Archive for April 2013

Douglas Squirrel in Garden Bay, British Columbia

April 30, 2013

One of my favorite easily-observed creatures in British Columbia is the Douglas squirrel, sometimes called the chickaree.


Much smaller than New York City’s hefty Eastern gray squirrels, the Douglas is a tree squirrel found from California to the southern British Columbia coast.


Like most squirrels, it uses its front paws quite charmingly to hold nuts and other food. There’s just something about its small size, big eyes, and overall demeanor that give it the look of a storybook character.


Douglas squirrels eat primarily the seeds of the coniferous trees that abound in this area: Douglas firs, of course, but also Sitka spruce and pines. Like the Eastern gray and many other squirrels, they are scatter hoarders, burying seeds or entire pine cones in various spots. But unlike the Eastern gray, Douglas squirrels have no cheek pouches for holding food.


They have high-pitched voices that pierce the forest, and sound remarkably like a bird. On several occasions, I scanned tree limbs, trying to determine what bird was so persistently peeping, only to discover that I was being yelled at by a squirrel.

Below is a fascinating two-minute sound clip from NPR’s “Bird Notes” on the Douglas squirrel. Just click the arrow to play:

The little fellow In these photographs hung out near the pedestrian bridge that connects the harbor to Garden Bay Road. Below you may be able to make out the squirrel perched on the fence rail to the right of the tree.


It was often seen in the company of a golden-crowned sparrow.


The two seemed to be masters of their own bathing and drinking pool.


We humans, however, need more sustenance than pine cones and water, or even wildlife sightings. Tearing myself away from the little animals, I crossed the bridge.


Soon I was happily drinking coffee and eating breakfast at Laverne’s Grill.


Ahhhh. Repletion.


Back outside, bald eagles soared overhead (more on them soon).


And the little squirrel went about its squirrely business.


Happy Arbor Day!

April 26, 2013

I learned this morning from Backyard and Beyond that today is Arbor Day. Since I am in British Columbia, surrounded by magnificent forest, it seems a fine occasion to celebrate the day.

Garden Bay Provincial Park

Garden Bay Provincial Park

The forest here is dense and layered. This time of year, leaves on the deciduous trees are still pale against the darker needles of the evergreens.


The many shades of green are mesmerizing.



Sometimes you glimpse islands and water through the trees.



Even the downed trees and stumps are covered in many shades of green made by moss and lichen.




An old and beautiful tree, felled to create a younger and beautiful trail.


Happy Tree Day.

To Vancouver and British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast

April 25, 2013

Yesterday in the wee hours, we arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia. We slept a few hours in this beautiful house.

Jay and Atty's house

Jay and Atty’s house

I walked around Trout Lake Park with Jay, Atty and Bella. In December 2011, I observed a perching eagle here. No such luck today, but the park is lovely in springtime.

Trout Lake Park, Vancouver, BC

Trout Lake Park, Vancouver, BC

Red-winged blackbirds are calling.

Female red-winged blackbird at Trout Lake.

Female red-winged blackbird at Trout Lake.

Old Bella stood on the walkway and grazed the tops off tender shoots of grass.

Bella trots and Man meditates.

Bella trots and man meditates.

Later, waiting to board the ferry at Horseshoe Bay, we watched at least three bald eagles as they circled high above us.

Bald eagle over Horseshoe Bay.

Bald eagle over Horseshoe Bay.

On the ferry, the mountains shone.

Ferry ride

Ferry ride


The islands loomed.


We disembarked at Langdale, and drove north up the coast.



Of course, there are always crows wherever you go in the northwest.


More on British Columbia tomorrow…

Check out the Snow!

April 20, 2013

It’s crazy snowing this morning!

Snow in Traverse City, Michigan

Snow in Traverse City, Michigan

I flew into Traverse City in northern Michigan last night, where I’m serving as a mentor for a Young Playwrights Festival run by the Wharton Center. You can’t really see in this quick shot out my hotel window, but these are big beautiful snowflakes pouring down.

This is what I left behind in New York City: Broadway in bloom.


Morningside in bloom.



Well, the work the young playwrights are doing will warm us up.

It’s April in NYC, Let’s Ditch the Plow

April 18, 2013

Here are two favorite spring posts from years past:
NYC Signs of Spring: Red-tails Nest and Mr. Softee Sings
Two-Eyed Prophecy of Spring

April in Morningside Heights. Time to …

Raise the plow.

Raise the plow on 110th and Columbus.

Raise the plow on 110th and Columbus.

Wait a minute. “Raise the plow?!” It’s April, people, let’s just ditch the freaking plow!

Time to go to the laundromat. Apparently, it’s been a long winter.


Time to show some baseball love.


Time to play ball.


Or learn to play ball.



Time to kayak the Hudson.


Time to fight.


