Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Summertime cicadas

At the peak of summer, when there are no interesting birds or hawks to be found, we like to turn our focus to insects. And nothing says Dog Days of Summer than the cacophony of cicadas in the treetops. You can listen to the cicada song and learn everything there is to know about these extraordinary insects at the aptly named website, Cicada Mania.

Last week, we lucked out and found a cicada in full view on the ground. Thanks to information on the Cicada Mania site, we determined this is a female.
She has a beautiful green and black pattern on her head and back.
A few years ago, we came across this cicada in the Orchard Alley Community Garden on E 4th Street. It's a male and he caught our attention when he landed in our hair.
Earlier in the summer, when the cicadas emerged from underground, they left their husks attached to tree trunks. Most of these dried skins either fell off, or were knocked off by squirrels. However, we found one tree covered in sticky sap, which apparently kept the squirrels from climbing the bark. As a result, the cicada husks remained attached to the tree.
Not only were the cicada husks stuck well to the trunk, they were being coated by the dripping sap, transforming them into glistening little figurines.
They almost look like candy...maple-glazed cicada?
Meanwhile, the live cicadas in the tree tops become food for birds such as kestrels. We found this female feasting on the bounty of cicadas in a single tree.
Even this red-tailed hawk fledgling in Tompkins Square Park in 2018 snacked on a cicada it found in the underbrush.
We'll leave you with this fun video from BBC Earth, which shows cicadas emerging from the ground and climbing the trees where they shed their skin. Enjoy the narration by our hero, David Attenborough:
 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Be on the lookout for the Spotted Lanternfly in NYC

We've been aware of the invasive Spotted Lanternfly for a while, but had our first encounter with it this last weekend in Manhattan.
 
The Spotted Lanternfly came to the US in 2014 and has been spreading across the northeast. It was first seen in Staten Island in 2020 and now the New York State Department of Agriculture has issued an alert for it, and is requesting that any observation be documented, reported and the insect destroyed.
On Saturday, we came across 34 specimens on Front Street, between Pine and Wall Streets in lower Manhattan. All of them (20 alive, 14 dead) were on the pavement. This was an unexpected find as that block is mostly tall buildings and concrete. There's a small park area along Wall Street, but we didn't find any of the insects there, in the plants or on the trees.
The Spotted Lanternfly is beautiful, but unfortunately, extremely destructive. It feeds on sap which destroys plants and trees. The adults are easily identifiable, being about an inch long, 3/4 inch wide, with beige wings and black spots and legs. Their top wings open to reveal a bright red, white and black set of wings. They also have two red dots on their face, but these are not eyes - the eyes are black and sit above the red dots.
We also observed the Spotted Lanternfly on Governors Island the same day, so they are in the area.
 
What to do if you find one?
  • Take a photo (dead or alive)
  • Destroy the insect (we don't like to kill things, but this has to be done)
  • Report it - you can do this a number of ways:
  • Send an email to 
    • forest.health [at] parks.nyc.gov  and/or
    • spottedlanternfly [at] agriculture.ny.gov
 
Visit the DEC's dedicated page for more information on the Spotted Lanternfly and what you can do to help stop the spread.

Something to note is the Spotted Lanternfly feeds on the Tree of Heaven, a tree we've seen cultivated in various places such as yards and cemeteries. It's an attractive ornamental tree with large leaves and bright yellowish-orange seed pods. If you know of one, it's worth keeping an eye out for the adult insects gathering to feed on sap, or the egg cases attached to the bark of the tree.

 


Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Bidding farewell to the Tompkins Square red-tailed hawk fledgling

As we near the end of August, it's time to bid farewell to the Tompkins Square Park red-tailed hawk fledgling. At four months old, the hawk is self-sufficient and ready to embark on a life of its own.
 
Our last confirmed observation of the fledgling in the neighborhood was on August 18. It may still be in the area, or it may have decided to seek its fortune beyond the city. It's natural for the young hawk to disperse and migrate away from its birthplace, but to what location or how far away, we have no idea. We do know its parents, Christo and Amelia, have done their best to raise their offspring in an extremely difficult environment.
 
This is the fledgling atop St Nicholas of Myra church on Avenue A on July 27. At the time, it was actively hunting pigeons that were perched on rooftops across the street.
This is the fledgling on the church again on August 3. The church cross became a favorite perch for the young hawk.
One distinguishing field mark for this hawk is the trio of dark brown speckles on its upper left chest. This is not 100% reliable as the feathers move around, but the trail of dark spots is fairly consistent in the following photos.
A year from now, when this hawk goes through its first molt, it will lose all its juvenile feathers, take on its adult plumage, and will look completely different.
On August 15, we observed the fledgling on a much higher perch, the cross of Most Holy Redeemer church on E 3rd Street.
Just when we thought that might have been the last glimpse of the fledgling, we saw it fly to the roof of the Christodora building two days later on August 17. It stayed up there for over an hour, calling to Christo, who was perched in a tree within the park.
With dad in sight, the fledgling continued to make food-begging calls, but Christo didn't respond. You're on your own now, kid!
The fledgling obliged us with a closer look when it came down and perched on the cross of St Brigid's church on Avenue B.
Still screaming at Dad:
Without much warning, the fledgling took off and flew towards us. This particular individual has been notably quick with its take-offs compared to previous fledglings, who often give more warnings and clues that they're about to take flight.
We've noted this hawk being very quick and stealthy, which bodes well for its future as a successful raptor.
Our last confirmed sighting (to date) of the fledgling was August 18 when it perched on the cross of St Nicholas of Myra late on a hazy evening.
2021 proved to be a rough season for this hawk family, as they began with three chicks and ended with one survivor. After the success of 2020 when Christo and Amelia successfully fledged three offspring, we had high hopes for another happy year, but that was not to be. Hawks and other raptors have a low survival rate (around 25%) their first year, so we are grateful to know this individual has made it this far, and wish it the best of health and fortune in the next stage of its life.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Tompkins Square hawk fledgling frolicks in sprinkler to beat the summer heat

Just when we thought we'd escape this summer without too much miserable heat, August came along and reminded us why we prefer winter.
 
City wildlife endures the summer heat right alongside us humans, and the Tompkins Square Park hawks are no exception. When the days are sultry, the hawks like to cool off just like we do: in the sprinkler!
This is the Tompkins Square Park red-tailed hawk fledgling frolicking in the park sprinkler on a hot afternoon. Wings out and feeling good!
Shake, shake shake...
Do a little dance.
The hawk really got into it, dipping it's belly into the water and rolling from side to side, making sure every part of itself got wet.
The hawk lowered its right wing and side into the water, then repeated the move with its left side.
Making sure the water gets to those hard-to-reach spots:
Here is video of the hawk in action:

Here is another video of the hawk enjoying a good soak:
 
 
Of course, there are bath toys, like this dried leaf.
After a few more thorough shower moves, the hawk hopped up to a low wall to shake off.
 
 
To our surprise and astonishment, the fledgling then flew to a tall cyclone fence where it hung on with its talons and spread its wings so it could air-dry. It stayed this way for several seconds.
The fence didn't look very comfortable, and the hawk opted to dry off from a tree branch instead.
The fledgling spent several minutes with its wings hanging down, allowing the breeze to dry its feathers.
Looking cool, clean and beautiful:
You can see photos of previous Tompkins Square hawk fledglings cooling off in park sprinklers here.
 
 
Bonus:  For the first time ever, we caught Christo taking a bath in the gutter of St Brigid's church on Avenue B the other night. We've previously seen Dora and Amelia use this spot for bathing, but Christo prefers the birdbath in the park. As it happens, the birdbath was empty on this hot day.