Category Archives: ornithology

Fall migration Is underway

Guest post by Leslie Day

day15On the next to last day of September 2015, I was walking in Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights from the Heather Garden. Just before I got to Sir William’s Dog Run, my eye caught a movement high up in the northern red oak tree. Warblers! Knowing it’s migration time for insect- and nectar-eating birds—i.e. warblers, flickers, kinglets, hummingbirds—I never leave home without my trusty, light-weight pocket binoculars. Let me tell you, it is challenging keeping your binoculared eyes on moving warblers. The balletic pattern of one of the warblers foraging in the oak tree made me think REDSTART! These tiny birds—black and red males, gray and yellow females—flash their tails and dive up and down, in and out, gleaning insects from the leaves. I had spotted a lovely female redstart fanning her bright yellow tail and flitting, butterfly-like, from leaf to leaf.

Male black-and-white warbler.

Male black-and-white warbler.

There was another warbler with a different type of motion. Catching up to him with my eyes, I saw it was a male northern parula  warbler: a gorgeous little fellow with olive shoulders and a back, gray head, a bright yellow belly turning orange up by his neck, and a black necklace. What a find!

The next afternoon I met Kellye Rosenheim leading a tour for New York City Audubon. We met at the salt marsh of Inwood Hill Park. The park is located at the northernmost tip of Manhattan Island right next to the shipping canal that connects the Harlem River with the Hudson River at Spuyten Duyvil. So much to see there. The week before, birding with my friend Elizabeth White-Pultz, we saw a marsh wren and a pair of common yellowthroat warblers hanging out in the marsh grass, flowering goldenrod, and asters. Columbia University has their boathouse there with a new kayak dock that is used by the rowing crews and the public. Columbia has housed their boats up there since the late 1920s. Across the Harlem River you can see a giant blue and white C. In 1952, Robert Prendergrast, a Columbia medical student and coxswain of the rowing crew, painted the letter on the massive Fordham gneiss outcropping. From the marsh we walked up into the verdant hills of the park. Entering the deeply forested paths, we found black-throated blue warblers, male and female redstarts, northern flickers, and a white-breasted nuthatch.

Male wood duck.

Male wood duck.

Fall migration happens more slowly than spring migration, when literally hundreds of millions of birds take the aerial route known as the Atlantic flyway from their winter feeding grounds in South and Central America to their northern breeding grounds in the middle Atlantic states, New England, and Canada. Flying over New York City, they drop down in huge numbers into our parks to feed and rest. Sometimes they stay, nesting and raising their young until it is time to make their journey south in order to find food throughout the winter. And so it is that birds leave our area, not because it is too cold in winter—after all they are covered in a layer of down, just like our down coats that keep us warm and cozy in January, February, and March. But birds cannot find the food they need in the winter: insects and other invertebrates, fish, amphibians, small mammals. In addition to watching migrating warblers and other song birds, during fall migration you can join groups looking at migrating hawks, eagles, and owls; egrets, herons and shorebirds. And from the far north come our wintering birds, which are able to survive the cold months in New York City. Small flocks of tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, and black-capped chickadees descend on our wooded parks. And in autumn and winter we make way for ducks, geese, and swans! Wood ducks, northern shovelers, hooded mergansers, ruddy ducks, snow geese, brandt geese, and mute swans flock to our wetlands to find food when their summer territories freeze over. They are not alone. More and more, we are seeing bald eagles along our coast in winter.

And of course we have our year-round birds who are able to find seed, nuts, and dried fruit even in winter: blue jays, house sparrows, crows, starlings, pigeons, cardinals, downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers, mallard ducks and Canada geese. And let us not forget our birds of prey that are here all year: red-tailed hawks, cooper hawks, sharp shinned hawks, peregrine falcons, American kestrels, great horned owls, saw-whet owls, and screech owls. New York City, as it turns out, is a birding haven throughout the seasons. So take a walk with or without binoculars and you will start to see our lovely and interesting feathered neighbors.

