The snowy owl, a bird made increasingly famous by its title role as Hedwig in the Harry Potter movies, was spotted at Freshkills Park last week. As its name suggests, the bird can be recognized by its snowy white color, though they have varied amounts of black and brown markings on their wings and chest. The females tend to have darker barring, while the males get whiter with age. The owl spotted at Freshkills has intermediate markings, so it is difficult to tell its sex, but because of the long white bib, our best guess is that it is an immature male. Interestingly for Harry Potter fans, despite Hedwig’s role as a female owl, she was actually portrayed by a male snowy owl in the films because they have whiter markings.
The snowy owl travels all the way from its summer breading spot in the treeless arctic tundra where it takes advantage of 24 hours of daylight to hunt small birds, waterfowl, and small mammals like the lemming. One snowy owl can consume over 1,600 lemmings a year; in fact, they are so dependent on lemming as a food source in the arctic that in years when the lemming population booms, the snowy owl is able to hatch more chicks. Unlike most owls, the snowy hunts during the day in large open areas like fields or shorelines. For a vantage point in these wide open spaces, the owls often find a conspicuous perch like a fence post, or in the case of the one spotted at Freshkills, a landfill gas pipe where DSNY Director of Landfill Engineering Ted Nabavi photographed him.
Snowy owls are only spotted in the winter in the Northern United States, but there have been a number of sightings in the area recently. If you’d like to try to spot these magnificent owls, you can try Great Kills Park (on the south west shore of Staten Island), Jamaica Bay Park (in Queens), or check ebird for the latest sightings near you. Happy birding!
Information via All About Birds
On September 29th, Freshkills Park opened its gates to the public for the fourth annual Sneak Peak event and attracted 3,500 people, a steady increase from previous years.
They came on bikes, on ferries, and in cars; with family, with friends. A girl from Brooklyn says, “This is a strange place. It does not feel like we are in the city at all.” Indeed, the tall yellow grass, the rolling hills, and the hawks in the sky seemed like neither the city nor the previous landfill site.
In the central area, a miniature horse pulled kids around for five minute rides. The goats that helped eat the site’s invasive phragmites, bleated at passerby. Families lounged on wooden-crates, as Staten Island artists transformed the stone bridge with spray paint. In the distance, a giant rock wall supported climbers of all ages; kayakers took boats into the river.
For a quieter experience, people trekked to the Overlook, a high point where they could see the Manhattan skyline. Or, on a steeper path, they climbed to the top of North Mound and flew Freshkills Park kites.
Art, nature, food and clear skies: we couldn’t have asked for a better day! Now, to start planning for next year’s Sneak Peak… In any case, stay posted on Freshkills Park happenings, and if you missed Sneak Peak this year, there’s always next year. Park tours are also available from April to November:
Last week several members of the Freshkills team assisted Dr. Mark Hauber, a professor of Psychology at Hunter College, in checking bird nestboxes in the park. Dr. Hauber is gathering data on the bird populations and breeding success at Freshkills Park, a site which has acted as a stopover for bird species along the Atlantic Migratory Flyway since the closure of the landfill. A migratory stop-over site provides safe and efficient foraging and resting opportunities between long-distance stretches of continuous migratory flights.
Dr. Hauber has been researching bird breeding at Freshkills since August of 2011, when the nest boxes were first installed in the park. He is currently monitoring two other active nestbox sites in New York City: a site in the Bronx near Hunters Point and Jamaica Bay’s National Gateway Park. By studying these sites, the aim is to assess of the ecological value of reclaimed sites with respect to migratory bird populations. The impact of a stop-over habitat on migrating birds is difficult to detect in adult birds, therefore Dr. Hauber has focused his research on birds hatched on the site, whose health directly reflects the local environment. Dr. Hauber ‘s work will help define the differences and similarities between newly restored brownfield landscapes and areas where nesting has been long established.
