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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Weekly Species Highlights

Here are the weekly species highlights for the second week of June:

Bird: Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) - The most common and widespread hawk of the Buteo genus. Red-tailed Hawks have adapted well to urban life and nest in all 5 of New York City's boroughs. One individual named "Pale Male" gained local fame when he began nesting annually on a building's ledge on 5th Avenue, opposite Central Park. Author Charles R. Preston describes Red-tailed Hawks as a "magnificent generalist" given their ability to thrive in a variety of environments. They can be found throughout all of North American except for the High Arctic and tracts of extensive forest. Many of the nestling hawks in New York City will fledge (leave their nest) this week.

Wildflower: Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis stricta) - Yellow Wood Sorrel is a common plant that can be found in prairies, openings in woodlands, savannas, limestone glades, pastures, lawns, driveways, and waste areas. It is more common in degraded habitats. Bees are an important pollinator. Some bird species that eat the seeds include Bobwhite, Mourning Dove, Horned Lark, Field Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, and juncos. Plants are edible and is often called sour grass because of the leaves lemony taste. It contains oxalic acid, however, which can be toxic if consumed in large quantities. Like Jewelweed, as the seed capsules dry, it becomes under tension then explodes to throw the seed several feet. The delicate leaves fold shut to protect themselves from direct sunlight or when it gets dark, possibly to protect themselves from the cold of night, or from damage from too much dew.

Shrub: Rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.) - Rhododendrons are highly diverse in size and shape from shrubs to small trees with some rare large trees. There are more than 850 different natural species, 26 of which are native to North America. It is a member of the Ericaceae or heath family. The family also includes heathers (Calluna), mountain laurel (Kalmia), lily-of-the-valley shrub (Pieris), cranberry (Vaccinium), Leucothe and Andromeda. Rhododendron flowers range in colors from white, red, pink, yellow, approximate blue, purple, magenta, orange, and in various shades and mixtures of most of these colours. March, April and May are the peak months for flowering, however, some rhododendrons can flower as early as January in an ideal climate, and others as late as August. Rhododendrons are found in the wild, chiefly in mountainous areas of the arctic and north temperate zones. Most of the rhododendrons people grow are hybrids.

Tree: Mulberry (Morus spp.) - Mulberry is a genus of 10–16 species of deciduous trees native to warm temperate and subtropical regions of Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. The immature fruits are white or green to pale yellow with pink edges. The ripe fruit is edible and is widely used in pies, tarts, wines and cordials. The fruit of the red mulberry, which is native to eastern North America, has the strongest flavor. The east Asian white mulberry has been extensively naturalized in eastern North America. Mulberry fruit come in red, white, pink, and black and are attributed to the two different species and their hybrids.

In an effort to start a silk industry white mulberry trees were imported from Asia in the 1800’s. The labor-intensive industry was eventually abandoned. The trees now grow throughout the country, ripening in late spring and early summer. You should use mulberries immediately as they don't last long in the refrigerator. This is why you rarely seem them in stores. Songbirds, including robins, thrushes, catbirds, starlings and waxwings, love mulberries.

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