Sunday, December 27, 2015

Happy New Year!

Click to enlarge. 
My creature of the year award for 2015 goes to the neighborhood favorites -- Brooklyn's monk parakeets!

The monk parakeet, Myiopsitta monachus, is also called Quaker parrot or parakeet and a few other names. (Click here to read a previous blog about the birds). There are colonies of them in Queens and Manhattan and elsewhere in New York City, but my favorite flock lives in the gothic revival spires of the gatehouse at Brooklyn's famous Green-Wood Cemetery.

No one expects these birds: they're noisy, they're flashy, they're big and green. Congratulations to Green-Wood's monk parakeets for being among the coolest wildlife in the city.

The gatehouse at Green-Wood. 
Twig nests and parrots. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Grackle Pros and Cons

The common grackle, Quiscalus quiscula, is about a foot long, appears uniformly dark from a distance, and has bright yellow eyes. Up close it is all glossy iridescent purples and blues, and very pretty. Click to enlarge. 
Common grackles stay in New York year round. I saw one the other day, striding around on its long legs and looking cocky. Whenever I see one I take a moment to admire its glossy colors. I usually see a single bird in a park, or just a few at a time -- they look innocent and pretty.

But I hear that they get up to no good outside the city limits. They descend on corn and rice fields every year in huge flocks, eating everything in sight, and collectively causing millions of dollars worth of crop damage. And in winter, they sometimes join other birds (starlings, brown-headed cowbirds, and red-winged blackbirds) to forage and roost in noisy flocks that can include thousands of birds. That's usually very unpopular with the humans they sometimes settle near.

Grackles are also seen by many as bullies at bird feeders, driving other birds away and quickly eating every last scrap of food. That does sound rude.

 I think I prefer my polite New York City grackles.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Warm December

This is how I expect December to look in Brooklyn. Click to enlarge. 
This is what I'm seeing instead. Flowers are blooming all over the place. A pink begonia bud opened on my (outdoor!) porch this morning and the pansies and marigolds out there look better than they did in September.  
The trees around Brooklyn City Hall burst into flower this week. 
Why so warm? According to the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA), a positive  "Arctic Oscillation" has shifted jet streams northward, and has trapped cold air up there since November. Good! I vote to enjoy it while we can and to walk around coatless, marveling at all the December blossoms.
The birds seem to be having an easy time and I have not yet started feeding them. So far, no winter robins have been driven to my door, no cardinals are waiting at the windows in the morning. But remember that polar vortex? I bet it won't be long until we are complaining about the cold and the view from my window looks like this -- snow in the background, not flowers. 
The easy weather made me think of  this poem by Robert Service called Courage:

Today I opened wide my eyes,
And stared with wonder and surprise, 
To see beneath November skies
An apple blossom peer:
Upon a branch as bleak as night
It gleamed exultant on my sight, 
A fairy beacon burning bright
Of hope and cheer. 

'Alas!' said I, 'poor foolish thing,
Have you mistaken this for Spring?
Behold, the thrush has taken wing, 
And Winter's near.'
Serene it seemed to lift its head;
'The Winter's wrath I do not dread, 
Because I am,' it proudly said,
'A Pioneer.

'Some apple blossom must be first,
With beauty's urgency to burst 
Into a world for joy athirst,
And so I dare;
And I shall see what none shall see -- 
December skies gloom over me,
And mock them with my April glee,
And fearless fare. 

'And I shall hear what none shall hear --
The hardy robin piping clear,
The Storm King gallop dark and drear
Across the sky;
And I shall know what none shall know -- 
The silent kisses of the snow,
The Christmas candles' silver glow,
Before I die.

'Then from your frost-gemmed window pane
One morning you will look in vain,
My smile of delicate disdain
No more to see;
But though I pass before my time,
And perish in the grale and grime, 
Maybe you'll have a little rhyme
To spare for me.' 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Breakfast Flock

In Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach wrote about a gull that "... was not bone and feather but a perfect idea of freedom and flight, limited by nothing at all."
I watched a flock of gulls dashing and darting at the outflow of an open watergate, feeding  on something in the roiling water. 
I couldn't make out what is was -- looked wormy. 
But check out the flashy flying!  
Made me think of J. L. Seagull.
Click to enlarge.