Sunday, January 08, 2017

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

I had the BBG's nature walk/birding tour with the Kleins on my agenda for today.  Despite the bright sunshine, with one thing and another, I gathered up my binoculars and camera and headed out for BBG about 20 minutes after I thought the program had begun.*

Things did not look good at 150 Eastern Parkway. The beautiful gate was closed and locked, without explanation, and there was no sign of any personnel.  So I headed over to 990 Washington Avenue (next to the visitor center and gift shop).  Another locked gate, but now I could see some guards moving around inside the garden.  Things were looking up!  A guard directed me on to the administrative entrance halfway down the block at 1000 Washington Avenue.  And fortunately, I had wildly misrecorded the start time for the nature walk and arrived with a few minutes to spare!**

For the tour, we had to stick to the plowed paths, which pretty much meant staying in the lily pond and magnolia tree area.

Even the hardiest water-lilies were nowhere to be seen...
It was very, very cold (I'd needlessly worried about being overdressed), but we had a few great sightings.

Pride of place goes to the Cooper's hawk.  It very graciously perched in plain view on a tree for a good 20 minutes or more -- long enough for the entire group to take turns observing it through the scope, take photos, and hear all about the distinguishing features etc.

According to our guide, the hawk was a juvenile (based on the vertical feather pattern on its chest), and probably female (based on its relatively large size).  He said the Cooper's hawk is often confused with the sharp-shinned hawk; the tell-tales are (1) pale arcs (like eyebrows) over the eyes and (2) thinner vertical markings on the chest.

The right leg has been pulled up into the chest feathers to keep warm.

She was not interested in the various robins that flew by, nor in the gull far overhead.

We did see her chasing after a mourning dove later on, but the prey got wise to the chase and undertook evasive action, so the predator abruptly gave up and turned aside to the woods.

Cooper's hawk, sitting pretty

Brad explained that juveniles are more commonly seen than mature hawks, because the life of a hunter is very hard - probably 50% do not survive their first year.  Apparently, Cape May in the autumn is great for watching juvenile hawks -- they follow the NJ coastline south, and then turn around when they realize they have a huge expanse of water to cross.  They go back north, and cross the Delaware River where it is relatively narrow.  Only juveniles do this, however -- apparently if they survive that first year, they don't make that mistake again!!

(He also had some funny stories about birds perching on one leg.  This is apparently something they do to keep at least one leg warm while the other leg is holding on to a cold branch. It seems that ometimes they are so reluctant to remove the warm leg from its comfy "pocket" that they'll just doggedly hop around on the other leg. And apparently many novice bird-watchers are certain they've seen a one-legged bird.  He also mentioned a book "H is for Hawk" which has a very pretty cover illustration of a hawk, but the artist might not be a trained scientific illustrator.  The evidence?  The bird's front has a bulge, as if one leg has been pulled up into the bird's chest, but then the artist still showed two legs holding the branch!)

We also saw, in the distance, a red-tailed hawk heading away from us into the sun, and a falcon over the rooftops to the east.  Brad noted that the falcons and gulls have evolved to resemble each other more closely; a sort of arms race (or survival race) between predator and prey.  They both have long narrow wings, for example.  But he noted that the gull's wings are longer, as they often need to glide over the sea for long distances.

Magnolia trees with snow "berries"

Shayne Dark, "Glacial Series: Drop Stones" (2014) [corten steel, bronze]***
At the end of the tour, I went into the greenhouses to warm up!!!  What a relief.  

bonsai and icicles (from the outside)

bonsai and icicles (inside out)
bonsai and icicles (outside in)
I was looking forward to a nice dry heat in the desert room, but it was actually less toasty than I expected.

The kids' programming in the basement of the conservatory was well attended.  They seemed to have four different activities going on in the four corners of the play area.  In one, they had origami water lilies on tiles to move around.  That was very cute.  In another area, they had a petting zoo, complete with straw, in a little enclosure.  Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed an adorable little goat or lamb lying down near the entrance.  I walked around to check it out, and realized the littlest kids in the central sub-enclosure were just playing with stuffed animals (e.g., a fuzzy mallard duck, etc.).  Very obviously fake.  So it would seem that only the older kids got to ... No, waaaait a minute!  ALL the animals were stuffed animals!!!  Including the little goat that had attracted my attention in the first place!  But the hay was real, OK?  Anyone could have made this mistake.  I mean, really!

