Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Yet Another ...

American Woodcock
We saw four of these in our yard this evening. And heard perhaps a couple more. Flying about, peenting, and one just poking its bill into the ground looking for worms.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Another Sign ...

First flower of the year.

The shadow creeps across the dial ...

... enjoy it while you can ...

... it will be time for yard work soon enough. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015


Remember this post: And The Clouds Parted?

(If you do you've been reading this blog for a long time! Thanks.)

Well the featured image is now part of an Optics Picture Of The Day.

But you knew that right? Since you are now visiting the OPOD on a regular basis. And if you aren't then book mark it right now!

And for those keeping score at home, I'm up to 45 minutes.

And here are the two images featured in this OPOD.

Diamond Ring and Shadow Bands

Diamond Ring and Corona

The first at the start of totality and the second at the end.

And So It Begins ...

The first warbler of the spring to visit our yard.

Despite the fact that we live (just) within the boundaries of the Pinelands National Reserve, we don't have many pines on our property. So this guy probably won't hang around. No doubt stopping by just to refuel.


Officially it is spring in these parts. And on the very first day of the season we enjoyed five inches of snow.

Sundial of the Seasons is the wonderfully evocative title of Hal Borland's collection of NY Times columns on the natural world. An apt description of the rhythm of life. We want winter to be over. We want spring to be here with warmth, with flowers, with singing birds and leaves on the trees. And we want it now.

We'll get what we want. But it will be on Earth's schedule, not ours. So relax. Sit back with a cup of your favorite beverage at your favorite window and watch the world wake up from winter. And enjoy the world at the pace of your ancestors.

Look, Down on the Ground

Color and optical phenomena are all around us. But most folks never notice them.

I almost didn't notice this one. As can be seen in the two images above, the colors are subtle. But as I'm always on the lookout for such things I tend to notice these subtitles. Too often they turn out to be wishful thinking on my part. Wanting an effect to be that just isn't.

But not this time.

It helped that a fellow hiker had a different viewpoint and that his angle made the colors much more vibrant. Promoting me to take a second look.

This is an air bubble under the ice and above the water, or between two layers of ice. You can see by its changing shape that it is moving under top ice sheet. And notice the water drops under the top layer.

It is not clear what is causing the colors. Dr. Les Cowley of the go to site for this type of phenomena, Atmospheric Optics, suggested two possibilities, both forms of thin-film interference. The first, and the one I thought it might have been, is birefringence

The second is an effect that gives rise to the colors in soap bubbles. This one certainly seems more similar to my images. Whatever caused it I still think it is pretty cool that I got to see it.

Keep looking down!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cute Bandits

They're back!

Peek ...

... a ...

... Boo!

We had two of the critters eating the peanut butter we put out for the birds. And for the opossums.

They scraped the stumps clean. And then they were off.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ducks on the Pond

When we were looking at what is now our home last June the then current owners invited us over. And while we were sitting on the deck having a drink and a bite to eat a pair of mallards flew into the back pond.

"They fly in every evening," we were told. And sure enough we did see them on subsequent visits.

But never after we took title.

Until yesterday when they, or reasonable facsimiles, returned.

Perhaps they became acclimated to people during their last visit, because when I got the camera they didn't seem to mind all that much. They did swim to the back of the pond however.

Although as you can see, that isn't much further away than the front of the pond. And when I got some corn for them to eat they did not fly away as I came out to deliver it.

And since it is such a small pond, I wonder if they will stay.

Here's hoping that they do. And that we get some ducklings on the pond later this spring. That would be very cool.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Beekman Road

It's (almost) spring and so a young (or old) spotted salamander's thoughts, such as they are, turn to love.

And love for a salamander means a big meet up at the local vernal pool.

Thus every spring, give or take a few weeks, on the first "warm" rainy night, the salamanders head down from the woods where they've spent the winter to the nearest vernal pool to meet up, mate, and lay eggs.

And thus for the second year in a row we've made the short journey up the NJ Turnpike to East Brunswick. To Beekman Road. Last year we visited late in the season, and saw only a few salamanders, and but one frog.

This year we arrived early. Both in the season, and in the time (it was still light out). We were the only folks there. We walked the road and saw nothing.

So we went back to the car and waited a bit. And more people started to show up.

Getting to the vernal pool, especially if you are a salamander that lives in the very built up area that is the NJ Turnpike corridor, can be very hazardous. Thus not only are there warning signs like the one pictured above, but the town actually closes a section of Beekman Road on warmish rainy nights.

This was the first night the road was closed this season. The temperature was right, in the fifties Fahrenheit, and it was rainy and humid. But, and this was a big but, this had been a cold winter. And snow was still on the ground. Another worrisome indicator was that the spring peepers, which should be calling by now, were not.

As it got dark the group now at the parking lot decided to walk the road. So we headed over and did another round trip. No salamanders.

It was on the third lap that I spotted the frog shown here. A spring peeper. I've heard many a peeper calling. This is the first I've ever seen. The scientific name, Pseudacris crucifer crucifer, comes from the faint cross (x) on its back. Biggafy the image above to see.

And if you are a spring peeper on ice you probably aren't all that inclined to spend much time calling. Rather you're spending our energy looking for somewhere warm.

