Saturday, August 31, 2013

Gantries and Grasshoppers

A gantry with some serious LI pride.
     On Thursday, my good friend Shannon and myself hopped on our bikes and rode across the Queens border to Gantry State Park in Long Island City. It is very much like the High Line meets Brooklyn Bridge Park. You have repurposing of railroad tracks and ties, gardens full of flowering plants, and amazing, unobstructed views of Manhattan. The centerpieces of the park of the towering gantry cranes. These cranes used to lift rail cars off of car float (literally a floating track with rail cars pulled by tugboat) and place them back on rails to continue their journey out onto Long Island. Also, another sight within the park is the iconic "Pepsi Cola" sign. The sign is on the Northern end of the park and marks where the Pepsi bottling plant used to stand.
     The park itself I give a 4 out of 5, Shannon had me rate the days events on a scale of 5. I gave it a 4 because I wish the park had more trees and shady retreats. The park is very open and very concrete-y. I prefer grass over concrete. I also like trees, it keeps me from getting crispy, and boy did I get crispy, especially with my fair skin.
     The wildlife wasn't very diverse, but I did enjoy the grasshoppers. They were very abundant and beautiful in flight, their spread wings were black with a yellow border. Some of these grasshoppers were very large, I always get a kick out of seeing them. They remind me of my first grasshopper encounter when my dad brought one to me in an old baby food jar after mowing the lawn. I had never really seen grasshoppers on Long Island growing up, so they always seemed so novel to my sisters and myself. Anyway, enjoy some of the sights:

The Empire State and Chrysler buildings are shy today. The United Nations building is that giant blue-green one.
Some pollinators.
This blue winged wasp actually preys upon beetle larvae, making it beneficial to gardens that would normally be disturbed by the grubs living in the soil.
The Empire State.
A gull looks out to the East River from his own UFO lamp post.
The East River. Roosevelt Island is in front of Manhattan. The Queens bridge reaches across from Queens to Manhattan with a support for its span on Roosevelt Island. Roosevelt Island is technically partof the borough of Manhattan, I lived there for a year (it's an interesting place), you can get there by subway on the F line, by vehicle (only from Queens, though), and by aerial tram, from Manhattan. If you saw the first Spiderman Movie, you know the tram, spiderman rescues people stuck on it. Which happens, not the spiderman part, but the stuck part.
Some alliteration: A green grasshopper on granite in gantry park. Isn't this guy just fantastic? I think this is a differentiated grasshopper.
Part of the Orthoptera order of insects, grasshoppers are grouped with crickets, katydids, and locusts (not cicadas- people always call cicadas locusts, but locusts band together to form swarms, which can be destructive at times). 
A young mallard.

     Along with me on this trip, as mentioned was my friend Shannon. She is an amazing woman and has her own company, the Writing Whisperer, you should check it out. More information on Gantry Park can be found here: Enjoy the summer while it lasts!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Butterfly Garden

     Last Sunday was spent at my in-law's home in Rockland County, NY. It was a special treat because we got to see our new niece and her older sister, plus our nephews. My brother in-laws and sister in-laws were there and it is always great to hang around with them. One thing that I always admire about my mother-law is her amazing garden. In spring through summer it is just full of flowers and the critters who are attracted to them, plus their predators. For some reason, the bushes around her home contain thriving populations of matids that prey upon unsuspecting butterflies visiting the flowers. The flowers, I think, are zinnia's and they are just beautiful, pop a butterfly on it, and its a special bonus. Enjoy:
A bumble bee packs away some serious pollen. It is so important that people understand how important bees and other pollinators are! They really are vital not just to the plants that depend on them for reproduction, but we also need them to pollinate our crops!
This is a silver-spotted skipper (pretty sure) and it camouflages incredibly well as a dead flower! Meanwhile in the background, a full on BBQ is taking place.
This mantid is actually a chinese mantis, they come in green or brown and are quite large!
It is not illegal to kill a mantis, growing up people always (and still) say that it is illegal to kill them. It's not true. But, I wouldn't start killing them anyway- they eat many pest insects and are considered beneficial in gardens.
The one in the foreground- not too sure what it is,  might be some kind of checkerspot or crescent??

A brown version of the chinese mantis waits in ambush, but takes a moment to cock its little head to check me out. I do love that about then, how they move their heads quite well.

Monday, August 26, 2013


The view from my kayak.
     It has been an entire summer and I finally took my kayak out for the first, and sadly, probably last time. My kayak lives at my parents' house out on Long Island because keeping a kayak in my apartment wouldn't be impossible, but it would be a challenge and a half. But if I had it here, I would probably find more time to go for a paddle.
     My adventure today took my mother, my best friend Pam, and myself to Empire Kayaks, the place where I actually purchased my kayak from. The people here are always nice to us, the salt marsh is full of stuff to find, and it is where my husband asked me to marry him (yes, in a kayak) so it holds a special place in my heart. If you want a nice place to paddle an explore, check out Empire in Island Park, NY, they rent kayaks of all kinds, they will show you the basics, and ocean kayaks, the kind I use, are very stable and you sit on top, so if you fall out, which isn't impossible (as I have done it), you can easily get back in.
     On our paddle we saw lots of birds, a few terrapins popped their heads up, one sad, washed up, dead eastern box turtle, which I am not sure if it was someones escaped "pet" or if they actually live around this area, and some fish below in the water. It was a beautiful day, and using my "real" camera on the kayak was a challenge, especially when you had to put down your paddle for a few seconds to snap a picture and the wind in that time blew you backward about 15-20 feet.
Lesser yellowlegs stand upon some dried seaweed.
A young semipalmated plover.

