Posted tagged ‘baltimore orioles’

Panic Artists: The Snow Family of 106th Street

March 4, 2015

It’s been a slow year for snowmen.

In years past, snowmen popped up all over Riverside Park after every big snow, like mushrooms after a rain. Here are a few examples.

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A few years ago, a snow person pushed a positively ecstatic snow baby in a swing in one of the Tot Lot playgrounds of Riverside Drive.


Despite the snowy winter of 2015, the population of snow people seems to have declined dramatically. Luckily for the snowman aficionado, the quality remains high.  Take a look at this wide-eyed family.


Every year, some version of the central figure presides over West 106th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway.

This was the 2010 incarnation:


The current family triad began, as ever, with the behemoth at the center.


Photo by Maya Rajamani in the West Side Rag, my neighborhood paper. (Click photo for the Rag’s excellent analysis tracing the influences on this snowman. Hint: Think Gerard Depardieu.)

One day, in an interesting twist, the figure suddenly spawned a companion. Notice also the smile that appears on the behemoth’s face after the appearance of the little tyke.


And then, some days or weeks later, the behemoth spawned again. But now, sad to say, the behemoth’s expression has changed to dismay, and, oh dear, is that a look of panic in its now-yellow eyes?

IMG_0939(Thanks to Out Walking the Dog reader, Ken Hittel, for alerting me to the appearance of a third figure.)

All three beings are looking pretty wild-eyed. In fact, the more I look at them, the more worried I feel. I mean, these guys are clearly not sleeping, Take a look at those eyes. I’m pretty sure they’re all three lying awake at night, each in a separate, incommunicable state of high anxiety as they stare into the strange glow of New York City after dark.

Alas, poor snow creatures. Their days are numbered, and every hour brings them closer to the Great Thaw.

Let’s take a moment to look a little closer at each member of our goggle-eyed family of insomniacs, starting with the profoundly anxious little panic artist in the green hat.

The end is coming.

The end is coming.

I so wish I could blink.

I so wish I could blink.

Sure, I love you. But WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE.


On a gentler note, the dog posed beneath a sweet snowdog on the retaining wall of Riverside Park.


And back over at West Side Rag, nycmaggie captured a rare snow cat scaling a tree.

I hear there’s more snow predicted this week. Let’s hope more snow creatures follow.

Banding Birds in the Bronx

May 31, 2010

Eric Slayton with Baltimore Orioles, ready for release

One morning in early May, I joined Eric Slayton, ornithologist, Wildlife Conservation Society researcher and artist/designer, as he banded birds on undeveloped woodlands owned by the Bronx Zoo. It was the final session of the Ornithology class Eric teaches at Columbia University’s Center for Ecological Research and Conservation (CERC).

Eric is completing a multi-year study assessing the quality of NYC parks as habitat for migrating birds. New York is an important stopover for many species as they make the long annual trek to and from their northern breeding territories.  The birds arrive in a state of near-starvation, having flown hundreds, even thousands of miles, burning up their fat reserves. What do they actually find when they land in our urban parks? Do they find enough healthy food in Central Park, Prospect Park, Inwood Park, or other urban parks to replenish their fat supplies so that they can reach their breeding grounds with enough energy to successfully nest, mate and raise babies?

We arrived at the study site on a gray, rain-threatened morning just after 7 AM.  For many of us, this would be our first opportunity to observe bird banding.  Warning us that he would be moving quickly, Eric clambered easily down a hillside to unfurl a mist net that reached from the muddy ground to height of about seven feet. Attached to vertical poles, a mist net is made of fine mesh fabric, designed to trap birds without harming them.

Eric checks the mist net

The nets are almost invisible when unfurled and are as soft as, well, Irish mist. Birds fly unknowingly straight into the net and quickly entangle themselves in the delicate threads, where they must wait for a researcher to release them.

While Eric was setting up a second net on higher ground,

Eric and a student unfurl mist net

our first captives were already awaiting release in the first net.

