Archive for October 2012

A Tale of Two Cities: NYC After Hurricane Sandy

October 31, 2012

New Yorkers woke up this morning to blue skies.

The sunshine was a welcome sight, although clouds rolled back in pretty quickly.

NYC after the storm is a tale of two cities.  Neighborhoods like mine in upper Manhattan had no flooding, no power outages, and withstood the brunt of the storm with relatively little damage. Sure, I heard about a neighbor’s window that shattered in the middle of the storm, and as I posted yesterday, trees are down and businesses and buildings have suffered wind damage. Clean-up is underway.

Fixing the scaffolding above Cascabel Taqueria.

A little over a mile south of here, an enormous tree is apparently still down on Columbus Avenue behind the Museum of Natural History. Due to recent foot surgery, I can’t get out and take photos beyond my narrow home range, but I have it on good authority. But in general, the Upper West Side and Morningside Heights are intact, lively and functioning well. (For more, visit my local on-line newspapers, West Side Rag and My Upper West.)

We’re even getting ready for Halloween.

A firefighter prepares for Halloween on 108th Street and Broadway.

But lower-lying parts of the city remain without power and even, in many cases, without cell phone coverage.  We have no idea how many people, elderly or disabled, are trapped in high-rise apartment buildings with no way out except the stairs. As the hours and days mount, people may run low on water, food and other supplies. Click the photo below for a link to Gothamist’s article, Outrage in the Powerless Zone: A Dispatch from Lower Manhattan.

A destroyed car near the Jacob Riis Houses on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (photo: Jonathan Maimon/

NYC bloggers are remarkable sources of information on neighborhoods around the city.

On Coney Island, the amazing Tricia Vita writes Amusing the Zillion, which is all Coney all the time. Tricia reports that the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel are standing strong, despite harrowing winds and a five-foot storm surge.  Browse Amusing the Zillion for photos, stories and video. Surf Avenue, Mermaid Avenue and Neptune Avenue were all underwater during the storm, and Mama Burger, the iconic figure atop Paul’s Daughter’s restaurant on the Boardwalk, seems to have been swept away.

Mama Burger in calmer days.

Mama Burger’s burger has been spotted on 15th Street, but Mama herself remains missing. Come back, Mama Burger, come back. Tricia writes: “If you find her please contact Paul’s Daughter at 917-607-4960 or via Facebook.”

Also in Brooklyn is Matthew Wills of Backyard and Beyond, a blog documenting the surprising diversity of nature in the city. Matthew writes life forms ranging from the fungus among us (today’s post), to wasps, birds and horseshoe crabs. He’s as likely to write about a ladybug or tiny spider found in his home as to travel the city to Brooklyn Bridge Park, Jamaica Bay, Prospect Park and Four Sparrow Marsh.

The Lo-Down provides news from the Lower East Side, where floodwater from the East River reached beyond Avenue C.

And back uptown on the east side nature beat, Bruce Yolton of photographs Pale Male, NYC’s venerable Fifth Avenue red-tailed hawk, and his ill-fated mates for years now.  Bruce reports that Pale Male has weathered the storm just fine, although as of yesterday’s post, Bruce hadn’t yet seen his mate or his fledglings.

More later from upper Manhattan.

Unicef boxes await ghouls and goblins.

Hurricane Sandy Report: Flying Point Road, Long Island Update

October 30, 2012

Flying Point Beach signpost, September 2012. Photo: Melissa Cooper

The YouTube video below was filmed yesterday, presumably in the early hours of Hurricane Sandy. It shows Flying Point Road in Water Mill, Long Island, from a vantage point very close to my family house, where my brother has weathered the storm.

Our house sits just before the curve in the road where the filmmaker’s car sits. On the near side of the curve, the bay laps the shore and there is a small stretch of land between the bay and the road to absorb its overflow. On the far side of the curve,, the bay is contained by a small retaining wall. The road is wider here, but there is no shore.