Shayne Dark, "Windfall" (2010) [applewood, aircraft cable]  

After that, I wandered back up to the magnolia area and discovered they'd plowed and opened the path leading to the gift shop and entrance #2. 

Always remember to stop and smell the flowers

A nice vista with the Shinto Gate


After that, I cut through the Brooklyn Museum's parking lot and lobby to get to Eastern Parkway.  There were a lot of kids sledding on the little hill behind the BBG.  I don't recall seeing this sculpture before, though:

I had always assumed the squat, disproportioned statue of liberty replica in the museum's back lot was a crude parody, intended as some sort of scathing commentary on the USA or its institutions, or our notions of freedom, or the like.  Instead, the plaque advises that an entrepreneur commissioned it in 1902 to adorn the rooftop of his Liberty Warehouse in Manhattan.  The museum's website provides some information about the statue and conservation efforts.

Hangover sufferers of yore

Hedwig, is that you?
I'd always figured this sculpture was a modern piece (1980s or later) with some kind of (perhaps ironic) racial commentary, depicting whites over blacks, although the whites are hardly sitting pretty -- they seem to be in agony.  And I couldn't figure out why they had wings.  And what's with the snakes?

Well, I was pretty close with my guess - only off by a hundred years or so!  The work is by Salvatore Albano (Italian, 1841-1893).  It's called The Fallen Angels, or The Rebel Angels, and dates from 1893 (marble); 1883 (base). 

The official plaque says: "At the apex of this sculptural group, a sword-wielding Satan struggles alongside his rebel angels against God and his army (both absent) in heaven.  Below, under a coiled serpent, a defeated angel (possibly Satan again) lies facedown and mangled in hell.  Such continuous narratives were common in monumental ancient Roman sculpture, a major influence on the academically trained Florentine Salvatore Albano.  Here, the angels are so idealized that only the snakes in their hair identify them as fallen."

I'm not sure I'd agree that "only the snakes in their hair" identify them as fallen -- I think the expressions of torment reflect their separation from God.

 The website also offers some commentary on the work: "It depicts 'The Fallen Angels.' In the Bible, fallen angels are those who rebelled against God along with Lucifer, an archangel who became the Devil. The dark base, where the snake slithers over a body, is probably the depiction of hell, and the figure down there could be Lucifer himself. The expressions on their faces are remarkable. There are so many different emotions carved into the marble. One figure is biting his knuckle in anguish or torment!"

He doesn't look dead quite yet...

Snakes in the hair - not just for Medusa anymore!

marble fingers sinking into marble flesh
Additional commentary from the museum website: 
"I encourage you to get as close as you can and look at how the artist, Salvatore Albano, handles flesh. He makes it seem so soft and realistic for being carved out of stone. This is a technical masterpiece of carving stressing how the figure can be seen in the round from all angles."

Wavy sword - did it melt when used against heaven's angels?

snakes, feathers, and feet


Not sure that sword is gonna be much use to you now...

So all in all it was an educational day.  Celebrated with two loads of laundry and a viewing of the Signum Symposium on Rogue One & Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

FN* My lack of urgency was perhaps in part because I'd seen on the BBG's website yesterday that the garden was closed for snow removal; despite their assurance that they'd be open "tomorrow," I had my doubts.
FN** It turns out the garden was not really open, after all, at the time I arrived -- the public was being allowed in only for the conservatory and the First Sunday programs.  That's why it was such a big deal that I'd made it in time for the nature walk!  When I initially told the guard I was there to walk around the garden, she gave me the stink-eye and handed me the program list. 
FN*** According to wikipedia, "Weathering steel, best-known under the trademark COR-TEN steel and sometimes written without the hyphen as corten steel, is a group of steel alloys which were developed to eliminate the need for painting, and form a stable rust-like appearance if exposed to the weather for several years." So we may be seeing the possible slow death of a trademark here if people are using corten steel as a synonym for generic weathering steel, just as they use kleenex as a synonym for generic tissue.

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