Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Today I experienced a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. As one colleague said, "that was quite un-Jeresy like." It struck at 1:51 PM while I was sitting in my office. Here on the east coast, when the building shakes, you don't think earthquake.

So my first thought was a truck hit the building. But the shaking kept going and going. Then I thought that one of the big air-conditioning units on top of the building had broke free, and like an unbalanced clothes dryer was shaking the building. and then we thought explosion. But when calls started coming in about how the shaking had been felt around the area, well I knew then it had to be a quake.

For three years at the turn of the century I worked in Torrance, California, just south of LA. I lived in New Jersey, same place as I do now. Yeah, it was a hell of a commute. And when it was all over I had 890,000 frequent flyer miles. Now while in California I experienced several earthquakes, including two at 4.7 and one at 5.1. And this wasn't my first in New Jersey, as I had lived through a 2.1 some years ago. So this earthquake thing was old hat to me.

But his was the strongest quake I'd ever felt, 5.8 on the Richter Scale.

Thus it was with some trepidation that I headed home after work, wondering what carnage might await.

I took awhile for me to spot it, but there, on top of a bookshelf, one of my trees had fallen over.

Earthquake Aftermath

No not the books, they're always like that, randomly stacked. No, the tree on the right.

Here's a closeup:

This is the most damage I'm ever experienced in a quake. And it is quite enough for me thank you very much. I was lucky that the epicenter was in Virginia, some thirty miles or so outside of Richmond. This was the strongest earthquake to hit that area, beating the 4.8 magnitude quake of 1875. Given the century plus interval between quakes I don't think I've much to worry about.

It was an exciting twenty or so seconds today, when the building shook. It got just a little bit scary towards the end. And we were all rather surprised to learn how far away the epicenter was. Seems the shockwaves travel farther on the east coast of the US then those out west. In the end it was something interesting to talk about. I'm glad I got to experience it, but I don't think I'd want to experience anything much stronger.

Now, about that hurricane heading up the coast ...

Sunday, August 21, 2011


            S1 Critically imperiled in New Jersey because of extreme rarity
            (5 or fewer occurrences or very few remaining individuals or acres).
            Elements so ranked are often restricted to very specialized
            conditions or habitats and/or restricted to an extremely small
            geographical area of the state. Also included are elements which
            were formerly more abundant, but because of habitat destruction
            or some other critical actor of its biology, they have been
            demonstrably reduced in abundance. In essence, these are
            elements for which, even with intensive searching, sizable
            additional occurrences are unlikely to be discovered.
            -- Nj Natural Heritage Program

I spent a day looking for orchids in the Pine Barrens. Two species I'd never seen. Spiranthes laciniata (Lace-lip Ladies'-tresses) and Platanthera integra (Yellow Fringeless Orchid). Both S1's. 

We've had quite a bit of rain of late. In fact it is the wettest August on record for these parts. And this is what the woods looks like. A river runs through it.

Fortunately my friend Ro new exactly where the plants were, having visited earlier in the week. So after I picked her up we headed off to the sand roads of the Pines.

Our first stop was for the Spiranthes. Ro had her iPad out, using the GPS to find the spot. She needn't have bothered. Four friends and fellow plant geeks were already there. This wasn't a total surprise as we'd all been at a party at Ro's place the night before, discussing our plans to visit these bogs. They had just gotten back from where we were headed and were pulling off boots and dumping bucket loads of water out. "The water is only hip deep today", they told us.

Not owning a pair of wading boots I went a different direction, wearing water shoes and shorts. My shorts got wet. And I almost lost a shoe in the muck (it did come off, but I was able to reach down and pull it up).

The water was cool and refreshing. And we were able to enjoy it for a while as it started to rain (it would rain on and off all day, with heavy thunderstorms in the late afternoon) and rain meant I needed to keep my camera covered.

It was curious to see the bog flooded, and plants usually above completely underwater. But the Spiranthes was a tall plant, the flowers well above the water line. The bog is a big one, yet there were only two of these plants known to be there. We saw but one and didn't fancy slogging through the water to find the other.

Which makes me wonder, how did the ant cross the water to the plant?

We made our way back to the car and drove further into the Pines to find the Platanthera.