Mecox Bay, Water Mill, NY in calmer days. Photo: Melissa Cooper

This is where people park their cars on the side of the road to fish for crabs.

Crabbing in Mecox Bay in September 2012. Photo: Melissa Cooper

When we first started coming to our house in the mid-1960s (Well, it was Mr. Jennings’s house then), there was only one other house visible on the road between us and Flying Point Beach, maybe two. Today, there are many, even on the bay side. But the old farmers knew what they were doing in not building closer to the water. Yesterday, beyond this curve, the road was completely submerged as Hurricane Sandy pushed vast amounts of water from the ocean into the little skillet of Mecox Bay.

Here is a terrific photo taken a little further down the road between our house and the ocean, at approximately 11 am Monday. The roadside and retaining wall break off briefly for this little stretch of shoreline.

Photo: Austin Handler;

I believe that stretch of land and water usually looks like this. Note the fence on the right in both photos.

Crabbing on Flying Point Road in early summer 2012. Photo: Melissa Cooper

The road stretches half a mile from the curve to Flying Point Beach. Just before the road rises to the beach parking lot, it makes a sharp left and runs another half mile straight out to the beach we call “the far beach.”  This morning, the road to the beach remained under water. My brother hitched a ride to the far beach on a huge flat-bed truck that was going to check on damage; his own car would never have made it. On nearby Luther Drive, about 100 feet in from the road, he spotted a 12-foot plastic jet ski dock that belonged, my brother was informed, to people living on the far side of Mecox Bay.

At the far beach, the ocean had pushed vast amounts of water into the bay, and flooded all the way up to the road.  The beach is now completely flat, no slope at all.  My brother described lines of breaking wines reaching to the horizon. The ones breaking on shore were six or seven feet high, but the ones farthest out near the horizon rose up over the water like a house, maybe twelve or thirteen feet high. We’ve been watching the ocean in storms all our lives, but my brother says he has ever seen anything remotely like this.

I’m writing from NYC, so I don’t have any photos of my own to show the wild transformations wrought by Sandy. Instead, I’ll show you another photo of beautiful little Mecox Bay, as it often appears.

Heron at sunset in Mecox Bay, March 2012. Photo: Melissa Cooper

I hope the herons, egrets, swans, ducks and all the other birds and animals have weathered the storm safely,

Tuesdays with Sandy: NYC Aftermath

October 30, 2012

The sky glowered this morning in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, as water towers guarded the city.

Light rain has been coming and going all morning. Riverside Animal Hospital is open.

So is Cascabel Taqueria,

where I saw the now rare sight of a man talking on a public pay phone.

Just down the street, the canopy of Kim’s Cleaners had collapsed.

But we here in Morningside Heights are so lucky. We have power, we have some open shops and restaurants, and we are out and about.

Between 107th Street and 108th Streets, I chatted with this gentleman.

He was walking up Broadway from 47th Street to 125th Street. Along the way, he saw a great deal of external damage to signs, storefronts, scaffolding and canopies. He was worried about me walking around with my cane, but I reassured him that I wasn’t going far. And really, the area is mostly fine, despite some downed trees.

Uprooted tree on Riverside Drive upper promenade at 107th Street.

The tree came right up from its roots.

Leaves, of course, are down in the streets and sidewalks.

Downed leaves make for better river views.

People strolled the upper level, heading towards the downed tree.

And although the park remains officially closed, New Yorkers headed down the stone staircase into the park.

As I got ready to head home, the sun briefly burst through the clouds to illuminate this magnificent white birch inside Riverside Park.

Hurricane Sandy Update: NYC and Long Island

October 29, 2012

Yikes. It’s dark now on 108th Street.

Abstract New York: the view outside my window.

The wind is howling outside, sounding sometimes like a giant, ravenous beast and other times like a huge engine being revved to the limits of its capacity. Mysterious loose cables are banging around outside the windows, making me a little nervous.

But we are warm and, we presume, safe inside.

