Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Brooklyn Parrots

     I always liked parrots, but now that I have my own parrot, I LOVE THEM, and slightly obsessed. I used to work with a quaker parrot (or monk parakeet, take your pick, but I tend to go with calling them quakers) when I worked for Audubon, her name was Jodi, and we bonded quite well. I loved her so much and was offered to take her home, but at the time, things were not right for that, so we parted ways - she does though have quite the good home with a coworker of mine from that time.
     Well, now that I live in Brooklyn, I am surrounded by quakers. The school I attended for my masters, Brooklyn College, is swarming with quakers. Sometimes I hear them out the window of our apartment or spot them flying overhead on the street. This evening, I made a bike ride over to the other side of Greenwood Cemetery to go photograph these adorable green balls of feathers at their home base. Enjoy:
Before seeing any of the quakers, I was distracted by this clearly upset mocking bird.
....Probably because there were three American Kestrels in the area.
The kestrels are part of the falcon family. They are the smallest falcons in the United States. They also happen to do quite well in urban environments.
Not sure, but I thought that this could be a family. This one seemed much more active than the other two. Perhaps the other two were getting lessons in how to capture prey.
The observers.
Kestrels are beautiful and one of the few raptors that are sexually dimorphic - that means the male and female look different from one another. The slate blue present on the wings tells me that this is a male kestrel.
A kestrel kerfuffel with an angry mockingbird ensues. Mockingbirds are notoriously territorial, even to the point where they will dive-bomb humans around their nesting area.

Then, the quakers arrived!
The quakers are nesting atop the main entrance on 5th avenue in Sunset Park Brooklyn.
Quakers build these large nests out of sticks. The nest is shared amongst many other pairs of quakers, allowing them to fit right into that NYC apartment living lifestyle.
The quaker is not native, they are from Argentina, in temperate regions of the country. New York also happens to be a temperate region, so these birds survive all through the winter. These birds were pets that have been released and now colonize many places within NYC. They were believed to have arrived in in the late 1960's to early '70's.

Not going to lie, I love having these guys in Brooklyn!

These birds don't cause too much trouble for the native species, as they do not use trees for nesting, they would rather use man-made structures. They are more of a problem to some people because nests that are built on transformers or electrical poles can sometimes catch fire and cause power outages.
The quakers parrot gets its name because of a common behavior involving quaking or bobbing the head. Many of the parrots further back on the lower branch they were doing this and getting fed by other individuals.

Psst.... I think we're being watched...
Some purple finches... I think.

Caught the kestrels flying by again, I loved this one against the clouds.
Quaker parrots will sometimes allow their fledged young to stick around and help tend to the nest and help with rearing siblings. 

Originally, when these birds arrived to historic Greenwood Cemetery the grounds crew tried to get rid of these birds and their huge nests. With time, it was decided that they could stay, for two reasons: first being, they keep away the pigeons and second, their droppings have no ill effect on the brownstone structure that is the entrance to the grounds, pigeon droppings had awful effects on the brownstone, so essentially, these quakers are helping to preserve the structure, in a weird way.
     If you are interested in seeing the Quakers, they are easy to find, go to Greenwood Cemetery and enter at 5th Avenue and 25th Street. Their nest is on the arch as you enter. You don't need to go far to find quakers, just follow your ears, they are loud and most likely nearby.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Summer in the City

