Snow Day NYC with Peacocks

Posted January 6, 2014 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2014, In the City, Morningside Park, NYC Parks, Peacocks, Seasons, Wildlife/Natural History, Winter

Tags: , , , , , ,

It was cold and snowy in the city on Saturday, so the dog and I bundled up. He’s the one with the blue boots. I’m the one with the blue hat. (My hat recently inspired some guerrilla art.)

Morningside Park is always magical in the snow.

IMG_9155

The little pond was frozen solid.

IMG_9145

A little boy and his father stopped to throw snowballs onto the ice. (Click photos to enlarge.)

Cross-country skiers slid across the fields, and dogs sniffed and romped.

IMG_9139

Heading up the great stone staircase, we spied three feral cats well camouflaged by snow and bare bushes.  Can you spot them? (Click the photos to enlarge.)

A white cat is balanced in the twigs, a gray cat is perched in the wire fence, and a white-and-black cat sits on the snow to the right.

Saint Luke’s Hospital loomed over us as we continued our climb.

IMG_9150

Sledders were at play on the slope just below Morningside Drive.

IMG_9154

On the street, the back of Saint John’s Cathedral invited us to explore.

IMG_9156

We walked over to Amsterdam Avenue and the unfinished towers at the front.

IMG_9157

We entered through the animal gates.

IMG_9159

“Oh, I want to eat his eyes,” exclaimed one of these lively little girls as they circled the snowman below. “They’re made of Hanukkah gelt!”

IMG_9160

Leaving behind the would-be cannibals, we headed into the Cathedral grounds.

IMG_9161

We spotted the resident peacocks. First one.

IMG_9163

Then two.

IMG_9165

And finally, three as Phil, the white peacock, preened inside the peacock house.

IMG_9167

A group of teenagers came clattering up the path. The girls squealed and shrieked when they saw the peacocks, running toward them to take pictures. The birds, accustomed to paparazzi, ignored the girls, even the one shivering in a strapless dress and bare legs. Humans. What can you do?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We gave a last look up in search of the neighborhood red-tailed hawks, but no hawks today. Just Gabriel forever blowing his horn atop the Cathedral as the stony apostles wait patiently in the cold.

IMG_9168

Deer Tracks in the Sand and Other Strange Finds

Posted December 11, 2013 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2013, Birds, In the Country, Seasons, Wildlife/Natural History, Winter

Tags: , , , ,

Yesterday morning was a gorgeous overcast day on Eastern Long Island. Snow was forecast, but hadn’t yet begun when the dog and I headed out on Flying Point Road to the ocean.

IMG_8947Deer tracks on the beach, below.

IMG_8949

There were several sets of tracks. Why are deer visiting the beach?

In early October, when I was last here, the beach was littered with the remains of tiny creatures.

IMG_3505

Yesterday it was mostly swept clean of flotsam and jetsam. But not entirely, of course. Here and there were a few skate egg cases and bits of sea weed greens.

IMG_8945

More oddly, wilted flowers that might have come from Miss Havisham’s wedding bouquet had washed up all along the beach.

Continuing the theme of remains, we found a female ruddy duck lying dead on her back just off the road by the bay.

IMG_8935

Her death allowed me to look more closely at a duck’s body than I’ve ever been able to do before. I’ll write more about this beautiful little bird later, along with photos of her extraordinary feet and the serrated edge of the underside of her bill.

Urban Peacocks and Red-tails in Winter

Posted December 9, 2013 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2013, Birds, dogs, Domestic animals, Hawks, In the City, Peacocks, Seasons, Wildlife/Natural History, Winter

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Last night we saw tiny snowmen on the top of the retaining wall in Riverside Park.

IMG_8910

It wasn’t much of a snow, but it gave a mysterious look to the park at night.

IMG_8907

This morning in the drizzle, a Red-tail Hawk flew low over our heads as we were crossing Amsterdam Avenue. We tracked it as it soared into the animal gates that lead to the grounds of St. John the Divine.

IMG_2316

The hawk soared along the path of the grounds, then suddenly swooped upward. We found it perched with a second hawk towards the back of the cathedral.

IMG_8914

I have only my iPhone camera these days, so I can’t zoom in for a close look. But here it is with a slightly closer look.

IMG_8920

Moments later, as we continued to watch the hawks, Phil, the Cathedral’s white peacock, wandered past us, looking rather bedraggled.

IMG_8921

He was completely unfazed by a boisterous group of schoolkids who almost walked right into him as they came around the corner.

IMG_8925

Phil simply moved aside with no fuss or hurry.

IMG_8926

The dog, on the other hand, was definitely fazed by the sight of Phil. He moaned with frustration and strained at the leash.

IMG_8927

The poor fellow has been trying for a taste of peacock ever since he first encountered the three neighborhood peacocks five years ago.

Ah, well. We all have our dreams.

IMG_8912

Walking My Way From Wasps to Rats

Posted December 7, 2013 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2013, Fall, In the City, insects, NYC Parks, Riverside Park, Rodents (other than squirrels), Seasons, Wildlife/Natural History, Winter

Tags: , , , , ,

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

IMG_8814

The dog investigates.

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

IMG_8815

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

IMG_8816

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.

IMG_8699

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.

IMG_8819

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.

IMG_8889

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.

IMG_8894

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

IMG_8442

Leaves half-bury the dog.

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

IMG_8854

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

Posted November 29, 2013 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2013, Fall, Flora, In the City, NYC Parks, Riverside Park, Seasons

Tags: , , , , , ,

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

IMG_8780

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.