Meanwhile, one of my brothers is riding out the storm in our family house on Long Island, a scant half-mile from the ocean and directly across the road from little Mecox Bay. In calmer days, the bay looks like this.

But today my brother reported that sheet of rosy glass was more like a miniature ocean cauldron of seething foam.

He also said that six to seven foot waves were breaking on the beach, that the ocean was pushing a powerful river of water into the bay,  and that the road to the ocean was under two feet of water.  This was hours and hours ago.

Browsing storm coverage on the web, we discovered photos, taken this morning, that looked familiar. We realized they are photos of our bay and our road, plastered all over the web! I know I shouldn’t use these without permission, but hey, it’s my road, and I can’t resist.

I can’t find attribution for this photograph, although I believe it, like the subsequent ones, from Reuters.  Click to go to Boston Globe, where I found it.

Here’s another photo of the same stretch of road, also from many hours ago.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

I don’t know which beach the photo below is, but my brother described the same scene of destroyed dune fencing all over Flying Point Beach and the beach we call “the far beach.”

Southampton area beach. Photo: Reuters

Later in the day, my intrepid brother drove to the Shinnecock Canal. On the way, he saw a red fox, and on the way back, he spotted another. He described the first fox as seeming “upset.” When my brother stopped the car, the fox seemed about to approach but thought better of it.  The second, larger fox was  “bounding happily” across the road into the now-flooded marshy area. Seeing two foxes in the middle of the day seems unusual to me – I wonder if they were looking for food or better shelter before the worst of the storm.

My brother also described numerous little birds – sparrows, chickadees and cardinals – flying to and from the backyard bird feeders, even in fierce winds. Earlier in the day, he had been surprised to see geese and seabirds flying about.  In a comment on my early morning post about wildlife in the hurricane, Kelly Rypkema of Nature in a New York Minute posted a link to a fascinating article that describes how scientists have used satellite transmitters to track two whimbrels, smallish shore birds, as they flew straight through the 115-mph winds of a major hurricane!

There is so much still to learn about the world and its creatures.

For more about Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath:
Hurricane Sandy: Flying Point Road, Long Island Update
A Tale of Two Cities: NYC After Hurricane Sandy
Tuesdays With Sandy: NYC Aftermath
The View from My Window: Red-tailed Hawks and City Buses

NYC’s Morningside Heights In Hurricane Sandy’s First Hours

October 29, 2012

The streets were oddly quiet this morning. No buses belched along Broadway and no subways rattled below. The pavement was wet, but no rain fell. The wind gusted intermittently.  I went out for a short walk a couple of hours ago, my first time out since I had foot surgery on Thursday.

The light was strangely dimmed, the air was misty, and dog walkers, knowing what is in store later in the day, were out in force.

Riverside Park is officially closed, but a little bit of tape didn’t stop anyone.

Well, it stopped me.  I longed to go down to get a good look at the Hudson while it was still possible, but I had gone as far as I could manage, lurching along like Quasimodo with my surgical shoe and cane.

Glimpses of New Jersey across the river.

Runners, walkers, curiosity seekers, all were out and in good cheer.

Runners needed to run.

Runners also needed to stretch.

Lookers needed to look.

And walkers needed to walk.

Riverside Drive was empty of cars.

A few shops and restaurants had taped their plate glass windows.

Like most local businesses, the great Manchester Diner had closed for the storm.

“Thank you and stay safe!!”

But O’Connell’s Pub was ready to receive with the door flung wide.

As I write now at 1:15 PM, the rain has begun and gusts continue to pick up. We hear that water has already breached its walls in parts of Battery Park and the Gowanus Canal is flooding.

More updates will follow. Meanwhile, stay safe.

Thinking of Wildlife As The Hurricane Nears

October 29, 2012

Let’s sit and talk and talk. It’s so nice, so warm and cozy here. Listen to the wind. There’s something in Turgenev – “On such a night, happy he who has a roof over his head and a warm corner of his own.” I’m a sea gull… No, that’s not what I mean. I’m sorry. What was I saying? Oh, yes, Turgenev. “And may the Lord help homeless wanderers.”

