Fall Foliage Collected in Washington Square Park

November 22, 2016

My intent was to preserve the fall foliage I collected last week with glycerin and to use leaves as a teaching tool for Washington Square Park Eco Projects. Now the leaves may be too dry to preserve them in glycerin successful. There are still many leaves on many of the park's trees so I still have time to collect freshly fallen samples for preservation. I must hurry though has the parks department is cleaning up fallen leaves and winter weather has arrived suddenly with flurries and cold, fast moving winds. The preservation process seems straightforward. Prepare a 1:2 ratio of glycerin to water and pour the mixture in a shallow tray, spread the leaves in the solution, weigh down the leaves so they remain submerged for four days on average, remove the leaves from the solution and pat dry.

Here are my favorite resources:
Glycerin Leaves [Tinkerlab]
How to Preserve Fall Leaves and Branches with Glycerin [Today's Homeowner]
Preserving Leaves [Martha Stewart]

Have you preserved leaves? What method did you use?

The labeled image at the top of the post would also make a good learning tool but it cannot replace the experience of holding an actual leaf. Most of the trees are peaking in Washington Square Park so this is a good time to visit for fall foliage. If you can't make it to the park, enjoy its autumnal show through the photos below.

Washington Square Park, Fall 2016 Foliage, 11/12/16
Washington Square Park, Fall 2016 Foliage, 11/12/16

P.S. The species represented above are different from the ones whose leaves I gathered days after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The leaf litter I observed in Washington Square Park after the superstorm was heavy on the oaks.

Historic Lenape Way and Contemporary Native Gardens

November 10, 2016

In the popular imagination, I think it's fair to say that Broadway is the quintessential NYC street but most people are unfamiliar with this history of this thoroughfare. Broadway, according to The Wayfinding Project at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU, "runs along a portion of the original matrix of trails that connected Manaháhtaan to the broader northeast region and the Great Lakes". Manaháhtaan is the original name given to the island by the Lenape peoples. The Wayfinding Project, a collaboration between John Kuo Wei Tchen, the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU, and artist Beatrice Glow, examines Lenape knowledge of Manhattan and the complex ways in which such knowledge was produced.

Image: Screenshot of Lenapeway & NYU Native Plant Walking Tour map by Beatrice Glow

As part of the larger project, Beatrice Glow developed Lenapeway to celebrate Lenape culture including modes of terrestrial, riverine, and coastal transportation. For example, images of mùxulhemënshi (tuliptree, Liriodendron tulipifera) are projected in the installation; dugout canoes were constructed out of tulip tree wood. There is a virtual reality component to Lenapeway but the feature I was most interested in exploring was the walking tour of native plant gardens in the area. The actual location of the Lenapeway installation is 715 Broadway which "marks the intersection of the main Lenape trail and a side-trail that traverses through present-day Washington Square Park". I did not participate in the live tour of the garden held on October 18th but I followed Beatrice Glow's map. I was comfortable with a self-guided experience because all of the five greenspaces are familiar to me. I wish the map was annotated; it would be informative to know why these particular spaces and which plants are of interest.  The open spaces on the map are NYU owned gardens with the exception of Washington Square Park which is a NYC public park.

1. Mercer Plaza, 251 Mercer Street
2. Oak Grove at Silver Towers, 100 & 110 Bleecker Street
3. Schwartz Plaza at NYU
4. Washington Square Park, north side
5. Willy's Garden, 1/2 5th Avenue

Mercer Plaza

In 2010, I wrote about the renovation of Mercer Plaza. The trees and other plants have filled out significantly. The plaza can be described as verdant. There are a couple of statuesque tulip trees in this garden. Sweetgum and willow oaks also fill out the canopy layer. The sub-canopy and lower layers are planted with native small trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses.

Oak Grove

I have written about the oak grove on Bleecker Street here and here. In the latter post, the grove was one of seven Greenwich Village "hidden gems" in and around the NYU superblocks. There are 14 oaks growing in the grove most of which are willow oaks (Quercus phellos). Northern red oak, pin oak, and a young swamp white oak round out the mix.

Schwartz Plaza

The plaza runs between West 4th and West 3rd Streets. Two garden areas bookend the space and are collectively known as the NYU Native Woodland Garden in Schwartz Plaza. The northernmost of the gardens was once planted with littleleaf lindens with a fern and wild ginger understory. In 2011, the lindens were removed and replaced with American hornbeam or ironwood (Carpinus caroliana). You can read my report and see a 2009-2013 photo series.

Washington Square Park

The northside of the park was indicated on the map as a site of native plants. Two of my favorite stretches on this edge of the park is the row of oaks east of the Washington Arch. I also like the layered planting zone northwest of the arch. It is planted with, among species, crabapples, oak leaf hydrangeas, and sage. We have noticed during our wildlife survey walks that the latter zone is a hotspot for birds.

