Saturday, February 28, 2015


I've mentioned before that we have motion sensor lights here at our oasis in the wilderness. And tonight as I walked into the kitchen I noticed one in the side yard was on.

"Light's on" is our cry whenever this occurs, and we quickly get to and look out the nearest window.

Our most frequent night visitors are the wind, a neighborhood cat, raccoons, and an opossum, in that order. But the night was calm and when I glanced out the window I saw none of the usual suspects. But then I noticed something fly across the yard and land on the nearest tree. It landed on the tree like a woodpecker. And I thought "woodpecker" but also thought is curious that it would be flying at night. And then I recognized it.

"Patty," I yelled, "we've got a flying squirrel!"

And so we did.

It took a while to make its way down the tree and across to the triple stump, where Patty had smeared some of her peanut butter/birdseed mix. Which the birds, and the ground squirrels, find quite yummy.

As do, we now know, flying squirrels.

There are two species of flying squirrel which occur in New Jersey, the northern and the southern. As the northern is generally only found in the northwest corner of the state, I determined that this is of the southern variety (call me Sherlock ...).

Both varieties are nocturnal, and have large eyes, ears, and whiskers. The northern is slightly larger.

(If you bigafy the above image you might make out the long whiskers.)

It seems the key difference between the two species is that the southern's belly hair is all white, while the northern's is white at the tip but black at the root.

We had suspected they were in the area, as the habitat is right, and were surprised that they hadn't made an appearance. They probably have been, but we've just not been at the right window at the right time. But know we know when the light's on to look up as well as down. And hopefully, they'll be regular visitors.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Window Feeder

The other night it was windy. Very windy. Wind advisory windy. Don't park your car near a tree windy.

And we heard the wind blowing stuff around as we went to bed.

And we heard something else. At least Patty did. I thought it was just the wind.

It wasn't.

It was this fellow.

There were two of them, although only one seemed to be interested in the feeder.

We were right on the other side of the window, but it seems he couldn't see us. Or perhaps didn't care. I snapped away with my iPhone. It wasn't until I cracked open the window that he scrambled away.

The two of them scurried under our deck. Patty then made them each a peanut butter sandwich (she used cheap peanut butter and stale bread).  We've not seen them since.

This is what the feeder looks like in daylight, with a pine siskin, one of the intended visitors.

We, and the folks that sold us the feeder (a local bird food shop), can't understand why it didn't fall off with the raccoon hanging on it.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Snow Birds

When we left the house yesterday to go chasing after waxwings there were clear blue skies. When we reached the Hook is was completely overcast. As we were driving home it started to snow, slowing traffic considerably, much to our chagrin.

When we arrived home there was already two plus inches of snow on the ground (the slow traffic giving the snow plenty of time to accumulate -- arrggghh).

Which just meant the turkeys had to dig a bit to get to the food in the yard.

The snow was falling heavily, large flakes made of multiple snow crystals. The snow was actually building up on the bird's backs.

They would occasionally stand up and flap their wings to clean it off (note the back bird's back).

But for the most part it didn't seem to trouble them. And they stayed for over an hour. Pecking away at the snow.

The turkeys are quite frightening to the other birds who take to the trees while the turkeys are in the yard. This is so even though there are multiple feeders well above ground level.

Click on the image above to bigafy it. There are numerous dark-eyed juncos, several northern cardinals, and two sparrows, one each of white throated and fox. (There may be more, that's just what I could find, leave a comment if you find something else.)

Overnight it rained and today the temps were well above freezing. So we have a yard full of slush, which will turn to ice overnight tonight. Yippee!

Lunch Time

My friend Terry, who doesn't have a blog (but who led the First Day Hike) was out walking her dog, Lucy, in her back woods during the snow yesterday when the dog got all excited (Terry said it "got all freaked out").

This is what had Lucy all riled up.

Image courtesy Terry Schmidt

Image courtesy Terry Schmidt
A red-tailed hawk eating a eastern gray squirrel.

In the email in which Terry sent out the pictures she wrote, "If I was Steve and Patty, this would be today's blog.  :) ". So I thought I'd help her out.


I had also thought I had done a blog post with this theme, and spent the morning looking for said post. It was a nice stroll down memory lane, lying in bed, sipping coffee, reading all those old posts. I figured I'd link to that post from this one. But I found no such post.

So here is the post that would have been (set the wayback machine for 2007 ... ).


As I was leaving my condo complex to do some photography at a local nature center I came upon this scene.

On the left we have a red-tailed hawk standing over its quarry, an eastern gray squirrel, while eyeing a turkey that's looking over to see what's going on.

The hawk quickly determined that the turkey was no threat and turned its attention back to the matter at hand (beak? talon?), namely lunch.

There were several more turkeys watching from across the road. All seemingly fascinated by what the hawk was up to.

Neither hawk nor turkeys paid me no never mind as I snapped away.


Thanks Terry for the neat photos and the prompt to stroll down memory lane.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bohemian Waxwing - Check

This is a Bohemian Waxwing. A bird not usually found in our part of the world. And one I'd not seen before today, and not for lack of trying.

This is a Cedar Waxwing.