Dave Moskowitz, the man behind the road blocks (and one of the team that created National Moth Week) thought that finding the peeper, even though it was not calling, was a good sign. If it was warm enough for peepers to be about it should be warm enough for salamanders.

And it was.

This was the first* salamander of the night, making its way across the road. We would see over a dozen of the creatures.

* Technically it was the second. But it was the first living salamander of the night. The first was one that had tried to cross before the road was blocked. It did not make it. Had the road not been blocked on nights like this there would be very few salamanders to see in this or future years.

While a large salamander, one girl out looking said they are "the size of a sausage", they are still small compared to the road. And the road is just a small part of the distance they travel.

But travel it they do. Although the lights confused them at times, causing them to stop and pose. But almost never long enough to get a good shot. Except for the guy with the video camera. For him they posed and posed and posed. While he knelt on the ground, camera on tripod, waiting for them to move. And they would just sit there.

We wandered up and down the road in a light rain for two and a half hours.

And as I mentioned, we saw over a dozen. Not a spectacular night. But a good one, especially when after the first couple of trips up and back we had seen nothing (and one of us thought the night a bust).

Dave was even more excited about this fellow:

A wood frog. I spotted several. And as a group we saw half a dozen or more. They are new here. Dave's not heard them calling in the area. But it looks like they've found the place. And it shouldn't be long until their call enlivens the night.

I wonder what the frogs and salamanders think of we lumbering giants who light up the road and obstruct their path.

I know that we all found them fascinating. And well worth the time spent to see them. Thanks to the Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission for all the work they do to protect these creatures. And letting the rest of know when to visit.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


Remember this post: Blue Flash?

At the very beginning I wrote, "The bit of blue at the top of the sun appear to me to be the elusive cloud top blue flash or blue rim. What do you think?"

Well the two gentlemen who's sites I linked to in that quote think that it is.

And if you go visit the Optics Picture of the Day you'll see for yourself.

I'm up to thirty minutes ...

Keep looking up!

From the Air

Another in the series ... this time on our way to Yellowstone on Christmas eve.

The Pointy-Shadow effect, where the shadow of the clouds seems to converge on a point in the distance, even though the cloud is not pointy. Look for this effect the next time you are on a mountain peak at sunrise or sunset.

Common birds are known among birders as "trash birds". Glories like the one above are becoming "trash atmospherics" for me. Not! I still think it very cool each time I see one.

This however is something I've rarely seen, a cloud bow.  I've seen hints of them before but never one so well defined.

The basic physics of cloud bows (aka "fog bows") is the same as with rainbows, light passing through water droplets. But the cloud droplets are much smaller than raindrops. And thus diffraction effects take over. The physics of glories on the other hand is not entirely worked out.

Here is the glory with the shadow of the plane's contrail looking like an arrow that hit the bullseye of a target. As the glory is centered on the the plane's shadow, the contrail shadow can't help but hit the target.

Put them all together and you have the contrail shadow "arrow" going from the bow to the glory "target". I wonder how many of my fellow passengers noticed even one of these phenomena?

Saturday, March 14, 2015


A bouncy Snowflake (click on the image).

Friday, March 13, 2015

Flies upon Flies

It's flies all the way down ...

(Bigafy to get the full effect.)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Look, Up in the Sky

While in general I prefer the views out my kitchen window to those out of my office window ...

Sometimes the view out of the office window can be pretty nice too.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Snow Day

The last post mentioned that it was a snow day, and that I was working from home. There are several benefits to working at home, no commute (and no crazy drivers to deal with!), lack of casual interruptions meaning I get more work done, and coffee breaks in my own kitchen.

Which means I can look out my kitchen window, a much nicer view than an office complex parking lot.

And with the images below you can do so vicariously as well.

The Red-shouldered Hawk was even closer this time, it is in the tree behind the triple stump, in the upper right of the image. In the yard rather than on the edge.

The hawk sat in this tree for about three hours. As before, the other birds paid no attention to it. Had it been a coopers or a sharpie sitting there the birds would have been gone.

Hawk Food
As noted in the previous post, we had between sixty and eighty Dark-eyed Juncos. Here's fifteen of them.

People Food
The turkeys on the other hand scared all the smaller birds away.

With seemingly all the Northern Cardinals heading for what we now call the "Cardinal Tree". I count sixteen, with a seventeenth possibly flying in from the lower left.

Curious looking birds, with ugly heads and pretty feather colors, odd looking horns before the eyes and feather "beards". Made all the more photogenic in with the snow.

This much more dapper looking Northern Flicker has become a regular yard bird.

As have the Fox Sparrows, Pine Siskins, and American Goldfich. The only concession made to the cold and snow seemed to be feather puffing when perched. Otherwise it was like any other day at the feeders. Just prettier with the snow.

And it is not just birds that enjoy the food at our feeders. Squirrels make themselves at home as well.

Although before the Red-shouldered Hawk took up his watch over the place we had seven of the gray furry beasts, and after just this one. We need the hawk to take up watch more often.

And given the territorial calls this bird seems to be making we may just get our wish.

I rather like working from home. The only thing better is  not working from home. Alas, that only happens on weekends.