July 9, 2019

Washington Square Park Red-tailed Hawk Nest

The 2019 Red-tailed Hawk nesting and fledgling season in Washington Square Park was emotional. Sadie (Aurora) laid three eggs all of which hatched then Bobby disappeared from the territory. He is presumed dead. A new male entered the territory before the chicks fledged. He appeared antagonistic towards the first fledge when the bird was perched on a building ledge and apparently catalyzed the fledging of the second and third chicks. There was more drama. Two of the fledges were rescued and fortunately one of them has been released in the park. If you have concerns about the safety of a WSP hawk, Roger Paw recommends contacting WINOOR or the NYC Urban Park Rangers.

Note: this post was originally published in March 2018 and has been updated.

Image: Washington Square Park Red-tailed Hawk Nest, March 27, 2018, 11:45 AM

Red-tailed Hawks lay one brood or set of eggs each season. The number of eggs in the brood ranges from one to five. The WSP hawks have laid between two and three eggs annually since 2011. Red-tailed Hawks are monogamous, mating for life. The male hawk (named Bobby) has not changed since the mating pair formed, but there have been three female hawks.

Violet, the first female hawk, laid three eggs in 2011 but only one survived to be named Pip. (Pip is an ornithological term referring to the hole in the egg made by the hatchling's egg tooth.) Violet died at the end of 2011. During her rehabilitation off the nest, a female hawk, eventually named Rosie, arrived in the territory and paired up with Bobby.

Rosie laid two eggs in 2012. The eggs hatched and fledging was successful. In 2013, she laid three eggs and all of them hatched. Rosie laid two eggs in 2014 both of which hatched. Rosie left the territory in the fall of that year.

By February of 2015, Bobby had a new mate, Sadie (aka Aurora). The pair incubated three eggs but only two hatched and fledged. Sadie again laid three eggs in 2016.  However, only one hatched. That chick fledged in June. 2017 marked the third consecutive year that Sadie laid three eggs. Despite successfully incubating two of the three eggs, one of the hatchlings died. The third egg never hatched. It's safe to say that hawk watchers are delighted by and anxious about this nesting cycle.

The male and female hawks share nest-building duties. The male also participates in incubating the eggs but this task is mostly done by the female hawk. Incubation begins with the first egg and lasts anywhere from 28 to 35 days. Chicks are nestled for a period of up to 46 days.

The traditional location of a Red-tailed Hawk's is in a tall tree with a fairly sweeping view of the surrounding landscape. Red-tailed Hawks also nest on cliff ledges and on human-made structures such as window ledges. In the case of the Washington Square Park Red-tailed Hawks, the nest is on a ledge of the Bobst NYU Library. The ledge is quite deep and affords a view of the almost 10-acre park. Within the hawks' territory are many tall buildings that provide advantageous perches. The hawks have used the same nest each season which is typical of this species. They repair it annually. I have seen them collecting and arranging nesting material. The nest extends beyond the width of the window ledge; you can see it if you look up while standing on West Fourth Street.

Related Link: Natural and Artificial Materials in Bird Nests

To follow the nest happenings, watch the hawk cam. For off-camera hawk life in Washington Square Park, I recommend two blogs: Roger Paw and Urban Hawks.

Nest information provided in this post sourced from All About Birds here and here.

June 14, 2019

10 Trees Removed in 2 Years in Washington Square Park

10 Trees Cut Down in Washington Square Park, 2017-2019

Since 2017, 10 trees have been cut down in Washington Square Park and none have been replaced. Additional trees have been removed from the park in this time period specifically the Zelkova serrata around the fountain but those trees have been replanted. In this post, I will describe each of the 10 trees and the context of its removal.

Four large trees were removed in 2017. The first of the four was a 29-inch diameter London plane tree (Platanus x acerifolia) in the "big kid" playground in the northeast section of the park. Two similar-sized London plane trees remain in the playground. I assume that the work was completed by NYC Parks and or its contractor. The other three large trees removed in 2017 include a 28-inch pin oak (Quercus palustris), a 47-inch London plane tree, and a 25-inch green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) all of which were removed by a contractor. All three trees were compromised by fungal disease, cracks, rot, root damage, and cavities. In the case of the pin oak in the northwest section of the park, WSP Eco Projects first reported the presence of oak bracket to NYC 311 and NYC Parks. I believe this observation precipitated the removal of this oak. The poor health of the plane tree and ash were discovered by Emerald Tree and Shrub Care Company, the arboriculture firm contracted to prune 270 shade trees in the park.

