Sunday, August 20, 2017

An Oak Tree Older than America


This Red Oak started growing in 1743. The United States of America was not yet a country, with its declaration of independence still decades away. The global human population was around 750 million individuals; we did not yet understand that many diseases were caused by microorganisms, that earth’s crustal plates move around over time, that species evolve over time, or that humans could move energy from one place to another through wires. In 1743, Passenger Pigeons flocked in the skies of Eastern North America and may have landed in this tree’s branches.


The sign declares the tree to be more than 275 years old. This sign may be a few years old too, so the tree actually started growing in the decade before 1743. Regardless of the exact years, it's long life is a blip- nearly nonexistent- in geologic time, but this tree’s life spans a significant set of chapters in our human story. We now have 7.5 billion humans on the planet and have made significant scientific discoveries that allow us to do all sorts of things and lead to even more discoveries. Passenger Pigeons are extinct, and we ponder the fate of many other species both locally and globally.

This tree resides on the land that we now call New York
Botanical Garden, Bronx County, New York, United States.
At the time of the tree's sprouting, it was in land of Westchester
County, part of the Province of New York, a British colony
 (you can see such labels on the 1776 and 1777 maps
available from the NY Public Library). 

And here this tree is, somehow still standing despite the vast majority of other old trees in the entire country being felled. Here it is providing shade and wonder to my family and food for insects and thus for birds.


It all started from an acorn, an acorn that is virtually identical to the Red Oak acorns you find today, and 275 years from now, the acorns of today could be trees that provide future humans, insects, and birds with shade, food, and wonder. What will our landscape, both cultural and ecological, look like in 2291?

Friday, August 18, 2017

Birds from another dimension!


Can you figure out what species of birds these are now that their colors are all changed?


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Rock Pigeons of the World

Looking out from the Empire State Building, 
New York, NY, USA

The Rock Pigeon may just rule the world. Don't believe me?

On the Western Wall, Jerusalem, Israel

Monday, July 31, 2017

Watching the tide herons


Call them the tide-herons.

After hearing from a local resident who mentioned he had seen Yellow-crowned Night-Herons in his own little patch in an out-of-the-way park on the East River, I began thinking Clason Point Park or Soundview Park might be the lone or one of the few Bronx spots to potentially see the species. I know very little of this species beyond identification, so my guesses as to when to see it centered on "anything is possible during migration" or the possibility that they nested locally.

In scanning information about their behavior, I found the following clue on Cornell University Lab of Ornithology Allaboutbirds.org to help me narrow it down:

"Yellow-crowned night-herons forage both during the day and the night - in coastal areas the tide can trump the time of day: most foraging occurs from 3 hours before high tide to 3 hours after."

High tide near the mouth of the Bronx River

Low tide near the mouth of the Bronx River


Limited to pretty much weekends and public transit, and with a fellow bird watcher who has unique requirements, following the tides is bit a of a challenge. Nonetheless, the chance at seeing this species would be worth the multiple buses it would take to get there.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017