February 8, 2018

Two Experiential Bird Books for Children


Just in time for this month's Great Backyard Bird Count, Downtown Bookworks provided me with two books perfect for a bird-inclined young child. (These titles would also be great to introduce a young child to birds and bird-watching.) I field tested both PBS Kids Look and Learn Birds by Sarah Parvis and Science with Stuff: Bird-acious by Melissa Stewart with an eight year old.


Science with Stuff: Bird-acious, by Melissa Stewart

Science with Stuff: Bird-Acious has 23 short sections starting with the relationship between dinosaurs and birds (birds are dinosaurs). Subsequent chapters discuss anatomy and behavior including bird size feathers and flight, mating and chick rearing, and beaks and tongues and their role in diet. The subject of the third to last section is waste and one of the wastes featured is an owl pellet which is a fantastic segue to the final two sections of the book.

The hands-on project included in this book immediately captured my son's attention. He actually completed the project before reading the book. An owl pellet is enclosed in the front cover of the book and the final pages of the book discusses the owl to which the pellet belongs, how to dissect a pellet, and how pellets are formed. In addition, there is a key to identify the individual bones and the type of animal in the pellet.


My son first dissected an owl pellet in preK. He's now in second grade. He has dissected additional pellets within this time frame. His specific feedback was that Science with Stuff: Bird-Acious should be packaged with more than one pellet. He also thought several of the images were gross yet fascinating. If you've read this book or if you buy it after reading this review, let me know which images riveted your child!


PBS Kids Look and Learn Birds, by Sarah Parvis

Look and Learn Birds is part of a kit that includes a pair of binoculars, a laminated list of common North American birds, and an activity poster. The page colors and font are lively and appealing to young children. Another stand-out design feature of the book are the photographs which are bright and sharp.

The systematic arrangement of the books 23 short sections takes the reader through the process of how to bird watch while teaching the reader about bird anatomy and behavior. The writing is straightforward and accessible to a young reader. Instructions on how to use the binoculars is placed at the end of the book which I appreciated. I think placing the instructions at the beginning would have been distracting.


My son said he learned many new things about birds and listed three facts: sparrows don't fall from trees while sleeping because of the architecture of their toes, nuthatches walk down tree trunks, and ravens are larger than crows. He enjoyed looking at the photographs. He would like to see more photographs and more factoids in a future edition of the book! He thinks the kit could be improved with better binoculars. He wanted better distance range. These basic binoculars work fine for stationary, eye-level, close-up birds.

I have one peeve about the book. It uses the term "seagulls" in the Shorebirds section. When I mentioned this to my son he told me that one has to use the term sea-gulls otherwise you might think they were bay-gulls. Get it?

Final thoughts

Science with Stuff: Bird-acious and and Look and Learn Birds are packed with great information about bird anatomy and behavior. Our favorite though is Look and Learn Birds for its compelling photographs and easy guide to birding. In the end, they are different books. The former engages you with an exploration of a bird bio-fact (the owl pellet) while the other one provides tools to get you outside looking at birds.

Both books are provided for review purposes by Downtown Bookworks.

February 2, 2018

Washington Square Park Documentary Resources

I am a big fan of libraries and archives. I've engaged with their people and material resources to complete a variety of projects. An example is the online tree map of Washington Square Park. I met with the manager of NYC Parks' Map Archives in Queens to explore their paper map holdings. Another example is an essay I wrote about the Next Epoch Seed Library published by Urban Omnibus. I interviewed the founders Ellie Irons and Anne Percoco and participating in in a couple of their workshops.

Today - and this post will be updated as new resources are discovered - I share for the record, documentary resources (excluding books) pertaining to Washington Square Park, including Minetta Brook. Please indicate omissions in the comments section.

Help Preserve Washington Square petition and poster, 1945 [download here and here via Citizens Housing Planning Council]

Area 3 - Washington Square - Greenwich Village Historic District Designation Report, Volume 1 1969 [download]

Washington Square Park Phase 1A Archaeological Assessment - Joan H. Geismar, PhD., LLC for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, August 2005 with July 2006 revisions

The Reconstruction of the Washington Square Arch and Adjacent Site Work - Joan H. Geismar, PhD., LLC for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, April 2004

Washington Square Park - A User Analysis and Place Performance Evaluation - Project for Public Spaces for the Washington Square Park Council, December 1, 2005