According to Dr. Hauber’s initial findings, Tree Swallows or House Wrens are the dominant species found in the nextboxes. The newly set-up nest boxes in the Bronx and Staten Island are only 30 percent occupied, whereas the long-standing nestbox colony in Jamaica Bay’s National Gateway Park has 75 percent occupancy. His team is also finding that more young Tree Swallow females, which have a distinctive brown coloring at the age of one, settle in boxes that are recently set-up, compared to the well-established sites. The age of nesting males is much more difficult to determine considering that all males have the same green coloring, irrespective of age. An analysis of abandoned eggshells and nestling down feathers is still underway.
On their recent trip, the team checked the 80+ bird nestboxes located in South Park and North Park. Corresponding with his initial findings, the nestboxes were found to be primarily inhabited by House Wrens and Tree Swallows. Upon inspection, it was discovered that several of the nests contained recently laid eggs, some with a single egg others contained up to seven. Dr. Hauber and the Freshkills team will be returning to the site to check on the nests and the soon to be hatched baby birds in the next few weeks.
Freshkills Park CELEBRATES National Poetry Month
April is National Poetry Month which means it is time for the fifth annual Freshkills Park Haiku Contest! We will be celebrating by asking you to share your impressions, experiences, thoughts and ideas of what Freshkills Park is, will be, and what it means to you- in haiku form. A haiku is a type of poem written in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables for a total of 17 syllables. For example, here is one of our winners from a previous year:
The bike paths I will ride on
My old love letters
Email your haiku, along with your name and age to firstname.lastname@example.org by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, April 29th
Prizes will be awarded to the top youth winner as well as the top three adult winners. If you are under 18, please indicate that you are submitting as a youth entrant. Submit for a chance to receive exclusive Freshkills Park merchandise. To learn more about Freshkills Park and to stay up to date on the latest news, visit the Freshkills Park Blog at www.freshkillspark.wordpress.com and ‘like’ us on Facebook.
Freshkills Park just received a great write-up in the New York Times! The piece, available in print today and online here, written by architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, emphasizes the Park’s role in buffering surrounding communities from the impact of Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge. As a site still in-progress, Freshkills Park is already proving itself to be an important asset for local Staten Islanders, and for New Yorkers in general.
The article is accompanied by a great seven-minute video that features Freshkills Park Administrator Eloise Hirsh touring the site with Kimmelman. The video tour provides an opportunity to discuss the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
As habitat is restored in Freshkills Park, many animal species have already returned to the site, including foxes, turtles, egrets, rabbits, deer, and, as of recently, a coyote. In fact, coyotes are becoming increasingly prevalent in urbanized areas across the U.S., leading to conflicts over how to handle these wild animals when they come into contact with humans.
Coyotes find suburban areas particularly attractive for the abundant availability of food sources, including pet food, human food scraps, fruit trees, rodents, and even small pets. An article in the New York Times today highlights the difficulties that can arise in coexisting with these large predators. However, the article also noted the proactive approach that Denver has taken to prevent and safely manage conflicts with coyotes.
Founded in 2008, Project Coyote works with communities to develop “coexistence plans” that focus on strategic hazing, or training residents, animal control officers and parks staff to use consistent and persistent deterrents like loud noises, water spraying, bright lights, throwing objects, shouting and chasing coyotes.
Denver adopted a hazing-based management plan three years ago, sending out teams, for example, to scare off coyotes that had taken to trotting after joggers in a public park. And according to a case study prepared by wildlife specialists with the Humane Society and Denver’s Parks and Recreation Department, officials report that hazing has successfully reversed “aggressive and undesirable behaviors in coyote family groups and solitary coyotes, reducing pet attacks in neighborhoods and reducing the overall number of complaints from residents.”
In Denver, the killing of coyotes was reserved as a last resort — an action to be taken only in response to human attacks — but no lethal control has been used since the hazing program began in 2009. According to the case study, “one of the novel and cost-savings aspects of the program is its hands-on and empowering nature — it gives local residents the ability and confidence to address coyote conflicts in their own backyards, without outside help.” Similar programs are being developed or put into effect around the country.
