Friday, December 30, 2016

Look What Santa Brought Us!

We were traveling over Christmas and arrived home yesterday. We opened our presents this morning.

And in one box we found this!

An Eastern Screech Owl. How cool is that?

Thank's Santa!

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Three Opies

We have Virginia Opossums, 'Opies', who visit every night, but we don't really know how many may be out there. Last night we had three at the same time. So we know there are at least three!

This is Opie # 1, high up in the tree.

This is a small-ish creature, apparently from the second brood of the year.

Luanne and Dan Weekes, who live just down and around the bend from us, are the proprietors of Pollination Station. And among other things they rehabilitate Virginia Opossums. Through them we recently learned that Virginia Opossums have two litters a year. It appears that both Opie #1 and Opie #2 are second brooders.

This is Opie #2, on the makeshift flying squirrel feeder platforms.

We put peanut butter on these feeders, and on the tree, each evening. And watch the wildlife that comes to call.

Here is #3. It is a bit bigger than the first two.

Other than size and overall grayness of their fur, we've not learned to tell them apart.

It is a small gray one that likes to go high in the tree, seemingly to get away from the others, but as you can see these two are both small and gray.

Is it always the same one that is up high? Or does it depend on the order that they arrive?

Perhaps there are several small grey opossums that are visiting, and a few like the view from on high. We just don't know.

We've had up to three visit on several occasions. But they are solitary creatures, arriving and departing alone. With few direct interactions. And those I've witnessed seem to be aimed at determining "who are you" and telling each other to "leave me alone". So it is difficult to develop a 'personality profile' that might help identify individual opossums.

But we'll continue to watch and learn what we can about these and all the creatures that visit our yard. And maybe we'll yet figure out how to tell them apart.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Hey Baby It's ...

... warm outside?

On Sunday December 18th I almost stepped on this Green Frog hopping about the yard. (The frog not me.)

When thinking of December, it is snow, Santa, and shopping which spring to mind. And cold, can't forget cold. Not frogs hopping about the yard.

And yet, there it was.

Fortunately, as we see, it made it back to the pond. Just in time, as temps plummeted the next day. And it has been well below freezing since.


Green Frogs overwinter in ponds and, if the temps are warm enough, will leave the pond and go walk (hop?) about. Perhaps they are confused and think it is spring? And this past Sunday it was warm and wet.

This frog is floating in our fish pond. To keep the water in the filter box from freezing, and perhaps cracking the box, we keep a heater in it from around Thanksgiving until spring. This also keeps part of the water surface ice free, allowing oxygen to enter the water. Enough O₂ to keep the fish and frogs alive throughout the winter.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Happy Solstice!

And remember, Orbital Mechanics, it's the reason for the season!

Venus and the Moon

Stay warm!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Concussion Protocol

This is a Tufted Titmouse. A stunned Tufted Titmouse. It recently slammed into to the sliding glass doors leading out form our living room. I took this shot with my iPhone just before I picked the bird up.

It struggled briefly in my hands but soon calmed down. As with all such stunned birds, I placed it in a protected place out in the garden. And it eventually recovered and flew off.

Our feeders attract birds looking for food (duh!) but not always the food we put out. The birds themselves are sometimes food for other birds. Coopers and Sharp-shinned Hawks regularly visit the feeders, sending the rest of the birds into a panicked rush to the trees.

And in their haste reflections of trees look just as good as the real thing. And thus the occasional "thud" we hear as bird hits window.

Not all are as fortunate as the titmouse. The Dark-eyed Junco below did not survive its encounter.

This is the view from behind the garden. You can see the sliding glass doors at the left edge of the house, looking here into our living room. You can see the feeders in the garden area as well. We try to keep them a good distance from the windows, but a panicked bird may still bolt that way.

We've also hung strings in front of the windows which, by swaying in the wind, break up the reflected view. And decals on the windows that are barely visible to humans but supposedly obvious to the birds. Thankfully, we don't get many thuds, but it is a sad sound when we do.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cold and Flu Season

'Tis the season for runny noses ...

Perhaps we should provide tissues out at the feeders?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Moth Night

One evening this past March ...

... I did a bit of mothing.

Yet try as I might ...

... I've not identified a single one.

Zippo, Nada, None.

You can see they are rather distinctive.

So you'd think it would be easy.

I mean, ...

... I should at least get a couple.

Or even just one.

But nope.

All my reference works ...

... and online resources have failed me.

Of course, I was in Ecuador at the time. And the only reference work I could fine is the series Butterflies and Moths of Ecuador, which has at least twenty volumes. The most recent of which is volume 10A, which is only £78.99, plus shipping (from England).

So I guess I'll just be enjoying the pretty pictures of moth sp.

Monday, December 5, 2016

This Morning's Garden Visitor

The crabapple tree was full of American Robins this morning. Enjoying a breakfast of the sour fruits.

