Saturday, November 04, 2006

Flying Before The Storm

It started quite innocuously. My daughter and I standing in the dining room, involved in a domestic task for the evening. Suddenly, my head by the air cleaner as I wipe something down, she says, "Mom! Mom! I just heard an owl and something big just flew by the window. I'd heard nothing with the whir of the machine in my ear but I look out the terrace door. I really look and I see...The moon. It's clear as can be but the temperature has dropped and didn't the weather report say something about rain? And if Sam heard an owl the birds are definitely on the move.
No pictures of birds when it's this dark but yes, what about a few of that moon before it goes behind a building. I grab the equipment. Where is my jacket? What about my gloves I haven't used them since last winter. Finally all the errant items accounted for and settled, I look into the scope and THERE ARE BIRDS FLYING PAST THE FACE OF THE MOON! Oh, I've got to get this. Set the timer, click, readjust for we are moving and so is the moon. Set the timer click, adjust. Set the timer, click, adjust. Set the timer, click, adjust.

Images of moon,

after moon,

After luminous moon.

Two hundred and fifty three of them in fact. And though my eye catches the birds racing the storm the camera does not.

Then she begins to set behind that building I was worried about.

The moon is gone. What now?

Just what are those tiny points of light anyway?

I don't know it then, but one of them is a little green orb, a moon, a planet, a what? Why, a celestial body of course.

A good word Celestial, it has a fine feel in the mouth.

And while I watch the tiny lights, the moon sails out from behind the building and then once again I search for wings.

Now, besides the wind and increasing cold, the clouds scud by. No more birds seen flying before the storm across the moon's face. For now she darkens with the ever increasing clouds. Soon she is nothing more than a glow in a sky of milky white. And the birds have won the race I hope. I do so hope they fly through skies where there are stars still to be seen. And stars to see by. The stars, that shimmering celestial map sparkling down on their feathers, guiding them on their way.

Donegal Browne

Friday, November 03, 2006

Mrs. Hermit Thrush Decides To Walk


I'd been trying over and over to get a clear picture of her, without much success as you can see. She'd fly across the Bird Park to the stand of grasses and I'd stealthily walk around the outside of the fence trying to poke the lens of the camera through the "right" hole in the chain links. Just about the time I'd about got her in frame, she'd fly to the other side and gobble some "red" berries off the evergreen. I'd head that way and off she'd go again. She was almost as bad as the Juncos.

Then suddenly she was just there, standing on the sidewalk.

She gave me a look, cocked her tail, flicked her wings, and

trotted briskly, tail still perked, across the street to the curb dividing the two ramps.

Handily, she hopped up, began to walk down the median,

and once past the dividing wall, Mrs. Thrush looked both ways, proceeded across the second street, walked through the fence, and onto the grass inside the traffic circle. Truthfully she appeared quite full of purpose.

Then suddenly gone, lost to sight when a bus came rumbling by.
Goodness. I do hope she isn't planning on walking all the way to Guatemala.

A Nod to Halloween and Scary Stuff in General

Halloween photos a bit lower down the blog but first, my current scary experience-

This would have been "Flying Before The Storm". I'd hoped to post some photos of the migrating birds flying across the face of the moon as they raced to beat the storm and cold temperatures coming in tonight.

But, after taking 250 and some pictures on that project...I can't seem to get the photos to download.

I'd say on to a lighter note but, well, you'll see.

Quess who, at the Village Halloween Parade?

...and a friend she found along the march.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A nod to Halloween, Woodpeckers, and HKNA

As the nod to Halloween photo refuses to load, we'll just go to Woodpeckers.

First find the Woodpecker, then guess which species it is.

Not easy through the fence, is it?

Which brings up the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association, the holder of the lease to the Bird Park, and the response to a reader's comment that I wrote and then was eaten by blogger. I'll give it another try.

