Monday, April 26, 2010

Early Spring Rarities

The morning started out well enough, sunny and warm. It looked to be a good day. And then the phone rang.

"I'm running late."

"How late?"

"A little bit late."

For large values of "little." She was thirty minutes late. For a sixty plus mile trip to somewhere we'd never been before. In southern New Jersey. One of those "can't get there from here" kinda places.

And we didn't know the bridge was out.

Fortunately, no one else knew the bridge was out either (we weren't the only ones to arrive late). So after a twenty mile or so detour (sans signs) we pulled up as the group was heading out toward the first site.

We were on a botany field trip in southern New Jersey, hosted by the Philadelphia Botanical Club, to see early spring wild flowers. And we did, including the two rarities shown below.

Shouts ring out: "We found Listera! We found Listera!" and we all head further into the forest to see it.

Southern twayblade (Listera australis) is a small nondescript member of the orchid family. Howard Boyd, in his wonderful Wildflowers of the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, notes that he knows of only two locations in southern New Jersey to find this flower. That makes twice as many as I know. (I wonder if this spot is one of his? Wouldn't it be cool if it wasn't?)

It was growing in clumps. There were twenty or so people on this trip, and as one of the participants remarked, each person with a camera had their own plant to focus on (pun intended I think).

This on the other hand we had expected to find, as the leaders had found it on a scouting trip the week prior. This is swamp pink (Helonias bullata), a federally endangered plant which has its largest populations in New Jersey (for small values of "large"). 

After a few more misadventures (we both slid into a lake up to our knees, no changes of clothes along) we headed to a local restaurant (for large values of "local") for a rather enjoyable dinner. Fortunately they didn't have a strict dress code.

These were life flowers for both of us. It turned out to be a very good day.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ancient (and Tiny)

Like most kids I was fascinated by dinosaurs. Perhaps unlike most, I read everything I could about them, and prehistoric life in general (including an incredibly boring book about fossil shells). I dreamt of finding fossils like the the great dinosaur hunters of old, big time bone hunters such as Marsh and Cope; inspired no doubt by the birthday gift of the book, Men and Dinosaurs, by Edwin H. Cobert, from a family friend.

I recently went on a fossil hunting trip. And found, among others, the fossil brachiopod shown here, Terebratulina cooperi. These small marine invertebrates lived during the Cretaceous period, contemporaries of dinosaurs, some 73 to 138 million years ago.

I found this on a dredge spoil pile in northern Delaware, along the Chesapeake and Delaware canal. Imagine looking for fossils in a file of sand, pebbles, and rocks. Now realize that the fossil shown here is rather small.

Really small. I found it in a sand and gravel pile. Think about that. Needle in a haystack? This was a pebble in a pebble pile.

The fellow leading the trip, Ned Gilmore, found one as well, and he thought these were the prizes of the trip. I'd have rather found a dinosaur. But Ned is the Paleontology Collections Manager at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, (or as my nephew likes to call it, "the Dinosaur Museum"). And if a guy who daily works with dinosaurs thinks this is a cool fossil who am I to argue?

It was a fun day. I got to dig in the dirt and look for fossils. I was a kid again. Yep, I'll definitely be signing up for the next trip. And who knows, the first complete dinosaur skeleton, Hadrosaurus foulkii, was found less then fifteen miles from where I sit, maybe I just will find that dinosaur.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lonely Sand Road

Driving down a sand road, alone as twilight fades.

Cluck-a, cluck-a, cluck-a, cluck-a

Carpenters gather at the local water hole, 
hoping for a one night stand?
Duck silhouettes cross the sky, silent, wings beating.
Turkeys hesitate, then bolt into the woods.

Whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will 

Wonderfully repetitive nightjars, 
searching for spring romance? 
Trees crowd the road, shadows menacing, 
as Luna and Venus glide behind.
Rabbits, startled, dash across the road.

Peep-peer, peep-peer, peep-peer, peep-peer

Howling in the distance, coyotes? 
(Barely audible above the incessant peepers.)
Lion races Bear across the sky, Crab scuttling at its feet,
Dog retiring in the west, Swan rising in the east.
Deer burst across the road.

Honk, honk, honk, honk

Invisible geese pass over, a surprised towhee calls.
Moths mob my headlights.
Eyes flash and vanish into the night. Raccoon? Fox?

