Saturday, April 22, 2017

Adventure Birding

In Colorado. Loveland Pass to be specific.

We didn't see any skiers, backcountry or otherwise. Snowboarders aplenty, but no skiers. None concerned with the possibility of friendly fire*.

We were here to see the White-tailed Ptarmigan. Which is a bit of a curious name as the entire bird is white. Which makes for excellent camouflage as it lives on the snow covered mountain tops.

Spoiler alert: we saw it. But it took a while. And by the time the snowboarders spooked one over the hill to our side everyone except your's truly and Chris** our guide were back in the van out of the cold and wind.

If you look closely at the lower left hand corner of the image above you can see the vans of the birding groups in the parking area. You can also see a curiously elongated truck, an artifact of the panorama feature of my iPhone.

And you can see there is no one else up on the hill with me searching for the bird. Chris had headed even further up the hill to get a different vantage point. And by "hill" I mean mountain. Where I was standing was 12,000 feet above sea level (the pass is officially at 11,990 ft).

But before the mass retreat to the van we saw the bird above, a Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, a life bird for me (I now have seen the complete set of North American rosy-finches- woo hoo!).

But back to the Ptarmigan. I was scanning the mountain side with a scope. This mountainside:

And what do you notice about this mountain side (other than that bright white comet shaped object)? It is mostly snow covered, white.

So to set the scene, I'm alone on the side of a mountain looking for an all white bird the size of an American football***, that is far enough away that I need a telescope, in 20° F weather with a steady breeze.

And I found it. It was on the peak at the top left. A couple of snowboarders had climbed up and over that peak, and the bird came flying over. Chris, who was up the side of the hill saw it first and when I noticed him jumping up and down to get my attention I quickly started scanning that area.

And here it is:

Right smack dab in the center of the image (as always, click to bigafy, although in this case it won't help all that much).

Here's the view in the scope (the bird has moved a bit from the prior image):

I yelled down to the parking area and was soon joined by thirty or so other people, inducing the rest of our group, getting good looks at this bird. A bird that once it showed up was surprisingly easy to see.

Good but not great looks. A couple of days later our friend Linda of Philly Bird Nerd fame got great looks, as she writes about on her blog. Go look.


* No snowflakes were harmed in the making of this blog post.

** If this guiding gig doesn't work out there is always Cirque du Soleil.

*** As four of the eight people on the trip were originally from England this was an important distinction. Two now reside in South Africa and the other two in South Carolina. They were not the only folks form South Carolina there, as several other members of their bird club were up on that hill with us. Small world.

Friday, April 21, 2017

QuΓ©telet Scattering

As I was driving along one recent morning I spotted this.

Well not exactly, as I made the video after turning around and going back to drive by again. I then pulled over and walked back to take some pictures (no surprise there huh?).

Above is what I saw while driving up.

It wasn't obvious from the video, but as we can see in the images, the colors were pretty intense as they flashed by.

The images below give a hint to what's going on (as always, click on an image to bigafy it).

Look closely and you'll see a layer of dust on the water surface.

This dust scatters the light such that some is scattered prior to reflecting off the water surface and some is scattered after reflecting off the water surface. The light rays are thus out of phase resulting in interference which manifests to our eyes as colors.

Of course, the Atmospheric Optics site has a full explanation, complete with diagrams. And you might enjoy learning about Adolphe QuΓ©telet, who figured this out, as well.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


This week's yard bird is the Pileated Woodpecker, aka "Woody".

A regular if infrequent visitor to Piney Place. And particularly difficult one to photograph.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What Planet ...

... are we trying to save here?

If you've spent any time in a hotel in the past decade or so you've no doubt come across a placard like this one. And it makes sense. Why waste water to clean a towel that can easily be used again? The same for bed clothes. You don't change the sheets everyday in your house, so why in a hotel? And it saves the hotel plenty of money in water, detergent, electricity, and in compensation for the cleaning staff.

But take a close look at the illustration of the globe. What happened to Alaska? What is sticking out of the top of Canada? Where did Greenland go? And is that Europe and Africa off the west coast of North America?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Patty was working in the yard a couple of weekends ago and she kept hearing a birdsong she couldn't quite identify. She said she couldn't tell if it was a Chipping Sparrow or a Pine Warbler (the names link to the songs for each bird). She was rather puzzled.

