Friday, July 18, 2008

Birds, etc.

I'm in the funny pages, and no, it's not the weekly crime round-up.
Among the “dapple dawn-drawn Falcons” (G.M. Hopkins; could it be anybody else?) of our city, the news seems pretty good. The sparrow-hawking American kestrels were fledgling all over. I was pleased as punch myself to spy a nest on 15th St. (IB) in a most enormous cornice. The guy who’s tracking our urban nests estimates there are some 100 kestrel nests in the city, far more than any other raptor. He thinks they do well on the sparrows, and un-repaired 19th century metal cornices, perfect for nests. JPO meanwhile has some excellent shots of these fierce little cuties. But for the bigger raptors, it was not a good year: lead poisoning, rodenticide, contaminated pigeons: the Inner Borough’s red-tail hawks have taken a pounding. How we simians survive all this stuff is a wonder, or is it? Obviously, a poisoned environment means we too are poisoned us as well, as the continuing criminality of lead poisoning so bitterly attests, but that’s hardly all. Top of the food chain, we are drenched with the stuff. Endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins, black dust particulates….

Next year is the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bird Club. They have merch, and their design isn’t half bad. I would have chosen a crow, but that’s me.

I’ve noticed three run down pigeons on Verandah Place in the last couple of weeks. Generally, vehicles don’t take that narrow road too quickly -- although all bets are off for our psycho livery and cab drivers, killers-in-waiting all – so I wonder if the mulberries, which are still falling, stupefy the birds. Are our pigeons flying high or getting high on mulberries?

A friend found my letter to the Times from 1984 (back when we mailed in those letters, kids, with stamps! On paper! Jesus, I probably four-finger typed that sucker on a typewriter, too), reminding me of when I, giant-killer, took on Dr. Edward Strangelove Teller’s editorial poo-pooing nuclear winter by quoting an August, 1816 news item out of Nantucket, when “ice made in pails” in the middle of summer. The tons of volcanic crap spewed out a year earlier from Tambora cooled the planet so much that on the other side of the world water froze in August.

When Krakatau blew its top in 1883, the resulting matter in the atmosphere cooled the earth for four years. This I read in Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction, by David Quammen, my big fat summer read. (I found this book cited in The Life of the Skies, in which Jonathan Rosen reminds us that bird-watching makes us look up. And out, outside of our selves that is. But Rosen bogs down in the beady eye, etc., of God, which is a pity.) The bare, burnt suddenly lifeless rock left over from that explosion was called Rakata, and, because it happened in the era of modern science, more or less, it became a well-documented site of species dispersal and establishment (cause it takes two to tango, in most cases, although there is a Pacific island gecko that has figured out how to do it on its own). Nine months after the explosion, the only life form found on the island was a spider. Some spiders shoot out a line of silk that gets wafted up in a thermal and a-wayyyy it goes into the wild blue. The first botanical expedition there in 1886 found mosses, blue-green algae, flowering plants, and 11 species of ferns. By 1889, there were trees, butterflies, beetles, flies, and a single monitor lizard. Things came by wind and sea, piggybacking, floating, wafting. OHS is amazed that coconuts are constantly to be found along the Rockaway Peninsula and inside Jamaica bay; in fact, she owes me a drink because she was dubious when I said we’d find one when we went out to Fort Tilden Saturday, and we did, a great big shaggy, water-logged but still floating coconut (sans rum).

1 comment:

Traci said...

Wow - look at you, quoted up near the lede. The Grey Lady never looked so good.