Posted tagged ‘Morningside Park’

NYC, Again with the Snow

February 3, 2014

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Again this morning, snow.

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Here are a few images from our snows of the past month.

Esau waits for me in Riverside Park.

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Dog prints on the retaining wall high above the park.

Who's been walking on the wall?

Who’s been walking on the wall?

In Morningside Park, a feral cat makes its way along the cliff near the iced-over waterfall.

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The cat’s white legs look like little ice falls.

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The pond in Morningside Park is sometimes frozen.

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Other times, some kind of bubble machine prevents it from fully freezing.

Bubbling pools in Morningside Pond.

Bubbling pools in Morningside Pond.

After the snow, the sky clears and a hawk flies over the snowy landscape of Central Park.

Red-tail after a snowfall.

Summer Saturday in Morningside Park

July 15, 2013

Morningside Park is lush and full of animal and human activity these days.

A goose family swims past the little island in Morningside Park.

A goose family swims past the little island in Morningside Park.

On Saturday, a small brigade of dedicated kids and volunteers cleaned the park and the pond.

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A turtle bobbed persistently for an elusive bite of apple.

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Scores of turtles swam and basked near the pond’s mallard ducks.

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The mallards are molting, which is why it looks at first glance as if there are nothing but females on the pond. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see that some green is still visible on the heads of the birds in the photos, indicating that they are, in fact, males.  The bright yellow of the bills is also a good marker; the bills of females are orange and brown. After breeding season, mallards molt and become temporarily flightless.  The males lose their distinctive feathers and go into “eclipse plumage,” which resembles the mottled coloring of the female. I’m not sure whether these boys are on their way in to their molt or on their way out. But in any event, within a few weeks, dull feathers will be replaced yet again with recognizable, jaunty bright colors.

This turtle reminded me of the White Rock Soda girl. What do you think?

Two young men with baseball gloves were captivated by the turtle on the rock. “I haven’t seen a turtle in, like ten years,” said one. When he realized there were turtles everywhere, swimming just beneath the surface of the water, he couldn’t tear himself away from the pond.

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Soon a group of ducks swam over, hoping for a hand-out.

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An interesting new sign has appeared near the pond, in addition to the “Do Not Feed the Wildlife” notices that are often displayed.

Do not touch or remove wildlife from park.

Do not touch or remove wildlife from park.

Really, my fellow citizens, what have you been up to while I’ve been away?

A large flock of pigeons lay about on the grass across the path.

Just a few of many resting pigeons.

Nap time for pigeons. These are just a few of a very large flock, almost all recumbent.

Nearby the turtle-watchers played catch.

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As we headed up the grand stone staircase, I spotted a feral cat mostly hidden in dense vegetation. Interestingly, the dog had no idea the cat was present until I stopped to take its picture.

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“In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps (or sits) tonight.”

On the grassy slope just below Morningside Drive, a girl sat in quiet meditation.

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Just another summer Saturday in one of my favorite New York parks.

Morningside Park: Sunbathing Turtles, Molting Mallards, Feral Cats

June 21, 2013

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All the rain we’ve had recently means the animals in Morningside Park are living the lush life.

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Green, green and greener.

And the sunshine brings out sunbathers.

Turtle pile-up.

Turtle pile-up.

Turtles are everywhere, on the rocks and in the water.

Female mallard and turtles.

Female mallard and turtles.

Today, mallards and turtles are the dominant species in the little pond.

Cooling off.

Cooling off.

Now that the excitement of breeding season is over, male mallards are molting into eclipse plumage. Drab feathers replace the brilliant iridescence of breeding plumage.

Molting mallard.

Molting mallard.

Not every bird is on the same schedule. The head and neck of the duck below glitters and shines, although he is well into his molt.

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Still breaking out the bling.

Each year during their molt, ducks lose their flight feathers, rendering them especially vulnerable to ground predators. What ground predators, you may wonder, do ducks have to worry about here in our urban park? Well, feral cats, dogs off the leash and, possibly, raccoons. Morningside Park’s feral cats have been more visible than ever this past winter and spring.

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It’s no coincidence that someone is regularly feeding the cats.

