Woodpecker in the city

While I was waiting for the bus, this little birdie showed up. Clearly the image quality from my phone can’t match my regular camera, but it was worth a shot. I have seen many woodpeckers in the parks of NYC, but very few by the highway in the middle of the city. Ignorant me often forgets animals don’t follow human boundaries.

She was eagerly circling and testing the bark, her head going back and forth constantly.

It amazes me that birds like woodpeckers developed traits protecting their brains from injury. A human hitting his head with that speed on a tree would end up with a concussion and brain damage.

These few minutes passed quickly, as the bus approached I had to say my goodbyes. Till next time woodpecker!

Walk on the beach

Walking on the beach you may notice transparent spheres, thinking that you encountered jellyfish that washed ashore. Afraid, you may be scared to touch them, taking that you may get stung. No worries, you are perfectly safe. You have met harmless salps, planktonic tunicates with a dorsal nerve cord, making them much closely related to us than to jellyfish.

Salps have been washing on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean for some time now. They feed on plankton, and routinely break away from their colony. Salps are known to form giant colonies, one attached to another in a chain, but like any chain pieces can break away. With strong currents and winds, they drift all over the Ocean, ending on our beaches.

They are beautiful to look at. If you look closely, you will see their nerve cord and other internal parts. They play an important role in the carbon dioxide flux, and are a food source for many species of fish. With about 45 species inhabiting our oceans, salps are critical to the oceanic food chain and our atmosphere.

Far Rockaways Beach is also home to American Oystercatcher. As their name suggests, they are one of the few birds capable of opening the hard shells of oysters and clams. They have a very characteristic red beak and red eyering.

Many of the American Oystercatchers nest on the New York beaches. It is not something we think of when we go to the beach. It was not something I thought of for years, mainly because I have never seen nesting birds on beaches I went too. Thus, as I was walking on the beach, I realized that even if we collect all of the garbage we bring to the beach, the foot traffic alone, blankets, and digging in the sand, that is enough to make a huge impact on the bird populations.

Everything around us serves a purpose, and nature learns to adapt every day.

From plants that can live in the sand…

…to birds hiding in their shadows.

Walk on the Fire Island

Today’s weather and lack of a tripod were not friends to my amateur photography. Visibility was very low, due to fog and cloudiness. At times I you could see only several feet ahead.

Luckily, the weather conditions got little better as the Sun started to set.

Apparently, finding birds in this weather created a challenge number two. Even deer would hide behind the tall grasses.

Once in a while you could hear bird chirping, but since the area is full of tall grasses and bushes, spotting a bird was like wining a lottery, far and between. Walking pedestrians with dogs and children were not helping the situation.

On the bright side, tree swallows flew vigorously around the benches near the walking path. Photographing them in the shadows gave them some extra mystery…

…and secrecy.

As I walked down the path, a quacking duck, looking for a mate gave me some hope there will be birds eventually.

As I am learning how to take better photographs, I am trying to pay more attention to the background, where the birds are looking, and what’s around them. For animals that are gone in seconds, that can be challenging.

Thus, various sparrows can make interesting subjects to figure out how to position yourself in relation to the birds.

At times they will pose for more than 30 seconds, moving their heads back and forth, giving me time to adjust the focus….

…and snap another image.

I think this American robin was also contemplating, why can’t he have his privacy.

Luckily, I consider ever bird excursion successful if I see a cardinal. Their bright colors make up for some of the failures of the day.

To make it even nicer, a second one gave me a little concert, at least that’s what I took it as. I am sure he found his true soulmate afterwards.

In the short bushes, a gray catbird was making some funny noises, some sounding like harsh meowing, thus its name.

Once you are on the Fire Island, you cannot miss red-winged blackbirds. They can be quite territorial, and I have seen them chasing after Ospreys and people. That can be justified, as they often guard multiple nests. They can be spotted on tops trees and in tall grasses.

Or they can be spotted running on the parking lot.

Tall grasses and marshes are a heaven for birds. Their protection is imperative to bird survival, but also many other animals take shelter in these regions. Thus, swamp drying for construction can have devastating effects on the entire ecosystem.

I cannot capture birds in flight well, this requires a fast shutter camera, but sometimes I get slightly lucky. Bird flight is fascinating, and one of the skills I wish I had.

Walking off the path, you can enter the beach. Right before I made the turn, I snapped a picture of the lighthouse, even that is barely visible in the fog.

Meanwhile, by the ocean seagulls were having a feast during the high tide.

Trying their luck in all kinds of places. In many place in the world, seagulls can be quite audacious. I forgive them, they have been living on the beach far longer than we humans.

Seagulls constantly take feeding trips over the shore, trying to spot fish and other marine animals.

Sandpipers are some of the cutest birds that you can see on the beaches of New York. The speed with which they move, and the flocking flight make them very entertaining to watch. It is like watching extremely energetic toddlers running back and forth, you do not know which way they will turn next.

Piping plowers are also beach dwellers, equipped with tiny beaks.

