Archive for November 2011

New York Rats and Garbage

November 30, 2011

Here is a terrific little video by Assignment Earth on New York rats. It features State Senator Bill Perkins, Rodent Expert Stephen Frantz, and a lively cast of street rats. Frantz clearly and knowledgeably makes the point that NYC’s rat problem is caused by humans and can be solved by humans. The message is simple: cut the rats’ food supply, and the population will plummet.  This means changing the way we manage our garbage.

The latest in rat control is a practice known as Integrated Pest Management, an environmentally sound approach to pest control. The goal is to eliminate rats and other undesirables by controlling environmental factors (available food, water and shelter) that lead the animals to enter and thrive in habitats where they are not wanted –  like homes, playgrounds and subway stations.

The 96th Street and Broadway station offers particularly fine rat viewing.

And why not? There’a a perpetual source of food, water and shelter.

Why, there’s one of the little fellows now.

I’m surprised he doesn’t take his meal over to the lunch room.

Lunch Room

Meanwhile, over on Riverside Drive and 112th Street, Rat Palace continues to provide the perfect habitat for countless rodents. In the dark and grainy video below, rats slither in and out of the stones of Rat Palace, a pile of cobblestones on NYC’s Riverside Drive. If you think you saw something move…you did. The rats were everywhere. The strange sounds come from Esau the dog, who was eager to grab and kill.

Rat Palace at Night is best watched full screen (try double clicking on image to go to full screen, then click escape to return).


For more on how our garbage creates our pests, see articles from Out Walking the Dog’s archives:

Dirty Harry Dog Cleans Up NYC Streets
Feeding Wild Animals: Squirrel Man Calls to His Friends
Of Rats, Red-tails and Rodenticides
How Many Raccoons Live in Manhattan, Anyway?
If You Build It, Rats Will Come

The Hills Are Alive … with Rats

Thanks to Charlotte of The Rat’s Nest for sharing the Assignment Earth video in her response to one of my previous post on rats.

Water Tower Drama: Hawk versus Crow

November 26, 2011

I am trying to work, when the cawing of crows catches my attention. Grateful for the distraction, I rush happily to the window.

A crow perches on a water tower.

A crow perches on a water tower.

Nice, but why the loud caws?  Aha! Just a little further east, a red-tailed hawk is perched on another water tower.

Red-tailed hawk perches on water tower.

I grab the camera, knowing an everyday avian drama is about to unfold.  The first crow has been radioing for reinforcements, and back-up soon arrives.

Two against one; crows on the left, hawk on the right.

When the second crow is in place on the water tower, the first soars off to launch an attack.

The attack begins.

 Two more crows gather on neighboring water towers and rooftops. Cawing loudly, they seem to serve as cheerleaders for the first two, which take turns harassing the hawk.

Crow prepares to dive bomb red-tail.

The crows work in tandem, swooping in on the hunkered-down hawk.

Watch out!

The crows land on the dome of the water tower, beneath the hawk. Just as it appears that an uneasy peace may have been reached, the crows take off and launch another attack. This time, the beleaguered hawk has had enough. It spreads its wings, and takes flight, heading east.

Enough, already. Uncle, uncle.

The small flock of crows flies off towards the southwest, having established temporary dominion over one of Manhattan’s top avian predators.

Thanksgiving Look at Wild Turkeys

November 24, 2011

Wild Turkey (Great American Cock) by John James Audubon

When settlers first began moving west, the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) made its home throughout the continent, east of the Rocky Mountains.  By the 1830s, however, John James Audubon (1785-1851) noted the beginning of a decline in population, writing that turkeys were “less numerous in every part of the United States, even in those parts where they were abundant thirty years ago.”  Over-hunting caused wild turkey prices to rise steeply, which helped launch domestic turkey farms.

