Sunday, August 26, 2007

American Kestrel

Photo Credit: Larry Ridenhour/Bureau Of Land Management

This is one of the most beautiful birds one could ever see. It's technically a falcon, and I heard screeching overhead on my way home this evening, looked up, and there was an American Kestrel, flying right over Manhattan!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Where The Birds Are

Today was a banner bird day. I saw something moving in the underbrush, and as it turned out, it was a couple of Prairie Warblers, which I don't think are seen too often in Central Park. Along the way, we met a well-known and respected Ornithologist who pointed out a very rare sighting of a Yellow-Breasted Chat. I don't propose to be a bird expert, and the only reason I know some of these names is because I have listened carefully while birding in the park with folks who are well respected, but I am learning. I did learn today that when "birding" you want to wear camouflage-like colors (makes sense and I'd basically been doing that anyway because I'd thought of it on my own, but my birding-expert friends confirmed it). Here's our list from today:

4 American Redstarts
1 Baltimore Oriole
3 Black-and-white Warblers
1 Black-throated Blue Warbler
2 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers
Multiple Blue Jays
3 Cape May Warblers
1 Carolina Wren
1 Cedar Waxwing
1 Chestnut-sided Warbler
1 Downy Woodpecker
5 Mockingbirds
1 Mourning Dove
Multiple Northern Cardinals
1 Northern Flicker
2 Ovenbirds
2 Prairie Warblers
Multiple Rock Doves
Multiple Sparrows
1 Veery
1 Yellow-breasted Chat
Assorted Grey Squirrels
1 Rat
Assorted Turtles

Check out the mold growing on this fungi. Who knew this kind of thing could happen? Mold on fungus?!

A Turtle Pond regular pointed-out that she was pretty sure these were the goslings from a few weeks back. They've been busy eating!

Got turtles? Check.

I've seen this same guy for three weeks in a row!

The Blue Jay's colors are spectacular!

Here's my first-ever photo of a female cardinal. I also saw a Flicker today and a Cedar Waxwing, two totally awesome birds!

Ahhh, freshly cut grass. I learned from my father that if our yard looked like this after mowing, there were two things we had to do (a) take the blades off the mower and sharpen them and then (b) put them back on in a balanced fashion so they were level. Looks like The Great Lawn mowers of Central Park need a tune-up. Maybe it's toward the end of the season and they're getting ready to do that over the winter.

Imagine...if these doors were open.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Where The Books Are

I purchased three really interesting bird books today. This first one looks amazing, I basically read the entire thing in the store and just had to have it. I don't normally buy things that I don't absolutely need, but I treated myself today, and all of these were discounted heavily.

This second book looked appealing to me because I'd heard from a professional birder recently that there is a new thought (and research) behind why birds call, and that it's not always for any real purpose. I am not sure I can accept that, as I would think that birds only really "talk" when there is a real reason, but I'm going to read this book and see what I can learn.

This last book had one of the funniest cartoons I've seen in a long time. Inside the book, there is an illustration by Robert A. Braunfield of a woodpecker entering items into a journal, recording what humans he saw that day and what they were wearing along with the color of their hair and eyes, just like we do with birds.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Do You Own A Car?

If you own a car (I did for many years, but currently do not), my father taught me that it's important to have certain things checked/replaced at 60,000 miles, and this is quite common knowledge among car mechanics. A few years ago, at the request of a friend, I created a list of things that should be checked/maintained on a vehicle. Recently I found a Web site that had most everything I kept on my own list, and then some. This online site, also gives you some guidelines for things to maintain under 60,000 miles. Keep it handy. As my very good friend and car mechanic-slash-home-repair Mr. Fix-It guru likes to quip, "One day, you're gonna need me."

Enjoying Summer

What a gift today was! Just a lovely day to be in the park, and in nature. I learned that the wind can affect "birding." It can "blow" birds in, or keep them away. I'm still not sure how all of that works, but I do know that it was quite blustery today, and we saw very little in the way of unusual birds. I enjoy the "pedestrian" ones just fine, they are all beautiful to me. And, if we see something a bit special, why that's wonderful too.

Today's list contained:

1 Acadian Flycatcher
1 Black And White Warbler
2 Cardinals
2 Cat Birds
Multiple Ducks
2 Mocking Birds
Multiple Pigeons (Rock Doves)
1 Red-Tailed Hawk
Multiple Robins
Multiple Sparrows
Multiple Starlings

And, we happened-upon some birding experts who had just seen "under ten minutes ago" the following:
1 Downy Woodpecker
2 Eastern Kingbirds
1 Red-Eyed Vireo
2 Scarlet Tanagers

Of course just when I pulled out my camera to grab a lovely shot of a gorgeous cardinal, it flew away!