This time the iPad came in handy. The rain had stopped, but there was thunder in the distance. So we hopped out and quickly headed down the trail.

Unlike the first site, here there were plenty of plants (this is but a small sample). But like the first site there was plenty of water although not quite as deep. This is where I almost lost my shoe though.

The rain held up as I shot away. Ro told me that this bog is home to eighteen rare and endangered plants. We agreed we'd have to come back once the water subsides to see how many we could find.

Finding these two made for a happy day.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Results Are In

Last January, Mackenzie Hall, a Private Lands Biologist with the Conserve Wildlife Fund of NJ (CWF) gave a presentation on bats to the Burlington County Natural Science Club. Mackenzie's enthusiasm for these flying fur-balls was quite infectious.

It helped that I already had an interest in bats. And while I've seen and photographed bats I knew that they were in trouble. Sadly white nose syndrome is taking quite a toll. So when at the end of her talk Mackenzie mentioned a citizen science project consisting of bat surveys and that she was looking for volunteers I made sure to sign up.

Fast forward a few months and my friend Patty, aka Bat Girl, forwards an email asking if I want to do bat surveys. Patty does horseshoe crab and shorebird surveys for CWF and learned of the survey via a call for volunteers email. I don't know if we disappointed Mackenzie when she learned her two volunteers were just one team. She never said, but she made up for it by giving us two routes.

But first there was training. We met a a park in central Jersey and after a brief talk on the bats of NJ we were introduced to the gizmo. The gizmo is more formally known as an AnaBat detector. We learned how to turn on and off the gizmo, how to change the batteries (rechargeable), how to set the controls, and most importantly, to never never ever let it get wet. Apparently even the slightest fog will turn this $2000 + device into useless brick.

We then learned how to put the gizmo into a homemade wooden bracket and strap it to the top of a car. You see, the survey was done by strapping it on, powering up, and then driving at 15 MPH along the specified route.

As I mentioned, Bat Girl and I did two surveys. The first was near my home along the Delaware River. Along back roads through several towns ending in my hometown of Edgewater Park. Fortunately we didn't encounter much traffic.  The second route was clear across the state and ran through the Pine Barrens.  It was a route selected by Mackenzie by looking at Google maps. No one had ground truthed it. So Bat Girl and I took a Saturday and did a dry run. It took us four hours. The main part of the route was via sand roads in the Pine Barrens. Roads that don't see much traffic. Roads so tight with brush I had to fold in my mirrors and remove my radio antenna. Don't tell Mackenzie, but the gizmo took a beating from the branches. As did my car, all nice and scratched up now (but I bought it to drive these roads so the scratches were expected).  Our first try to drive through the Pines ended when the road went into a lake. We saw where it came out on the other side. But it was too deep. So we backtracked. Our second attempted also ended with a water hazard blocking our path. Not wanting a repeat of this we again backtracked.

The third time was a charm, although we needed to make a couple modifications to the route to avoid private property, places with big gates that would have blocked our path. But I was familiar with most of the area, from nightjar and frog surveys, as well as plant geek field trips. There were still plenty of tight spots and large puddles to maneuver around. And for most of the route 15 MPH would have been reckless.

Unlike other surveys I've done for frogs which you can hear or birds which you can see and hear, this survey has only static on the gizmo's speaker. If you're lucky the static is the ultrasonic sounds of the bat converted into human hearable frequency ranges. But you don't really know if your survey found any bats.

We did. Our first survey recorded 37 call sequences of two different species, big brown bat and hoary bat. Our second only 34 call sequences but three species, adding the eastern red bat. The full results for our survey runs can be found here (page one) and here (page two).

I don't know if finding 30+ instances of two or three species of bat is good or bad as I don't know the historical context. I do however think that it is pretty cool that these animals are living within two miles of my home. Also cool is that we did this in the year of the bat.

So the next evening you are outside at twilight look up. And maybe you'll see a bat or two. And be sure to thank them for eating for eating those pesky mosquitos.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Bog Twayblade

This is the orchid we were hunting for on the trip we found the rattlesnake. Liparis loeselii aka bog twayblade.

I had seen one plant the year before at the same location. It prefers sites in the Pine Barrens around ruins, needing the extra minerals. A small plant, all green, making it hard to discern amongst the surrounding plant community.

