Sunday, November 27, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I saw this eastern gray squirrel eating acorns in a park in Cape May County, New Jersey. Click on the photo to get a closer look at the pile of shell bits below and the pieces flying through the air! And check out the notch in his right ear -- squirrel fight? 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ponies and Vultures

I'm enjoying a short vacation in Maryland near Assateague Island. Firstly, although they are not urban, here are a few pictures I took yesterday of the famous wild ponies at Assateague National Seashore.

And secondly, geez there are a lot of vultures around here! I'm accustomed to seeing vultures circling high overhead. It is surprising to me, though locally common, to see turkey vultures and black vultures up close sitting in fields, dining on roadkill, and resting on the rooftops. For example...

A pair of American Black Vultures, Coragyps atratus

Click to enlarge any of the photos. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Saint John's White Peacock

I visited the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on the Upper West Side of Manhattan this week. They started building this in the 1800s. It's not finished yet. Stone masons tap away there at a medieval pace.

On the way, I passed the famous restaurant at the corner of 112th and Broadway that was used for external shots of the cafe in the 1990s sitcom, Seinfeld. 
After an hour in the cathedral, I took a walk in the churchyard. It's a good place for a quiet stroll.
But New York is unpredictable and it still surprises me sometimes, even though I have lived here for more than 20 years. I looked up from my thoughts and saw a white peacock! Here's a picture to prove it... click on it for a closer look.

I subsequently found that peafowl have lived on the grounds at Saint John the Divine for decades. They were gifts. They have a heated shelter where they are regularly fed. Although I did not see them, two others of the more common blue and green kind live there too.

They stay near the church, though the gates are open and nothing visible keeps them from strolling down Amsterdam Avenue. They seem to know that they are church peacocks.

The peacock is an old Christian symbol of resurrection, possibly because it annually molts and re-grows its showy feathers. Peacock feathers are added to church decorations at Easter season, and a few peacocks show up in Christmas nativity scenes.

Take it from me. When you encounter an unexpected white peacock anywhere in Manhattan, it seems like a miracle.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A bubble-blowing fly

Click on this photo to enlarge it. That fly is blowing a bubble! If you look closely at a lot of flies (like I do) you may find one doing this.

A bubble-blowing fly sits still as if preoccupied. It exudes a drop of liquid from the mouth and then sucks it back in. Then it does it again, and again, and again. The bubbles range from clear to opaque, but usually one fly in a single sitting makes just one kind. Various species of flies do this, as well as bees, wasps, and lacewings.

Why? It is not clearly understood and there have been lots of suggestions including cooling by evaporation, heating by solar gain, being sick, scaring away attackers, cleaning their mouthparts, and aerating or concentrating liquid food.

Scientists have investigated bubble-blowing in apple maggot flies. In experiments, flies were given dissolved food in various concentrations. After eating dilute food the flies broke off to sit quietly and "bubble." Then they returned to feeding. And then they stopped to bubble some more. The scientists suggested that bubbling was a way for flies engorged with dilute food to eliminate some water through evaporation, allowing them to go back and eat more. But even when you know what they are doing, it's still pretty weird.

God in his wisdom made the fly
And then forgot to tell us why
-- The Fly by Ogden Nash