Posted tagged ‘NYC squirrels’

Readers’ Tales of Urban Wildlife, Final Installment

December 22, 2012

Esau the dog is an avid squirrel watcher.

Esau watches squirrels.

Esau watches squirrels.

And most New York City squirrels are avid dog and people watchers,

Squirrel watches Esau.

Squirrel watches Esau.

ready to approach, or

A few kissing noises draw a curious squirrel.

A few kissing noises draw a curious squirrel.

ready to run.

IMG_9228

On the ready.

In our final installment of readers’ entries to our urban nature contest, Kelly Rypkema of Nature in a New York Minute writes about an encounter with a neighborhood squirrel.

Games with Squirrels

I’m heading out to treat myself to a nice Vietnamese dinner. I have yummy thoughts of cilantro, curry, and coconut milk swimming through my mind as I step onto the stoop. The click of the door behind me causes something to jump. I look to the tree on my left, and I lock eyes with my wily neighborhood squirrel. Is this the same one, I wonder, who’s been munching on my impatiens? He’s frozen in place on the tree trunk, staring at me, heels-over-head, hind feet swiveled back to grip the tree as only squirrels can do.

He’s staring me down, so I decide to play with him. I move one step down to see if I can make him flinch. He’s implacable. I take one more step. Nothing. This guy has truly mastered the art of becoming a statue. I give up the contest and continue on my way around the tree. But now he seems to be playing hide and seek with me. With every foot I move, he scoots around the opposite side of the tree. His tail gives away his location though. And sometimes I catch him peering around the tree at me – just an ear and eye sticking out from the tree trunk. He’s too cute!

So I stop again, this time on the other side of the tree. Now he’s fully visible, once again the statue. Game on! And this time I’m closer. I take a step. Aha! The tail starts flicking up an angry storm. One more step closer. Whoa! Now his whole backside is vibrating with the vehemence of his tail twitching. The tension is palpable, yet no sound comes from his mouth. His tail, however, is screaming, “Get out of my face, lady!” It even makes me uncomfortable, so I break the silence by saying, “Psst.” Now, he vibrates so much, he looks like he’s going to explode.

I wonder what could be so important about this tree that he stands his ground like this? Does he have babies? A movement in the corner of my eye makes me glance up. There’s another squirrel up there, making his way down towards us. A friend? A mate? A sibling? The newcomer gives challenge to his friend, my squirrel, who turns and high tails it after him into the tops of the tree. Thus commences their high-wire act that I so envy, careening from tree to tree, using the tiniest branches as trampolines to the next, their own private freeway in the sky. And I am left earth-bound.

My stomach rumbles, and thoughts of Bun thit nuong return. So I turn, and my gravity-laden feet take me further down the street toward the restaurant. But part of me stays with the squirrels, flying through the trees with the greatest of ease.

Thank you to everyone who sent in a story for our Urban Nature Contest, and thank you to all my readers for your continuing support of Out Walking the Dog.

Several bloggers submitted entries. Here is a list of their blogs so that you can stop by:
Implausibot
Local Ecologist

Nature in a New York Minute
Our Urban Jungle

Hunting for Central Park’s Black Squirrels

January 24, 2012

UPDATE, March 2012: I finally succeed in spotting one of New York City’s lovely black squirrels. Not in Central Park but in Washington Square Park: Black Squirrel in NYC.

A fellow nature lover recently told me of seeing a black squirrel repeatedly in the northern end of Central Park.

Black squirrel in Central Park. Photo courtesy of Gigi A.

The squirrel usually seen in NYC parks is the Eastern gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensus. Eastern grays love hardwood forests that provide them with acorns, berries, bark, insects and tree buds. In the old days, before the virgin forests of the east were cleared, it was said that a squirrel could travel the entire east coast in the treetops, without ever touching ground.

And travel Gray squirrels did, and sometimes, perhaps, still do. Audubon and other early American naturalists called it the Migratory squirrel for its mass migrations through the trees, which Charles Joseph Latrobe described in 1811:

“A countless multitude of squirrels, obeying some great and universal impulse, which none can know but the Spirit that gave them being, left their reckless and gambolling life, and their ancient places of retreat in the north, and were seen pressing forward by tens of thousands in a deep and sober phalanx to the South …”

Other nineteenth century writers describe Gray squirrel migrations that lasted up to four weeks and involved hundreds of thousands of animals.

