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!

December 19, 2018

Three Community Science Projects for Feeder Birders (aka My First Print Article for Audubon)


My first print article for Audubon Magazine is the Winter 2018 issue! The piece feature three community science projects in which feeder birders can participate. The article is part of the Field Guide: Birding section.

November 19, 2018

Explore Species with eBird (aka My First Web Article for Audubon)

American Robin from The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds by Princetonnature via Wikimedia Commons

I wrote my first web byline for Audubon Magazine! My assignment was to review eBird's newest feature, Explore Species.
On a clear, cold October morning, for the first time in my birding life, I watched hundreds of American Robins migrate in a single, synchronized stream. Typically, I see a solitary robin or a small group of them pulling earthworms from the soil. But what I witnessed that fall day in Washington Square Park in New York City was a more intentional scene—one that made me think of the historic flocks of Passenger Pigeons and Carolina Parakeets that used to fill the Eastern skies.... (read more)

November 14, 2018

Washington Square Park Tree Index by Genus

Cataloguing tree diversity in the park was a founding goal of Washington Square Park Eco Projects. Eco Projects launched with an online map of the park's trees. In addition, I have been interested in a management plan for the park since I began to explore it. Currently the tree map does not filter by genus or species. Here I've listed the genus (n=34) present in the park. In a future post I will provide a species index including the number of trees per species.

Acer (maple)
Betula (birch) [sole individual died and was removed]
Carpinus (hornbeam)
Catalpa (catalpa)
Cedrus (cedar)
Cercis (redbud)
Cornus (dogwood)
Crataegus (hawthorn)
Fraxinus (ash)
Ilex (holly)
Malus (crabapple)
Magnolia (magnolia)
Morus (mulberry)
Picea (spruce)
Pinus (pine)
Platanus (plane tree, sycamore)
Prunus (cherry, plum)
Quercus (oak)
Robinia (locust)
Syringa (lilac)
Taxodium (cypress)
Tilia (linden)
Ulmus (elm)
Zelkova (zelkova)

Ailanthus (A. altissima) (tree-of-heaven)
Ginkgo (G. biloba) (ginkgo, maidenhair tree)
Gleditisia (G. triacanthos) (honey locust)
Liquidamabar (L. styraciflua) (sweetgum)
Liriodendron (L. tulipifera) (tulip-tree)
Metasequoia (M. glyptostroiboides) (dawn redwood)

Koelreuteria paniculata (golden rain tree)
Maclura pomifera (Osage orange)
Phellodendron amurense (Amur cork tree)
Styphnolobium japonicum (Japanese pagoda tree)

October 31, 2018

Red Oak Fall Foliage

Closing out October aka Oaktober with an explanation of the sources of fall colors.


The dark green leaf is a summer leaf, colored by chlorophyll. The yellow leaf is colored by a class of pigments called carotenoids. This pigment family is present in the leaf during the spring and summer but only surfaces with the decline in chlorophyll in the fall. Tannins are responsible for brown leaf color. Tannins are present in the tree throughout the year, too, but chlorophyll and carotenoids mask their expression. Carotenoids are also responsible for orange fall colors. Anthocyanins are the source of red and purple leaves in the fall. Unlike carotenoids and tannins which are present in the leaf during the growing season, anthocyanins are produced when sugar availability increases in the fall. Why do leaves make anthocyanins in the fall? Research suggests that red leaf color protects senescing leaves.

What's the state of fall color in your area? Let me know in the comments.

A version of this post first appeared here.