Archive for the ‘Walking the Pandemic’ category

NYC Baby Raccoon Woes

June 2, 2020

From the Walking the Pandemic Series

Two young raccoons gaze out at Riverside Park as the sun sets over the Hudson.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a video of urban raccoon babies venturing out from their den in the retaining wall of Riverside Park. Amusing and cute, like babies everywhere.

But life in the urban raccoon world is complex and so is the intersection between urban humans and the wildlife that lives among them.

Three masked animals regard each other.

Since we’re in the middle of a pandemic caused by a wildlife disease, let’s start with raccoon health.

Check out the raccoon on the left in the photo below: No tail. Not even a stub! This could be due to a genetic abnormality or the result of a scuffle with one of its many siblings or perhaps with an adult raccoon.

No tail.

More worrisome is that many of these young raccoons are suffering extensive hair loss.

No pants.

They look, well, mangy.

Mange is, in fact, my guess as to what’s ailing them. Sarcoptic mange is caused by parasitic mites that lay eggs beneath the surface of the skin where the larvae hatch. Some burrow to the surface, while others burrow deeper into the skin, causing intense itchiness. The mites are highly contagious, so it’s hardly surprising that most, if not all, of these raccoons are showing signs of the disease.

Bare-chested.

Mange is not lethal in itself. But infected animals tend to scratch excessively in an attempt to relieve the itch.

This well-furred if itchy raccoon was photographed in 2011. It is not one of the current crop.

All the scratching can inflame and break the skin, causing secondary infections which in turn can lead to death. I reported the situation to the Urban Park Rangers who confirmed that it sounded like mange and said the rangers would check on the raccoons to assess the situation.

About ten years ago, Riverside Park’s squirrel population suffered from mange. The following year, I talked about the disease with a man I met in the park. He fed the squirrels when he could afford to and called them his friends.

“I was afraid they was all going to die off,” he said. “Lot of them did die. But they came back. Yes, they came back.”

A friend to Riverside Park’s squirrels.

I’ve been watching raccoons in Riverside Park since 2009 and this is the first year I’ve noticed mange. Which is not to say the raccoon population has been healthy all this time.

In 2018, an outbreak of canine distemper killed hundreds of raccoons in NYC’s parks. And in 2010, a rabies epidemic swept through Manhattan’s raccoon population. You can read my coverage of the epidemic here, including the painstaking, humane and remarkably effective response by USDA, the Parks Department and the NYC Department of Health that involved trapping, examining and vaccinating the entire non-rabid raccoon population. Non-lethal traps were baited with … well, who knew raccoons like marshmallows?

But then, what don’t they like?

Garbage raider along Morningside Park.

Which brings me to the ongoing problem of New Yorkers feeding the wildlife, which seems to me worse than ever during the pandemic. I understand. We’ve all been shut up and confined. Many of us are craving connection with nature and more people are out walking in the parks at all hours of the day. People often feed animals out of a genuine, but misplaced desire to be generous and to help. But please, for your own sake and for the sake of the animals: don’t do it!

As of mid-May, large amounts of food were being left out nightly on the retaining wall, directly above the den. And as you can see, it did not go to waste. (Of course, whatever raccoons don’t eat simply helps to sustain our bloated rat population. But that’s another story.)

Nuts, sandwiches and take-out dinners have all been left for the raccoons.

Instead of learning to forage effectively on their own in the park, these curious babies are learning that food comes from humans. They’re already coming to expect it.

Is the buffet laid out up there yet?

This is not healthy for either species. We need our wildlife to stay wild. Our parks offer plenty of natural food, even discounting the raided garbage cans.

I haven’t been able to check on the raccoons since mid-May, but will post more about them as soon as I can.

Meanwhile, stay healthy and keep our wildlife healthy.

A Quick Shot of Spring

May 3, 2020

Walking the NYC pandemic

Over the past two weeks, I have twice strolled across Central Park to the Conservatory Gardens to see the blossoms.

I’d like to go again today, but with temperatures going up to the 70s, there will be too many people to easily maintain social distance.

So today, I’ll walk vicariously by sharing these photos with you.

Let’s enter the Gardens through the grand gated entrance at Fifth Avenue and 105th Street.

There are spirals on either side of the iron gates.

A wisteria-drenched pergola at the western end is not yet in bloom but already lovely.

Inside the gates, there are three gardens, Italian, English and French in style. Here’s a taste of what lies inside…

Click on any photo below to see it larger and to click through the gallery.

A mesmerizing allée.

I left the gardens and ambled down Fifth Avenue.

Not Art. Good to know.

Let’s look a little closer at what is Not Art.

Hello, I am not art either.

I took a look at the field hospital set up in Central Park’s East Meadow by an evangelical not-for-profit called Samaritan’s Purse. Partnering with Mount Sinai Hospital across Fifth Avenue, the field hospital has treated over 300 COVID-19 patients, but will be closing down its NYC operations and leaving under a cloud of controversy.