The Sea Gull by Anton Chekhov
(English Version by Jean-Claude Van Itallie)

Nina’s lines from Act Four of The Sea Gull often spring to my mind in the anticipatory hours before a big storm. Scientists say that most storms have relatively little effect on wildlife at the species level, meaning a bad storm, even if it destroys many individual animals, is unlikely to permanently affect populations of species. But thanks to anthropogenic climate change, we’re now seeing an increase in the number of “severe weather events,” from storms to droughts to seasonal changes that, taken together, are already affecting some species. Still my thoughts in a storm are not about the fate of a species, but about the suffering of individuals, animal and human.

Luckily for our local wildlife, Hurricane Sandy is arriving well past nesting season. Most of our young animals are on their own by now, and many birds have already migrated south. NYC’s resident wildlife will probably do pretty well, over all. The raccoons of Riverside Park should be safe in their retaining wall.

Songbirds will hunker down, lock their toes onto a protected branch, hold their feathers tight against their bodies, point themselves in the direction of the wind, and hold on for dear life as the wind blows past and the rain pelts down.

Feathers can effectively seal out water.

As long as the branch survives, the birds probably will, too. Cavity nesters, like owls and woodpeckers, are even better protected, tucked into natural holes in tree trunks. And squirrels, too, will find a hole in a tree or in the retaining wall, or they’ll burrow into their dreys, thick nests of leaves that they build high in the trees.

If their tree withstands the storm, these creatures will emerge when wind and rain abate to fluff their fur and feathers, and search for food.

Migrating birds are more vulnerable. Exhausted by their travels, their energy reserves depleted, they must find food and shelter wherever they may be. Migrating birds may be blown hundreds of miles off course. Songbirds may be blown out into open sea where they can find no shelter or rest, while pelagic birds may be blown inland.

What may be a disaster for birds – being blown far from their native habitat – offers thrills for birders, who rush out into the aftermath of a storm to search for rare vagrants they might otherwise never encounter.

Tonight in New York City, the wind is starting to gust, although the storm is still hours away. I look out at the strangely quiet streets from my cozy apartment, and hope that all creatures find shelter from tomorrow’s storm.

Deer and Cormorants in the Hamptons

October 28, 2012

One day in mid-October, coming over the dunes on a boardwalked path, Esau the dog and I encountered a single white-tailed deer. Alert, the deer watches us.

deer near Flying Point Beach


Equally alert, Esau watches the deer.

gray dog, gray boardwalk

Also alert.

Suddenly, the deer bounds off into the brush.

white-tailed deer

In case you were wondering why it’s called a white-tailed deer…

Esau and I continue our walk through the moors beyond Channel Pond,

through the moors

A path through the Hampton moors.

passing through tall reeds and small ponds.

Gorgeous habitat for birds, deer, foxes and more.

Double-crested cormorants gathered in one of the ponds, possibly Jule Pond or Phillips Pond.

flock of cormorants

A collection of cormorants.

As we watched, more cormorants came flapping in.

flying cormorants

Cormorants fly over the reeds.

I’m guessing that these birds are migrants gathering in a resting spot before they continue southward.

Cormorants coming in for a landing.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite so many cormorants at once.

Cormorants, cormorants, cormorants.

I don’t have my binoculars with me, but I can see that many of the birds are juveniles, not yet in their full black plumage. Below is a juvenile cormorant I found dead by the side of the road in 2010.

juvenile cormorant

Dead cormorant by side of the road.

And here, by way of contrast, is an adult cormorant drying its wings in NYC’s Morningside Park in spring 2011.

cormorant with one wing extended

An adult cormorant dries its wings after fishing in Morningside Park’s tiny pond.

