Monday, June 26, 2017

Yard Critter of the week

The Bandit.


Also known as the Northern Raccoon.


They are a regular visitor to our yard, enjoying the food we put out for the birds, seeds, and flying squirrels, peanut butter. The raccoons will eat it all. This catholic diet is one of the reasons they are found in all fifty US states, Canada and Mexico.


This one also appears to enjoy gardening. Or at least digging. We've never actually seen them plant anything. We just find a lot of holes in the yard. If we could just teach them to weed.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Bog

Is coming along nicely.

As you can see below we don't have much planted. Mainly because I didn't want to spend too much in the first year, unsure of how things would fare. But there are a number of plants growing, although I'm not sure we want them all.


Each year in June the Whitesbog Preservation Trust holds the Blueberry Festival. And for the past couple of years I've volunteered at the native plant table. We of course sell blueberry plants along with a selection of easy to grow natives. And Sarracenia purpurea, the Purple Pitcher Plant. A carnivorous plant native to the Pine Barrens.

And I've been buying a couple each year, knowing I'd one day have a bog to fill. Last year Patty divided them up and planted them in the bog. We didn't know what to expect. Would they survive being divided? Would they survive the winter? Would they grow in the bog?


Well as you can see from the flowers above, they sure did. We had eleven flowers in the bog this year. And almost all of the plants are thriving.


We also had flowering Venus Flytraps. Venus Flytraps are not native to this area, being found south in the Carolinas. But a local nursery had them for sale and I think they're cool so I bought some. And so far so good.

You might have noticed that both the pitcher plant and flytrap flowers are on long stalks. That's so the plant doesn't eat the pollinators. At least until after pollination.

A number or my plant geek friends have questioned the logic of planting a species native to the Carolinas here in New Jersey, wondering if the flytraps will survive the winter.  I think they will. And as evidence I present the image below.


I planted this Venus Flytrap last fall. I bought it in the check out line at a big home improvement store for a couple of bucks on end of season closeout. It was rather small and when I did not see it earlier in the year I figured it had not made it. But just this past weekend I found it poking up through the pine needle mulch.


These Thread-leaf Sundews were also purchased at a local nursery. As they are native to the Pine Barrens it is no surprise that they survived the winter.

Not everything is doing well. I purchased some live Sphagnum Moss. It now appears to be dead Sphagnum Moss. And I bought a couple of Utricularia cornuta plants which have not (yet?) sprouted.

But all in all things are doing well. And a couple of friends have told me they've plants they'll be giving us to add to the bog. And I'll be making additional purchases. So hopefully this time next year the bog will be packed with plants. That's the plan, wish me luck.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Yard Critter of the Week

The American Carrion Beetle.

Seen here carrying on.


As you might imagine from the name, this week's critter is part of Mother Natures clean up crew.


And what gets them all excited is well, there's no other way to put it, is rather disgusting.

Image courtesy Patty Rehn
The American Carrion Beetle lays its eggs on or under a carcass. And once hatched the larvae eat not only the remaining dead remains but also the larvae of flies and other insects which have also laid their eggs there. Yep, rather disgusting.

🐞🐞🐞🐞🐞🐞🐞🐞🐞🐞

As a regular reader of this blog you know we have plenty of critters that frequent out yard. Either as visitors or residents. And sooner of later they all die. Patty found this bird on Sunday. It was not there on Friday. Yet is is almost gone, mostly feathers and bones.


If it wasn't for critters like these beetles we'd be waste deep in dead things.

And now that would truly be disgusting!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Feeding Time

We maintain several hummingbird feeders in our yard which, as you might imagine, makes our yard popular with these tiny aerial jewels.

But today, when they came looking for breakfast, they found but empty hooks. The feeders were gone.


What cruel trick of fate had befallen them?

This: Patty had acquired two handheld feeders. And today was the day when we decided to try them out.


The birds have become accustomed to our presence, and will feed as we stand and watch. But would they use a handheld feeder? The species in our yard, and the only species in the eastern United States, is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The male, seen in the image below, has the ruby throat, while the female, above, has a white throat.


Both were curious yet wary as they investigated the new offering.


It was the females, or at least this one female, who first took the plunge. 


I counted seven birds buzzing about at any one time. But other than male or female I can't yet distinguish between them.


And, as they dart about quite quickly I doubt I will.


Although they do occasionally hover long enough to take their portrait.


I'm not sure who is happier, the birds or Patty. She does enjoy feeding birds by hand.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Something's Buzzing ...

Honey Bees!


Several months ago Patty, apropos of nothing, asked what I thought about becoming beekeepers. As Patty asks many questions like this I said that might be interesting and then figured she would move on to something else. But a while later she forwarded me an email about a beekeeping class. I noted that it was on a week day when we'd both be at work.

And then our friend Barb intervened, albeit unknowingly. She mentioned that a friend of hers had to move into an apartment and because of that couldn't maintain her bee hives. And the empty hives were being stored at her, Barb's, place. Well, one thing led to another and now one of those hives is in our yard.

This one:


You've heard of 'crazy cat ladies'?

I give you the crazy bee lady.


A saner version of same:


Patty found a local supplier of bees who would install them in our hive. So one day one her way home from work she arranged to pick them up and voila, we were bee keepers.


She had approximately 10, 000 bees in a wooden box in her car. Like I said, crazy bee lady.

The bees had already been very busy and you can see in the images above and below frames filling out with the next generation. If you look closely at the right center of the upper image you can see several larva (white blobs in the holes).


