Archive for the ‘Art and Literature’ category

And it’s snowing! Again.

March 1, 2015

Down in the playground beneath my window, birds gather in the snow to peck and fuss.

So we begin March as we finished February – cold and snowy.

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New York has just finished the coldest February in 80 years, and the third coldest on record.

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I’ve become fascinated with ice on the Hudson River.

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I especially love to watch the tide come in, and see the river flow north toward the great interior. Here is ice flowing north.

It’s easy to forget we live in an estuary, and our mighty river is tidal.

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The waterways are filled with ice, ice, and more ice. A beautiful bird’s eye view from an NBC helicopter takes you down the Hudson River to New York Harbor and around the tip of the island to the East River. (It’s well worth waiting for the ad to finish.)

Later today, or tomorrow, I’ll check on my friendly neighborhood behemoth and its sidekick.

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Dispatch from the Icebox: Wildlife Update

February 17, 2015

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It’s cold here in the Northeast. Today the dog and I went down to the river.

Looking south along the Hudson River Greenway.

Looking south along the Hudson River Greenway.

We were surprised to see the river flowing freely with just a few large ice chunks floating by the shore.

Looking north toward the George Washington Bridge.

Looking north toward the George Washington Bridge.

You can see ice over by the Jersey shore, but virtually none on our side. Yesterday, the river had an ice crust stretching out to the middle of the mighty waters.

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(The images below are drawn from the past three weeks of wintry walks and window watching.)

Nothing stops the dogs or their walkers, not even the deep freeze machine.

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Dogs gotta walk, and birds gotta eat.

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They also have to stay warm. Look at these mourning doves, puffed up like little Michelin men.

And this flock of starlings trying to catch some eastern roof rays on a morning when the temperature hovered in the teens.

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The feral cats in Morningside Park are fed hearty meals year-round by well-meaning humans. Feeding cats also feeds rats, which contributes to a burgeoning rat population, which leads humans to set out poison for the rats that eat the cat food which leads to the death of the hawks that eat the rats that eat the trash that humans set out to feed the cats that live in the park. (Read that five times fast.)

It’s a regular “This is the house that Jack built” scenario, except that the cats (indirectly) feed the rats instead of just eating them, as in the old nursery rhyme.

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Here are a couple of our apex predators, viewed from my window, that do their best to keep our rat and pigeon population under control.

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I haven’t seen a Riverside Park raccoon for some time. They must be laying low inside their snowy den.

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There may even be babies snuggled up in there, or, if it’s still too early in the season, a pregnant female, waiting for spring. Come spring, I’ll hope to see the whole family out and about on the retaining wall and in the park.

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Meanwhile, brrr.

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Urban Coyotes in Art, Poetry and Music

January 30, 2015

In honor of our recent coyote visitors in New York City, here are a few images and songs inspired by urban coyotes.

Coyote Under Moon.

By Atty Gell.

Beautiful, no? This print was made by Atty Gell, an artist who lives near Trout Lake Park in East Vancouver, Canada. Coyotes are not infrequently spotted passing through the park and the neighborhood.

When I was working on my play, NYC Coyote Existential, I asked Atty to create some coyote images for me to use for publicity purposes. She sent these lovelies.

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For poetry, listen to Tim Seibles read his poem: Midnight, the Coyote, Down at the Mouth.

For music, try this music video of Coyotes by Modest Mouse, inspired by an incident in 2002 when a coyote was spotted riding light rail in Portland, Oregon. Don’t know what well-trained coyote played the role, but here’s a photo of the actual wild coyote, looking no more harried than any other habitual commuter on a bad day.

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The same Portland coyote inspired the Sleater-Kinney’s song, Light Rail Coyote:

And if you need to bang your head a bit (and as evidence that the urban coyote has been around and has legs, as it were), here is Coping with the Urban Coyote, Unida’s 1999 album. Love that cover art.

How to Tell a Hawk from a Handsaw

March 17, 2014

I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.

Hamlet, Act II, scene ii

But Hamlet, dear, this is easy.