Leslie Day is a New York City naturalist and the author of Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City, Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City, and Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City, published by Johns Hopkins. Dr. Day taught environmental science and biology for more than twenty years. Today, she leads nature tours in New York City Parks for the New York Historical Society, the High Line Park, Fort Tryon Park Trust, Riverside Park Conservancy, and New York City Audubon. Trudy Smoke is a professor of linguistics and rhetoric at Hunter College, City University of New York and a nature illustrator. She is the illustrator of Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City. Beth Bergman is a photographer for the Metropolitan Opera who moonlights as a nature photographer. Her photographs have appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Newsweek, New York Magazine, Opera News, and Paris Match.

 

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Filed under Birds, Ducks, Life Science, Nature, ornithology

The nature of our neighborhood: house sparrows

Guest post by Leslie Day

The house sparrow’s Latin name, Passer domesticus, means small, active bird (Passer) belonging to a house (domesticus). House sparrows are tough little New York City birds that fill our parks, streets, sidewalks, and back yards with their daily comings and goings.

Illustration by Trudy Smoke, used by permission.

Illustration by Trudy Smoke, used by permission.

One hundred house sparrows were introduced from Europe into Brooklyn and Manhattan in the early 1850s. From there, the species expanded throughout North America. It is the most commonly seen bird throughout the five boroughs.

The male has a gray crown with chestnut patches bordering the crown and extending down to the pale gray cheek and neck. The black stripe in front of the eye extends to the beak and meets the black bib. The thick bill is grayish-black, and the legs are pale brown. The rump and tail is gray, the shoulders are chestnut brown, and the wings are brownish with a white wing bar. The female has gray checks, neck, and breast without the black bib. She has a buffy stripe between a brown eye stripe and brown crown.

House sparrows have the unusual behavior of taking baths in patches of dusty soil, usually in large groups. Each little bird creates a depression and throws dust all over its feathers to destroy parasites. Originally from Africa, they have evolved this adaptation of bathing without water.

These are small birds about six inches long, with a wingspan up to nine inches. However, they have big personalities. Unafraid of humans or dogs, they stay together in large family flocks and feed out in the open.

House sparrows mate for life. They live and nest inside every street corner lamppost pipe, over air conditioners, and inside any cavity they can find on building exteriors, dock pilings, and window grates. Within these cavities, they construct their nests with dried grasses, feathers, and string. I have seen them emerge from places that are surprising, like the nostrils of Teddy Roosevelt’s bronze horse on Central Park West in front of the American Museum of Natural History. They are devoted mates and devoted parents. When we lived on our houseboat, our cat Woody caught a baby house sparrow and carried it back to the boat alive. I gently removed it from his jaws and kept it warm. The bird’s mother and father stayed outside the houseboat window on a piling looking inside and chirping nonstop. Once the little fella could stand and seemed out of shock, I opened the window and out he flew, accompanied by his parents who chirped wildly to him as they flew back to the park.

Their voices are a series of seemingly identical chirps, although a bird researcher I know told me that they have different sounding chirps.

House sparrows play an important ecological role. They are omnivores, feeding on fruit in summer and dried berries and grass seeds in winter. In summer, they also consume invertebrates: beetles, cicadas, grasshoppers, crickets, aphids, spiders, flies, and moths.

When I walk out of our building in Washington Heights, I love seeing them inside the yew trees and holly bushes. Nearby there is a tree that is a roosting site for hundreds of house sparrows each evening. Opposite this is a tree that is a roosting site for hundreds of European starlings. The noise these two species make is almost deafening as they settle down each evening after a long day of hunting for food, keeping warm, and preening their feathers. And the chatter each morning is just as loud as they prepare themselves and us for the day ahead.

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day15Leslie Day is a New York City naturalist and the author of  Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City, Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City, and Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City, published by Johns Hopkins. Dr. Day taught environmental science and biology for more than twenty years. Today, she leads nature tours in New York City Parks for the New York Historical Society, the High Line Park, Fort Tryon Park Trust, Riverside Park Conservancy, and New York City Audubon. Trudy Smoke is a professor of linguistics and rhetoric at Hunter College, City University of New York and a nature illustrator. She is the illustrator of Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City. Beth Bergman is a photographer for the Metropolitan Opera who moonlights as a nature photographer. Her photographs have appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Newsweek, New York Magazine, Opera News, and Paris Match.