Till next time Fire Island. I hope I will be able to return to see the horseshoe crabs in June.

Succulent project

On a rainy Saturday, I decided to try something new. My fish were upgraded to a larger tank months ago, and this was my emergency tank taking the space behind the couch. It had no purpose.

I tried to follow tutorials on how to set it up, and I’m sure I made many rookie mistakes. Since I had no mesh to separate the stones form the earth, I repurposed an old petticoat I wore to a themed graduation party years ago. I added some activated charcoal, one advantage of having a fish tank and extra filters, succulent soil, some pebbles and voilà!

I got Haworthia, Echeveria, Gasteria, and other succulents I don’t know the names of.

I think my parents inspired me with all of their gardening. I felt compelled to participate as well. Sadly, I don’t own a garden, so terrarium had to do.

I have a small fascination with succulents and cacti. They have their own rules. I’m on a small mission to learn more about their needs. Major advantage, cats don’t care much about them, so I don’t have to worry they will be tasted or robbed of their leaves. Still, they have been secured with a top cover, as I know plants related to aloe can be toxic to felines.

New York City at sunset

One advantage of living in a tall building is being able to witness beautiful sunsets. If you look carefully, you can spot the Empire State Building standing tall among the skyscrapers.

In the depths of lower Manhattan, the Freedom Tower reminds us that there is hope. In the past week, the Freedom Tower was hit by a powerful lightning. Thunder strike was heard miles away, waking up many New Yorkers, including me. I have ever heard a thunder this loud in my lifetime.

Ospreys at the Oyster Bay Wildlife Refuge

Ospreys, Pandion haliaetus, are some of the bigger birds migrating to Long Island during their breeding season. In 1960s, ospreys were listed as endangered. One of the many victims of the extensive use of DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), one of the first synthetic insecticides used in agriculture. DDT directly did not kill most birds, however it led to thin and fragile egg shells, preventing hatching of millions of birds over the years. Although DTT was banned, its effects are still present in many areas of the United Stated and beyond.

Due to extensive preservation efforts, in 1999 ospreys’ status was downgraded to “Special concern,” which still strongly suggests that their battle for survival is not over.

As you enter the Oyster Bay Wildlife Refuge, ospreys will hover around the bay looking for food for their chicks. Ospreys in flight look majestic and free.

Due to habitat destruction, ospreys struggle to find safe nesting spaces. Their preference for high, solitary posts makes them prone to populate electricity poles, what is not only dangerous to the ospreys, but also to the residents. The electricity companies routinely relocate osprey’s nests. I cannot speak of the practice, nor its success, but a clear human vs nature situation emerged. In an effort to aid the situation, many artificial platforms were created in the area to serve as nesting spots.

The platforms I have seen are used extensively. All the ones I have seen were occupied by hungry chicks.

Many osprey nests are monitored with live webcams. As most nests are located very high off the ground, a good visual from the ground without binoculars is usually not possible.

This family chose a stadium light for its nesting location. Likely because the lights were taller than the man made nesting spots, or simply due to lack of other nesting locations.

Their ruffled feathers are a good indicator of the windy conditions.

As more ospreys repopulate the area, this issue will prevail. Rapid urbanization and swamp drying for construction in many of their breeding grounds, will further put many osprey families at risk for nest relocation.

Osprey parents are not taking their parental roles lightly. They have to constantly feed their chicks. You can spot a parent osprey on the nest for a few minutes, for it to be gone to look for more food. Constant back and forth. Their chicks are growing fast and demand an extensive time commitment to feed them. You can hear the chicks calling for food from a far distance.

An interesting part of ospreys’ anatomy are their feet. Contrary to other hawks, ospreys have zygodactyl feet, where 2 toes face forward and 2 toes face backwards. As a bonus, one toe can move forward when needed. This adaptation allows them to more easily catch slippery fish and grasp objects. A trait their share with owls and woodpeckers.

You an help preserve ospreys with simple tasks. Collect your trash when you go the the beach, ospreys and other birds are known to collect shiny plastic. Conserve water and use less plastic. You can start taking metal utensils to work.

Other birds will benefit from your efforts as they all share the same habitat.

Life stages of Seurat 🐈‍⬛

It all started with Nala. She was a cat mama I fostered over a year ago. Her litter of 6 was born the night of my birthday.

The rescue I volunteer with, likes to name kitten using themes. Thus, kittens were named after famous painters, Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Seurat. For days I couldn’t keep their names straight as 1 was calico, 2 were black and 2 were tabby. Sadly, 1 black kitten did not make it. The momma cat must have felt something was wrong, as I found it dead the next morning.

Nala with her litter.

Small kittens are very quickly adopted. They are cute and who can say no to a kitten. Well, many black cats aren’t as lucky. Many superstitions attached to their beautiful fur coat, makes black cats the most vulnerable to abuse, much more likely to end up in the shelter, and less likely for adoption.

