Archive for the ‘Seasons’ category

Leaves Are Down

November 24, 2013

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Suddenly it’s freezing in NYC. On an early afternoon walk in Riverside Park, the temperature is still in the 20s.

Most branches are bare.

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Snow lingers on downed leaves in the shady spots beneath the retaining wall.

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A leaf carpet glows golden.

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The staircase at 116th Street is also carpeted in gold, thick with the lovely fan-shaped leaves of the Gingko tree.

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But the beautiful carpet reeks of rotten feet or sour vomit, thanks to the stench of the gingko tree’s fleshy, easily-crushed fruit.

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The fossil record shows ancestors of today’s Gingko biloba, also known as the Maidenhair Tree, date back over 250 million years. Native to China, the trees seem to thrive in NYC.

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A few steps further on, oak and maple leaves have transformed the wire fence into a wall of brown.

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I’ve never seen this before.

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Here the leaf carpet is brown.

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Bare branches make for good viewing of the river.

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Good hawk viewing, too. Today we see only a flock of dark-eyed juncos and a few mourning doves. But a few days ago, a red-tailed hawk watched over Riverside Park for at least twenty minutes.

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As we head out of the park, the dog poses under our favorite flame tree, its fire extinguished.

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Just a couple of weeks ago, the same tree blazed with a fiery glory.

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If you’re lucky enough to see leaves still hanging on the trees, enjoy them. They won’t last long.


				

New York Men, and Their Little Dogs, Too

November 17, 2013

New Yorkers, who come in all shapes and sizes, love their dogs, who also come in all shapes and sizes. Today we’re taking a look at city men who love – or, at any rate, walk – little city dogs.

Enjoy.

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Crossing Columbus Avenue and heading west.

Heading up from the Greenway in Riverside Park.

Near the 96th Street red clay tennis courts in Riverside Park.

On Central Park's Great Hill.

On Central Park’s Great Hill.

Riverside Park.

Riverside Park.

Riverside Park.

Riverside Park.

Walking west on W. 108th Street.

Walking west on W. 108th Street.

Riverside Park.

Riverside Park.

Hey, that's my dog.

Hey, Mister, that’s my dog. And he’s not that little.

And we’re back where we started.

Crossing Columbus avenue, heading west.

Crossing Columbus avenue, heading west.

Coney Island Dolphin Is Reportedly Free

November 15, 2013

A SAD UPDATE
News 12 Brooklyn is now reporting that the Coney Island dolphin has been found dead. A necropsy is being conducted to determine the cause of death. It may be that an existing illness or injury led it to wander into the creek. We’ll have to wait for necropsy results to to find out. Of course, marine animals die all the time, whether from illness (natural or human-caused environmental toxins), injury (again from either natural causes or man-made dangers like ship propellers), congenital defects or old age.  They just don’t usually do so in front of urban onlookers and camera crews.  I’ll also be interested to know if the death has anything to do with the virus that has killed hundreds of Atlantic bottle nose dolphins.

Dolphin in Coney Island Creek. Image: News 12 Brookyln

Dolphin in Coney Island Creek. Image: News 12 Brookyln

Yesterday morning (Thursday,11/15/13), a dolphin swam up Coney Island Creek and became trapped in the shallow waterway. City police and other officials were on the scene, but declined to intervene. Interventions can be extremely stressful and risky for wildlife.  In consultation with The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation and the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the decision was made to wait for the late afternoon high tide in hopes the animal would swim back out to the Atlantic of its own accord.

The dolphin has not been seen today and, according to News 12 Brooklyn, NYPD now believes it swam out to sea sometime during the night.

The past year has seen several dolphins turning up in NYC waterways, including in Brooklyn’s toxic Gowanus Canal in January, in the East River in March, and swimming up and down the Hudson River in April.

I was thrilled to spend a couple of hours last spring, watching and photographing the East River dolphin.

East River Dolphin, March 13, 2013. Photo: Melissa Cooper

East River Dolphin, March 13, 2013. Photo: Melissa Cooper

I also enjoyed watching the watchers of the East River dolphin.

Happy Dolphin Watcher.