A not uncommon bird around these parts. Note the plumage differences* (you may need to bigafy the images to do so). In winter waxwings travel in flocks. Sometimes rather large flocks. And two years ago in a very large flock, several hundred birds on the Sandy Hook unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

* Some of the differences are:
- The bohemian has a grey belly while the cedar's is yellow.
- The under tail color of the bohemian is rufus while the cedar is white.
- The cedar has a white line on the forehead which is absent on the bohemian.
- The bohemian has a larger black "beard".

And in that very large flock was a Bohemian Waxwing. Or so I'm told. Despite looking at bird after bird I never found the visitor from the north.

Today was different (as the photos attest).

We left the house at around 7:00 AM, and arrived at the Hook around 8:30. The NJ Audubon Society had a field trip on the hook and we ran into them at Lot B, which has a heated (barely) restroom, and is thus a common meeting spot. We learned from them that the place to be was the Boy Scout Camp. So off we went.

Surprisingly, there were still parking spots at the small campground lot. Not surprisingly there were waxwings in the trees around the lot. All cedar (birds not trees). But then we noticed a group of birders down the trail waving us to come on down. They had the bird. And soon so did we.

The bird was sitting in the tree, enjoying the berries (if you look closely, again bigafying, you see several  berries in the branch directly in front of the bird disappear between the first and last images - yummy!).


After the Bohemian had flown off, spooked no doubt by a couple of photographers tramping through the woods (giving us all a bad name) we chatted with the small crowd of birders. And we learned of this bird. A Vesper Sparrow.

Another "nemesis bird" of mine. I had heard one once. But had been unable to locate it. And a friend and I went to the Burlington County Fairgrounds a few years ago to follow up on a report one there. The area is closed to the general population and we needed special permission to be there. No luck that day either (we did have nine dickcissel, a very nice consolation prize).

But today my luck changed. Two in one morning. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Great Backyard Bird Count

This weekend was the Great Backyard Bird Count. A Citizen Science project that anyone can participate in. All you need to do is note the birds you see in your yard (or anywhere else you'd like) for at least fifteen minutes, and then report your results.

Here are some of the birds we saw in our yard when we did the count yesterday.

The most common bird was this one, the dark-eyed junco, with forty visiting our yard.

Junco's are a species of sparrow. We had two other sparrow species, fox sparrow:

... and white-throated sparrow:

Pine siskin were also numerous, with 25 visiting our feeders yesterday.

As were their close kin, American goldfinch, of which 17 visited during the count.

We had four species of woodpecker:

Red-bellied (left) and northern flicker (center).

Hairy (center, again with red-bellied on the left).

Downy (sans red-bellied).

And Red-bellied (sans everybody else).

We had the bird almost universally despised by birders, the brown-headed cowbird:

Which are brood parasites, explaining the dislike.

A group of nine turkeys wandered through the yard, ...

... scaring all of the other birds into the trees.

Other visitors included:

This hermit thrush.

This White-breasted nuthatch, one of three this day.

A single Carolina wren, there are usually two about.

Whereas the previous three species are generally represented by only a few individuals, the next few species are relatively common.

While we only had three blue jays for the count, it is not unusual to have twice that number on any given day.

Eleven cardinals visited.

And fifteen mourning doves.

It was about this time that our first of two hawk species made an appearance, a red-shouldered hawk.

It briefly landed in a tree near the yard, and then flew back into the woods, albeit still visible from the yard.

We also had a lone turkey vulture soaring in the distance. Too far for an image alas.

Rounding out the day were five common grackles, including this female:

Six tufted titmice:

And but two Carolina chickadees.

The little fellow at the right.

And then this bird flew in. Our second hawk of the day. And that was the end of the count, as all the birds scattered, off into the forest.

As this bird, a coopers hawk, preys on other birds. And they know it.

In all we had 165 individual birds of 23 species. And while that may not seem like much, when added with all of the other reports this weekend it adds up to over 67,000 checklists, for 3800 plus species of birds and over eight million individual birds. That's a lot of birds. And a lot of data. The count started in 1998, and the data provides a window to bird populations and how they are changing due to habit loss and climate change.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Winter Weather Advisory

... is in effect for out area.

High winds and ice conditions could make travel hazardous.


Remember this post: Look Up In The Sky?

At the very end I wrote:

"You can learn more about such arcs, and other atmospherics at the wonderful Atmospheric Optics site along with the OPOD. Click either link and enjoy your visit."

Well if you go visit the OPOD today you'll see my Parry Arc images.

I've made the big time.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


New Year's Eve found us on a plane heading home from Yellowstone. And as we took off I noticed a thin veil of clouds between us and the ground. I readied the camera and was rewarded with glories.

I liked that the clouds were so thin the ground was visible through them.

But as continued on the clouds thickened.

Eventually the surface faded form view and there were just the clouds, the shadow, and the colored rings.

As we climbed on up to cruising altitude the shadow of the plane grew smaller and smaller. And then it was gone.

If you bigafy the image and look closely you can see the "rings" extend to the edge of the frame (I increased the saturation in Photoshop to bring this out in the image above.)

The show lasted for close to an hour. But eventually the sky cleared and the target was gone. It was the best apparition of a glory I've had the pleasure to observe.  Next time you go flying grab a window seat on the side opposite the sun. And maybe you'll be treated to a glory. Be sure to have your camera ready.