May 14, 2017

Washington Square Park - State of Nature Report

Male Kentucky Warbler, Washington Square Park, 12 May 2017, photograph used with permission of Dennis Edge

A Kentucky Warbler stopped over in Washington Square Park for two days last week. The sighting of this rare bird caused a flash flock of humans to gather at the site of its layer, just northwest of the arch. I wrote the First Annual State of Nature Report for Washington Square Park on behalf of WSP Eco Projects in April and given the buzz around the park's bird life, I thought I'd share it here.

History of Washington Square Park Eco Projects

As I write this report about Washington Square Park, this treasured greenspace is blooming with cherries, crabapples, and magnolias. Year-round and migrating birds are foraging, nesting, and resting in the park. Smaller animals are also present; we are seeing butterflies and flies in greater numbers in the park. The idea for Washington Square Park Eco Projects (WSP Eco Projects) germinated more than four years ago with a mission to showcase and celebrate the nature of the park. WSP Eco Projects formally launched in 2014 after a successful fundraising campaign on Our first goal was to map all the trees in the park and the historic and modern routes of Minetta Brook, a stream that used to run aboveground from its confluence at 11th and 12th Streets between 5th and 6th Avenues through the park and then southwest to empty into the Hudson River at present day Charlton Street. There are more than 300 trees in the park. [Note: a count of 338 trees have been made in the park but this does not represent the total number of trees in the park. At 9.75 acres, there are approximately 34.6 trees per acre.] The WSP Eco Map does not show the locations of shrubs or herbaceous perennials though recently some of this data was captured via iNaturalist during the City Nature Challenge 2017.

Since the map’s launch we have expanded the scope of our work. We offer park-based educational programming, which has included the 2014 Family Nature Scavenger Hunt and seasonal tree walks in 2014 and 2015. We partner with local nonprofits and large institutions on programming, too. Last fall, we co-sponsored an oak planting workshop and a winter tree walk with the park’s conservancy. We curated a cube of nature picture books and field guides for the Uni Project, which set up a reading room in the park in September. Authors and publishers donated most of the books in our collection. We also contributed an ecology game to the reading cart, a Nature Bingo Card designed for us by The Bird Feed NYC. It is a great game and we will bring it back to the park this year. We also engage in research. With a permit granted by NYC Parks Natural Resources Group, we are in year two of a wildlife survey.

Observing Wildlife Longitudinally in Washington Square Park

NYC Parks permitted Observing Wildlife Longitudinally in Washington Square Park in April 2016. WSPEco Projects surveyed wildlife in the park between August and December of 2016. Wildlife seen within the park’s boundaries were formally recorded. Birds that were heard, flew overhead, or were observed outside the park and wildlife that were neither bird, nor squirrel, nor rodent (ex: butterfly) were not recorded officially. Also not counted were birds or squirrels that had flocked around a human providing food. The Eco Projects surveyors walked the same continuous loop through the park a total of seven times in 2016 and recorded 33 different bird species totaling 1,157 individuals. The most number of individuals (350) was recorded on August 31. The most number of species recorded on a single checklist was 15 on October 13. The species observed most often was the House Sparrow (403 across 7 checklists) followed by the Rock Pigeon (383 across 7 checklists). The least observed species, 1 individual in each instance, were the American Kestrel, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Carolina Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Swainson's Thrush, Magnolia Warbler, and Swamp Sparrow. House Finches were only observed on one date, December 31st, when 9 were spotted. A single Hermit Thrush was spotted on two separate dates.

Male Kentucky Warbler, Washington Square Park, 12 May 2017, photograph used with permission of Steven Sonnenblick

Spring 2017 Wildlife Update

Our permit was renewed in time for the spring migratory season! So far we have completed two survey walks. In addition to common species such as American Robin, House Sparrows, and Rock Doves (pigeons), we spotted Dark-eyes Juncos and Song Sparrows. We have noticed more European Starlings in the park than we did during 2016 survey. A Red-tailed Hawk was spotted once on our first walk of the season though the nesting pair is active. There are two eyases (baby hawks) in the nest. Check out the live hawk cam at We expect and hope to see a variety of warblers, thrushes, wrens, woodpeckers, chickadees, etc. Please let us know what you are seeing in the park. You can log your animal and plant observations in several places such as on eBird or via iNaturalist where we have two project pages (WSP Wildlife Observations and WSP Plants & Fungi). If you use social media, tag us @wspecoprojects.

