Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Deadly Beauty

New York, July 9th, 1818

Dear Sir:

We arrived at South Amboy one week after we left Philadelphia, and, although our journey was a rather arduous one, we think ourselves well rewarded for all the privations we endured. The principal difficulty we experienced was in keeping the right road. Hundreds of these little roads cross each other in every direction like a labyrinth, so that it is next to a miracle if you hit the right one. We remained two days at Thompson's Tavern [at Quaker Bridge] , where we were very well entertained. About this time we found a considerable number of plants which were new to us, indeed there were few plants but what we found here. the Drosera filiformis and foliosa (?) were abundant, ..., After we left Quaker Bridge we fared pretty hard. ... At a place called the Ten-mile Hollow, or Hell Hollow, ... this was the most miserable place we ever saw; they were too poor to use candles.

John Torrey

As reported in the 1910 Annual Report of the New Jersey State Museum, Including a Report of the Plants of Southern New Jersey, With Especial Reference to the Flora of the Pine Barrens, by Witmer Stone


Seems I'm not the only one who had difficulty wandering about in the Pine Barrens. Nor the only one who found Drosera filiformis  worth looking for. Hopefully you can see why.

The flowers are among my favorites in the Pine Barrens.

I like the color combinations of the purple petals, green buds and ovary, and yellow anthers.

But the real fascination for me is the carnivorous nature of the plant.

The "hairs" of the filiformis stems have drops of sticky fluid on their ends, used to trap insects unfortunate enough to alight on them.

They are common throughout the Pine Barrens, and at Lakehurst they were a small forest.

Unfortunately, despite all the bug eating plants, there were still plenty of mosquitos out there. But I had bug spray.

And my camera. I hope you like the thread leaved sundew as much as I do.

(And you didn't have to travel for a week to see them. Nor get stuck in the mud.)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I Fought The Mud ...

... and the mud won.

(It was but a temporary victory.)

Have you ever had one of those days, where you seem to be on the brink of disaster all day long, but at the end you're sitting home enjoying a beer or two? That was my day today.

I woke up at  4:00 am and was on the road by 4:30.

At 4:42 I noticed the flashing red and blue lights in my rearview mirror. I pulled over to the side to let them pass. They didn't pass. 

Aw shit.

The officer walks up and I hand him my registration and insurance card. He says, "I pulled you over because you were going 54 in a 40 zone." "I clearly wasn't paying attention," I say. "Can I see your license," he says. "Oh, yeah, sorry," I blurt as I pull out my license.

"Where are yo coming from?"
"Edgewater Park."
"Is that home?"
"Where are you headed?"
"Lakehurst Naval Air Station."
"Going to work?"
"I do grassland bird surveys for the state."
"Have you been drinking?"
"Just this coffee."
"Ok, sorry I pulled you over."

Huh? "Sorry I pulled you over"? That's it? 

And the officer hands me back my documents and walks away. I'm free to go.

Maybe this will be a good day.


I meet my fellow surveyors at the local WaWa, drink some more coffee, hit the head, and then head on into Lakehurst. The survey is uneventful and rather quiet. Fewer birds at my points then usual. At the diner where we meet for breakfast I learn that several of us have had quiet days, but one has had his best day so far. I guess all the birds went to his points.

After breakfast I head out to wander in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. One of my favorite flowers, the thread leaved sundew, was blooming all about Lakehurst, so I go looking elsewhere to find and photograph it.

And I do. At several places in the Pines.

On the way home I decide to take some of the back roads, sand roads through the pygmy pine forest in Warren Grove. I've a four wheel drive vehicle that has no problem with the sand.

It does however have problems with the mud. Unfortunately, I didn't know that until today.

What was I thinking? (Shut up you!)

Unable to go forward or backward, and having nothing to put under the wheels to gain traction (the few sticks I found did nothing) I called for help.

And eventually help came.

While I was waiting I wandered about to see what else was stuck here with me. I didn't go too far, as I wanted to be near when the tow truck came.

