Monday, June 24, 2013


Fireflies/lightning bugs- neither bug nor fly- they are part of the beetle family - Coleoptera, if you want to get fancy. They also produce neither fire or lightning. These are bioluminescent creatures, the light is cool, not warm and created through a chemical reaction. It's very neat stuff!
     Like a giddy 5 year old, I stepped out onto our (really) tiny terrace and noticed some glows happening down in my landlord's garden.... FIREFLIES! I literally went inside and out the front door to catch my first firefly of the year! I caught one very quickly and brought it in to hopefully put into a vessel, photograph, and let him go. Definitely a him- only the boys fly and light up, the ladies sit in grasses and bushes and glow. Anyway, of course, in typical 5-year old fashion he got away from me, he flew up and around my kitchen and I failed many times to capture him (you'd think this shouldn't be hard). I gave up and figured, oh well, he is out and hopefully the cat will not find him.
     When I was a kid, I always caught fireflies, rummaged through the recycling bin, grabbed a bottle, poked holes in the lid and filled it with some fireflies. Probably some very frustrated male fireflies who just got you-know-what-blocked by a little kid. Anyway, those frustrated fireflies escaped one night and I recall my mother saying that my jars were no longer permitted in the house, they'd have to stay outside. And this moment in my life is going through my head, as I am standing on chairs in the kitchen, trying to catch a firefly.
     Three hours later, I walk into the kitchen, and there he was, crawling up the wall. I caught him, got him into a tupperware, got my pictures and let him go. He gave me a glow as he went off into the night, perhaps a goodbye, or a firefly cuss of sorts for my failure in getting him stuck in my kitchen.
     Anyway, the fireflies are out here in the North East. Enjoy the show while it lasts, I absolutely love these little insects!
Male fireflies fly around signaling with their glow. Females wait and signal back to males. This is the firefly dating game. Although, there is another species of firefly that mimics the Eastern firefly, the guy above. The female of this other species mimics the light pattern of Eastern fireflies, lures the male in and turns him into dinner.
Fireflies themselves are predators of other insects. Fireflies themselves are actually toxic to most animals, as a keeper of reptiles, these guys can be deadly if people feed them to their pet lizards, turtles, and frogs.
If fireflies were not a part of your childhood, come on over to the New York and live it up!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

One Happy Spider

If you look closely... reeeeally close, someone has taken residence between the basil and lavender.
     Not going to lie, I have been exhausted lately. Camp has started up at work and dang, those kids are full of energy! We also are doing a longer camp day than last year, so that also has been exhausting - this resulted in a weekend of napping and laying around, since the heat was on outside.
     I did walk out onto our (tiny) terrace, where I have all my herbs growing and noticed a perfect little orb web with a tiny spider smack in the middle. He appears very happy, the pattern on his-- or her-- abdomen looks like a happy grin. I hope this spider makes itself comfy, I do love them and hope he catches all the mosquitoes that try getting into our home.
Do you see the happy grin? It also looks kind of like a kitty face.
Spider silk is one of the strongest materials on Earth. Scientists are always experimenting with it or trying to create their own version of spider silk material. Spider silk is pretty awesome and our attempt to create our own version is known as biomimicry, trying to recreate things that occur naturally. Learn more here!
Many people fear spiders, and all spiders are venomous, but most are harmless and all have zero interest in people. They hang out near us because their food (insects) is attracted to our gardens and homes. I used to fear spiders growing up, but once you learn about them and meet a few... and if you're lucky, keep a giant furry one as a pet for a few years, you learn to appreciate them. I had a rose-hair tarantula for a few years and owe it to a tarantula for getting me over my fear of spiders. 
Spiders have the ability to produce many different types of silk and different species of spiders use the silk in different ways. Ain't s/he a cute little thing?
Spiders are awesome, I hope people appreciate them for what they are and what they do for us in terms of pest control. Spiders are always welcome in our home, although sometimes they need rescuing and a relocation to the outdoors as our cat has an appetite for them. They really are amazing little creatures, though.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Back Home