Washington Square Park - A Changing Landscape - George Vellonakis [possibly a version his presentation at the "Washington Square Park: Designs Over Time" panel on May 27, 2009 hosted by the Center for Architecture]

Washington Square Park Phase 1 Construction/Archaeological Field Testing Report - Joan H. Geismar, PhD., LLC for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, March/September 2009

Washington Square Park Phase 2 Construction/Archaeological Field Testing Report - Joan H. Geismar, PhD., LLC for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, July 2012

Washington Square Park Phase 3 Construction/Archaeological Field Testing Report - Joan H. Geismar, PhD., LLC for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, November 2013

Washington Square Park State of the Nature Report 2016 - Washington Square Park Eco Projects [narrative report of the wildlife survey conducted by Eco Projects in 2016 published in The Villager on May 18, 2017. A formal report was filed with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.]

Water Main Connection at Washington Square Park - Department of Design and Construction First Quarter Newsletter 2017 [download via NYU Community Affairs]

Modeling the Minetta Brook by Steve Duncan, undated

February 1, 2018

Family Adventure - Hiking Mount Cardigan


Not too long after our trip to Appalachian Mountain Club Cardigan Lodge in New Hampshire last summer, I wrote about a pond study activity in which we participated. We also completed two hikes. The first of these hikes was to Welton Falls in Welton Falls State Forest. My husband described this hike as short but he had never completed the trail with young children. To their credit, the children did very well and were encouraged by gummy "trail bears" along the way.


One thing my children enjoy is digging in the dirt especially when it is at eye level. How do you accomplish that you ask? Well, look for upturned trees in the woods. We found one on the waterfall hike and another on our hike the following day. The children also like to hop on rocks, and the trail accommodated this type of play with many, many rocks. Once we arrived at the waterfall, the brave among us waded into the frigid pool of water at the base of the fall. I sank my toes into the very cool sand. We people watched, ate a small snack, and collected "fools gold" some of which I occasionally find in pant and bag pockets.




The second hike - the Woodland Trail - was much longer. We knew this ahead of time but since the children had done so well on the waterfall hike we figured they could handle a longer one especially if we used a stroller's pace and packed a big lunch and snacks. The "trail bears" also made multiple appearances on this hike. There was plenty to fascinate young children. One the first gems we came across were ant-filled logs. The children used small sticks to manipulate the ants. It took some convincing to keep moving. We next encountered a stream which both children clambered down to before crossing a wooden bridge. This next section of the trail was a bit of a scramble over wet rocks and gnarly roots. When we reached the next plateau we were a bit spent. The hiker ahead of us was on his way to the summit. This was not our ultimate destination but even it were our party would have not taken his route which though the shortest way to the mountain top is the most difficult.


At this point we dropped our pace. We meandered on the moss covered ground occasionally walking across boardwalks installed over wet ground. The landscape at this point on the trail was my favorite. The children found there upturned tree in this stretch, too. I observed many fungi and logged them on iNaturalist. We even spotted an Eastern Newt.



The next phase of the trail was steep, downhill, and muddy but at the base the children were treated to a stream. My daughter found a stick twice her height and was smitten. The last stretch of the trail was almost overwhelmingly buggy and we were quite tuckered at this point. Our group split up so that my son and I could make it back to the lodge for the pond activity. My husband and daughter joined us later.


In addition to activities in and around the lodge, we went blueberry picking at Cardigan Mountain Orchard (not affiliated with the lodge), ate ice cream at The Mill Ice Cream Cafe & Fudge Factory in Bristol which overlooks the Newfound River, and on our way back home swam and splashed around in Newfound Lake. We all want to return to Mount Cardigan this summer!

December 7, 2017

New York City Trees by the Books

There are several internet-based pathways to learn about and to engage with the trees of New York City. The online NYC Street Tree Map, the result of the third decennial street tree census administered by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, allows you to visualize each of the 680,851 trees (as of 12/7/17) in the database. Want to know how much air pollution the tree at the nearest intersection filters? Query the map. Log your tree care activities and connect with other urban forest stewards using the My [Heart] Trees feature. Learn to identify your street trees by watching the #MeetNYCsStreetTrees videos. Some NYC parks have online tree maps. As you take advantage of these online resources, don't ignore paper-based ways of learning about trees. The following collection of books range from tree guides to picture books. Taken together, they tell a tale of the wealth of arboreal life in our midst.

Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City by Leslie Day, PhD.

The most common street trees planted in New York City are featured in Day's guide.


New York City of Trees by Benjamin Swett [I included this book in my round-up of Books about Witness Trees.]

