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.

August 9, 2017

Family Adventure - Mount Cardigan, Pond Study

Last month marked another tradition from my husband's family that I am likely to embrace. This one is not a hard sell except for the mosquitos but it was a warm, wet spring which might not be the case ever year, right? The tradition is: Mount Cardigan. My husband, his siblings, and his parents spent parts of many summers at the Appalachian Mountain Club Cardigan Lodge in New Hampshire. They would rent two platform tents, one for the parents and one for the children. The platform tents have been discontinued which is a good thing. I heard they were moldy and drippy when it rained. You can still pitch your own tent just beyond the lodge, though, or hike two miles up to the High Cabin. We stayed in the lodge proper in a private bunk room with shared bath for a few nights.

One of the activities we completed at the lodge a pond study with Katie, one of the naturalists on staff during our stay. Our family of four were the only participants which made for an intimate and meandering lesson. Katie was a natural with our children. She has a great rapport with children in general; we had listened to her presentation on beavers the previous night. Outdoors she really shone. My son strode into the pond immediately and with encouragement from Katie and her dad, my daughter waded in and eventually became so absorbed she was chest deep in the water.

Katie talked about ponds in general and the pond at Cardigan specifically in terms of the wildlife we could expect to find there. Given the time of year, we could see various frogs and the red-spotted newt. We also observed the blue dasher dragonfly and a few other insects we could not identify. I liked that Katie was honest about what she did not know but she also worked with us to figure out an answer or to get closer to one. We learned that the dragonfly spends much of its life as an aquatic animal. When we see a dragonfly, it's in the final phase of its life. My son was adept at netting aquatic adults of the red-spotted newt. We had seen a terrestrial-bound juvenile on one of our hikes. It took a group effort to net a bullfrog. It's a quick and intimidating amphibian. We were less lucky when it came to the green frog.

Our aquatic study was pleasantly interrupted by a skirmish between blue jays and much smaller birds which I could not see clearly enough to identify. We had seen blue jays and cedar waxwings the day before in the same area but the second set of birds were too small to be waxwings. I really should purchase a pair of travel-light binoculars. We wrapped up the pond study exploring the transition area between the pond and the nature trail.

If Mt. Cardigan is accessible to you, I recommend a visit. I hope to write about the two hikes we did during our stay. We did not hike to the summit but the there's much to see at lower elevations. If you have children under five and would like a guided experience, AMC offers a Wee Wanderers program.

July 14, 2017

Summer Reading List 2017 - Trees

There's a particular friend who always introduces me as holding a PhD in trees which is incorrect but it's accurate to say that I am passionate about trees and nature especially in and of cities. Since folks in this particular circle consider me a tree doctor and know that I also love books, I'm often asked for tree book recommendations. Here are my current five favorite tree books listed in no particular order.

1. URBAN FOREST by Jill Jonnes

2. THE NATURE FIX by Florence Williams

Read my reviews of Urban Forests and The Nature Fix on this blog.

3. TREE: A LIFE STORY by David Suzuki and Wayne Grady

In a nutshell or in a cone since the tree is a Doug-fir, this book read likes a poetic biography of one BC based Douglas-fir. It's possible that I will review the book here.

4. THE SONGS OF TREES by David George Haskell

I've only read the second half of this book. I was drawn to the trees with a more urban connection: the cottonwood in Denver, the Callery pear in Manhattan, the olive tree in Jerusalem, and the Japanese white pine in Washington, DC though its story began on Miyajima Island, Japan. The writing is phenomenal so I don't doubt I will read the first two chapters. Another reason I enjoyed the portion of the book I read, and it's clear that this thread is woven throughout the entire book, is Haskell's exploration of relationships between people and non-human animals, plants, bacteria, and fungi as well as the relationships among these non-human beings. He writes,
Bonsai does not escape life's network. Instead, like olive groves, bonsai trees bring to the surface what is harder to discern elsewhere: that human lives and tree lives are. made, always, from relationship. For many trees it is nonhuman species--bacteria, fungi, insects, birds--that are the primary constituents of the network. Olive and bonsai trees bring humans to the center, giving us direct experience of the importance of sustained connection.

Not a traditional summer read, Dr. Leslie Day's field guide to NYC street trees is a must have for New Yorkers. I think most city folks in the U.S., at least, would find this a useful book to own as many of the species discussed in the book populate many North American cities. I have had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Day several times and attended her nature walks in Washington Square Park. She is a lovely person and very knowledgeable not only about trees but about birds and bees, too.

June 17, 2017

Walk and Draw Tour of Greenwich Village

Despite my best intentions, I did not participate in Tidewater Gardener's Winter Walk-Off 2017, an annual call to photojournal what's within walking distance of home. Fortunately for me, I was given a redeeming opportunity by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation in the form of its Draw and Walk event with artist Nick Golebiewski. If you don't already follow Nick on Instagram (and Twitter), check out his Nick's Lunchbox Service daily drawing series on Instagram.

We convened under the Washington Arch in Washington Square Park. Each participant was given a sketchbook and pen courtesy of Jerry's Palette Shop on 4th Avenue. This was a very nice touch, I thought. Nick spoke briefly about his background, outlined the program which included drawing at four locations in the neighborhood (the Arch, the Washington Square North townhouses, Jefferson Market Library, and Patchin Place), and offered drawing tips. I made several sketches of the Arch but only took a photograph of one drawing which is shown above. We spent a long time at the arch so skipped the townhouses.

I had not fully read the tour description I received by email so did not know that the library stop included climbing the clocktower. The tower's historic function was a fire lookout. Learn more about the library. When we arrived at the library and were led to the clocktower door, I might have squealed. Touring the clocktower felt like I had won a golden ticket. The tight, spiral staircase could be a challenge for those with weak knees and those who suffer from claustrophobia (ahem). There is a break in the tower where a landing marks the transition from stone steps to metal ones. At the end of the metal steps is an attic area where the Halloween spider(s) and an octopus are stored. Beyond the door is the balcony and a 360 degree view of Manhattan.

I made many sketches at the library balcony, of the grillwork, the lower roof line, the skyline, and of Patchin Place which was our next and final stop on the tour. When we first moved to Manhattan I explored some of the mews and alleys in the Village and in Lower Manhattan but I did not know until this GVSHP tour that Patchin Place is a public street. It was one I had walked by many times but never attempted to walk through the gate. It's a lovely reminder of old Greenwich Village, and it's shaded nicely by Ailanthus altissima. Looking down on this street from the library balcony reminded me of the book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn!

P.S. For more photographs of this tour, visit the GVSHP Walk and Draw album on Flickr.

June 7, 2017

20 Minute Nature Tour of Washington Square Park

For the second time in two years, Washington Square Park (WSP) Eco Projects participated in the World Science Festival. This year the collaborative offered a Guided Nature Bingo through the park - a 5-stop tour in 20 minutes. The tour was offered three times (the fourth time slot was cancelled due to rain) on June 4th, Ultimate Science Sunday. We did not use the bingo card (and it is not included in this post). The participants were mostly adults and the only child opted of playing the game. One participant said, "I learned so much in 20 minutes!" You can use the map and notes below for a self guided experience.

If you'd like WSP Eco Projects to host a free Guided Nature Bingo tour, or if you'd like this 20 Minute Nature Tour document as a PDF, send an email to

June 4, 2017

The Villager Published Washington Square Park State of Nature Report

A version of the 2016 State of Nature Report for Washington Square Park written by me for WSP Eco Projects was published by The Villager on May 18, 2017. Read PROGRESS REPORT: Sparrows, pigeons lead pack in park ‘bird census’.

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.