What’s Next for WSP Eco Projects?

Join WSP Eco Projects for two events this spring: a Natural & Social History Awareness Tour on May 5th May 7 with WSP Blog as part of Jane’s Walk 2017 and a Guided Nature Bingo on June 4th as part of the World Science Festival 2017. Look for our pop-up library; we’ll announce the hours and locations on social media. Also, we hope to roll out our urban wildlife education program soon.

Washington Square Park is a popular park; it is beloved by local residents and on the NYC to-do list of many tourists. It is also a bio-diverse greenspace that provides numerous environmental benefits, to non-human animals and people alike, and should be stewarded to improve its ecological performance.

May 11, 2017

City Nature Challenge 2017 - Washington Square Park

To the question, Which city can observe the most nature?, the answer is Dallas/Fort Worth. Sixteen cities participated in the second annual City Nature Challenge (CNC) and 510 citizen scientists made a whopping 24,170 observations of 2311 species. Texas had two other cities in the top 5: Austin and Houston in fourth and fifth places. The second and third spots were filled by San Francisco (23,193 obs) and Los Angeles (18,372). In the first annual CNC between Los Angeles and San Francisco, LA eked out a surprise win. New York City placed ninth with 3862 observations, 675 species, and 155 participants.

I participated as @wspecoprojects and logged 19 observations in Washington Square Park between April 14 and 18, the duration of the challenge. I made an additional 75 observations in the park and the surrounding neighborhood as @localecologist. Check out some of my observations below. You can use iNaturalist to log your wildlife, plants & fungi observations in Washington Square Park.

Two of my favorite things about participating in the City Nature Nature Challenge was meeting Kelly O'Donnell, an evolutionary ecologist at CUNY Macaulay Honors College and listening to my children say whenever I took out my phone that weekend, "you're taking nature pictures."

Was your city one of the CNC 2017 Cities? Share your story with us in the comments!

April 7, 2017

Book Review - The Nature Fix, by Florence Williams

With the arrival of spring though in fits and starts, it's more comfortable to spend more time, more frequently outside, in nature. This is ultimately the takeaway from Florence Williams' new book, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative. Florence Williams is a meticulous researcher and talented writer. Her personable storytelling made me want to read more about the science behind our biophilia, and I'm already a fan of this type of information. Williams is a journalist and used that toolkit to gather data for this book. She was also a research subject, donning a portable EEG device to record her brain waves in different natural settings.

Within the canon of research trying to definitively show that nature does make us happier, healthier, and more creative, Williams observes that Western researchers, generally speaking, tend towards determining how much and what types of nature exposure lead to preferred outcomes as well as developing technological substitutes for nature. In part one of the book, "Looking for Nature Neurons", Williams examines the motivations and goals of Western and Eastern scientists who study the "nature-creativity-productivity" axis. One of the unique aspects of The Nature Fix is Williams' consideration of more than the visual relationship humans have with nature. In the context of nature most proximate to us, she explores the information we receive in the first five minutes via smelling, hearing, and seeing. Williams' goes deeper into how much time we need to be exposed to nature to reap its benefits which begs the question about what types of nature can support extended exposure. These issues are explored in parts three and four of the book. Since much of humanity lives in urbanized areas, it's fitting that Williams addresses how humans can make the most of and expand upon existing nature in their cities.

Do you take purposefully deep breaths when you enter nearby nature? I'll pause here and note that "nature" in The Nature Fix, and this is not unique to this book, seems to be implicitly defined as a geographic space with boundaries, such as a yard, an urban or national park, a garden, a nature trail or a woodland. Back to breaths. When we smell nature, there is an unconscious psychic response to the absence of, or in all likelihood reduction in, air pollution. The nose is the "thruway to the brain". We likely smell how good a place is for us before we register the visual or auditory cues. Now what about tuning in to the auditory signals emanating from nature? Because of our reliance on sight, sound is not "the secret weapon of the nature cure," writes Williams. Yet, one of the noticeable absences as you move along the urban to wild gradient is manmade sound. You can hear more of the natural soundscape. A common nature-making strategy in cities is to reduce human noise by adding in natural sounds such as falling water. (Falling water is also visually appealing and moderates microclimates.) Florence Williams writes about the waterfall in Cheonggyecheon Park in Seoul which dims the din of the adjacent roadway. There are many examples of waterfall bedecked parks in U.S. cities. The most famous one in New York is Paley Park on 53rd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenue. Even if sound is not a primary mode of experiencing the environment for humans, it is for other animals, for example, birds. Reading this section of the book, I recalled numerous articles* within the last decade about the changes in bird call and song volume and frequency in response to the noisy urban soundscape.