We took a break and met new friends from Yonkers. They bring their beloved pets (who are like family to them) to the Park almost every weekend. Their two parrots, Gazpacho and Guacamole (can you guess which is which?) are from Indonesia. I did not have the privilege of learning the doggie's name as he was not there while we were getting acquainted.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Do You Remember When?

I rarely-to-never forward, let alone open, those dastardly chain-emails we all get from our dear friends, but I got one a while back that I actually kept. It goes something like this:

Do You Remember When?

Stuff from the store came without safety caps and hermetic seals because no one had yet tried to poison a perfect stranger?

Lying on your back in the grass with your friends and saying things like, "That cloud looks like a..."

It was considered a great privilege to be taken out to dinner at a real restaurant with your parents?

When a quarter was a decent allowance?

No one owned a purebred dog?

You got your windshield cleaned, oil checked, and gas pumped, without asking, all for free, every time? And you didn't pay for air? And, you got trading stamps to boot?

They threatened to keep kids back a grade if they failed...and they did?

To really experience this flavor, you'll want to visit this gentleman's Web site:

Friday, August 10, 2007

Flora And Fauna

Today was a wonderful day of being in nature. I'd made plans to meet my new feathered-friends Anita and Howie for some birding in Central Park. I had just arrived in Central Park when they phoned my cell to say they were running a bit late, so I decided to poke around a little on my own.

The first thing I happened upon in the park was a bunch of people lined-up in sleeping bags and make-shift beds. I began to get very sad, thinking that our neighbors-in-need population had really ballooned to desperate proportions. Then, I soon realized that this was a more healthy stock, camped-out for most likely free Shakespeare-In-The-Park tickets (of which, Howie and Anita confirmed later when they arrived).

I wended my way over to Turtle Pond and found this really interesting plant. It was oozing some really gross-looking wet kind of brown stuff, but none the less, I liked it.

Checked on the turtles, yup, they're still there.

My little baby Robin friend (from last week) came by to greet me "Top Of The Mornin'"

Went up to Belvedere Castle and found a bunch of Starlings milling around. Howie and Anita told me, after they arrived, that some refer to this as Starling Pavilion.

My friends arrived, and the park seemed to come alive! These are serious birders, and even give their own weekly birding tours in the park, so I follow them around like a puppy-dog, soaking up all I can, like a sponge.

We'd only gone a few yards into the thick of things, when they pointed out this Robin's nest, with her still on it! She was HUGE, and I believe had some double-yolkers inside of her. Before she got ready to fly, she'd been hunkered-down in that nest for some time.

Grey Squirrel

Black Squirrel

I love it! Even the squirrels in NYC are multi-cultural! Incidentally, got a squirrel at your birdfeeder? Hey, they need to eat too! Just give them their own handy-dandy feeder, and everyone will be happy!

Black-Crowned Night Heron

You sure you don't need some help with that? We were really helpful in "Into The Woods!"

These Jays really are breath-takingly beautiful, but by nature, can be quite nasty. We watched a band of Jays rip part of the tail off of a poor little innocent Cat Bird.

All together, we ended the day with a bird-count that would cause even serious birders to respect:

1 Barn Swallow
1 Black And White Warbler
1 Black-Crowned Night Heron
2 Black-Capped Chikadees
Multiple Blue Jays
Multiple Cardinals
Multiple Cat Birds
Multiple Ducks
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Eastern Kingbird
Multiple Grackles
Multiple Mocking Birds
Mutliple Mourning Doves
3 North Carolina Wrens
Multiple Pigeons
1 Red-Eyed Vireo
2 Red-Bellied Woodpeckers
1 Red Start
Multiple Robins
Multiple Sparrows
Multiple Starlings
3 Titmice
2 Water Thrush

On our way out of the park, we came upon some well-respected birders who told us we'd just missed a Cooper's Hawk. Additionally, it's worth noting that along our way, we met just about every flavor of dog at Westminster, and don't forget the turtles in Turtle Pond.