I found these guys, stuck in the same puddle as me.

Although all they had to do was grow up to get out.

Perhaps this was one of the grownups.

Except that they were really tiny. Smaller than the tadpoles.

They were everywhere though, and I had to be careful not to step on them.

Alas, these, and a few passing birds, were my only companions. So I climbed back into the car and took a nap.

Eventually a tow truck came.

"Other than stay out of your way, what can I do." I asked has he wrapped chains about the rear axle.
"That's pretty much it."He replied.

So I watched.

"Ok, climb into the car, put it in neutral, start it up, and be ready to steer."
So I did.

Fortunately, the car had not sunk down into the clay. And he towed me out of the mud. And I was free.

We then chatted about off roading in the Pines, how if I was serious about it I should get new tires, and how the road I was headed down was pretty boring, and full of mud traps. "Go back to Beaver Dam Road, and turn left, that will take you to some interesting places. But don't do it today, as the a fleet of fire vehicles, including a bulldozer, were headed in that direction. Even if it is just an exercise they'll have the  road all blocked."

"Thanks, how much do I owe you?"
"Nothing, your auto club covered it all. And that's unusual, as this is a $300 job and most only cover the first $100."

What, I'm stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere, it takes over an hour for the tow truck to get there, and it cost me nothing? Yeah, a good day.

I turned around, took one last look at my nemesis, and headed back. And I passed over a dozen fire vehicles on my way out. Including these two.

Which were blocking the road I just came out of.

'Is there a fire?" I asked, thinking it may still be just an exercise.
"Yep, it's a fire." One of the fire police answered, "Back into Warren Grove, up Beaver Dam Road."

You can read more about the fire here. (Be sure to click on the pictures.) And I had wondered why there were so many helicopters flying about. I could hear but not see them. One doesn't usually hear so many in the Pines.


When I got home I unloaded all my gear, enjoyed a nice cold beer (ok, two), took a shower, downloaded my pictures, and then headed out to the local carwash.

And everything is all better.

And tomorrow I'm off again. Wish me luck!


The auto club that got me such a good deal on towing is the Better World Club. It provides the same services as AAA, but has an ecological conscience. I even get a discount because I drive a hybrid.  I costs $80 a year, but you get $40 in gas rebates. Today, it was the best $80 I've ever spent.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Lightning Bugs

Last night I was wandering about in the Bass River State Forest, listening for calling amphibians as part of CAMP. And I heard carpenter frogs, fowlers toads, pine barrens tree frogs, and green frogs making quite a racket.

I also saw a phenomenal lightning bug display. Being new moon and being in the forest made it quite dark (quite dark for New Jersey anyway). It looked like a Christmas display with blinking lights everywhere, extending far out of my field of view in both direcitons. As I watched in awe I wondered how I might possibly photograph this display. Alas, I had with me but a point and shoot camera, which was not up to the task.

For those keeping score at home, I participated in grassland bird surveys in the morning, as decribed in my previous post, waking at 4:00 AM. And then the calling amphibian survey at night, getting home after midnight. So maybe sleep depravation had something to do with what I saw. And my inability to photograph it.

(Click to Bigafy)

Flash forward to this evening. I was visiting my sister Jeanine for dinner, as my older sister Amalie and her two kids were in town from Spokane. Dad was visiting as well.

They are on their way to Spain, three days in Barcelona, and then on a cruise to Italy. Except for my niece that is. She is staying with Jeanine and family because, and I quote, "I'm not really interested in old buildings and would probably just ruin the trip for everybody else." (My brother in law Steve will meet them en-route in n London.)

My nephew is into old buildings and can't wait to see the Coliseum in Rome and the Cathedral in Barcelona.

As we were sitting on the porch after dinner the lightning bugs came out. And there were hundreds of them. My brother in law Dano noted that he had never seen so many there. And they had participated in a project Firefly Watch to track them last year.