Seeing nature is the most significant exposure pathway to nature which makes me curious about how people who have sight disabilities compensate with their other senses. An influential study of hospital recovery times between patients with and without views unto nature was conducted by Robert Ulrich and published in Science in 1984. (By the way, Ulrich's work is one of the core pieces of literature read by students of landscape architecture, environmental planning, and allied fields.) Florence Williams also discusses another classic study of visual exposure to nature, this one by Frances Kuo and William Sullivan in 2001. Kuo and Sullivan show that views of trees and grass as well as time spent in landscapes vegetated with trees and grass led to more prosocial behaviors. Some scientists are exploring the benefits of viewing nature imagery versus real nature. This approach has shown "fast, positive responses," but the co-benefits of looking at real nature or spending less time looking at screens is significant. One is ocular health; less exposure to sunlight can increase the risk of myopia!

Spending time outside, in nature, is good for you. But how much time? Williams explores time prescriptions - what is the optimal amount of time one needs to spend in nature to achieve maximum happiness, health, and creativity benefits? What does the "dose curve" look like? Are five hours per month enough? Liisa Tyrvainen of the National Resources Institute of Finland argues yes. Tyrvainen and her team observed that more is more when it comes to nature exposure. But there are more questions. What role does frequency play? What about degree of natureness? (I made up this word.) What about the state of your mental health or cognitive ability? Williams dives into these issues with her participation in a weeklong, 81-mile rafting trip with the Higher Ground program for former and current military members suffering from PTSD. She also profiles Zack, a boy with ADHD who attends SOAR, an outdoor adventure boarding school for grades seven to twelve. I believe that on the whole nature is good for you. Williams' attention to the role that nature can play in improving health outcomes for people suffering from serious psychological trauma as well as improving cognitive and emotional outcomes for children is admirable. I found these two stories to be the most poignant in the book.

As a city/nature person, I appreciated that Williams ends her book talking about cities. She asked, "Is it even possible that megaurban habitats could provide [hits from a full spectrum of doses of nature]? and went to Singapore to find the answer. She was enthusiastic about the high percentage of real greenery but less so about the presence of technological forms of nature and the low amounts of wild nature. A critical observation she makes about Singapore is about the importance of "a strong governing vision." To weave quality nature throughout an entire city requires government commitment via policy, design, and financing. Thinking about the fake "Supertrees" in Singapore, Williams reflects on the value of real trees in cities, their myriad co-benefits such as carbon storage, urban cooling, and air pollution removal. As well, Williams talks about doctors prescribing time in city parks and organizations promoting the benefits of passive and active recreation for everyone and making nearby and distant greenspaces more accessible. Finally, sometimes nature helps you to notice and to appreciate the nature of the city. Imagine: a blizzard. Plane and vehicular traffic stops. You walk along the local canal You hear a natural quiet. Then you hear the songbirds.

The Nature Fix is a lively exploration of the science and intuition behind the myriad benefits of spending time in nature. Williams prose is both intelligent and approachable. You'll enjoy reading the book and broaden your understanding of how nature works makes us well beings.

A review copy of The Nature Fix was provided by W. W. Norton.

P.S. Watch this video: The Nature Fix - What Happens When You Spend Just 5 Minutes in Nature?