Hawk.

Hawk.

Hawk with squirrel, Riverside Park, NYC.

Handsaw.

Handsaw.

Handsaw.

More difficult in low light and at a distance is to know a hawk from a handbag, or more specifically, a plastic grocery bag.

Many is the perched hawk I’ve seen that, upon closer approach, has resolved itself not into a dew, but into plastic caught in a branch. (Click each photo to enlarge.)

More rarely the process reverses, and a plastic bag metamorphoses into a hawk, and flies.

These metamorphoses from animate to inanimate, from hawk to handbag, and back again, are among the peculiar pleasures of watching urban birds.

In a Nutshell: The Cloisters, Tiny Dogs and Henry Hudson

January 8, 2014

On this chilly afternoon, we paid a visit to the Cloisters in northern Manhattan. 

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We wandered the galleries, and immersed ourselves in the intricate detail and vivid, sometimes lurid imagery of medieval art.

The rosary bead below is just over 2 inches in diameter, and features astonishingly detailed scenes of Christ’s life and crucifixion.

Rosary Bead at The Cloisters, early 16th Century. Image by Wally Gobetz. (click for link)

Rosary Bead at The Cloisters, early 16th Century. Image by Wally Gobetz. (click for source)

Not much bigger than a walnut shell, the little box puts me in mind of Hamlet’s speech to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: “I could be bounded in a walnut shell, and count myself a king of infinite space – were it not that I have bad dreams.” The thought of being bounded in this particular walnut shell with its tiny depiction of martyrdom and crucifixion is certainly enough to give me bad dreams.

The rosary bead also evokes a nutshell that the white cat gives to the youngest prince in Madame d’Aulboy’s fairytale, The White Cat.  To win the kingdom, the King’s three sons spend a year seeking the tiniest, most beautiful dog  in the world.

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One of the older princes buys up all the dogs.

At the end of the year, each of the two elder sons presents a tiny, beautiful dog to the king, and feels assured of success.

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They were already arranging between themselves to share the kingdom equally, when the youngest stepped forward, drawing from his pocket the acorn the White Cat had given him. He opened it quickly, and there upon a white cushion they saw a dog so small that it could easily have been put through a ring. The Prince laid it upon the ground, and it got up at once and began to dance.”

Images of dogs and other animals, real and imagined, domestic and wild, abound at the Cloisters, including birds, lions, fish, dragons, unicorns and a most marvelous camel.

12th Century Wall Painting at The Cloisters. By zanderxo.

12th Century Wall Painting at The Cloisters. Image by zanderxo. (Click for source)

After we’d spent a couple of hours surrounded by reliquaries and sepulchers, we craved fresh air, and looked yearningly through the windows into the Cloister gardens. But they were closed due to the cold. So we left the museum, our heads full of images, and strolled out into Fort Tryon Park.  

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We gazed west across the partly-frozen Hudson River, then walked north. We thought about Henry Hudson sailing up the river in 1609 into unknown territory.

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Hudson, we realized, was born in the 1560s, not so many years after the creation of that extraordinary 16th-century rosary bead with its still medieval sensibility.  The thought seemed to connect us, our river, and our modern city (developed in the wake of Hudson’s voyage) with the seemingly much more distant world of the Middle Ages.

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Then the cold air and the icy river prompted us to think of Hudson’s second voyage to the New World, when he entered what is now Hudson Bay, Canada. After barely surviving a hungry winter trapped in ice, the crew, desperate to return home, mutinied. They set Hudson, his son and his followers adrift in a small boat to die of exposure in or near Hudson Bay.

It’s cold down here. But not that cold.

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Thumbelina in a walnut shell.

A Day in the City: Words and Wildlife

November 3, 2013

Sometimes a single day in the city bridges many lives and many ways of living. Yesterday was one of those days, brimming with nature and culture, wildlife and art.

In the morning, a little dog sat under a flame tree in Riverside Park near 108th Street and the Hudson River.

Dog on Fire.

Little dog and tree conflagration.