 

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Conservation, For Everyone, Nature, ornithology, Uncategorized

Give the gift of books: NATURE

The JHU Press has a beautiful selection of books on the natural world, from the amazing new edition of Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America, to our popular Animal Answer Guide series, to family-friendly guide books, to handsomely illustrated volumes on owls, polar bears, and mountain gorillas. Read more or place an order by clicking on the titles below. To receive a 30% discount on all books featured in this blog post, enter code HDPD at checkout or mention this code when calling in your order at 1-800-537-5487. Happy holidays from JHUP!


Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America
revised and updated, 2-vol. set
Guy Baldassarre
A Wildlife Management Institute Book

“Creating a brand-new version of such a timeless and previously revised classic is a risky venture indeed, but nobody could be better suited for this monumental task than Guy Baldassarre. He has created a stunning new classic, at once magnificent in its visual appeal and truly comprehensive in its scientific breadth and depth. Hats off to Guy for dedicating himself to this project with such obvious passion, patience, and skill. This book absolutely belongs on the shelf or coffee table of anyone who has ever marveled at waterfowl, whether through their binoculars or from inside the duck blind.”—John W. Fitzpatrick, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

“Whether you’re a duck hunter, a decoy collector, or just enamored with the world of waterfowl, Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America is the ultimate reference . . . Destined to become a go-to source for this generation of enthusiasts and the next.”—Garden & Gun

 


Sharks: The Animal Answer Guide
Gene Helfman and George H. Burgess

“Whether you fear sharks or just have a curiosity about them, Sharks: The Animal Answer Guide will home school you about these fascinating creatures that have been around for millions of years. . . Get a copy, you’ll be glad you did.”—Skip Clement, Fly Life Magazine.com

“I most highly encourage that all interested not only purchase and read Sharks: The Animal Answer Guide themselves but that additional consideration be given to presenting a copy as a gift to anyone with an interest in sharks… Ignorance and error are indeed a darkness of the mind for which the easiest correction is the introduction of light. To that end, this book veritably glows.”—John E. Riutta, The Well-read Naturalist


Penguins: The Animal Answer Guide
Gerald L. Kooyman and Wayne Lynch

“As a penguin biologist, I was surprised how much I learned reading Penguins that I had not already known. For penguin enthusiasts, Penguins: The Animal Answer Guide is a must read that will, thanks to Lynch’s spectacular photographs, be thoroughly thumbed through by the whole family. Likewise, this book should be required reading for those doing penguin outreach or informal education.”—Heather J. Lynch, Quarterly Review of Biology

“The writing is crisp and often witty and entertaining. These characteristics make it appealing to professional ornithologists as well as enthusiastic children—it would be great bedtime reading for any penguin lover. . . Highly recommended.”—Choice


Polar Bears: A Complete Guide to Their Biology and Behavior
Text by Andrew E. Derocher
Photographs by Wayne Lynch

“A book which would grace any coffee table, but equally one which should be in the library of every zoo and scientific institution which has an interest in polar bears, Arctic biodiversity or the possible effects of global warming. For every curator, animal manager, veterinarian and zoo architect it should be mandatory reading . . . Global warming, with or without mankind’s help, may cause the polar bear to become extinct and this book may be the best record we have to remember it by.”—Richard Perron, International Zoo News


A Year across Maryland: A Week-by-Week Guide to Discovering Nature in the Chesapeake Region
Bryan MacKay

“This is a delightful book packed with information on a diversity of organisms with explicit instructions on how to enjoy marvelous creatures virtually every day of the year. MacKay’s passion for natural history is palpable.”—Lytton John Musselman, author of Plants of the Chesapeake Bay: A Guide to Wildflowers, Grasses, Aquatic Vegetation, Trees, Shrubs, and Other Flora

“Whether you want to see Snow Geese and Trumpeter Swans pausing in their northward migration each March, or the mating ‘jubilee’ of polychaete worms during the new moon in May, A Year across Maryland offers valuable advice for the spontaneous adventurer and the serious planner alike.”—Northeastern Naturalist


Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution
Theodore W. Pietsch

Trees of Life commemorates the tree as a visual representation of life; science buffs will revel in this dazzling forest of transformation.”—Jen Forbus, Shelf Awareness

Trees of Life is a beautiful book, and the diversity of beautiful images within its pages should be of interest to historians of science, biologists, folks working at the intersection of science and art, and, honestly, anyone with a genuine interest in science and the study of the natural world. This is a taxonomy of trees of life, if you will.”—Michael Barton, Dispersal of Darwin


Field Guide to the Natural World of Washington, D.C.
Howard Youth
illustrated by Mark A. Klingler, photographs by Robert E. Mumford, Jr.
foreword by Kirk Johnson

“Downtown sightings of such wild creatures as snowy owls, peregrine falcons, and vultures may generate media attention, but after persusing Howard Youth’s Field Guide to the Natural World of Washington, D.C., I don’t find these episodes as outlandish as the headlines might suggest . . . The guide represents a considerable documentation of the species that share our corner of the world.”—Adrian Higgins, Washington Post

“The book is simply an amazingly informative work of art.”—Chris Knauss, The Star Democrat


Mountain Gorillas: Biology, Conservation, and Coexistence
Gene Eckhart and Annette Lanjouw

“Every visit I ever had with mountain gorillas ended in tears. My emotions exploded as I drove away with my back to the silhouette of the Virunga volcanoes. I was always given more by the gorillas, the trackers, and researchers than I could ever find a way to give back with my photographs. Gene Eckhart and Annette Lanjouw’s new book brings me home again, reminding us all of the world treasure that exists so tenuously in this one spot on our fragile planet.”—Michael “Nick” Nichols, National Geographic Magazine

 


Owls of the United States and Canada: A Complete Guide to Their Biology and Behavior
Wayne Lynch

“Beautiful, readable, and affordable. So if you plan to give it as a gift, I suggest you buy a copy for yourself as well.”—Whit Gibbons, Tuscaloosa News

“This book is a pleasure to read whether you’re a diehard owl enthusiast or a casual admirer. You’ll find yourself wanting to leave this book somewhere conspicuous, so you can show the images off to friends, family, and unwary passersby.”—Jim Cirigliano, Bird Watcher’s Digest

 


The Quick Guide to Wild Edible Plants: Easy to Pick, Easy to Prepare
Lytton John Musselman and Harold J. Wiggins

“Dr. Musselman is a passionate botanist. Walking among plant life makes him very happy, which means he is happy most of the time, except when riding in a car stuck in a long tunnel. He will stop people on the street to tell them some great news from the plant world.”—Garrison Keillor

“The book is witty and full of commonsense. It is a jolly good read for anyone.”—Jane Manaster, Portland Book Review

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Filed under and Swans, Animals, Baldassarre, Bellrose, Biology, Birds, Conservation, D.C., Ducks, Fish, For Everyone, Geese, Guy's Marsh, Holidays, Nature, ornithology, Photography, Regional-Chesapeake Bay, Washington

A Marsh is Born

By Vincent J. Burke, executive editor

A hawk went aloft, stealing everyone’s attention. It was a familiar scene for the speaker, a wildlife manager whose back was turned to the soaring bird. You could see the slight smile form on his face as he recognized the failed attempts of the rows of seated listeners to conceal their interest. “What’s the bird behind me?” he asked as laughter broke out. It was a solemn day in the middle of one of the most rural parts of upper New York State, and the humor was fresh on the heels of suppressed tears.

Baldassarre_Marsh2We were gathered under the only structure in sight, a large tent staked on some dry ground adjacent to the marshlands of the Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area. This is where Professor Guy Baldassarre used to arrive with a bus full of ornithology students from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Guy was missing, and this ceremony was part of an ongoing effort to remember him. On this day we would dedicate a marsh restoration project that would be named in his memory. “Guy’s Marsh” is in the early stages of restoration, but within a few short years this abandoned farm field will fill with water and shelter and feed thousands of resident and migrating waterfowl.

baldasserre-box-no-angleWhat struck me most on this day can be put into a word: collaboration. This was Guy’s specialty, his hallmark: collaborating and getting others to do the same. Under the tent, people from California, Florida, and dozens of other places were assembled. The audience was speckled with representatives of Ducks Unlimited, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, and too many other groups to mention. Friends of Montezuma stood behind a small table that displayed copies of Guy’s posthumously published masterpiece, Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America. They were all here because they had raised funds for the marsh restoration, or had helped Guy as he wrote his book, or had somehow worked with him on behalf of birds and wildlife habitat.