Catbird caught in mist net

Workstation in the woods

Eric quickly set up his work station, a rectangular folding table hidden in the bushes. Unpacking his toolbox, he arrayed the tools of the trade: a log book filled with cryptic abbreviations and columns, tiny marked leg bands in different circumferences, pliers, a scale and graduated PVC tubes.

Tubes, Pliers, scale, bands

Log book

As soon as he finished setting up, Eric freed the first unhappy captives, delicately untangling the tiny feet and beaks.

No longer netted; not yet free

Eric would spend the morning moving swiftly between the two nets and the table, with us students following after him like ungainly goslings, willing but mostly clueless. Now we trooped back up the slope to the workstation, where Eric selected the right size band,

Chains of bands

slipped it onto the bird’s leg

and used pliers to close the circle.

Waterthrush gets banded

Next he adeptly slipped the bird headfirst into a plastic tube so that it could not struggle or flap its wings, and placed the bird-in-tube head-down on the scale for weighing.

Ignominious catbird weigh-in

After recording the weight in the logbook, he released the bird from the tube. He blew on the feathers beneath the tail to examine the bird’s cloaca, then blew on its breast to part the feathers around the clavicle. He ascertained the bird’s subcutaneous fat deposits, simply by looking and rating the bird’s interclavicular area on a scale of zero to four, as follows: 0. no visible fat, 1. some visible fat, 2. nearly filled with fat, or 3. completely filled with bulging fat pad.  Blowing on the feathers may also reveal a female bird’s brood patch, which is an area where the feathers have dropped off in order to allow the bird to directly transmit her body heat to eggs and nestlings.

Blowing feathers apart

Pointing out oriole's feathers with a pencil

Red-winged blackbird wing

For many birds, plumage revealed whether it was in its first year (HY or Hatch Year), or older (AHY or After Hatch Year).

Spreading the beautiful wings, Eric showed us how to count wing feathers.

He showed us the exposed vein under the wings where researchers draw blood (although he was not doing blood work today).

Surface vein on catbird

He showed us how to hold the birds safely and how to release them. We could feel the birds’ little hearts beating fast in our gently cupped hands and then the scratch of their almost weightless feet on our open palms, in the moments before they spread their wings and flew off to freedom – or, in the case of one unfortunate catbird, directly back into the mist net.

Everything is recorded,

Recording data

but first, everything is admired.

Beautiful Baltimore Boys

Within a couple of hours, we had observed the banding of four catbirds, one waterthrush, two Baltimore orioles and two red-winged blackbirds. In addition, five previously-banded birds were caught, assessed and released.

Furling the nets

As we headed home, the rain began in earnest.

Thank You, NYC Park Workers

May 15, 2010

On the occasion of “It’s My Park Day,” we thank everyone who contributes to the health and beauty of our parks, from city workers to volunteers to researchers on urban wildlife habitat.

Thank you, Riverside workers

Tagging trees to create a tree trail

Hosing down the steps at Riverside & 108th

Shoveling a path during one of 2010's Big Storms

Checking the health of Riverside's retaining wall

Thank you, volunteer workers, including sixth graders from the Fieldston School who spent hours planting beneath the retaining wall and cleaning along the Greenway.


Carrying in the river trash

One morning's river clean-up

Esau with composer Thomas Cabaniss, organizer of the clean-up (click on the image to visit Tom's website)

Thank you, Morningside Park workers

Clearing the way for native plantings

Replanting around the southwest steps

Hard hot work

Thank you, NYC researchers who evaluate the viability of urban habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife

Baltimore orioles ready for release after banding

Thank you, workers all, sung and unsung, willing and unwilling, paid and unpaid.

May the gods and demons of city budget cuts keep their itchy hands away from our essential, free, democratic institutions, places that are truly open to all – our parks, libraries, schools, and all culture houses that offer free, cheap or pay-what-you-can admission.

What would our city be, what would we be, without them?

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