And lest you imagine the cormorant is all monochromatic black, take a look at this close-up of its brilliant green eyes and orange facial skin.

cormorant in breeding plumage

Eyes like emeralds.

Note also the sharply hooked bill of this voracious fish-eater. And in case you’re wondering about the mysterious eponymous double crests, they are visible only during breeding season.

Double-crested cormorant during breeding season by Mike Baird, Flickr/Wikimedia Commons.

To my mind, the so-called crests resemble more the horns of an aging devil or Grandpa’s unruly eyebrows than the more familiar peaked crests of a bluejay, say, or a cardinal.  But other cormorants apparently find them attractive. The cormorant population, once in serious decline from DDT poisoning, has bounced back strongly since the pesticide was banned in the United States in 1972. Some fishermen consider cormorants a threat to fishing stocks, and advocate for a hunting season. In Japan, fishermen once used cormorants as a kind of living fishing rod.

fishing cormorants 1936

Photograph by W. Robert Moore, 1936. From the National Geographic book, Through the Lens: National Geographic’s Greatest Photographs, 2003

The fisherman has tied ropes around the necks of the cormorants. When one of the birds catches a fish, the rope is tightened to prevent them from swallowing the fish, which is collected by the fisherman.

The lives of wild animals can be quite bizarre, when they intersect with the lives of humans.

NYC October Animal Round-up

October 27, 2012

In early October, a cat and a man dressed in shades of green emerged out of the still-green leaves along Riverside Park.

walking the cat

Just out walking the cat.

The cat was completely calm and walked well on its long leash, unfazed by Esau the dog and other fascinated canines.

cat on leash

Walking the wall with kitty.

The man said he had started leash-training when the cat was still a kitten. He would head to Riverside Drive at 3 in the morning when the streets were quiet. Days passed, and they stayed out later and later into the morning as the city woke up, until the cat gradually became accustomed to the hustle and bustle of traffic, dogs, people and the rest of the urban hubbub. They are an impressive pair.

The man tries to get the cat to pose for a picture, but it has other plans.

Also on Riverside Drive, well-camouflaged sparrows filled the branches of a baby tree.

sparrows nyc

A sparrow tree.

Here’s a closer look.

A gathering of sparrows.

We paid a quick visit to the “Forever Wild” section of the park, where migrating warblers and nuthatches abounded.

dog and forever wild sign

Esau is forever wild.

Leaving the park, we crossed one of the islands, or medians, of Broadway, where we discovered a tiny corpse.

monarch butterfly corpse

A tiny corpse on Broadway

We bent to take a closer look. It was a monarch butterfly, looking as beautiful as ever, but with a strange yellow substance coming out of its underside. Are monarch guts bright yellow? I was not able to find any answers to this question, so, my trusty reader, please tell me, if you know.

monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly on Broadway.

Further down Broadway, a man sat on a barbershop pony, while talking with a friend.

NYC barbershop

Just another bit of Broadway.

Over at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, a squirrel hung upside down to gorge on berries.

squirrel hanging upside down

Upside down at the Cathedral.

We watched the little animal for at least five minutes, during which it remained upside down, calmly reaching for berries with its paws and nibbling away, as if this was its usual position in the world.

Eating berries behind the Cathedral.

  Two brightly colored animals walked the grounds of the Cathedral.

pink and blue

Two lovely creatures (well, four, counting the pigeons at the left).

We went back to Riverside Park at dusk, this time descending the steps into the park.  A raccoon lounged in the mouth of its den high in the retaining wall.

raccoon at its den

Raccoon gets ready to start its day at dusk.

A mother gazed at the raccoon, while her child gazed at Esau, tied to the chain link fence.

Raccoons high on the wall; mother and child below.

The sun went down, and the raccoon began its nocturnal prowl with a walk on the wall. Raccoons sometimes walk the wall on all fours.

Riverside Park raccoon

A walk on the wild side of the wall.

At other times they stand erect, looking like bulky little mannikins edging along a high ledge.

Raccoon does its “man on a ledge” impression.

