Thursday, June 30, 2016


My friend Terry invited me over to her place this past Sunday for burgers and beer.

And I went. Duh.

And while there she mentioned the fantastic lightning bug show in her back back yard.

Despite dropping subtle hints like, "I'd like to come back and take some pictures of the lightning bugs", I'm still waiting for another invite.

(I don't think I was a bad guest ...)

((I didn't drink all her beer.))

Anyway, we have lightening bugs in our yard. And I have a camera.

So ...

And while I didn't have the lens I wanted, that's vacationing without me on Seal Island off Maine, I made do with what I had.

I set the camera on the deck, aimed out over the garden, and took a series of thirty second exposures.

And the bugs went about business of trying to get a date.

So Terry, am I missing anything?

Sunday, June 26, 2016


At the end of this post I said I would be watching, camera at the ready.

And I haven't seen them in the yard since.

But the trail cam did. And got this shot of mom above; and mom with chicks below.

The two shots above are form June 16th. The shots below are from the 20th.

I'm not sure if it is the same family of birds each day. As I'm at the mercy of the camera's field of view. So the varying number of chicks may or may not be significant.

Now while I've not see any Wild Turkey poults in our yard, I have see them in the neighborhood.

I went for a walk this morning and saw this in a neighbor's yard:

Mom with some number of poults. And on the other side of the hedges was another adult female with some more chicks. So it may be the case that the trail cam has imaged different families passing through our yard.

And as I continued my walk I saw even more poults. Methinks there will be plenty of Turkeys wandering about the area come fall. The trail cam will be busy.

The Lake that Isn't

Remember this post, No Water?

It's now the basis for an OPOD about mirages.

Here's another shot of the lake that isn't.

Mother nature can be quite the practical joker at times.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Deadly Dew

One of my favorite native carnivores, Drosera filiformis.

No bones in this one.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Death in the Pines

I came upon this collection of used hardware when out taking pictures in the yard.

I have no idea what creature may made use of it. But the teeth lead me to believe it was a carnivore.

Any guesses?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Hammer Time

"Steve", Patty called, "the tree is covered with caterpillars."

And it was.

Large caterpillars. And a lot of them.

The size led Patty to believe that they were large moths, reasoning that large caterpillar equals large moth. And we do have large moths about.

While Patty's reasoning was logical the number led me to believe they were tent caterpillars, this being a tent caterpillar outbreak year.

But we were both wrong.

These were bad. Very bad. Bigafy the image below and you'll see several pairs of blue dots (warts) followed by pairs of red dots. That pattern is diagnostic.

These are Gypsy Moth caterpillars. And there was only one thing to do. Thus I donned my work gloves (the hairs can cause an allergic reaction), grabbed a hammer and a hoe (for the ones higher up) and went to work.

I didn't get them all. And the splatter was at times unpleasant. But there are a lot fewer Gypsy Moth caterpillars in our yard then there were this morning.

And that's a good thing.

Saturday, June 18, 2016


Wednesday is trash day here. And as I was taking the can to the curb I spooked mom Turkey and her young.

Seeing big scary me they scrambled out of the mini-meadow into the woods. Where mom kept a wary eye on me from among the trees. The poults nowhere to be seen.

Look closely and you'll see seven sets of prints. Mom and six chicks.

I know they're out there.

I'll be watching. And ready with a camera. Hopefully getting more than just footprints.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


As I mentioned in this post I visit the Lakehurst Naval Air Station, now part of the Joint Base MDL, doing grassland bird surveys.

But I also look around.

And once upon a time Lakehurst was pretty famous. Albeit for a tragic reason.

This simple monument, in an otherwise empty field, is all that marks the site where commercial airship travel came to an end.

The Hindenburg crash site.

Look at the plague closely. The monument was "donated". Really? The Ocean County board of freeholders dug into their own pockets for this? Maybe, but I doubt it. And shouldn't such a plague be about the event and not about the freeholders, who are all listed by name here?

Lakehurst was first home to dirigibles, airships with a rigid internal frame, when Hanger #1 was completed in the summer of 1921.

I've actually been in this building (you can too). It is big and empty. A relic of a former era.

An era when the navy had ships at sea and ships in the air.

Now all that are left are the hangers. And the history.


Of course there are still airships floating about. Here's one I spotted out my office window yesterday.

Blimps are non-rigid lighter than air craft common at major sporting events (and NASCAR races), as floating billboards and novelty camera platforms. Although this one is curiously unmarked.

