The reservoir's historic structures & ecosystems are an opportunity to create a unique environmental education center for our children & their future.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Saturday, June 9th at the Ridgewood Reservoir

Part of the original iron fence

Saturday, June 9th, was my 7th visit to the Ridgewood Reservoir, 6 of which were breeding bird survey days. It hard for me to grasp the concept that the habitats only encompass 50 acres. With every visit I see, hear or smell something different. Regardless of my primary objective of reviewing bird life, I’ve also been informally noting plants, insects and, in Saturday’s case, this guy (or gal):

During one of my first visits to the reservoir I met a man named Angel. He had come by bicycle and was just soaking in his surroundings and a little bit of sun. We began talking and it sounded like he used the reservoir as his sanctuary away from the surrounding city. I asked him about some of his observations over the years and he mentioned some of the expected urban creatures, such as, raccoon and opossum. Then he said, “In the summer there are lizards all over the place.” I thought that maybe he was exaggerating, that maybe once somebody’s pet iguanas escaped into the area. However, iguanas would never survive a typical New York City winter. Angel went on to explain that, once the warm weather arrives, the small reptiles emerge from the openings in the ends of certain pipes. Steve and I looked at each other and thought that maybe this guy was “on the pipe.” At home that night I researched northeastern reptiles but didn’t find anything that I thought would be flourishing in Queens or, for that matter, anywhere in the 5 boroughs.

On Saturday Al Ott and his wife, Karen, joined us for our morning inspection at the reservoir. Al has been very active in the NYC conservation community for many years. He was the driving force that prevented a bike path from being paved through the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. As we walked along the outer edge of the three impoundments I mentioned to Al the story about the lizards. He said that there was a small population of a european species of reptile on Long Island. They appear to be an innocuous presence in the limited pockets that they inhabit in New York, so ecologists have left them alone. It was shortly after that conversation that Steve caught a small lizard in a discarded plastic bottle and brought it over to show us. It was the same species as the one on Long Island, the Italian Wall Lizard. I was able to take some photos through the neck of the bottle, but when I put it on the ground for Steve to photograph, that 4 inch green lizard moved faster than a cheetah on steroids. It vanished into the underbrush before Steve was able to press down on his shutter release.

Newsday published an interesting article about the lizards on Long Island several years back. In the article they posit that:

"The most likely story involves a 1967 shipment destined for a now-defunct pet supply store that was waylaid by a minor accident, a broken crate and some very swift escapees."

I found this explanation to be the type of myth that could never be proven one way or the other. I find it amusing that nearly the exact same folklore has been adapted for the flocks of Monk Parakeets that have colonies in various corners of Brooklyn. It sounds like 1967 was a year of animal conspiracies.

They also have an interactive map that illustrates the expanding range through the borough of Queens. So, Brooklyn has their Monk Parakeets and now Queens has their Italian Wall Lizards.

Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica)

Another species of honeysuckle

Sometimes I feel like as I’ve aged, time has become more compressed. Everything seems to occur much faster; seasons change, children grow, hawks fledge and weeks feel like days. This spring it seems like I’ve missed out on some of the annual changes. When I saw ripe mulberries in Green-Wood Cemetery last week, I thought to myself, “How can the trees already be fruiting when it’s only; oh yeah, it’s nearly July”. Maybe I'm just trying to experience too much at one time.

At the Ridgewood Reservoir, plants that were flowering on my previous visit, were now either covered with young, green berries or already giving up their ripened fruit to the birds. Like most of urban America, there are several species of honeysuckle proliferating around the reservoir habitats. One species that I’ve never noticed before was the Tartan Honeysuckle, which are new covered with vivid orange berries. Flowering Sweetbrier was providing nectar for bees as was the large blooms of the Red Clover. In grassy sections on the outer edges of the running path wild garlic has dropped its petals and were ready for harvesting.

Red Clover

Unidentified damselfly

In addition to hundreds of dragonflies and damselflies (most of which I cannot identify yet), we noticed an abundance of ladybug pupae and larvae. They will be emerging just in time to feed on the aphids that feed off of the plants.

Cottonwood seed snow drift

I’ve learned that the stretch of green space that runs through Queens from Forest Park to the reservoir is a part of the terminal moraine that also includes Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery. The following computer animation of a fly-by from above Long Island and up the Hudson River is on Nasa’s “Visible Earth” website. If you watch closely on the right side of the movie, you’ll see how the elevated terrain of the Ridgewood Reservoir, Green-Wood Cemetery and Prospect Park all align with the ridge on the north shore of Long Island and continues down, through Staten Island. I’ve noted in the past that the hilltop above the reservoir is ringed with mature Eastern Cottonwoods and on Saturday the wind was scattering a snow flurry of their fuzzy seeds. Drifts of goose down-like fluff was piling up along the edges of the running path.

Terminal Moraine

In addition to the Yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroats that we had noted earlier in the spring, there were still American Redstarts present around the borders of the reservoir. I’m not certain if that means that they are breeding, but it is a positive sign.

Island of moss

Moss closeup

Inside the bog-like basin mosses are proliferating. I’ve been told that it is a good indication of the habitat’s health. I noticed that some of the species of moss were in a stage that could be compared to flowering. With my face against the cool, green carpet of moss I shot some photos of the tendril-like filaments preparing to release their spores. In the same impoundment I found a cluster of wild irises in bloom. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen native irises in New York State, just the engineered varieties that people plant around their lawns or florists deliver in cut flower arrangements.

Moss filaments

More moss

Wild iris (Iris versicolor)

I won’t be able to participate in the next scheduled survey as I will be out of town, but I will be going back on July 14th.

The Ridgewood Reservoir and it’s surrounding habitats are an incredible piece of nature in the most densely populated and developed city in the United States. In fact, I’m amazed that it has managed to escape bulldozers and backhoes for so long. Unfortunately, that may be changing. The mayor has proposed that at least on basin be turned into a recreational facility (i.e.. soccer stadium, baseball fields) while the others "turned into" a nature preserve. I never feel good about it when words like “turn it into a nature preserve” are used to describe a habitat that has already evolved into one, without the help of designers. I’ll be attending the first meeting tomorrow. I'll post some links later tonight that are relevant to the Ridgewood Reservoir.

Below is our species list from June 9th, followed by the cumulative list of species. In 30 hours of surveying the reservoir habitats we have tallied 101 species of birds.

- - - - -

Ridgewood Reservoir, Queens, 6/9/2007
Ring-necked Pheasant
Laughing Gull
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
House Wren
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
American Redstart
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, House Sparrow

Complete survey list as of June 9th (4/27/07, 5/5/07, 5/12/07, 5/19/07, 5/28/07, 6/9/07):

Horned Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Canada Geese
Wood Duck
Ring-necked Duck
Hooded Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Rink-necked Pheasant
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red shouldered
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
American Woodcock
Laughing Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift
Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
House Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby Crowned Kinglet
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
Gray Catbird
European Starlings
Cedar Waxwing
Blue-winged Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Pine Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Palm Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Worm-eating Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Canada Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown Headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrows

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