When it got too dark to follow the raccoon’s progress easily, we went home where Esau took his stuffed dog to bed.

dog and his toy


Doggy in the Dunes

October 6, 2012

With no apologies to Japanese writer Kobo Abe, author of Woman in the Dunes, nor to Hiroshi Teshugahara, who made the extraordinary film of the same title,

woman in the dunes image

An image from Woman in the Dunes

I here present images from Doggy in the Dunes.

Time to go home.

My NYC Home Where the Peacocks Roam

October 4, 2012
pears on a platter

Home, where pears from the CSA ripen under the watchful eyes of goat and god

After spending the better part of September on eastern Long Island,

pier on Mecox bay

Esau the dog approaches the void.

I’m home in NYC, where fall has thinned the trees in Riverside Park.

Riverside Park early fall

Riverside Park in early fall: more view, less green

Home in the city, where the peacocks roam.

white peacock saint john the divine

Phil, the white peacock, plays hide and seek in the foliage.

Our first day back, the dog and I visited the grounds of Saint John the Divine to check in on the three free-roaming peacock boys.  We looked in the Biblical garden, our urban secret garden, but saw no peacocks.

secret garden in new york city

New York City’s secret garden in early fall

No peacocks on the way to the garden’s romantic arbor.

romantic spot

Best place for a private talk or a moment alone.

No peacocks at the leafy throne.

secret places, NYC

Another favorite seat in the secret garden.

And no peacocks on the way out of the garden.

entrance to st john biblical garden

On the way out of the garden.

Suddenly we heard three loud squawking cries: Peacocks!  We followed the sound and, slipping into a half-hidden construction storage area, we found:

peacock in fall


The peacocks drop their glorious long tail feathers long before New York City’s trees drop their leaves.  But that’s all right. The diminished splendor of the tail leaves us more able to appreciate the subtler beauty of their speckled wings and rusty underfeathers that perfectly match the piles of brick.

peacock and bricks


The peacock preened, turning his neck this way

preening peacock

preening peacock

and that, putting more kinks into it than seems possible

peacock bendy neck

Peacock neck with many curves

However do they do that?

I wondered.

bird cervical vertebrae

And then I remembered


I’ve already researched and written


the extraordinary cervical flexibility

of long-necked birds.

Birds have at least


and as many as


cervical vertebrae.

Humans, by contrast, like all mammals,

have a mere


And  some animals, notably frogs, have



Really. One.

You can read all about it here, in

Bird Neck Appreciation Day.

But I digress.

Let us return

to the peacock,

who continued

to bend and twist, with most impressive dexterity.

Cleaning up.

We watched for a while.

close-up peacock against bricks

Elegance in the brick yard. Note the tail of a reclining squirrel in upper left.

And we, in turn, were watched.

peacock watching

Keeping a beady eye on us.

We became fascinated by the peacock’s scaly feet.

peacock feet

Walk like an Egyptian.

Eventually, we headed back into the open grounds, where we found the white peacock known as Phil.

phil white peacock

Roaming the grounds.

He wandered into the bushes.

white peacock in greenery

Phil amid the foliage.

He lurked among the flowers.

white peacock with fall flowers


On our way out of the grounds, we found the third peacock in the grasses near Amsterdam Avenue.

peacock in fall grasses

Walking in the grass.

We stopped to watch.

peacock st john's

Neck like blue grass.

He moved into the sunlight.

peacock grazing

Feeding in sunlight.

And then we left.

Oh, it’s good be home.

fall fruit and vegetable

Time for squash soup and a slice of baby watermelon.

Further reading on the urban peacocks of Saint John the Divine:

Great White Peacock of Morningside Heights
NYC Peacocks and Blossoms
Peacock Razzle-Dazzle (with video)
Wandering Peacocks of NYC
NYC Peacocks on Hurricane Sunday
Spring in Three Cities
Two-Eyed Prophecy of Spring
White Birds of NYC

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