In the afternoon, I crossed the East River to Brooklyn, where I spotted a giant rodent in a parking lot.

Squirrel eats Williamsburg.

The squirrel that ate Williamsburg.

I headed to Acme Studio, where Words After War, a new organization dedicated to “building a community of thoughtful, engaged and skilled veteran writers,” presented its first public event, an absorbing panel discussion focused on writing about war.

Entering Acme’s extraordinary space through the loading dock, I was greeted by another enormous animal, this one lost in profound contemplation.

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ACME

The panel was moderated by Quil Lawrence, an NPR correspondent who covers issues relating to the approximately two and a half million men and women who have returned from deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, you read that right. Although less than one percent of Americans serve in the military, nearly two and a half million have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many on multiple tours of duty. These young men and women come home to a country that doesn’t really even know where they’ve been, let alone what they’ve been doing. Words After War is working to change that.

The panel featured three very different young writers, two of them veterans:

Matt Gallagher (author of Kaboom, co-editor with Roy Scranton of Fire and Forget)41DAaDaQrAL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_

Brian Castner (The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows)
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and Katey Schultz (Flashes of War).
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After the panel, feeling thoughtful, I walked west to the East River.

The setting sun touched the city with a golden splendor.

Bridge to Beauty.

A Bridge to the Setting Sun.

An entire continent lay hidden behind Manhattan’s skyline.

The sky glowed.

My city, my city.

I turned my back on the sunset to find that the light in the northwest was growing colder, although a few buildings now shone as if lit with an inner light.

As I began the walk to the subway, the East River ferry pulled into its dock.

And back in Manhattan after dark, the raccoons of Riverside Park were just beginning their day.

Surveying the kingdom after dark.

Surveying the kingdom.

Happy Halloween from Henrik Ibsen and Me

October 31, 2013

Most of you know my dog from his occasional appearances on this blog. You may know him as the neighborhood rat catcher, as a tireless explorer of urban nature, as the unwitting subject of my research, and as a supremely patient model.

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A sign at St. John the Divine: “HOLD CLOSE THY LOVED. Please keep dogs on a leash.”

Some of you may even remember the first time he impersonated the great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

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Ibsen in the snow.

But what you don’t know – I myself only found out last week, when I took the photo below – is that for his own mysterious reasons (ah, who can fathom the mind of such a dog?), Strider, aka Esau, has been secretly perfecting his Ibsen impression.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Murmuration of Starlings in Kansas City

September 26, 2013
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Note the bird. A bird plays an important role in my new play, as does a character called, well, Bird.

I just got home from almost a month in Kansas City, Missouri, where I was in rehearsal for my new play, Red Badge Variations, about five young soldiers in a remote outpost in Afghanistan. If you’d like to know more about the play, you can listen to a public radio interview with me and director, Kyle Hatley. Or read about the play and Logan Black, our military advisor, in the Kansas City Star.

But this post is about birds. One day during a ten-minute break from rehearsal, I received an urgent text message from director Kyle Hatley: “Come to the loading dock. Where you can see the sky.”  The loading dock is where the many smokers in the company gather at every break to toxify their young, healthy bodies.

On the dock with Jake Walker, Kyle Hatley, Jacob Cullum, Matt Leonard and Logan Black

On the dock with Jake Walker, Kyle Hatley, Jacob Cullum, Matt Leonard and Logan Black

I hate that these guys smoke so much. But if it hadn’t been for those regular escapes to the loading dock, I might never have learned that a huge flock of starlings, known as a murmuration, gathers every evening near downtown Kansas City.

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Out past the loading dock is a driveway, and visible from the driveway is a patch of sky. There, Kyle discovered, the starlings gather and wheel in formation. Below is a clip of the cast watching the starlings. You have to realize that I was filming only a small percentage of the birds. Whenever my camera was pointed one way, there were many more birds in other parts of the sky.

And here is The Falcon’s Lament, showing a falcon that appeared one day in search of a starling dinner. Enjoy!

