Thursday, November 29, 2012


Thank you to everyone who came to my presentation at the New York City Mid-town Manhattan Library on Tuesday night. I had a great time! Sorry that we sold out of books. You can order one from by clicking here. P.S. The chubby reddish brown squirrels in Union Square are eastern gray squirrels.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Vulture Shadows

Black vultures and turkey vultures roosting on a water tower.

Check out their shadows! 

Click on any of the photos to enlarge.

Tuesday November 27th at 6:30 I will be speaking about my book at the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the New York City Public Library. It's the building on the southeast corner of 40th Street and Fifth Avenue, across from the big marble building with the famous lions. It's free!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Snow Geese!

Snow geese, Chen caerulescens. Click to enlarge. 
Snow geese are migrating now. They have spent the summer breeding above the timberline in northern Canada and Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia. Now they are heading to warmer places: southern British Columbia, southern North America, and Mexico.

Snow geese are white with black wingtips.
They have pink bills with a dark line, sometimes called black lips.
To call snow geese gregarious is an understatement; some flocks contain several hundred thousand individuals. When they land, they can cover the ground like a sudden snowfall. But I like them best when they are flying. Standing near a big flock as it takes wing is such a sweeping phenomenon it is like being in their world: a honking whistling blizzard, a ticker tape parade of falling geese. Go see them at a wildlife refuge, marsh, or farm field near you. Click here to see a video of snow geese in the air. (If an ad pops up, click it away.)

And, from Mary Oliver  -- Snow Geese

Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last!
What a task
to ask
of anything, or anyone,
yet it is ours,
and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.
One fall day I heard
above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound
I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was
a flock of snow geese, winging it
faster than the ones we usually see,
and, being the color of snow, catching the sun
so they were, in part at least, golden. I
held my breath
as we do
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us
as with a match,
which is lit, and bright,
but does not hurt
in the common way,
but delightfully,
as if delight
were the most serious thing
you ever felt.
The geese
flew on,
I have never seen them again.
Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
Maybe I won't.
It doesn't matter.
What matters
is that, when I saw them,
I saw them
as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.

The pictures in the blog were taken at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Oceanville, New Jersey, near Atlantic City. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Coney Island's Great Black-backed Gulls

The great black-backed gull, Larus marinus. Click to enlarge.
 A few weeks ago, just before hurricane Sandy, I spent a day at Brooklyn's Coney Island. it was not a big day for urban wildlife, but I saw this fine fat Great Black-Backed Gull at the fishing pier. He eyed me as a potential source of snacks, but flew away when I turned out to be wildlife paparazzi.

The great black-backed gull is easy to identify. It is the largest gull in the world, almost two feet long with a four-foot wingspan. It has a dark grayish-black back, white spots on the tips of the wings, and pink legs. Its bill is yellow with a red dot near the tip. In winter plumage, shown above, it has light dusky streaks on its head.

The great black-backed gull takes four years to reach adulthood and goes through a series of plumages. In this photo a third winter bird is taking wing while an adult floats on the water. Click here for Cornell Lab of Ornithology's plumage descriptions.
Coney Island was at its best that day -- hot dogs, cotton candy, carnival rides, sun, surf, and great black-backed gulls. Here are some photos. I Hope Coney Island is back on its feet soon.
The fishing pier.

The roller coaster.
The carousel.
Scream Zone!

The Wonder Wheel is expected to be back in service for next year's opening. I heard on the news today that rides will be free on opening day, Palm Sunday 2013.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Here is the flyer the library made for the event.
(I had to cut it in two to fit this format.) 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Pine Siskins at the Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge Park and Manhattan. Pine siskins have moved in!
I saw a flock of pine siskins in Brooklyn Bridge Park a few weeks ago. Just behind the row of red bushes in the photo above, the little birds were collecting seeds from plants and grasses. They chatted softly while they flitted from plant to plant, sometimes fluttering to stay balanced while perching on the end of a stem. When pine siskins fly we see flashes of yellow feathers on their wings and at the base of the tail.

Little pines siskins, Spinus pinus, are easy to overlook. They are about five inches long and only weigh about half an ounce. They are mainly brown with streaks on body and head. 
Yellow wing edges.
Pine siskins are residents across southern Canada and at high elevations of the western United States. They breed in western Canada. In winter they sometimes migrate south, or irrupt, into other areas. They move further south in eastern North America and into lower elevations in the west. Changes in food availability are thought to inspire irruptions. Some years the siskins stay put, other years they suddenly appear in New York parks and gardens.

Pine siskins eat seeds of conifers like pine, cedar, hemlock, larch, and spruce. They also eat seeds of birch, sweet gum, maple, and alder. And they eat the tiny seeds of grasses, dandelions, ragweed, and other plants. They occasionally snack on an insect or spider. They are happy to come to feeders for thistle and sunflower seeds.

Pine siskins sometimes travel with other irruptive migrants like crossbills, redpolls, purple finches, evening grossbeaks, and goldfinches. Birdwatchers call these the winter finches; I hope to see some of them in Brooklyn Bridge Park, too! But the park has been closed for a week because of hurricane Sandy and has just reopened. I'm on my way out to look for finches. I'll report back.

The siskins may have been carried far away by the storm. (Click here to listen to a short NPR interview describing how birds can travel inside a hurricane's eye.)