Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.
I have always looked to public aquariums and botanical gardens for inspiration in my own work. I have visited koi ponds in many places, including some of the famed beauties in Kyoto, Japan (I plan an article on these shortly), but my favorite is, oddly enough, located in the heart of Brooklyn, NY.
Koi and Cherry Blossoms
The 52-acre Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, opened in 1910, houses a huge, spectacular pond, home to some of the largest and oldest koi to be found anywhere. The surrounding grounds are planted with 42 varieties of cherry trees, all of which bloom in April and May…seeing this spectacle in combination with schools of colorful koi is an experience of a lifetime (the garden hosts the largest cherry blossom festival, or Sakura Matsuri, to be found outside of Japan).
A rainy spring day many years ago granted me my first look at a koi breeding frenzy…I had previously observed hundreds of carp spawning in the Bronx River, and was suitably impressed (some of these lunkers topped 40 pounds in weight!) but the roiling, colorful koi put their drab ancestors to shame.
An Urban Legend Revealed
I was first drawn to BBG in search of the huge soft-shelled turtles which were said to inhabit the koi pond. Less cynical than most of my fellow New Yorkers, I had since childhood followed up on any and all reports of urban wildlife, however fanciful. I had some pleasant discoveries – copperhead snakes did indeed live under the George Washington Bridge and sturgeon still swim the East River, and some disappointments – Flushing Meadow’s “lungfishes” turned out to be American eels.
I found 135 red-eared sliders and several snapping turtles in the pond, but the soft shells eluded me for decades. Then, while having lunch near the pond (I was working at the nearby Prospect Park Zoo at the time) I spied two huge spiny soft-shelled turtles (Apalone spinifera) basking on a small island. They remain the largest I’ve ever seen (fish a favorite food!), and must have been living there for upwards of 50 years. Although native to New York State, spiny soft-shells are quite rare here, and never seen anywhere near NYC.
Piranha, Osprey and Other Visitors
I enjoy visiting areas that serve as retreats for urban wildlife, and have had many wonderful surprises along the way. BBG is an important resting place for migrating birds, with over 200 species having been recorded. The koi pond also yields some surprising visitors from time to time – including “transplanted” bass, sunfish, eels and red-bellied piranha!
Ospreys have made a major comeback in the USA, and are now seen quite near New York and other coastal cities. Last spring a pair under camera surveillance in Norwalk, CT (The Maritime Aquarium) were regularly observed to bring quite large (and expensive!) koi to their chicks…I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until these huge “fish hawks” visit Brooklyn!
You can learn more about the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s koi pond and amazing plant collection (10,000 species at last count) at http://www.bbg.org/.
Please write in with your questions and comments. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.