04 April, 2024

Birds in my highly urban Backyard in NYC

Maybe it is because we are in spring now, but I have been seeing more birds in the backyard in the Upper East Side of Manhattan recently. The backyard here is not good habitat, very urban, no bare soil, no grass, no plantings at all-- it is all concrete and brick with three weed trees. There is one large Ailanthus tree, and a smaller one, as well as a medium-sized White Mulberry tree.

Further west in the backyards along 77th and 78th Streets there is a large stand of bamboo, a Saucer Magnolia, and an American Elm, as well as several more Ailanthus trees, one with quite a lot of ivy growing on it.

Blue Jay.
Saw one today, the first for a very long time.

Northern Cardinal.
I managed to photograph one today after failing to photograph the one that was in the backyard the two previous mornings.

Mourning Doves.
I usually see a few Mourning Doves each day. Back when I still had the bird feeder I got as many as 20 mourning doves each day. The coop board made me remove the bird feeder as it ended up attracting pigeons.

House Finches.
Yesterday I saw three of them in the morning. Two were males.

House Sparrows.
Not surprising to see a few of them.

Feral Pigeons.
Usually I get a couple of these in the mornings.

Posted on 04 April, 2024 19:13 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 11 observations | 8 comments | Leave a comment

13 March, 2024

Ravens nesting at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

Yesterday, March 12th 2024, Ed and I took a taxi up to Morningside Drive north of 110th Street but south of 113th street, in order to try to see the pair of Common Ravens that have built (or rather added to) a nest which is on the shoulders of a statue of Saint Andrew at the back of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, up near the roof. Apparently the nest was first built by red-tailed hawks.

David J. Ringer had told us about the pair of Ravens the day before because he knew that Ed was very keen to see a raven, never having seen one in his life before.

I think Susan had not seen a wild Raven either, only captive ones in the Tower of London, many years ago. However, very recently, on February 4th, to our surprise, David and I heard a raven call when we were outside where Ed and I live, on 77th Street between 1st and York Aves, so we knew they was at least one Raven that is sometimes not far away from the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

When we got to the viewing spot on Morningside Drive, there were four birders already there with binoculars, including one with an impressive telephoto lens and camera. I knew one of the birders (Ken Chaya) from the days I usually spend in the fall (late October to mid November) in the Conservatory Garden French Garden photographing a wide variety of insects on the Korean Chrysanthemums, including a lot of flower flies. Ken Chaya is usually there with Mike Freeman, photographing the insects, especially the flower flies and butterflies.

It was difficult at first for Ed and I to work out which of the many statues was Saint Andrew, and also to be able to see the tangle of twigs on the statue's shoulders, but soon we started to see the two ravens, as they moved around, flying to the nest and out into the surroundings, including across the road into the park. We did not see them carrying any nesting materials.

When one of the birds lands on the nest, the bird tends to disappear because the space behind the shoulders of Saint Andrew is very deep. However sometimes you can see the tail of the bird sticking out to the side of the nest.

I get the impression that the construction of the nest is already finished, but no eggs have yet been laid.

At one point we heard one of the birds call, a loud " Kronk". The whole experience was great. I really thank David J. Ringer for letting us know about this!

After watching the Ravens for a while I walked down into the park and poked round a bit in order to make some spring observations of plants.

Posted on 13 March, 2024 14:07 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 7 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

25 February, 2024

Art imitates Life

Recently my husband Ed and I have been watching Resident Alien, a comedy/drama TV series which is currently streaming on Netflix, although it was originally made for the SyFy channel. The series is about an extraterrestrial who is disguised as a human, and is living in a small Colorado town.

A recent episode introduced a new character, an intelligent and respectable bearded man called Peter Bach, a UFO expert who hosts a very popular podcast called "Alien Tracker".

I should now explain that my husband Ed and I first met in 1988 when we were introduced to one another by John Keel, who was a very famous UFOlogist. John Keel wrote several books including one called The Mothman Prophesies. John Keel was also the person who first introduced to popular culture the concept of Men in Black as an UFO-related phenomenon. John Keel's book The Mothman Prophesies was subsequently made into a movie starring Richard Gere, who I also met and got to know a little bit because he and I both had the same Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Khyongla Rato Rinpoche.

I happened to know John Keel before I met Ed, because I had gone to a few meetings of The Fortean Society, a society that studies paranormal occurrences. Via the Fortean Society I had been given a VIP ticket to a fund-raiser at the nightclub "Tunnel". Ed was also invited to that same fundraiser by Larry "Ratso" Sloman, who at the time was the editor of National Lampoon Magazine. Ed was about to be featured on the cover of the magazine, and Ratso had brought along a dummy of the cover so that Ed could see how it would look.