Prepare to be wowed by many, if not all, of the 200 tree stories in this book. Every borough is represented.


New York City Trees by Edward Sibley Barnard
Central Park Trees and Landscapes by Edward Sibley Barnard and Neil Calvanese

New York City's most famous park has had many books written about it. Barnard and Calvanese focus on its trees. Barnard's tree guide is an essential one especially if you are observing trees in parks.


Trees of New York Field Guide by Stan Tekiela

Tekiela's state bird guide is organized by feather color which makes it incredibly easy to use. I haven't used this tree guide but if it's as intuitive to use as the bird guide, then I would recommend it.



The Tree by Karen Gray Ruelle with illustrations by Deborah Durland DeSaix

Ruelle's book is about the life one of the English elms in Madison Square Park. The elm died after the book was published in 2008.



What NYC tree books did I miss? What books have been written about the trees in your city?

November 20, 2017

Brook Park Wetland, Bronx, NY


I visited Brook Park in February 2014 and spoke with Harry Bubbins, then director of the Friends of Brook Park about a proposal for a wet meadow in the park which sits on the historic Mill Brook. The project summary below is excerpted from the post, 5 Lessons from NYC Stormwater Projects for Rebuild by Design. A project update is provided at the end of the excerpt.

The Friends of Brook Park have undertaken a restoration plan for a wet meadow and rain water catchment system along a section of the historic Mill Brook. The planning for the restoration project began long before Hurricane Sandy but claims about the project’s ability to reduce upland flooding and reduce contributions to downstream CSOs align it not only with the city’s pre-storm sustainability and green infrastructure plans but also with the post-storm rebuilding and resiliency plan. The Brook Park project exemplifies the creative grassroots and capacity building of the Friends.



When former Mayor Giuliani proposed to sell the city’s community gardens, South Bronx community groups coalesced around open space preservation. The park was created when its founders transformed an underutilized lot with the support of school principals and the larger community to start an after-school program for with funding from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation. The restoration plan was initiated when a neighbor showed the Friends group maps of the historic creek in 2005. The park received a grant from the U.S. Forest Service Living Memorials Project to plant trees. Currently, the restoration project is in the design and implementation phase and funding is provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the South Bronx Waterfront Partnership which is funded by Congressman José E. Serrano and managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Although navigating the city’s green infrastructure bureaucracy has been challenging, this step-wise process has meant that the park’s stewards have been, borrowing from Marcia McNally, "car[ing for] and feeding" their own grassroots. Grassroots does not imply lack of sophistication. The design for the stormwater capture wetland system is elegant.



Although the original brook flows under the site, it will not be daylighted in the traditional sense. An impermeable layer will separate the constructed wetland and the original creek flow. The wetland is conceived of as three separate ponds that will be fed by precipitation that falls on the site. The other source of water for the ponds will be rainwater harvested from the roofs of twenty-eight adjacent townhouses. Runoff from a different set of five townhouses will be used for gravity-fed irrigation. The estimated combined total rainfall from townhouse roofs and the park is 39, 281 gallons during a 1” rain event and 1, 571, 250 gallons annually.

Brook Park Passive Landscape Construction Schematic, source: NYC Parks Capital Project Tracker

The design phase of the project began in April 2014 and was completed in April 2017. The project is currently in the procurement phase and this phase is expected to be completed in January 2018. Construction should follow. The project is being funded by the Offices of Mayor, the Borough President, and the City Council. The budget is between $500,000 and $1 million.

October 10, 2017

Books about Witness Trees

A witness tree can be an ordinary mark on a surveyor's map or an observer of extraordinary events. Trees used to indicate the corners of parcels in land surveys conducted in the thirteen east coast colonies were classified as "witness trees." The historic moniker has been adopted by the National Park Service (NPS) to designate trees that are located at sites of significant events in U.S. history. NPS and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) created The Witness Tree Project. Students enrolled in the project's courses at RISD conduct historical analysis of fallen witness trees, their biophysical and cultural settings, and make place-based objects from the wood. Consider these additional definitions of witness tree: a narrative device to talk about culture, the botanical partner in an interspecies relationship with a human, and an indicator of a significant, contemporary phenomenon. Here are four books that express the breadth of the witness tree concept.