The organization’s leader Franklin Graham, son of preacher Billy Graham and a staunch ally of President Trump, has repeatedly made homophobic and anti-Muslim statements. And although the organization maintains it does not discriminate, medical personnel are required to sign a “declaration of faith” that opposes same-sex marriage. According to Gothamist, ‘Graham has previously said that homosexuals will burn in the “flames of hell,” described Islam as “wicked and evil,” and railed against the “transgender lie.”‘

Oy vey. Can I just receive my charity straight up, no chaser, please?

Back inside the park (whew), I saw a multitude of robins on the hunt for earthworms. Some worked the ground like tiny pneumatic drills in feathers. Like this fellow.

Before I say farewell, I want to thank my friend Jane for sending me a beautiful handmade owl mask. Jane runs Bridgetown Bow Ties where she makes, you guessed it, bow ties.

Thanks, Jane!

NYC’s Quiet Rush Hour (video)

April 22, 2020

Walking the Pandemic in NYC

The city is eerily quiet these days. Fewer cars and buses on the streets, no sidewalk disputes, no children squealing in the playground.

Empty playground.

Without the usual ambient noise, other sounds seem louder. The pigeon family that hangs out on our window ledges seems to coo more loudly.

Pigeon parent (red eyes).
Pigeon baby (brown eyes).

Even the wing claps of rising flocks seem louder.

Rising flock.

The mockingbird on the roof seems to sing more wildly than ever.

Mockingbird not singing, for the moment.

And from our own perch above 109th Street, we hear ambulance sirens as we’ve never heard them before. There have been days when the sound of sirens threatened to merge into one continuous urban wail. Or so it seemed.

Happily, in recent days, the sirens have diminished in number. Maybe this is only at our neighborhood hospital, Mount Sinai Morningside (formerly Saint Luke’s). The news this morning reports that the daily death toll in New York has dropped below 500 for the second day in a row. Hospitals remain overwhelmed, and hospital workers are drawing on extraordinary personal reserves each day. I hope fewer sirens equates to fewer hospital admissions and is a sign that NYC is entering the long slow movement away from our COVID peak.

Mount Sinai Morningside – Emergency.

It’s going to be a long quiet haul. Last Friday around 5:15 PM, I stood on the roof of our building and thought the street sounded just the tiniest bit busier than usual. A bus belching down Broadway, one horn honking, a sparrow cheeping relentlessly. And then I realized, So this is what passes for Friday rush hour in the middle of a pandemic.

Have a look.

Pink is the Color

April 20, 2020

Walking the pandemic in NYC

Spring is just another word for pink these days.

Wow.
Delicate.
Intense.
Pink with sculpture
Pink with bench watchers.
Not-fully-blossomed pink with Cathedral. See next photo for what’s coming…
We can look forward to this full-on pink with Cathedral. (Photo from early May last year.)
Pink again.
And again.

Stay safe, New York and world. One of these days, we’ll walk again without fear.

This photo is from last spring, but these undistanced, unmasked days of yore will eventually return.
Hudson River pinks.

Hang in there, stay safe and see you back here soon!

Peacock Boys at the Cathedral

April 17, 2020

Walking the pandemic

Peacocks have freely wandered the grounds at Saint John’s Cathedral in Morningside Heights since the 1980s.

The three peacocks currently in residence, Jim, Harry and Phil, are older gentlemen now, but age is no obstacle to the call of spring. There are no peahens on the premises, yet the three peacocks still rise to the season, displaying their gorgeous tails, squawking and strutting. I went seeking them on this beautiful chilly morning.

Someone peeks around the corner …

I see you.

And lets out a joyful sound. More like an ear-splitting honk to human ears, but presumably a romantic “come-hither” to available peafowl.

Glass-shattering squawk.

The other blue peacock was hidden behind a truck and I had almost given up on finding the third, when a flash of white drew my eye to a far corner of the extensive grounds.

It was Phil, the white peacock, flapping to the fence rail.

He landed awkwardly, then posed for a moment.

And launched himself down onto the other side.

He grazed a bit in the grass.

I left him there and walked away. Again, a flash of white caught my eye. In his quiet corner, just off Amsterdam Avenue, the peacock displayed his beauty for no one.

Thanks to Saint John’s Cathedral for keeping their grounds open to the public and providing the neighborhood with respite from its cares.

Baby Raccoons on the Move (video)

April 13, 2020

Walking the NYC Pandemic

Long-time readers of this blog may remember my obsession with a raccoon den on the huge retaining wall in NYC’s Riverside Park. Well, ten years on, the joint’s still jumpin’ at the Raccoon Lodge.

All year, a raccoon or two will quietly emerge as the sun gets low to loll about on the ledge, grooming and stretching. Eventually they’ll move out along the wall to begin their night of foraging.

But it’s spring, people. And springtime is a whole other thing, because … BABIES! This year seems to have yielded a bumper crop with little guys pouring out of the den like clowns from a clown car. I counted seven the other night, bumbling up and down the wall and bumping into each other like furry Keystone Kops.

Enjoy.

Hey, where’s Mom? Anyone seen Mom?

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