Friday, May 22, 2009

Weekly Species Highlights

Here are the weekly species highlights for the fourth week of May:

Bird: Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) - New York City Audubon has compiled a list of 335 species of birds recorded in New York City. During any given Spring season there are 245 residents and rare to common migrants passing through the 5 boroughs. Of those species 124 are listed as breeding here. That leaves 121 species of birds that may or may not be encountered for an extraordinarily brief period of time during Spring migration. Experienced birders have come to recognize the symbolic moment when that electrified moment of seasonal activity is "over". Many birders see the arrival of Blackpoll Warblers as the winding down point. For me, it is the arrival of Cedar Waxwings. They arrive later than most of the songbird migrants as they rely, primarily, on fruiting trees and shrubs for food. There isn't much need for them to rush north for the generous supply of insects and flocks don't show up around our parks until the end of May. When flocks of waxwings begin nesting, most of the warblers and other migrants are gone from the city parks. Known for their sweet courtship rituals, a pair will perch side by side and pass each other items, such as berries, insects or flower petals. They also occasionally rub beaks. Waxwings are very are social birds that can be seen in flocks all year. They get their name from the waxy red tips to their wings.

Marine Arthropod: Atlantic Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus) - When the Spring Full or New Moon corresponds with the high-tide an amazing, ancient creature emerges from the sea to breed along our coastline. Its common name implies a relationship to other crabs, but this 20 million year old relic is more closely related to scorpions, spiders and ticks. Their annual spawning has evolved an inseparable connection to migrating shorebirds, especially the Red Knot, who gain much needed body fat by eating their eggs. Horseshoe Crabs have 10 eyes, but "poor" eyesight. Their only known predators are humans who harvest them for eel bait. Their copper-based blood is actually blue and has been extracted for use in cancer therapy research, leukemia diagnosis and to detect vitamin B12 deficiency. Migratory shorebird surveys have shown alarming population decreases. Evidence points to a corresponding link between shorebird population declines and horseshoe crab over-harvesting.

Wildflower: Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) - Native to North America, this perennial has showy, pink, five-petaled flowers, occurring at the top of a leafy, 1 to 3 ft. stem. Another common name for this wildflower is "Cranesbill", because of the seed capsule which resembles a crane's bill. They are common in moist woods and meadows. Several herbal uses of the plant are listed on the Internet, but I wouldn't recommend using Wild Geraniums without the advice of a licensed professional. The whole plant is described as antiseptic, highly astringent, diuretic, styptic and tonic. Native Americans used this wildflower as a treatment for diarrhea, dysentery, and hemorrhaging. I also found data suggesting that a tea can be used to treat cholera, gingivitis, leucorrhoea, infections, internal bleeding, canker sores, toothache, and soothes sore mouths and throats. I was unable to find any scientific studies showing the effectiveness of this delicate flower for medical use. Again, use common sense when seeking alternative remedies.

Shrub: Beach Plum (Prunus maritima) - A member of the Rose family, the native Beach Plum can be found along the Atlantic coast of North America, from New Brunswick south to Maryland. Found in natural sand dune habitats, they are currently blooming all along New York City's coastal areas. They are extremely salt-torerant and prefer full sun. Their edible fruits ripens in August and early September. Since colonial times, the wild fruit has been collected to make preserves and jelly. It is one of the few times that I will write that it is perfectly fine to pick and eat the fruits of this wild shrub.






Tree: Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus) - Other common names for this Native North American tree is "Grancy Gray-beard" and "Old-man's beard". They flower in mid to late May in New York City, about the same time as the dogwoods and azaleas. Its snow white flowers have loose, dangling panicles that are incredibly fragrant. Fringe Tree are part of the olive family. They are found in the eastern United States, from New Jersey south to Florida, and west to Oklahoma and Texas. Native Americans used the dried roots and bark to treat skin inflammations.

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