Friday, February 26, 2016

Salamander Time

We made what has become our annual visit to Beekman Road in East Brunswick, New Jersey this past Wednesday. The main attraction is these guys, Spotted Salamanders:

This was the first rainy night with temperatures above 50° F. And the amphibians were on the move.

Patty scared this one and it curled up to hide. We saw four Spotted Salamanders this trip but the heavy rain made photography difficult.

This is the first salamander we saw this trip, a Red-Spotted Newt in the "Red Eft" phase.

It is the first and only of this species that we've ever seen at Beekman Road. Very cool.

Frogs were also on the move including this one, a Northern Spring Peeper:

We saw several of these along with a couple of Wood Frogs.

This is the time of year that amphibians awake from hibernation and head out to ponds and vernal pools to mate. Unfortunately this likely involves crossing roads with often disastrous results for the frogs, toads, and salamanders. Fortunately the amphibians of Beekman Road have help. The Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission monitor conditions and when they are right for migration they close the road to vehicular (but not foot!) traffic.

Not all populations are so fortunate, but you can help. In New Jersey the Amphibians Crossing Project of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey is a citizen science project where volunteers act as "chaperones to an amphibian dance." Search the web for similar projects in your state.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Only the Best Places ...

... are on our travel itinerary.  Including this surprisingly popular spot.

Popular with birds (and therefore birders) that is. Including several species of warbler that don't generally spend the winter in these here parts.

The most common bird was this one, a Yellow-rumped Warbler. They were everywhere. If you look close you can just make out its yellow rump.

Palm Warblers on the other hand were scarce, with perhaps only one bird. This one:

There are no palm trees here, which may explain the lack of Palm Warblers. There were trees growing out of walls however.

Kinglets, both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned were present and gave good looks. But as usual they are very difficult to photograph. I did get this shot of a Ruby-crowned, sans the ruby crown alas.

An Orange-crowned Warbler made several brief appearances, but we did not see it. Nor did we see the Nashville, Pine, or the star of the show, a Yellow-throated Warbler.

The good news is that we did see those last three, but still not the Orange-crowned, the last time we were here, Super Bowl Sunday morning (detailed here on the Birds and Words blog).

Yes. On two separate weekends we spent a portion of our day at the Trenton Sewer. This time we even brought along our friend Lori. Yes she is still our friend.

One other bird was saw on both days was one you won't find in any field guide:

A plastic hawk. It didn't fool us this visit.

Lest you think this is not a popular spot with the locals, directly across the street from the sign is the Trenton Marine Terminal Park. Complete with picnic tables, restrooms (condition unknown) and historical artifacts from when it was an operating marine terminal.

So next time you've a few hours to kill while in Trenton, you know where to go.

Some nice restaurant or bar. Just like in any other city.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Snow Moon

Last night's full Moon is known as the "Snow Moon" (and it seems that February is the snowiest month in the US).

And while there wasn't any snow there was ice. In the form of thin clouds. And that ice acts like prisms creating  both a 22° halo and a partial circumscribed halo (the colored bit at the top).

And that bright dot below and to the left of the Moon (and tree) is Jupiter. And given that Jupiter's diameter is forty times that of the Moon, the relative sizes give an idea of just how big the solar system is.

Space is big.  Really big.

Reflected Colors

This past Sunday evening we decided to go for a walk in the woods behind our home. And just as we were leaving I spotted this reflection. And with my point and shoot camera I quickly snapped a few pics.

What we see here is the rather colorful reflection of a clear plastic lid in our stone kitchen counter top. You can see in the image below that the actual lid is clear and color free.


Of course, the answer can be found here, at Les Cowley's awesome Atmospheric Optics site. Its a combination of polarization and birefringence.

I told you physics is fun.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Bird Feeders

On the same trip as we saw the owls we enjoyed other northern and semi-northern birds. Some very close up. And some hiding in plain sight (of other folks ...).

Image courtesy of Adrian Binns
And at the same well known secret owl place we became bird feeders. Well some of us. Others, like Phil, the fellow at the left in the image below, were like me, hoping to get the bird in hand shot (he did get some very good shots on the trip).

While some, like Barb, the woman in the blue hat, multitasked as both feeder and photographer.

Patty, was a feeder.

A very happy feeder (here at a non-secret place, Algonquin Provincial Park), where in addition to the Black-capped Chickadees we got at the secret place, Gray Jays also availed themselves of the handouts. (Blue Jays, skittish even in Canada, would approach but not land. They would only eat what we dropped on the ground.)

Here is a Chickadee taking a sunflower seed from Edie, a seed larger than it's bill.

And Deidra with a Gray Jay.

Now, if I could only find that Chickadee ...

Image courtesy of Adrian Binns

Snow Day

Just a little.

Monday as I left for work it was flurrying. With nice big snow crystals. The kind you can see without optical aid. I so wanted to say home and get out my DSLR camera and try for something like this.

Instead I used my pocket camera to fire off a few shots, of which this was the best. The crystals are very rimey, covered in little dots of ice, visible when the image is bigafied.

