Archive for January 2010

Lonely Shoes and Invasive Black Gloves

January 29, 2010

Abandoned in Riverside Park & Beyond

Lonely old shoe seeks companion

What happened to our feet?

Manhattan Boot Contemplates New Jersey

and some miles east …

Long Island boot dreams of the farther shore

On a more sinister note, black gloves invade Riverside Park

Big black glove creeps along Riverside Park retaining wall

and inside the park

Big black glove signals its cohorts: "A-OK"

Galumphing Dogs and Wary Raccoons

January 28, 2010

Esau and I went raccoon spotting the night before last, around 7:30 PM. The evening before, we had seen the usual trio. The mother and one baby were up on the wall near their den entrance, and the other baby was down on the ground, messing around with some unidentified object. It was too dark for me to see what he was up to, but after a short time, he suddenly became aware of our presence and ran up a nearby tree.

photo: Velo Steve/

Last night, we saw no raccoons at first, probably because several big, goofy dogs were galumphing about, off leash, near the wall. The raccoons’ good judgment in staying hidden I take, in these viral days, as an indicator of continued rabies-free health.

After the goofy galumphers and their oblivious cell-phone yakking owners went on their way, one raccoon (the mother?) emerged to hang out at the entrance and sniff the air, nose held high.

Lime Leaf Restaurant, highly recommended. Photo courtesy of Mary Sargent

We didn’t wait to see if the others would follow Big Mama, as our take-out food was getting cold over at Lime Leaf, the lovely Thai restaurant at 108th and Broadway.

Wishing the raccoons a quiet evening, we left, heading east to Broadway.

(The photo above is by Mary Sargent who has made it her mission to photograph every street in Manhattan. Check out her delightful photo blog: Manhattan Street Project. When we were looking long-distance for an apartment, I browsed her blog to get a feel for different neighborhoods.)

Nature Blog Network and 10000 Birds Conservation Club

January 27, 2010

Have you noticed that Out walking the dog is sporting a couple of new badges? Look over there to your right, just under the photo of the brunching squirrel.

This little sign means that Out walking the dog has become a proud member of a network of nature blogs. Who knew such a thing existed?

Well, it does. Nature Blog Network links almost 1,000 blogs from all around the world that talk about, oh, lizards, snakes, oceanography, bugs, birds (of course), mammals, trees, flowers, fungi (Cornell Mushroom Blog), and so on and on. Some blogs are personal musings, some are wonderfully obsessive (The Daily Heron comes to mind), others deal with scientific research projects.

If you find yourself with a few extra minutes, take a stroll through the Nature Blog Network.

The next badge features a drawing of the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper. It connects you to the 1000 Birds Conservation Club, of which Out walking the dog is a brand-new member, thanks to Wren of Wrenaissance Reflections. Wren held an open competition on her blog to give away four one-year memberships, and chose us as one of the winners.

Thank you, Wren. And thanks to the nature blogging community for opening up doors for a new blogger.

New York City Raccoons Go About Their Business in Riverside Park

January 24, 2010

Raccoons on Retaining Wall

I’ve been so interested in Manhattan’s raccoon rabies epidemic that I’ve been neglecting to write about the raccoons themselves.

I continue to watch my local raccoons almost every evening, and get powerful pleasure from seeing them go about their business.

Five of them live in one den, a rectangular hole in the stone retaining wall. A mother and two babies are the trio I see most often, making their way along the wall, usually heading north. Sometimes they stop and just sit in one spot for five minutes or more. Other times they seem almost to defy gravity as they move across the vertical stones, fifteen feet in the air.

Riverside raccoon in big home den

The two babies are darker in color, and their markings, particularly the rings on the tails, are less distinct. The little ones often duck into tiny holes on the wall, holes that seem way too small to admit them. But they pour themselves in, haul their tails in, and then whip around so their little pointy faces are peeping out. I’m guessing a lot of their seeming bulk is actually fur that compresses to allow them to squeeze into small spaces.