Occasionally reports of new rigid airships appear.* I even spotted a test airship at Lakehurst a year or two ago (I thought I had some pictures, alas I can't find any, misfiled on a hard drive no doubt). The idea of an aircraft that doesn't need fuel to get off the ground has a continuing appeal. But they never seem to get past the test stage. Too slow to compete with planes and to small to compete with cargo ships I suppose.

I think it would be cool to have giant lighter than air craft floating by on a regular basis. Maybe someday. I hope they keep trying.


* Thanks to Marie for the link!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


In the post on Lakehurst I lamented the lack of grassland bird habitat.

This is what good grassland bird habitat looks like.

This is Laurel Run Park, one of the newest parks in the Burlington County park system. And here we saw and heard at least five Grasshopper Sparrows, one Horned Lark, and two or three Dickcissels (as many as three have been reported).

Seems the birds know a good place when they see it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


The fire started Sunday morning.

I was with some friends in Chatsworth, NJ around 9:00 AM and we watched as a number of fire vehicles went speeding by.

Three days later this is the view from Southampton, the town I live in, on my way home from work.

Here's a view a bit closer to home.

And closer still.

I was maybe two miles from home when I took this shot.

We cannot see it from our yard.

We are surrounded by too many trees.

Wait a minute ...


In the map below the blue dot in the upper left is our place, the purple pin in the lower right corner is the approximate location of the fire.

About twelve miles as the smoke wafts. 

Fortunately, after burning about 400 acres the fire has been contained. But it is so dry it might continue burning for a while yet. 

So as the cliche goes, we're not out of the woods yet.   

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bloom Time

As per the cliche, it seems that May is when I notice things blooming in these here parts.

And this is one of the blooms that is hard to miss. Especially when the field you are in has been severely mowed, as was the case here.

It is Turkey Beard, Xerophyllum asphodeloides, and as Boyd* notes, it is "frequent to common in low sandy pinelands". I spotted these on Lakehurst Naval Air Station.

The flowers are ephemeral. The grass like base is persistent throughout the year. Lucky for it the base is low to the ground.


I do grassland bird surveys at the Lakehurst NAS as part of a NJ Audubon Society citizen science project. And the reason that the Turkey Beard stands out so is that the fields that I survey, as well as those of several other surveyors, was severely mowed this 'winter' (scare quotes because it sure didn't seem like there had been several months worth of growth since the end of winter).

Here are three shots showing what is supposed to be grassland habitat.

I usually have multiple Grasshopper Sparrows calling at my ten survey points. The morning I took these shots I had but one bird singing.

Very sad. And so unnecessary.


* Howard P. Boyd, Wildflowers of the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. A wonderful little book.

Monday, June 6, 2016


This is our back pond.

In the fall it attracts its fair share of leaves. And when it gets warm algae begins to bloom. And thus this past weekend I donned my muck boots and headed in. And while scooping the fruits of my labor, the aforementioned algae and leaf muck, into a wheelbarrow for disposal, I noticed a small shell.

It was a clam. A tiny clam. And then I noticed another. And another.

So I grabbed a small aquaria, as a school teacher Patty has a bunch, filled it with water, and began to pick through the muck for clams.

There were lots of tiny clams.

And they were very active, moving about the tank (you can see the center clam has its foot out) and siphoning for food.

I transferred a couple to a tank with cleaner water to take pictures. Here is a shot with the foot more obvious (as with any image, click to bigafy):

Here is an image of an empty shell, with a dime for scale.

I told you they were tiny.

Both our ponds are man made with the back pond being the more natural of the two. I understand how frogs (and tadpoles) and turtles and snakes found their way there. They hopped or crawled or slithered. But clams? While that foot works great in water I doubt it would do too well for the quarter mile or so from the nearest lake or stream.

My reference works and field guides are silent on the subject of clams. And the interwebs were little better. While I did discover that these are known as "fingernail clams" (FnCs) I learned little else. Other than some are native and some are not.

It's a puzzlement.

Update: Patty found this page on the web. I found this bit especially interesting:

The concept of a barely-half-inch wingless, aquatic critter starting out in mid-country and taking over America (and the world) is fairly astonishing, no matter how much geologic time you give it, but it turns out that FnCs “think outside the pond.” They attach to water plants as tiny juveniles, and the water plants attach to the feet of water birds, and water birds DO have wings. Sometimes the clam-ettes clamp directly onto feathers, amphibians, or mobile aquatic insects (clam and clamp both derive from Old English “clamm,” “to bond or fetter”). In addition, some species of FnC are ingested by ducks but not digested, and they may be regurgitated alive at some distance from home.

So maybe they hitched a ride on these?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

What a Difference a Year Makes

Remember the mini-meadow and the problems we had with deer?