When Guy’s wife, Eileen, spoke you could sense a marriage built on collaboration. When speakers told of the way in which large and small donations flowed in to rebuild the marsh, one was struck by the diversity of sources. Guy’s book itself was a collaboration that involved the Wildlife Management Institute, photographers, students, and scores of waterfowl groups and experts. After his death, one of these waterfowl experts had to guide Guy’s book through copyediting. Sue Sheaffer dedicated herself to those thousands of hours of doing what Guy would have insisted upon: double-checking everything.

Everything—the marsh, the book, the students, the friendships, the bonds—all somehow centered on Guy’s infectious enthusiasm for birds. It wasn’t just the enjoyment birds bring to us, or satisfying our curiosity about them; it was Guy’s recognition that birds need champions in this modern world. Out at Guy’s Marsh, looking around at the dedicated heirs of Dr. Baldassarre’s legacy, I got the sense the world was going to be a better place for birds because Guy spent decades teaching us, by example, how to collaborate on their behalf.

Editor’s note: To read Dr. Mike Schummer’s remembrance of Guy Baldassarre—the man, the book, and the marsh, click here.

Baldassarre_Marsh

 

Executive Editor Vincent J. Burke, PhD, acquires books in science and mathematics for the JHU Press; follow him on Twitter at @VBurke2.

 

 

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Filed under Biology, Birds, Conservation, For Everyone, General Science, Life Science, ornithology

Guy Baldassarre: the man, the book, and the marsh

Guest post by Dr. Michael Schummer

Guy Baldassarre (1953–2012) was one of those people who transferred his passion for birds to all who met him. Even though he’s gone, that trait seems to linger, evidenced by the impact his book, Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America, is about to have on generations of readers. For those not lucky enough to have known Guy, let me recap an amazing career. He was a  Distinguished Teaching Professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry for 25 years, where he specialized in ornithology and wildlife management. Among his many honors, he was the recipient of the Wetlands Conservation Achievement Award from Ducks Unlimited. He was an eloquent speaker with a fantastic Boston accent that boomed like friendly thunder.

Passionate about waterfowl and wetland conservation, Guy’s capacity to synthesize an immense body of literature into a digestible form made him successful educator and writer. Guy truly poured all this talent into Ducks, Geese, and Swans. This classic work was last produced in 1980 by renowned waterfowl ecologist Frank Bellrose and desperately needed an update. With over thirty years of novel and abundant research to include in this new addition of DGS, Guy produced a work that will leave a legacy of well-informed readers. Part of the beauty of the book lies in the stunning color photos, which Guy was given by waterfowl photographers from across the continent. Add to that Bob Hines’s art and carefully documented range maps, and you have a book that is both a pleasure to read and work of art.

In memory of Guy, a marsh restoration project was undertaken at the Montezuma Wetlands Complex in central New York. “Guy’s Marsh” lies in the heart of those wetlands, where Guy often brought students to learn about waterfowl and wetlands ecology, conservation, and management. Indeed, the project includes plans for an outdoor classroom, a place for future educators and outdoor enthusiasts to come see the wonders of waterfowl that Guy wrote about in the new edition of Ducks, Geese, and Swans.  I can think of no better way to memorialize Guy than with a place for birds, where the sun will rise over a duck-filled marsh on an autumn morning while people view the waterfowl that Guy revealed to us in Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America

(Editor’s note: to preview an excerpt of the this set, click here.)

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Dr. Michael (Mike) Schummer is a senior contract scientist with Long Point Waterfowl, an adjunct professor at the University of Western Ontario, and a visiting assistant professor of Zoology at SUNY-Oswego.

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Filed under Biology, Birds, Conservation, For Everyone, General Science, Life Science, ornithology