By the way guys, come on, how about some names, even some fake names, so I can get to know you and call you something besides Anonymous. How hard can it be to get a name on the comment form? Actually now that I think about it, it took Eleanor weeks to make it work. At any rate, one of the Anonymouses or Anonymoi wrote,

Who runs the neighborhood association? Sounds like they need to be booted out at an election. Tell me they are elected...

Well, yes and no. According to my understanding, anyone who lives within the boundaries of Hell's Kitchen may join the newly made non-profit, Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association. They may come to the general meetings and speak about any concerns they have...In theory.

At the last meeting, the timing of which was unfortunate as I had to be in Wisconsin putting my Mom in a nursing home, my 15 year-old daughter, who is very sweet, if I do say so myself, attempted to speak about the progress the Bird Park had been making within the community and ask about the mystery of the locked gate. According to report, she was interrupted, talked over, and lectured at, to the point that she sat down and wept for the rest of the meeting. So much for the power of the general membership and the community.

Now I'm sure the organization has done some good things. They fought the Westside Stadium and they're trying to get some relief for the neighborhood's intense traffic problems. Those are good things.

But when it comes down to it, decisions by the Association are made by The Board, in board meetings behind closed doors.

And sometimes the community doesn't even know what the issues are that the board is making decisions about or exactly why. The locked gate is a case in point.

As to being elected, yes, board members are elected to the board...By the other members of the already existing board. Which I would tend to think that as we're all human we elect people who we like and tend to agree with us or at the very least that such a structure may cause a certain feeling of insulation from the consequences of their decision making. Hence, no feeling that it was a duty or even a courtesy to give an official reason as to why the Bird Park was suddenly .......closed.

Now certain people have let out a rumor now and again about the big WHY. The first was that the neighbor who owns the adjacent building needed the bird park to be locked up because he was doing some construction on his building. When asked if that was the reason it was closed, he replied, "NO, I've always said the park could be cared for even if I did have construction to do. Hey. I'm locked out too."


Then a volunteer was told that the park needed to be "redesigned" into a community garden and if anyone would like to present a design to the board they were welcome to do so. When the volunteer said, "Aren't we from the community? Isn't it ALREADY a garden." The answer was receding footsteps.

Which is what brought up the question as to why nature might need a "redesign". Hasn't this gotten us in trouble in the past? Why the urge to whack great branches off a mature tree? Why the need to have tight control, to manicure, to cordon off little plots, when all the things nature does are there for a reason- for the good of the ecosystem.

Okay, people would like a path to walk on and a place to sit, fine. That's a good thing. People should have the opportunity to be part of the ecosystem But common place flower beds and mowing a lawn, at least for me , are a giant bore. And pretty much a bore for the birds except pigeons and Robins. And hey, there is provision for them. They can fly across the street to the Port Authority's traffic circle and use their lawn as we've yet to convince them to make that green space another bit of deciduous Forest in the city.

So if anyone out there is a Deciduous Woodland Garden Designer with a bent towards the nurturance of birds, which is the kind of green space the Bird Park actually is already how about helping out. Sure it could use some work on structural things such as an automatic watering system, a bird friendly fountain or water feature, a conversion of the wooden terraces that keep the topsoil from running down hill into those of stone, perhaps some more seating, we'd be more than glad to hear from you.

Hey, even if you aren't a Deciduous Woodland Garden Designer but feel a designing urge for native plants, as we need to work next (if and when we get in again) on the herbaceous level, let us hear from you. Just think, how about-Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Trillium, Dutchmans Breeches, Shooting Star and as we've Dogwoods surviving we might just have enough myocozial fungi to get Lady Slipper's going. Now wouldn't that be a coup?

By the way, the Bird Park has had many, many to date unseen species in the site these last few weeks, it's life list is growing by leaps and bounds, so something is working even if it has to do it under less than optimum circumstances. Thank goodness, we're not having all the drought of last season. And pray for rain, coming up.

Now back to the Woodpeckers-

Find the Downy Woodpecker.