These two male mallards were seriously going at each other.


Hormones are raging in the spring, and there seem to be many unattached male mallards hanging around in Morningside Pond, getting into trouble.


Time to cuddle. Those hormones, you know.


And when you look this fine, it’s always time to strut your stuff.


Phil, one of three resident peacocks at the Cathedral of St John the Divine


Peeking, Lolling Raccoon

April 14, 2013

Just before sunset yesterday, someone was peeking out of the main raccoon den in the Riverside Park retaining wall.

First a nose.


Then an ear and an eye.


and finally most of the masked face.


As we watched, that someone started lolling about in the entrance.Look at that hand, er, I mean paw.


Here is the track of a raccoon in the mud of the ravine in Central Park.


Hmm. Reminds me of the 32,000 year old handprints in the Cave of Chauvet.


But back to the lolling peeker.


Interesting to note that there appears to be no tag on the raccoon’s ear, which means it was not vaccinated during the rabies epidemic of 2010. It may not yet have been born.


We headed down to the river to catch the afterglow of the sunset.


A father and daughter gazed across the river.


Some cherry trees are in bloom, while others remain bare.


We checked back at the den after dark, before leaving the park. Someone was still peeking.


It’s Spring, Everybody Sing!

April 11, 2013

Today is a little chillier, but the last few days have made the birdies sing. Here is the song I heard them singing.

Oh, it’s spring. Yes, it’s spring.


Magnolias are budding.


Peacocks are showing.


Fruit trees are blooming.


Turtles are basking.


Willows are greening.


Yeah, it’s a beautiful day.


Can I have an amen?


NYC Dolphins in Hudson River

April 9, 2013

Two days ago, on Sunday April 7th, a reader named Jane posted a comment on a blog post from last summer:

“I was out riding my bicycle this afternoon and took a break on a bench along the Greenway at about 96th Street … and saw two dolphins leap out of the water, one following the other!”

I contacted Jane on Sunday evening to find out more. She wrote that she had never heard of dolphins being spotted in NYC, and was stunned.  Apparently her friends did not believe her, so she searched the internet “to prove I’m not crazy!” That’s how she found this blog.

Jane saw the dolphins swimming north around 3:30 or 4:00 pm. Apparently, they stayed the night, because on Monday morning, according to CBS News, two dolphins were spotted off Inwood Hill Park. They were later reported swimming south toward the George Washington Bridge.

Two dolphins were spotted in the Hudson River near Inwood Hill Park Monday. (Credit: CBS 2)

Two dolphins were spotted in the Hudson River near Inwood Hill Park Monday. (Credit: CBS 2)

CBS News quoted John Lipscomb of Riverkeeper on the recent appearances of dolphins, “What we’re seeing right here under our noses is the wilderness; it’s like having the Serengeti off of 125th Street. It’s awesome, and it reminds us of the beauty of all of this life.”

I was down by the river twice on Sunday, but saw no dolphins, although last month, I had the marvelous experience of watching the East River dolphin in action.

For more on NYC’s dolphins:

Watching NYC’s East River Dolphin
Dolphin Spotted in East River
Watching the Watchers of the East River DolphinKeep Wild Dolphins Wild
Hudson River Dolphin
Hudson River Dolphin is Dead

Raccoon Carries Baby in Riverside Park

April 7, 2013

Last night I saw something I’d never seen before: a mother raccoon carrying her tiny baby in her mouth.


The photos, sadly, are blurry. My camera had run out of battery, so I had only my iPhone, which doesn’t do well in low light.

I entered the park just as the sun was setting over the Hudson River.


I scanned the great retaining wall for raccoons.


The setting sun illuminated the entrance to a den, but no animals were visible.


We walked south for a while, then returned to take another look at the wall. A short distance from the primary den, a raccoon was moving on the wall, carrying something in its mouth. My first thought, oddly, perhaps, was that it was carrying some kind of prey. But no, this was a baby raccoon, dangling from the mother’s mouth twenty feet above the ground.


The mother carried it gingerly along the wall. At last, she ducked into a hole and disappeared.  Loud, deep growling sounds came from the wall. Clearly the hole was occupied. It sounded like pigs grunting. I worried that the baby might be injured by the surly host.

The dog, tied up a short distance away, was fascinated by the rather alarming sounds.


After some time, the mother emerged, the baby still dangling from her mouth, and continued heading north along the wall. It’s not easy to walk on that wall, even without a baby in your mouth. She went almost all the way to the top.


 I could see the head of a pedestrian who strolled along the uppermost promenade, unaware of of the raccoons just a few feet below. Then the mother carefully made her way down the great wall until she reached the ground. Skirting the base of the wall, she continued north on all fours, moving much faster than she could on the vertical surface of the wall.

