

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Brant and children in Battery Park.

I’ve seen Brant around the same spot in past years as well as further up the Greenway in northern Manhattan. The birds, which resemble a smaller, shorter-necked version of Canada geese, seemed remarkably nonchalant about the many runners, children and dogs sharing their chosen space.

We passed other intriguing sights, including still-golden trees.

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But we were on a mission, and nothing could deter us.

When we reached Battery Park, we were startled to see how much of it was fenced off and undergoing renovation. A man with colorful brochures of New York City tried to interest us in a tour. We politely declined, but asked if he knew about the turkey who lived around here.

“Oh, sure,” he replied. “I see her all the time. She’s usually wandering around the paths.”  He laughed. “First time I saw her, she scared me to death. Keep going around this way. You’ll see her.”

Next we stopped a man driving a Parks Conservancy truck, and asked if he knew where we could find the turkey.

“Oh, Zelda, sure, she’s around,” he said. “She was just over there in the parking lot.” And sure enough, strolling about in a parking lot in front of the Department of Homeland Security and Coast Guard Recruiting Center was Zelda, the wild turkey.

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A beautiful bird, plump and well-feathered, she walked slowly and with a stately demeanor – stately, for a turkey, anyway. Mary wondered if she might be arthritic. After all, she’s old for a turkey.

A man, cellphone camera in hand, tried to get close to have his picture taken with her.

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Soon, the man we had met in the truck joined us in the parking lot. His name is Charles, he told us, and he knows Zelda well.  When Charles jingles his keys, Zelda comes and follows him as he retrieves a cupful of sunflower seeds and corn for her.

Here he is with jingly keys in hand.

Charles with keys in hand.

Charles with keys in hand.

Zelda did indeed respond to Charles, but when he left to get the seed, she seemed slow to follow, and rather easily distracted. First she became distracted by a hedge, staring into it in a way that reminded me of the great white peacock of Saint John The Divine.

Then a group of tourists on the path blocked her way.

  Charles returned and handed us a cup of seed. He told us to sprinkle it on soft patches of earth, because it’s hard for Zelda to pick the food up off the hard sidewalk or asphalt. We carefully sprinkled a few seeds on a promising bit of ground, but Zelda was skeptical of our feeding abilities. Charles took the cup and unceremoniously dumped out the entire contents along a sliver of soil at the edge of the sidewalk.  Zelda immediately chowed down.

As Zelda dined, Charles told us a little about her life. Every year, she lays eggs in various spots in the park. This year, she laid them in the hedge we saw her staring into.  Despite the huge flock of wild turkeys that live on Staten Island, Zelda seems to be Manhattan’s only resident turkey.  Zelda’s unfertilized eggs will never hatch.  “We have to take the eggs away sometimes,” Charles explained, “or she’ll just keep sitting on them and she won’t eat. It’s kind of sad, but she has a pretty good life here.”

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Every Thanksgiving, Charles said, people come to see if she’s still here. Mary asked if people ever harass her. Not if he’s around, Charles said. He also reminded us that she can fly, and so can escape, if she needs to. She roosts at night in nearby trees. Charles left us to our watching.

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And we left Zelda to her meal.  Goodnight, Zelda.

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Happy Thanksgiving.

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.

Coney Island Dolphin Is Reportedly Free

November 15, 2013

A SAD UPDATE
News 12 Brooklyn is now reporting that the Coney Island dolphin has been found dead. A necropsy is being conducted to determine the cause of death. It may be that an existing illness or injury led it to wander into the creek. We’ll have to wait for necropsy results to to find out. Of course, marine animals die all the time, whether from illness (natural or human-caused environmental toxins), injury (again from either natural causes or man-made dangers like ship propellers), congenital defects or old age.  They just don’t usually do so in front of urban onlookers and camera crews.  I’ll also be interested to know if the death has anything to do with the virus that has killed hundreds of Atlantic bottle nose dolphins.

Dolphin in Coney Island Creek. Image: News 12 Brookyln

Dolphin in Coney Island Creek. Image: News 12 Brookyln

Yesterday morning (Thursday,11/15/13), a dolphin swam up Coney Island Creek and became trapped in the shallow waterway. City police and other officials were on the scene, but declined to intervene. Interventions can be extremely stressful and risky for wildlife.  In consultation with The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation and the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the decision was made to wait for the late afternoon high tide in hopes the animal would swim back out to the Atlantic of its own accord.

The dolphin has not been seen today and, according to News 12 Brooklyn, NYPD now believes it swam out to sea sometime during the night.

The past year has seen several dolphins turning up in NYC waterways, including in Brooklyn’s toxic Gowanus Canal in January, in the East River in March, and swimming up and down the Hudson River in April.

I was thrilled to spend a couple of hours last spring, watching and photographing the East River dolphin.

East River Dolphin, March 13, 2013. Photo: Melissa Cooper

East River Dolphin, March 13, 2013. Photo: Melissa Cooper

I also enjoyed watching the watchers of the East River dolphin.

Happy Dolphin Watcher.