There's a woodpecker. I know it doesn't really look all that much like a Downy, but I did see one fly from the bird park over to the trunk of that tree in the traffic circle. (See, wouldn't that make a great extention of woods...maybe a pedestrian walkway OVER the ramp...)

Now you might ask why I'm taking photos with a tiny digital camera instead of something with a real LENSES or even digiscoping. The answer, I have to be furtive. When necessary it's quick to go in a pocket. Remember that this traffic circle right across the ramp from the Bird Park is owned by the Port Authority too. as is the Bird Park. The ramp leads to a parking facility also owned by the Port Authority and the Port Authority is rather tense about terrorists photographing their stuff. Keep in mind that any one of the dozens and dozens of people who drive around the traffic circle daily could snap a whole roll while traversing the ramp without anyone being the wiser.

WELL, awhile back during the Monarch migration I thought I was going to be arrested for digiscoping butterflies. I'm standing on 40th St., scope pointed straight up into the air, frantic parrot on my shoulder, buses have begun to freak him out, and if I remember correctly wearing a white shirt in which one of the children who'd dropped by, and I'd lifted up for a look in the scope, had spilled a copious amount of grape soda on, when suddenly a police car screeches to a halt at the curb right in front of us.

I freeze, Quicksilver throws himself off my shoulder and starts hot footing it towards Ninth Ave. The Officer says in a scary voice,"What are you doing?" Then in the most buoyant enthusiastic nature lover voice I can muster, I say,"The Monarchs are migrating." While nearly dancing with "excitement", pointing at the sky, and attempting to retrieve Silver who's realized I'm not following him, there isn't anything handy to climb, so he'd better come back to where he started and climb me if necessary in order to get to higher ground.

The policeman says, "Monarchs", in a very dry way. I keeping up the enthusiasm, "Yes, yes, butterflies, Monarch Butterflies." He says, "Let's see the camera."

I'm thinking great, I've had this camera for a week and the cops are going to confiscate it because I'm suspected of being a terrorist. Yeah, right, get the little woman wearing the grape soda with the crazy bird, who's begun saying, "Wanna watch TV", wanna watch TV, repeatedly., because it's one of his ways of communicating that he really wants to go home. I suddenly think, I really wouldn't mind going home and watching a litte TV myself.

Eventually I extricate the camera from the digiscoping attachment. Pick up the tripod, my bag, and the bird, cuz hey, you never know when someone is going to do a run by and grab something. Take it over to the police car and attempt to push the correct buttons to show them, that truly, all I have are expanses of sky with a teeny dot in them here or there. They look at it, they look at me, they look at the parrot who is now resorting to stage three wanting-to-go-home behavior-biting the hand that's holding his toes so he can't leap off it and start in the homeward direction on his own.

After a little lecture on the feelings of the Port about people photographing in their area, and a request to get lost. I do. Well, we do. And we go home and do what a lot of America does to feel different then they are feeling, lock the door and turn something mindless on the TV. Not that we prefer mindless, Silver and I, you understand, but often that's just all that's on.

I mean REALLY considering all this, whoever said birdwatching was for sissies?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Through the Bird Park Fence, It isn't easy keeping all the beer cans out of the pictures.

Beauty Berry

Does Nature need a redesign?

(If that question seems to be coming out of nowhere, see the comments section in the entry following this one. Also see that blog for information on how you can help save this small bird friendly ecosystem.)

Is there something wrong with a forest, a product of bijillion years of evolution, that we humans with our brief given span have the temerity to believe we can "improve"? Ask the birds.

The stone retaining wall that helps keep topsoil from running down the back slope. Someday, if the Woodland Garden is allowed to mature, there will be enough roots to do the job all on their own.

The Dogwood shoots rising from the bigger saplings have begun to show their fall colors.

For the most part the well rooted woody plants such as this Holly are still holding their own.

Here we go again. Find the White-throated Sparrow.