I left the mother and her baby to their night’s journey. I am guessing that, for whatever reason, she was seeking out a new den, or perhaps, a second den. I hope she found what she was looking for. If there were other babies to be moved, I hope she managed to go back and get them all safely settled. No matter how much wildlife behavior we are lucky enough to observe, there is so much more that goes on unobserved. Mystery remains, even deepens, and every observation raises new questions that keep me coming back to the park, and back to the animals.


I believe this is the mother raccoon, seen here ten days ago.

Good luck, mama.

For much more on New York City’s raccoons, see the raccoon archives.

1 Rm Riv Vu, NYC Wildlife Edition

April 5, 2013

New York City’s wildlife sometimes hit the real estate jackpot. Yes, while many humans can no longer afford to live in Manhattan, the birds and raccoons are doing just fine. Many even enjoy sunset views like this one over the Hudson River.


Some animals prefer traditional pre-war living environments in which to raise their families.



Others enjoy a more modern situation. Some sparrows prefer the bustle of Mondrian-inspired scaffolding. (Sadly, the birds are not visible in this photo.)


Others find that modern materials can be used to create a cozy, neighborly feel.


And for the lucky elite, luxury urban dwellings abound. The beautifully detailed statues adorning the entry way to the Synod House at St John the Divine provide temporary housing for generations of house sparrows.


Look for the nests.


And for private living with sweeping city views, the red-tailed hawks of St. John’s have it made.


The Things They Carry

April 4, 2013

Animals carry things. They carry things in their mouths and in their hands, in their arms and on their fur, on their heads and in their feet. They carry things because they must, and they carry things because, well, sometimes they just like to.

Some animals carry sticks.


Or frisbees.


Some animals carry Easter baskets.


Or smaller members of their own species. (Note the raccoons on the wall.)


Whatever that species may be.


Some animals carry other species, including large cats.


Larger cats.


And tiny geckoes.


They carry things to eat.


And leaves.


And cans.


If the animal is a scientist, she may carry equipment, including an aspirator for collecting ants.


Dr. Holly Meninger with microphone and aspirator.

Ants carry fire flies.


Dogs carry small green seeds.


And big brown burrs.


Squirrels carry nuts.


Starlings carry pizza.

Starlings fight over pizza

Hawks carry cats, or so the sign suggests.


They carry tiny dogs, at least in urban legend.

painting by Charlotte Hildebrand

painting by Charlotte Hildebrand

They also carry strange nesting materials.


These are just some of the things they carry.

Oh, and saints carry hawks.


What do you carry? What, or who, carries you?

A tip of the hat to Tim O’Brien’s amazing book of stories about the Vietnam War, The Things They Carried. If you haven’t read it, do.

Diving Duck Blues

April 3, 2013


As I walked along the river, I saw a disheveled, punky little fellow gliding north along the shoreline. A male red-breasted merganser.


He glided, then dove, glided, then dove. Most of the time, I only caught the ripples.


Then I’d have to wait, and scour the area to see where the little fellow would pop up next.


This was a very active bird, who seemed to be enjoying life. I wondered what he was hunting down there. If he caught anything, I didn’t see it. But I did finally catch a few dives.


The dives are extremely fast. One moment the bird is floating along, the next moment it’s gone. I hope these shots convey a sense of the speed and power of the dives.


That “hair” just won’t stay down.


On my way back, about half a mile south, I spotted the female of the pair.


She was serene, gliding along and not diving at all.


The mergansers put me in mind of Diving Duck Blues:

“If the river was whiskey and I was a diving duck,
I’d dive to the bottom, and I’d never come up.”

Maybe that’s what was getting the little merganser so excited.
Listen to Taj Mahal tell you about it:

How To Build an Urban Hawk Nest

April 1, 2013

As I walked on Morningside Avenue this morning, a red-tailed hawk swooped in and landed high on the back of the Cathedral of St John the Divine. (Its tail is toward the viewer.)


I missed the moments before it landed, but saw that it was carrying something. It appeared to wrestle with its prey, as if attempting to subdue it.


Oh, I see. Its ‘prey’ was a piece of a cardboard box or, perhaps, a paper bag. Nesting material.


Soon the bird flew off, clutching the prize in its beak rather than its talons. (Look at those outstretched legs and talons, and that red tail.)


It landed on its nearby nest, spent a little time tucking the cardboard into place, and then flew off, heading in a northwesterly direction.


From deep inside the nest, unseen from my vantage point far below, a second hawk, probably the female, known as Isolde, now adjusted the cardboard which is easily visible to the left of Saint Andrew’s head.

(Note also the long strands of some kind of string hanging off the right side of the nest. This is new in the past few days, and it worries me, since birds can easily become entangled in string, and suffer injury.)


The cardboard was pulled deeper into the interior until it could no longer be seen.


And all was quiet on the broad shoulders of good Saint Andrew.

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