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Thursday, July 05, 2007

My roof and July 4th on Long Island

Towards sunset, during the warm weather, we walk up to the roof to relax with a bottle of wine, whet our appetite with a little food and mindlessly watch the local birds returning to their nightly roosts or bagging the day's final meal.

The mix of birds observed from our perch are usually predictable. Late afternoons bring Laughing Gulls, Herring Gulls, pigeons, Mourning Doves, robins, starlings, Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles and House Sparrow. Beginning well before dusk, Chimney Swifts, in a state of constant, twittering motion, vanish into their manmade caverns before sunset. As darkness closes in Great Egret leave the park and travel down the slope towards the harbor and night-herons travel uphill from the harbor's islands to Prospect Park for an evening of hunting. Mockingbirds and cardinals are more often heard than seen as they call from a favorite backyard or rooftop location. By August Black Skimmers join our list of roof birds as they slip passed on their way to Prospect Lake to glide over the water in search of small fish. Common Nighthawk, a declining annual presence, sadly, have not been seen or heard this year. American Crows are another bird that we'd always assumed would be a perpetual, boisterous presence over our piece of Brooklyn. Yet their numbers have dwindled to a small scattering of birds each night.

On Friday evening, several crows were noisly assembling on the roof of St. Savior's church. I can never tell by their vocalizations if crows are harrassing a predator or just talking to each other, so I always look for hawks when I hear them. Tonight an American Kestrel had attracted the crows ire. The small falcon flew in our direction from south of us and perched on a satellite dish mounted on the church roof. Tiny in comparison to the crows, the diminuative hunter ignored the aggitated black birds and stared intently into a nearby backyard.

Public School 51

My friend, Jerry, once told me that he had seen nesting kestrels on a public school adjacent to his apartment. It's an old (1894) brownstone and brick structure with many potential nest sites within the numerous gables, peaks, spires and chimney stacks along the roof. Perhaps the adult male perched on the satellite dish was one of that pair as the school is in line with the church and several blocks south. The falcon stayed for a few minutes then took off towards Prospect Park.

Someday I hope to locate at least one of the falcon's nests in my neighborhood.

On Saturday my wife and I took our annual July 4th weeked trip to the east end of Long Island. We stay with my youngest brother, his wife and their two young kids. Other family members live nearby and the weekend usually evolves into a combination of planned and spontaneous family gatherings. My youngest nieces and nephews always want me to take them on nature walks. A favorite location is the Morton National Wildlife Refuge where habituated chickadees and chipmunks gather along the edges of the trails waiting for handouts. The Black-capped Chickadees have become extremely bold and will demand sunflower seeds with a "threatening", high-pitched whistle.

The hiking trails terminate at a beach on a narrow peninsula that juts into the Peconic Bay.

Much of the beach is blocked off from the public to protect breeding pairs of Piping Plover. Other species along the peninsula include Least Tern and Osprey. This year Osprey seem to have been very successful as I counted seven individuals lined up on weather-beaten posts along the beach. Wild Turkeys also seem to be making a comeback on Long Island and we observed a combined family with 15 chicks of various ages.

I always expect chickadees to be relatively tame at the refuge, but on Sunday I had an experience that I could have never predicted. My niece was holding a small pile of sunflower seeds, patiently waiting for a chickadee to settle on her hand. I was a short distance from her, getting ready to snap a photo. While I was holding my camera up, framing the photo, a chickadee landed on my camera. I didn't have any seeds and he just sat on the camera body, looking at me. He stayed for, what seemed like minutes, but was probably only a few seconds.

As a child I loved exploring the coastal areas of New York. Whether it was the ocean, bay or marsh, I found it to be a treasure trove of life forms. I still feel that way. Over the long weekend, I spent time with the kids at the water's edge. They seemed to instinctly want to do the same thing.

Hermit Crabs (Pagurus longicarpus)

At Mescutt Beach, my niece, nephew and other children used nets to strain the water, looking for marine life. A plastic bucket then became the temporary habitat for a variety of hermit crabs and silvery minnows. I found a sundried whelk egg case within the flotsom at the tide's high water mark and brought it back to the house to cut open and show the kids the tiny, fully formed shells within each segment.

Whelk egg case

Each shell is approximately 1/16th of an inch long

Everything became an ecology lesson. When we were dumping the contents of the egg case, a tent caterpillar crawled across our makeshift, rock lab table. He promptly became a weekend pal for my 4 year old nephew. We placed the caterpillar inside of a plastic bucket along with a leaf covered twig from an oak tree. Maybe this week he'll find a chrysalis inside the bucket.

Long Island's east end is a relatively short drive from Brooklyn and possesses a tremendous diversity of flora and fauna. While this blog is primarily focused on the nature within my urban environment, it gives one a good idea of how much more is possible, if the motivation exists.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Lesser Maple Spanworm Moth (Macaria pustularia)

Oak Leafshredder Moth (Acleris semipurpurana)


nsc said...

Great photos as usual. I was struck by the blue sky in your East End LI picture. Did you use a polarizer for that? If so, what? Very nice photo.

The chickadees story is pretty amazing, too.

Thanks for this blog!

Rob said...

No polarizer. The sky was incredible (which is why I took the photo), but I suspect the JPEG compression I used to make the image smaller distorted the colors a bit.

nsc said...

that is really an amazing shot. you have a great eye. thanks!

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