She's center, foraging in the leaves. Which the unenlightened have suggested were messy and therefore should be removed. But then where would all the leaf scratchers find food? We'd never see another Towhee. Though we might see a White-throat as this one seems to have unearthed a bit of Ritz cracker or the corner of a cookie.

Donegal Browne

Monday, October 30, 2006

And at first I thought it was only about Thrushes..

It was one of those days. Cold, windy, busy, and suddenly late in the day when I realize that there isn't a thing in the house for dinner. I grab my things and hightail it down the elevator and down the block, past the late sitters on the park benches resting on concrete next to some pots of foliage that in this neighborhood, represent a "green space", and trot into the grocery store.

At this point exactly what I'm getting isn't as much of an issue as just getting something that will cook fast. The cashier's line is long. I can't stop looking at my watch. Finally it's bagged and I'm out the door. While passing the concrete green space out of habit I check for birds though it's the farthest thing from my mind. There are the evening tweets of the House Sparrows, still foraging for crumbs. Wait a minute! Just what is that? It's a Hermit Thrush standing between the metal prongs of the street tree pit looking for some dinner.

She's a quiver, whether from cold or the excitement of the hunt I can't tell. She pauses, scratches vigorously with both feet, a cigarette butt flies through the air. Snap, she's gotten something in the debris. Just what is she eating?

Forget dinner I have to find out what's going on here. I chunk down the grocery bags, dig out my cell, and call my long suffering daughter in hopes she'll bring down my camera. Gosh, she isn't dressed. It will take too long. I grab up the groceries, back up the elevator, dump the bags, grab the camera, and I'm back to the tree pit.

Wahoo, she's still there. And still the same sequence, she stands aquiver, then scratches vigorously with both feet in the debris, and NAB! She's got a mouthful of something. I try creeping closer. She doesn't mind a bit. The sitters on the benches have begun to take notice of the crazy woman crawling across the sidewalk with the camera. I smile. They nod. We all look at the bird.

Then a dog comes too close, the owner oblivious, and the Thrush flushes towards the roof. It is quite dark; she hunted until the last moment. Up on the roof there are some trees in pots. Not the most hospitable environment for dinner and a bed for a bird. I hope she finds a place out of the wind to roost and rest before passing onward.

Now I can look at the spot in which she was hunting.

Is this a food source? Well it is to a very hungry, strong willed, and adaptive Hermit Thrush attempting to get on with migration, who's been benighted in New York City at 43rd and Ninth. She's making do, but somehow I wish we'd done better by her.

The next day, what do I see at the Hell's Kitchen Bird Park but, you quessed it, a Hermit Thrush. I can't help but think that she has it ever so much easier, safer, and without a doubt, a better food supply, than her cousin in the tree pit of the night before. And perhaps, just perhaps the Bird Park, this tiny little pocket full of forest, feels a little more like home.

The Hermit Thrush eyes the Boston Berries, a second later she jumps up and plucks one.

Trust me she's a beauty. Yes, the photo is on the blurry side, but you understand, everything must be photographed through the holes in the chain link fence . For no longer is the Hell's Kitchen Bird Park a haven for people 0r for birds. Suddenly a combination lock appeared on the gate. Volunteers arrived to care for the Bird Park and could not get in and neither could members of the community. The combination was a secret and suddenly the park was just...closed.

A sheet of typing paper appeared eventually, scotchtaped to the fence announcing the Bird Park would be closed until spring.


Voices asked,"Why?" Questions were asked and never answered. Emails flew off into cyberspace never to be heard from again.

The voices became quite worried. "But what about all the new transplants that will die without being watered? What about mulching the roses for winter? What about cleaning and refilling the baths for the birds who have come to depend on them for their only source of water? And even--what about sitting in peace having a coffee of a morning and watching the leaves turn their autumn colors? What about? What about? What about?

Rumors abound, but nothing official is said. Weeks pass, then a month, things begin to change.

Suddenly a food establishment up the street begins to drag their garbage from in front of their business to the sidewalk in front of the Bird Park. And why not?