This gives you an idea of how hard it can sometimes be to spot a bird. When they move is really when you see them, otherwise they are fairly easy to just paddle right by. A young spotted sandpiper is foraging in the mud.
It seems like it's a day for immature birds, this is a juvenile yellow crowned night heron.  I wonder who his stylist is, love the 'do.

A shy snowy egret flies off.
No idea what this is... it kind of matches a semipalmated sandpiper, but, I am still puzzled by this one.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Under the Brooklyn Bridge

Once you "antiquify" any photo of the Brooklyn Bridge, it's like you traveled back in time. I took this today and added some filter to it.
     I spent the first half of my day on a wonderful adventure with my friend, Judy (who also happens to have an amazing blog:, at the Staten Island Zoo. I biked from Brooklyn to Manhattan, then took the Staten Island Ferry with Judy from Manhattan to Staten Island, and finally, the bus to the zoo. A triathlon of a commute!
     On my bike ride home, I found the bike path that takes you along the East River, cleverly named the East River Bike Path - it isn't as nice as the one on the west side, but unlike the west side, it has some iconic bridges it passes under. I stopped under the Brooklyn Bridge because a lone cormorant caught my eye, then as I got off the path toward the rails of the walkway, hulls, geese, pigeons, and sparrows were hanging out. on the rocks and pebbles revealed by the low tide.
     Why take pictures and watch the most common birds of NYC, one may ask? Well, you have to appreciate the beauty in what's around you, here, you'll see:
A double crested cormorant finds its place amongst the gulls.
He may look worn out, but those eyes! Pigeons put up with a lot of mean people, we as a whole try to poison them, chase them, throw things at them, and some people eat them. Huge thanks to birds that were once considered war heroes.
I also love the purple iridescence around this guy's neck. 
Pigeons are also amazing- they come in many body forms (via artificial selection - breeding by people, is what I mean by that), colors, and patterns. Pigeons helped inspire and influence Darwin's theory of Natural Selection as he bred pigeons for selected traits and saw how traits were passed on from one generation to the next.
This pigeon is called a "checker" for the checker patterns on its feathers. Pigeons are also super smart and adaptable, and they have amazing personalities.
A ring billed gull takes a high perch on this wood piling. 

I kind of love how this happened. One bird landed as another took off behind this stationary herring gull.

Monday, August 19, 2013

New Beginnings

The view from Lookout Hill, looking out over the area I live all the way down to the parachute drop in Coney Island.
     Normally I do not have the chance to go for a walk on a Monday, but recently I just ended my time working as a zoo educator so I could start a new adventure. Beginning (very) soon, I will be a New York City public school teacher at a high school here in Brooklyn. I am very excited for this new phase in my life and also very nervous (but in the good way, if there is such a way). Last friday was my last day at the zoo and I have this "free" time, I use the term free loosely because I am also trying to get myself organized with some of the things that were passed onto me from all my teacher friends. One thing that I am very excited about is that Prospect Park will act as a classroom on some days which is just absolutely wonderful.
     I took a walk through Prospect this afternoon. The weather was weird, it could be a bit chilly, but pretty warm in the sun. The sun came in and out of the clouds and the park was very bright, I squinted a lot, and I do not like wearing sunglasses, so that is my own problem. Enjoy what I saw through my squinted eyes:
A nice juvenile male wood duck.
Wood duck males grow up to be stunning birds. Males take on a bright green head and a contrasting chestnut body, females look pretty much like this. We can tell this one is a male though by its markings, the white chin strap and the yellow around the eye, and you can even see a bit of green on the top of his head.
As their name implies, these ducks love wood! They are perching ducks, meaning they perch up on trees and even nest in tree hollows. This young fella a few weeks ago had to take a leap out of his tree nest and land safely on the ground. This is pretty much free falling, as they are literally tiny little ducklings!
A male downy woodpecker.
A young mourning dove needs to be careful, he was literally walking next to me, with little fear.
A very beautiful orb web. Also, a very beautiful spider, there were a few of these in the area. Saw this little one walking up to Lookout Hill.
So if this does not blow you away, well, then, I feel bad for you. Katydids always amaze me with how well natural selection worked out for them. These insects are in the same family as grasshoppers and crickets. This one was out in the open, but any passerby would surely over look this gorgeous creature.
A closer look... it even has the veins of the leaves, just so flippin' neat!!! Katydids are named because of the sound they make, a buzzing with syllables that make it sound like it is saying in monotone buzzing, "KA-TY-DID." You can hear them stand out in this youtube video.
A fallen sassafras leaf  foreshadows the coming of autumn...

Found some goldfinches near the top of Lookout Hill.
These birds have a very distinct call and flight patten, making them easy to identify.
The male goldfinch in particular is very easy to identify.
A young mockingbird was flitting about very clumsily in this shrub. You can tell it's a youngin' by the yellow corners of its mouth.