Bald eagles abounded on our recent trip up the British Columbia coast.
This beautiful bird was sitting on a body of fresh water in an area that looks to me like a beaver dam.
Another closer look.
We saw many eagles on the wing. With a wingspan of nearly seven feet, they are an impressive sight.
And for a size contrast, we also observed several rufous hummingbirds whose wingspan reaches a magnificent 4 1/2 inches.
We saw these tiny, brilliant creatures at a nectar feeder, and darting out over a road to capture insects. Several times, the hum of those rapidly beating wings alerted me to the bird’s presence before I registered it visually. According to Journey North, hummingbirds beat their wings at a rate of about 75 beats per second.
Here a rufous hummingbird sips nectar from the feeder.
And here’s a lovely view from the vicinity in which we saw the hummingbird zoom back and forth over the road.
One of my favorite easily-observed creatures in British Columbia is the Douglas squirrel, sometimes called the chickaree.
Much smaller than New York City’s hefty Eastern gray squirrels, the Douglas is a tree squirrel found from California to the southern British Columbia coast.
Like most squirrels, it uses its front paws quite charmingly to hold nuts and other food. There’s just something about its small size, big eyes, and overall demeanor that give it the look of a storybook character.
Douglas squirrels eat primarily the seeds of the coniferous trees that abound in this area: Douglas firs, of course, but also Sitka spruce and pines. Like the Eastern gray and many other squirrels, they are scatter hoarders, burying seeds or entire pine cones in various spots. But unlike the Eastern gray, Douglas squirrels have no cheek pouches for holding food.
They have high-pitched voices that pierce the forest, and sound remarkably like a bird. On several occasions, I scanned tree limbs, trying to determine what bird was so persistently peeping, only to discover that I was being yelled at by a squirrel.
Below is a fascinating two-minute sound clip from NPR’s “Bird Notes” on the Douglas squirrel. Just click the arrow to play:
The little fellow In these photographs hung out near the pedestrian bridge that connects the harbor to Garden Bay Road. Below you may be able to make out the squirrel perched on the fence rail to the right of the tree.
It was often seen in the company of a golden-crowned sparrow.
The two seemed to be masters of their own bathing and drinking pool.
We humans, however, need more sustenance than pine cones and water, or even wildlife sightings. Tearing myself away from the little animals, I crossed the bridge.
Soon I was happily drinking coffee and eating breakfast at Laverne’s Grill.
Back outside, bald eagles soared overhead (more on them soon).
And the little squirrel went about its squirrely business.
Two days ago, on Sunday April 7th, a reader named Jane posted a comment on a blog post from last summer:
“I was out riding my bicycle this afternoon and took a break on a bench along the Greenway at about 96th Street … and saw two dolphins leap out of the water, one following the other!”
I contacted Jane on Sunday evening to find out more. She wrote that she had never heard of dolphins being spotted in NYC, and was stunned. Apparently her friends did not believe her, so she searched the internet “to prove I’m not crazy!” That’s how she found this blog.
Jane saw the dolphins swimming north around 3:30 or 4:00 pm. Apparently, they stayed the night, because on Monday morning, according to CBS News, two dolphins were spotted off Inwood Hill Park. They were later reported swimming south toward the George Washington Bridge.
Two dolphins were spotted in the Hudson River near Inwood Hill Park Monday. (Credit: CBS 2)
CBS News quoted John Lipscomb of Riverkeeper on the recent appearances of dolphins, “What we’re seeing right here under our noses is the wilderness; it’s like having the Serengeti off of 125th Street. It’s awesome, and it reminds us of the beauty of all of this life.”
I was down by the river twice on Sunday, but saw no dolphins, although last month, I had the marvelous experience of watching the East River dolphin in action.
Last night I saw something I’d never seen before: a mother raccoon carrying her tiny baby in her mouth.
The photos, sadly, are blurry. My camera had run out of battery, so I had only my iPhone, which doesn’t do well in low light.
I entered the park just as the sun was setting over the Hudson River.
I scanned the great retaining wall for raccoons.
The setting sun illuminated the entrance to a den, but no animals were visible.
We walked south for a while, then returned to take another look at the wall. A short distance from the primary den, a raccoon was moving on the wall, carrying something in its mouth. My first thought, oddly, perhaps, was that it was carrying some kind of prey. But no, this was a baby raccoon, dangling from the mother’s mouth twenty feet above the ground.
