If you’re not a biologist or a wildlife hobbyist, it can be hard to understand what the big deal is about birds, bats and other creatures at the Freshkills Park site—why are our birding tours always booked months in advance? Why so much concern—huge sections of environmental review documents, regulatory review on issues of habitat fragmentation—for the welfare of populations of small animals, when the site is so big?
A new Smithsonian study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences helps to address these questions by offering a role played by animals in the middle of the food pyramid—insect-eating birds, bats and lizards, specifically: protecting and encouraging the growth of grasslands and forests. The study, drawing from more than 100 studies of insect predation by birds, bats or lizards from four continents, found that by eating herbivores and their insect predators, birds, bats and lizards reduced damage to plants by 40 percent, which resulted in a 14 percent increase in plant biomass.
Grassland habitat, which is abundant at the Freshkills Park site, is in rare supply in the New York City area. These middle-pyramid animal species will play an important role in encouraging park development through the establishment of new woodland and the restoration of native grassland.
Last Sunday’s bird-watching tour at the Freshkills Park site was eventful. Not only did we catch a glimpse of a snow goose fishing around the storm water basin on East Mound, we also noticed this osprey sitting in a nest atop the tall perch in Main Creek. This is the same nest that housed a family of osprey last year–our public tours witnessed the laying, hatching and fledging of two osprey chicks between May and August. (We also featured osprey in our winter newsletter.) We only spotted one adult in the nest on Sunday, but we were happy to welcome him and hope he’s the ambassador of a continued osprey presence onsite.
Our next bird-watching tour will be May 23rd. Registration for that tour will be open in mid-April. Add yourself to our newsgroup to be alerted–these tours fill up quickly!
This past Sunday’s birdwatching tour at the Freshkills Park site is featured in today’s New York Times (and also on the City Room blog, where you can read and post comments). The sky was overcast and hazy, but we still spotted a dozen or more red-tailed hawks and several northern harriers in addition to meadowlarks, buffleheads, hooded mergansers and great black backed gulls. We’ve been operating these four-season tours in conjunction with the Staten Island Museum for the last year; our next birdwatching tour is at the end of March, just before the April relaunch of the general public tour season. If you’re not already on our e-mail newsgroup list, you can sign up to receive biweekly updates on upcoming public programs and RSVP-only opportunities, including the next birdwatching tour.
City planners in Guelph, Ontario have approved a master plan to transform a 200-acre decommissioned landfill into the world’s largest pollinator park. The former Eastview Road Landfill, which operated as a municipal dump from 1961 to 2003, has been capped and outfitted with a methane capturing system that converts landfill gas into usable energy. Filled land, which constitutes about half the site, will host some recreational amenities but primarily shrub and meadow plantings that provide habitat for pollinator species such as bees, butterflies, bats and birds. These species are surprisingly vital to food production: pollination research suggests that three out of four flowering plants require animal pollinators in order to produce seed and fruit.
Pollinator populations have been in decline in recent years. Honeybees, in particular, have experienced what beekeepers call “colony collapse disorder“; other causes for decline include pesticide misuse, light and air pollution, hive destruction and farming practices that destroy habitat.
In conjunction with non-profit group Pollination Guelph, the city is developing a plant palette with a wide enough range of blooming seasons to accommodate both early and late pollinators. Other park amenities include toboggan runs, a trail network, demonstration gardens, basketball and volleyball courts, soccer and football fields, a natural ice rink and a playground.
Habitat corridors are planted or wild strips of land between natural areas that encourage wildlife to migrate from place to place and, in turn, to help fertilize a broader range of places through the seeds they carry on them or digest. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that the establishment of habitat corridors between existing natural areas–and the resulting migration of wildlife between those areas–can increase biodiversity not only in connected sites, but also in habitat adjacent to those sites. In the study, conducted in South Carolina in conjunction with the USDA, the biodiversity spillover effect was found to extend beyond the boundaries of the connected natural areas by as much as 30%, resulting in a 10-18% increase in plant life–particularly native plants–in the larger area. The findings suggest that investments in habitat connections can pay off on a scale even beyond their designed ambition.
The master plan for Freshkills Park includes the establishment of habitat corridors around the bases of each of the site’s four landfill mounds, connecting to three large adjacent natural areas–the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge, the Staten Island Greenbelt and Arden Heights Woods–as well as expanding biodiversity in the Freshkills Park site, itself, and in the general vicinity.
(via Scientific American)
Nature Find is an online tool provided by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) to aid in finding local nature or nature-related amenities. Users plug-in a zip code, and the software locates nearby events, city parks, science centers, zoos and other wildlife-related happenings.
The National Parks Conservation Association has drafted a 53-page report describing “a potentially catastrophic loss of animal and plant life” in national parks due to climate change. The report urges the National Park Service to develop an overarching plan to better manage habitat and population shifts.
Among the ideas proposed is one that is shared by the Freshkills Park master plan: wildlife corridors that enable animals to migrate across parks uninhibited.
(via LA Times)
We recently discovered that our neighbors at the New Jersey Meadowlands keep a nature blog full of amazing photos of the bird and insect life that lives within its 8,400 acres of wetlands and open space. Lots of these photos have been taken at the 110-acre Richard W. DeKorte Park, part of which, like the Freshkills Park site, was once a landfill.
Ballistic Architecture Machine’s (BAM) concept for a green roof installation, called Biornis Aesthetope, is an aviary for migrating birds proposed for the 70,000 sq ft rooftop of Goldman Sachs in Lower Manhattan. Ornithologists at Harvard and Cornell Universities provided BAM guidance on the resting and nutritional needs for 12 species of birds, including diurnal raptors, songbirds and owls, whose migration paths along the Atlantic Coast Flyway bring them through New York City regularly. The structure is essentially a park for birds: a layer of mesh creates topography for perching and resting and is filled with an array of soil types, water sources, plants and insects.
There are still seats available for this Sunday’s 10 am bird-focused bus and walking tour of the Freshkills Park site. Our bird tours are held bimonthly and are jointly led by park planners from our office and naturalists from the Staten Island Museum. They last about two hours and go into the details of the park plan as well. Lots of birds out this time of year: hawks, turkey vultures, osprey, killdeer, hooded mergansers, ducks, geese and more. If you’re interested in attending, contact Martha at firstname.lastname@example.org.