I was working from home the following Monday and saw this:

The image above is a Chipping Sparrow and the one below is a Pine Warbler.

Puzzle solved. πŸ™‚

Saturday, April 1, 2017

He's Back (Again)!

The last time we saw the Eastern Screech Owl peaking out of the box was on February 15th, a month and a half ago. I wonder if he has been here all along, and we just haven't been looking at the right time.

Patty first spotted the owl this morning and then again this afternoon. I was lucky enough to see it the second time (but not the first). But both times it poked its head out for a quick look see and then went back in the box.

At sunset our friend Barb came over, bearing wine, and we looked for the owl. It took a while but finally Patty announced, "it's here!". And I was able to get a few shots. It was a bit more active, looking this way and that. We waited on the deck and were rewarded with views of it flying off. Very cool.

While we waited woodcock were calling and turkeys gobbling off in the woods, and a rabbit was calmly eating just below us. We then retired to the living room (much warmer!) and while enjoying the wine watched the flying squirrels, opossum, and raccoon in our garden.

A nice way to end the day.

Friday, March 31, 2017

6000 BC

This is not what you think it is.

Nope, it is not a fossil cucumber. It is made of rock though. It is an ancient tool, a pestle. It is approximately 8000 years old. How cool is that. I'm holding a piece of technology that another human was using 8000 years ago.

It was fashioned by Native Americans living somewhere along the Rancocas Creek not from where I live now (our property abuts the South Branch of the Creek).

This week I purchased a new skillet. And just tonight I put the old on in the trash. In the year 10017, will a future archeologist be marveling over that bit of ancient technology (Just look at the primitive non-stick surface!)? My trash, her treasure?


This past Wednesday we went to hear a talk about the Rancocas Creek. It has quite a fascinating history. Did you know that there were once boats powered by horses, team boats they were called, that traveled from Philadelphia to Mt Holly? I had not.

The presentation was part of an effort to get the Rancocas Creek a National Water Trail designation by the US Department of the Interior. The presenters, of which there were three, included two faculty members from Stockton University, both of whom felt the Creek should easily qualify for the National Water Trail Designation, one of the criteria for which is to have historical significance. And the driving force behind the effort, a fellow by the name of John Anderson.

Which brings us back to the fossil cucumber. People have been living along the Rancocas Creek for at least 8000 years. And that is quite a bit of history.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Evert Trail Storm Troopers

I was a storm trooper for a day. This past Tuesday to be exact.

The Evert Memorial Trail Preserve is approximately one mile from my house as the land-speeder flies. And about three miles by road. As noted in this post, my company gives us each five paid volunteer days.  So when the call went out for volunteers for a day of trail maintenance I signed up.

Our job was to walk the trail and clear it of any growth or debris that may have accumulated over the winter. There were troopers with chain saws, for trees fallen across the trail. Troopers with high powered weed whackers with circular saw blades to cut back the greenbrier growing up between the boards. And troopers with gas powered hedge clippers to trim back the brush.

I was given a hand saw. The one shown next to the chainsaw below.

If you look closely at the boardwalk in the first image above, you'll see chicken wire covering part of it. And further down a part with no chicken wire. The latter part is very slippery. And even knowing that I slipped and fell.


I'm ok.

Maybe they were right not to give me a power tool.

I did ok with with the hand saw.

Ok, I only cut smaller overhanging dead trees and branches. This guy cut the log above.

Although I did get it started.

The "storm" in "storm troopers" comes from the thunder storms we worked between.

If you look closely at the water on the lower left above you'll see ripples from the rain drops. It was raining pretty much the entire time we were there.

As the preserve was so close to my house and I was without a car that morning (one was in the shop, and Patty had the other) I had planned to walk over. But when it was time to go the first downpour, complete with thunder and lightning, commenced. Not the best conditions for a three mile hike. So I called one of the fellow troopers and got a ride. The thunder storm was intermittent. The rain, not so much.

The trail system is quite nice. Much of it through wetlands. What we did was only the first part of the maintenance work. And we were able to do in one day that in prior years taken one or two people three weeks.