No people inside the park as it's been locked up, full of old papers, cans, bottles, and half dead plants. It must be abandoned. So some of the homeless folk, having been denied public street facilities for the purpose, common in more civilized cities, urinate on it.

Trash begins to collect inside. Newspapers, plastic bags, old Bic lighters, broken bottles, and beer cans are tossed over the fence. The grape arbor falls over in a wind. As does the welcome sign...the plants need tending. The path fills with fallen branches and leaves. If there has been no rain in a day or two, the birds arrive for a drink and find nothing. They stand in the dirty bowls and look down. They pause. sometimes for quite a long while, and cock their heads. Thirsty, they fly off to search for water, and one hopes it isn't found in a gutter contaminated with motor oil or anti-freeze.
Should it be this way?

Or should it be like this?

Find the Hermit Thrush in the Woodland Garden.
This one is pretty easy. Do you see her yet?

There she is.

Help her keep this place to hunt, and eat, and rest in safety during the next migration and all the migrations to come.

Make a phone call. Write a letter or an email to the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association (HKNA) and get out that address book, send your friends the blog address so they might write one too.

Ask HKNA why the gate must be locked until Spring? And ask them why it's locked at all? Tell HKNA that people cherish having a corner of deciduous woodland in the middle of Hell's Kitchen. It lifts the spirits, it soothes the soul. Tell them that members of the community should be allowed inside to care for it. Tell them you see no reason why the canopy tree that protects all the other plants should be severely pruned so all is manicured and nature disciplined. That a park filled with ever mounting trash, dying plants, and a look of abandonment is bad for the neighborhood. And perhaps, just perhaps that having a place for our native birds to find their native foods and a fresh drink of water in this sea of concrete, is a life enriching experience not only for the birds but even more so for the beauty and hope it brings into our lives.

Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association
454 West 35th St.
New York, NY 10001
Tel. 212-501-2704

Remember what Thoreau said? "In wildness is the preservation of the world."

And remember what we learned during the crisis of Palemale's nest removal? Every single person who steps up to take action, makes a difference. So step up--and just do it. You'll feel better for it and so will the birds.

Donegal Browne

Eleanor Tauber Answers My Question

Round two concerning the elephants at Pete's Pond

Remember when I was wondering just what the female elephants were about to do with their trunks in regards to the little guy by Pete's Pond? It had occurred to me that perhaps they were helping him towards a drink of water. The thought also came to mind that they were perhaps hoping to "coax" him towards a bath.

Eleanor had the answer, she wrote:

The little guy in front is being gently guided to the pond to take a drink. Not only are the trunks of the ellies behind raised because they’re going to dip them in the pond soon for a drink, but also, the wee, very new ellies are constantly touched with affection by the pack — and for reassurance. If this little one decides to lie down in the water, trunks may be used to help lift him up and get him back up the incline to land when the pack is ready to leave.The very little ones can’t control their trunks. It’s funny to watch. After a few unsuccessful trunk dips where the water shoots out or never reaches their mouths, they dip their heads in the water!I watch this kind of thing daily at Pete’s Pond.

(By the way folks, Blogger has still got a glitch so postings may be sporatic. Seems to like elephant stuff just fine but has been balking at Kentaurian's celestial and my avian material. ??? Donegal)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Two days about Thrushes

This was going to be about the strange run-ins I've had with Thrushes in the last two days but Blogger must be swamped because it won't let me download any photos.

And what fun are Thrush stories without the blurry photos, right?

I'll give it one more try.

Nope, looks like it's going to be later.

You know, come to think of it. I just two minutes ago did elephants, how come no birds?


Elepants? Yes, elephants.

WEll, we had been taking about African creatures in the comments section so how about a shot off the webcam at Pete's Pond. Sent in my Eleanor Tauber who contributes so many wonderful photos to the blog.

Just what is going on with the little guy in the front? And why are the trunks of the two females closest to him raised?