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 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.

Bleecker Street Cherry Trees Removal

September 7, 2016

The Kwanzan cherry trees on Bleecker Street fascinated passersby in the fall but especially in the spring. I, too, was taken with these trees. The trees were removed this week to accommodate the demolition of the NYU Coles Gym and the construction of 181 Mercer Street. Per a communication released by the university, an independent arborist concluded that possibly only three of the seven cherries "might survive a transplant under the right conditions" (emphasis in the original). Suitable relocation sites could not be identified in the neighborhood so NYU proceeded with removal with a NYC Parks tree removal permit. The wood will be donated to Big Reuse, a nonprofit that recycles and repurposes various types of urban wood. Finally, the university "is paying restitution to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, and those funds will be used to plant new trees in New York City. In addition, at the completion of the project, NYU will be responsible for planting new trees around the perimeter of 181 Mercer Street." NYC Parks uses a tree valuation protocol to determine the replacement value of trees. I was not aware that the land in which the trees grew fell under the purview of the parks department but given its involvement in permitting the tree removal, it clearly has jurisdiction over this parcel. I am curious about the species that will be planted around the new university building.

List of Nature & Science Books for Children (and adults, too)

August 30, 2016

"Do you have a list of all of your books somewhere?", asked reader @dianalempel on Instagram.
Diana asked this question about the #shortstackofbooks feature I post almost weekly on Instagram. In February I published screenshots of #shortstackofbooks on the blog but I did not provide a list of books. I am glad Diana nudged me to prepare a proper list of the Short Stack of Books series which are included below in alphabetical order by title.

Image: Wild Ideas by Elin Kelsey with artwork by Soyeon Kim
  • A Bald Eagle's World, Caroline Arnold
  • A Drop of Water, Gordon Morrison
  • A Hands-on Guide for Little Inventors, Rachel Doorley
  • A Seed is Sleepy, Diana Hutts Aston
  • A Tree is Growing, Arthur Dorros, illustrated by S. D. Schindler
  • A Tree is Nice, Janice May Udry, with pictures by Marc Simont
  • About Trees, Katie Holten
  • Actual Size, Steve Jenkins*
  • Alego, Ningeokuluk Teevee
  • An Egg is Quiet, Dianna Aston, with art by Sylvia Long
  • And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, with illustrations by Henry Cole
  • And Then It's Spring, Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead*
  • Beach, Elisha Cooper
  • Beachcombing, Jim Arnosky
  • Birding at the Bridge, Heather Wolf**
  • Birds of New York, Stan Tekiela
  • Botany for Gardeners, Harold William Rickett
  • Bright Sky Starry City, Uma Krishaswami, with pictures by Aimee Sicuro
  • Central Park in the Dark, Marie Winn
  • Cherry Blossoms Say Spring, Jill Esbaum
  • Children Around the World, Peter Guttman
  • Coyote at the Kitchen Door, Stephen DeStefano
  • Crows! Strange and Wonderful, Laurence Pringle, illustrated by Bob Marstall
  • Daylight Starlight Wildlife, Wendell Minor
  • Desert Days Desert Nights, Roxie Munro
  • Eggs 1 2 3, Janet Halfman with art by Betsy Thompson
  • Eliza's Cherry Trees - Japan's Gift to America, Andrea Zimmerman, illustrated by Ju Hong Chen
  • Farm Anatomy, Julia Rothman
  • Feral Cities, Tristan Donovan
  • Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City; Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City: Leslie Day**
  • Field Guide to Urban Wildlife, Julie Feinstein
  • Flotsam, David Wiesner*
  • Follow the Moon Home, Philippe Cousteau and Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Meilo So
  • Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss*
  • Gregory's Shadow, Don Freeman
  • Harlem is Nowhere, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts
  • House Held Up by Trees, Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klassen
  • House Held Up by Trees, Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klassen.
  • How to Draw a Dragon, Douglas Florian
  • I See a Kookaburra!, Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
  • I, Matthew Henson, Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
  • Is This Panama?, Jan Thornhill, with illustrations by Soyeon Kim
  • Just Ducks, Nicola Davies, illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino
  • Lab Girl, Hope Jahren

  • Lassoing the Sun, Mark Woods
  • Lila and the Secret of Rain, David Conway & Jude Daly
  • Little Tree, Loren Long
  • Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Steve Jenkins
  • Mapping Manhattan, Becky Cooper
  • Maps, Aleksandra Mizuelinska and Daniel Mizielinski.
  • Monkey Colors, Darrin Lunde, illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne
  • Nature Anatomy, Julia Rothman
  • Nightsong, Ari Berk***
  • Nuts to You; Feathers for Lunch; Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf: Lois Ehlert
  • Ocean Sunlight, Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm
  • Oh, Rats!: The Story of Rats and People, Albert Marrin
  • Outside your Window, Nicola Davies, illustrated by Mark Hearld*
  • Over in the Meadow, Ezra Jack Keats
  • Pacific Coast Tree Finder, Tom Watts
  • Pie in the Sky, Lois Ehlert
  • Rabbits and Raindrops by Jim Arnosky
  • Raindrops Roll, April Pulley Sayre

Image: Ron's Big Mission by Corinne J. Naden and Rose Blue, illustrated by Don Tate

  • Ron's Big Mission, Corinne J. Naden and Rose Blue, illustrated by Don Tate
  • Sophie Scott Goes South, Alison Lester
  • Sticky Burr, John Lechner*
  • The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Promise, Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin
  • The Secret Pool, Kimberly Ridley, illustrated by Rebekah Raye
  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats***
  • The Tale of Pale Male, Jeanette Winter
  • The Tiny Seed, Eric Carle
  • The Urban Bestiary, Lynda Lynn Haupt
  • The Watcher, Jeanette Winter
  • The WPA Guide to New York City
  • This is Washington, D.C., Miroslav Sasek
  • This Tree Counts, Alison Formento, illustrated by Sarah Snow
  • Tree Finder, May Theilgaard Watts
  • Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out, April Pulley Sayre, with illustrations by Annie Patterson
  • Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, Kate Messner
  • Water Boy, David McPhail
  • Water Can Be, Laura Purdie Salas, illustrations by Violetta Dabija
  • Water in the Park, Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin**
  • We Planted a Tree, Diane Muldrow, with illustrations by Bob Staake
  • What in the Wild?, David M. Schwartz and Yael Schy, with photos by Dwight Kuhn
  • What's Your Favorite Animal, Eric Carle and Friends
  • Wild Ideas, Elin Kelsey, with artwork by Soyeon Kim
  • Winter Trees, Carole Gerber, illustrated by Leslie Evans

Image: A Drop of Water by Gordon Morrison

Are any of your favorites on the list? Let me know in the comments.

* For even more nature books, check out the Nature Advent Calendar book series.
** These titles are part of the WSP Eco Projects's portable library of nature books.
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