What's wrong with this picture? As I walked to the bus to go home, I was painfully reminded of those less fortunate. You might want to print out these handy StreetSheets and carry them with you. Consider them your road-map to the city, and every time you come across someone who needs a hand but you don't just want to hand them some cash, you can give them these helpful tri-fold pamphlets that are designed to help them, help themselves. I have been volunteering for an on-going project to keep these lists current. Momentum on this project is building and has grown into a new coalition for the needy that's forming in combination with several city and church organizations. This new initiative is called Partners In Grace. Some of our current members are Grace Church, United Methodist Church Of The Village, Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing, Good Old Lower East Side, Calvary ST George’s, Lower Manhattan Loft Tenants and New York City Rescue Mission. We hope to have a kick-off event in the early Fall. What's in your wallet?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

To Feed Or Not To Feed

I came across an interesting article this past week that caused me to dig up some research I'd read a few years ago. It seems that some researchers are changing their tune when it comes to songbirds. I'd recalled reading an article several years ago from 'The King James Version of Birding,' The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Now mind you, the article I'd remembered reading was ten or more years back, and I no longer had a copy of it. The gist of what I'd remembered was that backyard bird feeding wasn't recommended. I'd thought I remembered reading that they felt it disrupted the natural flow of nature. So, reading an article this past week about the 'Rewilding Of New York' and other urban areas, it seemed the new train of thought was, we need to do all we can to turn around the steady decline of songbirds in North America, as their natural habitats are being destroyed by urban sprawl.

I dug up what I thought to be the old articles I'd read on why not to feed wild birds, and there now seemed to be new research that has reversed the older theory.

Rewilding New York If You Build It They Will Come Back by Amanda Park Taylor

It all started with a little fiberglass pond I found in the garbage two years ago. I am lucky enough to have access to a small garden behind my apartment in Brooklyn, and when I saw the fiberglass tub atop a dumpster in DUMBO, it struck me as an ideal mini-pond, so I threw it in my car and drove it home. After letting it languish for years, just a couple of months ago I finally got around to putting the thing in and immediately noticed more birds in the yard. This, of course, led to the purchase of a bird feeder (something to eat with your drink?), which led to the purchase of a birdbath (the pond’s too deep for quality bathing), then some research into garden plants that birds can eat. In other words, I’m turning my little postage stamp of outdoors into a wildlife sanctuary of sorts.

The real term for this is rewilding — returning environments to states in which they can support wildlife. I was doing it for the joy of watching the little avian posse gather each morning; serious environmental types do it to help animals cope with the encroachments of humankind.

Not long after my pond was installed, the Audubon Society released a study detailing a dramatic decline in populations of songbirds in the United States. Twenty common species have lost at least half of their members. Bobwhite quail have declined 82 percent in the last 40 years — whippoorwills have decreased in number by some 57 percent (so lonesome). The causes are just what you’d expect: rampant development; the spread of industrial agriculture, which eliminates buffer zones, conservation areas and hedgerows around farms; global warming; pesticide use; and increasing conversion of land to grow corn for biofuels.

Aha! What I was doing for pleasure, I realized, was in fact an important bit of assistance for beleaguered birds. And it is something that anyone with a fire escape, balcony, porch or garden can do. The Audubon Society recommends planting trees and native plants to increase bird habitat and food supplies — a friend of mine had a nest of sparrows in a fire-escape flowerbox this year. If everyone with outdoor space made room for just a few birds to nest, or eat, it could make a real difference. If you don’t have the space for plants, you can hang a birdfeeder outside your window — they say that watching a fish tank lowers blood pressure and increases wellbeing in the watcher, but in my humble opinion those fish have nothing on a couple of sparrows at a feeder. Who needs TV?

If you have a house outside the city, or know anyone who does, learn about planting for wildlife. Many easy-to-grow plants and trees provide valuable nutrition to birds and other animals. Stop using pesticides and herbicides: they are bad for you, bad for me, and bad for them. Birds, and bats, are bug- and seed-eating machines: if you create an environment that supports them (birdhouses! bat-houses!) they’ll repay you by eating the bugs you used to spray away. And plant trees, anywhere and everywhere you can — they’ll house and feed creatures while taking up carbon dioxide, aka helping cope with global warming.

“I found a baby eagle!
It is going to die!”
She had indeed found a baby falcon on the
streets of Greenpoint.

Last week I was at a pet store buying goldfish (I’m hoping they’ll eat mosquito larvae in the pond) when a woman came rushing in, out of breath, carrying a cardboard box. “I found a baby eagle! It is going to die!” She shrieked, and opened the box: she had indeed found a baby falcon on the streets of Greenpoint — it was terrified, but thankfully didn’t look like it was going to perish. I took her over to BARC, the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition, where we left the fledgling in the capable hands of animal experts (who told us if we ever found another to touch it as little as possible, and take it immediately to a wildlife specialist).

All the way home I puzzled over the idea of falcons in Greenpoint, which struck me as a kind of miracle. Could I build a falcon platform atop my house? That could certainly help address those citywide rat problems much in the news of late...

