Tag Archives: Animals

Bountiful, New York Style

By Vladimir Brezina

The Pigeon Lady, today in Rat Park—

Feeding the pigeons
Feeding the pigeons
... and the squirrels!

A contribution to Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge, Bountiful. Another contribution is here.

Travel Theme: Inviting

By Vladimir Brezina

Landed on Sandy HookPaddling out from Manhattan for the day, we often find ourselves heading south to Sandy Hook, NJ. Our favorite spot to land there, about half-way down the bay side, is a picturesque little “island” of wooded high ground that rather improbably rises above the otherwise flat Sandy Hook View over the salt marshlandscape. (Indeed, it is man-made, being the overgrown concrete ruins of an early 20th-century military installation, Battery Arrowsmith.) Separating the “island” from the “mainland” of Sandy Hook is a salt marsh.

Whenever we land at the “island”, we always take a few minutes to walk round to the back, to the edge of the salt marsh.  We go there to observe a mass display of invitation.

The marsh is fringed by a zone of bare, or sometimes sparsely overgrown, ground. Looking down closely, we see that the ground is studded with holes, large and small.

Field of holes

At first, standing there, we see nothing remarkable.

But within a minute or two, we glimpse, here and there, a furtive movement. Then more and more, and soon there is movement all around—movement of a curiously stereotyped sort.

Each hole is occupied by a fiddler crab.

Two fiddler crabs
Fiddler crab emerging

There are both male and female crabs. They are easy to distinguish—the males have one greatly enlarged claw. And they use this claw in a characteristic courtship display. They stand next to their holes and repeatedly raise their large claws, inviting the females to enter.

It is quite a sight to see the whole area come alive with hundreds of crabs all raising their claws simultaneously in their inviting gesture…

(A contribution to Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge, Inviting.)

A Kayayer’s Guide to Hitchhikers

By Johna Till Johnson and Vladimir Brezina

HitchhikerKayaking is often a solitary sport. Although paddlers sometimes go out in pairs and groups, the quintessential kayaker is a bit of a loner. Many of us make long trips alone, and prize the time we spend by ourselves.

But sometimes we inadvertently end up with fellow travelers. When Vlad and I were training for the Everglades Challenge, we found ourselves navigating the Florida Bay in pitch darkness—when all of a sudden, a fish jumped out of the water and into my lap. A few months later, one of our fellow Everglades Challengers, Clewless, topped that one when a shark jumped into his boat—during the race!  There’s also the recent story of a 6-foot alligator jumping into a canoe. And of course many stories of cute, or sometimes not so cute, seals and sea lions hopping onto kayaks to hitch a ride.

The typical hitchhiker is less threatening. While weaving through the mangrove tunnel of the ironically named Broad Creek during the Everglades Challenge, a tree crab landed on the nose of my boat. Tree crabs are small—an inch or two—with shiny, mottled brown or green shells. This one was content to be my mascot for several minutes—until he started to crawl slowly towards the cockpit.

I debated knocking him off with the paddle—but that seemed unfair, and might have hurt him. So I gently nosed up to a mangrove root—and he hopped off.

He wasn’t the only crab who hitched a ride, though. Returning from a recent trip to Sandy Hook, I felt something skittering around in my cockpit. When I stripped off the spray skirt I saw a small gray sea crab, about the size of a quarter. I tried to pick him up, but he was too quick for me—and I didn’t want to risk crushing him. So we made the trip home from Sandy Hook together, with him occasionally reminding me of his presence with a tiny “nip”.  (Every time he nipped I yelped, which amused Vlad.)

When I got back to Pier 40 I rinsed him out of the boat with sea water—I don’t know whether he survived in the Hudson, but I like to think he did.

But the best hitchhiker story of all is one that happened to Vlad.

I’ll let him tell it.

Vlad writes:

Once upon a time, when I was just a little kayaker, I went for a paddle with my friends Kathy and John. Like me, they were big-city paddlers, with a folding kayak in their closet. Theirs was a formidable double Klepper, whose parts came in three heavy-duty canvas bags.

We got to the river, assembled our boats, and cruised with the current for a few miles to our destination—a grassy meadow where we planned to have a picnic lunch before packing the boats up again and taking a train back to the city.

Everything worked out as planned. As usual, Kathy had brought a lovely lunch, which she laid out on the grass. And in preparation for taking the Klepper apart, John carefully laid out its three bags.

As he did so, out of the largest bag there stalked a huge brown cockroach. He stood at the mouth of the bag, surveying the meadow around, antennae twitching. Obviously, he’d been living in the bag back in John and Kathy’s closet, and we’d brought him along for the ride!

We just stood there. He descended regally from the bag and was soon lost from sight in the tall grass.

We didn’t think much about it. We had our lunch, then started disassembling the boats.

An hour or two later—we were feeling drowsy in the post-prandial sunshine—we were almost done. John had packed most of the Klepper’s parts in the bags; he was about to add the last parts and close up the bags.

And what did we then see come out of the tall grass, heading straight towards the bags? A huge brown cockroach!

This time we made a move. All three of us tried to block him, like football players. But he zig-zagged nimbly between our feet and took a leap into the open bag.

The bag was already carefully packed with parts—we couldn’t face taking them all out again.

And so the smart old cockroach rode back to the city, back to his closet, doubtless to tell his young cousins about his lovely Sunday excursion to the country…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue

By Vladimir Brezina

Snow leopard
Polar bear

A contribution to this week’s Photo Challenge, Dialogue.

Travel Theme: Endearing

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Endearing.

I know people are expecting photos of cute babies and furry animals, but I love my invertebrates…

… cautious conch

Cautious conch

… feisty fiddler crab

Feisty fiddler crab

… serene sea slug

Serene sea slug

Weekly Photo Challenge: Room

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Room.

I wonder what it’s like to always be inside your room, to carry it with you everywhere you go—

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—or does your room become so much a part of you that it no longer stands between you and the world around?

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(Florida fighting conch: more photos are here.)

This is in fact a real question in philosophy (Heidegger comes to mind), neuroscience and neuroethology (mind-body relations, motor learning, tool use), artificial intelligence… see for instance here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Split-Second Story

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Split-Second Story.

What are the stories here? We can only guess—

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Another Split-Second Story is here.