The mother carried it gingerly along the wall. At last, she ducked into a hole and disappeared. Loud, deep growling sounds came from the wall. Clearly the hole was occupied. It sounded like pigs grunting. I worried that the baby might be injured by the surly host.
The dog, tied up a short distance away, was fascinated by the rather alarming sounds.
After some time, the mother emerged, the baby still dangling from her mouth, and continued heading north along the wall. It’s not easy to walk on that wall, even without a baby in your mouth. She went almost all the way to the top.
I could see the head of a pedestrian who strolled along the uppermost promenade, unaware of of the raccoons just a few feet below. Then the mother carefully made her way down the great wall until she reached the ground. Skirting the base of the wall, she continued north on all fours, moving much faster than she could on the vertical surface of the wall.
I left the mother and her baby to their night’s journey. I am guessing that, for whatever reason, she was seeking out a new den, or perhaps, a second den. I hope she found what she was looking for. If there were other babies to be moved, I hope she managed to go back and get them all safely settled. No matter how much wildlife behavior we are lucky enough to observe, there is so much more that goes on unobserved. Mystery remains, even deepens, and every observation raises new questions that keep me coming back to the park, and back to the animals.
I believe this is the mother raccoon, seen here ten days ago.
New York City’s wildlife sometimes hit the real estate jackpot. Yes, while many humans can no longer afford to live in Manhattan, the birds and raccoons are doing just fine. Many even enjoy sunset views like this one over the Hudson River.
Some animals prefer traditional pre-war living environments in which to raise their families.
Others enjoy a more modern situation. Some sparrows prefer the bustle of Mondrian-inspired scaffolding. (Sadly, the birds are not visible in this photo.)
Others find that modern materials can be used to create a cozy, neighborly feel.
And for the lucky elite, luxury urban dwellings abound. The beautifully detailed statues adorning the entry way to the Synod House at St John the Divine provide temporary housing for generations of house sparrows.
Look for the nests.
And for private living with sweeping city views, the red-tailed hawks of St. John’s have it made.
As I walked on Morningside Avenue this morning, a red-tailed hawk swooped in and landed high on the back of the Cathedral of St John the Divine. (Its tail is toward the viewer.)
I missed the moments before it landed, but saw that it was carrying something. It appeared to wrestle with its prey, as if attempting to subdue it.
Oh, I see. Its ‘prey’ was a piece of a cardboard box or, perhaps, a paper bag. Nesting material.
Soon the bird flew off, clutching the prize in its beak rather than its talons. (Look at those outstretched legs and talons, and that red tail.)
It landed on its nearby nest, spent a little time tucking the cardboard into place, and then flew off, heading in a northwesterly direction.
From deep inside the nest, unseen from my vantage point far below, a second hawk, probably the female, known as Isolde, now adjusted the cardboard which is easily visible to the left of Saint Andrew’s head.
(Note also the long strands of some kind of string hanging off the right side of the nest. This is new in the past few days, and it worries me, since birds can easily become entangled in string, and suffer injury.)
The cardboard was pulled deeper into the interior until it could no longer be seen.
And all was quiet on the broad shoulders of good Saint Andrew.
A week or so ago, Esau and I walked along the Manhattan shore of the Hudson River between 100th Street and 116th Street. Flotsam and jetsam littered the rocks.
I expect to see a mallard pair or two when I walk by the river. And so I did. The female below nibbled away on the moss that covered the rocks down at the water’s edge.
She’d nibble and nibble, then lift her head to swallow.
The male floated nearby as did a huge plank.
I did not expect to see the gorgeous pair of black ducks that were hanging out not too far away.
I didn’t know what they were until I got home and looked them up. I just knew they were stunning with their subtle plumage and elegant postures.
The male was nibbling on moss.
The female nibbled on herself.
More accurately, she preened and seemed to be dealing with bird lice or another of the many small parasites that beset wild birds. While some bird lice are generalists that can feast on any part of the bird’s body, others species specialize in particular areas of the bird. A bird may be infested with wing lice, head lice, body lice, and so on, not to mention mites and other creatures. Without hands, a nibble with your bill is your best bet for scratching the itch.
I’m starting to feel a little itchy myself.
Whew, finished preening.
And what a beauty.
Next up: Divers on the Hudson looks at a pair of hyper-active, punked-out red-breasted mergansers.
A year ago, I went hunting for black squirrels in Central Park, but to no avail. Then in January, I finally spotted one as I walked along the south side of Washington Square Park. It was dusk and I only had my iPhone, so the photos I took that evening are blurry, as you can see below.
