Archive for the ‘Horses’ category

Ohio, Land of Trees, Fields and Vultures

November 9, 2012

I feel like celebrating Ohio. Ohio, that, like most of the country, voted on Tuesday to re-elect President Obama.

We were in central Ohio a few weeks ago. It is a land of farms and fields.

Fields of horses.

Fields of grain.

And fields of I know not what.

It’s a land of country roads.

On the road out of Gambier, Ohio.

And magnificent trees,

stunning in the mid-October turning of their leaves.

It’s a land of old graveyards along the roadside,

with graves guarded by lambs.

A smaller graveyard nestled on the campus of Kenyon College.

Kenyon College Cemetery

Nearby, crows gathered atop a college building.

Oh, okay. They’re not real crows.

They are beautifully alive sculptures that capture both the lively individuality of crows and their complex social interactions.

The crows were created by Kenyon graduate Peter Woytuk, whose work with animals, including crows, has been seen all over New York City, including in front of the subway station at 72nd Street and Broadway (click photo to visit article).

Ohio also revealed itself as the Land of Vultures. We saw scores of turkey vultures like the one below, circling high and swooping low, over roads, fields, barns, and campus. (We also saw hawks, but I don’t know what they were.)

I imagine the leaves are mostly gone by now. So let’s take one more look at Ohio in mid-October glory.

The Middle Path at Kenyon College.

NYC October Animal Round-up

October 27, 2012

In early October, a cat and a man dressed in shades of green emerged out of the still-green leaves along Riverside Park.

walking the cat

Just out walking the cat.

The cat was completely calm and walked well on its long leash, unfazed by Esau the dog and other fascinated canines.

cat on leash

Walking the wall with kitty.

The man said he had started leash-training when the cat was still a kitten. He would head to Riverside Drive at 3 in the morning when the streets were quiet. Days passed, and they stayed out later and later into the morning as the city woke up, until the cat gradually became accustomed to the hustle and bustle of traffic, dogs, people and the rest of the urban hubbub. They are an impressive pair.

The man tries to get the cat to pose for a picture, but it has other plans.

Also on Riverside Drive, well-camouflaged sparrows filled the branches of a baby tree.

sparrows nyc

A sparrow tree.

Here’s a closer look.

A gathering of sparrows.

We paid a quick visit to the “Forever Wild” section of the park, where migrating warblers and nuthatches abounded.

dog and forever wild sign

Esau is forever wild.

Leaving the park, we crossed one of the islands, or medians, of Broadway, where we discovered a tiny corpse.

monarch butterfly corpse

A tiny corpse on Broadway

We bent to take a closer look. It was a monarch butterfly, looking as beautiful as ever, but with a strange yellow substance coming out of its underside. Are monarch guts bright yellow? I was not able to find any answers to this question, so, my trusty reader, please tell me, if you know.

monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly on Broadway.

Further down Broadway, a man sat on a barbershop pony, while talking with a friend.

NYC barbershop

Just another bit of Broadway.

Over at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, a squirrel hung upside down to gorge on berries.

squirrel hanging upside down

Upside down at the Cathedral.

We watched the little animal for at least five minutes, during which it remained upside down, calmly reaching for berries with its paws and nibbling away, as if this was its usual position in the world.

Eating berries behind the Cathedral.

  Two brightly colored animals walked the grounds of the Cathedral.

pink and blue

Two lovely creatures (well, four, counting the pigeons at the left).

We went back to Riverside Park at dusk, this time descending the steps into the park.  A raccoon lounged in the mouth of its den high in the retaining wall.

raccoon at its den

Raccoon gets ready to start its day at dusk.

A mother gazed at the raccoon, while her child gazed at Esau, tied to the chain link fence.

Raccoons high on the wall; mother and child below.

The sun went down, and the raccoon began its nocturnal prowl with a walk on the wall. Raccoons sometimes walk the wall on all fours.

Riverside Park raccoon

A walk on the wild side of the wall.

At other times they stand erect, looking like bulky little mannikins edging along a high ledge.

Raccoon does its “man on a ledge” impression.

When it got too dark to follow the raccoon’s progress easily, we went home where Esau took his stuffed dog to bed.

dog and his toy

Good-night.

Hot Town, NYC

September 4, 2012

Minnie Mouse sells flavored ices on 109th Street.

It’s the day after Labor Day, and even this hot summer is drawing to a close.  The air is thick and heavy today as what’s left of Hurricane Isaac passes us.  And I’m thinking about summer in the city.

The way the colors are brighter than at any other time of year.

Remember when manikins (and womanikins) faced front, even in tight pants?

The way Amsterdam Avenue comes alive in the heat.

Caribbean blues on Amsterdam Avenue.

Girls in bright colors pass in front of a meat market on Amsterdam and 107th Street.

Another block, another meat market, this one on Amsterdam between 108th and 109th.