Happy East River Dolphin Watcher. Photo: Melissa Cooper

I don’t know what the presence of the dolphins signifies. Is it a sign of the improved health of the harbor and Long Island Sound? After all, whales, seals and dolphins are now regular inhabitants of the waters just outside the city and are increasingly spotted within city limits.  Or is it a sign of illness, perhaps connected to the dolphin virus that has killed hundreds of East Coast bottlenose dolphins and that, according to yesterday’s Washington Post, has now been detected in four humpback whales?

I don’t have answers. Anyone?

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.

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

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Walking with Mary in Central Park: What is That Duck?

November 8, 2013

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.

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The Pool, a lovely little body of water near West 103rd Street, was painted with autumn colors.

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Mallards bobbed and dabbled everywhere.

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Wait a minute, those aren’t all mallards. Check out that duck on the left, below.

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That ain’t no mallard. Let’s take a closer look.

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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.

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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.

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The dog (or is it the mop?) mused on late-season flowers and the passing of time.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Soon several powerful women ran past.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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Police helicopters kept watch overhead.

The dog posed among fallen leaves.

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Burnished autumn colors glowed.

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

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

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One last look before we go.

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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.

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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)
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and Katey Schultz (Flashes of War).
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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.

Ospreys on Long Island

October 14, 2013

For several days, high winds buffeted Flying Point Road in Watermill. The winds did not daunt the local ospreys. Here are two ospreys hunting, soaring, and hovering over Mecox Bay.  Note the power of the birds’ wings as they continually adjust to the winds while looking down into the water for prey.

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See you soon, beauty.

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Death of a Cedar Waxwing

October 12, 2013

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Some deaths make waves. They’re noticed, written about, talked about, mourned.

Other deaths, not so much.

Yesterday morning, I noticed a bird lying in the grass just a few feet from the back deck. It was a Cedar Waxwing, as the brilliant yellow tail tips and the crest made clear. I thought it might be stunned, so I kept my distance so as not to frighten it further.

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But I saw no flutter of feathers, no glitter of eye, no movement of breath. The little creature was dead.  I lifted it and turned it over.

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There was no blood, but the feathers were disarrayed and perhaps damaged. Was this a result of sitting in dew-wet grass for hours? Or had the bird been hurt?

I was surprised at how heavy the little bird felt in my hand.

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A living bird feels so much lighter. (The Baltimore Orioles below are held by ornithologist Eric Slayton, but I had the opportunity to handle a couple of birds on this bird banding trip to the Bronx.)

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I wondered if the Cedar Waxwing was a juvenile. I saw only the faintest yellow on its underparts, and no sign of the bright, waxy-looking red wingtips that give the bird its common name.

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But Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds maintains that the “red wax tips” are not always present. And the damage to the birds’ breast feathers may have destroyed the yellow of the under feathers. So I assume this was an adult. Whether male or female, I can’t say, since male and female waxwings are close to identical to an untrained eye like mine.

The bird looked peaceful in its oddly settled pose, even when I set it down for a moment on the picnic table.

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I wonder what happened to it. Did it escape from a cat, only to die later of internal injuries? Had it flown into something, and suffered injury? Or was it ill and could simply fly no further?

I took it down to a scrubby patch by the bay, and left it there, thinking some scavenger would appreciate the morsel. A day later, it remained untouched.

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R.I.P., Cedar Waxwing and all small creatures at the end of their days.

Egrets, herons and sunsets on Flying Point Road

October 10, 2013
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Sunset, October 2013

I’m out on eastern Long Island right now. The landscape, despite the ever-proliferating McMansions, remains stunningly beautiful.

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Flying Point Road and Mecox Bay.

And so do the birds.

Great egrets are everywhere.

Great egret flies over Mecox Bay.

Great egret flies over Mecox Bay.

Great blue herons, too.

Great Blue Heron fishes in Mecox Bay.

Great Blue Heron fishes in Mecox Bay.

Usually the herons and egrets are loners. But sometimes they share a good fishing location.

Great Blue Heron and Great Egrret on dock.

Great Blue Heron checks to see if the Great Egret is catching more fish.

Many swans have flown away for the winter, but some still sail and dabble on Mill Pond and Mecox Bay.

Dabbling at sunset.

Dabbling at sunset.

It’s always a pleasure to see the kingfisher (even if at too great a distance for a clear photo).

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Kingfisher on a branch.

So, yes, it’s beautiful out here.

Just don’t come looking for direction.

Um, okay ...

Um, okay …

Falcon Hunts Starling Murmuration (video)

October 4, 2013

I had a great time making this three-minute movie of a falcon hunting a spectacular starling murmuration right in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. A murmuration is a massive gathering of starlings.  There are so many birds flying they look sometimes like dark snow falling or a sky full of shooting stars. Other times the flock forms strange helix-like shapes, and it’s hard to believe it isn’t a giant organism with a single brain. One evening as I watched, a peregrine falcon swooped in, looking for dinner.

If you enjoy The Falcon’s Lament, please share it with others.

A peregrine is a usually an effective predator of birds on the wing. But in the on-going evolutionary offense-defense dance of predator and prey, the starling murmuration throws the falcon off and thwarts its ability to kill. Fascinating.

To see starlings as individuals rather than as members of a great, heaving cauldron of birds, you may enjoy:
Eating and Keeping Cool in NYC Heat Wave, Fledgling Style

And for some raw footage of the starlings gathering in downtown Kansas City, watch Murmuration of Starlings in Kansas City.


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