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Sunday, April 9, 2017

A Spring Day

I saw this American robin with wings stretched out soaking up sun in the park. My camera click disturbed him  and he folded up and flew away. It was a great day to appreciate spring with blue sky, warm sunlight, and soft breezes reminding me of this poem by Billy Collins. (Click the photo to enlarge.) 
Today

If ever there were a spring day so perfect, 
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw 
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,
indeed, to rip the little door from its jamb, 

a day when the cool brick paths 
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants 
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

And here's a picture of my neighborhood to prove it! A path to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with the skyline of lower Manhattan across the East River. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Bird Fight!

There's a bird in this photo. Look at the end of the horizontal pipe near the top. That pipe holds cables that suspend another traffic light over the roadway. Click to enlarge.
These are favorite spots for New York City's house sparrows (Passer domesticus) to build nests. I see birds coming and going from the ends of these pipes all over town. There is room for two nests, one on each end. The male sparrows fight to claim and keep them.
The urban bird house.
As I was passing this spot today, a pair of male sparrows fell onto the road -- fighting with wings, beaks, and claws. The next moment I realized a car was coming right at them. I had a second only to hope they would break off and fly away as city-birds-on-the-road usually do. But they didn't! The car ran right over them! Whatever I yelled was lost in New York's noise. Then the car passed and there the birds were on the road -- still fighting! It was their good luck to fall exactly in the center of the roadway so the car passed without hurting them. They did break off and fly away then, one doing evasive maneuvers and the other in pursuit. I have no pictures because it happened too fast, just a story. But geez birds. Don't fight in traffic!

Monday, March 27, 2017

March Wind

This immature peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) with feathers ruffled by the wind reminds me that I am cold, ruffled by wind, and increasingly impatient for warmer weather. We are in that time Charles Dickens described in Great Expectation as "those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold; when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade." Click to enlarge. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Equinox Eve

Tonight is the last night of winter! Doubtless these two raccoons I saw sitting in a tree last week looking down on snow-covered Central Park in New York City, will welcome the warmer season. Here's my favorite welcome spring poem. Click to enlarge.
When the Hounds of Spring

by Algernon Charles Swinburne

For winter's rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover, 
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remember'd is grief forgotten,

And frosts are slain and flowers begotten, 

And in the green underwood and over 
          Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Almost Spring

This is how it was around here last week -- all insects in crocus blossoms and the tossing off of overcoats. Click to enlarge. 
The birds were singing and making plans. This robin looks particularly ready and eager. 
But instead of more of this...
This again!
On Tuesday Philadelphia and New York City are expecting as much as a foot of snow, and possibly more. This calls for a poem. 

While yet we wait for spring, And from the dry 

by Robert Seymour Bridges

While yet we wait for spring, and from the dry
And blackening east that so embitters March,
Well-housed must watch grey fields and meadows parch,
And driven dust and withering snowflake fly;
Already in glimpses of the tarnish'd sky
The sun is warm and beckons to the larch,
And where the coverts hazels interarch
Their tassell'd twigs, fair beds of primrose lie.
Beneath the crisp and wintry carpet hid
A million buds but stay their blossoming;
And trustful birds have built their nests amid
The shuddering boughs, and only wait to sing 
Till one soft shower from the south shall bid,
And hither tempt the pilgrim steps of spring. 


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Nest Shopping

Nesting season has begun in New York City. This picture of a pair of European house sparrows, Passer domesticus, shows off the adaptability that helps theses birds live among humans so successfully. They'll make nests in natural cavities like holes in tree trunks, but also will readily move into man-made spaces like the hollow pipe the female on the right is sitting inside. The pipe holds cables that suspend a traffic light over Broadway in Manhattan. All over the city, males like the one on the left are defending traffic light cavities just like this one, and fights among males often break out around the streetlights in early spring. Females sparrows visit while the male nest-owner chirps and hops nearby, hoping a female will move in. This female looks pretty comfortable and might be thinking of how to decorate the interior with grass and fluff to make it a perfect dream nest. Looks like a match has been made. Click to enlarge. 
Meanwhile, in Central Park, this European starling, Sterna vulgaris,  has found a very nice natural cavity. Before long all the nest-worthy spots in the city will be full of cheeping nestlings. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Tufted Titmouse

I saw this tufted titmouse, Baeolophus bicolor, in Central Park on one of those spring-like days last week. Cute, right? It was picking up seeds someone had left on the ground. Click to enlarge. 