Willy's Garden

The walking tour ends at Willy's Garden on Fifth Avenue. The garden is a narrow ground of trees, shrubs, and ground cover. At the rear of the garden is a statue of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote de la Mancha. This statue was given to New York by Enrique Tierno Galván, the Mayor of Madrid, in 1986. It was placed temporarily in Bryant Park, then slated to be installed in Washington Square Park, but found a permanent home in this New York University courtyard.

These contemporary gardens are within the historic Minetta Creek watershed (refer to the second photo). The creek ran through what is now Washington Square Park but is now culverted and buried. I would like to see gardens on the former route of the creek that reflect plant communities that would have thrived creekside though this concept would require creative irrigation schemes. Another option would be neighborhood greenspaces vegetated with plants that would have been found in Lenape gardens. There is such a garden in New York City. In 2009, Fritz Haeg of gardenlab/Edible Estates with the Hudson Guild, New York Restoration Project, and Friends of the High Line installed a Lenape Edible Estate at the Elliott-Chelsea Houses. The garden was planted in zones: woodland, flowering meow, berry patch, and Three Sisters. The plant list for each zone is only a subset of the species collected and collected by the Lenape peoples. Maybe the call to action for myself is to contact The Wayfinding Project about designing a garden!

Using NYC Parks as Classrooms - Learning to Garden with Acorns in Washington Square Park

October 18, 2016

Have you ever planted an acorn? Maybe you've worked on a woodland restoration project and planted acorns in a natural setting?

Last Saturday we attended an acorn planting workshop led by Kaslin Daniels, the head gardener at Washington Square Park. We planted acorns in terra-cotta pots. Kaslin asked open ended questions about what seeds look, feel, and smell like, what they do, and what they need to grow.  The discussion had an experiential aspect. Kaslin slit the skin of one of the walnuts so the children could smell its lemony scent. In addition to walnuts, she also displayed acorns, haws, sweetgum balls, oak leaves, and one-year old seedlings of hawthorn, ginkgo and red oak. By request of the children, she cut open the fruits and nuts so the children could see their interiors.

After this introduction, Kaslin demonstrated how to plant the English oak acorns that she had gathered from Prospect Park. To each pot, soil was loosely added then two English oak acorns were placed cap side up/root end down into the soil leaving their top halves exposed. The soil was generously watered. The children were told to keep the soil moist to the touch. The roots will germinate before the shoots so be patient.

There was not a story time component to the event, but Kaslin displayed several topical picture books. My son chose Gail Gibbons From Seed to Plant for me to read to him. The remaining three books, which I browsed through, were A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Aston and Sylvia Long; Who Will Plant a Tree? by Jerry Pallotta and Tom Leonard; and Treecology by Monica Russo.

Kaslin is a thoughtful and engaging teacher. The children responded well to her style and to the workshop concept. I would like to see more tree gardening opportunities in the park. Additional types of fruit and nut could be collected from plants in the park and potted. And though the park might not have space for a greenhouse, perhaps participants in future planting workshops could donate seedlings they grew to populate a children's woodland area in the park.

Paerdegat Ecology and Natural Area Parks in Brooklyn

October 5, 2016

To see one of the newest parks in New York, I joined at least 15 other people on a tour of the Paerdegat Ecology Park in Carnasie, Brooklyn, on September 23rd. Paerdegat Ecology Park is one element of Paerdegat Basin Natural Area Park and Ecology Park. The natural area and ecology parks are a community benefit project resulting from improvements to the Paerdegat Basin Water Quality Facility.  The upgraded combined sewer overflow (CSO) facility is designed to accept 50 million gallons of sewer and stormwater. Above this capacity, a combined flow of waste- and storm-water will be released into the Paerdegat Basin.

The walk began at the gate to the CSO facility and education center with an introduction to the city's 50 natural areas by Hunter Armstrong, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Natural Areas Conservancy. Our tour guide was John McLaughlin, Director of the Office of Ecological Services at NYCDEP. John is one of the project designers. The other is Mike Feller of NYC Parks.

As we headed east on Bergen towards the ecology park we passed the southern natural area park with its undulating cultural grasslands. The site was purposefully restored without trees to provide grassland bird habitat. During excavation for combined sewer tank, clean glacial till sand was discovered 10 feet below the fill on the site. The glacial sand was kept on site and used to create the grasslands and tidal salt marsh wetlands.

There are four components to the entire natural landscaping project. The natural area park is composed of the tidal wetland (4.5 acres), the northern upland natural area park (21 acres), and the southern upland natural area park (20 acres). The ecology park is 5 acres. The northern upland had "high quality" indigenous vegetation such as bayberry, holly, and pin, scarlet, and willow oaks so only spot removal of invasive species was undertaken followed by planting of native species.

The southern upland was a different scenario. Prior to the development of the natural area and ecology parks, the site was used for scrapping cars and dumping household and industrial waste. It was also naturally seeded with "low habitat value" species such as Oriental bittersweet, Japanese knot wood, mugwort, etc. Complying with regulations, contaminated soils were removed and the landscape capped with two feet of the sand unearthed during construction of the water quality facility after which a "typical" coastland grassland was installed. Adjacent to this, the ecology park with different ecological types was planted from scratch.

