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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Happy Washington's Birthday!

Just a gull sitting in a sun-warmed footprint in the sand on the beach at Coney Island in Brooklyn. Like us humans, the birds seemed to be enjoying the unseasonably warm weekend. Click to enlarge. 
Enjoy the holiday! 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Parti-colored Starling

Only kidding. It's so cold and rainy outside that I spent most of it sitting in a comfortable chair playing games and some of it creating imaginary birds with Photoshop from my archive of bird images. Click to enlarge. 
Here's another. I call it a green-belted hawk. 
How about a pink-winged mockingbird? 
Or a blue-breasted robin. Had enough? Here's a bird poem instead. 

A Bird Came Down the Walk 
by Emily Dikinson

A bird came down the walk:
He did not know I saw; 
He bit an angle-worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw.

And then he drank a dew
From a convenient grass,
And then hopped sidewise to the wall
To let a beetle pass.

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all abroad,- 
They looked like frightened beads, I thought; 
He stirred his velvet head

Like one in danger; cautious,
I offered him a crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home

Than oars divide the ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or butterflies, off banks of noon,
Leap, splashless, as they swim.


And this is what the birds above really look like: 

European Starling -- Sturnus vulgaris

Red-tailed hawk -- Buteo jamaicensis
Northern Mockingbird -- Mimus polyglottos
American Robin -- Turdus migratorius

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Duck Brush

Freezing temperatures and a head cold have kept me indoors for a few days. I spent some of that time learning how to make a Photoshop tool called a brush. I started with this photo of a mandarin duck (Aix galericulata) that I took on a warm autumn day at the Prospect Park Zoo last year. 
The Photoshop steps are simple: open the jpg in Photoshop and select Layer Style from the Layer pull down menu. Select Blending Options and use the slider to remove the background, then delete any bits of background that remain with the eraser tool. Before making it a brush, reduce the size with Image Size option on the Image pull down menu. Then select Define Brush Preset from the Edit pull down menu. Voila! A duck brush is born. I'm using Photoshop CS5. 
Once it is in your brush library you can paint with it. To produce two shadowy ducks on black, for instance. Click to enlarge. 
Or pick a color and dab a few rows of ducks. 
Overlay it with a pattern. 
Paint it a warm brown and add some marsh grass. 
Put a few on a colorful background. Or anything else you can think of.  I am looking forward to warmer weather when I can go outside and watch real ducks. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Happy Lunar New Year!

New York City is full of special urban wildlife this week for the Lunar New Year.  There are lions and roosters all over town, and drums and cymbals, confetti and sparklers. The lions above are toys, but large versions are dancing in the streets of the New York Chinatowns. 
Here's a pair of lion dancers crouching in the crowded street. 
Here's a scary one. 
This one was tame enough that when he got close I was able to pet him. 
And I saw a couple of cubs! 
And then there were the roosters. Goodbye Year of the Monkey,  hello 2017 -- Year of the Rooster! Click on the photos to enlarge. 
Roosters everywhere you look. 
Here's one with his own bucket of rice. Happy New Year! 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Winter Flowers

Flowers are blooming right now in a park near my home in Brooklyn. These winter and early spring bloomers are called Lenten Roses, Winter Roses, Hellebores (for their scientific genus Helleborus), and more. They are not really roses, but rather evergreen perennial plants cold tolerant enough to pop up from under the snow like the one in the photo above. Click to enlarge. 
The flowers start cup-shaped and nodding like this. They also come in green, purple, yellow, and pink. 
Except for one Chinese species, the hellebores are native to Europe. They are toxic and have been used medicinally since ancient times -- but please don't try that. They also have been used for some eyebrow raising things by the magically inclined -- for instance, in potions that help witches fly and powders that promote invisibility.
It's nice to see them on this grey weekend -- 56 days from the start of spring. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

January Sun

I saw this pigeon napping in the sun today on a south facing lawn protected from the wind. It was still pretty cold in Brooklyn, about 34 degrees F (that's 1 degree C), but yesterday's snow was melting fast and the little bit of warmth felt good.  
These two robins were part of a winter flock of about a dozen down by the East River, all puffed up and facing south -- soaking up the rays. Click to enlarge. 
And this ring-billed gull stood still on a post. No wind. No snow. Warm sun.  
Manhattan across the river -- undoubtably full, too, of creatures appreciating the warm winter sun. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Where are they now?


Everyone seems to be pretty well informed about the migrations of monarch butterflies in North America. Long distance southbound fliers end up in southern states in the east and in refuges in California and Mexico in the west. In spring, northbound females lay eggs that hatch into butterflies that fly north and lay eggs, reaching further north with each generation until the far reaches of monarch territory are repopulated for the year. So their current whereabouts are accounted for.  But what about other kinds of butterflies?                     
The common cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, for instance. Cabbage whites are still here. They are hunkered down for the winter in the chrysalis stage. Click to enlarge.
Red-spotted purple butterflies, Limenitis arthemis, spend the winter in the caterpillar stage. The caterpillar makes a little shelter called a hibernaculum from a leaf and attaches it with silk to one of its food plants. When it wakes up in spring it is close to a food source and ready to start eating. 
Question mark butterflies, Polygonia interrogationis, like this one hibernate as adults in sheltered spots like hollow trees or crevices and in human built structures. 
There are even some butterflies that overwinter as eggs. So for every stage of the butterfly life cycle, there are species that spend the winter that way -- as an egg, larva, pupa (chrysalis), or adult. You can find them on plants, in leaf litter, under tree bark, in your garage, and wherever they decide to shelter. They're out there in the cold right now, under the snow, and on branches bending in the winter wind. On this 20 degree day in New York City it is reassuring to be reminded that spring is coming.