But one looked odd, it had a different tail.

Because it wasn't a robin. It was a Cedar Waxwing. And it was the only Cedar Waxing in the tree. Which is rather curious as they usually travel in flocks. I don't think I've ever seen a lone bird before.

The tail, which looks as if it was dipped in yellow paint, really stands out. As does the black mask and, although not visible here, the red tipped primary feathers.

A colorful bird that I've had difficulty getting a good photograph of. Perhaps my best opportunity was out the kitchen window of my condo. A flock descended on a tree no more than fifteen feet away. I grabbed my camera a was sure I got several nice shots. Alas, this was in the film days and my camera had a roll of black and white loaded. And I got several very close, very sharp colorless Cedar Waxwing images.

I'll keep trying.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Rocky II

I noticed this fellow in our screech owl box one day while working in the yard. So of course I went and fetched the camera. And it obliged by remaining until I returned.  I showed the pictures to Patty and we both thought Flying Squirrel. But they are nocturnal. So why would this one be poking out the hole during the day?

One month and one day later we spotted this out our living room window.

And it's been visiting everyday since.

So now we put out food especially for flying squirrels. It seems to like peanut butter (as do the oppies, but that's another post ...).

Actually, they like peanut butter, as there are at least two (and perhaps more) visiting.


You might recall that we had a Flying Squirrel visit in February of 2015. A one night wonder, or so we thought. But maybe they've been here all along. We recently had some work done on our home, installing sliding glass doors and a large picture window in our living room. The time we used to spend in the three season room, with a view of the deck, we now spend in the living room. With very large windows and a clear view of our side yard and gardens. Where the bird feeders are. So it is no coincidence that we are seeing more wildlife. And noticing the squirrels.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Rim Shot

Here is another image of the not quite super moon. Look closely at the top and bottom edges.

Remind you of Christmas?

The top of the moon has a green edge and the bottom a red one. The explanation can be found at the Atmospheric Optics site.

These phenomena are invisible to the naked eye but are revealed when images are taken with a long lens. The colors become more pronounced the lower the moon is in the sky. Thanks to Dr. Les Cowley for confirming my sighting and explaining the relationship between the height of the object and the intensity of the colors.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The War on Lawn

As noted in prior posts, when we bought our home it had a beautiful yet labor and chemical intensive lawn. We've slowly been changing that, going native. Our latest project was the side garden.

I've focused reporting on the bog, seen below covered with a mulch of pine needles, but the bog is just part of the larger garden.

This image shows the full garden area, almost completely ready for winter. We've still to finish the edging (thanks Terry!). And we'll need to replace some of the leaf mulch which has blown away (thanks Lori!). But otherwise we're just anxiously waiting for spring.

In the mean time we're enjoying watching the wildlife that visits, from the comfort of our living room ...

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Not Quite Super Duper

The full moon of November 14, 2016 occurred almost at perigee (within two hours), which made it the closest full moon since January 26th, 1948. The full moon won't be this close again until 2034.

Alas, I did not see the moon at perigee, which occurred at sunrise on the 14th (my friend Jerry did, and got this shot, which was also an APOD).

Rather, I shot the not quite full moon at moon rise the evening prior.

A group of us went to Whitesbog, in New Jersey's Brendan Byrne State Forest, for an evening stroll around the bogs. I quickly found a spot and setup my camera while the rest of the group continued their walk.

As I waited a small group gathered, curious about the "Super Moon". We passed the time discussing orbital mechanics and atmospheric scattering of light.

We had a very clear sky on both horizons and we were able to spot the moon as it rose beyond trees.

The clear skies also resulted in a "Belt of Venus", the purple and grey colors of the sky.

It was nice to see so many people out because of the buzz about the 'super moon', excited about the natural world, but none of these phenomena are unique to this particular moonrise.


The term "super moon" was coined by astrologers who continue to fool themselves and others while peddling pseudo-scientific BS of no value. And it was quickly picked up by an attention grabbing media and populace with little interest in depth of understanding and short attention spans. And while images that show the smallest and largest full moons side by side do show a significant size difference, most full moons are not at these extremes, and few people would be able to tell the difference.

So don't wait for a 'super moon' to get out and enjoy the full moon. Whitesbog, where I shot these images, even has a monthly full moon night hike, on the Saturday evening closest to full moon. But you need not go anywhere, as all you need is clear skies and the curiosity to go outside and look up.

Good viewing.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


The meadow at the end of day two, and after a night of heavy rain, the first good rain here in over a month.

The plot was expanded, and soil, the first round of plants and mulch added.

Next steps will be the continued expansion of the meadow plot, the transplanting of seedlings currently growing in our garden, the transplanting of other plants from around our yard, and the adding of seeds directly to the meadow plot.