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The spot for the feedings is right by the great stone staircase, on the cliff behind the pond. The pond and its surrounding vegetation draw nesting ducks as well as sparrows, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, robins, night herons, egrets and many other species. The cats are beautiful animals, and I understand the impulse to care for them. I understand trapping, neutering, vaccinating, and releasing them. But feeding them? Given what we now know about the devastation to North American songbirds since cats were established in the New World, do we really want to be feeding them?

We know a lot about the negative impacts of feeding wildlife, and I was happy to see these signs in Morningside Park.

Please Don't Feed Waterfowl.

Please Don’t Feed Waterfowl.

The signs address intentional feeding. But inadvertent feeding, in the form of trash and dropped food, is what keeps our rodent population so healthy – and I’m not just talking about squirrels, like the one below.

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Squirrels don’t need bakery rolls.

Our urban ecosystem works best without hand-outs. Let them forage for themselves.

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Halloween Walk in Morningside Heights

November 4, 2011

On Halloween morning, Canada geese and pigeons grazed the ball fields like a mixed herd of small ruminants on the Great Plains.

Sparrows were almost hidden in the brown grass.

Snow from the freak weekend snowstorm lingered on the little island across the pond,

while turtles basked on the northern bank – the day after a storm storm!

An amorous mallard pair courted, perhaps mistaking Halloween for Valentine’s Day.

Although I haven’t spotted Morningside’s small pack of feral cats in quite some time, I did see one beautiful, well-dressed, and mostly tame kitten. (You can’t see her ears very well in this photo, but check out that beautiful, homemade tail.)

At the base of the 114th Street stairs, Esau posed with the park’s resident faun and bear.

I’ve always imagined the bear was stalking the faun, but Ephemeral New York, a blog I love, calls the statue “tender … sweet and magical.”  I’ll be taking another look.

A pair of abandoned pants waited patiently for their owner.

Back on the street, a mid-sized devil helped himself to a friend’s take-out food.

Then the young devil headed into the corner store, affectionately known as Crack Deli (don’t ask).

Oh, I do love New York.

Urban Wildlife Mysteries

February 15, 2011

Even a quick visit to Morningside Park yields an urban mystery or two.  The little pond is completely iced over.

Ice and bare branches

Compare to last spring when two egrets regularly visited to fish near the waterfall

Gone fishin’

Today a flock of brightly colored balloons seems to be nesting on the island

(I somehow deleted the photo, so imagine, if you will, a score of balloons lying in a gaudy heap on bare ground.)

in roughly the same spot where a set of mallard ducklings hatched in the final days of May

New ducklings moving out from the nest

The carp, turtles and frogs that live in the pond should be sleeping now, down in the dead leaves and muck at the bottom of the tiny pond, waiting for winter to give up the ghost. When the water warms, they’ll rouse to life.

They’ll bask

Soaking up the summer sun

and loll

Lazy day

and swim.

But today is mid-February and there is no water, only ice.  So how to explain the presence, on the path that runs along the eastern edge of the pond, of a pair of dead fish.

As if it had leapt over the edge of the pond's retaining wall

Someone had fish head for lunch.

Oh, dear

The pond has been frozen for days. Where did the fish come from? How did they die? Why are they here?

A sign on the back of a bench offers the promise of rescue.

Good to know. But what about the fish?

The photo of the sign was taken in midsummer, when there were no ladders to be seen. Now the ladders are ready for trouble.

Beautiful red ladder ready for rescue

On the way home, we passed beneath a tree filled with dozens of sparrows, all singing at the top of their little lungs. Spring really is coming.

But what about the fish?

Hey, what about the fish?

NYC Parks Going to Seed

September 2, 2010

I should have warned you, dear Reader, that there would be no new blog posts in the month of August. But I didn’t plan to take a summer break from Out Walking the Dog. It just happened.

A mid-August deadline for the first draft of a new play gradually crowded out all other projects and pastimes. I’ve been living, breathing, dreaming and writing in another world.  Now the first draft is complete, and I’ve more or less returned to the so-called real world, a world that includes city parks and animals, blogs and dogs, and long walks with Esau.