Win a Prize in our Urban Nature Contest

December 7, 2012

Out Walking the Dog announces our first URBAN NATURE CONTEST!

Still the Same Hawk: Reflections on Nature and New York

THE PRIZE

Still the Same Hawk: Reflections on Nature and New York
edited by John Waldman, Fordham University Press

This newly published collection on a subject close to my heart features essays and articles that explore the relationship between nature and New York City. Writers include Robert Sullivan, Betsy McCully, Christopher Meier, Tony Hiss, Kelly McMasters, Dara Ross, William Kornblum, Phillip Lopate, David Rosane, Anne Matthews, Devin Zuber, and Frederick Buell.

Out Walking the Dog is proud to have a personal connection to the book through this painting by Charlotte Hildebrand.

Painting by Charlotte Hildebrand

Painting by Charlotte Hildebrand.

Out Walking the Dog originally commissioned the painting to illustrate Urban Hawk Snatches Chihuahua?  In that post, we pondered the line humans like to draw between meat animals and pet animals, and the reactions of city dwellers when one of our more revered wild animals, a red-tailed hawk, ignores our distinction. The illustration was spotted on Out Walking the Dog by the editors of Still the Same Hawk, and appears (in black-and-white, but still looking fine) as an illustration to Robert Sullivan’s essay, My Time Spent in the Nature that People Would Rather Not Think About.

THE RULES: HOW TO ENTER

Send me a description of an encounter you’ve had with urban wildlife. This may be as simple or elaborate as you like. You may write a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a poem, a dialogue, a haiku, whatever strikes your fancy.  Be sure to include your name and mailing address, so that, should you be the lucky winner, I can mail you your prize without delay. Send via email to: Outwalkingthedognyc@gmail.com.

THE SELECTION

One winning entry will be selected at random.  All entries will be read with interest, but interest will have no bearing on your chances.

THE DEADLINE

Entries must be received by Tuesday, December 18th at 7 PM.

The drawing will take place later that night or the following morning. The prize will be mailed via Priority Mail on December 19th. This means that, if the United States Post Office does its part and if you reside in North America, you’ll probably receive the book in time for Christmas.  (I will send the book anywhere in the world, but no guarantees of when it will arrive.)

AN EXHORTATION

December 18th is around the corner, folks. So get those entries in, and please help me spread the word.

Good luck!

(Did you know you can follow Out Walking the Dog on Twitter and Facebook?)

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.

The King is Dead: Appreciating a Monarch Corpse

September 30, 2012
still life with monarch butterfly

Late-summer still life: monarch butterfly with flowers and tomato

I’m still seeing monarchs here at the East End of Long Island, but the big wave of migrating monarchs seems to have passed.

In response to my earlier post on monarchs, Philadelphia nature blogger Donna Long of In Season wrote that the monarchs I saw flying southwest were probably heading to a well-known gathering spot at Cape May, New Jersey, where they rest before continuing south. And British blogger Mark Wilkinson of The Badger’s Eye, wrote from England to say that a monarch, apparently blown off course on its way to Mexico, had crossed the Atlantic and turned up in England. There it caused a stir among British birders, who trekked from far and wide to view the (to them) exotic creature.

Monarchs may not be exotic here on the eastern coast of the United States. They may even be ordinary. But as Julian Hoffman writes in a lovely post called “The Wonder of Ordinary Places,” there is a mode of perception whereby “the ordinary transforms into the extraordinary.”

Last week, after a night of fierce winds and some rain, I found a beautiful male monarch butterfly dead on the grass.

dead monarch butterfly

Lower body is coming through the top of the wings. (The legs are on the other side.)

The monarch is an extraordinary combination of fragility and strength. In the photo below, you can clearly see on the right one of the places where the wing has torn. (Note also the heavily furred body and the small bulb at the end of the antennae.)

Torn butterfly wing

Worn wings.

Yet this tiny animal is capable of flying thousands of miles to migrate to its winter hibernation spot in Mexico. In fact, scientists have reported that by the time monarchs reach their winter habitat, the wings are often torn and worn, sometimes severely.