Wild Turkey (Great American Hen) by John James Audubon

By the early 1900s, hunting and habitat loss had eradicated the wild turkey from the northeast.  Thanks to reintroduction programs, it has rebounded strongly – so strongly, in fact, that it is actually considered a nuisance animal in some communities. The eastern shore of Staten Island is apparently now overrun with wild turkeys that stop traffic and, according to a recent article in the New York Times, “frighten small children, and snatch cookies out of their hands.”

Fearsome birds, indeed. Manhattan has its own wild turkey, Zelda, who has lived for years now in Battery Park.  I hope to see her soon.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Leaves on NYC's High Line, from a walk on Monday.

Peacock Razzle-Dazzle

November 22, 2011

As leaves drop from the trees and the city grows more monochromatic day by day, I offer you a dazzling reminder of late spring, when the three peacock boys of Saint John the Divine just couldn’t stop showing off their big, beautiful tail feathers.

The boys have lost their tail feathers for the season, now. In October, when I took the photos below, the birds were in varying stages of molt.

The single all-white peacock had lost his long, trailing tail feathers,

Thus peacock is regularly found staring into hedges and other vegetation.

as had this classically colored fellow, who appeared to be wearing a gaudy silk shirt with old, brown corduroys.


The bird on the right was still flaunting some long, green eye-feathers.

Just hangin' out, waiting for something to happen.

They’re all gone now, the tail feathers. But don’t worry.  In just a few more months, as trees bud and grass greens, the feathers will grow back, and the birds will be displaying again, in all their splendor.

This is a rear view (in case you're trying to figure out where the head is).

Until then, take pleasure in autumn, because it’s passing, and winter, because, like it or  not, it’s on its way.

Riverside Park Hawk in Bare Branches

November 20, 2011

Bare leaves make for good hawk watching. Last Sunday, Riverside Park looked like this from the upper promenade on Riverside Drive.

A mix of color and bare branches.

The dog and I went down the stone stairs to walk along the path just below the retaining wall. Around 112th Street, we spotted a bump on a bare branch, silhouetted against the sky.

Bare branches give the gift of easy wildlife spotting.

Let’s take a closer look.

What's that branch bump?

We passed beneath it, and looked up. A gorgeous red-tailed hawk peered down at us,

Oh, it's you. Where have you been?

then turned its attention to a squirrel rustling in the leaves beneath the retaining wall.

Keeping an eye on the park's rodents, so you don't have to.

We walked on and turned back.


A little further on still, and you can see how what a boon bare branches are to hawk spotting.

Anyone there?

Flame Tree, Leaf Mandala and Hawk Watch

November 17, 2011

Even at the end of October, you would never know that this brilliant green tree in Riverside Park is my favorite flame tree in New York.

But it is. And this year, it fired up brighter than ever. On a chilly day last week, I took photos of the tree, and of the dog with the tree. Then a man came along and offered to take a photo of me with the dog and the tree. Here is a slide show. (If you hover over the image, arrows will appear to click forward. Or you can just let it play by itself.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Then I walked north on a leaf-strewn path, the trees and bushes still oddly green.

A Parks worker had told me that he kept seeing one of the Red-tailed hawks hanging out at the playground above Grant’s Tomb, near around 124th Street, hunting squirrels.  I hadn’t seen hawks in the park for a while, so off I went, sheltered by towering trees.

The dog and I walked on leaves like stars.

In the Forever Wild section above 116th Street, someone had created a mandala out of leaves and berries.

Let’s take a closer look.

Ah. Beautiful. Thank you, mysterious maker.

Up at the playground, trees burned orange.

I found no hawks, but the gorgeous colors of a blue-hatted sleeping man with summer-green leaves behind him provided recompense for the walk, had recompense been needed.

Since that walk, I’ve been seeing plenty of hawks. Or the same hawks, plenty of times. I can’t tell which. I see them perched in the park. I see them circling high overhead, and I see them from my window, surveying their domain from the tops of water towers.

I’ll post more on avian water tower action, soon.

Ah, New York: Autumn Leaves and Autumn…Monks?

