Archives for posts with tag: nature

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.

Native and Not Panel pic

Left to right – Katerli Bounds, Uli Lorimer, Kristy King, Leila Mougoui Bakhtiari


On April 28 6:30-8PM, we had our third panel discussion on Native and Not: NYC’s Dynamic Flora as part of our spring theme Living Things in an Urban Environment, where panelists from NYC Parks and Brooklyn Botanic Garden discussed the state of native flora, invasive species management and what we as a community can do to increase floral biodiversity.

Uli Lorimer, Curator of Native Flora from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, brought us beautiful photos alongside sobering news about the declining trend of urban flora in our region.


Native Flora – Arethusa bulbosa


NY Metropolitan Flora Project Native Flora Survey Results


Kristy King, Director of Forest Restoration of NYC Parks, revealed the surprising number of urban forests, salt marshes and other natural landscapes in NYC while revealing NYC Parks goals for forest restoration.

NYC Parks Goals for Forest Restoration

NYC Parks Goals for Forest Restoration

NYC's Surprising Amount of  Natural Areas

NYC’s Surprising Amount of Natural Areas


And Katerli Bounds, Director of Stewardship of NYC Parks, presented us with fantastic ways the NYC community can get involved in stewardship activities through both NYC Parks and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy.  A great upcoming project being TreesCount! 2015 where NYC Parks enlists the help of the NYC community to map and catalogue every tree in NYC.


Trees Count! 2015


Stewardship Opportunities in Forestry, Salt Marshes, Fresh Water Wetland and Bioswales


Then Leila Mougoui Bakhtiari, our very own volunteer coordinator of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s Urban Forestry program moderated the discussion, bringing up fascinating questions such as:

At what point is a plant species considered to be invasive?

Can invasive species be used to our benefit?

And what are everyones thoughts on the controversial book Wild Urban Plants by Peter Del Tredici?

To listen to the entire panel discussion click here for our audio player.

The evening ended with the quote “if you build it, they will come”, a great segue into our next panel where we delve into urban pollinators. Join us on May 19 6:30-8PM at Threes Brewing for Beyond the Honeybee: Exploring Critical Pollinators where we expand our idea of pollinators, why they are particularly important in an urban setting and action steps the NYC community can take to support their survival.  We will be joined by Sam Droege, head of the bee inventory and monitoring program at the US Geological Survey (click here to see his beautiful bee species photographs), Howard Ginsberg, entomologist for USGS who studies the impact of invertebrates on natural systems and Tina Harrison, Ph.D. candidate for ecology at Rutgers University who is studying the impact on bee genetic diversity in disturbed sites compared to undisturbed sites. Click here to RSVP.

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

As part of the Conservancy’s Urban Ecology Lecture Series, we invited Gabriel Willow to lead guests on a bat walk. Willow, who is a naturalist and urban environmental educator, has led tours and taught classes at NYC Audubon, Wave Hill, and was even the Senior Naturalist at the Prospect Park Audubon Center. Having a speaker as experienced and knowledgeable as him was a treat; what better way to learn about bats than from an expert?

To start the lecture, guests gathered at Gowanus Studio Space where they were given a brief presentation on bats. We learned that there are actually 47 different kinds of bats in the United States and that there are actually a few species that are common here in New York City! He also gave us some information on widely believed bat myths, like the fact that vampire bats DO exist (they don’t suck blood however, they actually lap in it).

Most people consider bats to be rodents and overlook their value as a species. But, did you know that bats actually help manage mosquito populations, which greatly improves our quality of life? Their ability to do this however is greatly hindered by numerous threats to their survival, like white nose syndrome. White nose syndrome has no cure nor are there any means of preventing it. Discovering facts like these definitely changed our perspectives on bats and created a newfound appreciation for these nocturnal animals!

After the lecture, we went to the Salt Lot and began our outdoor sunset walk. He taught us how to use an echo locator device which helps people find and identify bats. Because Willow is primarily an ornithologist, he also pointed out the species of many birds around the Salt Lot. We hope he can visit again and share his knowledge on birds with our community!

Our walk ended at the Gowanus Dredgers‘ launching site and we celebrated the event with a nightcap. The night was a huge success with 41 people coming to learn about bats and their local presence. For more photos of the walk, please visit our Flickr.

A big thanks to our captivating and engaging guest lecturer; we hope you will come back! If you were unable to make it to this lecture, Gabriel Willow also leads bat tours in Central Park and you can learn more about that here. Stay tuned for the next event in our Urban Ecology Lecture Series; we hope to see you then!

With the creation of the Urban Ecology Lecture Series, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy has expanded its platform and increased its education initiatives within the community. These programs share knowledge about subjects related to the Canal and issues that the Conservancy directly tries to address. However, it hasn’t been only community members who have been learning new things – this summer, staff members were able to go on a field trip to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens!

At the Gardens, we went inside their Visitor Center and learned about the science behind it. Did you know it stays cool without using any fans or air conditioners? The combination of radiant heating/cooling systems, concrete floors, and the installation of a green roof allow it to stay cool even in the worst heatwave- now that’s amazing!

Check it out: IMAG0330
Later, we went outside and toured their grounds. We explored their rose gardens, walked through the cherry esplanade, and made our way to see the lilies and the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden! It was great to wander around such a large facility and see all the different exhibits they have.

Check out this cool treehouse-like structure they have on the grounds!
Their warm, desert, and tropical pavilion was a big hit among us.IMAG0332IMAG0331
As was their herb and vegetable gardens!
We then went inside their Native Flora Garden and saw many familiar species. There were plenty of street trees there that we recognized from mapping and stewardship projects. All in all, the trip was a great chance for staff to learn about a variety of flowers and plants, and to review and discover some native plants! Thanks for having us Brooklyn Botanic Gardens!

Since most of the plants growing around the Gowanus Canal are invasive exotics, one of our Conservancy projects for environmental health is repopulating the canal area with native species.  We’ve started gathering our own collection of native seeds to plant, so we decided to take a field trip to Staten Island and learn more about it from the pros!

Heather Liljengren and Judith Van Bers led our seed collecting tour–they manage the seed collection at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center in Staten Island.  Heather will also be speaking at our upcoming Urban Ecology lecture on October 17.

We started our tour at the beautiful Conference House Park at the southern tip of Staten Island.

We learned about identifying different species of plants native to the New York metro area, including gorgeous giant sunflowers and purple lovegrass.

Once we collected seeds, we headed back to the lab at the Greenbelt Center.  Collected seeds, like seeds in the wild, need to go through several processing stages before they can grow into new plants.  First, the seeds need to be dried out.  Some species cure well laid out on newspaper or a tarp.

Other species, like milkweed, are slower to dry… so a screened box with air flow on all sides is a useful contraption to have on hand.

Once the seeds are cured, we need to separate the seeds from the “chaff” (seed casings).

If you’re doing a whole lot of seed collection, one of these heavy-duty seed cleaning machines might come in handy!

After being cured and cleaned, seeds go into the cold stratification chamber–this chamber is the seed lab’s version of a cold winter, when a seed usually lies dormant.  Seeds need this period to prepare for spring growth.

Once the seeds leave the cold chamber, they’re packed up and stored until it’s time for planting!

Our seed collection field trip was a great learning experience, and we’re excited to try out some techniques on a small scale right here in Gowanus! If you’re interested in learning more about seed planting, join us at the Salt Lot (2 Second Ave) this Sunday, October 14, where we’ll be cultivating native seeds.  And don’t forget, Heather Liljengren will be speaking more about native plants at the BuildItGreen! Gowanus Warehouse on October 17 as part of our Urban Ecology Lecture series.

We had a great turnout for our monthly Clean & Green event!  Volunteers came from all over the area to take part in installing a new garden along 3rd Avenue near 3rd Street.  The space started as a bare patch of weeds–there was a lot of work to do!

One of Gowanus’s local construction companies donated all the bricks to line the garden.  Thank you to our friends over at Monadnock Construction!

Once we turned the dry soil, it was ready to be covered with a new layer of cured compost from our Composting Gowanus project.

Pleasant Run Nursery graciously donated some plants for the garden–and the rest were propagated right here in Gowanus by our volunteers.

As always, we had a great time… both fixing up the neighborhood and meeting our neighbors!

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!

We had a great time last Sunday, August 26th, building a new compost windrow at the Salt Lot!  The weather was great–it was a beautiful day on the shores of the Gowanus Canal!

Signs artistically rendered by composter extraordinaire, Christine Petro

A special thanks goes out to our friends at GrowNYC… they delivered over 7,000 pounds of food scraps for the new windrow build!

Food scraps delivery from GrowNYC

We started the morning with a lesson in composting… Master Composter Erik Martig explained our patented “Compost Lasagna” recipe to a ready and willing team of volunteers.

Learning the basics of “compost lasagna”

To build a compost windrow, we alternate layers of food scraps and “browns” (wood chips and leaves).  It’s the perfect recipe to create an environment ripe for decomposing!

There are few things more satisfying than taking all those old food scraps and turning them into something new!

Thanks to all the wonderful volunteers who gave us their time last Sunday!

The 2012 Clean & Green season is upon us! We have some wonderful projects this year that we are really excited about. They range from moss graffiti workshops to cleaning up street ends and installing new street trees. We will be releasing locations for all of these events within the next couple of weeks.

The schedule is as follows:

Saturday, March 24: Tree giveaway and Spring Cleaning at the Salt Lot and 2nd Avenue rain garden

Sunday, April 22: Street tree and garden stewardship and wildflower workshop

Saturday, May 26: Ennis Park and street tree stewardship, new garden installation and moss graffiti workshop

Sunday, June 17: Native plant propagation workshop and Broom corn planiting

Saturday, July 28: Street end cleaning and existing garden stewardship

Sunday, August 19: Floating Gardens launch party and Heron platform installation

Saturday, September 22: New street tree installation and new garden installation at the Salt Lot

Sunday, October 21: New garden installation at Degraw Street

Saturday, November 17: Degraw Street garden install Day 2, plant propagation workshop