In Trees of New York City (2017), Benjamin Swett profiles "great trees" and "ordinary trees" in all five boroughs. It's more accurate to describe each entry as a historical narrative of that particular tree and that species place in American arboriculture. Swett's photographs are a fantastic complement to his writing. The English elm in Washington Square Park is one of my favorite trees and it is featured on pages 64-65.


There are many famous trees in New York City, and among that number is the fictional tree of heaven in Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1934). The tree, growing outside Francie Nolan's window, is both a witness to her life but also a symbol of how one can flourish despite poor conditions. Did you know that the tree of heaven's optimal biophysical environment includes moist and loamy soil? However, it will grow "lushly" as it did in Francie's tenement neighborhood in poorer soil conditions.


In Witness Tree, by environmental journalist Lynda V. Mapes, we encounter a single tree in a rural forest. Mapes essentially conducted a silvicultural ethnography of a red oak in the Harvard Forest. Combining her first-hand observations of the tree's phenology over four seasons and the research being conducted by scientists in the forest, Mapes makes the case for the ties that bind humans and non-humans and how our actions, especially as they relate to climate change, impact not only forests and wildlife, but people, too.



The fourth book is The Tree in the Courtyard (2016) by Jeff Gottesfeld. This is a picture book but it not fictional. Outside the room in the annex building where Anne Frank hid during World War II grew a horse chestnut. Gottesfeld gives the tree agency; she is the narrator. After the tree witnesses a kiss between Anne and boy, we read, "The tree made her blossoms extra bright that spring." Later on, when people attempt to save the tree, the tree recalls "how few had tried to save the girl." The tree died in 2010 after a lightning strike. Her seeds and saplings were collected and planted around the world. The illustrations by Peter McCarty are absolutely lovely and I especially like the depiction of tree keeping vigil as the seasons changed.

Book cover images via Google Books, Harper Collins, Bloomsbury, Penguin Random House.

September 5, 2017

Washington Square Park Loses Three Canopy Trees

Image: Inonotus dryadeus-infected pin oak in Washington Square Park

On a routine walk about in Washington Square Park on July 18, 2017, I observed fungal growth at the base of one of the red oaks, a pin oak specifically, in the large NW lawn of the park. I uploaded photos of the fungus to iNaturalist for identification. On July 21st, I tweeted photos of the fungus, Oak bracket (Inonotus dryadeus), and the infected pin oak from the WSP Eco Projects account and copied NYC Parks and NYC311. A formal report of the infected tree was made by WSP Eco Projects on July 24th via Twitter DM per request of NYC311. Also, on July 21st, the photos of the fungus, unidentified at the time, were published on the WSP Eco Projects Instagram feed. The WSP conservancy commented that they shared our sighting of the fungus with NYC Parks Manhattan Forestry (Forestry). On August 7th, the WSP conservancy announced by email that NYC Parks would begin a course of tree work in the park beginning August 8th. I don't know if the pin oak had been tagged for removal prior to my reporting the presence of the oak bracket.

Image: Plane tree being removed from Washington Square Park

The tree work was contracted to Emerald Tree & Shrub Care Company based in Scarsdale, NY. A double crew performed the tree work under supervision of master arborist Kevin Wyatt and crew leader and arborist Pedro Meza. Emerald Tree Care discovered problems with two additional trees during the course of their work. The large plane tree in the SW corner of the park was found to have rot and a crack in the crown. The third tree to be removed was the smaller of the two ashes in the "webs" playground was removed after buttress root damage and multiple cavities in the crown were detected. Emerald Tree Care communicated the status of the trees to NYC Parks and the agency made the final decision to remove the trees.

Image: Ash tree being removed in Washington Square Park

What were the size stats for the three canopy trees? According to the diameter records in the WSP Eco Map, the plane tree was 47 inches, the pin oak was 28 inches, and the ash was 25 inches. Washington Square Park lost at least 100 inches of diameter urban tree canopy in August. A total of 270 trees were on the original work order, of which three were removed.

As most of my readers now, I direct WSP Eco Projects. The Eco Map will be updated to reflect this loss in the canopy. While the park has approximately 35-40 species, several species have many individuals and there is less diversity at the genus level. I don't know when NYC Parks will replace the lost trees nor do I know what species the agency will choose. I hope at least one will be a tulip tree. The park only has two tulip trees and adding a third or more could point to the significance of the park and the tulip tree species in Lenape culture.

Washington Square Park Blog also covered the tree work here.

A final note, I watched the Emerald Tree Care crews prune and remove trees in the park over the course of a two period. They were professional in their approach to tree care and maintained a safe work environment.