Seurat was one of them. A black kitten with blue eyes and a white neck patch, also called a “kiss of an angel” which is likely a remnant of artificial selection during the Middle Ages. Europeans used to believe that black cats were an accessory to evil, a witch’s trick. Many would burn at stakes together with hundreds of innocent women. However, cats with a white patch were spared. Unfortunately, many such ideas persisted in modern society.

Seurat was the hardest kitten to photograph. Constantly moving, easily distracted, and always ready to play. His fur color did not make it easier. Even cameras are biased for black kittens.

He would start knitting very early, making me know he was happy and content.

Seurat is a claw master. Since kittenhood, his claws were needle sharp and regardless of all my attempts at making sure she gets used to nail trims, I failed miserably. Even today it is a circus.

As I look back at the images, I think she likes to display her claws for admiration. If the Wolverine needed a double, she would be a perfect candidate.

Kittens tend to grow at a slower pace than most dogs. Seurat took that into heart. Since she was about 7 months old, there was very little additional height added.

There is a period in the life of kittens, when they remind me of teenagers. They grow in bursts, looking slightly awkward. Long slender bodies, but a kitten head. They would be tiny and out of nowhere they would double in size.

Seurat is obsessed with toys that have feathers. At first it was a fascination, but as she grew any toy that had feathers would be destroyed in minutes. I had to stop buying then, as she would eat every bit of it.

There were also many cute moments. For example, she would fall asleep on my chest or when she wild fall asleep by my computer.

Or got into all kinds of trouble. That usually involves lots of paper and plants.

From very early age, Seurat was the dominant cat. She would sit on the highest cat tower shelf and would hiss at intruders. Definitely not the nicest attitude.

As time went by, she became a part of the family.

She bonded very strongly with my other cat Cooper. They both share adventurous souls.

Today, Seurat reminds a tiny cat with a BIG attitude. Little diva. She’s sweet and kind, as long as you aren’t trimming her nails or taking away her food or feathered toys, then a little monster emerges.

I know she is safe with me, and I cannot imagine it any other way.

Foster if you can. Always adopt your pets. Never buy animals from breeders.

Before and after

Two weeks after a successful relocation to the lab, my tree looks alive again. No magic involved, only some felines couldn’t get enough of its bright new leaves.

I think cats behave like goats. Once in a while, they nibble on anything green. Thus, it’s imperative to keep only cat safe plants, even if your cat has never eaten any plants before.

All cat owners should say goodbye to lilies, azaleas, rhododendrons, dumb cane, and many others. However, special attention should be paid to lilies, as their pollen alone can kill your cat. Surprisingly, for animals that nibble so much on green plants, they can be poisoned by most house plants.

Fortunately there are options. Roses without thorns, orchids, many succulents, and several other beautiful plants.

I can only speculate to the reason why so many plants can kill my cats. This could be an evolutionary remnant, as cats evolved on the desert. Or plants evolved to protect themselves from being eaten by producing poisons. I’m sure somebody has answered that already.

2022-08-07

My bonsai tree continues to impress. Leaves continue to multiply.

Early May at Jamaica Bay Park, Queens

After a winter break, I finally visited Jamaica Bay Park. It is a heaven for bird watchers all year round. It is full of tree swallows. Their wooden nesting boxes are always occupied.

Tree swallow.

Tree swallows are always on guard, constantly watching and patrolling their nests.

There is something distinguished about their posture, head up and chest forward.

You can often see them stretching their wings with extreme flexibility. Their feathers remind me of origami and the myriad of shapes they can take.

Yellow warblers, are very brightly yellow and fluffy. They hop from branch to branch at extreme speeds. Males have black eye and small beak. Surprisingly, they blend it very well with the trees, as their back feathers are yellow-green.

A trip to Jamaica Bay cannot be considered successful without capturing a cardinal.

I still have lots to learn to distinguish different species of sparrows. This one is likely American tree sparrow.

Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) flies to Northern parts of the United States during its breeding season. Surprisingly, this one decided to have a peak out of the bushes.

Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), a master of sounds. They can imitate many sounds and other birds. Hearing a mocking bird sing is always a surprise, as you cannot predict what will you hear next.

Mute swans are majestic birds. There is some kind of mystery and elegance in their poses. Many people disagree, as swans are loud and are not easily scared. For me, part of their charm stems from my childhood memories and sentiment to European birds. In my childhood literature, swans played many central roles.

One cannot forget about the grasses. They play a myriad of vital roles for many species of birds and represent an important piece of their habitat.

American robin stole the show.

Wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) amazed me with its belly pattern. I am surprised that I spotted him among such heavy vegetation.

In a more secluded part of the park, I spotted a few yellow-rumped warblers (Setophaga coronata).

Downy woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) also made it to the gallery.

There are also chipmunks.

And bumblebees feeding off spring flowers.

Osprey chick. Its head is barely visible from the nest, while he anxiously wait for his/her dinner. Large birds of prey, fish-lovers.

Till next time Jamaica Bay Park.