Driving down a sand road, 
enjoying the company of the night.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Young Man's Fancy ...

What do you think he's thinking of?

Friday, April 16, 2010


I got home from work today and fired up the stereo, cracked open a beer, and, for reasons which are not entirely clear, decided to wander into the bedroom to open the drapes and look out the window. 

And then I quick grabbed my camera, headed outside, and got rained on.

Because I saw this.

My daddy spent his life lookin' up at the sky
He'd cuss kick the dust, sayin' son it's way to dry
It clouds up in the city, the weather man complains
But where I come from, rain is a good thing

Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey
Whiskey makes my baby, feel a little frisky

I hopped in my car and drove maybe 100 meters, to the first intersection. Across from my condo development is a farm, with this small stand of apple trees. I jumped out of the car and ran into the field and started shooting. I had a 10 - 22 mm lens, and was thus able to capture the entire arc.

I kept shooting and managed to capture all of seven images. And then it was gone.

Rain is a good thing, rain is a good thing, rain is a good thing

The first of the seven was taken at 6:08. The last at 6:11. Three minutes. It wasn't raining when I walked in my front door, at maybe quarter to six. Ephemeral indeed.


Lyrics are form the song, Rain is A Good Thing, by Luke Bryan. Used without permission.

I first heard this song this morning at work. On my desk when I arrived was an iPhone, headphones attached, with a post it note, "play me". So I did. And it made me smile.

My friend Angie has been trying for years to make me appreciate the sledgehammer beauty of country music. I won't say how many years 'cause then she'd get made at me for pointing out, however inadvertently, how old she is. Usually she makes me CDs of county tunes, but this one, she said, couldn't wait. I just had to hear it now.

I don't think she really likes this stuff. I think she's just getting back at me for taking her to that Steve Reich concert all those years ago. Clapping Music set her off methinks. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

One Month Later

The Moon, Venus, joined now by Mercury continue in their orbits. As they have for approximately 4.5 billion years.

4.5 billion years. That's a long time. Suddenly, I don't feel so old.

Click the image to bigafy. Venus is at the upper left; Mercury, below and left of the crescent moon.

(Last month's images can be found here and here.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

Do You Know Me?

A slightly larger bug then those in the last post, this one is as big as a thumb nail (and also found in Colliers Mills WMA). It has very distinctive markings (click the image to bigafy). Yet I don't know what it is.

Yeah I know it is a butterfly. And no doubt in the subfamily Polyommatinae, the Blues. And I've narrowed it down to the genus Celastrina, the Azures. But then I run into this:

At one time, all North American azures were regarded as one abundant and variable species. It now appears certain that there are several species, all very similar. ... [Thus] it may be best to just enjoy them all as Azures.*

I suppose I could do that. I mean the reason I photograph them is that they are so pleasing to look at.

But ...

Oooh. Ahhh. That's how it starts. Later there are guidebooks and more guidebooks and picnics in meadows and screaming and running. Some of us become obsessed with butterflies, although I would never include myself in that category. I am interested, yes, but not obsessed. **

Not yet anyway. But I have signed up to report my observations via the South Jersey Butterfly Log.

Now if I could only figure out what this is ...

* Butterflies of North America by Jim P. Brock and Kenn Kaufman
** An Obsession With Butterflies by Sharman Apt Russel

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Friends and I went wandering in the Colliers Mills WMA, located at the northern edge of the NJ Pine Barrens, this morning. Other than a nice battle between an Orange Capped Woodpecker* and an European Starling over a nesting hole, with a pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds watching, not much was going on.

Unless you were a gnat. Then this was the place to be. They were everywhere, tens of thousands of these tiny little flying specs. A wall of bugs in places. The photo doesn't do justice to the view, sparkles of backlit glitter in the morning sun.

These were surprisingly difficult to photograph. There were so many I figured I could just focus in the 'cloud' using a moderate depth of field. But just when I'd achieve focus either the wind or the insects themselves would decide to shift. This is the best of the bunch.

I was not the only one to notice and enjoy these tiny creatures, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were out in force.

*Commonly known as the red-bellied woodpecker. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Yeah I know, but this is what I saw on my coffee run this morning.

Maybe I'll get a bunny for that turkey holiday.