Look now.

Stuff is growing. And the deer are leaving it alone.

If you look closely at the lower left corner you'll see one of the nine Wireless Deer Fence units we have about the yard. Three guarding the mini-meadow (Patty got zapped by one while we were planting stuff the other day - ouch!). A chance encounter at the Philadelphia Flower Show led to the purchase of a set of three at the company's show booth. And it worked so well we bought two more sets (they come three to a set) for the rest of the yard. So far they are working quite nicely.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Mother Goose

Or maybe dad? Watching over the chicks.

I don't know if the chicks are from these eggs. But I do know that there are now new Canada Geese in the world.

I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide if that is a good thing.

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Puzzle

I mentioned that our mothing light had a shield on it in a prior post. Shields limit the spread of light. Good for not blinding humans. Not so good for bringing in the greatest number of moths.

The shield on our lamp is also colorful.

I noticed these colors when we first had the light on this year, the Wednesday prior to the big moth night. A dry run to make sure the equipment was in good working order. Note that when the light is off there are no colors other than the silver of the aluminum shield.

But when I first tried to take a picture the result was this:

Curious. The colors are there. But what are those bands? They were not visible to the naked eye.

And the closer I got to the light, the more bands there were in the image.

The above images were taken with an iPhone 6 Plus. By the time I had retrieved another camera to see if I got the same results, the light had completely warmed up and was so bright the colors were completely washed out.

So on the big moth night I was ready with my Sony RX100 II camera. I chose this camera because Sony makes the camera module in the iPhone.

The results:

As with the iPhone, from a distance no bands. Although the color palette is limited to greens and blues.

But as I got closer ...

... no bands either. no matter how close I got. Hmmm, very curious.

I emailed the images to Dr. Les Cowley, he of the awesome Atmospherics Optics and OPOD sites. I had thought they might be diffraction effects. He had (no surprise!) explanations for the colors.

The colours are produced in two ways
  1.  by micro grooves on the metal shade.  The grooves act as a diffraction grating. 
  2.  interference across the anodised film if aluminium - see

Could be both.

You can see the groves on the shield, and that's what made me think diffraction for the colors. But I'd not thought of thin film interference.

As to the bands,

The bands are puzzling.   Any filament lamp powered by AC fluctuates in light intensity at twice the supply frequency.    The bands 'might' be due to the intensity fluctuations if the iPhone camera scans its sensor in a peculiar way.  The test of that would be to image a dim surface illuminated by a fluorescent lamp.

It's an iPhone issue rather than a lamp one!  What's puzzling is that they are so strong and are not produced by another camera.

So time for more experiments in iPhone photography. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Giant Hummingbird

We've a giant hummingbird visiting our yard.

I think we need a bigger feeder ...

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Snow Geese

My friend Rosanne sent me a link to a video of Tundra Swans flying at Pungo Lake in North Carolina today.

It reminded me of a trip to Bosque del Apache Patty and I went on, christmas week 2012. It was our first christmas trip together.

We saw Snow Geese.

 Lots of Snow Geese.

Lots and lots of Snow Geese.

But we almost didn't see any. We landed in El Paso, Texas on christmas day and headed off to New Mexico. And we were told how fortunate we were as this was the first time in twenty-five years that it had snowed on christmas!

Yay! Lucky us.

We didn't go to New Mexico for snow and cold. But that's what we got.

The reason to go to Bosque is for the many many Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes that overwinter there. And to experience the spectacle of thousands of Snow Geese taking off en masse at dawn.

The place to see this is known as "the flight deck". And Patty and I found ourselves there before dawn. Waiting in the cold dark December morning. It was eerily quiet. Geese are normally very loud, honking away. We discovered why when the sky began to brighten. The lake was frozen over. There were no geese!

Fortunately, the lake is long. And we headed north to see if we could find some geese. We did and just in time to see them take flight:

Amazingly, they all decide to go at once. A curtain lifting off and flying away. Magical.

The numbers were quite astounding. Even more so when we learned that since the lake was frozen over, most of the geese were down at the river. A river we could not get to because there roads were blocked by snow and ice. And they have no plows to clear the roads.

In fact, had we been arrived a day earlier, we would not have been able to get into the refuge.  They were using big front loaders to shovel the snow off the road.

We could see the clouds of geese off toward the river.

Steams of birds flying off for a day of bird business.

We spent the day wandering about the refuge  (we saw road runners!) and were back at the lake when the geese came in to roost for the night.

We went back the next morning and were there to see the birds emerge in the dawn twilight.

A white christmas and the magic of nature. Santa was good to us.