Happy East River Dolphin Watcher. Photo: Melissa Cooper

I don’t know what the presence of the dolphins signifies. Is it a sign of the improved health of the harbor and Long Island Sound? After all, whales, seals and dolphins are now regular inhabitants of the waters just outside the city and are increasingly spotted within city limits.  Or is it a sign of illness, perhaps connected to the dolphin virus that has killed hundreds of East Coast bottlenose dolphins and that, according to yesterday’s Washington Post, has now been detected in four humpback whales?

I don’t have answers. Anyone?

Never the Same Walk Twice

November 13, 2013

You never know what you’ll find when you go out walking.

Today’s walk brought us:

A mysterious ziggurat by the Hudson.

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A tepee.

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A giant compass.

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Vertical objects, man-made and natural.

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Balanced stones on top of a stone in Riverside Park.

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Berries in Riverside Park.

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Osage oranges in Morningside Park.

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Never the same walk twice.

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What will tomorrow bring?

A Dog in New York

November 10, 2013
My house is a very very very fine house.

My house is a very very very fine house.

Lately I’ve been feeling grateful to my walking companion.

Just over five years ago, my family and I left the horizontal landscape of Dallas, Texas for the vertical world of Manhattan. Since then, like old-fashioned postal workers, the dog and I can fairly say that “neither rain nor snow nor heat nor gloom of night” has stayed us from our daily exploration of our neighborhood’s streets and parks.  Walking with Esau has led me to discover things about my city and its inhabitants – human, domesticated and wild – that I might never have known if the dog didn’t need to go out, and then go out again.

So today I just want to take a minute to admire the dog who gets me up and out, who poses patiently whenever asked, and who valiantly represses his predatory instincts long enough to allow me to watch the hawks, raccoons, squirrels, egrets, sparrows, peacocks, woodpeckers, ducks, and other creatures that share the streets and parks with us.

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Thank you, Esau dear. You can take five now.

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Walking with Mary in Central Park: What is That Duck?

November 8, 2013

On Monday, the dog and I took a long walk in Central Park with my friend Mary, who is in town performing with Taylor Mac in a wonderful production of Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan at the Public Theater. Go see it, if you can.

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The Pool, a lovely little body of water near West 103rd Street, was painted with autumn colors.

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Mallards bobbed and dabbled everywhere.

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Wait a minute, those aren’t all mallards. Check out that duck on the left, below.

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That ain’t no mallard. Let’s take a closer look.

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A beautiful reddish head, but definitely not a Redhead. A white breast and clean white markings curving up either side of the back of the neck. Very handsome. What is he? No clue. Well, we’ll look it up when we get back to the apartment.

We wandered on along the Loch and through the North Woods to the Conservatory Garden, which stretches from 106th Street to 103rd along the eastern edge of the Park. It’s actually three distinct, beautifully maintained gardens, one French, one Italian, and one English.

In the French Garden, the dog took a breather in front of a huge mass of brilliant, yet touchingly fading mums.

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In the English Garden, beneath the “Secret Garden” statues of a Pan-like Dicken and a rather nymph-like Mary Lennox, a koi and a water lily entered into an inter-species communion of color.

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The dog (or is it the mop?) mused on late-season flowers and the passing of time.

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Later, we looked for our duck in the bird books. He looked unmistakeably like a Northen Pintail – except that he had no pintail.  A visit to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s  All About Birds reassured by saying that in eclipse (non-breeding) plumage the tail feathers are “much shorter and wider than in breeding plumage.”  That clinched it: a Northern Pintail.  A visit to a favorite site, Bruce Yolton’s Urban Hawks confirmed that on Sunday Bruce had photographed a Northern Pintail in the Pool, a sighting he called “unusual for the Park.”

Here is a last look at our handsome duck.

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To see more urban ducks, visit the archives of Out Walking the Dog. Better yet, try stopping by the Pool yourself. Or the Reservoir. Or the Harlem Meer. Or the Lake. Or the Pond. Or any body of water in any park anywhere near you.

Or hell, forget the ducks. Just go for a walk. It’s beautiful out there.

NYC Marathon Runners and Central Park in Autumn

November 6, 2013

Last Sunday, the day of the New York Marathon, autumn arrived in earnest. Temperatures dropped from the 60s to the 40s, and gloves were suddenly in order.  The dog and I walked across Central Park’s northernmost stretch to cheer on the amazing runners. Notice the bundled-up spectators and the bare limbs of the runners.