I so prefer not working.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


MLK weekend Patty and I joined a group of DVOC'ers on a journey to the Great White North. We visited a well known secret place.

And we saw ...

... many Long-eared Owls, hiding in the trees.

I see you!

At one point we wandered in to a grove of trees, a roosting area, and owls just came pouring out. We estimated that there were at least fifteen owls, mostly Long-eared but with perhaps a couple of Short-eared Owls mixed in as well.

The birds were swirling about the roost, and thus us, as we tried to walk out. More birds being spooked by our presence? The same birds coming back to roost and finding us still there and spooked again?

I was surprised at how skittish these birds were. All of the Long-eared Owls I had previously encountered tended to stay put as we gawked and snapped away with our cameras. But even though we were in a nature preserve known (and preserved!) as a roosting area, we were asked not to mention the location online. It seems there have been problems with folks harassing the owls, explaining perhaps why they were so skittish.

Anyway, it was one of those magical moments, having a dozen owls flying about at the same time.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Great Backyard Bird Count ...

... Sunday addendum.

Blue Jay
Fox Sparrow

We had the same species as on Saturday, sans Northern Flicker but adding Fox Sparrow.

As you can see, I did manage to get a picture of the elusive Blue Jay, a surprisingly skittish species. It is one of the larger species to visit the feeders.

The Fox Sparrow has been a one day wonder this year, showing up Sunday only. Fox Sparrows were common at the feeders last winter, we had 12 in our yard one day, and several spent the entire season. This year we've had three, two one day earlier this year and then this individual. Nor have Blue Jays have been as common as last year. This winter has been much milder than last, and there is plenty of food, apart from our feeders, to be had in the woods and fields around us.

We also had a pair of Hermit Thrush as we wandered in the woods behind our place. And Patty had a European Starling today, mixed in with the horde of Common Grackles (I had to go to work).

Frozen Bubbles

It was cold when we woke up this morning, seven degrees Fahrenheit. As Siri would say, "brrrr!" The kind of morning you don't want to crawl out from under the covers.

But when our friend Barb texted to ask if we were freezing bubbles yet and that she'd be there in half an hour we knew it was time to get moving.

We'd tried this before with little success. Either the bubbles blew away, or didn't freeze, or froze too fast and shattered when we tried to catch them.  And no frozen bubble pictures.

But today would be different. Although not too different. In addition to being cold it was windy. And many of the bubbles just blew away. And those that froze were often shattered by the breeze.

But we did get some to freeze, like this blowout (note the gaping hole at the lower right).

Photographing them was difficult as they were all different sizes, so I either shot as setup, and did't get the whole bubble, or moved the camera, and risked a pop before the shot. I missed a lot of shots.

To avoid the wind we moved into the garage. But that presented different challenges. For one, the light was not as good.

So we opened the garage door.

Which reintroduced the wind. And it was warmer inside the garage.

Resulting in images like these, where the crystals formed but the bubble did not completely freeze over before bursting.

This in turn led to interesting color effects.

With ice below and colors above.

And while most of the ice displayed six fold symmetry some, like the one below (and the third image in this post) displayed much more curved patterns.

And after a while it became so warm in the garage (disclaimer: it didn't really get warm) that crystals refused to form. Leading to these psychedelic images.

If you look closely you can see my reflection in the center of the above image, hiding behind a camera.

You don't need to look all that closely to see Barb and Patty in the image above, or Patty in the image below.

Keen eyed observers will have noticed that in each of the last three images there is both an erect and an inverted image on opposite sides of the center line. It is easiest to see when there are people involved (the shot of me has an abstract pattern). As always Les Cowley's Atmospheric Optics site has the explanation, of both the images and the colors (caused of course by thin film interference). There are also a couple of posts about frozen bubbles here and here.

Search the web for "frozen bubbles" for plenty of cool images and hints on how to try this yourself, including recipes for bubble mix. Have fun!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

She Gave Me Her Heart ...

... which was made of bacteria!

If you don't see it click here.

I'm a very lucky guy.

She got her inspiration at this site and this site.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Great Backyard Bird Count

In pictures!

Common Grackle
Northern Cardinal - Male
Northern Cardinal - Female
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch
Tufted Titmouse
Mourning Dove
Brown-headed Cowbird
Pine Siskin
American Robin

Red-winged Black Bird

White-throated Sparrow
Carolina Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch

Carolina Wren

Hairy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Not shown but seen in our yard today were Turkey Vulture, Bluejay, and Northern Flicker.


The Great Backyard Bird Count is a citizen science project were one counts the species and individuals of each in their "backyard". Where backyard can be any patch of land (we used our yard and birded from inside the house. It was very cold and windy out!). Each counter or team of counters must count for at least fifteen minutes. You can, and we did, go longer. The counts are reported, most often now with eBird, and the results shown in pretty much real time, giving a snapshot of where the birds are.

The count period this year is Friday February 12th through Monday February 15th, so you still have time to get in on the action. Over 100,000 people worldwide are expected to participate.

It is easy, fun, and free! So why don't you give it a try. Tell them MevetS sent you.