The remaining two raccoons are more mysterious. They seem to let the family trio leave first, then one spends a long time peeping out of the den before deciding to head out.  I think both are adults, but am not sure. I’ve rarely seen all five out at once – only twice in the many times I’ve watched.  And I’ve learned that it is surprisingly difficult to get a good read on size, unless the animals are in close proximity to each other.

I occasionally hear the raccoons chuckling and chattering at each other. Once there was a veritable “cat fight” going on inside the den. All we could see was the big rear end of one raccoon filling up the entry way. But it certainly sounded as if someone was reading the riot act inside.

Most of the time, though, they are silent, and their coloring blends right into the rock at night.  People, and even dogs, stroll by, and never know the strange ring-tailed creatures are there, moving quietly along the wall fifteen feet above their heads.

Eagle Owl in Flight

January 21, 2010

I can’t resist stepping beyond my local Manhattan focus to share this truly phenomenal video from the UK:

Eagle Owl in Flight

Better than IMAX, so you might want to put down your coffee cup.


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

January 20, 2010

Katrinka of the frozen north solved the mystery of the hay bales: “to protect the trees and rock outcroppings from the attack of sliding little children on toboggans and sleds.”  I’m not sure about toboggans in Riverside Park, but we do have a range of sliding objects, including Flexible Flyers, plastic garbage can lids and cardboard boxes. And, sure enough, the hay bales are at the base of two prime sledding hills. So, thank you, Katrinka!

With one mystery solved, a new one presents. Rabies is raging through Manhattan’s raccoon population. Should we worry about our squirrels?

Bagel Brunch for New York Squirrel

I mean, what if a rabid raccoon bites a squirrel? Do squirrels get rabies? Can they transmit it?

NYC Rat by laverrue /

Worse, and please forgive me for putting the image in your heads, what about rabid rats?

Well, dear reader, knowing these questions have been keeping you up at night, I’ve scoured the web for answers.

All mammals can get rabies. The disease is almost always transmitted by a bite or scratch, but any way you can figure out to make contact between your blood stream or mucous membranes and a rabid animal’s infected saliva or brain tissue will generally do the trick.  Squirrels, rats and other small mammals can, and do, get rabies. Yet rabid rodents and lagomorphs (rabbits and hares) are very rare. Why?

Well, there seems to be no definitive answer.  The best explanation comes from Dr. Jean S. Smith at Atlanta’s Center for Disease Control.

Encounter with a Carnivore (Randy Son of Robert/

In 2001, Dr. Smith told the New York Times that “rats probably would not survive an encounter with an infected carnivore. They are food for carnivores, and so would not be around to transmit the disease to people.” Ditto for squirrels and bunnies.

Dr. Smith says the shape of a rodent’s mouth, or some unidentified factor, may impede transmission. And she maintains that since rats don’t fight much among themselves (and squirrels even less), their behavior doesn’t lead to the bites that transmit infection within the species.

photo by Valerie Everett/

Well, okay, but unusually aggressive behavior is characteristic of the disease. Once an animal is symptomatic, the pacific nature of its species may no longer be relevant.  There’s at least one documented case of a rabid squirrel that was captured and tested only after an unprovoked bite on a human.

And what about those rare rabid squirrels? Why did they survive the bite? Scientists speculate they may have been infected by bats, which are common carriers of rabies. Since a bat’s tiny teeth would not cause serious damage, those squirrels survived to develop symptoms.

Tiny Bat, Big Teeth by Wilson B /

Next up on the rabies agenda, the question you’ve all been waiting for: what is NYC’s policy on vaccinating its raccoons and conserving the remainder of the population?  I’m planning a visit soon to Central Park to see if the Urban Park Rangers can answer some questions. Stay tuned.

Baby Trees, Bales and Birds in Riverside Park

January 18, 2010

Baby Evergreens in Riverside Park

Baby Pine Tree in Last Week's Snow

Recently planted baby evergreens replace the huge old deciduous trees that came down in last summer’s freak wind storm. I count two groups of four trees and one of three between 108th and around 112th.

Maybe the babies will grow into a pinetum like Central Park’s Arthur Ross Pinetum, and the saw whet owls that hang out there will opt for a river view and come to nest in Riverside.  I’m crazy to see an owl in the city.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Hay Bales

Esau with Hay Bale

And what’s with the hay bales that appeared in December around 116th? There are some at 108th, too.