On 108th Street, a prayer meeting closes the street.

Hold hands or raise them high, bodies swaying.

Over on Broadway, too, August colors shimmer.

Famous Famiglia offers Italian ices in the summer.

On 59th Street, a plumed carriage horse was working hard, maybe too hard.

Carriage horse passes children on their way into Central Park.

Animals of all species need to slow down, cool down, and take it easy.

Dogs.

Esau rests by tiny blue flowers.

Squirrels.

Lazy Boy squirrel.

Birds.

Through gular fluttering, a form of panting, birds can cool their bodies.

Humans.

Beneath the parasol, amid an array of stuff, a person dozes.

And cats.

Why we have benches.

The cat pictured in the above photo isn’t just any tabby.  It’s the (locally) famous Samad’s Gourmet cat,

Samad’s Gourmet on Broadway.

a very cool kitty, well known on the street, who is not above moonlighting in record sales.

Would you buy a used record from this cat?

But the photo just above was taken in cooler days, in the middle of winter, when a working cat doesn’t mind a little extra responsibility.  Mid-summer is a whole other story.

“So chill in the heat I can barely breathe.”

But perhaps the cat comes alive on a summer night, as the Lovin’Spoonful classic has it:

Cool cat lookin’ for a kitty
Gonna look in every corner of the city,

Ah, let’s just let the Spoonful tell it:

Urban Animal Species Mix and Mingle

November 13, 2011

Equus caballus shares a meal with Columba livia.

Homo sapiens is the dominant species on Central Park South, aka West 59th Street. But we are not alone. Right here on the busy corner of Sixth Avenue and 59th is a peculiarly urban mix of wild, feral and domesticated animals.

The large mammals visible in the photo below are Homo sapiens (subspecies, New Yorker), and two species that originated in North America: Equus caballus (subspecies, suffering carriage horse) and Canis lupus familiaris (subspecies, city hotdog).

Also present on the street are Columba livia (Rock dove, aka city pigeon), Sturnus vulgaris (European starlingand Passer domesticus (House sparrow), as well as unidentified flies, bird mites and other insects enjoying the still-mild weather. Not one of these species – with the possible exception of humans – is considered native.

But I have a question: How long does a species need to be in residence before it is considered native? A few hundred years? A thousand?  Five thousand?

Around 15,000 years ago, give or take a couple of millennia, Homo sapiens crossed the Bering land bridge from Asia, accompanied by Canis lupus familiaris, the domesticated dog. Do we consider those paleolithic humans, our ancestors, to be a wild natural species? Or do we see ourselves as existing, even then, somehow outside nature, at the start, perhaps, of the dichotomy we of man-made versus natural?

Interestingly, around the time that humans were migrating westward, wild horses were disappearing from the continent, along with other large animals, including saber-toothed tigers, mastodons and wooly mammoths. Why did the horses disappear?  Climate change was certainly a factor. But did over-hunting by the newly arrived humans contribute to the extinction of the horse, as it did to the mastodon?  Whatever caused its extinction, the horse was not seen again in North America until the 1500s, when Spanish explorers brought the animals across the water, and unknowingly transformed the culture of indigenous North American peoples.

Plains Indian family with travois and horses, near Calgary, c. 1925 Photo: H. Pollard, McCord Museum

Millions of years before their North American extinction and re-introduction, horses had moved westward across the Bering land bridge, and fanned out across Asia and Europe. They were hunted for food and, eventually, tamed, trained and bred.

Horse cave painting in Lascaux, France

 By 2,000 B.C., horses were serving as transportation. They also served as beasts of burden, carrying goods. As war animals, they changed the nature of battle.

One hundred years ago, New York was still a city of horses. Today, the only horses left in Manhattan are police horses and Central Park carriage horses. I love to see horses in the city, but I pity them.

While the horses wait for their next fare, they share spilled grain with pigeons.  Sometimes, the two species even appear to interest each other.

Passersby rarely notice the little inter-species gatherings that go on all up and down the street.

 Directly behind the patient horses is an unassuming spot in Central Park that marks for me one of my heart-lurching sightings of  a wild native dog, Canis latrans, the Central Park coyote.

Canines originated in North America, spreading, like the horse, westward into the rest of the world, where they were domesticated at many times in many places. Domestication eventually led to breeds like the little dachshund, or badger dog (seen in the second photo), created by German farmers and breeders to control ground-denning wildlife.

But the coyote is a wild thing, found only in North America.  A highly adaptable omnivore, Canis latrans continues to evolve before our eyes, having expanded its range eastward into parts of the continent where it has never been seen. In southeastern Canada, coyotes hybridized with wolves before moving south into New England and New York state.  (The extent of the hybridization is still under debate, with some researchers maintaining the animals should be referred to as coywolves while others maintain they remain coyotes with a soupçon of wolf.)