* Birds sing louder in cities
Why City Sparrows Are Singing A Very Different Tune [Audubon]
Traffic Is Changing How City Birds Sing [Next City]
Urbanisation is changing the way birds sing [Ecologica]
Sparrows Actually Change Their Tune To Sing Over the Noise Of the City [City Lab]
To Flirt In Cities, Birds Adjust Their Pitch [NPR]
City birds sing higher than country cousins, scientists find [The Guardian]

March 28, 2017

Historic GIS of Washington Square Park

[Image: 3D GIS of Washington Square Park: Showing Historic association between the Park, one of Bolton's major Native American roads crossing at Minetta Brook, and east of the indigenous landing and transhipment settlement of Sapohanikan, and the site of two of Manhattan's earliest black farmsteads outsid the walls of mid-17th Century Dutch New Amsterdam (Grossman © 2007)]

By now you know that Washington Square Park not only my neighborhood park but it is my favorite NYC park. I am always on the look out for narrative and visual information about the park for personal reasons as well as for my work at WSP Eco Projects. In January I came across Joel Grossman's historic GIS of the park. If you are not familiar with the acronym, GIS stands for geographic information system within which you store, analyze, and display layers of spatial data. I present the geographic data here with permission of Dr. Grossman. First image shows the use evolution of the land that is now Washington Square Park. The next two images are segments of Viele Map of 1865 showing Minetta Brook with an intersecting Lenape trail. This trail was recorded in Reginald Bolton's Indian Paths in the Great Metropolis (1922). The final two images are of 3D terrain models highlighting the brook, the trail, and Grossman's estimated location of two mid-17th century farms owned by black freedmen.

[Joel W Grossman © 1991 - 2007. All rights reserved.]

[Detail of Viele 1865 with Bolton's Native American path superimposed to scale. Joel W Grossman © 1991 - 2007. All rights reserved.

[3D Scaled Terrain model of Viele, showing Bolton's Native American roadway crossing Minetta brook. Model by Joel W. Grossman, Ph.D.(Grossman ©2007 All rights reserved - Not for duplication)]

[Close-up "birds-eye-view" of 3D terrain model of the 17th Century setting of Washington Square Park showing Bolton's Native American roadway crossing Minetta Brook and two mid-17th Century black farmsteads bordering each bank of the stream. Model by Joel W. Grossman, Ph.D.(Grossman ©2007 All rights reserved - Not for duplication)]

From other sources I learned that Anthony Portuguese, a former slave, was given 6.75 acres of land from Wouter van Twiller's 100 acre farm. Anthony Portuguese's acreage was east of Minetta Brook and extended south beyond the borders of today's Washington Square Park. The farm of Manuel Trumpeter (or Trompetor), another freed slave, only overlapped with the current NE edge of Washington Square Park. Most of Trumpeter's farm was east of the park. See A Brief History of the Minetta Waters in Washington Square Park, 1797-1828 which relied on Geismar's 2005 "Washington Square Park Phase 1A Archaeological Assessment. Another source was "Washington Square Park, a Changing Landscape" by George Vellonakis (undated). The Lenape path that ran through Washington Square Park is shown in Bolton's book as a westward offshoot of  the main north-south thoroughfare (aka Broadway). Bolton recorded the trail's end point as "Sapohanikan". Burrows and Wallace (Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898) list the trail's westward end as "Sapokanikan." A cove existed where the trail met the Hudson River at present day Gansevoort Street and it was used as "a site of fishing and planting."

February 8, 2017

Washington Square Park Self Guided Winter Tree Walk

On a very cold Saturday morning last December, Kaslin Daniels led an intrepid group of tree enthusiasts on a winter tree identification walk in Washington Square Park. Kaslin is a NYC Parks gardener and the lead gardener at WSP. We met beneath the centuries old English elm in the northwest corner of the park. Kaslin started of the workshop with a short lesson in what she called "tree detective work". To gather clues, we were directed to consider the growing habit or form, the bark, the twig (and its buds), and any persisting fruit or leaves (for the latter, oaks are a good example). Kaslin had branch and twig samples that she used to illustrate her lesson. As we walked she introduced more detailed terminology as relevant to the species we were examining. Once she concluded her introductory remarks we set off and below I outline the route.

1. English elm - Ulmus procera
This 300+ year old elm is perhaps the most famous tree in the park! Elms are a vase shaped species. The English elm has fuzzy buds. From this tree we walked east to an even older tree (species).

2. Dawn redwood - Metasequoia glyptostroboides
This species has an excurrent or central leader. The dawn redwood and bald cypress look very similar. One way to distinguish between the two is by looking at the leaf arrangement. Bald cypresses leaves are arranged alternately on the step. A mnemonic is ABC meaning alternative bald cypress. From there we walked east and looked south unto the lawn.