The next step is to repair and upgrade the boardwalks. Remember the boardwalk without chicken wire that took me down twice? It seems the problem is that the area occasionally floods, covering sections of the boardwalk, and rusting away the wire. In talking with one of the leaders I learned that they have a grant to address this by raising the problematic sections of the boardwalk.  But before that can be done, the debris needs to be removed. And thus the storm troopers. And the power tools.

And one handsaw.


While walking the trails and looking for things to saw I spent some time looking about.

The combination of the rain and the soft light made the greens really stand out.

But not everything was green. This plant is a mystery. Even one of the best Pinelands plant uber-geeks couldn't identify it. This will require further investigation. The working hypothesis is this is the remains of cinnamon fern.

The only disappointing part of the day was the really week beer they served. I think the brewery was called "deer park" or some such. You can see my friend Russell holding a bottle in the image above.

A nice little preserve practically in my back yard. Somewhere I expect to visit on a regular basis.

Post title taken from Bill Scullion's thank you email to the folks that participated in the trail clean up effort. Bill is a Land Steward with the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the owners of the preserve. And the guy that used to spend three weeks doing this by himself.


Here we have two ground squirrels, Eastern Gray Squirrel and Eastern Chipmunk.

Both hoovering up bird seed.

So why is one a lovable little critter and the other a tree rat?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Location, Location, Location

A poor choice for this Eastern Chipmunk.

In yet another sign that spring is upon us, chipmunks have become active about the yard.

Now, it is true that chipmunks will wake up and wander out during winter if the temperatures get high enough. And we did see a few about in February. But they now appear awake for good.

This poor individual is peaking out from behind the algae mats coating the waterfall in our fish pond. Said waterfall is still shutdown for the winter. However, water will soon be following down these green coated rocks.

And chippy will need some new digs.

Buried Treasure

In the previous post you may have noticed the purple object in the "second front" image. Below is another image of that object.

It is a small aquaria which was a temporary holding tank for the object in the image below.

While de-turfing the area I dug this cocoon up. It was not more than two inches below the surface. Patty suggested we put it in the aquaria, cover it with dirt, and then but it in the ground as shown in the images, to closely mimic the conditions as it was found. We didn't know what it was, so by having it in the tank we would see it once it emerged.

At the same time, I emailed images to some friends who are month and insect aficionados in the hope that they could identify the species which produced this cocoon. I was not disappointed.

It is the little tail at the right end of the cocoon which gives it away.

It is an Imperial Moth, like the two shown below (both images were taken in our yard).

The image above is a male and that below a female.

As we've identified the month to be there was no longer any need to keep the cocoon in the tank. So it has been returned to the ground close to where I found it.

Imperial Moths are active from May to July. Hopefully we see this one fluttering around our yard.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Mini-Meadow Expansion

With the success of the mini-meadow project last year, ...

... we've decide to expand the gardens in the front yard.

Another battle in our War on Lawn.

The battle engaged ...

These two images above show two views of the opening salvo. The strip between the existing mini-meadow and the driveway is being converted from lawn to garden. The turf removal is almost complete, and in the second image there are even a few sedum plants waiting to be put in the ground.

The battle won ...

It was a relatively quick endeavor, with minimal resistance. The three sedums have been planted, and the strip has been mulched with salt hay.

The war rages on ...

In the image above we can see that Patty has opened another front, weeding an area around the tree at the entrance to the driveway.

And in addition to the engagement Patty has commenced ...

... I've opened a second front to further expand the mini-meadow.

Our eventual goal is the complete elimination of mow-able lawn in the front yard. The tricky bit will be the septic mound. But we've got some ideas ...


Of course we'll need plants to fill in these spaces, and hold back the advancing lawn. So if any of our plant friends wish to join the battle and provide ammunition in the form of native plants the armory is open! πŸ™‚

Bird Boxen

In my recent Snow Birds post, there were images of Eastern Bluebird and Carolina Wren couples. The pairing up of which made me think that despite the snow spring was nigh.

It also made Patty overly optimistic that we could get bluebirds to nest in our yard. Which of course resulted in work for me.


Now our yard is a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Which means that the previous owners filled out a form on the interwebs, sent in some money, and received a sign. Which is now prominently displayed just off our deck. Of course they did meet the requirements for certification.