A chipping sparrow in the golf course parking lot.
     It's Father's Day and I am so thankful for my dad, he fostered my love of animals and let me take what I love and really run with it. One of the things he allowed me to do, as I got older (around the time I was in Middle School) was to go to Eisenhower Park to photograph animals. He would give me his Kodak Advantix camera- the one where you could take panoramas- loaded with film and let me roam the park while he went for a run and we would meet up 40 minutes or so later when he was done. I would just go and take pictures of the horses at the mounted police barn, geese on the pond, squirrels that I would toss peanuts to, and really that was about it. I'd try to look for the hawk that flew around and would get super excited when I saw it. Then my dad would take the film with him to work and drop it off at the photo place and get it developed. There was something really exciting about seeing your photos after having to wait, as opposed to the instant digital world of cameras today. I remember him letting me do this so well, I felt like an explorer and he let me do these really nerdy things. And I loved it!
     So on this Father's Day I found myself in Eisenhower Park picking up my dad's gift - the man really loves golf, so I had to get him the most useful thing for him - a golfing gift card. On my way back to the car I got distracted by a baby cottontail rabbit and decided that a quick walk into the park wouldn't hurt.
     I went to the Veteran's Memorial and down to the pond, where I saw not a single trace of waterfowl, which kind of made me sad. What's pond without at least one goose or mallard? Well, I did still see some cool birds...

The robins were very charismatic. 

The weather has been good to the robins, all the rain we have gotten has brought up all the worms.
Saw a lot of killdeer across from the mounted unit barn.
This leggy bird looks like it belongs on the beach. They are part of the plower family (a type of shore bird) but these guys prefer grasslands/fields.
My hometown, East Meadow, was originally part of a plains ecosystem. The Hempstead Plains are mostly nonexistent. There are very few sparse patches left. Now the area is residential, suburban, typical Long Island.
The name "killdeer." comes from their call: "kill-dee-dee-dee-dee!" or "dee-dee-dee!" Listen here.

Killdeer have an interesting behavior when predators... or tall red headed humans are near. They feign injury by vocalizing and making a wing appear broken, they lay on the ground and tilt their bodies. They will then get up and walk only to do it once more. That's what this guy is doing. They must have a nest or young near by. These birds nest on the ground so this could be useful in luring predators away from their eggs and young.
Of course, once they lure you far enough away, they just fly away.
A seriously handsome bird.

And one scruffy song sparrow singing his little bird heart out.
     Eisenhower Park is definitely changing and has changed so much in the years that I have known it. A lot of things are being built and the park does not have a very natural feel. But, if you look close enough you might have some fun sightings. You would think that by leaving the city you would see more things, but I think Prospect Park in the middle of Brooklyn has more diversity than this suburban park. It was good to be home though. And of course, I visited the park twice today because in typical Father's Day fashion, we had to go hit some golf balls at the driving range. All in all, a very good day.
     For more information on Eisenhower Park, check out their website at:

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Caught Up

A double crested cormorant with its ice-blue eyes sits with a hook embedded in what would be equivalent to our wrist.
     It is so incredibly important for people to be aware of the things they may leave behind, trash-wise. Even accidentally leaving a small hook and bit of line behind can cause agony for the animal who encounters it.
     My husband and I went to Prospect Park with a mission of playing with a go-pro camera we are borrowing and just wanted to have some fun with. It had rained all day Friday, so we were totally excited for spending a lovely sunny day in the park.
     We rode our bikes over and hooked them up at the boat house. I was so excited because a double crested cormorant was just hanging out on the dock. As we got closer we saw that everyone was fairly upset because he was hooked in his left wing. I called an animal rescue place immediately, but they were so short-staffed and dealing with their own facility that they had no one to send (totally understandable, as I know they work hard daily). The park rangers told people they would come out tomorrow. This bird, according to the crowd has been hooked since yesterday. A man approached me and asked who I had called, we got into talking and I found out he managed the land for the Audubon Center (the boat house) and Leffert's Historic House. He was a really nice guy and after talking, we made a plan to get some nets, gloves, boxes, tape (in case we actually caught him), and to give this rescue a go. If we could catch him, that would be better than waiting till tomorrow. I snapped a few photos of the cormorant while waiting for the supplies to be gathered:
Cormorants are diving birds. From afar, they just appear a plain black bird with a snake-neck and funny webbed feet. Closer inspection reveals an absolutely stunning animal.
Double crested cormorants have no problem living in fresh, salt, or brackish water. As long as there are fish to eat, they are there. They are called double crested cormorants because of those tufts of feathers. A little girl came by with her family, and kept calling them ears -- well, her mother thought the cormorant was a peacock. I had some teacher time to explain why the cormorant was sitting so close (it's hurting/sick), what a cormorant is (not a peacock), and why it wouldn't come close to the girl who kept yelling "COME HERE, DUCKIE!" (because it is a wild animal, it sees you as bigger and scary - even though you aren't it thinks you are a predator - which immediately the girl crouched down and continued to yell - and I had to then explain that they also are not dumb, they know you are still bigger than it).
It's hard for a wild animal to understand you want to help. For the same reasons I told the little girl. We appear to be a predator, and in time of distress, this cormorant knows he is not on his A-game. I wish more people understood this, so that when they came by they wouldn't approach so close or yell and scream at it. It was a very teachable moment, we spoke to quite a few people and I hope that some people left understanding how much we can negatively impact a place just by being careless with trash.
The bird needed help, beyond just having the hook removed. He was limping and seemed painful on his left leg. Part of our plan of capture included handing him over to the local shelter where they have connections with wildlife rehabbers. These birds swim and dive using their legs to power themselves, a painful leg makes it hard to swim, so evading predation and catching food can be difficult.  
The cormorant sits holding it's left leg up. Birds will normally do this when at rest, holding one leg up, it's not just exclusive to flamingos. The rudder-like tail is still, making the ability to maneuver in the water a breeze for the average cormorant.
      I tried once to get him and the nets on hand were dip nets and butterfly nets, small and cumbersome, for a cormorant, but better than nothing. The bird dove into the water when the net came swinging, but in un-cormorant-like behavior, he jumped right back up on the dock about 15 feet away. Normally you'd expect a bird like that to dive, swim and pop up again, far off in the distance. For my second try I crouched and got within about 3-4 feet of him, I was very close. My husband slid me the net and the bird was gone. I should have just tried to pounce, after thinking about it. The bird went for a longer swim but still returned to the same dock. We sat and waited as a friend of mine was coming to assist us. In waiting, Animal Care & Control showed up. With two half hearted swings of his net and in less than 10 minutes time, he came and went. The bird still popped back up on the same dock, never retreating far. After Animal Control left, I sat, still waiting for my friend, who was now lost in the park.
     I was being patient, letting the bird take a breather and letting my friend arrive. Some random guy in the park thought he should take a try. I was trying to discourage him, because honestly, I think he was just trying to "be the hero." He grabbed a net and I told him that the nets are not good for this situation (actually the Animal Control guy had a GREAT net, and what a waste of his effort, I should have asked the Animal Control guy to do his job). I tried to tell him, that my friend and I have experience grabbing up birds and he really should just let the cormorant be for now. Of course, random park guy did not listen, picked up the net, and before you knew it, all you saw was a tail dip under the water. The random guy walked away awkwardly without saying anything further to us, he really angered me, but him walking away was the better thing for the bird and I. We sighted the cormorant a few times and then he was gone. We waited and he never returned. We figured at this point he probably went off into the lake.
     My friend finally arrived, after sending dropped pins on our phones, sending out a search team, and using triangulation techniques (okay, maybe we didn't do the last two things, but maybe we should have!), we all found each other. Since the cormorant was gone, which I felt, and still feel absolutely awful about, and it was my friends' birthday, I figured let's go on a mini birthday tour of Prospect Park. And so we went for a little walk, saw some birds, stuck our camera in the lake, into bushes and trees, anywhere. My husband was having fun with the little go-pro we are borrowing.
Pigeons are nesting below the bridge that spans the lullwater. Baby pigeons are so ugly, they are cute!
We watched some red eared sliders with this floating/bobbing log. One turtle was basking, while another turtle was trying to climb on. And in his climbing efforts made the whole log, plus the sitting turtle tumble over. Then the turtle would get on, and repeat the scenario. It was pretty funny.
Pollination in action! Bumble bees have a special section of their leg called the pollen bag, and this is where they collect pollen to bring back to the nest- guess how much pollen can be shoved into there....... go ahead, guess.......