So although Ed and I find Resident Alien very funny, including the character of the "Alien Tracker", I realized that Ed and I had been introduced to each other by someone so similar to the "Alien Tracker" that I suspect that character was probably originally based on John Keel.

And so without our own "Alien Tracker", Ed and I might never have met and might not still be together all these years later. So, when we watch "Resident Alien", do you think we are we laughing at ourselves and our own life, or not?

Posted on 25 February, 2024 15:06 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 0 comments | Leave a comment

25 January, 2024

Looking at, and loading up, some old images from the 1990s

Back in the 1990s my (now) husband Ed and I had several fabulous vacations to the private island of Mustique, which is one of the Grenadines, a chain of small Caribbean islands between Saint Vincent and Grenada. I had discovered that to stay at the Cotton House hotel on Mustique in mid-April (the shoulder season) was just about affordable. We could choose MAP, Modified American Plan, which included breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner. If you stayed a week you got one extra day free. We visited Mustique in 1991, 1992, 1993, skipped a year, and then went in 1995, and 1996. Back then I made photo albums using the color prints of the photos from the vacations. The photos eventually included one or two rolls of underwater shots from a disposable underwater camera, and one roll of shots from a disposable 3-D camera.

I had not looked at those albums for many years, but yesterday I got the albums out again because I knew there were some interesting nature pics that I could, and probably should, upload to iNat.

It was a lot of work to get the images and the relevant data uploaded. First photographing the old color prints using my cell phone and the iNat app, then working out and putting in the correct name for the location, then putting the map pin in the correct place, then deciding what the date would have been, and putting that in, and finally working out the name of the organism.

Mustique was always on the expensive side, even in 1991, but In 1996 we discovered that the cost of staying at the Cotton House hotel in 1997 was going to increase rather steeply, and it was going to include some extra amenities that we did not care about at all (a monogrammed bathrobe, a CD player in your room, and the cost of drinks would be included in day rate, except for wine with meals), so we asked the hotel manager, who was French, whether he could suggest some other destinations in the Caribbean that we might like.

One place he suggested was Montpelier Plantation Inn on the island of Nevis, which was where Princess Di took her sons, the two Princes, when they were young. When I wrote and got a brochure about that hotel, the brochure also included a listing for a hotel called Golden Rock, which was described as being the place to stay if you wanted to see the African Green Vervet monkeys, thousands of which live on Nevis. My husband Ed is crazy about monkeys, so we decided to make our spring Caribbean trip in 1997 be a trip to Nevis. And 25 years later we are still going to Nevis each year.

I had also created photo albums of our first few Nevis trips, so I decided to go through those photos too.

Posted on 25 January, 2024 15:54 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 9 observations | 6 comments | Leave a comment

02 January, 2024

New Year 2024 starts with a bang!

It is a venerable tradition that the New York Mycological Society holds a Fungus Foray in Central Park every New Year's Day. This year's outing started at 12 noon on Monday January 1st, meeting up at Central Park West at 96th Street.

I had reminded my friends David Ringer, Misha Zitser and Steven Bodzin about it, because it had been quite a while since I had seen each of them, and I really value any outing I can take along with one or more of my favorite iNat NYC co-observers.

In the end, all three of those friends of mine came, plus about 40 other mycological members, that is, out of a total of about 3,000 members of NYMS. A senior member explained to me that there had been one New Year's Day when there was a foot of snow on the ground, and another year when the temperature was only about 6 degrees, but in both cases they got a good turn-out!

We entered the park near 'The Pool" and then we climbed the Great Hill and searched the woodland all around that area. The weather was in the low 40s, and it was mostly sunny. I was there for 4 hours and was very tired when I got home, plus my foot was hurting. But I did really great. I surprised myself.

I found nine new-to-me species, thanks to some help from the other iNatters. Among the 95 observations I made, I was lucky that I saw several animal lifers:

American Green-Winged Teal, thanks to David Ringer.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/195510938 1

Ground Wolf Spider, thanks to Misha.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/195510337 1

Metallus rohweri, a sawfly leafminer with no common name.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/195510390

Pine Witches Broom Phytoplasma, but this might turn out to be normal epicormic growths on Pitch Pine.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/195510735 1

…And several of the fungi I photographed were new to me too: …

Merismodes anomala – looks like coral cups when you use some magnification
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/195509027 3

Peroneutypa scoria – little twig-like branches
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/195509235 2

Propolis farinosa – white oval marks
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/195509697 2

Hypoxylon perforatum – they look like little beige cakes
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/195509666 1

Plus, I finally paid attention to what is a new-to-me plant pathogen fungus, and new to NYC:
Raspberry leaf spot, Sphaerulina rubi
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/195510622 1

I was happy that Sigrid Jakob, who was leading the walk, told me that in 2023 I had added three new species to the MSNY fungus list for New York City, all of them plant pathogens.