3. London plane tree - Platanus x acerifolia
I think this particular tree is actually an American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) because of the white-toned camouflage of the bark. London plane trees tend to have yellow or green toned camouflage patterning. This tree is listed as American sycamore on the WSP Eco Map. I will confirm with leaf and seedball comparisons. Read more about the differences between these two species here. From the plane tree we looked at two small trees growing adjacent to the tot playground.

4. Saucer magnolia - Magnolia x soulangeana
A participant was curious about the crape myrtle so we looked at that tree before spending time at the magnolia. One of the identifying features of the saucer magnolia is its fuzzy terminal bud. We moved off the path unto the lawn just west of the fountain for a closer look at a catalpa and a pagoda tree.

5. Northern catalpa - Catalpa speciosa
This catalpa growing across from the tot playground is one of two Northern catalpas in the park. The other one is just slightly east of the Holley bust. A defining feature of the catalpa is whorled arrangement of the terminal and lateral/axillary bud.

6. Japanese pagoda tree - Styphnolobium japonica
Most twigs are a shade of brown but the twigs of the pagoda tree are green. (Note: a twig is previous year growth while stem is current year growth. Stems tend to be green.) Another characteristic of the species is the presence of a pseudo-terminal bud. The pseudo bud mimics a terminal bud but is in fact a lateral bud. Look for a leaf scar. Learn more about bud types here. Our next large statured tree was across the central path in the lawn across from the comfort station.

7. Ginkgo - Ginkgo biloba
Like the dawn redwood, the ginkgo is a prehistoric tree. In leaf, the species' leaves are distinctive -- they are two lobed and fan shaped. In the winter season, look for vertical furrows in the park and spurs on the twigs. Just south of the ginkgo growing in the same lawn are Japanese cherries and a red oak.

8. Japanese cherry - Prunus serrulata
There are two groves of cherries at the Thompson entrance to the park. The showy flowers of the northernmost grove make me think that the cultivar is 'Kwanzan'. The flowers of the southernmost trees are more delicate and remind me of the Yoshino variety. Regardless of season, one defining feature of the Japanese cherry is the prominent lenticels on the bark which are arranged in horizontal rows. A lenticel is a gas exchange pore.

9. Red oak - Quercus rubra
Did you know that the bark of the red oak has a "ski track" pattern? A red oak's bark changes with age so be mindful of this variation. If you are tall enough or a branch is low enough, look for a clustered terminal bud which means that the terminal bud is surrounded by several lateral/axillary buds. Curious about variability in bark, twig (and bud), and fruit? Read here. Our next two trees have genus names beginning with the letter "L".

10. Tulip tree or tulip poplar - Liriodendron tulipifera
The tulip tree is one my favorite tree species. Imagine a lush canopy of vibrant green leaves generously sprinkled with lush tulip flowers. In late fall and winter you might see the base of the seed head persisting on the tree. The seedpods are held upright on the twig. Also look for duck bill shaped buds.

11. Sweetgum - Liquidambar styraciflua
The sweetgum has persistent seedpods, too. The balls are spiky. Another element to look for is corky twigs. We were also shown red (Acer rubrum) and sugar (A. saccharum) maples twigs.

At this point, Kaslin presented the option to conclude the workshop or to see additional trees. About half of the group peeled off the tour. The temperature had dropped and we were all uncomfortably cold. My camera battery had completely drained and my pen ink had frozen. I could not take more notes or photographs. The remaining participants walked further east then north and were shown black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), and honey locust. We did not stop at the white ash (Fraxinus americana), golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata), or little leaf linden (Tilia cordita).

12. Honey locust - Gleditsia tricanthos
The honey locust we looked at is a street tree on the NW corner of Waverly and University Place. You can find honey locust growing in the sidewalk on the western edge of the park. At the Washington Place entrance you will find a honey locust or two growing in the park.

I'd like to tag the tree stops on a Google map so you can have a mobile map for your next walkabout in Washington Square Park. Stay tuned!

This workshop was co-sponsored by Washington Square Park Conservancy and Washington Square Park (WSP) Eco Projects.

February 1, 2017

Book Review - Urban Forests, by Jill Jonnes

Urban Forests, by Jill Jonnes. Cover image via Penguin Random House.

