Archive for the ‘December’ category

Red-tail Eats Lunch in Riverside Park

January 19, 2011

Regular encounters with Riverside’s red-tailed hawks have rung out the old year and are ringing in the new.

Winter’s bare branches make the birds easier to spot. And the truth is, Morningside Heights and Harlem teem with raptors. Look up and out as you stroll neighborhood parks and streets or along the river, and you may see red-tails, kestrels, peregrine falcons or even a bald eagle.

One morning in late December, I scanned the skies and building tops from my window for avian activity.  Seagulls soared to and from the river, a flock of pigeons wheeled in and out of sight to the east, and a lone starling perched atop the school.

On last year’s Harlem Hawk Walk with James of The Origin of Species, I learned to pay attention to unusual bumps on water towers, antennae and chimneys.

Binoculars revealed a large hawk on the right tower. After about 15 minutes, the bird opened its wings and soared east down a side street. It was probably a red-tail, but I couldn’t be sure. I still need up close and personal encounters to identify what I’m looking at.

Later in Riverside Park, a juvenile red-tail obliged.

I almost walked right by, but a raspy cry drew my attention to a tree branch by the path, where a perching hawk sat and watched … something..

I followed its gaze up the slope towards the retaining wall.

Aha.

I tied Esau to a garbage can

and made my way slowly up the slope. The hawk did not seem to mind my presence.

It was intent on devouring a squirrel. The head was pretty much off the little mammal, but much of the body – and the beautiful bushy tail – remained intact.

I watched from a few yards away, while the first hawk watched from the tree branch.

The meal required a remarkable amount of effort. The hawk stood on the carcass to hold it down.

Then the bird tore and pulled with its powerful beak.

The next day, I returned to the spot to see if any signs of the meal remained. I once found a squirrel tail on the upper path and wondered how it came to be there. Now I think I know the answer. I expected to find bits of fur caught in the fallen leaves.

I did not expect to find … utensils.

Ah, the mysteries of the city.

Out Walking the Dog’s Top Ten Posts of 2010

December 30, 2010

Readers prefer mastodons.

I’ve always avoided top ten lists. In fact, I’ve disparaged the whole concept as basically, well, idiotic. But I recently discovered that the statistics tracker on my blog, which counts each time someone visits, can also tell me how many times each blog post has been viewed over the past year.

A post about feeding wild animals is a favorite.

The very existence of this useless information exerts a mysterious allure, as if it contained some important hidden meaning just waiting to be revealed.  It doesn’t, of course.  But I can’t resist the pull. So, for whatever amusement or revelation may be found, I here present … (drum roll, please) …

Out Walking the Dog’s Top Ten (Most Viewed) Posts of 2010.

1. Mastodons in Manhattan: How the Honey Locust Tree Got Its Spikes

2. Feeding Wild Animals: Squirrel Man Calls to his Friends

3. NYC Wildlife: The Pigeons Outside My Window

4. NYC Coyote Existential: Where do they come from and where are they going?

5. Rabies in Manhattan: What About Squirrels (and Rats)?

6. Seed Pods and Eyeballs

7. Saint John the Divine: A Secret Garden in Morningside Heights

8. Victor Casiano’s Rooftop Pigeons

9. Sex and the City Bird

10. Falada in New York: 59th Street Carriage Horses

So there you have it.  The frightening outbreak of rabies in Manhattan and the almost equally frightening event of duck sex make it into the top ten. So do last winter’s coyote visitations and a meeting with the last of our neighborhood’s rooftop pigeon flyers.  Other urban animals that are featured include squirrels, horses, raccoons, peacocks, rats, and mastodons.

Yeah, mastodons. The most popular post, by far, is a light-hearted discussion of the co-evolution of honey locust trees and mastodons. Why?  I’d like to think it’s because the study of evolution is booming, but maybe people just like mastodons or the idea of giant mammals roaming Manhattan.

The world is a mysterious place. Why should the internet be any different?

Esau, scourge of street rats, contemplates the mysteries of reader preferences.

NYC Snowtorious: after the blizzard

December 28, 2010

During the early hours of Monday’s snowfall, Esau and I walked in Riverside Park

Esau braves the wind and snow

Snow dusted the retaining wall.

Beautiful old Olmsted wall and young evergreen

Later we gazed out the window at Gotham transformed and almost invisible through the snow.

Guardian of Gotham

Tuesday morning the snow stopped. We made our way through the streets to visit family. We passed children scaling a mountain in front of the long-closed Metro Theater.

King and Queen of the Hill

 

We marveled at a buried car and rejoiced that it was not ours.

This is a car. Really.

We had our picture taken in Central Park.

Esau disguised as Henrik Ibsen in his later years

Today, Wednesday, in Riverside Park, children and adults slid down the slope at 108th Street on sleds, saucers, garbage can lids, cardboard boxes, trash bags and a variety of Unidentified Sliding Objects.

Swift down, slow up

A collection of rejected objects huddled at the base of the steps with a bottle of Bud.

Rejected objects seek consolation in alcohol.

Away from the sledding slope, the park was surprisingly quiet and almost empty. We spotted two or three dog walkers and five cross-country skiiers

Skiing the upper path

The snow is lovely, dark and deep,

Check out the salt-protecting booties

We saw no birds and only one squirrel.  But the snow, still largely undisturbed, told us the animals had been out

Kilroy was here

Squirrel marks went every which way

Crazy feet

Squirrels can also tunnel in the snow, although I didn’t see this myself.

As we left the park, we spotted elves among bare branches

Evidence of elves in Riverside Park

Tomorrow may bring sightings of members of the tribe of New York City snow beings. We’ll be watching.


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