Sunday, April 17, 2016

Richmond County

     I can now say I have officially explored all 5 boroughs of NYC after today. In recent times I became a member of NYC Audubon and one of the perks are member discounts on walks and trips. So I took advantage of a trip led by an Audubon Naturalist and Park employee out in High Rock Park, a park that is part of the Staten Island Greenbelt.
     It involved a ferry ride from lower Manhattan and a bus that took us to the park where we began our hike. The ferry provided some good looks at some notable NYC landmarks and some birds, including greater black-back, ring-billed, herring, and laughing gulls, double crested cormorant, brant, and a red-throated loon.
     Upon arriving at the park, we took to the trail, where trees towered over us, jays made their presence known, and the warmth of the sun soon had us shedding our layers on the most beautiful day we have had in quite some time! It was a really great trip, even without a huge amount of bird diversity it was absolutely great to walk in these woods and learn about local plants and other fauna we came across.
Enjoy the sights...
You can get really great views of the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry for free, 1/2 hour one way and then you can simply ride back or explore Staten Island, as we then did.
I was happy to spot this wood duck, originally just the male, others spotted the female. They are ducks you never get sick of seeing. Ever.
The park had lots of small ponds, some permanent, some vernal, which is great in supporting frog species like peepers, wood frogs, and gray tree frogs. We heard gray tree frogs while we ate lunch.
This could have been a nice picture if someones plastic trash was not photo bombing.
We saw two species of NATIVE turtle, Eastern Painted Turtles like this guy were everywhere! What a lovely thing to see, plentiful painteds, no sliders!
This painted turtle is male, you can tell by his long front claws, he uses these to wave in the faces of females that he fancies when it is time to breed. I don't know how this is attractive and not annoying to females, but it seems to float their boat. In June it is common to see turtles wondering beyond the pond, usually females looking for a suitable place to lay their eggs.
We also saw a common snapper, nice and large on a different pond.
Wood ducks are just at home on land as they are in water. They are perching ducks, they nest and perch in trees. Their young follow mom out of the nest and fall (and bounce) to the ground where they continue to follow her to the water.
Surely a great day to be a turtle!
I learned that this is trout lily, they were coming up, but none had flowers. We learned in other locations are NYC they had already bloomed, these seem to have not yet gotten to that point.
A few paces later, I found one blooming, pretty little thing it is!
I learned that this is trillium, that bud in the middle will soon be a flower!
A downy woodpecker landed close to us as we settled for a lunch break.
In addition to downy, we also saw hairy, red-bellied, and heard N. Flicker- no pileateds today, Staten Island is the only borough in NYC that has pileated woodpeckers.
I was pretty happy our guide was into looking for more than just birds, he also looked for salamanders. This involves turning over logs and taking a peek underneath,
I LOVE looking under logs. When I was a kid, my favorite thing to do was to (every day) go into the back yard and my parents used wood beams to border garden areas and I would lift and look under them daily. Picking up potato bugs (as I called them, also called sow bugs- a type of isopod), playing with millipedes, digging worms, and always looking for toads. My dad told me that he saw toads in our yard when we first moved there. I never found a toad but I looked back in our yard for them and all sort of crawly things every day. So, looking under logs, getting soil under my finger nails, and finding critters makes me so happy and reminds me of being a kid.
I lucked out and turned over a piece of branch to find this teeeeneh tinneh behbeh salamander, a "lead-back" color phase of the red-backed salamander. Also in the process of regenerating its tail!
(Please ignore the dry skin that reveals my man-hands)
Just to give you some scale on how little this guy was- super cute! Probably my most favorite part of the day, I also got soil stains on my knees, that's when you know you had a good day!
We did find one adult red-backed salamander hiding under a huge log. These are lungless salamanders of the family plethodontidae, as their family name suggests, they lack lungs. They conduct gas exchange through their skin, which requires they live in a moist habitat-- like that found under logs, rocks, and leaf litter. 
Our trip concluded with finding this guy, which really made me happy. I love seeing herps (reptiles & amphibians) just as much as I love seeing birds, or any other animal for that matter.
To learn more about other trips with NYC Audubon, check out their website. I plan to go on more of their walks myself as my time allows, but look forward to discovering new places in taking such trips!