Jill Jonnes is the author of six books including the subject of this book review, Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape. The city is both the lens and the landscape is all Jonnes' books. However, in Urban Forests, nature, in the form of urban trees, is the primary focus. I came to know of Jill Jonnes' interest in urban forests through her essay titled "What is a Tree Worth?" published in the Winter 2011 issue of the Wilson Quarterly. Jonnes was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in 2011. After reading her essay, I asked her to review a draft of my article manuscript which she did kindly. That manuscript was eventually published as "Mainstreaming the environmental street trees" in 2013 in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.

Urban Forests is an excellent example of the use of multiple sources of evidence to craft and support an argument. If you only look at the Acknowledgements and Notes you will see that Jonnes interviewed the urban forestry community in all the cities featured in the book. As well, she traveled to these cities for first hand experience with the landscapes she describes. Furthermore she was a participant observer in her city of Baltimore where she founded the Baltimore Tree Trust. In addition to these rich sources, Jonnes relied on historic and contemporary newspaper articles, diaries, field guides, trade magazines, and academic publications to produce a biography of urban trees in the U.S.

Jonnes is not the first person to write about urban trees in the U.S. There is Thomas Campanella's 2005 Republic of Shade: New England and the American Elm and Evelyn Herwitz’s 2001 Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest. The article “From Nature to Nurture: The History of Sacramento's Urban Forest” by E. Gregory McPherson and Nina Luttinger was published in 1998 in the Journal of Arboriculture. In his 1993 Street Trees: A Manual for Municipalities, Richard D. Schein devotes a chapter to street tree planting from the colonial era to the 1970s in the Eastern U.S. The evolution of tree planting in European and American cities is the subject of Henry Lawrence's 2006 book, City Trees: A Historical Geography from the Renaissance through the Nineteenth Century. The limits of these books (and articles) are in their focus on a single species, or a single town or region, or a truncated timeline. Jill Jonnes' Urban Forests considers the arch of multiple tree species in major U.S. cities to the present day.

Each chapter excluding the Introduction and the Afterword is the story of a tree species or two, or of a type of tree (ex: memorial trees), or of a tree advocate or three, or a tree disaster (ex: Dutch elm disease), or tree benefits. Some chapters include several of these elements. I won't list all the chapter titles here, and as I finished each chapter I said to myself, "This one is my favorite," so I can't share "my favorites" but I will share a few that resonated strongly with me. (The chapter titles are wonderfully literary!) Chapter One: "So Great a Botanical Curiosity" and "The Celestial Tree": Introducing the Ginkgo and the Ailanthus. The ginkgo is one of my favorite trees. Chapter Five: "Washington Would One Day Be Famous for Its Flowering Cherry Trees": Eliza Scidmore and David Fairchild. Cherry blossom season along the Potomac River in DC will meet your expectations. And typically you read stories about men's roles in urban forestry so it was refreshing to learn about a woman in this field. Chapters Twelve to Fourteen are about the development of urban forestry science and its strategic insertion into public policy. I wrote my dissertation about the changing "sets ofideas and prescriptions" (how Eileen Crist defines discourse) that govern the role of urban trees. I found that in the policy arena, urban trees had transitioned from primarily a beautification object to an environmental services tool. In combination, the chapters reveal that different benefits have been identified and made relevant over time, but consistently it is the emotional connection, which is so stark during times of massive tree loss, that binds us to our trees. Do you recall Michael Pollan's argument in the The Botany of Desire, that plants shape us? Our affinity for and efforts to understand, manage, and preserve trees have given rise to many institutions -- the US Forest Service, municipal forestry departments, various nonprofits, botanical gardens, arboricultural companies, and more.

I recommend this book. Nonfiction fans and historians will enjoy it. If you prefer novels, you will find Jonnes' writing style appealing. Policy makers should read this book, too. The quote at the end of the book should be regarded seriously when strategizing about improving environmental quality:
The more climate scientists study how best to stave off further warming of our planet, the more they understand the importance of trees and forests. 'Every time I hear about a government program that is going to spend billions of dollars on some carbon capture and storage program, I just laugh and think, what is wrong with a tree?" said Neil Sizer, president of the Rainforest Alliance. 'All you have to do is look out the window, and the answer is there.' 
Mr. Sizer was referring to a real, not artificial, trees. Real trees have the added value of co-benefits.