Our girls, and vast majority are female (there's a "men working" joke in there somewhere ...) spend the first part of their lives working in the hive, tending to the queen and the developing young.


And their last several weeks as so called 'field bees', like the one below. Seen here returning with pollen (it is very hard to get a shot of the bees coming or going as they are very quick about it).


🐝🐝🐝🐝🐝🐝🐝🐝🐝🐝

Eventually the hive will expand to look like this:


The bottom blue box is for making new bees. The yellow box is for food storage, honey for the winter to keep the hive alive when there are no flowers to visit. The half height white box on top is for additional honey which we can harvest. Alas, most hives don't produce this extra honey until the second year. But we can be optimistic. Wish us luck!

QuΓ©telet Scattering

Remember this post, QuΓ©telet Scattering?

(If you don't go look, I'll wait ... back? Good.)

It is now an OPOD!


 My complete set of OPODs can be found here. Enjoy.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Yard Critter of the Week

There are approximately 120,000 species of fly on Earth.

(Think about that for a moment.)

And of all those, this one chooses may yard as home.* Well these two (and by the looks of it more on the way soon.)


The Golden-backed Snipe Fly.

(I didn't even know that "snipe flies" were a thing.)

Pretty cool looking, for a fly.

🐞🐞🐞🐞🐞🐞🐞🐞🐞🐞

* Sometimes it seems like all 120K live here. It can get very buzzy at times.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Space is Big

That big object at the top of the image below, as you no doubt recognized, is Earth's Moon.

You may not have recognized that little dot at the bottom center of the image. It's Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.

They were close and not close last night.

That little dot is actually forty times larger (in diameter) than the big object.


Forty times.

Space is really big.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

300 Million Years and Counting

Older than the dinosaurs, Horseshoe Crabs (not actually a crab!) have been around a very long time.


And every spring they return to the beaches of what is now the Delaware Bay to mate and lay eggs in the sand.


The smaller males gather 'round the larger females, and it's not unusual to see half a dozen males attending one female, to mate.

Unfortunately, as with too many of the creatures we share the planet with, Horseshoe Crab numbers are in decline. Habitat destruction, the beach just blocks from where I grew up was covered with them when I was young; that beach is now a harbor for sailboats, and harvesting, they are used for bait and medical research, are taking their toll.

I'm proud to say that since 2008 my home state of New Jersey has had a moratorium on harvesting in NJ waters. And while the other states have not followed suit the harvest is regulated.


To track how the population is doing population survey counts and tagging programs are employed.


The fine specimen above wearing a US Fish and Wildlife Service tag (I reported this fellow using the website on the tag). Hopefully, programs such as these won't be axed by the current administration.

We saw these crabs on a birding trip to south Jersey. The ones above all on the beach at Fortescue. The ones below were at Heislerville WMA. And the ones below were on the wrong side of the dike. A combination of storms and high tides flooded the area and many crabs were stranded. The two below were in a puddle on the side of the road.


Along with several others.


We rescued a bunch of them.

Here is my friend Bernie going in for the one above ...


... captured ...


.... and released.


It turns out we were not alone in rescuing the crabs. The Return the Favor program organizes walks to rescue crabs. A very noble cause and  one worthy of your support.

Hence the Name

Ruby-throated Hummingbird.


But only when looking straight at you (and in the sun).


The iridescence of the feathers is caused by their structure (as with those of the Wild Turkey). And thus the viewing angle determines what one sees. Often just a flash of color, as these birds don't sit still even when they sit still. Just one of the things that make these birds seem magical.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Snappy

"I think I hear a waterthrush calling", Patty said as she went to get her binoculars. We were preparing the house for visitors, but I too grabbed my bins and headed out.

I found this.


A female Common Snapping Turtle digging a nest.

Once before Patty had seen a snapping turtle in the yard. And I had spotted one on the neighbors lawn last year. But how cool is it that it is nesting here?


Well she may not have though it so cool. If you look closely (bigify first) you'll see nine (!) mosquitos on or about the turtle, eight of which are full of blood. That could not have been pleasant.

A while later I went back to check on the situation, and she had finished and moved to the end of our little bridge.


That white spot just above her head? Another mosquito.


As she was blocking the end of the bridge I went around and down the trail to get this shot. Known to be ornery when on land (they spend most of their life in water, coming out to lay eggs) I didn't want to get too close (I used my 100-400 mm lens and kept my distance).


I went back again later, once she had moved on from the bridge and found her relaxing in an transient pool. Alas she was gone when our guests arrived.

🐦🐒🐦🐒🐦🐒🐦🐒🐦🐒

After she had gone we checked to see if there were any eggs. A quick look did not reveal any. I hope we did not disturb her and scare her off.

And we never did find the waterthrush, although Patty says she continues to hear it. Hmmm ...

Monday, May 22, 2017

Landscaping Interlude, with Snake

Can you spot it?

The snake?


It's right there in the center of the image.

An Eastern Garter Snake.

This was the view as I spotted it, while out moving plants around the yard (bayberry, elderberry, and phlox today). I snapped a quick shot with my iPhone (above), and then went and got my other camera, which a significantly longer lens (below). (Well, one of my other cameras ... I've a bunch.)


Better?


I don't know if this is typical behavior for this species, but it would move a bit and then stop, seemingly watching to see what I would do.


Eventually, after posing nicely, it headed off into the bushes, having had enough of me.

I do hope it is a resident and not just passing through. Or that I didn't scare it away.

🐍🌳🐍🌳🐍🌳🐍🌳🐍

A nice break from all the digging Patty makes me do. πŸ˜‰