Archive for the ‘reptiles/amphibians’ category

Spring in Three Cities

May 9, 2011

I spent a good chunk of April out of town, and am happy to be back on my island home, now in full  leaf-out.

Biblical Garden at Saint John the Divine.

Oh, yes, it’s spring, at last.

A peacock blossoms in a garden of Saint John the Divine.

Flowers are popping, and animals, too, are busting the confines of their lives.

In April. a baby pigeon rested in front of a flowering tree.

We’re all border crossers, every one of us animals, our lifetime of crossings prefigured by our natal departure from a watery womb world or hard-shelled egg into the dangerous but seemingly limitless possibilities of earth and air.  It’s never more evident than in springtime.

Baby birds are cracking out of eggs

Morningside Park gosling

Raccoons are emerging from dark holes and hollows

Riverside Park raccoon emerges from retaining wall den.

Turtles are leaving their watery homes to lounge on warm rocks

Morningside Park turtles relax in the sun.

and seals are coming ashore in New York City, including a small beach in northern Manhattan.

Gray seal on beach at Dyckman Street and the Hudson River. Photo by Corey Kilgannon/The New York Times.

(Read about my April encounter with a gray seal pup on Long Island here.)

In April, I worked in two midwestern cities, Indianapolis and St. Louis. Most of the time I spent in that strange, indoor world of theater rehearsals, a world that knows no seasons.  But in each city, I managed one small adventure and found wildlife surprises.

One morning, I played hooky from the Bonderman Symposium at Indiana Repertory Theater to explore the city’s amazing collection of war memorials. (Visit my other blog, The Red Animal Project, to read an ongoing series about how we remember our war dead, including a look at the Indianapolis War Memorial Plaza.)

A robin gazed over the city from atop the head of a majestic lion at the War Memorial Museum and Shrine.

Indy robin and lion.

 Trees clad in bridal gowns lingered along the paths of War Memorial Plaza

and a charmingly awkward American coot slowly revealed itself

Downtown coot

then strolled alone in an expanse of green.

No water here.

In St. Louis in the last days of April, I spied the first bird of the morning just steps from the hotel door.

Oh. So sad.

A gorgeous rose-breasted grosbeak.

Lovely, but dead.

The killer loomed above the tiny victim: a wall of glass.

Bird killer.

In the U.S. alone, collisions with man-made structures, particularly high-rise buildings, kill somewhere between 100 million and a billion birds a year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Solutions to the problem range from decals to dimming lights on high-rises, particularly during fall and spring migrations. If you ever notice a dead bird on the sidewalk, look up. If the bird lies beneath a building, please take the time to contact the building manager about the problem. If you live in a big city, you can volunteer with your local Audubon chapter to monitor collision deaths and advocate for changes in building codes and policies, such as Project Safe Flight.

Other top human-caused killers of birds are poisons and cats. Yes, cats. Pet cats take an enormous toll on wildlife. Accurate numbers are hard to come by, but it is clearly in the high hundreds of millions each year, if not well over a billion. Pet owners, please accept this inconvenient fact, and keep your cats indoors.

Indoor cat goes hunting.

Back in St. Louis, I headed toward the Mississippi River, and discovered the city is a hot bed of cardinals. The fact that the hotel is half a block from the baseball stadium might have something to do with the extraordinary number of sightings.

Welcome Cardinal Nation!

Cardinals perched

Two cardinals guard a baseball.

Cardinals dressed up in baseball caps

Cardinals swung bats

and cardinals kept score

The park by the river was a dazzling green, and filled with robins and brilliantly irridescent blackbirds.

Irridescence on parade

Sparrows on the steps to the river took a wildly active dust bath.

Rollin' in the dirt

And then, at last, there was the river

Bursting its banks, covering walkways and ramps, the Mississippi is spectacular, unpredictable and dangerous.

I loved working in other cities, and I love being home in New York, New York.

Trumpeter brings soundtrack to my block.

Morningside Park’s Turtle Army and Other NYC Wildlife

April 21, 2011

Morningside Park is in bloom, and its animals, many of them drawn by the little pond, are back in action.

On a sunny yet still cool April day, I spied fifty turtles basking on rocks (yes, that’s 50) as well as mallards, a goose, a cormorant, red-winged blackbirds, warblers, finches, rock doves and sparrows, a red-tailed hawk soaring east from the Cathedral, squirrels and a feral cat that delicately picked its way down the cliff to the water’s edge.

Let’s start with a unit of the turtle army:

Turtle army assembles

Five turtle species reside in Morningside Park: red-eared slider, common snapper, cooter, painted turtle, and mud (or musk) turtle.  I didn’t come up with the number five on my own.

I heard it from Tom.

Tom

Tom is a herpetologist/zoologist with the Bronx Botanical Garden. He grew up playing in and around Morningside Park, worked in the park for a time, and knows it inside and out.  He knows its flora, from trees to flowers to algae, and its fauna, from his beloved herps (reptiles and amphibians) to the songbirds, egrets, heron, falcons, hawks and kestrels that nest and hunt here to the bipedal primates that stroll, play, relax and cook in the park.

I met Tom last summer. He was gazing meditatively at a bullfrog that was lolling in the shallow northeast corner of the pond.

Summer day.

Tom still lives at the edge of Morningside park in a high-rise with a view over the treetops to Central Park. One evening from a window, he watched a pair of peregrine falcons chase a red-tailed hawk.

As for the turtles, Tom said they regularly nest in the area around the pond, but that the babies often don’t make it. Sometimes the ground becomes too “compacted,” and the hatchlings can’t dig their way out.  A woman I met in the park on a separate occasion said she had actually seen a turtle laying eggs under a very exposed tree near Morningside Avenue.

Well, some of those babies must be surviving, given the extraordinary size of the pond’s turtle army.

Another platoon of the turtle army

Also on last week’s stroll, a cormorant spent time drying one of its wings

One wing drying

Cormorants are voracious eaters that can make short work of a fish population.  Last summer, Tom was pointing out a school of tiny baby fish swimming near the shore, when a flash of gold leaped and plashed in the center of the pond. “Koi,”said Tom.” There’s a lot of fish in there: catfish, carp, crawfish.”

Watch out, fishies.

A red-winged blackbird waded in the shallows

What is this elegantly epauleted blackbird hunting?

A pigeon also waded,

and a solitary goose stood on a solitary leg.

Cantilevered goose

Until next time…


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