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.


sept 2014-2Today I was gardening at Brooklyn Bridge Park up by Jane’s carousel. There is a very tiny, but pretty garden there that is a rain garden. There is a lot of swamp milkweed in the garden, which is one of my favorite milkweeds. But in addition to being very pretty, it is also a host plant for the caterpillars of monarch butterflies.

sept 2014-3While I was weeding I noticed a monarch caterpillar. I was very excited because monarch butterflies are in decline. It was wonderful to see that the monarchs found a perfect spot filled with their favorite (and only) food. A minute later I noticed another one. sept 2014-4Aren’t they beautiful? And then I noticed that this garden was filled with these beauties. sept 2014-5There was a monarch butterfly flitting about as well. But it was teasing me and I never got a photo of it. I just enjoyed watching it dance happily over all the milkweed.

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.


Mulchfest 2013

This weekend our parks department sponsored Mulchfest. Different parks in various neighborhoods across the city serve as drop off points for Christmas trees. They have a chipper on site and make short work of the trees.

We’ve done this for years. In fact, when Lindsay was small, she was so torn up over the loss of our Christmas tree, that we had to hide the fact that it was about to be shredded into a zillion pieces. She still didn’t want to stay for the chipping this year, but we didn’t have to watch her hug our tree with tears running down her face.

We try and pick up as many trees as our wonderful cart can carry. We were able to bring 3 additional trees to be mulched. I suggested making a second trip, but didn’t rally any interest with my family. Maybe next year…

The city makes mulch for their parks (or for pick up by the community), and there are fewer trees going to the landfill. I feel really good not to be one of the people who leaves their tree blowing around the street.

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.

Mama Pigeon

Have you ever seen a baby pigeon? That is a question that I’ve heard New Yorkers ask. There is even some urban folklore that they don’t exist. That’s actually not true, they just grow very large, very quickly.

But I ask you…have you ever seen a chicken sitting on a stoop with the egg it’s just layed right next to it?? I feel like this gal is the pregnant teen of the pigeon world. Although she was scared of the people walking by, she didn’t seem to want to abandon her egg. But she certainly didn’t know what to do with it. Maybe her parents kicked her out of the nest.

What does one do in this situation?

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.