The bird preferentially selected sunflower seeds, like the one it's holding in this picture. How to open a sunflower seed if you're a titmouse? The same way a blue jay does it: fly away to a branch, hold the nut in both feet  and jab it with your beak until it breaks. 
Oh. And don't stop too long to watch the photographer. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Happy Washington's Birthday!

Just a gull sitting in a sun-warmed footprint in the sand on the beach at Coney Island in Brooklyn. Like us humans, the birds seemed to be enjoying the unseasonably warm weekend. Click to enlarge. 
Enjoy the holiday! 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Parti-colored Starling

Only kidding. It's so cold and rainy outside that I spent most of it sitting in a comfortable chair playing games and some of it creating imaginary birds with Photoshop from my archive of bird images. Click to enlarge. 
Here's another. I call it a green-belted hawk. 
How about a pink-winged mockingbird? 
Or a blue-breasted robin. Had enough? Here's a bird poem instead. 

A Bird Came Down the Walk 
by Emily Dikinson

A bird came down the walk:
He did not know I saw; 
He bit an angle-worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw.

And then he drank a dew
From a convenient grass,
And then hopped sidewise to the wall
To let a beetle pass.

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all abroad,- 
They looked like frightened beads, I thought; 
He stirred his velvet head

Like one in danger; cautious,
I offered him a crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home

Than oars divide the ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or butterflies, off banks of noon,
Leap, splashless, as they swim.


And this is what the birds above really look like: 

European Starling -- Sturnus vulgaris

Red-tailed hawk -- Buteo jamaicensis
Northern Mockingbird -- Mimus polyglottos
American Robin -- Turdus migratorius

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Duck Brush

Freezing temperatures and a head cold have kept me indoors for a few days. I spent some of that time learning how to make a Photoshop tool called a brush. I started with this photo of a mandarin duck (Aix galericulata) that I took on a warm autumn day at the Prospect Park Zoo last year. 
The Photoshop steps are simple: open the jpg in Photoshop and select Layer Style from the Layer pull down menu. Select Blending Options and use the slider to remove the background, then delete any bits of background that remain with the eraser tool. Before making it a brush, reduce the size with Image Size option on the Image pull down menu. Then select Define Brush Preset from the Edit pull down menu. Voila! A duck brush is born. I'm using Photoshop CS5. 
Once it is in your brush library you can paint with it. To produce two shadowy ducks on black, for instance. Click to enlarge. 
Or pick a color and dab a few rows of ducks. 
Overlay it with a pattern. 
Paint it a warm brown and add some marsh grass. 
Put a few on a colorful background. Or anything else you can think of.  I am looking forward to warmer weather when I can go outside and watch real ducks. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Happy Lunar New Year!

New York City is full of special urban wildlife this week for the Lunar New Year.  There are lions and roosters all over town, and drums and cymbals, confetti and sparklers. The lions above are toys, but large versions are dancing in the streets of the New York Chinatowns. 
Here's a pair of lion dancers crouching in the crowded street. 
Here's a scary one. 
This one was tame enough that when he got close I was able to pet him. 
And I saw a couple of cubs! 
And then there were the roosters. Goodbye Year of the Monkey,  hello 2017 -- Year of the Rooster! Click on the photos to enlarge. 
Roosters everywhere you look. 
Here's one with his own bucket of rice. Happy New Year! 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Winter Flowers

Flowers are blooming right now in a park near my home in Brooklyn. These winter and early spring bloomers are called Lenten Roses, Winter Roses, Hellebores (for their scientific genus Helleborus), and more. They are not really roses, but rather evergreen perennial plants cold tolerant enough to pop up from under the snow like the one in the photo above. Click to enlarge. 
The flowers start cup-shaped and nodding like this. They also come in green, purple, yellow, and pink. 
Except for one Chinese species, the hellebores are native to Europe. They are toxic and have been used medicinally since ancient times -- but please don't try that. They also have been used for some eyebrow raising things by the magically inclined -- for instance, in potions that help witches fly and powders that promote invisibility.
It's nice to see them on this grey weekend -- 56 days from the start of spring. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

January Sun

I saw this pigeon napping in the sun today on a south facing lawn protected from the wind. It was still pretty cold in Brooklyn, about 34 degrees F (that's 1 degree C), but yesterday's snow was melting fast and the little bit of warmth felt good.  
These two robins were part of a winter flock of about a dozen down by the East River, all puffed up and facing south -- soaking up the rays. Click to enlarge. 
And this ring-billed gull stood still on a post. No wind. No snow. Warm sun.  
Manhattan across the river -- undoubtably full, too, of creatures appreciating the warm winter sun.