Looking closely at the little corpse, I first wondered if it was deformed. The legs seemed to be located above the wings, as if on top of the body.

The rest of the butterfly’s body has slipped through the wings to the upper side.

A deformed monarch put me in mind of Shakespeare’s King Richard III, attacked by Lady Anne as a “foul lump of deformity.”  But in fact, the butterfly’s lower body has simply slipped through the opening between the wings and emerged at the upper side of the wings.  In other words, the legs are where they should be, but the lower body has moved.  According to my research, this is not an uncommon death position for a butterfly.

Deformities in butterflies are not uncommon and most often involve the wings. When a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it must dry its wings and allow them to “set.” If the animal falls from its perch or doesn’t have space to freely open the wings, the wings can crumple or bend.  In addition, if the chrysalis has been damaged during metamorphosis, the adult butterfly’s body will reflect that damage.

You may wonder how I can so confidently assert that this butterfly is a male.  Male monarchs can be identified by  tiny scent glands. Look for a small black spot on a vein of the hind wings, clearly visible below.

Scent spot on wing of male monarch butterfly

Scent gland visible on hind wing of male monarch butterfly

Scent glands, found on many butterfly species, emit female-attracting chemicals during courtship. Had this butterfly survived to complete a successful migration, he might have used these spots to court and reproduce next spring.

Instead, he’s part of a late-summer still life.

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Late-summer still life 2.

Duck and Egret Meet to Dine

September 16, 2012

Of late, on walks to the ocean, I often see a duck and an egret foraging together.

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A female duck and an egret fish and forage together.

They wade, waddle, stalk or paddle in the little strait that joins Mecox Bay

Mecox Bay at sunset

Sunset reflected in Mecox Bay

to saltwater Channel Pond.

Great blue heron flies over Channel Pond

A great blue heron flies over Channel Pond.

The unprepossessing little white bridge that passes over the channel is one of the best spots around for spotting herons and egrets.

Bridge on Flying Point Road

The little bridge on Flying Point Road.

A great blue heron or a snowy egret is almost always fishing in the shallows at one side of the bridge or the other.

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A snowy egret wades across the water.

Sometimes there are more than one.

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Two snowy egrets share a fishing spot.

Lately, a solitary female duck has been dabbling here. Sometimes she is on her own.

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Lady duck on her own.

But more often she shares the spot with a snowy egret.

Duck and egret

Now and then another bird joins the fine fishing spot, as did this belted kingfisher, perched on a piling to the left.

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Belted kingfisher sits on piling while duck rests below.

You can’t see it in the photos, but the snowy egret was also present, although hidden behind low-hanging branches on the right.

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The kingfisher flies to another perch.

There are plenty of egrets around, so it’s possible that the duck is with a different egret each time I see it.

Snowy egret and duck

But I prefer to imagine that she and a particular egret, despite their differences in shape, eating habits and behavior, have forged a friendship of sorts.

If I were Beatrix Potter, I’d write and draw a story about unlikely companions.

The Pie and the Patty Pan

Ribby, Duchess and the doctor from The Pie and the Patty Pan by Beatrix Potter

But lest I seem to have wandered too far into cozy animal fantasyland, I’m well aware that the larger herons and egrets eat ducklings whenever they can get them.

Still the ability to kill doesn’t negate the possibility of companionship. Just look at us humans. And watching animals, domestic and wild, teaches me that within the general behavior of each species is plenty of room for individual variation, including behaviors that lie outside the norm.

So I think I’ll reserve the right to imagine that this particular duck and this particular egret are so often spotted together because, quite simply, they take pleasure in each other’s company.

Mr. Snowy Egret and the Solitary Duck

Ah me, if only I could draw. Well, here is a drawing of a waterbird by someone who can – Sophie Webb, biologist and illustrator.

Western Grebe by Sophie Webb

Western Grebe by Sophie Webb. Click to see more of Sophie’s work.

Oh Dallas, My Dallas

June 19, 2012

With the return of the television show Dallas, the city that everyone loves to hate is back.