I spent last week on the coast of British Columbia, about two or three hours north of Vancouver.

View from the deck

At night, the temperature dropped into the 50s and a hot day topped off somewhere in the 80s.  Glorious.  We were surrounded by water, both fresh and salt,  islands, Douglas firs, massive ferns and mostly unseen animal life.  A lone bald eagle soared overhead in the mornings, sometimes harassed and chased away by a gull. But more about B.C. in a future post.

What’s on my mind today is … seediness.

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sordid and disreputable: his seedy affair with a soft-porn starlet
shabby and squalid: an increasingly seedy and dilapidated property

As soon as I arrived back in New York, I headed out with Esau to my beloved parks. After the freshness of British Columbia, I faced a sordid reality:  my beloveds are looking downright seedy.  Yes, I know that the trees and flowers are literally going to seed, which is, I assume, where the word, “seedy,” originated.

Gone to seed

But I’m talking about something more than simple botanical imperatives here.  Blowzy and past their early summer prime, the parks exude a kind of over-ripe dissoluteness, a laxness that feels, well, moral. I’m not much of a puritan, but really, I think Webster’s has nailed it, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that both Morningside and Riverside are engaged in summer affairs with soft-porn stars or starlets.

Watch the tabloids. You heard it here first.

Riverside Park plants swallow a lamppost.

Lush life

Morningside, in particular, is looking down-at-heels, as if it has drunk a little too much of this summer’s endless heat, and can no longer muster the will to shave or brush its teeth. Forget picking up the trash.

The geese don’t help.

As Jerry Lee might say, there's a whole lot of preening goin' on

Earlier this summer, we worried about the sudden disappearance of the little Canada goose family that nested on Morningside’s island.  In July, new geese began congregating, and by the end of July, there were at least 14 that hung out in the pond and field.  This morning, 29 geese are preening, loafing, grazing and slathering the walkway around the pond with great green gobs of goose droppings. The water is a deep brown-green, thanks to the algae, and appears almost thick in consistency, like pureed lentil soup.  Despite the lovely sound of the man-made waterfall, the pond is less than inviting. To a human, that is.  The multitude of turtles seems quite happy, as do the geese, ducks and pigeons.

Inter-species harmony: Morningside's animals appear unbothered by the soupy water.

West at the Riverside Greenway, driftwood sculptures converse with boats and buildings.

And all I ask is a tall ship

Mutt and Jeff observe the river

Leaning

Reading

Gazing

Oh, and you can forget about the girls in their summer dresses. In Riverside, it’s the boys who shed clothes.

Heading home, we see a miniature fungi forest.

Many mushrooms

Thank you to my patient readers, wherever you are. I’m delighted to be back. More posts will follow soon.

Fresh Ducklings and Growing Goslings in Morningside Park

June 3, 2010

On the move

Nine fresh-hatched ducklings, the adorable consequences of April’s disturbing displays of duck sexuality, are eagerly exploring the little pond  in Morningside Park.

Turtles, too, are out in force in today’s heat, basking and swimming.

Soaking up the sun

Lolling in the water

These are red-eared sliders, a non-native species that used to be sold for a dime or a quarter in Woolworth’s.  Who knew, in those benighted days, that the adorable inch-long hatchlings could live up to 35 years and grow to more than a foot in length?

So what happened when they outgrew the ubiquitous little plastic bowls with the miniature palm tree in the middle? Well, many were dumped in park ponds all over the city, where their descendants are thriving.

Morningside Pond is home to several turtle species, including flesh-eating snapping turtles. Here’s hoping the snappers steer clear of the succulent little morsels that make up the duckling flotilla.

The duck babies are truly tiny.  Compare this little fellow to a floating pigeon feather:

or these siblings to blades of grass:

But they’ll grow swiftly. Just a few weeks ago, the gosling quartet looked very much like the duckling nonet:

First day goslings

Then they grew just a little

until they started losing their yellow baby markings

With wings like flippers, she's going nowhere fast

and became today’s ungainly prehistoric beasties

Gawky pre-teen

They appear to be starting to molt, losing their downy fluff in preparation for actual feathers. I was surprised to see the neon-bright, sky-blue patch on their still-ineffectual wings. You can just make it out in the photos.

