Archives for category: Animal Habitat

On May 19 6:30-8PM, our Living Things in an Urban Ecosystem series ended on a high note with Beyond the Honeybee: Exploring Critical Pollinators where we explored the role pollinators play in urban ecosystems and the ways in which individuals and community groups can support their habitats.

Ecologist Howard Ginsberg, Ph.D. from United States Geological Survey first presented a brief survey of native and non-native bee species typically found in NYC.  He found that our city has approximately 50 different species of bumble bees, compared to 100 found in more natural environments which is great news for our urban ecosystem. One fun fact is that bees tend to pollinate on specific seasons because they favor flowers in bloom during that time.  One example is Halictus ligatus, a communal or non-territorial summer bumblebee whose nests are typically found in holes in the ground and their workers are daughters of the queen, unlike honeybees whose workers are typically male.

Summer bee

Halictus ligatus – Summer bee

Our second panelist Tina Harrison, Ph.D. candidate from Rutger’s University Department of Ecology, presented some key ways to support our pollinators here in NYC.

Pesticides used in gardens

Chlorantranilliprole kills less worker bumble bees in a 2013 study

Gardeners and horticulturists should be mindful of the primary chemical used in the pesticide. For example, a study by Larson, Redmond and Potter showed that pesticides containing chlorantraniliprole kills only a small amount of worker bees, especially compared to clothianidin. So be sure to read those labels!

Effects of pesticides on bumble bee populations

Effects of pesticides on bumble bee populations

And finally, biologist Sam Droege, also from USGS, focused his presentation on the challenges of studying bumble bee populations.  He not only highlighted his work on cataloguing bee species (view the beautiful photography here), he spoke on the challenges scientists face when studying bees. One fascinating example was the attempt to study the Bombus bimaculatus, a bee species that, in natural settings, kicks out and takes over nests built by chickadee birds.  After scientists recreated these nests to attract this bee species, they were unable to replicate this occurrence in a controlled setting. Clearly there is more to be studied on attractive bee habitats, which, once successful, would lead to more effective methods of attracting and keeping them within our city.


We then segued into the panel discussion, moderated by landscape architect Hans Hesselein, where we were truly able to unpack the issue of bee colony collapse (which actually does not effect bumblebees), action steps we can take to support their survival, and the potential for future on bee habitats studies .  Listen here for the entire discussion.

We at the Gowanus Canal Conservancy send our heartfelt thanks to our venue sponsor Threes Brewing for generously offering their event space, our panelists, volunteer coordinators and most of all our audience for being part of such a vibrant season.  Stay tuned for the fall schedule!

Join us on our next Clean & Green July 18 11AM-3PM by signing up at where volunteers will participate in the Tree Census and other stewardship activities.

Follow us on Twitter at @GowanusGreen and on Instagram @gowanuscanalconservancy for GCC news, volunteer events and trivia.


Last week we posted about our two new beehives. Here’s what they’ve been up to!

8702916272_888c07ba3a_cBoth colonies have taken to their new homes, building wax comb in every nook and cranny. Fresh wax is pure white and turns yellow then brownish black as it’s used. Bees use honeycomb both to lay eggs and to store food (like pollen and honey).


For the most part bees build their comb on top of the thin sheets of beeswax that we gave them as templates. You can see how the comb on the outer edges of the frame has yet to be “drawn out” (built) compared to the deeper wax on the center of the frame.



So where does wax come from? Worker bees secrete liquid wax from glands on the underside of their abdomens. The droplets harden into translucent scales about the size of a grain of salt, which other workers pass like a fire brigade to the part of the honeycomb that’s being built. When bees link together like this it’s called a “festoon,” because the bees hang together between frames like a decorative garland.


Each bee colony has one queen. The queen spends most of her time laying eggs – about one every eight seconds at the height of summer. Her abdomen is longer and more slender than the bodies of the other bees. Can you spot her?


Both of our queens are healthy and productive. How do we know? The oblong white specks at the backs of these cells are eggs, and our beekeepers observed the right number and arrangement of eggs in both hives. Assessing the laying pattern of the queen is one of the beekeeper’s most important jobs. An irregularity in the egg laying is a signal that something in the hive has gone awry.


Held up to the sunlight you can see bellies full of nectar.

Beehives can contain 12,000 to 80,000 individual bees, and for the bees to cooperate effectively they have evolved many means of communication. Here we see bees arching their backs and fanning their wings to broadcast the scent of the hive to any bees out foraging for food. Fanning also helps regulate the hive temperature, spreads pheromones, and helps with dehyrdrating nectar into honey.


Inspection’s over: everyone back inside!

If all goes well, when we next peek into the hives in a week or two we should see hatched eggs, more drawn comb, and greater pollen stores. Stay tuned! Keep an eye on the newsletter for the next public hive inspection date.

In lieu of the Conservancy’s initiative to restore native species, we have started beekeeping! The presence of prolific wildlife near the canal is an excellent biological monitor for a healthy habitat. Honey bees are essential in pollinating a variety of plants, further propagating native species we’ve installed in our gardens.

Honey contains pollen grains collected by the bees within its foraging area (a roughly 2 mile radius); this food source, which also includes nectar, thus reflects the health of the local environment. We plan to test our honey for any presence of heavy metals, which we could then postulate is also present in the plants and soils of the watershed.

The Conservancy is lucky to partner with Emily Vaughn, our resident beekeeper:

Just last week, she received and placed our newly arrived Italian honey bees, Apis mellifera ligustica, in their new fluorescent green homes (more on its creation here), which sit in our berm garden.

Prime canal-side views:

We’ll keep a close eye on our new bee friends–more updates to come!

Edit: Emily will lead a hive inspection this weekend, on Sunday, May 5th from 11am to shortly after noon. Please RSVP at, as space is limited!

After a long, bitter winter, the Conservancy finally opened the Salt Lot gates last Saturday to welcome our first host of 2013 volunteers. We also partnered with our friends at NYRP and MillionTreesNYC for the year’s first Tree Giveaway. What a hoot! It was refreshing to see the Salt Lot brimming with activity and we’re excited for the rest of the year’s events.

Thanks to the immense volunteer turnout from St. Johns University, Whole Foods, Nelson Byrd Woltz, Boy Scout Troop 815, Midwood HS, and many community members, we:
+ Gave away 85 trees
+ Planted 29 Yucca filementosa, 2 Salix flames, 2 Cornus alba, and 17 Juniper virginiana on the berm garden
+ Planted Salix discolor in the 2nd Ave street-end garden
+ Expanded the berm garden with stairs
+ Dewinterized plants in the nursery

Our volunteers laying down mulch:

+ Cleaned 2nd Ave and 5th St, removing 30 cubic yards of trash


The pile of trash amassed:

And of course, all done in style:

+ Aerated the soil and picked up trash at the 3rd Ave garden
+ Assembled and painted 2 beehives
Boy Scout Troop 815 helped us assemble beehives, in addition to painting them a vibrant green:

+ Assembled mason bee habitats using reeds

As part of our beekeeping project, our lovely Volunteer Coordinator Emily Vaughn and Boy Scout Troop 815 have constructed mason bee habitat using reeds:

The reeds are then bound together with some twine and placed in a tree. We’ll be keeping an eye on these guys.


As always, we are so grateful for all the help from our volunteers. See ya’ll at the next one!

This morning, we stopped by the Salt Lot to check on the Floating Gardens projects that were launched last month (click here for the full post on that).   The anchored bottle gardens are still afloat and intact along the shore, and we were pleasantly surprised to find volunteer spirtana alterniflora (a.k.a. salt marsh cordgrass) sprouting on the banks as well!

We spotted a large school of juvenile fish splashing about in the shelter of the gardens, most likely sampling the plankton living below the roots of floating plants.

Of course, young fish also provide a delightful snack for many creatures… a few hefty predators seem to be making their way to the area for a taste of the action.  We were very excited to spot some blue crabs scuttling around, and a bird making use of the new heron platform!

It looks like the floating gardens can play a useful role in the ecosystem… it’s great to see a thriving wildlife community on the Gowanus Canal!

May 21st, 2011

Gowanus Chimney Swift Tower Rendering

The chimney swift is small, insect eating bird na­tive to the Eastern United States. In pre-colonial times, this bird lived in the hollow spaces of dead trees. As European settlers spread across their range, cutting down trees and replacing forests with cities, swifts were able to adapt and found a new niche for itself, learning to live in smoke stacks and chimneys. Over the last fifty years, swifts have again faced habitat loss as viable nesting sites have begun to disappear, and chimney swift numbers have been in slow decline.

Swift nesting site in Oregon

We are building a chimney swift nesting tower along the canal to attract new birds to the neighborhood. A strong local swift population will help to control the summer swarms of mosquitoes, gnats, and flies.

Nest inside a tower in Texas

The tower is modified by a design from the Driftwood Wildlife Association in Texas, which has been doing chimney swift research for decades. The tower is constructed of  a plywood tube with ridges facing inward, giving the swifts a place to perch and attach their nests. The plywood is surrounded by a layer insulation to keep the swifts cool in the hot summer sun. The outside layer of folded metal cladding will help the tower blend in to the industrial aesthetic of the Gowanus neighborhood.

An amazing volunteer effort of many minds and hands has raised the tower from the concrete foundation to its full height of 14 feet, and the only work that remains is installing the folded metal cladding on the outside, which will be completed in the next few weeks. Hopefully by next summer a family of  swifts will have moved in and the neighborhood will be filled with their darting flight and twittering calls.

Tower footing
Raising the tower. Volunteers! Construction! Awesome!
On the banks of the canal

Thank you to everyone who has helped make the tower a reality, especially John Rowden at NYC Audubon for giving us the initial idea.

A very special thanks goes to the Aguayo Realty Group in Park Slope for sponsoring the tower. While its a little different from the real estate they are typically involved in, the tower is  an ambitious project that couldn’t have been completed without their support.