When we visited this year we found one plant in bloom.

And then another.

And another.

And another.

And ... (seven more times).

And seven plants which were not in bloom. For a total of eighteen plants. And I'm sure we missed some.

So either there was a bit of a population explosion this season. Or we missed some last year. I'm guessing miss. I wonder what else we're missing?

Saturday, August 6, 2011



I wandered down to Long Beach Island today. I went to try and see a Hooded Crow, a bird not usually found in New Jersey. In fact, it is a bird not usually found in North America. I did not see it, although others did, before and after I searched. Bummer.

I did get to see this gal. I'm told that it is a female Hooded Seal. But it doesn't look like any of the pictures in my field guides nor those I found on the web. Curious. Update 8/16: I've been told through email correspondence that she has been identified as a Gray Seal by the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. But, and my correspondent, still have our doubts. We both think that it is a Harbor Seal.

Whatever species, she had no problem with people. She seemed to be posing, as if she had escaped from SeaWorld or some such, and often maneuvered to be closer to the crowd. In turn prompting the lifeguards to move us back. I wondered if she was thinking, "Hey, I'm doing my routine here! I expect some fish!" 

She would occasionally head into the surf but after a quick splash around would lumber back up onto the beach.

I was also told that folks from the local Marine Mammal Stranding Center had visited to check her out and had pronounced her fit. So I guess, like us, she just wanted to work on her tan and splash about in the waves.

Very cool

Friday, August 5, 2011

You Looking At Me?

While wandering in the New Jersey Pine Barrens looking for a rare orchid (we found it) friends and I decided to head down a road we'd never traveled. This road took us through an open gate, and while we didn't realize it, onto private land.

In time we came to a second gate. This one closed. And locked.

I had gotten out of the car to check said gate. On my way back to the car, Ro, one of my traveling companions, yelled, "snake!". And there on the side of the sand road, working on it's tan, was the beauty seen here.

We first took some pictures from inside the car. I then got out and took some shots. I had only my 100 mm macro lens, I was shooting flowers after all. I approached slowly.

I learned later that rattlers can strike approximately one body length. I think I was right on the edge.

The snake paid me no never-mind. It didn't move, didn't rattle, the entire time I was shooting. We wondered if it was alive. So I gathered a few twigs, and Ro tossed them in the direction of the snake.

After I got back in the car.

She missed. So I got out and gathered a few more. And one finally landed close enough to garner a reaction.

The snake flicked its tongue a few times. That was it. But it was alive.

Once home I read that no one had every died of a rattle snake bite in New Jersey. And that the snakes are quite docile, preferring to retreat then to engage a human. Apparently the only people who get bit are those who try to handle the creatures.

This was my first encounter with a venomous snake. We both survived. Pretty cool.

A few days later there was a story in the local paper about a gentleman who had been bitten by a rattler. Not far from where we had our encounter. He claims he found the snake in the road and was trying to move it off, to keep it from becoming road kill. Foolishly, he attempted to pick it up.

Not a good idea.

He got bit.

Alas, his attempt to win a Darwin Award was not successful.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Island Universe

Or three.

The large object in the image is the Andromeda Galaxy, aka M31, the sister galaxy to our home Milky Way. There are two other galaxies in this image. Almost directly above the center of M31 is M110. At the 4 o'clock position from M31's core is M32 (it looks like a large blurry star). As always, click on the image to bigafy it.

The first known record of the Andromeda galaxy is form the 10th century by the Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi. al-Sufi described it as a small cloud, an accurate description of the naked eye appearance at a dark site. To me it is a football (American style) shaped cloud. But is wasn't until the early twentieth century that astronomers figured out what these small clouds were. It was Edwin Hubble who identified cepheid variable stars in what was then known as the Great Nebula in Andromeda. Cepheid variables have a relationship between their intrinsic brightness and the period of variation, allowing them to be used as celestial mileposts. And the Great Nebula was found to be much to far away to be part of the Milky Way.

And thus was born the modern universe.

The Andromeda Galaxy is 2.5 million light years away, meaning the light that struck the chip in my camera had been traveling for 2.5 million years.

That's a long time.

And this is the closest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way.

The universe is a big place.