Heron Watching

bbg-heron small-2This lovely great blue heron decided to stop for a rest on the railing in the Native Flora garden at the BBG today. He stayed for quite a while, which was fun to watch.

The pond doesn’t have fish or frogs in it, so he was just hanging out enjoying the warm sun we had today. Maybe he had just eaten a nice, juicy koi out of the Japanese Garden and was stopping to digest a bit.

Don’t Pick Up That Baby Bird!

baby birdEvery Spring, I hear about people finding “abandoned” baby birds. They “rescue” them, bring them home and care for them until they inevitably die. Here’s the thing. Those birds aren’t abandoned! They are fledglings. They fly out of their nest and spend a few days on the ground learning how to forage. They haven’t been abandoned by their parents. Imagine the poor parents watching a giant human carrying their baby away!

The Wild Bird Fund in NYC gets inundated every Spring with these baby birds. Take a peek at their pdf below for what to do on this topic. In case you haven’t heard of the Wild Bird Fund, they are the first wildlife rehabilitation center in NYC. Take a peek at their website to see the cool things they are doing.

I had this post all ready to go out (minus this really helpful diagram from the Wild Bird Fund) and then I found my own fledgeling bird today. It was on the sidewalk calling to its parents. This sidewalk is extremely busy with foot traffic, dogs being walked, strollers, etc. The parents weren’t going to go down. They were calling to the baby, which was making the baby hop towards them. Unfortunately it was hopping into traffic on a very busy street. I scooped the little guy up and put it back on the sidewalk. It kept hopping into the street.

Now I was attracting passersby, who were adding their helpful comments. “It fell out of the nest and can’t fly”. Not true. It’s a fledgling. “Don’t touch it, the parents are going to smell you”. Also not true. Gah!

I knew I couldn’t stay there all night to keep scooping the baby out of the street. There weren’t any trees nearby to put it in. I noticed some starlings peeking out of a cornice *way* up in a building. I knew I could never get the baby back up there. There was an abandoned lot across the street, which had wooden boards all around it. It’s been neglected for so long that ailanthus trees are growing in it, and the wooden boards are sagging. I figured that if I could catch this baby, I could fit my hands through the boards and it would be in this lot and unable to hop back into the street.

It took a little bit, but I was able to catch the little guy. He was hunkered behind the tire of a parked car. Fledglings aren’t particularly afraid of people yet, so that made things much easier. I got him into the lot. He let out a big shriek, so his parents were able to hear him and see where he was going. I’m feeling very hopeful about his survival.

That’s him in the top photo. I love his grumpy, yellow mouth! And just for the record, I wouldn’t have touched him at all if he wasn’t in imminent danger of getting squashed by cars or strollers.


A lovely birthday


Yesterday Neil pulled out the stops to celebrate my birthday. We had brunch together, played hooky at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, celebrated with Lindsay by eating sundaes, had a great dinner and then had drinks with friends.

One of the many highlights was this dapper blue heron walking around the koi ponds at the botanic gardens looking for lunch. Blue herons are my favorite bird, so this was an especially nice treat. He wasn’t bothered by all of us gawking at him. Herons have clued into the “fish in a barrel” aspect of these ponds. One of our friends saw a black crowned night heron swoop down and grab a fish.

A Butterfly!

On Thursday morning, Neil looked into the butterfly habitat and noticed that our little chrysalis friend had opened up and a beautiful butterfly was flying around the inside of the netting. It must have emerged early in the morning because its wings were already pumped up and ready to fly. In case you haven’t read as much on raising caterpillars as I have (and really why would you?, here’s a good site. When a butterfly emerges their wings are soft and they spend some time “pumping” them up. Visions of butterfly gyms are coming to mind, aren’t they? Soon they harden and the butterfly is ready to fly off. This is quite clearly a very vulnerable time for the butterfly.

We seem to have a female, so hopefully she will lay lots of eggs and we will see her descendants in the years to come.


This past weekend we went away to visit Neil’s parents. I picked some queen anne’s lace to bring back for our caterpillar to munch on. Lindsay and I looked and looked for it, but couldn’t find it. I was worried it had gone the way of it’s sibling, but then I spotted it.

You can see the little bungee cord threads it spun to secure itself to the parsley plant. These caterpillars can make either a brown or a green chrysalis depending on what plant they choose to latch onto. I think the green is prettier than the brown.

I’m really looking forward to seeing this little critter hatch (or eclose). We’re going away in the middle of August, so fingers crossed it will do it sooner. Otherwise, I will need someone to pupae sit for us.

Eastern Black Swallowtail

Last week we got fennel as part of our CSA share. I made a yummy shaved fennel salad with a lemon dressing and tossed the ferny tops into my chicken scrap tub. When I went to take the greens out to the chickens I noticed 2 interesting caterpillars munching away. Upon checking the internet (what caterpillars are on my fennel?) I found out that they were Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars. I found this site to be particularly helpful.

I thought it would be a fun project to raise our caterpillars indoors. Besides fennel, they like anything related to carrots, such as parsley and queen anne’s lace. I pulled a parsley plant out of my garden, stuck it in a pot and laid the fennel greens on top of it. I also borrowed a Butterfly Garden enclosure to contain the critters. They really move around when you aren’t looking. I had a funny moment when I was looking at my parsley plants outside and thinking about these beautiful, exotic caterpillars that would *never* live in Brooklyn. Well, there was one sitting right on top of my parsley plant. I decided to leave that one in the great outdoors and concentrate on the 2 I had. After a day, one had doubled in size and the other one died.