Coyotes now inhabit the Bronx mainland, and have been been reported in Queens. They are irregular visitors to Manhattan, sometimes taking up temporary residence in Central Park. The March 2010 coyote, the one I was lucky enough to watch on several occasions, lived in the city for a month, before being trapped in Tribeca.

Winter is the time when juvenile coyotes often head out in search of new territory.  It’s been a year and eight months since we last had a coyote in Manhattan – or since we knew we had a coyote in Manhattan. But as another autumn rolls toward winter, I’m ready and waiting, convinced that it’s only a matter of time before the next coyote ventures onto our island.

Let me know if you see or hear anything.

Out Walking the Dog’s Top Ten Posts of 2010

December 30, 2010

Readers prefer mastodons.

I’ve always avoided top ten lists. In fact, I’ve disparaged the whole concept as basically, well, idiotic. But I recently discovered that the statistics tracker on my blog, which counts each time someone visits, can also tell me how many times each blog post has been viewed over the past year.

A post about feeding wild animals is a favorite.

The very existence of this useless information exerts a mysterious allure, as if it contained some important hidden meaning just waiting to be revealed.  It doesn’t, of course.  But I can’t resist the pull. So, for whatever amusement or revelation may be found, I here present … (drum roll, please) …

Out Walking the Dog’s Top Ten (Most Viewed) Posts of 2010.

1. Mastodons in Manhattan: How the Honey Locust Tree Got Its Spikes

2. Feeding Wild Animals: Squirrel Man Calls to his Friends

3. NYC Wildlife: The Pigeons Outside My Window

4. NYC Coyote Existential: Where do they come from and where are they going?

5. Rabies in Manhattan: What About Squirrels (and Rats)?

6. Seed Pods and Eyeballs

7. Saint John the Divine: A Secret Garden in Morningside Heights

8. Victor Casiano’s Rooftop Pigeons

9. Sex and the City Bird

10. Falada in New York: 59th Street Carriage Horses

So there you have it.  The frightening outbreak of rabies in Manhattan and the almost equally frightening event of duck sex make it into the top ten. So do last winter’s coyote visitations and a meeting with the last of our neighborhood’s rooftop pigeon flyers.  Other urban animals that are featured include squirrels, horses, raccoons, peacocks, rats, and mastodons.

Yeah, mastodons. The most popular post, by far, is a light-hearted discussion of the co-evolution of honey locust trees and mastodons. Why?  I’d like to think it’s because the study of evolution is booming, but maybe people just like mastodons or the idea of giant mammals roaming Manhattan.

The world is a mysterious place. Why should the internet be any different?

Esau, scourge of street rats, contemplates the mysteries of reader preferences.

Falada in New York: 59th Street Carriage Horses

May 1, 2010
The Goose Girl Looks up at a Horse’s Head Hanging on the Wall; illustration by Willy Planck

wo days ago I left Hallett Nature Sanctuary in Central Park – my first visit since the coyote departed a month ago – and walked west on 59th Street.  Carriage horses waited patiently along the curb.

Gazing at their beautiful heads, I thought of Falada.

In Grimm’s fairy tale, The Goose Girl, Falada is a horse given by an aging queen to her beloved daughter as the girl embarks on a long journey to meet the prince she is to marry.  Falada has the power of speech, as animals often did in the old days. And because he is witness to a crime against the princess, Falada’s head is cut off to prevent him from speaking the truth.  When the unhappy princess, forced to work as a goose girl, learns of Falada’s fate, she begs the knacker to nail his head to a dark gate in the town so she might see him morning and night, when she passes beneath with her geese.

The Goose Girl and Falada; illustration by Ford from The Blue Fairy Book, ed. Andrew Lang

And each time she passes under the gate, she looks up and says:

Ah, Falada, that you hang there.

And each time, instead of lamenting his own terrible fate, Falada replies:

Ah, Princess, that you pass there
If your mother only knew
Her heart would surely break in two.



Things turn out fine for the princess in that fairy-tale way where the story ends just as a new life is about to begin. The truth is revealed, and, in a typical Grimmsian flourish, the criminal deceiver is tricked into proclaiming her own merciless punishment: “I would have such a person stripped naked, stuck in a barrel studded with nails and pulled through the town by two white horses until she is dead.”

Ouch.

The restored princess, goose girl no longer, marries the prince, “and both reign over the kingdom in peace and happiness.”

And what about the faithful Falada?  Or at least, the faithful Falada’s beautiful talking head?

Unless you’re Don Corleone who knew exactly  to do with the head of poor Khartoum, what do you do with a horse’s head, even the head of such a horse as Falada? Does the princess have the head brought to the palace? Does Falada continue to offer the princess steadfast animal sympathy as she negotiates the difficult passages of a new life in a strange land?

I wonder.

I wonder, too, what the 59th Street carriage horses would tell us, if they, like Falada, could speak.


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