But my Dallas,

Sunset at White Rock Lake, Dallas, Texas

the city where I lived for 16 years,

Harry S. Moss Park, Dallas

is a very different place.

Grackle in Dallas, Texas

I’ll be spending the month of July 2012 in Dallas, where my new play, NYC Coyote Existential, is being produced by Echo Theatre as part of the Festival of Independent Theaters.The Festival takes place at one of my favorite Dallas haunts, the Bath House Cultural Center at White Rock Lake.  When I visited in early May for casting, a cormorant perched atop a piling in front of a hazy skyline.

Somewhere in the large park, coyotes prowled or waited for dusk. I didn’t see coyotes – although we looked. But I talked to people who have seen them or heard them calling.

My sightings were mostly of water birds, which abound around White Rock Lake.

Near the shoreline, ducklings massed,

geese waddled,

wood ducks glided,

herons and egrets fished,

a blackbird vied with a flock of tiny ducklings for bits of bread,

and a mama mallard nested right by the path to the water.

The next day, in Harry S. Moss Park, a few miles north of the Lake, a lovely fox squirrel kept an eye on me.

 I strolled the paths and the edge of the prairie.

Behind me was Royal Lane.

But there were better things to look at than the roadway.

Like a prairie with a distant cityscape.

I’ll be posting more from Dallas in July. See you then, little fox squirrel!

Lovely Long Island

June 13, 2012

As you head east toward the tip of Long Island’s South Fork, near the old water mill that gives the town of Water Mill its name, you’ll see on your right a small body of water.  Known as Mill Creek, it opens into a small bay called Mecox Bay.

If you turn off the road and follow the water, you’ll eventually come to Flying Point Beach.

During part of the year, the little bay is more of a saltwater pond, separated from the ocean. But at other times, a channel is opened, allowing the bay to regain its tides, filling and lowering with the ocean.

The beach is different on every visit.

Last Light by Linda Van Cooper

I read that before the 1938 hurricane, Flying Point Beach had dunes that ranged from 40 to 75 feet. But a 15-foot storm surge carried the sand off and deposited it in the bay. The dunes are not particularly high now.

Dune at the Cut by Linda Van Cooper

And most years, they take a pounding by one storm or other. In August 2011, Hurricane Irene sent water pouring up the slope of the beach and into the parking lot, as you can see in this video.

The surf easily dismantled wooden pathways to the beach, and exposed the huge steel barriers intended to build up the dunes, and protect the many homes that have been built on them.

The beach is narrower now in some spots than I ever remember seeing it.  Of course, beaches have always been about change, but the warming of the planet, thanks to man-made climate change, has put our shorelines in a new kind of jeopardy.

I’ve been coming out here for a long time. The potato fields that swept the open landscape are mostly long gone. The acres of scrubby, tangled vegetation that hid generations of foxes have shrunk to tiny lots, although Linda, the painter of these landscapes, recently spotted a fox and kit on the road to the beach. Mecox Bay is now ringed by houses of Gatsbyesque proportions (whose existence I try to deny by not including them in my photographs), and the few remaining farmhouses and cottages in the area have been renovated beyond recognition, or replaced by  huge, ostentatious structures that look like beach hotels or clubs, but are single-family homes.

And still … it’s beautiful.

You have to avert your gaze sometimes to diminish the shock of seeing a huge monstrosity of a house fill your range of vision. But luckily, we haven’t yet figured out how to build right on the water, so the beauty remains.

Path to the Beach by Linda Van Cooper

At any time of day, any time of year, in any weather, in the rosy glow of sunset or the bright light of day.

Flying Point Beach by Linda Van Cooper.

And if you can’t get out to see this place where the bay meets the ocean, you can get a taste of its beauty in these paintings by Linda Van Cooper.

Tracks at Mecox Bay by Linda Van Cooper

So long for now.