November 16, 2011

Day by day, New York City’s trees are dropping their leaves. But less than a week ago, the parks glowed.

Burnished autumn colors shone on the trees of Central Park.

Burnished autumn colors also shone on … the monks of Central Park.

Ah, New York. One never knows, do one?

Urban Animal Species Mix and Mingle

November 13, 2011

Equus caballus shares a meal with Columba livia.

Homo sapiens is the dominant species on Central Park South, aka West 59th Street. But we are not alone. Right here on the busy corner of Sixth Avenue and 59th is a peculiarly urban mix of wild, feral and domesticated animals.

The large mammals visible in the photo below are Homo sapiens (subspecies, New Yorker), and two species that originated in North America: Equus caballus (subspecies, suffering carriage horse) and Canis lupus familiaris (subspecies, city hotdog).

Also present on the street are Columba livia (Rock dove, aka city pigeon), Sturnus vulgaris (European starlingand Passer domesticus (House sparrow), as well as unidentified flies, bird mites and other insects enjoying the still-mild weather. Not one of these species – with the possible exception of humans – is considered native.

But I have a question: How long does a species need to be in residence before it is considered native? A few hundred years? A thousand?  Five thousand?

Around 15,000 years ago, give or take a couple of millennia, Homo sapiens crossed the Bering land bridge from Asia, accompanied by Canis lupus familiaris, the domesticated dog. Do we consider those paleolithic humans, our ancestors, to be a wild natural species? Or do we see ourselves as existing, even then, somehow outside nature, at the start, perhaps, of the dichotomy we of man-made versus natural?

Interestingly, around the time that humans were migrating westward, wild horses were disappearing from the continent, along with other large animals, including saber-toothed tigers, mastodons and wooly mammoths. Why did the horses disappear?  Climate change was certainly a factor. But did over-hunting by the newly arrived humans contribute to the extinction of the horse, as it did to the mastodon?  Whatever caused its extinction, the horse was not seen again in North America until the 1500s, when Spanish explorers brought the animals across the water, and unknowingly transformed the culture of indigenous North American peoples.

Plains Indian family with travois and horses, near Calgary, c. 1925 Photo: H. Pollard, McCord Museum

Millions of years before their North American extinction and re-introduction, horses had moved westward across the Bering land bridge, and fanned out across Asia and Europe. They were hunted for food and, eventually, tamed, trained and bred.

Horse cave painting in Lascaux, France

 By 2,000 B.C., horses were serving as transportation. They also served as beasts of burden, carrying goods. As war animals, they changed the nature of battle.

One hundred years ago, New York was still a city of horses. Today, the only horses left in Manhattan are police horses and Central Park carriage horses. I love to see horses in the city, but I pity them.

While the horses wait for their next fare, they share spilled grain with pigeons.  Sometimes, the two species even appear to interest each other.

Passersby rarely notice the little inter-species gatherings that go on all up and down the street.

 Directly behind the patient horses is an unassuming spot in Central Park that marks for me one of my heart-lurching sightings of  a wild native dog, Canis latrans, the Central Park coyote.

Canines originated in North America, spreading, like the horse, westward into the rest of the world, where they were domesticated at many times in many places. Domestication eventually led to breeds like the little dachshund, or badger dog (seen in the second photo), created by German farmers and breeders to control ground-denning wildlife.

But the coyote is a wild thing, found only in North America.  A highly adaptable omnivore, Canis latrans continues to evolve before our eyes, having expanded its range eastward into parts of the continent where it has never been seen. In southeastern Canada, coyotes hybridized with wolves before moving south into New England and New York state.  (The extent of the hybridization is still under debate, with some researchers maintaining the animals should be referred to as coywolves while others maintain they remain coyotes with a soupçon of wolf.)