Two trees were cut down in 2018. One was a dead paper birch (Betula papyrifera) in the northeast corner of the park. The birch was planted in memoriam to actor Spalding Gray. I did not see the removal so I don't know who performed the work. Damage from an early snowstorm in November 2018 was given as the reason for the removal of the second tree, a dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). The WSP Conservancy determined that the dawn redwood near the Thompson Street entrance had sustained irreparable damage to its leader and cut down the tree.

So far in 2019, four trees have been removed. A deodar cedar (Cedrus deodar) was removed by NYC Parks in the early part of the year. The tree began to lean after its root zone was compromised by a extensive rat burrow. The other three trees were removed this month.  It is likely that their removal was precipitated by a falling limb of a different tree that critically injured a park visitor in May. A 23-inch diameter Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) south of Holley Plaza and a 33-inch diameter American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) in the southwest corner were cut down. The third tree was 30-inch diameter Ailanthus altissima. Can you believe there was such a big tree-of-heaven growing in the park?! Among the trees, the health issues ranged from extensive rot and and cavities to cracks and large dead limbs. The removal of these four trees adds up to a loss of 86 inches of tree diameter.

None of the 10 trees mentioned in this post have been replaced. It makes sense that the trees removed this year have not yet been replaced. The area that hosted the dawn redwood has been replanted with herbaceous perennials as too has the spot in the southwest that hosted the plane tree. The big north lawn will undergo a major repair soon so I don't expect that the pin oak in the northwest will be replaced until that the lawn work is completed. The paper birch has not been replaced. A river birch would be a great addition to the park. The green ash location has not been replanted. Due to the presence of emerald ash border, NYC Parks is no longer planting ash trees. Beyond species selection, I'm assuming that a tree will not be replanted in that location because of heavy foot traffic from the "webs" play feature. Finally, a replacement tree hasn't been planted in the larger playground.

New York City has been a strong proponent of increasing urban tree cover as evidenced by various policy instruments including Million Trees NYC. Yet, small parks such as Washington Square Park are underrepresented in these grand visions of nature in the city. In my role with WSP Eco Projects, I have been advocating for a small parks ecology initiative to assess the environmental benefits provided by small parks as well as to actively manage for succession in this park type. Eco Projects is preparing a draft tree plan for Washington Square Park. Several guiding questions are: Which tree species will thrive in our climate-affected city? Which trees and other plants will provide the optimal habitat for birds and other animal wild life? How should we diversify and enrich our canopy cover?

Washington Square Park looks well canopied. Looking at an aerial image, approximately 66% of the park is covered by tree canopy, so the removal of 10 trees might seem insignificant. However, the four trees cut down in 2017 alone equaled approximately 211 inches of tree lost from the park. If a 20" plane tree is estimated to be 33 years old* then the 29" and 47" plane trees were likely 47 and 77 years old respectively. The 28" pin oak was likely over 46 years old, and the 25" green ash could have been 83 years old. These four trees accounted for an estimated 253 years of tree growth. It is critical that we begin to plan for regrowing the canopy in the park as trees, especially big ones, are removed because of death and/or potential hazards.

* Tree age estimates were taken from "Estimated Age of Urban Trees by Species and Diameter (DBH)" by City Parks Foundation.

June 12, 2019

Deadwood Trees for Wildlife in Small Urban Parks

Snags, standing dead or dying trees, are commonplace features of rural forests and can also be observed in inaccessible areas of forested areas in urban settings. Despite their wildlife value, snags are rarely tolerated in small urban parks. Risk exposure increases with proximity to people and property. However, a variation of the swag, what I am calling the deadwood tree, is a safe approach to maintaining dead trees in small urban parks.

If a tree needs to be removed, and it does not contain a pest or disease of concern and the trunk is relatively stable, then the tree should not be cut to the stump. Large limbs should be removed and the bole at least 4 feet above ground could be left standing. An example of this treatment is pictured above. This deadwood tree is located along a path in Washington Square Park in New York City.

There are three reasons to leave deadwood trees in small urban parks. A deadwood tree provides similar benefits as a snag. Dying and dead wood re extremely productive for wildlife. A snag provides habitat and food, serves as a perch and shelter, and a fallen snag or "nurse log"* becomes a nursery for seedlings. Small urban parks support year-round and migrating wildlife. Migratory birds, for example, rest and refuel in small urban parks. Deadwood trees would enhance the regulating ecosystem services of small urban parks.