For more on Long Island, Mecox Bay and the wildlife of the area, visit:

I Find A Gray Seal Pup
Herons, Swans and Coots on Long Island
Swans on Long Island
Crabbing on Eastern Long Island

NYC Coyote Round-up: Walking the Talk, Talking the Walk

March 24, 2012

Ever since 2010, when I came face to face with a young female coyote in Central Park, I’ve had coyotes on the brain. As my regular readers know, I’m fascinated by (some might say, obsessed with) the urban coyote phenomenon and bowled over by the extraordinary story of migration as these highly adaptable wild dogs have spread out of their native home in the Great Plains, across the continent and into every imaginable habitat, including our suburbs and cities.

Coyotes in an unidentified NYC park. Photo: Mark Weckel. Click image to go to New York Times Green Blog.

Another winter has come and gone with no new coyote sightings in Manhattan. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t going about their business nearby.  For years, coyotes have been quietly living and breeding in the Bronx (where I suspect the photo above was taken). Recent coyote sightings in Queens induced the usual breathless, frothing-at-the-mouth coverage by local media.

A coyote in Queens, nicknamed Frank by researchers, photographed by a trail camera. Click image to go to article by Mark Weckel and Chris Nagy.

Today I have five happy bits of New York City coyote news:

1. A recent article by  Sindya N. Bhanoo in the New York Times Green Blog looked at New York’s urban coyotes with refreshing calm and genuine curiosity. Bhanoo uses well-chosen quotes – from a researcher, the head of the urban park rangers and even a high school student involved in a coyote study – to educate readers about urban coyotes, reassuring the frightened (simply seeing a coyote is not cause for alarm), cautioning the foolish and/or sentimental (don’t feed, don’t approach, etc.), and even pointing out the possible benefits of having a top predator in the hood (rodent and deer control).

2. Today, Proteus Gowanus, Brooklyn’s interdisciplinary art gallery and reading room, was the starting point for a coyote walk.

Led by artist Dillon de Give, the walk was intended not to look for coyotes, but as a way to imagine how a coyote might travel through Brooklyn. Sticking to green spaces whenever possible, Dillon led walkers into  Manhattan and north to Hallett Nature Sanctuary at the south end of Central Park. Hallett, a one-acre area that is off-limit to both dogs and humans, was used as a resting spot Manhattan’s coyote visitors in 2006 and 2010.

3. Next weekend, de Give will embark on his annual Lah walk.

Image by Dillon de Give. Click image to visit Dillon’s website.

According to Dillon’s website:

“Lah” is an annual project that commemorates the spirit of Hal, a coyote who appeared in Central Park in 2006 and died shortly after being captured by authorities.

Lah illustrates how a coyote might find its way into Manhattan with a reverse human journey out of the city: a hike retracing a potential coyote-like path through greenspaces. Citing examples of juvenile coyotes that have made long dispersal trips, the walk averages around 50-60 miles.

The walk has been performed solo, in a group, and in a pair.

In 2010, I joined Dillon and his fellow Lah walkers on the first leg of their journey from Hallett to the north end of Central Park, leaving them at Frederick Douglass Circle to continue their way north for several days.

4. On Saturday afternoon, March 31st, Frank Vincenti, Director of The Wild Dog Foundation, will lead a Coyote Lecture in Forest Park in Queens. Frank is a passionate advocate for co-existing with coyotes, and will be talking about coyote natural history. I’m guessing he will also talk about the growing population of NYC coyotes, and the latest DNA research showing that many Eastern coyotes carry wolf genes, acquired during their long migration by inter-breeding with a remnant population of Red wolves. For more information, visit the NYC Parks Department or call (718) 846-2731.

5. And last, an invitation for NYC readers to join me for a staged reading of my hot-off-the-presses new play:

New York City Coyote Existential
(a short play with science & songs)

Apologies for the blurry screen shot. Some day, I’ll learn to scan.

This is a bare bones reading in a small gallery space at Proteus Gowanus. It will feature the wonderful actress Mary Shultz as The Coyote with music by Thomas Cabaniss. Please be aware that seating is very limited, and is first come, first served.

Check back soon for updates on New York’s coyote news.


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