Hopefully, the coyote spotted at Freshkills Park will be content to have the whole the park to himself for the time being, but the Denver example shows that education and local empowerment can play an important role in learning to live with urban coyotes.
(via New York Times)
If you’ve been to Sneak Peak, perhaps you’ve noticed your own reflection in the side of a Department of Sanitation garbage truck.
This 20 cubic-yard garbage truck faced with hand-tempered mirror is The Social Mirror by artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles. The Social Mirror debuted in the grand finale of the first NYC Art Parade in 1983 and was most recently exhibited at the 2007 Armory Show. According to Ukeles, “This project allowed citizens to see themselves linked with the handlers of their waste.”
Since publishing Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969!, Ukeles’s work has revolved around the role of the artist and our relationship to maintenance and service work, and most importantly the workers who perform these essential, everyday tasks for the rest of society. She has worked as the first and only official artist-in-residence for the New York City Department of Sanitation since 1977, where her projects have included Touch Sanitation (1978-1984) and Flow City (1983-1996) .
Not surprisingly, Ukeles has also played an important role in the Freshkills Park project, advocating for a public park on the site since 1989. She has produced several gallery installations on Freshkills and was a contributor to the Draft Master Plan for the park. Ukeles is currently designing a permanent nature viewing platform and two related earth works in South Park as part of the City’s Percent for Art program.
Find out more about maintenance art and Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s work in this video from the 2011 Creative Time Summit.
On September 23rd, Freshkills Park hosted our biggest Sneak Peak event yet. The third annual Sneak Peak drew over 2,500 visitors to the North Park section of the future park.
This year’s Sneak Peak featured free bicycle rentals for the first time as a fun way to get around the site more quickly. Also new this year, visitors helped decorate the bridge over Main Creek by creating a mural with Council on the Arts and Humanities of Staten Island.
And, as always, visitors were able to take in the incredible view and fly kites on the top of North Mound, watch for birds, kayak in Main Creek, explore a hike and bike loop, and participate in a variety of fun and educational activities throughout the day along the main event path. Plus, the Department of Transportation’s free bike helmet fitting station gave away 511 more brand-new helmets this year!
The day was a great success and next year’s Sneak Peak will be even bigger and better! As Staten Island resident Richie Ignazio remarked, “Everybody should experience this, it’s unbelievable!”
Schmul Park was officially opened yesterday. This reconstructed neighborhood park is the first portion of Freshkills Park to open to the public. The reconstructed Schmul Park now features a colorful playground, new handball and basketball courts, a grass lawn, and a modern comfort station. The park design incorporated many sustainable elements including low maintenance landscaping with native plant species, reduced energy and water consumption in the comfort station, and stormwater best management practices, including permeable pavements and a rain garden. Schmul Park will serve as the neighborhood entrance to Freshkills Park for the Travis community.
This past weekend, Freshkills Park hosted two lively sets of visitors. On Saturday, Pack 118 of the Staten Island Boys of Scouts of America, explored the South and North Mounds of the park. This curious group of young Staten Islanders learned about the myriad of wildlife and plant species that make their home at Freshkills Park, as well as the history of the landfill and master plan. Many thanks to the pack members who have also visited Freshkills Park previously to take good care of some of the trees planted on site as part of the Million Trees NYC program.
Sunday was a glorious day for taking in Freshkills Park from the water. An intrepid group of 20 kayakers from Staten Island were led by the Freshkills Park team and volunteers from Kayak Staten Island, and paddled along the Main Creek. It was prime time for birdwatching as the kayakers saw an osprey dive for fish right next to the boats! Blue Herons and Egrets dotted the shoreline, as terns and gulls flew overhead joining the paddlers in enjoying the beautiful scenery along the Fresh Kill waterways and wetland.
Tours of Freshkills Park are free and open to the public by appointment only. If you would like to schedule a group tour please contact Michael Callery at email@example.com. Stay tuned for more exciting public tour announcements and news on our annual preview event Sneak Peak at Freshkills Park which will take place on Sunday, September 23.