Sunday, June 28, 2015

It's Linden Time Again

A branch of linden covered with fragrant flowers. Click to enlarge. 
New York City smells fabulous this week. It's one of those times I pass up urban wildlife to write about a plant -- the lovely linden. Linden trees are blossoming right now. They are covered with little yellow-white flowers like tiny bells, each releasing perfume that smells like limes and honey. It smells so good that it stops me in my tracks. I've been standing under linden trees all week long, just inhaling the aroma. Mmmmmm.

Lindens are sometimes called bee trees because they are so attractive to bees (not just to me). The linden's honey is unique: it's woody and fresh and delicious. It is believed to help aid sleep and many people take it before bed. Combine that with a bath with dried linden blossoms and you are set for the night.

There are about 30 kinds of linden trees that grow across the northern hemisphere in Asia, Europe, and North America. Everywhere lindens grow they have been woven into the cultural mythology. The flowers are used medicinally and even the ancient Greeks praised them. The tree was associated with the Germanic goddess of truth and love, Freya. Some people still think one cannot tell a lie while standing in the shade of a linden. Lovers used to meet below them to swear faithfulness. I hear that a modern Wiccan might make a staff out of linden because of its powers of attraction and creation. All that and it smells fabulous.

Here is a poem by D. H. Lawrence that seems to fit a week that has been dominated by thunder storms and linden trees. The lime-tree he mentions is another name for linden. The last word is the place in Germany where the poem was written.

Trees in the Garden by D. H. Lawrence

Ah in the thunder air
how still the trees are! 

And the lime-tree, lovely and tall, every leaf silent
hardly looses even a last breath of perfume.

And the ghostly, creamy coloured little tree of leaves
white, ivory white among the rambling greens
how evanescent, variegated elder, she hesitates on the green 
as if, in another moment, she would disappear
with all her grace of foam!

And the larch that is only a column, it goes up too tall to see:
and the balsam-pines that are blue with the grey-blue blueness of 
  things from the sea,
and the young copper beech, its leaves red-rosy at the ends
how still they are together, they stand so still
in the thunder air, all strangers to one another
as the green grass glows upwards, strangers in the silent garden


Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Walk in Central Park

Last week I led a nature walk in Central Park for the American Museum of Natural History's Membership Department. Even though I got rained on twice, there was a lot to see. Here are some of the wild creatures that were in the park on Wednesday.

Turtles were basking in The Lake. Red-eared sliders are the most commonly seen.  Click to enlarge.
Scanning the waters there often turns up an eastern spiny softshell turtle like this one. 
This ladybug pupa was in the bushes near the Ladies Pavilion. An adult  Asian multi-colored ladybug will emerge. The light-colored spines at the upper left are diagnostic for the species; I hear they are the remnants of the spiky skin of the last larval stage. 
This raccoon was hanging around the Oak Bridge. 
A pair of Paria beetles was mating on a leaf. 
An ant-mimic spider lurked. 
This Isodontia wasp glittered in the fleeting sunshine. 
A green Agapostemon bee posed on a pink rose. 
And the Shakespeare Garden was full of blossoms. 

You never know what you will find when you  take a walk in the park, but... John Muir once said: "In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Lost Ladybug

I found a family of rare ladybugs in my neighborhood this week. Rare now, but once common. Here's one of them: the two spotted ladybug, Adalia bipunctata. Click to enlarge.
The two spot is one of three species that the Lost Ladybug Project is hoping to hear about from ladybug spotters like me -- and you. Click here to go to the Lost Ladybug Project's website to read all about it. Basically, the ranges of some native ladybugs are shrinking and the group is trying to find out why. They encourage everyone to take pictures of local ladybugs (all of them, not just rare ones) and upload the pictures to their website for analysis.

I saw my ladybugs when I stopped to look at some unusually curled leaves on a cherry tree in a postage-stamp sized yard in front of a Brooklyn Heights condo. I think the tree has a case of leaf curl disease. Then I spotted a tiny black insect on one of the damaged leaves. Looking closer I saw that it was a ladybug, but half the size of ladybugs I am used to. It was black with two red spots and red "shoulders" -- the dark form of the two spotted ladybug. I took a picture but it was windy and the insect was moving and I had to photograph with one hand, so I got this:

It's not a very good photo, but it is good enough to tell what it is. I sent it to the Lost Ladybug Project. They confirmed its identity and congratulated me. I'm proud. 

There were ladybug larvae and a few pupae (their equivalent of cocoons) on the cherry tree. I took a pupa home. I put it and the leaf it was stuck on into a container, punched holes in the lid, and waited. Four days later, this emerged:

It's a brand new two spotted ladybug, of the more common color scheme of orange with black spots. There is a family of two spots living on a cherry tree in Brooklyn Heights. Yay! 
This one is in my garden now. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Milk Snake

I saw this milk snake, Lampropeltis triangulum, being moved from a dangerous parking lot into the woods at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in northern New Jersey last year around this time. Click on the refuge name to read more about the place; it's a great spot for wildlife viewing. Click on the photo to enlarge. 

I'm under the weather today, so instead of writing a blog about this snake, I'm inviting you to read D. H. Lawrence's poem: Snake. Click here to go to the poem. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Spring Robins

I took this picture of my local American robin on the first day of spring this year.  Click to enlarge. 
We had come through a very cold winter. Like some robins in these parts, this one stayed north. I fed him raisins. There were days when it was so cold that he'd take a raisin and hop away into a place sheltered from the wind to eat it. He kept his feathers puffed up for insulation and often hunkered down so his legs were covered by his belly feathers. 
This is how he looks today. No need to puff up feathers on a warm day in May. Doesn't he look relatively sleek and leggy? I know this is the same bird because during winter he learned to come to a platform very close to my window for raisins and he still does; the other birds are wary of coming so close. 
Here's how he looks when he's singing. 
And he is not alone! He's showing up with this one that I think might be planning to build a nest with him. She is more brown above than black and overall more pale. Click to enlarge and compare them.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Turtle Day

Yesterday, May 23rd, was World Turtle Day, a day for celebrating turtles and tortoises, to raise awareness of them, and to help protect their disappearing habitats. I am reposting photos from all the blogs I've written about turtles. This one is an Eastern box turtle from New Jersey. Click here to read my blog about it. Or just click to enlarge. 
This common snapping turtle was sunning on the shore of the Reservoir in Central Park in Manhattan.  Click here for the blog. 

I saw this lovely painted turtle in Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in  Vernon, New Jersey. Click here to read about the refuge and other interesting animals you can see there. 
These red-eared slider turtles were sunning on rocks in Central Park in Manhattan, a great place to raise your turtle awareness. There are lots of red-eared sliders and quite a few other nice turtles to see there. Click here to read the original blog about a nature walk I led there last year. That blog also mentions the pair of eastern spiny softshell turtles pictured below. 
Eastern spiny softshell turtles. Note the turtle necks. 

The big turtle on the left in this photo is a red-eared slider. The little one of the right is a yellow-bellied slider.  They are sharing a log in Central Park. Click here to read more.   
World Turtle Day. May 23rd. My awareness was raised enough to notice this guy holding up a lamp in front of my bank.

A turtle haiku from Kobayashi Issa, 1825

"short summer night --
in the field turtles

Sunday, May 17, 2015


A few of Brooklyn's monk parakeets. Click to enlarge. 

I stopped by Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn this week to visit the locally famous parakeets. This group flew over and landed by me, sat and squawked for a while, and then flew deeper into the cemetery. Monk parakeets have been around Brooklyn for about forty years; the colony at Green-Wood is one of the largest in the city. I wrote a long blog about them a while ago; click here to read it.