Morningside Park’s Turtle Army and Other NYC Wildlife
Morningside Park is in bloom, and its animals, many of them drawn by the little pond, are back in action.
On a sunny yet still cool April day, I spied fifty turtles basking on rocks (yes, that’s 50) as well as mallards, a goose, a cormorant, red-winged blackbirds, warblers, finches, rock doves and sparrows, a red-tailed hawk soaring east from the Cathedral, squirrels and a feral cat that delicately picked its way down the cliff to the water’s edge.
Let’s start with a unit of the turtle army:
Five turtle species reside in Morningside Park: red-eared slider, common snapper, cooter, painted turtle, and mud (or musk) turtle. I didn’t come up with the number five on my own.
I heard it from Tom.
Tom is a herpetologist/zoologist with the Bronx Botanical Garden. He grew up playing in and around Morningside Park, worked in the park for a time, and knows it inside and out. He knows its flora, from trees to flowers to algae, and its fauna, from his beloved herps (reptiles and amphibians) to the songbirds, egrets, heron, falcons, hawks and kestrels that nest and hunt here to the bipedal primates that stroll, play, relax and cook in the park.
I met Tom last summer. He was gazing meditatively at a bullfrog that was lolling in the shallow northeast corner of the pond.
Tom still lives at the edge of Morningside park in a high-rise with a view over the treetops to Central Park. One evening from a window, he watched a pair of peregrine falcons chase a red-tailed hawk.
As for the turtles, Tom said they regularly nest in the area around the pond, but that the babies often don’t make it. Sometimes the ground becomes too “compacted,” and the hatchlings can’t dig their way out. A woman I met in the park on a separate occasion said she had actually seen a turtle laying eggs under a very exposed tree near Morningside Avenue.
Well, some of those babies must be surviving, given the extraordinary size of the pond’s turtle army.
Also on last week’s stroll, a cormorant spent time drying one of its wings
Cormorants are voracious eaters that can make short work of a fish population. Last summer, Tom was pointing out a school of tiny baby fish swimming near the shore, when a flash of gold leaped and plashed in the center of the pond. “Koi,”said Tom.” There’s a lot of fish in there: catfish, carp, crawfish.”
Watch out, fishies.
A red-winged blackbird waded in the shallows
A pigeon also waded,
and a solitary goose stood on a solitary leg.
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