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Monday, August 6, 2007

Romantic Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides In NYC

I'm just not seeing the romance.

In case you're not a New Yorker, and aren't "getting" what's implied, many of us here feel that the harsh and brutal concrete jungle of New York City just isn't a safe home for these gentle creatures.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Central Park - Old School Style

I had a magical Saturday morning in Central Park with my friend Kathy (whom I didn't know was a birder until recently).

I have a low-end digital camera, with only a few-times zoom, so you know I was close to get these shots!

First we ran into an Audubon guide from a walk I’d taken with them a few months back. He thought that perhaps a bird I'd seen the week prior could have been a very, very rare sighting! He is now analyzing my photos. With the current shore bird migration at its peak next weekend, he thinks I may have sighted a melanotic Great Egret! (New term for me-means opposite of albino where all normally white areas are black.)

Next, we happened upon a very friendly couple, sporting bedraggled Audubon Society bags and scopes. We'd just seen a bird we were trying to identify, and they asked if we needed help. They pulled out a seriously dog-eared copy of "Peterson's Field Guide To Eastern Birds," and a beautiful new relationship was born!

Anita and Howie, our new friends, taught us that one of the birds we could not identify was an Eastern Kingbird, and that baby Robins are NOT thrushes, but look very much like them. I don't think I'd ever REALLY seen a baby robin! They also detailed the lineage of an entire squirrel family, and identified one with a neurological disorder that they've been feeding special Brazil Nuts for a few years.

They also taught us the history behind the mysterious numbers you see posted on Central Park Lamp Posts. They showed us one up-close, and told us that if we were ever lost in Central Park, the first two numbers always tell you what street you are perpendicular to, and the last two numbers, if even, tell you how many more lamp posts to the east, and if odd, how many more to the west. Amazingly good stuff! Who knew?!

I teased my friend Kathy that Anita and Howie were secretly trying to recruit us for their pending move that never happened (see article below).

NY Times August 26, 2001

Every morning at 9 a.m., Howard and Anita Stillman
leave their York Avenue apartment wearing safari-style
hats and a five-pound satchel of peanuts, walnuts and
Brazil nuts. Their destination is always Central Park;
their mission, feeding squirrels.

Mr. Stillman, 66, a retired history professor, and his
wife, 65, a retired nurse, spend five hours a day and
$75 a week on the squirrels, which sometimes climb
onto their laps and eat from their hands.

The Stillmans call a few by silly pet names and
characteristics, like Sit on Fencie, Hang Aroundy,
Myopie (who is blind) and the trio Poolie, Doolie and

Prince is their favorite, an Eastern gray whom they
met four years ago by the Shakespeare statue and who
now loiters at Summit Rock.

''Prince is such a gigolo,'' Mr. Stillman said. ''We
see him with girls all the time.''

Theirs is a missionary zeal, and they know that few
people in the park share their calling. Mr. Stillman
often says he has a mayoral mandate going back to a
school field trip made at age 8 with Fiorello H. La
Guardia. ''One thing I'll always remember was him
saying to always bring a bag of peanuts to the park
for the squirrels,'' he said.

The Stillmans cannot keep it up much longer, however,
and it worries them. They are moving west this winter
to be closer to their children, and last week they had
yet to find a squirrel-feeding successor.

Recently, they took a candidate on a trial run. Upon
seeing Mrs. Stillman surrounded by squirrels, the
friend got hysterical and ran off. They later told the
friend they understood.

''It's not for everyone,'' Mr. Stillman said, ''but
this is a long tradition that we have, and after we
go, who knows?''

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Got Blackle?

A few months ago, TreeHugger Mark Ontkush wrote a post on his blog EcoIron entitled "Black Google Would Save 750 Megawatt-hours a Year." The post lays out the following train of thought: “An all white Web page uses about 74 watts to display, while an all black page uses only 59 watts.” Google, which has a white background and gets about “200 million queries a day” could reduce global energy use by 750 Megawatt-hours a year by simply changing the color of its homepage to black.

In response to this post, a black version of Google emerged called According to Blackle’s homepage at publication time, 137,774.672 Watt hours have been saved. The site encourages users to “make a difference today" by 'Blackling' or visiting, a blog dedicated to environmental awareness.

It looks like Google has its own version now too at:

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Star Wars Postage Stamp

I'm probably the only computer professional who hasn't seen this movie, but I was raised Mennonite and we were not allowed to see movies. I should really rent this! I do, however, own a few of these awesome stamp sheets! Run out and get your own while they last, at a U.S. Post Office near you!