And if you've been following this blog you know that we do even more to maintain the yard as a haven for wildlife.

So it is not out of the question that bluebirds will take advantage of the two nest boxes I installed in the days immediately after that snow storm. And as there is no snow anywhere in these images you can correctly conclude that it wasn't all that much of a storm.

The nest box above is in our side yard and the one below our front yard. Hopefully, there is enough open space that, which along with the ready food supply, will entice the bluebirds to call one or both of these boxes home.

There is a much better chance that the wrens will nest here, in the lovely box that I've hung just outside our living room window. Patty did see them checking it out. Our fingers are crossed.

Now, did you notice the metal ring on the wren box? I put it there to keep squirrels and other critters from trying to enlarge the hole. The bluebird boxen have wooden hole protectors and thus needed no such modification.

And did you notice the colors on that metal ring?

Of course I did. Another fine example of thin film interference.

Physics is fun!

Not for You!

Damn squirrels!

Almost as bad as the deer.

The stump, which we believe was the launch pad, has been relocated.

The squirrels are still here.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

T207 Revisited

Back in November of 2010 I took this picture:

And I blogged about it here.

If you look closely you'll see the bird is wearing a collar, and said collar reads "T207".

My friend Rosanne photographed T207 this year on March 15th.

Image courtesy Rosanne Bornholdt
That's a span of seven years. Pretty cool don't you think?

It gets better.

Greg Prelich runs the website, which includes a blog. And in her research about T207 Rosanne found this blog post: The continuing sage of Tundra Swan T207, where you will learn that T207 was banded in 2006 north of Nuiqsut, Alaska, and was first sighted in Whitesbog in 2008. And since in Whitesbog and vicinity every year since except 2009 and 2012.

And that is very very cool.

Tree in a Truck

As advertised. A tree in a truck

More specifically, a tree growing in and through a truck.

And no, not in a Piney yard.

πŸ”¨πŸ”§πŸ› πŸ”¨πŸ”§πŸ› πŸ”¨πŸ”§πŸ› πŸ”¨

The company which employs me gives each of its employees five charity volunteer days a year. And I used one of those days, along with fourteen colleagues, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. We were finishing a house in Cinnaminson, New Jersey. I spent the day moving things around and laying floor. And this truck was in the yard next door. Alas, these neighbors were not friendly, so I couldn't get a better shot.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

More Walking

The March meeting of the Burlington County Natural Sciences Club featured Jennifer Bulava, Lead Park Naturalist for the Burlington County Parks System, presenting on the Best of Burlington County Parks. It was an interesting and fun talk, and Jennifer was an enthusiastic speaker.

One of the parks she spoke about was Long Bridge Park, which we had never visited. Until this past Sunday that is, when Patty and I went for a winter stroll.

After a visit to the (heated!) restrooms, we started off down the boardwalk at the start of the trail.

It was chilly! But once we got in amongst the trees and out of the wind it wasn't so bad.

No, not these little trees, but rather the more substantial ones further down the trail.

We first passed through a stand of birch trees. Which brought back memories of my boy scout days, when the paper like bark was prized for kindling.

But only the bark that had fallen off, never taken from a live tree. That would be bad.

The trails, there are several through the park, had us wandering through a variety of upland and lowland habitats.

We enjoyed the stark winter beauty. And could see the potential for spring migration.

The Rancocas Creek forms the northern boundary of the park. And there were surprisingly few waterfowl on the creek. A few Mallards and Canada Geese were all we saw.

And this was certainly not the kind of duck we were looking for.

I count over twenty bits of trash in this picture. The area also seems to be a basketball graveyard, as I counted half a dozen floating amongst the other debris. I wonder where the court is?

We passed a couple of bird blinds, but it is too early in the season as the birds have not yet migrated back to these parts. We'll just have to come back.

But there are plenty of deer, way too many, with footprints throughout the park. Not a good sign for the health of the forest.

Nor the creatures that call it home.

It is another nice nearby park. We will definitely be return visitors.


1000 Mile Challenge update. As of this writing I have walked 266.75 miles this year. Which puts me 42.75 miles ahead of schedule. Not bad if I do say so myself.