Archive for the ‘Wildlife/Natural History’ category

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.

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?

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.

Black Squirrels in Washington Square Park

September 30, 2013
Black Squirrel in Washington Square Park

Black Squirrel in Washington Square Park

Long-time readers may recall my quest to find one of New York City’s black squirrels, and my thrill when I finally came across a black squirrel in Washington Square Park. Since that day, I now see the Washington Square black squirrels pretty much every time I head down that way.

Looking north from W. 4th Street, as I cross Sixth Avenue.

Looking north, as I head east on W. 4th Street across Sixth Avenue.

Walking east on West 4th Street, I usually find the squirrels foraging alongside their gray relatives in a narrow strip of green that runs next to the sidewalk.

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Last Thursday, I spotted this small, extremely active fellow.

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He was rarely still, so it was hard to get a photograph that is not a blur of motion. Nearby, a large gray squirrel dug beneath a fallen leaf for something tasty. (Look at those pink ears.)

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On the northern edge of the strip, another nervous little black squirrel appeared.

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And then I noticed, at the easternmost part of the green, a bulky bear of a black squirrel. I mean, this was one big squirrel.

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When the squirrel sat up on its haunches, I saw right away that she was probably a nursing mother, or had just weaned a litter.

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Big Mama sat up a long time.

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Then she foraged under a nearby leaf.

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She found a nut, and sat up to eat.

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I left her to her dinner. Nearby a lovely gray squirrel struck a pose.

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Murmuration of Starlings in Kansas City

September 26, 2013
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Note the bird. A bird plays an important role in my new play, as does a character called, well, Bird.

I just got home from almost a month in Kansas City, Missouri, where I was in rehearsal for my new play, Red Badge Variations, about five young soldiers in a remote outpost in Afghanistan. If you’d like to know more about the play, you can listen to a public radio interview with me and director, Kyle Hatley. Or read about the play and Logan Black, our military advisor, in the Kansas City Star.

But this post is about birds. One day during a ten-minute break from rehearsal, I received an urgent text message from director Kyle Hatley: “Come to the loading dock. Where you can see the sky.”  The loading dock is where the many smokers in the company gather at every break to toxify their young, healthy bodies.

On the dock with Jake Walker, Kyle Hatley, Jacob Cullum, Matt Leonard and Logan Black

On the dock with Jake Walker, Kyle Hatley, Jacob Cullum, Matt Leonard and Logan Black

I hate that these guys smoke so much. But if it hadn’t been for those regular escapes to the loading dock, I might never have learned that a huge flock of starlings, known as a murmuration, gathers every evening near downtown Kansas City.

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Out past the loading dock is a driveway, and visible from the driveway is a patch of sky. There, Kyle discovered, the starlings gather and wheel in formation. Below is a clip of the cast watching the starlings. You have to realize that I was filming only a small percentage of the birds. Whenever my camera was pointed one way, there were many more birds in other parts of the sky.

And here is The Falcon’s Lament, showing a falcon that appeared one day in search of a starling dinner. Enjoy!

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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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.

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A turtle bobbed persistently for an elusive bite of apple.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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

Urban Foxes in South London

July 14, 2013

On my last night in London, I saw foxes.

Ghost fox in south London.

Ghost fox in south London.

The first fox appeared on a city street as we were eating a delicious dinner at Thai Corner Cafe in East Dulwich in south London.

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The fox appeared across the street, where he sniffed the wall enclosing an old church before lifting his leg just like a dog.

Where the fox appeared.

Where the fox was.

Then he startled and zipped down the street, ducking into an overgrown area in front of the building.

England has a large population of urban foxes. Red foxes are such a common sight in parts of London, including East Dulwich, that our London friends were quite amused, if not bemused, by me bolting out of the restaurant and down the street for a better look. They later told me that foxes appear regularly on their street in the middle of the night, lured by the availability of trash as well as food (misguidedly, in my opinion) put out for them by a neighbor.  Look out your window at three in the morning, our friends said, and you may well see a fox or two. They also described an absolutely horrific sound – if memory serves, Jon said it was like a baby being strangled –  made by foxes in the night.