Today’s Gray squirrels live in whatever wilderness remains to us, while also thriving in the suburbs and in urban parks. Black squirrels, according to most researchers, are a melanistic color morph, or variation, of the Gray squirrel, the color resulting from an excess of melanin, a dark pigmentation.  Essentially, black squirrels are simply black Grays.

I’d heard of black squirrel populations in other parts of NYC, including Union Square Park and the grounds of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. City parks can be like islands, separated by streets instead of water, where inbreeding leads to swift manifestation of unusual genetic traits, including melanism. Was a nascent population of black squirrels emerging in Central Park? I decided to go squirrel hunting.

The morning glowed with sunlight that failed to warm.

Central Park boulder sporting icicles.

Despite the bitter cold, someone appeared to be meditating on a point of land that jutted out into the still-unfrozen Pool, the little pond at 101st Street.

A peaceful moment.

A mixed flock of ducks paddled about, and a few came over to see if I was offering food. (I wasn’t.)

Who gets the girl?

The stretched-out neck of one of the male Mallards is a behavior called ‘steaming’ and is one of many Mallard courtship displays. The ducks are already pairing up in preparation for spring nesting.

Across the Pool, Buffleheads, a particularly adorable duck species, dove and surfaced, flashing their big white heads and sides.

Quick-diving ducks: Now you see them, now you don’t.

Buffleheads, like scaup, mergansers and canvasbacks, are diving ducks, capable of swimming underwater to feed, while Mallards, like American wigeons, teals and shovelers, are dabbling ducks, tipping up their tails to feed with their heads underwater. Mallard ducklings regularly dive underwater to avoid predators, although duckling predators also include water dwellers, like snapping turtles and fish.

But I digress. A good walk makes for many digressions. I resumed my hunt for the black squirrel, heading south  through the park all the way down to 89th Street.

Along the way, I saw a huge flock of Common grackles.  (Birder friends, these are grackles and not some kind of blackbird, yes?)

Just a small corner of a much larger flock.

The flock was accompanied – or, perhaps, infiltrated – by a solitary bluejay.

One thing is not like the others.

I saw perfect squirrel hideouts.

Anyone in there?

I saw squirrel dreys, or nests, including this one high in a tree.

Apartment with 360-degree view

And, inevitably, I saw squirrels. Just a few, due to the cold, and all of them normal Grays, like this little fellow in the fork of a tree.

Gray squirrel keeps an eye on the passing world.

So I’m still looking for my first black squirrel.

When I returned home, I discovered that while I was traipsing the Park’s north end, a black squirrel had been hanging out down at the southern end, near Wollman Rink.

Black and Gray, just chillin.’  Photo by Gigi A.

Meanwhile, I’ve learned from a favorite naturalist in England that across the Big Pond, in the U.K., black squirrels are a source of serious controversy.  All Gray squirrels are considered an invasive species there, as they drive out the native red squirrel population. But there’s something about black Grays that … well, more on black squirrels in a future post. Meanwhile, do let me know if you see any unusual squirrels around your neck of the woods.

Scientia Pro Publica, or Science for the People

February 16, 2010

Out walking the dog’s December post, The Drey Report, is included in the latest edition of Scientia Pro Publica 21: Darwin’s 201st Birthday Edition.It’s hosted by GrrlScientist at her blog, Living the Scientific Life (Scientist Interrupted).

Hard to believe the great man was born over 200 years ago.

Scientia Pro Publica is a bi-monthly blog carnival devoted to publishing science, nature and medical writing that communicates to the interested public.  Wide-ranging categories include Neurobiology, Evolution, Science and Society, Medicine, Invertebrates, Mammals, and more. So check it out, all you scientists, science lovers and just plain curious people.

On another front, I am hoping soon to have hard facts about the trap-vaccinate-release program planned (or maybe already underway in Central Park) for Manhattan’s raccoons.

Last Friday, I called the NYC Department of Health in search of someone who could answer my many questions. I did not get beyond the publicity department. But I learned that a press release is being issued this week, and I am on the list for interviews.

It’s wild in the streets, people. Keep your eyes peeled for rabid raccoons and hungry coyotes.


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