IMG_8738

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.”

IMG_8782

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

IMG_8781

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.

IMG_8753

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.

IMG_8788

Zelda, the Wild Turkey of Battery Park

Posted November 27, 2013 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2013, Birds, Fall, In the City, Seasons, Wildlife/Natural History

Tags: , , ,

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?

Zeltutu

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.

IMG_8713

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.

IMG_8706

Ferry plying the Hudson.

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

IMG_8704

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.

IMG_8705

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.

IMG_8711

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.

IMG_8709

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.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

IMG_8716

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

IMG_8710

Happy Thanksgiving.

Leaves Are Down

Posted November 24, 2013 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2013, Fall, Flora, In the City, NYC Parks, Riverside Park, Seasons

Tags: , , , ,

IMG_8753

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.

IMG_8756

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

IMG_8736

A leaf carpet glows golden.

IMG_8747

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

IMG_8748

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

IMG_8738

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.

IMG_8752

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

IMG_8754

I’ve never seen this before.

IMG_8755

Here the leaf carpet is brown.

IMG_8757

Bare branches make for good viewing of the river.

IMG_8759

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.

IMG_8700

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

IMG_8764

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

IMG_8228

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

Posted November 17, 2013 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2013, Central Park, dogs, Fall, In the City, NYC Parks, Riverside Park, Seasons

Tags: , , ,

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.

IMG_8669

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

Posted November 15, 2013 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2013, Fall, In the City, Sea Mammals, Seasons, Wildlife/Natural History

Tags: , , , , ,

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

Posted November 13, 2013 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2013, dogs, Domestic animals, Fall, Flora, In the City, Morningside Park, NYC Parks, Riverside Park, Seasons

Tags: , , , ,

You never know what you’ll find when you go out walking.

Today’s walk brought us:

A mysterious ziggurat by the Hudson.

IMG_8421

A tepee.

IMG_8417

A giant compass.

IMG_8405

Vertical objects, man-made and natural.

IMG_8415

Balanced stones on top of a stone in Riverside Park.

IMG_8322

Berries in Riverside Park.

IMG_8402

Osage oranges in Morningside Park.

IMG_8350

Never the same walk twice.

IMG_8403

What will tomorrow bring?

A Dog in New York

Posted November 10, 2013 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2013, Central Park, dogs, Domestic animals, Fall, In the City, Morningside Park, NYC Parks, Riverside Park, Seasons, Spring, Summer, Winter

Tags: , , , , , ,
My house is a very very very fine house.

My house is a very very very fine house.

Lately I’ve been feeling grateful to my walking companion.

Just over five years ago, my family and I left the horizontal landscape of Dallas, Texas for the vertical world of Manhattan. Since then, like old-fashioned postal workers, the dog and I can fairly say that “neither rain nor snow nor heat nor gloom of night” has stayed us from our daily exploration of our neighborhood’s streets and parks.  Walking with Esau has led me to discover things about my city and its inhabitants – human, domesticated and wild – that I might never have known if the dog didn’t need to go out, and then go out again.

So today I just want to take a minute to admire the dog who gets me up and out, who poses patiently whenever asked, and who valiantly represses his predatory instincts long enough to allow me to watch the hawks, raccoons, squirrels, egrets, sparrows, peacocks, woodpeckers, ducks, and other creatures that share the streets and parks with us.

(If you hover over the photos, arrows will appear so that you can click through the slide show)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

IMG_6486

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

Posted November 8, 2013 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2013, Central Park, Fall, In the City, NYC Parks, Seasons

Tags: , , , ,

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.

IMG_8178

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

IMG_8168

Mallards bobbed and dabbled everywhere.

IMG_8165

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

IMG_8166

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

IMG_8163

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.

IMG_8169

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.

IMG_8172

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

IMG_8173

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.

IMG_8162

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

Posted November 6, 2013 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2013, Central Park, dogs, Domestic animals, Fall, In the City, NYC Parks, Seasons

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.

IMG_8110

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.

IMG_8103

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Soon several powerful women ran past.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

IMG_8116

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

IMG_8115

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.

IMG_8106

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Police helicopters kept watch overhead.

The dog posed among fallen leaves.

IMG_8126

Burnished autumn colors glowed.

IMG_8139

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

IMG_8141

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

IMG_8145

One last look before we go.

IMG_8148

A Day in the City: Words and Wildlife

Posted November 3, 2013 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2013, Art and Literature, dogs, Domestic animals, Fall, In the City, Seasons

Tags: , , , ,

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.

ACME

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)
41uHyTgK5ML._AA160_

and Katey Schultz (Flashes of War).
61G8LQRZKpL

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.

Happy Halloween from Henrik Ibsen and Me

Posted October 31, 2013 by Out Walking the Dog
Categories: 2013, Art and Literature, dogs, Domestic animals, In the City

Tags: , , , , ,

Most of you know my dog from his occasional appearances on this blog. You may know him as the neighborhood rat catcher, as a tireless explorer of urban nature, as the unwitting subject of my research, and as a supremely patient model.

IMG_8046

A sign at St. John the Divine: “HOLD CLOSE THY LOVED. Please keep dogs on a leash.”

Some of you may even remember the first time he impersonated the great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

ibsenandme1-1

Ibsen in the snow.

But what you don’t know – I myself only found out last week, when I took the photo below – is that for his own mysterious reasons (ah, who can fathom the mind of such a dog?), Strider, aka Esau, has been secretly perfecting his Ibsen impression.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,247 other followers

%d bloggers like this: