Trees are flowering . . . it must be spring!

By Leslie Day

downy serviceberry flowersAmelanchier canadensis, or the downy serviceberry tree, is one of the first to bloom in early spring in the northeastern United States. New York City has just gone through a long , brutally cold, and snowy winter. The snow has finally disappeared, but there are new puffs of white dotting the hills and meadows of city parks: the blossoms of the serviceberry tree.

This little tree has many common names: serviceberry, because it blooms when the ground finally thaws, so that burials can take place; shadblow and shadberry, because it blooms when the shad begin their northern migration into the estuaries off the Atlantic Ocean, like the Hudson River; and Juneberry because the fruit ripens in June.

An understory tree, it only reaches 15-30’ in height, and has many slender trunks. This is a valuable native tree, and though small in stature it is huge in terms of its ecological value to wildlife. The beautiful flowers attract pollinators, the berries provide nutritious food for hungry birds, and the foliage is beautiful in every season, particularly in autumn. As it is one of the first trees to bloom, it attracts all kinds of pollinating animals, when there are few flowers available. The nectar attracts butterflies, and the pollen attracts honeybees, bumblebees, flies, and wasps. The purplish-red berries are sweet and delicious and are among the most favorite fruit of birds. Baltimore orioles, scarlet tanagers, cedar waxwings, song sparrows, cardinals, bluebirds, catbirds, and rose breasted grosbeaks are some of the beautiful birds that come to this tree in droves. Squirrels, chipmunks, and woodchucks also feed on the berries. Humans can eat the berries raw off the tree, cooked into pies and jams, fermented for wine, or eaten dried.

downy serviceberry with song sparrow

This little tree has a great botanical and cultural history as the fruit, seeds, leaves and bark were important sources of food and medicine for native peoples. For many tribes, serviceberries were a common source of food in the summer. They would eat the berries raw as we do today, or mash them and form them into pemmican cakes made of animal fat, dried meat, and dried berries. Other parts of the plant are also edible. The Lakota of the Great Plains, used the flower petals, leaves and stems to make a drink, and the Cheyenne, also of the Great Plains, boiled the dried leaves to make a red tea.

Serviceberry shrubs were used for medicinal purposes by native Americans for the treatment of earaches, toothaches, the common cold, influenza, coughs, and fevers.


Woodworkers and indigenous people used branches, stems, and wood to make baskets, furniture, rope, tools, and harpoons.

serviceberry tree autumnIn autumn, a blend of pink, orange, gold, red and green creates gorgeous, colorful foliage. No two leaves have the same colors , and there are times when they are so beautiful, that, inveterate leaf collector that I am since the age of five, I collect each and every one I find on the ground.

A Noise Annoys (and Affects Property Values!)

New York City apartment dwellers will pay dearly for three things:





They pay because these are the hardest to come by, but there are ways to increase your share of all three. Light is enhanced in your apartment by careful use of curtains and wall colors. You can gain space in your abode either by renting external storage space, or by calling in a professional organizer to maximize what you have.

What about quiet? Cities are noisy, but there are solutions. One is Cityproof windows, which reduces noise coming from outside the building. Internal noise requires more effort, and the first line of defense is to carpet floors adequately. In fact, Fort Tryon Gardens requires that 80% of your floor space be carpeted. If you play an instrument or like your music loud, sound-absorbent carpet is an easy solution. Professional musicians use it so they can play at all hours, and it’s not terribly expensive.

image2But what if your neighbors are not as careful as you about the level of sound emanating from their dwelling? In other words, what can you do about noisy neighbors? You have choices:

  • Call the police. This is not likely to be effective unless there’s a real brawl.
  • Write a letter to building management. It will take time to bring about enforcement.
  • Take matters into your own hands, and knock on the neighbor’s door.

The last is the most efficacious, but it takes will on your part. Most of us aren’t aware of how far our noise carries, and few of us would willingly disturb our neighbors’ peace. It’s reasonable to assume good will if you take this tactic.

So knock on the door, announce yourself as a neighbor, and make them aware of the disturbance saying, for example, “You may not be aware of how sound carries in this building.” Ninety-nine percent of the time they will apologize, comply, and thank you. Wouldn’t you do the same?

If they don’t, you may have to opt for the second tactic. And you should take action. Building management has a vested interest in maintaining a pleasant living space, and will notify the offending party.

Any action you take is better than feeling annoyed, and you’ll do yourself and other residents a favor. Remember, music pounding in hallways or apartments generates a negative impression when potential buyers are considering a purchase. Don’t we all want our property to be highly valued? So help with the noise factor, so that a noise doesn’t annoy.


The Nature of Our Neighborhood: Bird Neighbors

by Leslie Day

The house sparrow’s Latin Name, Passer domesticus means small, active bird (Passer) belonging to a house: domesticus).

One hundred house sparrows were introduced from Europe into Brooklyn, Manhattan and Chicago in the early 1850s and the species expanded throughout North America. It is the most commonly seen bird throughout the five boroughs.

The male has a gray crown with chestnut patches bordering the crown and extending down to the pale gray cheek and neck. The black stripe in front of the eye extends to the beak and meets the black bib. The thick bill is grayish-black, and the legs are pale brown. The rump and tail is gray, the shoulders are chestnut brown, and the wings are brownish with a white wing bar. The female has gray checks, neck and breast without the black bib. She has a buffy stripe between a brown eye stripe and brown crown.

House sparrows have the unusual behavior of taking baths in patches of dusty soil, usually in large groups. Each little bird creates a depression and throws dust all over its feathers to destroy parasites. Originally from Africa, they have evolved this adaptation of bathing without water.

These are small birds about 6 inches long, with a wingspan up to 9 inches. However, they have big personalities, unafraid of humans or dogs, they stay together in large, family flocks and feed out in the open.

house-sparrow-318615_640House sparrows mate for life. They live and nest inside every street corner lamppost pipe, over air conditioners, and inside any cavity they can find on building exteriors, dock pilings, and window grates. Within these cavities they construct their nests with dried grasses, feathers, and string. I have seen them emerge from places that are surprising, like the nostrils of Teddy Roosevelt’s bronze horse on Central Park West in front of the American Museum of Natural History. They are devoted mates and devoted parents. When we lived on our houseboat, our cat Woody caught a baby house sparrow, and carried it back to the boat, alive. I gently removed it from his jaws and kept it warm. The bird’s mother and father stayed outside the houseboat window on a piling looking inside and chirping nonstop. Once the little fella could stand and seemed out of shock, I opened the window and out he flew, accompanied by his parents who chirped wildly to him as they flew back to the park.

Their voices are a series of seemingly identical chirps, although a bird researcher I know told me that they have different sounding chirps.

House sparrows have an important ecological role. They are omnivores feeding on fruit in summer, and dried berries and grass seeds in winter. In summer they also consume invertebrates: beetles, cicadas, grasshoppers, crickets, aphids, spiders, flies and moths.

When I walk out of our building at 295 Bennett I love seeing them inside the yew trees and holly bushes. Just north of 4501 Broadway there is a tree that is a roosting site for hundreds of them each evening and across the path is a tree that is a roosting site for hundreds of European starlings. The noise these two species make is startlingly loud as they settle down each evening after a long day of hunting for food, keeping warm, and preening their feathers. And the chatter each morning is just as loud as they prepare for the day ahead.

These are tough little New York City birds and without them our parks, streets, sidewalks and back yards would be pretty empty of bird life.

How to Dispose of Paint, Batteries, or Other Potentially Hazardous Household Materials


On November 1, 2014 the Department of Sanitation New York City (DSNY) re-opened a “special waste” drop-off site in Manhattan. The new location, now at 74 Pike Slip, joins drop-off sites in the other boroughs in providing all city residents a place to easily, and safely, dispose of potentially harmful household products such as motor oil, latex paint and batteries.

For more information, and to see the full list of NYC drop-off locations, please visit the DSNY website.


It’s Now Illegal in NYC to Throw Away Electronics in the Trash

As of January 2015, it’s illegal in New York to discard electronics in the trash.

NYC apartment buildings are eligible to participate in an innovative new program that provides buildings with a FREE and convenient service to pick up and recycle unwanted electronics.

The in-building service provided by e-cycleNYC represents the most comprehensive electronics recycling program offered by any municipality in the country.

Depending on the size and type of building, NYC apartment buildings (larger than 10 units) will be eligible for a variety on-site service options to conveniently and safely recycle unwanted electronics.