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We joined an enthusiastic crowd at Duke Ellington Circle at Fifth Avenue and 110th Street at the northeast corner of the park. Musicians were playing beneath the statue of the Duke, and the mood was happy.

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The super-elite leaders had already passed by, but the runners counted as among the swift. It would be hours yet before the rest of the pack reached Central Park.  When they crossed 110th Street, the marathoners had already run around 23 miles, passing through Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan. All they had to do was now was run the length and width of Central Park.

That’s all.

They came one by one, and in between each runner, Fifth Avenue was empty.

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Soon several powerful women ran past.

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Two wheelchair racers kept pace together, one bent completely forward over his legs.

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In East Harlem, north of 110th Street, there were just a few onlookers.

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Later in the day, there would be crowds of people to cheer on the huge mass of runners still to come.

The dog and I didn’t stick around to see it, though. We headed back toward the park. Children played, and rolled around, claiming the closed-off  part of 110th Street as their own.

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A colorful kite man got off his bike, and prepared to fly a celebratory kite or two.

We entered the astonishingly beautiful park and walked west along the Harlem Meer.

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Police helicopters kept watch overhead.

The dog posed among fallen leaves.

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Burnished autumn colors glowed.

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A feral cat crossed the path ahead of us as we neared Central Park West and 106th Street.

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The dog posed at Stranger’s Gate, although his attention remained riveted on the spot where he had seen the cat.

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One last look before we go.

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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.

Ospreys on Long Island

October 14, 2013

For several days, high winds buffeted Flying Point Road in Watermill. The winds did not daunt the local ospreys. Here are two ospreys hunting, soaring, and hovering over Mecox Bay.  Note the power of the birds’ wings as they continually adjust to the winds while looking down into the water for prey.

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See you soon, beauty.

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Death of a Cedar Waxwing

October 12, 2013

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Some deaths make waves. They’re noticed, written about, talked about, mourned.

Other deaths, not so much.

Yesterday morning, I noticed a bird lying in the grass just a few feet from the back deck. It was a Cedar Waxwing, as the brilliant yellow tail tips and the crest made clear. I thought it might be stunned, so I kept my distance so as not to frighten it further.

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But I saw no flutter of feathers, no glitter of eye, no movement of breath. The little creature was dead.  I lifted it and turned it over.

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There was no blood, but the feathers were disarrayed and perhaps damaged. Was this a result of sitting in dew-wet grass for hours? Or had the bird been hurt?

I was surprised at how heavy the little bird felt in my hand.

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A living bird feels so much lighter. (The Baltimore Orioles below are held by ornithologist Eric Slayton, but I had the opportunity to handle a couple of birds on this bird banding trip to the Bronx.)

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I wondered if the Cedar Waxwing was a juvenile. I saw only the faintest yellow on its underparts, and no sign of the bright, waxy-looking red wingtips that give the bird its common name.

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But Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds maintains that the “red wax tips” are not always present. And the damage to the birds’ breast feathers may have destroyed the yellow of the under feathers. So I assume this was an adult. Whether male or female, I can’t say, since male and female waxwings are close to identical to an untrained eye like mine.

The bird looked peaceful in its oddly settled pose, even when I set it down for a moment on the picnic table.

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I wonder what happened to it. Did it escape from a cat, only to die later of internal injuries? Had it flown into something, and suffered injury? Or was it ill and could simply fly no further?

I took it down to a scrubby patch by the bay, and left it there, thinking some scavenger would appreciate the morsel. A day later, it remained untouched.

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R.I.P., Cedar Waxwing and all small creatures at the end of their days.

Egrets, herons and sunsets on Flying Point Road

October 10, 2013
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Sunset, October 2013

I’m out on eastern Long Island right now. The landscape, despite the ever-proliferating McMansions, remains stunningly beautiful.

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Flying Point Road and Mecox Bay.

And so do the birds.

Great egrets are everywhere.

Great egret flies over Mecox Bay.

Great egret flies over Mecox Bay.

Great blue herons, too.

Great Blue Heron fishes in Mecox Bay.

Great Blue Heron fishes in Mecox Bay.