The awkward age

The goslings’ necks are starting to lengthen, too. Maybe one day, they’ll be worthy of Bird Neck Appreciation Day, just like their parents.

No gosling strays far from this beady eye

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.

Digging

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?

Spring Fling in Morningside Park: Be Still, My Heart

April 24, 2010

I love Riverside Park. If you’ve been here before, you probably already know that.  I even wrote an ode to Riverside Park.

I love its Great Retaining Wall, full of raccoons and squirrels.

Riverside's retaining wall holds raccoons, squirrels and the occasional human.

I depend for my peace of mind on its sweeping views of the Hudson,

I love its – but this post is not about Riverside Park.

This post is about, well, there’s just no easy way to say this:

I’ve found a new love, and its name … is Morningside.

Maybe it’s just a springtime infatuation, fueled by the sight of nesting birds and soaring hawks, and the need to conduct a brief field study for my Ornithology class. Only time will tell if my love will endure.

But the fact is, I’ve tumbled hard for Morningside Park

I love the little pond where geese and ducks pal around with turtles and bullfrogs.

Goose and turtle

Big Daddy is easily eight inches long and very calm.

On one visit, I counted 40 basking turtles.

Heading for a drink

Grazing

Pigeons stroll along the path or forage on the grass with the geese.

Red-winged blackbirds perch on tall reeds in front of the little island, flashing their epaulets and calling like electrical wiring gone bad.

Egrets roost in the treetops

and hunt at the water’s edge

Morningside even has a magnificent Olmstead retaining walland mysterious old structures

It has beauty

It has danger

and it has mystery

O woe! Our feet have run away and left us.

Oh, I still love Riverside and in the evenings, I still watch the raccoons

(Yes, they’re fine, thank you for asking, and sporting silvery ear tags like pirate earrings that prove they’ve received their rabies vaccinations)

Riverside Baby Raccoon by Jae Bin Anh

But as long as the geese and blackbirds are nesting, these fresh April mornings belong …

to Morningside.

White Birds of NYC

April 21, 2010

White birds abound on a walk through Morningside Park and the nearby grounds of Saint John the Divine.

A lone egret, its long breeding plumes flowing in the breeze, fishes beneath the waterfall in the well-stocked waters of Morningside’s tiny pond.

On the other side of the pond, a white rock pigeon wanders away from its flock. I wonder if this bird is an escapee from a pigeon fancier. It is particularly plump and sleek, and exudes health and well-being. The pigeon heads for the muddy banks of the pond, where it lowers its head and sucks water through its beak as if through a straw.

I head up the cliff and across Morningside Avenue to Saint John’s, where a white peacock guards the grounds. It stands very still in one spot for a long time, occasionally emitting a sound like a truck horn followed by a wild cry. From somewhere out of sight comes a response.

The white peacock lives on the cathedral grounds with two brightly colored comrades. The white pigeon is a member of a multi-colored flock that regularly forages on the large patch of grass in front of the pond. The white egret appears to be a regular visitor to the pond this spring.

You can go months in New York and not see a pure white bird.  Here are three different species within a few minutes walk of each other. Lovely birds, all.

Saint John the Divine: A Secret Garden in Morningside Heights

April 19, 2010

The grounds of Saint John the Divine Cathedral in Morningside Heights are stunning.

The secret garden at Saint John the Divine

They are also open to the community for strolling and contemplation.Peacocks roam freely through the gardens.

White peacock strolls in its gardens

or parade along ledgesWhenever they choose, the peacocks can retire to their large coop to watch the world go byFlowers bloom everywhere

and brass birds keep watch

Crazy Mohawk bird

Griffon in the garden

Friendly dove

At the back of the Cathedral, high above Morningside Heights, a pair of red-tailed hawks nest on the shoulders of a long-suffering saint

Photo by rbs at bloomingdalevillage.blogspot.com

Saint John the Divine is a magical place. Come visit.

Please stop by Bloomingdale Village for more photos of Saint John’s resident hawks. Although I have not seen them, the babies have apparently hatched.


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