Coyotes now inhabit the Bronx mainland, and have been been reported in Queens. They are irregular visitors to Manhattan, sometimes taking up temporary residence in Central Park. The March 2010 coyote, the one I was lucky enough to watch on several occasions, lived in the city for a month, before being trapped in Tribeca.

Winter is the time when juvenile coyotes often head out in search of new territory.  It’s been a year and eight months since we last had a coyote in Manhattan – or since we knew we had a coyote in Manhattan. But as another autumn rolls toward winter, I’m ready and waiting, convinced that it’s only a matter of time before the next coyote ventures onto our island.

Let me know if you see or hear anything.

Philosopher Dog: I Found Myself Astray

November 9, 2011

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself astray in a dark wood
where the straight road had been lost sight of.

– Dante, translated by Seamus Heaney

Was it in a tunnel in the North Woods that I found myself astray?

Where am I? Where am I going?

Sometimes I stop what I’m doing, and think.

Then I grow pensive among the asters.

I ruminate by ancient roots.

I reflect by still waters.

Does beauty change the meaning of a gate?

I believe nobility takes many forms.

I know beauty does. Sometimes it flames out, like ‘shining from shook foil.’

And sometimes there’s beauty in the gutter.

Or in an old tree stump.

But what is beauty?

Is there beauty in death?

I wonder, am I a dog dreaming he is a philosopher, or a philosopher dreaming he is a dog?

I can’t always tell reflection from reality.

 It’s time to get moving again. But where to?  I’ll choose a direction, and start walking.

I’ll go this way. Why not?

for RSH

NYC Marathon: Ambling To Watch Running

November 7, 2011

Central Park is absolutely stunning.



and multi-colored.

Esau the dog and I had walked across the park to cheer on the marathoners as they passed El Museo del Barrio at Fifth Avenue and 104th Street. The runners were as brightly colored as the flowers.

A steady stream of humans just kept on flowing,

and the fans just kept on cheering and high-fiving.

After watching for a few minutes, the dog and I felt inspired to wonder if we could ever, just maybe, just possibly, not run, but walk a half-marathon.

Heading west again, we stepped back into the park and took a turn in the Conservatory Garden.

We chatted with a Parks employee, who told us the Garden weathered last weekend’s freak snowstorm relatively well.

Water lilies still bloomed in the pool in the English Garden.

From the central garden, we looked back toward Fifth Avenue where we could see the runners still streaming south on this final leg of their journey.

Roses bloomed in the French garden.

Leaving the Conservatory, we continued northwest, turning for a last look at the runners from across the Meer.

On our way home we passed miniature hockey players at the Lasker Rink.

We wound through the Ravine in the North Woods.

Esau drank from the stream,

and we felt as though we were far away from the city.  Until …

we came upon a grate, just like the grates on any New York street, except that this one is rounded to fit the stream bed. Its presence didn’t diminish my pleasure, although it did remind me that all the parks I walk in on a regular basis are brilliant man-made creations, imagined, landscaped and continually managed.  And yet not everything is controlled or planned. New shoots grow out of the top of this magnificent old stump like a spiked punk hairdo. Hmm. Maybe we can finish that half-marathon one of these days.

We left the park and its glories behind.

Ah, home again. Time to put our feet up, and have a good chew on an old stuffed animal.

There’s nothing like a walk in the park on a glorious day.

The Curious Osage Orange Tree

November 6, 2011

On a recent walk through Morningside Park, Osage Oranges, also known as hedge apples and horse apples, littered the path below Morningside Avenue.

Osage Orange, aka Hedge Apple

Wondering whether the strange orbs provide a seed bonanza for squirrels and raccoons, I gazed up at the overhanging branches where plenty of the softball-sized fruits were still hanging on the branches. (For an Osage Orange fruit dissection, visit Birder’s Lounge.)

Osage Orange on the Tree

The Osage Orange is a curious tree. Native to eastern Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, its wood was used by the Osage Indians to craft superb hunting bows. French trappers who encountered the native population and their bows named the tree bois d’arc, literally meaning “wood of the bow.”  In the Protean, shape-shifting tradition of living languages, the bois d’arc eventually transformed into the Bodark tree.

