Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pretty Pigeons

I walked around my Brooklyn neighborhood today, scouting for handsome pigeons. I am partial to the piebald ones that have patches of iridescence. Although pigeons rarely seem to stay still for long (at least when I am trying to photograph them), some paused long enough for these portraits. Click to enlarge. 

Two-toned bill! 
And a poem -- 
Pigeons by Richard Kell

They paddle with staccato feet
In powder-pools of sunlight,
Small blue busybodies
Strutting like fat gentlemen
With hands clasped
Under their swallowtail coats;
And, as they stump about,
Their heads like tiny hammers
Tap at imaginary nails
In non-existent walls.
Elusive ghosts of sunshine
Slither down the green gloss
Of their necks in an instant, and are gone.

Summer hangs drugged from sky to earth
In limpid fathoms of silence:
Only warm dark dimples of sound
Slide like slow bubbles
From the contented throats.

Raise a casual hand -
With one quick gust
They fountain into air. 

 A puffed up pigeon on my porch celebrated the relatively warm day... 

With a nap. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

200,000 Pageviews!

 The Urban Wildlife Guide just passed 200,000 pageviews. I am taking the day off to bask in the glow...

p.s. Stay tuned for the upcoming gallery of Brooklyn's most beautiful pigeons.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Gull and Crab

Can you find the crab in this picture? It's like a hidden object puzzle to me. Click to enlarge. 
No problem for the herring gull, though. The bird, Larus argentatus, is in adult winter plumage. 
Crab dinner. 
This poem comes to mind -- A Green Crab's Shell, by Mark Doty, 1953

Not, exactly, green: 
closer to bronze
preserved in kind brine,

something retrieved 
from a Greco-Roman wreck,
patinated and oddly

muscular. We cannot 
know what his fantastic 
legs were like -- 

though evidence
suggests eight
complexly folded

scuttling works 
of armament, crowned
by the foreclaws'

gesture of menace
and power. A gull's
gobbled the center,

leaving this chamber
--size of a demitasse--
open to reveal

a shocking, Giotto blue. 
Though it smells
of seaweed and ruin, 

this little traveling case 
comes with such lavish lining! 
Imagine breathing

surrounded by 
the brilliant rinse
of summer's firmament. 

What color is 
the underside of skin?
Not so bad, to die, 

if we could be opened 
into this -- 
if the smallest chambers

of ourselves,
revealed some sky. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Friendly English Herons

Here are a few more things I saw while birdwatching in Kensington Gardens in London this past summer.
The horses on the carousel had names. One was called Perrin. 
Some of the pigeons were common wood pigeons, Columba palumbus -- big pigeons with bold white neck patches. 
The park's great blue herons, Ardea herodias, were uncharacteristically friendly. At home, I usually see great blue herons hunting alone in marshes, often, like this one, in litter-strewn marshes. Click to enlarge. 
But in Kensington Gardens there were several great blue herons among the hordes of swans, geese, and ducks soliciting handouts of food from passing humans. I had never seen a great blue heron do that before (although I have seen a flock of white ibis go from door to door for snacks in suburban backyards in Florida). 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rose Weevil

See the holes in the rose petals? That little brown beetle on the bud in the upper right is responsible. It's an adult rose weevil, about 1/4 of an inch long.  Click to enlarge. 
Rose weevils have long beaks with chewing mouthparts at the end. They poke them into rosebuds and munch away, making holes. When the buds unfold, the damaged layers unfurl. Rose weevils lay eggs in some of the holes they drill in buds. The eggs hatch into wormlike larvae that feed inside the bud and can weaken its attachment to the stem, so many infested buds fall to the ground. The larvae come out of the buds, burrow into the ground, and spend the winter there. They eventually pupate and emerge the following year, in time to eat more roses.
A close-up of a rose weevil walking on a rosebud with a big hole in it. Hmm...wonder how that happened?

It reminds me of this poem by William Blake. 

The Sick Rose

O Rose thou art sick. 
The invisible worm, 
That flies in the night
In the howling storms:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Busy Milkweed

There is a lot of activity on milkweed plants this time of year. I wrote a blog about some of the members of the milkweed community in October of 2011. You can see that blog by clicking here. 
Today I saw this late instar monarch caterpillar. Its head is on the right. It was eating voraciously, bulking up for its pupal stage, which will come soon. It will pupate for about two weeks and then emerge as a butterfly to begin its long migration south. Click to enlarge.
The plants were covered with oleander aphids like this one. 
A few of the aphids had wings. There is one in the upper right of this photo; winged individuals can disperse to nearby stems and pods to establish new populations. Click to enlarge the photo and you will see that there is a caterpillar-like organism among the aphids. It is the larva of a syrphid fly; it will  grow up to become a hover fly (also called flower fly). In its larval stage it eats aphids. No shortage of those around here. 

A closer look at the fly larva. It is easy to mistake for a caterpillar, or even a plant part. Stealthy! 
As I was clicking pictures of this cluster of milkweed bug nymphs, I got a surprising message from them -- they knew they were being watched and they did not like it. See the picture below. They all ran around to the other side. 
Stop looking at us! 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Angel Moth Caterpillar

The angel moth caterpillar. Click to enlarge.
I had uncommonly good luck with caterpillars during my recent trip to Kentucky. This is the angel moth caterpillar, Olceclostera angelica, a  member of the Bombycidae family of silkworm moths. Angel moth caterpillars usually feed on lilac or ash. This one was on a wooden fence post, probably after falling from a host plant. I saw it near the historic entrance to Mammoth Cave in Mammoth Cave National Park. It is an uncommon caterpillar, not often seen, and, like the spun glass caterpillar I saw nearby and wrote about recently (click here to see the story) -- I had never seen one before.

The longhaired angel moth caterpillar grows up to be a handsome furry-legged moth with a glittery abdomen and silver-grey scallop-edged wings that made the scientist who named it think of angels. Click here to see a photo of the moth.