And I was also pleased that I got to observe three slug species under logs: Limax maximus, a Mesarion species, and one Arion hortensis.

I was kind of surprised that I found a couple of small clumps of Allegeny Spurge, which I have seen only once before near the Reservoir.

We also came across a friendly lady who was walking her pet chicken in the park. What a nice hen it was, and you could pet its soft brown feathers.

All in all quite a tiring walk, but a lovely afternoon in the Park.

Posted on 02 January, 2024 19:26 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 27 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

20 November, 2023

Back to NYC again in late November

Well, coming back to New York after 16 days in Southern California was a bit of a shock. It is not really terribly cold, but chilly enough, and now there is apparently not much brand-new nature for me to see, whereas in California I was photographing at least one new lifer every day.

Yesterday Ed and I went to Central Park. First we got out at 102nd Street and 5th Avenue, in order to walk across to the Butterfly Gardens and find out whether there were any insects at all there, and then briefly we went over to the English Garden of the Conservatory Gardens.

I was hoping to get a sense for exactly where we are now in the fall season.

Plenty of plants are looking happy still, and some plant pathogens, but the only insects I could find in the butterfly gardens were one Large Milkweed Bug and a bunch of Oleander Aphids sitting on an old milkweed stem. I also saw something like a bluebottle fly flying, but I was not able to photograph it. There were, however, several pretty little Ruby-Crowned Kinglets flitting around in the largest of the butterfly gardens.

When I gave up searching the Butterfly Gardens and walked over to the Conservatory Garden, I discovered that all of the annuals in the English Garden had been pulled out already. And because the stairs and paths in the French Garden have been under construction for many months now, the staff had not planted any Korean Chrysanthemums there this year. This was sad, because if the Korean Chrysanthemums were there, they would still be in flower, and the nectar and pollen would be attracting countless flying insects, as they have done every year for the last several years, much to my delight. It is wonderful to be able to see so many different flying insects so late in the year. Hopefully I will be able to do that next year.

Posted on 20 November, 2023 22:10 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 16 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

10 November, 2023

Want to know how to ID your SoCal seashells?

Dear Folks,

I will be here at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, San Diego County, for a few more days, leaving at 9 am in the morning of Nov 14th.

I am staying at the Moonlight Beach Motel at 233 2nd Street. It is easy to find via the Encinitas Boulevard exit off of Highway 5.

If anyone wants to see some local shells and learn how to ID them, or wants to bring some of your own shells and ask me to help you ID them, I am willing.

Contact me here on iNat.

Susan Hewitt

P.S. Even once I am back in NYC I am willing to teach anyone how to ID shells.

Posted on 10 November, 2023 19:14 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 2 comments | Leave a comment

Doing well iNatting in San Diego North County in October/November 2023

Well, Ed and I arrived from New York City late on October 29th for a 16-day stay, and we are now settled into our room (Room 108) on the ground floor of the Moonlight Beach Motel in Encinitas, with a fridge full of food in order to be able to make three meals a day.

I have been out iNatting numerous times already, very locally, but nevertheless I have been doing great. To my joy I have been finding all kinds of new things.

We are here later than in previous years, as we always used to arrive very shortly after Labor Day. I guess that because the calendar is moving into November, this time of year counts as late fall or very early winter, as opposed to being very late Summer!

Also, this is the year in which Southern California was impacted by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Hilary in August, which meant that they got a huge amount of rain all at once, after many years/decades of severe drought. As a result of all that rain, most wild or semi-wild areas here are still quite lush and green.

Either way, whether due to all that heavy rain, or perhaps partly due to my being here later in the season, I am finding a lot of organisms that I have not found before.

But there are also a couple of species which I found multiples of during my last visit that I am not finding at all this time: like the stink bugs that were on the Orchid Tree on this block, and the Lantana Stick caterpillars which were on the Yellow Lantana bushes a block away, but the lack of caterpillars is not surprising, because those bushes were severely trimmed recently.

I have also already found quite a few plants that were new to me and have cool names such as Devil's Thorn, Saharan Mustard, and Garland Daisy.