“Growing up on the prairies of Oklahoma, one of the first trees I learned was the hedge apple or bow dock, as we ungrammatically called it,” wrote Gerald Klingaman, retired University of Arkansas Extension Horticulturist in a brief and lovely article on the Osage Orange. According to Klingaman and other sources, settlers in the Great Plains planted the fast-growing Osage Orange in hedge rows to create a living fence, a thick, thorny barrier that kept livestock in and unwanted varmints out. Barbed wire, invented in the 1870s, would eventually replace the Osage hedge rows, but the trees are used even today as fence posts. A stand of them is said to make a fine wind break.

My trusty field guide to New York City Trees asserts that the “state champion” Osage Orange is growing in someone’s yard out on Staten Island.  (That would be 342 Seguine Avenue, if you care to visit.)  I don’t know what it means to be a state champion tree. What qualifies a tree as a champion?  Is it size or conformation or age or health or connections in high places or … what?

Well, whatever it is, my obsessive research has to stop some time (sadly, I do have other things to attend to), and there are, after all, things in the world that I really don’t need to know. I’m pretty sure the meaning of being a tree champion falls into that category.  So, enough. We will now draw a veil around the New York state champion Osage Orange tree, and move on with our lives.

Until next time.

Halloween Walk in Morningside Heights

November 4, 2011

On Halloween morning, Canada geese and pigeons grazed the ball fields like a mixed herd of small ruminants on the Great Plains.

Sparrows were almost hidden in the brown grass.

Snow from the freak weekend snowstorm lingered on the little island across the pond,

while turtles basked on the northern bank – the day after a storm storm!

An amorous mallard pair courted, perhaps mistaking Halloween for Valentine’s Day.

Although I haven’t spotted Morningside’s small pack of feral cats in quite some time, I did see one beautiful, well-dressed, and mostly tame kitten. (You can’t see her ears very well in this photo, but check out that beautiful, homemade tail.)

At the base of the 114th Street stairs, Esau posed with the park’s resident faun and bear.

I’ve always imagined the bear was stalking the faun, but Ephemeral New York, a blog I love, calls the statue “tender … sweet and magical.”  I’ll be taking another look.

A pair of abandoned pants waited patiently for their owner.

Back on the street, a mid-sized devil helped himself to a friend’s take-out food.

Then the young devil headed into the corner store, affectionately known as Crack Deli (don’t ask).

Oh, I do love New York.

NYC Mallards Court on Halloween

November 2, 2011

On Halloween morning, a flock of about fifteen mallards swam about on Morningside Park’s small pond.

Watching the birds, I realize that I’ve been a little confused about molting and plumage. I understand that differences in plumage may be attributed to the fact that some of our ducks are permanent residents, while others are migrants, just passing through. Still, I could have sworn that last month, the males on the pond  were in full eclipse plumage, looking almost like females with most of their head color gone.  Yet look at this handsome fellow with his head glowing green and shiny.  Is he already growing back his breeding plumage?  Or is he heading into eclipse?

To my surprise, this duck and his female companion proceeded to engage in some synchronized head-bobbing. This behavior, which ornithologists call “pumping,” is part of an elaborate duck courtship ritual, sometimes leading to copulation. In fact,  on several occasions in spring, I’ve seen mallards copulate right here on the pond, and it’s a somewhat disturbing business. So I watched these two with interest. (Click the arrow to watch my video.)

A visit to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s The Birds of North America clarifies all things mallard. Apparently, male mallards quickly move out of their drab, late-summer eclipse plumage. So this male is on his way back to his classic breeding appearance. And new pairs start to form as early as September with courtship behavior occurring throughout the winter.   Since the ducks are infertile in the fall, they may copulate freely without the risk of eggs being laid in the cold season.

Interesting. Very interesting.

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