Archive for July 2013

Eating and Keeping Cool in NYC Heat Wave, Fledgling Style

July 19, 2013

Baby birds hatch and fledge throughout the summer.  Yesterday morning, an adult European starling (on the right) and its two fledglings fed from an unidentifiable pile of garbage.


“How do you do this feeding thing?”

Both youngsters seemed quite capable of feeding themselves, and did so, helping themselves to scraps from the ground. But just as some kids are more independent than others, one of the young birds seemed to prefer being fed by its parent. (Male and female starlings look the same. In the photo below, you can make out a couple of spots of iridescent feathers developing on the drab, easily-camouflaged baby.)


Mom, I’m hungry.

It stayed close to the parent, and begged for food, cheeping loudly and insistently.


Did you hear me? I’m hungry!

The parent fed it, then returned to feeding itself. When it flew up to the ledge of the retaining wall behind it, the baby immediately followed.



Again, the parent fed it, then flew off, leaving the youngster momentarily alone.



The parent had flown half a block south to cool off in a clogged water fountain at the Tot Lot playground. Moments later the babies followed to see what was going on.


Soon the parent was routed by another adult, who refused to share bathing rights, and battled another adult that attempted to step into the fountain. The victor took a long and lively bath, watched for a while by the vanquished and then by a youngster.

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When he flew off, the vanquished took a quick, restrained dip.


And then it was kiddy time at the pool.



Two (with an observer).


And three.


Eventually the young starlings flew away, and a little sparrow moved in for a drink.

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Summer Saturday in Morningside Park

July 15, 2013

Morningside Park is lush and full of animal and human activity these days.

A goose family swims past the little island in Morningside Park.

A goose family swims past the little island in Morningside Park.

On Saturday, a small brigade of dedicated kids and volunteers cleaned the park and the pond.

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A turtle bobbed persistently for an elusive bite of apple.

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Scores of turtles swam and basked near the pond’s mallard ducks.

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The mallards are molting, which is why it looks at first glance as if there are nothing but females on the pond. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see that some green is still visible on the heads of the birds in the photos, indicating that they are, in fact, males.  The bright yellow of the bills is also a good marker; the bills of females are orange and brown. After breeding season, mallards molt and become temporarily flightless.  The males lose their distinctive feathers and go into “eclipse plumage,” which resembles the mottled coloring of the female. I’m not sure whether these boys are on their way in to their molt or on their way out. But in any event, within a few weeks, dull feathers will be replaced yet again with recognizable, jaunty bright colors.

This turtle reminded me of the White Rock Soda girl. What do you think?

Two young men with baseball gloves were captivated by the turtle on the rock. “I haven’t seen a turtle in, like ten years,” said one. When he realized there were turtles everywhere, swimming just beneath the surface of the water, he couldn’t tear himself away from the pond.


Soon a group of ducks swam over, hoping for a hand-out.


An interesting new sign has appeared near the pond, in addition to the “Do Not Feed the Wildlife” notices that are often displayed.

Do not touch or remove wildlife from park.

Do not touch or remove wildlife from park.

Really, my fellow citizens, what have you been up to while I’ve been away?

A large flock of pigeons lay about on the grass across the path.

Just a few of many resting pigeons.

Nap time for pigeons. These are just a few of a very large flock, almost all recumbent.

Nearby the turtle-watchers played catch.


As we headed up the grand stone staircase, I spotted a feral cat mostly hidden in dense vegetation. Interestingly, the dog had no idea the cat was present until I stopped to take its picture.


“In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps (or sits) tonight.”

On the grassy slope just below Morningside Drive, a girl sat in quiet meditation.


Just another summer Saturday in one of my favorite New York parks.

Urban Foxes in South London

July 14, 2013

On my last night in London, I saw foxes.

Ghost fox in south London.

Ghost fox in south London.

The first fox appeared on a city street as we were eating a delicious dinner at Thai Corner Cafe in East Dulwich in south London.


The fox appeared across the street, where he sniffed the wall enclosing an old church before lifting his leg just like a dog.

Where the fox appeared.

Where the fox was.

Then he startled and zipped down the street, ducking into an overgrown area in front of the building.

England has a large population of urban foxes. Red foxes are such a common sight in parts of London, including East Dulwich, that our London friends were quite amused, if not bemused, by me bolting out of the restaurant and down the street for a better look. They later told me that foxes appear regularly on their street in the middle of the night, lured by the availability of trash as well as food (misguidedly, in my opinion) put out for them by a neighbor.  Look out your window at three in the morning, our friends said, and you may well see a fox or two. They also described an absolutely horrific sound – if memory serves, Jon said it was like a baby being strangled –  made by foxes in the night.

After finishing our meal at the Corner Cafe, our friends took us to Nunhead Reservoir in the quickly waning light to bid farewell to the city that rose far below us.

The view from Nunhead Reservoir.

The view from Nunhead Reservoir.

The reservoir itself is underground, covered by a high heath-like mound, an open space from which we looked out at the city.  When I turned around to look behind me, I saw a four-legged shape silhouetted in the gathering dark. “Jon,” I interrupted. “Is that a fox?”

A fox at Nunhead Reservoir.

A fox at Nunhead Reservoir.

It was a fox. In fact, two foxes. The one I photographed in the dim light was very active, hunting and running freely about the open space. When we approached a little closer, both foxes disappeared in the direction of the overgrown Victorian cemetery that borders one side of the reservoir.

Cemeteries provide perfect habitat for many urban animals, offering places to hide and den as well as open areas for hunting small rodents. In NYC, a coyote has been frequently spotted at a large cemetery in Queens. (They also breed in the Bronx, and have been seen in Manhattan and Staten Island.) In fact, urban foxes in the UK seem to occupy a similar niche as coyotes now do in many North American cities. Both canids seem to be remarkably well adapted to city life.  And lucky Britain does not have to worry about rabies, having  effectively eradicated the disease years ago through stringent regulations requiring vaccinations of pets and quarantines on animals brought into the country. The last spate of rabies cases occurred after World War I, when service members brought infected dogs home from European countries. Here in the eastern US, rabies is a significant concern among wild foxes, as friends on the eastern shore of Maryland learned a few years ago when they were pursued, as in a horror movie, by a rabid fox.

Farewell, London foxes and farewell, London.

The Millenium Wheel seen from south London.


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