After finishing our meal at the Corner Cafe, our friends took us to Nunhead Reservoir in the quickly waning light to bid farewell to the city that rose far below us.

The view from Nunhead Reservoir.

The view from Nunhead Reservoir.

The reservoir itself is underground, covered by a high heath-like mound, an open space from which we looked out at the city.  When I turned around to look behind me, I saw a four-legged shape silhouetted in the gathering dark. “Jon,” I interrupted. “Is that a fox?”

A fox at Nunhead Reservoir.

A fox at Nunhead Reservoir.

It was a fox. In fact, two foxes. The one I photographed in the dim light was very active, hunting and running freely about the open space. When we approached a little closer, both foxes disappeared in the direction of the overgrown Victorian cemetery that borders one side of the reservoir.

Cemeteries provide perfect habitat for many urban animals, offering places to hide and den as well as open areas for hunting small rodents. In NYC, a coyote has been frequently spotted at a large cemetery in Queens. (They also breed in the Bronx, and have been seen in Manhattan and Staten Island.) In fact, urban foxes in the UK seem to occupy a similar niche as coyotes now do in many North American cities. Both canids seem to be remarkably well adapted to city life.  And lucky Britain does not have to worry about rabies, having  effectively eradicated the disease years ago through stringent regulations requiring vaccinations of pets and quarantines on animals brought into the country. The last spate of rabies cases occurred after World War I, when service members brought infected dogs home from European countries. Here in the eastern US, rabies is a significant concern among wild foxes, as friends on the eastern shore of Maryland learned a few years ago when they were pursued, as in a horror movie, by a rabid fox.

Farewell, London foxes and farewell, London.

The Millenium Wheel seen from south London.

Beautiful.

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.

Morningside Park: Sunbathing Turtles, Molting Mallards, Feral Cats

June 21, 2013

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All the rain we’ve had recently means the animals in Morningside Park are living the lush life.

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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.

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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.

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It’s no coincidence that someone is regularly feeding the cats.

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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.

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Squirrels don’t need bakery rolls.

Our urban ecosystem works best without hand-outs. Let them forage for themselves.

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Fledgling Red-tailed Hawks in NYC (video)

June 19, 2013
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Fox and dog: the iron animal gate at St John the Divine

Oh my readers, I have so much to tell you, so much to show you. All through the spring, Esau the dog and I have been walking, looking and listening. I’ll try to catch you up on some of the curious, intriguing, and amusing things we’ve seen. But where to begin? Let’s start with the hawks that nest on the back of the Cathedral of St John the Divine.

Here is a fledgling hawk on the move this morning.

A fledgling hawk on the move in NYC.

A fledgling hawk on the move in NYC.

But let’s back the story up a little. In April, three eyasses (baby hawks) hatched.

About two weeks ago, one youngster could be seen practicing its flapping skills on the fingers of good Saint Andrew.

Almost fledged.

Almost fledged.

A second fledgling had left the nest too soon, landing on a ledge far below the nest. There it stayed for a few days, not ready to fly, calling to its parents.

Calling for food and attention.

Calling for food and attention.

 It called and called in its high voice, but appeared active and healthy. It’s not unusual for baby birds to fall out of a nest before they can fly.  Most of the time, the parents will continue to feed and care for their young, as they did with this fellow. (Morningside Hawks has documented visits by the parents, including the delivery of a dead pigeon to the hungry baby.)  On the day of these photos, the hawk stayed for a while in one spot, on the ledge.

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Nice pantaloons.

Then it started to move around. It studied the stained glass window.

Studying the art work

Fascinating.

It climbed the walls.

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It worked its way along the narrow window ledge to a difficult spot.

IMG_2205There it seemed to lose its footing, which led to some serious flapping.

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And then, after returning to a better perch, more yelling.

IMG_2174And yet more yelling.

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Here is a short video of the young hawk, listening to a siren from St Luke’s Hospital, looking around, preening, and calling.

More on the young hawks soon.

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.


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