Archive for January 2013

Pelicans and Bare Arms, January in Dallas

January 25, 2013

We’re in the middle of a deep freeze here in the Northeast. Yesterday, Long Island’s Mecox Bay was in the process of icing over.

Mecox Bay ices up.

Ice on the right of the white line, water to the left.

Meanwhile back in my former home of Dallas, Texas,people are hanging out by White Rock Lake in T-shirts and tank tops. I mean, really.


Curious geese at White Rock Lake, Dallas. Photo: Ellen Locy.

My friend Ellen, who sent me these photos from Dallas, reports yesterday was “such a warm day I kept peeling off layers and tying them anywhere I could. Jacket, scarf.”  Here’s Ellen with scarf tied round her head and jacket round her waist.


“Just got a load of myself… [people] must have thought Aunt Jemima had taken up bird watching.”

The warm weather has White Rock’s geese in a flap. Or maybe it’s the pelicans they’re sharing Sunset Bay with.


Goose convention at Sunset Bay, White Rock Lake, Dallas. Photo: Ellen Locy.

Yup, pelicans.

Pelicans in Dallas, Texas. Photo: Ellen Locy.

Pelicans in Dallas, Texas. Photo: Ellen Locy.

There’s nothing like sunset at Sunset Bay. Can this really be mid-January? Thanks, Ellen, for warming us up.


Sunset at Sunset Bay, Dallas, Texas. Photo: Ellen Locy.

Now it’s time to bundle up with a faux animal on my head, and walk that dog. Brrr.IMG_0466IMG_7428

Snow in Eastern Long Island

January 23, 2013

On Monday afternoon, snow began to fall on eastern Long Island.


Snow transformed the dog into an abominable snow creature.


Snow covered the sand that Sandy dumped into the passage beneath the little bridge.


Snow dusted Sleeping Beauty’s impassable tangle of branches.


Snow blanketed the beach.


On the walk home, deer had come into a neighbor’s yard and were browsing right by the house.


It snowed through the night. On Tuesday, the world was white.


Snow shadows spidered open spaces.


Deer stood alert in the snowy field.


When they turned to go, their small stampede kicked up a snow tempest.


Temperatures have plummeted to the teens, so for the time being, the snow remains. As I write, dawn is breaking on another frosty morning.


Bleak is Beautiful

January 16, 2013

In winter, the bare, the barren and the bleak offer a different perspective on beauty.


This is true in the city.


And it is true by the ocean.


It’s true up close.



And it’s true from a distance.



Always beautiful.


Red-tails in Winter

January 10, 2013

Red-tailed hawks seem to be everywhere I walk these January days.

We tend to think of winter as a quiet, even a quiescent, time for the natural world.


And so it is for many plants and animals. But for others, including NYC’s Red-tailed hawks, mid-winter actually signals the start of breeding season. In the coming weeks, our local hawks will go a-courting. After all, for us to watch eggs hatch in early spring on NYU’s Bobst Library or a Fifth Avenue apartment ledge, the hawks have to lay those eggs a full month earlier, sometimes as early as late February or early March. Before laying eggs, new pairs need time to build a nest, while established pairs must renovate the old nest. And before they start working on the nest, the hawks have to pair up, bond, and mate.

Red-tails mate for life, but even experienced and bonded pairs engage in elaborate courtship behavior each year as they enter the breeding season. Red-tail courtship often involves dazzling paired flights, when the two birds swoop and circle together, and sometimes grasp each other’s talons as they spiral down through the air, separating in time to spread their wings and soar again.


In late winter and, indeed, throughout the breeding season, unpaired hawks, whether juveniles or adults that have lost a mate, will be on the look-out for potential partners.  In NYC over the past few years, several hawks have died from rat poison at various points in the breeding season, and we’ve seen the remarkable swiftness with which a new hawk appears and mating begins again.

So look up as you walk in the city this winter. Scan trees, building ledges, statues, and water towers for unusual lumps and bumps that may turn out, on closer inspection, to be a hawk perching and watching for prey.  And if you are lucky enough to spot two broad-winged birds soaring high in the sky, circling and swooping, spiraling and climbing, they may well be a pair of red-tails declaring their devotion and preparing to mate.