The second reason to maintain deadwood trees is to provide natural markers of environmental change. Although a plant feature such as a tree would not be a permanent fixture in the landscape, a deadwood tree could potentially last longer and would be more visible than the typical stump which is easy to overlook a stump hidden in a lawn or among herbs and forbs. Deadwood trees would commemorate tree losses in the canopies of our small urban parks.

Finally, the third reason to leave deadwood trees in small urban parks is to foster people-plant relationships. A deadwood tree could be an engaging counter to plant-blindness, a lack of knowledge and awareness of plants in one's local environment. The outstanding nature of a deadwood tree would spark questions. In addition, parkgoers could follow the cycles of life associated with dead wood.

While it might not be feasible or desirable to leave a deadwood tree in every case of a tree removal, a strategic plan to manage the urban forests of small urban parks should include a provision to identify trees that would be suitable candidates as deadwood trees based on criteria such as species, age, and location within the park.

*Regarding logs, the deadwood tree could be left in a horizontal position if the local parks department would like to further reduce its risk exposure.

May 21, 2019

Women Who Speak for Urban Trees and Plants

You wouldn't know that my first love is trees by reading the last five posts on this blog! Although I've focused on birds lately, my interest for trees is still strong. I want to switch gears towards my plant passion. I was inspired by Bryony Angell, a birding writer or authorly birder, who has been chronicling the world of women birders for some time. After reading her recent newsletter, I thought I should spotlight the women who botanize in cities. I will feature women who research, write and teach about, and create art with urban plants. I hope this will be an occasional series on the blog. Please share your suggestions and feedback in the comments.

Image: Leslie Kuo (source)

One of the first plantswomen I met in New York City was Leslie Kuo, one of the women behind Urban Plant Research. This artist led project chronicles urban plants around the world -- the relationship between plants and the micro-environments they inhabit in cities as well as human responses to plants both spontaneous and purposefully planted. I attended Leslie's Urban Plant Research Talk  at the Open Source Gallery in Brooklyn in 2012. I delighted in the urban plant stories I heard from Leslie and the audience that day.

Image: Ellie Irons in Hunter's Point (source)

Image: Anne Percoco on the Grand Concourse (source)

Next up are Ellie Irons and Anne Percoco, artists who are Seeding the Next Epoch with a seed library of spontaneous plants. Watch Ellie and Anne's process in the Next Epoch Seed Library documentary filmed by Candace Thompson.

Imae: Marielle Anzelone in Inwood Hill Park (source)

With a native plants beat, Marielle Anzelone has her own TED Talk about protecting New York City’s rare plants. She is the founder of NYC Wildflower Week, has written about NYC nature for the New York Times, and is currently developing PopUP Forest which toured the city by bike in 2018.

Image: Katie Holten (source)

Another arboreal dynamo is Katie Holten. I reached out to Katie after hearing about her Tree Museum installation on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. I wanted to develop an audio tour of the trees in Washington Square Park, and still do, and she offered great advice. Each of one hundred trees along the Grand Concourse was assigned a phone extension so that museum-goers could call in and listen to community-based tree stories. Katie has another major tree project in NYC. She's created the New York City Tree Alphabet. Each letter of the alphabet represents a city tree. NYC residents are encouraged to pen messages in the free front and submit them to NYC Parks who will plant selected messages.

Don't forget to your recommendations of women botanizing in cities!

April 26, 2019

EXPLORE BIRDS - Spring Into Action Day at Sasaki Garden

EXPLORE BIRDS, April 13, 2019, ©Olivo Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau

Spring has arrived in NYC. The EXPLORE BIRDS collection is heading outdoors. The first stop for the collection was Spring Into Action! Day hosted by New York University Faculty Housing in the Sasaki Garden.

EXPLORE BIRDS, April 13, 2019, ©Olivo Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau

EXPLORE BIRDS, April 13, 2019, ©Olivo Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau

A selection of books accompanied the specimens. We provided materials for biological drawing. Given the location, a 1.5-acre greenspace, we hosted a bird walk. We spotted 15 species in the Sasaki Garden. Participants also spontaneously shared their bird stories. (Eco Projects wants to audio record and broadcast your stories - stay tuned.) One of the participants told me that she and her daughter found a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet after it struck the window of their building. They brought the bird inside to care for it but it died shortly afterwards. They were inspired to tell their story after seeing kinglet on the list we were keeping during the event. Sparked by this story, we would like to distribute printed materials about preventing window strikes in future pop-up sessions.

EXPLORE BIRDS, April 13, 2019, ©Olivo Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau

EXPLORE BIRDS, April 13, 2019, ©Olivo Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau

I will continue to post about EXPLORE BIRDS events I staff in this space. Birds in the collection will also travel independently of me with the Uni Project EXPLORE program this season. If you live in New York City and are interested in Washington Square Park, birds, trees, and nature in general, subscribe to the WSP Eco Projects email newsletter.