This program is a partnership between the City of New York and Electronic Recyclers International (ERI)

For more information on how to sign your building up for this free program, visit e-cycleNYC.

Co-op Residents! Discuss this article in the Co-op Forums.

It’s Easy to Be Safe, So Let’s Be Safe!

by Mary Jane Wilkie

image1If you lived in a house and someone were on your front porch, you would expect an explanation, for no one should be there without a valid reason. The hallways of our buildings are our front porch, and we are entitled and even have an obligation to know why anyone is there. Acceptance of that responsibility is one of the most effective ways of ensuring the safety of our community.

But how do you approach a stranger in the hallway? With friendliness. “Hi, I don’t think I’ve met you. I’m xxx, and I live on the third floor. Where do you live?” Or, “May I help you find an apartment? What apartment are you looking for?” If they need help, they’ll be grateful. If they don’t, they’ll at least know that people are friendly. If they have no business being there, they’ll know that they can’t walk around unchallenged.

You can use these friendly openings in the hallways, as well as at the street door when your arrival coincides with the arrival of a stranger. Do not feel self-conscious or defensive about asking why someone is in the building, or is attempting to enter. If a visitor is waiting when I arrive, I usually wait until the resident buzzes to allow entry. I may ask what apartment he or she is looking for, and offer to show them the way. If you are not accustomed to approaching people this way, know that with a little practice, you can become comfortable and proficient.

In the laundry, I make a point of introducing myself to fellow residents. Any pretext for conversation will serve: “All these clothes! Sometimes I think we should be nudists!” From there, you can introduce yourself, and segue into something like “Did you see the article on the Fort Tryon website?” We all benefit from engaging with one another, and most people are open to a little initiative from a neighbor.

Several recent Facebook posts mention package theft, so let’s review that unpleasant possibility. My immediate neighbors and I regularly retrieve packages for one another. If you see a package in front of a neighbor’s door, take it into your apartment and leave a note on their door. When the neighbor knocks, you can clarify: “If you would prefer that I not pick up your packages, just say so.” Most residents will be happy about your action, and it’s a good way to meet a neighbor.

I once encountered a young man waiting to enter my building through the street door. I asked which apartment he wanted, and he replied that he was just waiting for any unit to respond, because he was “doing a promotion.” I didn’t immediately know what he meant, but then realized that he was one of those who slip fliers under doors and wedge them into door spaces. I ordered him off the premises, and he scrambled to get away (knowing that I was watching him). Exerting even a low level of authority works wonders, so practice doing it.


Call for artists: 2015 Uptown Arts Stroll poster contest


The Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance announces the 2015 Uptown Arts Stroll Poster Contest, open to Washington Heights–Inwood and West Harlem artists.


For this year’s submissions for the poster contest, artists are asked to incorporate these elements into their proposed art work:

  • The central theme is how do we get uptown? Take the ___ uptown (i.e., train, bus, etc.).

  • Include elements of uptown’s diverse arts and cultural scene.

  • Include “Uptown Arts Stroll” in the design.



  • Artist must be a Washington Heights–Inwood or West Harlem resident (West 135th to 220th Street).

  • Artist may submit only one (1) image for consideration.


Grand prize winner receives:

  • $500 honorarium

  • Exclusive graphic representation throughout the 2015 Uptown Arts Stroll


For complete details on submissions requirements and how to enter, visit the Call for Submissions page at NoMAA’s Website.

Organics Collection in Large Residential Buildings


Organic waste accounts for about 31% of all waste generated by residents in New York City. Organic waste is yard waste, food scraps, compostable paper (napkins, paper plates, etc.), and other materials suitable for industrial-scale composting. Operating a curbside organics collection program can help NYC reduce millions of dollars in landfill disposal costs, achieve recycling goals, and reduce pests by storing food waste in special rodent-resistant bins. NYC will turn your organic waste into compost, which can be used to fertilize gardens, parks, and street trees, or into renewable energy which can be used to power thousands of homes.

Apartment buildings in NYC with 10 or more residential units can enroll to participate in a new program that provides free and convenient collection of organic waste, including food scraps, soiled paper, and yard waste. Residents who live in smaller units can still compost their food waste at a neighborhood based food waste drop-off site.

For more information on how to enroll your building in this free program, visit NYCRecycles.

Co-op residents! Discuss this article in the Co-op Forums.