Woodpeckers in New York: Beautiful Redheads

January 4, 2013

Woodpeckers are such stylish animals.

Red-bellied woodpecker. Photo: Melissa Cooper

Red-bellied woodpecker. Photo: Melissa Cooper

And, yes, clearly it was a red cap and nape that I saw on New Year’s Eve Day, not just a red cap. Which means the bird was, without a doubt, a male Red-bellied woodpecker. (In Woodpeckers of Riverside Park Meet Little Red Riding Hood, I made the case for calling it the Little Red Riding Hood Woodpecker.)

How can I be so sure today when I was unsure two days ago? Because I saw the little devil again yesterday morning.  And this time, in case you haven’t noticed, the view was unobstructed and I got photos.


The bird was less active yesterday, remaining on its perch for several minutes, looking around from side to side, and up and down.


The little bird was probably sitting so still and alert due to the unusual amount of hawk activity overhead.  Three Red-tailed hawks were passing overhead, soaring, then swooping low through the trees.  Birds and squirrels tend to go into lock-down when the hawks are flying nearby, trying not to call attention to themselves through movement. Of course, once the hawks perch, they are no longer much of a threat since their hunting technique involves stooping from the air with great force at their prey.  Birds and squirrels can often be quite bold with a perched hawk. I’ve seen squirrels seem to taunt a perched hawk, and the sight of crows or jays mobbing a hawk is fairly common. In rural areas, Red-tailed hawks dine mostly on rodents, but here in the city they are frequently seen eating pigeons and songbirds in addition to rats, squirrels and mice.

  One of the hawks perched for a while in a neighboring Sweetgum tree, looking much like the piles of leaves, known as dreys, that squirrels build as nests.


After a few minutes, the hawk unfolded its great wings, and soared off to the southwest.


The woodpecker then did the same, swooping across the promenade to a higher branch on another tree.

The handsome little bird is a charming addition to the park, easy on the eyes and easy to spot. In winters past, I’ve sometimes seen a sole Red-bellied woodpecker in this area of Riverside Park. Now I wonder if it is the same bird returning year after year. In any event, I hope he sticks around, and continues to evade hawks, cars and other urban hazards.

For more on woodpeckers in Riverside Park:Woodpeckers of Riverside Park Meet Little Red Riding Hood
Who’s Eating What in NYC Parks

And for other New York woodpeckers:
A Visit To Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Sapsucker Woods: My First Pileated Woodpecker

Avian Red Wake-up

January 1, 2013

High in the tree branches in Riverside Park, a small, brilliant flash of red startled me. It soon revealed itself to be the head of a black-and-white woodpecker. The little fellow was very active, hopping from one branch to another with great rapidity, ducking behind branches and twigs, making it hard for me to get a good look at its entire form. And, of course, I had left behind both my binoculars and my camera.

Was the beautiful bird a Red-bellied woodpecker?

Red-bellied woodpecker by John James Audubon

Red-bellied woodpecker by John James Audubon

(Despite its name, the Red-bellied woodpecker is notably black and white with a red cap and nape.  The name derives from a reddish tinge on the belly that is really only visible when the bird is examined close up.)  I watched until the bird swooped off, scalloping the air, to another tree. But when I got home and opened a bird book, it was the the flash of a red cap that lit the image in my mind. A red cap, not a red cap and nape. So hmmm…

Could it have been a yellow-bellied sapsucker?

Yellow-bellied sapsucker by John James Audubon.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker by John James Audubon.

Both birds are seen in NYC parks, although the Yellow-bellied sapsucker is apparently less common.  But something about the coloring, and even the cap, just doesn’t seem quite right when compared with the bird in my mind’s eye. So I believe it was a Red-bellied. Next time I’ll know better how to look at a red-headed woodpecker to note its defining marks.

The unexpected flash of avian red has stayed with me, like a wake-up of some kind. “Sleeper, awake!” the little bird signaled to me.  A good jolt with which to start a new year.

Since I have no photo of my woodpecker, here is a different bit of vibrant wake-up-the-new-year red, photographed by a friend on his morning walk.

Cardinal in NYC. Photo: Rob Pavlin

Cardinal in NYC, plumped against the cold. Photo: Rob Pavlin


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