I'd like to conclude with this thought. The tree species featured in this book are among our most popular urban trees. Many of them are not native to North America but are intimately tied to the identity of our cities. Consider the role of the Japanese flowering cherry in our capital city of Washington, DC.

January 20, 2017

Songbirds in NYU Superblocks

Image: Washington Square Village and Silver Towers Complex by Angus Wilson (source)

I am steeped in bird data and migration ecology as I draft the annual report for the research permit Washington Square Park Eco Projects received to conduct a wildlife survey in the park. As soon as the report has been submitted I will post it here. I shared a list of the birds we observed in Washington Square Park earlier on in the survey period. You can find birds elsewhere in the vicinity of the park. Angus Wilson, of the Linnaean Society of New York (I did not know there was a Linnaean Society or that there was a NY chapter), published a list of songbirds sighted in the two superblock residential complexes owned by New York University. It with his permission and that of LSNY that I repost his essay below.



The residential complex associated with the New York University campus includes several small areas of trees and ornamental plantings that attract a variety of songbirds during migration and in winter. The main areas are the Sasaki Garden inside the Washington Square Village complex, the LaGuardia Corner Community Garden and adjoining Time Landscape Garden that runs along the east side of LaGuardia Place between Bleecker Street and West Houston Street and the Silver Towers Oak Grove on Bleecker Street. Additional pockets of vegetation border the superblock hemmed by West 3rd Street, Mercer Street, West Houston Street and LaGuardia Place and are always worth checking especially after a migrant fall. A fenced lawn behind the University mail office is used by foraging sparrows and thrushes. Although this area lacks the observer coverage of other Manhattan parks, a good variety of species has been recorded in recent years and careful scrutiny will most likely add to this list. A female Wild Turkey frequented the area for several weeks back in 1997 and a dead Pied-billed Grebe provided a sad testament to the hazards of tall building to nocturnal migrants. The mixture of mature trees, including many native species, ground cover and water sources likely contributes to this diversity. Sadly, this entire area is threatened by the NYU 2031 expansion plans that will replace most of the gardens and border strips with additional tower buildings.


Fall is the optimal season for birding this area. Good numbers of White-throated Sparrows frequent the flowerbeds and are often joined by Song, Swamp and Chipping Sparrows. Dark-eyed Juncos may also be numerous. Lincoln and Fox Sparrow have occurred as rarities. The trees routinely attract Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in the fall and winter, along with occasional Northern Flickers. The Sasaki Garden provides wintering habitat for Hermit Thrush, and in late fall, it's not unusual to encounter a dozen or more. Together with American Robins and Cedar Waxwings these attractive thrushes exploit the plantings of crabapple and cherry trees in the northern section. In flight years, the fruit of these trees has attracted Purple Finches. Additional migrants such as Blue-headed Vireo, Winter Wren, Brown Creeper, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets and Eastern Towhee may also be observed.

In spring, small numbers of warblers pass through but can be easily overlooked in the foliage. These have included Cape May Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler. One or two Wood Thrush are recorded each year. Drinking water and cut fruit are put out on the ground in the Time Landscape Garden, attracting Blue Jays and Gray Catbirds and might be worth checking for uncommon visitors. The resident Rock Pigeons and Mourning Doves attract the attention of Red-tailed Hawks, presumably coming over from nearby Washington Square Park, and American Kestrel, Merlin and Peregrine have all been seen on occasion.

Other Considerations and Directions

This is a relatively safe area, due in large part to its proximity to the University, which provides round-the-clock patrols of the area. The Sasaki Garden is closed during the hours of darkness and receives a fair amount of foot traffic during the day from residents and building employees. Be mindful of the privacy of the folks whose apartments face onto the garden. Signs forbidding photography in the gardens have disappeared and it's not unusual to see NYU film students at work in the park areas, but common sense should apply. Access to the Community Garden and Time Landscape Garden is controlled but both areas can be viewed through the fence.

The area is easily reached by subway to either the West 4th Street (A B C D E F M) or Broadway/Lafayette Street (B D F M 6) subway stations, both of which are only a short walk away.

Image and essay by Angus Wilson of the Linnaean Society of New York. The original post, WASHINGTON SQUARE VILLAGE AND SILVER TOWERS COMPLEX, can be read at