Usually the herons and egrets are loners. But sometimes they share a good fishing location.

Great Blue Heron and Great Egrret on dock.

Great Blue Heron checks to see if the Great Egret is catching more fish.

Many swans have flown away for the winter, but some still sail and dabble on Mill Pond and Mecox Bay.

Dabbling at sunset.

Dabbling at sunset.

It’s always a pleasure to see the kingfisher (even if at too great a distance for a clear photo).

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Kingfisher on a branch.

So, yes, it’s beautiful out here.

Just don’t come looking for direction.

Um, okay ...

Um, okay …

Falcon Hunts Starling Murmuration (video)

October 4, 2013

I had a great time making this three-minute movie of a falcon hunting a spectacular starling murmuration right in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. A murmuration is a massive gathering of starlings.  There are so many birds flying they look sometimes like dark snow falling or a sky full of shooting stars. Other times the flock forms strange helix-like shapes, and it’s hard to believe it isn’t a giant organism with a single brain. One evening as I watched, a peregrine falcon swooped in, looking for dinner.

If you enjoy The Falcon’s Lament, please share it with others.

A peregrine is a usually an effective predator of birds on the wing. But in the on-going evolutionary offense-defense dance of predator and prey, the starling murmuration throws the falcon off and thwarts its ability to kill. Fascinating.

To see starlings as individuals rather than as members of a great, heaving cauldron of birds, you may enjoy:
Eating and Keeping Cool in NYC Heat Wave, Fledgling Style

And for some raw footage of the starlings gathering in downtown Kansas City, watch Murmuration of Starlings in Kansas City.

Black Squirrels in Washington Square Park

September 30, 2013
Black Squirrel in Washington Square Park

Black Squirrel in Washington Square Park

Long-time readers may recall my quest to find one of New York City’s black squirrels, and my thrill when I finally came across a black squirrel in Washington Square Park. Since that day, I now see the Washington Square black squirrels pretty much every time I head down that way.

Looking north from W. 4th Street, as I cross Sixth Avenue.

Looking north, as I head east on W. 4th Street across Sixth Avenue.

Walking east on West 4th Street, I usually find the squirrels foraging alongside their gray relatives in a narrow strip of green that runs next to the sidewalk.

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Last Thursday, I spotted this small, extremely active fellow.

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He was rarely still, so it was hard to get a photograph that is not a blur of motion. Nearby, a large gray squirrel dug beneath a fallen leaf for something tasty. (Look at those pink ears.)

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On the northern edge of the strip, another nervous little black squirrel appeared.

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And then I noticed, at the easternmost part of the green, a bulky bear of a black squirrel. I mean, this was one big squirrel.

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When the squirrel sat up on its haunches, I saw right away that she was probably a nursing mother, or had just weaned a litter.

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Big Mama sat up a long time.

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Then she foraged under a nearby leaf.

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She found a nut, and sat up to eat.

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I left her to her dinner. Nearby a lovely gray squirrel struck a pose.

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NYC September Beauty: Who Needs … ?

September 28, 2013

All week, day after day, the city has sparkled under high blue skies. Today in Riverside Park, New Yorkers seemed to be asking who needs anything else, when you have this, this sun, this light, this beauty, this life?

Who needs the beach when you have Riverside Drive?

"Who needs the beach?"

“Who needs the beach?”

Who needs trendy yogurt shops when you have an ice-cream cart?

Who needs trendy ice cream shops?

“Who needs trendy ice cream shops?”

Who needs a private garden to tend when you have a park?

Who needs a private garden?

“Who needs a private garden?”

Who needs the library?

Who needs the library?

“Who needs the library?”

Who needs a bed to make?

Who needs a bed?

“Who needs beds?”

Who needs yoga class?

Who needs yoga class?

“Who needs yoga class?”

Who needs clothes?

Who needs clothes?

“Who needs clothes?”

Who needs a photography studio?

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“Who needs a studio?”

Even Esau wants to know: Who needs guard dogs?

Who needs guard dogs?

“Who needs guard dogs?”

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.

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“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.)

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Mom, I’m hungry.

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

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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.

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HUNGRY.

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

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Hey…

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.

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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.

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And then it was kiddy time at the pool.

One.

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Two (with an observer).

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And three.

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

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