Thank you to all the participants and to  the NYU Photo Bureau and the Pomerantz family for photographs of the event!

April 3, 2019

All About Patch Birding (aka My Second Web Article for Audubon)

Image: Screenshot of Audubon.com (Photo shown by Eva Deitch).

The academic study of local local ecological knowledge is traditionally done in non-urban settings and in communities in the Global South. I know that urban folks have deep knowledge about the wild plants and animals in their "sacred places" (Hester, 1985) some of which are neighborhood greenspaces. I am looking for funding to conduct a formal ethnography of people who learn about urban nature through birding and botanizing. In the meantime, I write here and where I can about urban forms of local ecological knowledge. I am pleased to share an example of this work published as "Want a Training Ground for Your Birding Skills? Try Patch Birding" at Audubon.com.

January 6, 2019

Birding Life

Famous birdwatchers are the subject and authors of books. I am not a famous birdwatcher but I do have a story about the presence of birds in my life and my active noticing of them especially in recent years.

EXPLORE BIRDS, Sara D. Roosevelt Park, Chinatown
Image: Birding in Sara D. Roosevelt Park, EXPLORE BIRDS, c/o the Uni Project

Early Childhood in Jamaica

My childhood was awash in birds A teenaged cousin and a neighbor separately kept homing pigeons. My cousin n my family's backyard for a time. The neighbor's birds were in his backyard which was across the street from our front yard. The pigeons were Columba livia, and the not the endemic Patagioenas caribaea or Ring-tailed Pigeon. Birds were also moral and spiritual guides. A proverb and a folk lore are exemplary of there pervasive nature of birds in my youth. The idiom "when the chicken is merry, the hawk is near" is a proverb I remember from the earliest parts of my childhood. The idiom means conspicuous displays of happiness will bring bad luck. I also took it to mean that even private pride about a situation could lead to bad luck. I recall that this idiom was a line in a popular song. The observation of a certain bird could bring luck as bad as death. That bird is the John Crow, the turkey vulture. It seems obvious now that there would be a link between this bird and death given the feeding behavior of the vulture. As a child, however, I did not necessarily make that connection. Another aspect of John Crow folk lore was its nose naught. Spotting this excretion also brought bad luck. Gathering background information for this post, I learned that the bird's nose naught is the stinkhorn mushroom, a "foul-smelling" fungus.

Volunteer Service in the Western U.S.

The next time that birds played a significant role in my life was after college when I served with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps. One of our project was restoration work on wildlife management area lands in Idaho. It was during this stint that I saw Sandhill Crane for the first time! We lodged on the Market Lake WMA in Roberts, Idaho. We were close to the Snake River and had a view of the Grand Tetons. Before I knew about eBird, I would note the place and date of bird sightings in my copy of the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America.

Graduate Studies in New Haven, Connecticut

Not long after Idaho I was in New Haven where I collaborated with a neighborhood group to design the Ivy Narrow Bird Sanctuary.  I was a community forestry intern with Urban Resources Initiative (URI), a community forestry nonprofit based at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. I was the first intern to work with Jeannette Thomas and other members of the Ivy Narrow group so I wasn't involved in the final phases of the preserve's development. The URI internship was my first applied community and urban forestry experience. It is an understatement to say that I learned a lot. I am convinced this experience secured my first job out of the graduate school as an urban forester for the Boston Parks and Recreation Department.

Adulthood in New York 

Fast forward many years to New York City where I currently live. In 2013 I launched a fundraising campaign for a tree map project with a fellow blogger. That project became Washington Square Park Eco Projects which I direct. I started with trees which naturally led to wildlife. We started with birds because my professional partner is strong birder. We survey the park twice a month to count birds and other vertebrate wildlife. We also take note of non-bird pollinators. We wanted to provide opportunities for hands-on learning about NYC birds so applied for a permit to prepare a teaching collection of study skins. We have able tutors at the natural history museum. We found an enthusiastic partner in the Uni Project to design and deploy a pop-up bird education program through the city.

Related Link - The Launch and Evolution of EXPLORE BIRDS

My bird life in New York City is leaping and bounding through preparing specimens, counting birds in my bird patch, participating in the bird walks Eco Projects organizes (which are led by local experts), and more. Part of the latter are the didactic and osmotic practices I create for my children, the next generation of birders, who even in early childhood have many bird stories to tell.

I would love to hear about your birding life!