People who regularly read the iNat forum post where people report their finds of new Lifers might already know that I have found a Black Webspinner (a new order of insects for me!), a Western Plant Bug, a Yellow-V Moth, and one (now three) shells of the Trask's Shoulderband land snail, a critically endangered species which is endemic to the State of California.

I also found a Yellow-faced Bumblebee -- common apparently, but quite striking and pretty-looking.

On November 1st, my husband spotted a large-ish, very smooth woodlouse, on the sidewalk opposite the hotel. It was a Swift Woodlouse. That is new to me too.

Also on Nov 1st, I also saw two examples of the Grey Buckeye, which is now considered to be not just a color variety of the Common Buckeye, but a separate species, a taxon which only occurs west of the Rockies.

Friday Nov 3rd. Today something curious and weather-related happened. Walking back from Cottonwood Creek Park, as we got level with the hotel, we suddenly saw what seemed to be a striking, curling, narrow plume of something like smoke coming up the road from the direction of the beach. I wondered if it was indeed smoke, or perhaps a plume of dust from the construction that is taking place alongside the creek as it approaches the beach. But the cloud increased in size, and decreased somewhat in intensity, and I could not smell or taste anything at all, so I realized it was not smoke or dust, but sea fog! Then, as we sat outside in the hotel courtyard, and as the breeze blew, we could sometimes actually see the particles of moisture in the fog. I think perhaps the weather is turning colder now.

Sunday Nov 5th -- This would be Guys Fawkes Day if we were in the UK. We went to Ki's for lunch with our friends Barry and Jeannie who had driven here from Fallbrook, and afterwards we went to Cardiff State Beach, and then briefly to Swami's, but only on the clifftop. On the Cardiff Beach I found a small clump of washed-up Ostrich-Plume Hydroids, which was new to me, as well as a broken small Green Abalone shell, which was a new iNat record for me. And I also found an intact soft coral, genus Muricea, which was another lifer.

On Thursday November 9th on the outside of a window of room 101, here on the ground floor of the Motel, I saw an Alfalfa Moth. That was a new lifer:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/190535200

Friday Nov 10th I found a couple of lifer plants at the edge of the coast road opposite Swami's parking lot -- California Croton was the first one, Coast Morning Glory was the second one. I also got a pretty good look at one of several nice moths there, but I was unable to photograph any of them. They were delta-shaped and mostly beige with a few brown spots.

Sunday November 12th. I got to see and capture a new-to-me Giant Western Crane Fly which had been hiding somewhere in the hotel room for two days after it flew in when I had the door and one window open.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/190814342

Also on Sunday Nov 12th I got to photograph a West Coast Lady, new to me:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/190855780

Nov 12th -- I also found a Small Melliot plant -- new to me:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/190855940

Nov 13th, I found two little baby California seahares. That species was a lifer for me in the years since I first got onto iNat:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/190956598

And I found several Ventura Hermit Crabs, which were new to me.

All in all, I did really great this visit, especially considering I was only here for not very long -- two weeks and two days. I found at least 21 lifers in 16 days!

Posted on 10 November, 2023 02:42 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 30 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

29 October, 2023

Can I join you iNatting in SoCal?

II you live in Southern California and you are going to go out iNatting in San Diego North County at some point during the next 16 days -- the cut-off point being Nov 14th, I would love to join you if I can, so let me know. I will be staying at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, arriving Oct 29th. I won't have a car but I can use a taxi or a bus to get somewhere.

Or, if you would like me to ID some local or not so local seashells for you, I would be happy to do that.

best,

Susan

Posted on 29 October, 2023 16:15 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 1 comment | Leave a comment

06 October, 2023

An iNat meet-up: an outing and nature walk in San Diego North County in early November 2023 ?

I am currently planning to have our annual small joint iNat meet-up and nature outing take place in the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve in Cardiff again, same as it did last year. Last year's event took place on September 18th 2022.

The event this year, 2023, will take place on a Sunday (either Sunday November 5th or Sunday November 12th), whichever works better for people.
The parking lot and nature center for the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve is at: 2710 Manchester Avenue, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA 92007.

The Reserve opens at 9 am, so that is when the nature walk will start, and we will meet up in the parking lot close to the nature center. The walk will last about 2 hours probably. There are a lot of different trails in the reserve, so people can extent their time there if they wish to, either by coming to the area earlier or by spending more time there after our meet-up is finished.

Please tell me what you think, and whether you think you can come, and also tell me which Sunday would be better for you.

Susan

Posted on 06 October, 2023 23:07 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 11 comments | Leave a comment