1,000,000 pollen grains! If that doesn't impress you, well, then, I don't know what to say to that.
People often say that bumble bees don't sting because they don't have a stinger. Well, they can and do. If you reeeeeeally make them angry, which apparently takes a lot of harassing, compared to the honey bee. Unlike honey bee's though, which have a barbed stinger, and can only sting you once, the bumble bee stinger is not barbed, so they can sting you as many times as their little heart desires. All bees, hornets, and wasps - only females don a stinger. Because the stinger is a modified ovipositor. That means that it is the part of their body that helps them lay eggs, so you won't see males with a stinger, because anatomically, they are not equipped in that way.
House Sparrows and their swanky real estate, over looking the boathouse pond.
     We then parted ways with our friend and went to the other side of the lake. We saw a cormorant! He was swimming oddly close to shore, which made me think it could be him. I notified some friends and the animal shelter, so hopefully someone will be able to rescue him, someone with better resources and tools. So if you are in Prospect Park and you see some trash, pick it up. After seeing the cormorant, I came across some fishing trash and felt even more compelled to pick it up. Please, be aware of your impact within your community, make sure you take your trash and dispose of it properly. You never know what that little bit of plastic, twine, or that bottle cap could do to an animal that accidentally tries to ingest it or gets caught up in it.
We spot a cormorant off of the Peninsula at Prospect Park/Prospect Park SW- near the BBQ pits. Since these guys swim with their bodies low in the water, we could not see his wing. 
A female house sparrow strikes a pose on some phragmites reeds. An invasive plant that grows where cattails should really be growing.
A male red-wing blackbird was very vigilant over his territory. He chased out a male sparrow as well as the one pictured above.
The bullfrogs were all within the reeds. I heard a few but they jumped before I even saw them. I saw this one guy and through the brush was able to get a picture of him without getting to close and scaring him off.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A 17 Year Reunion

Rockland Lake State Park.  
     Last week was Memorial Day weekend and things were abuzz in the world of insects (pun very much intended). The East Coast was excited about the emergence of the 17-year cicadas! Well, excited might not be how most people would describe their feelings about cicadas, but I was excited about them!
     My husband and I were up in Rockland County to visit friends and family and also, to relax. We went for a walk from his Dad's house down to Rockland Lake State Park and around the lake over at the park. We saw some fun things, walked through poison ivy, and even found some herps! Amazingly, we did not get poison ivy!
     Enjoy our sightings!
This utility pole was full of newly emerged cicadas! Cicadas are true bugs -- not all insects are bugs, did you know that? Like the true bugs I am familiar with, cicadas have mouth parts that are made for sucking up their dinner. Their dinner is vascular fluid from the xylem of plants-- plant juice. In other words, harmless to humans.
Making friends.
That is a handsome bug! The colors on this guy were beautiful! The adults are up to mate, lay their eggs, and then their larvae will live underground for the next 17 years.
See, they ain't so bad!
I even got my husband to hold him!
I found some red backed salamanders under a large slab in the park. Normally these guys are grey with a dark red color down their back. These guys were what is known as "lead phase" in their coloration.
Salamanders are amphibians and this particular type belongs to a group of salamanders known as lungless salamanders. Their oxygen is exchanged through their very permeable skin. How amazing is that?
How cool are you?!
A damsel fly rests--- damsel or dragon? Damsel flies fold their wings back, fly slower, and sometimes seem to flutter more than dart. Dragon flies hold their wing out when at rest, they are fast, they dart, and are amazing predators.
Painted turtles take advantage of the very hot sun.
Saw a lot of frogs.... jump into the water, away from us. This bullfrog held long enough for a photo. You really do not see them until they make the leap.
A very upset Northern Oriole.
A fish crow up to no good. We could tell it was a fish crow because of its call. Instead of saying CAW! This crow says CAHH! It's much more nasal too. It's like a crow with a Boston accent.
The oriole above and this Eastern kingbird were diving and chasing after the crow. They must be nesting nearby.

A tree swallow keeps guard over its nest box. Those eyes are huge, and I'm sure helpful as these guys zoom around quickly in the air catching insects on the wing.
The water lilies had these crazy stems? roots? branches? They were always covered in turtles.
A turkey vulture greets us as we arrive home from our walk.