Last week, I was again walking along the south side of Washington Square, keeping my eyes open for a black squirrel. I watched a fat robin for a while.
And then I saw a solitary black squirrel, sitting on a bench with a snack.
The squirrel soon hopped down into a little clearing, where it joined the robin and a gray squirrel.
The black squirrel seemed to be keeping the gray on its toes. Several times it dashed toward the gray, making it run.
Black squirrels have a bizarre anecdotal reputation for being more aggressive than grays. This is peculiar, since black squirrels are grays. They are not a separate species, but a color morph of Sciuris carolinensis, the Eastern gray squirrel. Yet there seems to be a belief that along with the color mutation has come a personality shift. In the UK, where gray squirrels are considered an invasive species, both grays and blacks are reviled for causing a worrisome decline in the population of native red squirrels. The larger gray squirrel out-competes the red squirrel for habitat and has infected it with “squirrel pox,” a disease for which the red has no immunity.
But black squirrels commonly seen as aggressive even to gray squirrels. It does seem to be true that the population of black squirrels in the UK is growing faster than that of the gray squirrel, but scientists have no clear answer for why this should be. Researchers have begun assembling a black squirrel DNA data base to to try to learn more.
Meanwhile, I’m simply thrilled to watch this beautiful little animal.
There are a couple of reasons I don’t see raccoons in winter as often as the rest of the year. The first reason is my schedule. Dusk comes so early I’m rarely in the park at the right time to see these nocturnal creatures emerge from their den in the retaining wall. The second reason is that raccoons tend to be less active in the coldest months and, during the coldest days, may stay curled up in the den rather than venturing out to feed and explore.
By mid-March, days are longer and daylight savings time means that dusk comes well after 7 PM. I’m happy to report I’m seeing raccoons again. (Please forgive some blurry photos – it was pretty dark, and I’ve had to enhance the images to make the raccoon clearly visible.)
On Sunday night, a solitary raccoon lumbered along the wall. I was struck by the pale, silvery color of its front legs and paws.
It seemed to be moving rather more slowly and clumsily than usual.
But it eventually made its way to its destination.
And disappeared into a hole. Look to the right of the large hole to see the tail.
Based on sightings from past years, there are certainly other raccoons in the wall. Before Manhattan’s raccoon rabies epidemic of 2009-2010, I once saw five or six raccoons emerge from a single hole in the wall. In recent years, I’ve seen no more than three. And this winter, I’ve seen only one at a time.
It’s only natural to feel a thrill at the sight of a magnificent, intelligent and charismatic wild animal right off the bustling shores of our huge city. We want to take photographs and shoot video to share our awe at the beauty and power of a free-swimming whale in our urban waterways. We may feel the urge to get closer to the animal, whether to get a better shot, to feel more spiritually connected with another species, or just to heighten the thrill. But as we marvel at the animal’s presence, we must be sure that our impulses are moderated by respect for the dolphin’s independent existence and concern for its welfare. This means: KEEP YOUR DISTANCE and DO NOT FEED THE DOLPHIN.
Here is an amusing Public Service Announcement sponsored by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association):
Most problems with wild animals – whether raccoons, geese, squirrels, pigeons, coyotes, bears or dolphins – arise when the animal learns to associate humans and their habitations with food. We landlubbers may not be accustomed to thinking of dolphins in this way. But dolphins that come to associate humans with food are more likely to approach boats and be injured, sometimes fatally, by entanglements with fishing hooks or lines or collisions with propellers. According to NOAA, “feeding wild dolphins disrupts their social groups which threatens their ability to survive in the wild. Young dolphins do not survive if their mothers compete with them for handouts and don’t teach them to forage.” And from the point of view of human safety, dolphins bite. Powerfully. If those reasons don’t move you, maybe this will: It’s against the law.
For more information on wild dolphins and their interactions with humans, visit NOAA’s website, Don’t Feed Wild Dolphins.
Meanwhile, I recommend a walk along the East River or up the 103rd Street pedestrian bridge to see if you can catch a glimpse (from a respectful distance, of course) of NYC’s marine visitors.
I haven’t heard any reports today, so don’t know for sure if a dolphin still swims the river from the 90s to 103rd Street between Queens and Manhattan. Should you be lucky enough to see it (or them), please call Riverhead Foundation’s sighting hotline at (631) 369-9829.
Oh, and then let me know by leaving a comment here on the blog or sending an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!