     This week has been incredibly hot. I rode my bike (22 miles roundtrip) to and from work Monday through Wednesday (highs were in the upper 90's!), had to take a break Thursday and Friday. The midday heat brings that eerie humid silence to the world, all you hear is the hum of air conditioner units. The birds stop chirping, even the cicadas stop buzzing. I woke up fairly early this morning after falling asleep very early, I actually slept on the couch since that room was most comfortable, temperature-wise.  In my early morning wake-up I decided I'd take a walk in Prospect Park to see who was out in the heat (mind you, it was 7:30AM when I left and already in the mid 80's).
Dragonflies are AMAZING animals. They are literally solar powered, they fly on sunny days and bask to power up.
This dragonfly is called a blue dasher - and I am so happy I remembered this species. When working at Audubon, we did a lot of dragonfly catching and ID'ing. They are VERY hard to catch because of their spectacular sense of sight. Random Dragonfly Fact 1: Dragonflies cannot walk. They must fly and land where they want to sit.
Dragonflies are predators only going after the pests we all dislike, biting flies, flying insects, mosquitoes. Not only are the fierce predators in the air, they start as larvae underwater and as fierce little things, eating small tadpoles, small fish, and the larvae of other insects. Random Dragonfly Fact 2: Dragonflies are possibly THE MOST efficient predator on Earth, check out this article from the NY Times, it will blow your mind! 
A dainty and perfectly camouflaged house wren. There seemed to be a whole group or family of them in the area. Perhaps with their fleeing young. These guys are hard to photograph, they flit and move fast, they are also tiny. But their voices are loud, its amazing how such noise can be projected from such a tiny guy!
A fledgling catbird. The parents were still feeding it. Notice how it has its flight feathers, but still has that brightly colored gape (mouth) of a young bird. Super cute! This is the time where you see baby birds leaving the nest, chances are they are trying out their wings and mom and dad are nearby. Best bet is to watch from afar. If baby is unattended for a very long period, then call your local wildlife rehabber for advice and help.
A very freshly fledged robin. The nest was directly above this guy and mom and dad were spotted nearby, chances are this guy will be alright. Love the downy feather on his head!
Another blue dasher. Random Dragonfly Fact 3: Dragonflies do not bite or sting people. If one whizzes by your head, chances are it is snatching a flying insect that you have attracted over to yourself. Thank a dragonfly.
The small Eastern Amberwing. While small, Get ready, Random Dragonfly Fact 4: Dragonflies are one of the oldest insect families (odonata) - fossils of their ancestors (the group protodonata) have been found dating over 300 million years old! Some of these ancient dragonflies had wingspans of close to 3 feet!
I walked up a trail and it led to to the center drive in the park. I realized I was standing amongst many cicada killer wasps. Yes, they are really called cicada killers. They grow up to 2 inches long, sting and paralyze cicadas, drag the cicada into a borrow they dug, lay an egg on the cicada (who is still alive, just nocked out), cover up the burrow, let their larvae hatch that then eats the cicada alive. Lovely, right? When I realized what I was standing amongst, I may have done a little hop, skip, and a jump, equivalent to that of my 5 year old self running from a bee. Thankfully, no one saw... I think.
A cabbage butterfly drinks some nectar.
Eastern Kingbird.
An invasive red-eared slider basks in the early heat. This turtle is covered in duckweed. Each little space of duckweed is actually a tiny little plant. Pretty amazing!
A blue dasher. Random Dragonfly Fact 5: Dragonflies get their name and their family name (Odonata) because of their incredibly fierce looking mouthparts, especially as larvae, that they use when catching and consuming their prey. Check it: here.
Well.... Hello, Blue Jay.
Showing off its catch, a juicy looking inchworm.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


     On Wednesday July 17, my husband and I took a class at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The class was all about nocturnal animals, but mostly focused on bats. It was very cool and informative, even this kid learned new things! 
     The bats we saw were big and little brown bats. These bats are here from spring until early fall and then go into a torpor (hibernation) for the winter in caves. Bats are incredibly important especially in consuming insects, especially around these parts. They consume their body weight in insects each night, and each little brown bat weighs as much as two quarters. If you think mosquitoes and moths, that is a lot! Around 1,000 insects.
     One issue bats are facing is a fungal infection called white-nose syndrome. This kills off entire colonies of bats, especially those overwintering in the same cave. The fungus thrives in the caves and can be spread by people visiting the caves and carrying and spreading spores around. According to our guide, the bats in the city seem to be stable in number over the last 10 years, showing that they may not have been effected by this fungus.
     Being urban bats, our guide has been led to believe that some bats roost right in building crawl spaces, under eaves, and other hidden places that building are full of. He even believes that many may overwinter in some of these spaces, if they can hold a temperature above freezing for the winter.
     In the videos, you will hear some radio-like static sounds. That is actually a device that picks up the echolocating made by the bats when turned to the correct frequency, making it audible to our ears, as we normally cannot hear these super high pitched sounds. And since it was dark, I took video, photos were not happening. I used my iPhone, hopefully you can see some of what we experienced. It was really fun, and please don't mind my husband and I chatting over the first video...

Big brown bats flying over the cherry trees at BBG

Little brown bats flying together and catching insects over the pond in the Japanese Garden at BBG

If you are interested in taking a class at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, check out their website here for a schedule!