The plant communities represented in the ecology park are Beech/Maple Forest, Shrub Swamp, Shallow Emergent Marsh, Coastinal Oak/Heath Woodland, Coastal Plain Atlantic White Cedar Swamp, Maritime Red Cedar Swamp, Coastal Oak/Holly Forest, Pitch Pine Oak Forest, Maritime Post Oak Forest, Hempstead Plains Grassland, Maritime Scrubland, Maritime Scrubland, Brackish Intertidal Swales, Salt Shrub, and Salt Marsh.

If you want to see the diversity of habitat that's possible at the confluence of major ecological regions, then you should visit Paerdegat Ecology Park. However, the ecology park has supervised public access, so you will need to be accompanied by someone with the key. Hopefully, John McLaughlin will lead additional tours. His observations and anecdotes were fascinating. Did you know that when the city's sanitary system was designed 125 years ago, the city was only 25% impervious? Now the city's footprint is 75% impervious cover. Another factoid is that 1.5 miles of wetland are needed to reduce a storm surge by 1 foot though the variation in surge attenuation by wetland length might be 1.3 to 3.8 miles. The variation in geography and storm conditions might make the impact of wetland extent negligible. John McLaughlin told the tour participants that we "need dunes!" A local resident on the walk noted that the neighborhood behind the dunes in the northern upland nature area did not flood as dramatically as unprotected neighborhoods during Hurricane Sandy.

Disclosure: The tour got off to a late start and I could not delay my ride back home so the information on plant communities presented above were sourced from the handout distributed during the tour.

16 Bird Species Sighted in Washington Square Park

September 29, 2016

Image: Downy Woodpeckerphoto by and used with permission of Hubert J. Steed

Since last week's post about the wildlife survey in Washington Square Park, we have completed another survey, on Monday, September 26 to be precise. The new species we observed were: Black-and-White Warbler, Carolina Wren, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, gull sp., Magnolia Warbler, Northern Cardinal, and Swanson's Thrush. We heard but did not see White-throated Sparrow. The pair of adult Red-tailed Hawks were flying back and forth above the canopy on the western half of the park. It was an awesome experience seeing their bellies and wingspans against the sky.

In addition to birds, we observed squirrels and mice. This data has not yet been added to the WSP Wildlife Survey 2016 map but you can see the raw numbers on the WSP Eco Projects eBird page.

Image: Eastern Phoebephoto by and used with permission of Hubert J. Steed

What migratory birds are you seeing in your parks and backyards?

Birds of Washington Square Park

September 21, 2016

Image: Red-tailed hawk, photo by and used with permission of Hubert J. Steed

WSP Eco Projects received a NYC Parks Research Permit to complete a wildlife survey of the park. A continuous line transect method was chosen with the help of NYC Audubon. Wearing my WSP Eco Projects hat, I have completed the transect twice with invaluable assistance from a local resident and birder.

Image: American robin, photo by and used with permission of Hubert J. Steed

The dates of our observation were August 31 and September 15. We recorded the following species:

American redstart
American robin
Blue jay*
Common yellowthroat*
European starling
House sparrow
Mourning dove
Northern flicker*
Red-tailed hawk
Rock dove (pigeon)

Image: Blue jay, photo by and used with permission of Hubert J. Steed
Image: Common yellowthroat (male), photo by and used with permission of Hubert J. Steed

The starred (*) species were first observed on September 15. Also on the 15th, we sighted one monarch butterfly. We may have seen a Connecticut warbler as well. Later that day, I spotted a downy woodpecker. Tent caterpillars were observed on August 31 but only remnants of the tents remained during the second walk; we did not see any caterpillars.

Image: European starling, photo by and used with permission of Hubert J. Steed
To see the transect, the location and abundance of the birds (and squirrels) in the park, please visit the WSP Wildlife Survey 2016 map.

Image: House sparrow (male), photo by and used with permission of Hubert J. Steed

Image: Mourning dove, photo by and used with permission of Hubert J. Steed

The photography used in this post is used with permission of Hubert J. Steed. Check out Mr. Steed's birds photo gallery at PBase.

We will be conducting continuous line transect surveys through the end of the year. Would you like to volunteer for the survey? We need experienced birders to conduct the surveys and to lead bird ID walks. Please email me at wspecoprojects @gmail.com with your specific interest. Thank you.

P.S. We have not sighted any Norway rats in the park though we have observed signs of their presence, specifically burrow holes.

Read Nature Books in Washington Square Park

September 13, 2016

Washington Square Park (WSP) Eco Projects has shelf space on the Uni Project Reading Room that will be installed in the park on Thursdays, September 15 and 22, 3-7 pm. Meet us under the English Elm to read nature books and to play a game of nature bingo. The bingo card was designed by The Bird Feed NYC for WSP Eco Projects.
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