And here is another link on why this is important. It seems that the native pollinators are even more important than I had realized. So go ahead, plant a native wildflower garden. The local farmers will thank you (as will your tummy).

This post was originally published in 2015. I don't know why it is showing up again. But I hope you enjoyed this rerun!


I've been spending my weekends of late on the bog project. And I've finished. For now.

You can see below the hole is almost completely filled. It would take eighteen bags of sphagnum peat moss to do so. You can also where I've started to cut the excess liner away. It was much easier than I expected. I also cut some slits in the liner to allow excess water to drain. We live in a wet area and don't want the bog to be a pond.

Look closely and you'll see I had an audience. Turkeys! They had no qualms about me being there as long as I was busy either shoveling dirt out of the hole, or peat moss in. But if I went to get tools or slate they hustled into the front yard. Only to return when I went back to work (they really like sunflower seeds).

A couple of trips to the hardware store to get the proper PVC pieces (with an extra trip when I bought the wrong size! D'oh!) and the line form the rain barrel is sloping into the bog.

And then buried (well most of it anyway).

While it is a wet area it can get dry during the hot summer months. The rain barrel will provide a reservoir ensuring the bog is always sufficiently hydrated.

Here is the finished product. The slate slabs user to line the edge of the bog, covering and holding down the liner, were piled up in the back of our yard, no doubt left over from the construction of our two ponds (by the prior owners). Most of the plants are Sarracenia purpurea, our native pitcher plant, that I purchased at the native plant sale at this years Whitesbog Blueberry Festival.  There are also a couple of Drosera species, sundews. The pitcher plants and sundews are carnivores. We've since added a few more plants, including a small cranberry bush. Inside the slate is the brown sphagnum moss, outside is black compost, another layer of our lasagna garden (you can see some of the cardboard poking through at the lower right). The whole garden area will be covered with leaf mulch for the winter. Come spring we'll begin planting again.

I'll need to find something new to fill my weekends 'til then.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Diamond in the Rough

The bog project is moving along nicely. Here is the finished hole.

With the liner installed.

Ten bags of this stuff ...

... isn't quite enough.

But it is getting there. As is the garden in the background, with the addition of a layer of compost and the first plants.

We've also installed a rain barrel to help insure the bog stays wet throughout the year.

Net steps are to finish filling the bog with sphagnum peat moss, trim and bury the liner, install a pipe underground from the rain barrel to the bog, and of course add the first plants.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Happy New Year!

Today I didn't have to go to school because it is Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish New Year. (I am off tomorrow too!)

And what a fabulous start to the New Year it was!  At just past 8am, I looked out my kitchen window and saw a finch eating  sunflower seeds.  I thought 'hmmm that finch has a white eye brow.  It's not like the other House Finches.'

No indeed - it was a Purple Finch

I got myself organized and spent the morning doing yard work.  After lunch I planned to continue in the yard, but the sun had come out.  Along with the heat, things were hopping in the garden.

The first thing I saw was this butterfly either a Comma or a Question Mark - the shape of the wings are distinctive, but you need a shot of the underwing to get the identifying 'comma' or 'question mark' mark on the wing.  I quick got the camera, and it was downhill from there.

This was my best photo - no shot of the underwing.

Once I had the camera in hand, the yard work was a thing of the past.  I saw over 10 different butterflies in my garden today.  Here are some....


Red-banded Hair Streak

Pearl Crescent


Red Admiral

Painted Lady

Silver-spotted Skipper

Cabbage White

 Eastern Tailed-blue

Same Butterfly as above with wings open

A very worn and faded Black Swallowtail butterfly

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar - several are still eating my parsley.

I believe this is the last of the Monarch Caterpillars on the swamp milkweed.  It is in the 'J Shape' - tomorrow it will be a chrysalis.  In 9-14 days this will be a Monarch Butterfly and off to Mexico.

Butterflies and caterpillars were not the only things flying and crawling around today.

Many bees were around.  I recently read in Barb Elliot's post on Backyards for Nature, that Bumble Bees can buzz pollinate- "Bumble bees vibrate their wings at specific frequencies to get some species of flowers to release their pollen."  Very cool!

This fly better take care of how close it gets to the Pitcher Plant.

A walk around to the pond and I found other predators.

 a young Bull Frog

a male Meadow Hawk Dragonfly (the females are yellow)

Our resident Northern Water Snake - thanks to my friend Barb for spotting him.

Before Barb came over I was kept company by 
a flock of turkeys that passed through the yard.

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird that is still hanging around

 and this Common Yellow-throated Warbler that dropped in to see what I was doing.

All-in-all it was a tremendous day.  I hope your New Year's Day was a happy one too!

Thanks to Patty Rehn for guest blogging. All words and images copyright Patty Rehn.