Esau likes hay bales.  I like them, too. But what’s the story?

Esau also likes the seagulls along the wall that separates the river walk from the car traffic up near 125th Street.  Nice.

Dog with Birds

Secret Life of Fruit, Banana Update

January 16, 2010

Remember this, sent in from a reader in Cali?

Literate L.A. banana lives life of Riley

Well,  life for a banana in the mean streets of NYC is no picnic:

Desperate NYC banana strikes out for freedom.

Heading west, no doubt, with Brother Apple (see below), to join the free colony of escaped fruit, now living in the retaining wall of Riverside Park

Apple escaping to Riverside Park

Apple den in Riverside Park retaining wall

Close-up on pioneer apple in den

These are the first known photographs of the free fruit of NYC.

Good luck, fruit.

New York City Raccoon Rabies Update

January 15, 2010

Last week, neighborhood associations in Morningside Heights, Upper West Side and Upper East Side received a new alert from the Health Department about rabid raccoons. The final numbers of rabid animals have come in for 2009, and they are not good. In December 2009 alone, ten rabid raccoons were found, eight of them above 100th Street on the west side.

In the first two weeks of 2010, the Health Department website reports another eight rabid raccoons. All but one Lenox Avenue renegade were found in Central Park. That’s 18 raccoons dead of rabies in a month and a half. Not good.

For Riverside Park raccoon lovers, the good news is that no rabid raccoons have turned up in our park. I saw three of my (well, not my, of course) raccoons last night, as they left their hole in the retaining wall. A mother, a baby and a third whose size I couldn’t determine, all looking as fat and beautiful and healthy as ever.

The bad news is that infection is probably only a matter of time.

Saint John the Divine grounds

Raccoons pass easily from  the northern end of Central Park to the southern end of Morningside Park. From there, it’s no problem to make their way west through the grounds of Saint John the Divine to Amsterdam Avenue, cross the avenue to the tiny West 111th Street People’s Garden, and from there it’s only two blocks to Riverside Park and its unsuspecting raccoons.

Once inside, the park’s a long, green highway to carry the disease south.

Early fall Riverside Park

No human or dog has been bitten. Yet. But we live crammed together on this narrow island. Something has to be done, and soon.

Raccoon rabies baited vaccine

Elsewhere in the state, the Department of Health uses an oral rabies vaccine, distributed in small baited packages that smell like fish, to control the spread of raccoon rabies. Baited vaccine was distributed in eastern Queens in 2006. It seems increasingly likely that Manhattan will have to follow suit. Tougher to implement in Manhattan where raccoons share habitat with park-loving humans and off-leash canines. Adults would surely avoid the odoriferous bait, but would children and dogs?

Come back here!

I’ll continue to keep an eye on Riverside raccoons.

And, everyone, here are the Health Department recommendations: avoid contact with wildlife, keep pet vaccinations up to date, and walk your dogs on leash.

Hey, Esau, that means you.

Blink-and-it’s-over Blizzard in Riverside Park

January 10, 2010

A thirty-minute blizzard swept through Riverside Park on Friday morning. Snow poured down on a cross-country skier

on new Parks Department signs letting us know it’s okay to ski here

on a baby evergreen tree

on the Hudson River

on an elderly Asian exerciser

on a soccer team, calling it quits

on a Mutt and Jeff couple: trash can and lamp post

on Esau, happy in the snow

Then, suddenly, the snow stopped.

Today, Sunday, ice floes hustle down the Hudson toward the harbor

The cold remains, but the snow is mostly gone

No skiing today.

Bench Plaques in Riverside Park

January 4, 2010

The mysterious lives of others

Transient Beings Visit Riverside Park

January 2, 2010

A few hours after the snowfall of December 31, 2009, beings appear in Riverside Park.

Giant Dirty Being with Cat

Misspelled German Being with Dog

Owl Perched on Retaining Wall at Night

By midday on January 1, 2010, the owl has disappeared. By the time you read this, all beings are gone.

From Sein to das Nichts in two short winter days.

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