(Click to Bigafy)

I had my DSLR with me and decided to try again. As I was setting up I remarked, "I'm gonna try to photograph the lightning bugs. I do not expect to be successful." To which my sister Amalie retorted, "Whoa, don't be setting the bar too high now."

I didn't have my whole kit with me, and resorted to using a 100 mm macro lens, as it was the fastest lens, at f/2.8, I had with me. (I really could have used my 50 mm f/1.4.) I shot 10 second exposures at ISO 3200 at f/2.8. I got a lot of dark frames. But I also got the two shown here.

Unfortunately they do not begin to capture the spectacle we witnessed. And I'm still not sure how to best go about photographing these creatures. Any pointers would be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

This Morning ...

I woke up way to early.

Saw eerie lights in the pre-dawn fog.

Had coffee with friends.

Discovered my waterproof boots weren't.

(And squished about all morning.)

Saw a red-winged blackbird riding a red-tailed hawk.
In flight.
While its mate tried to pluck feathers from the red-wing's tail.

(And my camera was a hundred meters away in my car!)

Saw and heard half a dozen eastern meadowlarks all at once,
none to happy with my walking through their field.

Saw singing grasshopper sparrows.

Saw toads and frogs and turtles.

Had breakfast with friends.

Saw more Pine Barrens flowers.

Saw a tundra swan in New Jersey in June.
Sadly, it is only here because of an injured wing.

Watched as a green heron stalked, caught, and
swallowed (in one gulp!)
an almost fully mature bullfrog tadpole.

(Where's that camera?)

Had my first wild blueberries of the year.


Got checked out by a great crested fly catcher and a tree swallow. At the same time.

(And again I wasn't ready with the camera! D'oh!)

Saw chimney swifts fly into a chimney. 

Took a bunch of crappy pictures (some of which I've shared here!).

Pretty much in that order. And I was home in time for lunch.

How was your morning?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

April Showers Bring ...

Perfoliate Bellwort

May Apple

Showy Orchis


Virginia Spring Beauty


Wild Strawberry

Wild Pink

(click any image to bigafy)


All found one May morning in at the Crosswicks Creek Greenway in New Jersey, which is also known as The Garden State.

See why?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Herping in the Pines

herpetology |ˌhərpəˈtäləjē|nounthe branch of zoology concerned with reptiles and amphibians.

Meet Matt (and his Northern Pine Snake). Matt is a budding herpetologist.

I was the last car in the caravan driving into the Franklin Parker Preserve in the New Jersey Pine Barrens last weekend. As such I was responsible for closing the gate. So I missed Matt jumping out of his car, sans shoes, to catch this snake before it could slither away into the pines.

Not only was this the first Northern Pine Snake Matt had ever caught, it was the first he had ever seen.

Up to this point I'd seen three (the other two can be seen here and here). So far I've caught zero. Matt would locate a second snake a little bit later this trip. I didn't catch that one either.

Matt's mom told me he's been catching things since he was about four, he's eleven now.

How cool is that?

Fortunately, this snake was rather docile, allowing itself to be handled by several people (the blue eyes indicate that it is preparing to shed its skin).

Even so, it sped away when finally released, and I could only get shots from behind.

While this snake was certainly the star of the day, Matt wasn't finished. Here he is showing off a Northern Fence Lizard.

He was also first to spot this Eastern Ribbon Snake (the second such snake we saw that day).

We also spotted several species of frogs and toads including this Fowler's Toad.

These Southern Leopard Frogs.

And this Green Frog.

Which Matt attempted, but alas was unsuccessful, at capturing.

Finally on the drive home I spotted this Common Musk Turtle crossing the road. Not a good place for a Turtle.

So I stopped and helped it along to a better place.

Doesn't it look happier?



I again went wandering about in the Pines this weekend, although this time I was by myself. And although I went to some of the same places I didn't see a single snake. I saw no frogs. And no lizards. I did see one turtle, again in the road (and again I stopped).

Where was Matt when I needed him?


This trip was sponsored by the New Jersey Audubon Society. If you are in NJ you should check out their schedule and join them on an excursion or two. Have fun!