The one we have left, which we affectionately refer to as chubby, keeps doubling in size and eating up a storm. I added carrot tops to the enclosure and it seems to be thriving. Here’s a video of the little guy munching away on the parsley. I shot still frames and made a kind of time-lapse video. It only took about a minute for him to eat all those leaves!

I can’t wait to see it transform! My sister raised some Anise Swallowtails in her garden. You can read about them in her blog here.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar from Martha Lazar on Vimeo.

Martha vs. Mulberry season 20

This year we finally got smart. Over the last 8 years or so we have had a neighbor’s mulberry tree drop berries in our yard. I have very fond memories of climbing mulberry trees as a child and eating the sweet berries. That was never possible with this tree. The tree isn’t in our yard, so it’s not possible to climb the trunk. And the branches are so high that you cannot reach the fruit. So by the time the berries drop, they are already overripe and starting to ferment.

I am not a fan of people complaining about “messy” trees. The leaves, needles, pollen they produce are part of the package. This mulberry tree has gotten so large in the past couple of years that it shades and overhangs more than 1/3 of my garden. The chickens eat some of the berries, but really cannot make a dent. I lay out landscaping cloth during the 3 weeks of berry drop to catch the berries. You may have seen me waging war in recent years.

Anyhow, this year instead of complaining about it, we decided to do something about it. We hired an arborist to prune the branches that overhang our yard. Seems totally obvious, right? Well, when you are a renter, there is a weird mindset about paying for stuff like this. Anyhow, we are thrilled with the job they did. They had phone lines, a fence and our chicken coop as obstacles, but they didn’t hit any of them. It is money well spent to be able to avoid 3 weeks of rotting berries dropping on our backs when we are in the back of our garden.

Sunday in the park with Ruth

Although it was raining on and off today, my friend Ruth and I decided to take a walk through Central Park. We spent most of our time on the Northern end, which has fewer people and feels a bit wilder. There were signs of spring, such as snowdrops and robins and almost blooming daffodils. We saw quite a few different birds: pairs of bufflehead ducks, swans, a robin, bluejay, common grackles, downy woodpecker, canada geese, mallard ducks, starlings and 2 domestic white ducks. What?? I have an Audubon bird guide application for my iphone, so I was sure they weren’t wild ducks. I came home and searched online and found out that it is pretty common for people to get pet ducks (bunnies, turtles, etc.) and then abandon them in a local park. I thought the woman feeding the mallards bread was bad enough. Come on people! It should be a big decision as to whether or not you get a pet. And then once the decision is made, it is a big commitment to that animal. Domestic ducks don’t have flight feathers like wild ducks and cannot survive in the wild. Even the wild of NYC. The international bird rescue research center has a great site which goes into further detail. Now that I’m on my soap box, let me also mention that should you find some “abandoned” baby animals/birds this spring, please continue walking. The parents that you think have abandoned their babies are too terrified to come back while you are standing there.

When I returned home I let the hens out to peck around my back yard. I noticed that the few garlic cloves I planted in the fall are starting to sprout up. I eagerly looked for signs of my asparagus sprouting and when I went to that bed, the hens eagerly followed me. As I was pawing through the layer of leaves and mulch, the girls decided to do the same. Much to our mutual satisfaction, they found and ate about a dozen baby slugs. It was pretty gross to watch, but very gratifying. My future basil and I thank them.

Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

This weekend promises to be a dreary, rainy weekend here. The perfect weekend to curl up on the sofa with a book and a pot of tea. Should this sound inviting, I will go so far as to recommend a book to read. Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

Lyanda lives in Seattle with her husband and young daughter. Her vast knowledge of birds stems from working at Seattle Audubon, the Fish and Wildlife Service (researching seabirds) and working in raptor rehabilitation (She identified the hawk in my backyard as an juvenile Coopers hawk). Somehow Lyanda (or maybe her husband) found my blog and asked if I would like a review copy of her book.

Have you ever had a friend invite you to hear his/her band, or go see their art exhibition? I felt the same way while waiting for Lyanda’s book to arrive. Nervous and thinking, “God I hope it’s good, because what will I say if it stinks?” I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the package and saw the beautiful cover art by Daniel Cautrell. A mix of the lovely and the slightly creepy that totally appeals to my aesthetic. I also thoroughly enjoyed the book. Lyanda takes her reader on her journey to study urban wildlife (the crow in particular) as her way to connect to “every day” nature. The mix of her personal explorations, scientific research and folklore meld beautifully together.

Along the way I learned a lot about crows. I won’t spoil the book, but I will share one piece of learned crow wisdom…Don’t piss a crow off. They recognize individual faces and hold a grudge!

Anyway, I recommend the book. It’s a really thought provoking read. I also recommend visiting Lyanda’s blog The Tangled Nest. I am ready to share my copy with a reader (in the US). Please write your favorite urban/suburban wildlife encounter in my comments section and I will randomly choose someone on Wed. 3/17 to receive the book. Right now my favorite encounter was the hawk munching on the pigeon in my backyard. One less pigeon in the world!!

If you want to read a much more in-depth review of Crow Planet, please click here to see the LA Times review.

Have a great weekend, drink some tea and stay dry!