Friday, December 22, 2017

Yard Critter of the Week - Wheel Bug

One of the assassins of the insect world, the Wheel Bug.

I was doing a spot of yard work when I noticed this critter over the front door of our house.

On November 19th. Not a day one expects to see many insects about. Or be doing yard work for that matter.

I mean, global warming is a Chinese hoax right?

Anyways, I got a camera. And a ladder.

The Wheel Bug is one of the largest true bugs and the largest assassin bug. Like other assassin bugs it's a voracious predator. Attacking its prey by grasping it with its front legs, and stabbing with its mouth parts. Once having penetrated the skin it injects its saliva, paralyzing the prey and liquifying its internal organs. Which the Wheel Bug then consumes bug sucking them out.

As they are not that picky about what they attack they are not a bug to handle casually. And while I'm happy to say I've not been the target, those that have report a rather unpleasant experience. You've been warned.

You can find all of the Yard Critter posts listed here.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Here Comes ...

... Santa Claus!

Here comes Santa Claus!

Right down Burrs Mill Road!


The blue dot marks our Piney Place. 

We don't exactly live in a neighborhood. More trees than houses. 

Or children.

And when I heard sirens that last thing I thought was Santa Claus

And yet there he was. Big as life. Riding on a fire truck.

I guess the reindeer are resting up for the big night.

Click the link to see!

The View ...

... out my office (aka home) window this morning.

Good thing I'm not a sailor.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Well That Didn't Take Long

Not long after publishing this post I was sitting on the couch in our living room watching a surprisingly good football game.

I think this Sunday was the first that the games were actually interesting. But I digress ...

I spotted the Pine Vole, in the same spot. Doing the same thing.

I think Patty dislikes this critter even more than she dislikes deer.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Yard Critter of the Week - Pine Vole

We were sitting in the living room when I noticed movement in the yard. It was twilight and most birds had gone to roost. So we watched and waited. It would dart out and back. I thought it was a mouse. But Patty nailed it.

"A vole," she said.

And so it was.

A Pine Vole, aka Woodland Vole.

It would run out from behind the stump, grab some bird seed, and quickly scamper back. A high ISO and lots of frames later, I had a couple of 'blog worthy' shots.

Perhaps not such a welcome critter in the garden as, in addition to bird seed, they like to dine on the roots of plants. Which, as you might imagine, is not good for the plants.

And makes for unhappy gardeners.

As part of our continuing war on lawn, we've put some cardboard down around some native plants in our front yard (the cardboard blocks sunlight, and thus prevents other plants from competing with those we've just planted). And under the cardboard we found vole tunnels, as seem in the image above. Unlike those made by moles, vole tunnels are small and close to the surface.


We tend to watch a television show after dinner most nights (a sports talk show, Highly Questionable, on ESPN). And as we watched the vole was a regular visitor, always at exactly the same place and time, for about a week. And then it was gone. As this spot is in our bird feeder area, the food supply has not diminished. And as voles do not hibernate that's not the reason. A predator perhaps? We'll probably never know.

But we'll keep watching.

You can find all of the Yard Critter posts listed here.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Feeder Bird

Northern Flicker. Yellow-shafted variety, which is the usual variety here east of the Rocky Mountains.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Yard Critter of the Week - White-footed Deermouse

Peromycus leucopus, which Harold Boyd, in his "A Field Guide to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey", calls the White-footed Mouse.

It is also known as the White-footed Deermouse, deer mice being of the genus Peromycus.


I've mentioned before that our cat Max likes to send time outside.

But having cats outdoors is not good for the local wildlife, with cats being predators after all.

Max spends quite a bit of his time looking out the windows at the yard critters. Note the red stripe on Max's back. That's part of a harness which hook up to a leash when we let him outside. Tied to one of the railing posts on our deck.

As a pet, Max is well fed. And has never needed to learn to hunt for himself. So while he is fascinated by the wildlife in the yard, on those occasions that he has come face to face with another critter he is rather shy.

And when Patty went out to collect him one recent evening, she came running back into the house, announcing, "Max has a mouse!". She grabbed a flashlight and I grabbed a camera.

Max quickly lost interest in the mouse, which seemed confused by all the activity and the bright light.  Patty, who owns apartments in Philadelphia and lived there for many years, is no fan of mice. Me, while I certainly don't want them in my house nor my garage, realize that they are residents of our property. And this isn't the first we've seen.

But Patty doesn't want them around. So as Max was not earning his keep as a mouser, and had gotten away in the confusion (he wandered back into the house on his own when is started raining a little while later), I reached down and grabbed the rodent by its tail. It didn't seem all that perturbed at this.

And while I stood there holding it, Patty got one of our small aquaria. And we now have a "pet" mouse.


I think tomorrow I'll take it somewhere far away and let it go.

You can find all of the Yard Critter posts listed here.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Not Looking Happy

Not happy at all.

The Bluebird of unhappiness?


I wasn't happy either.

I spotted a small flock of Eastern Bluebirds in our crab apple tree. So I grabbed the camera and started shooting. And got, I thought some nice shots of multiple birds together.

Just one problem. There was no memory card in the camera. I got no good shots.

Very unhappy.

Fortunately they came back. And I got a couple of shots, albeit of a single bird. But better than no shots.


I have tried on multiple occasions to take pictures of snow crystals. With varying degrees of success. I have three main impediments.

First, I live in an area that doesn't get much snow.

Second, I don't have a dedicated snow photography system.

Three, I work. So even when it is snowing, I may not be able to take advantage.

And then, when I do get a chance, the flakes are all rimey!

The rime is what makes these snow crystals all "bumpy". When falling, the snow falls through a zone of super cooled water droplets. And those droplets freeze onto the snow crystals.


To see what someone who really knows what they are doing can achieve check out Ken Libbrecht's Snow Crystals site. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Your Nearest Exit May Be Behind You

The other day, while working form home, I spotted this Wild Turkey on the back garden fence.

"Break Time!", I said to no one in particular (which was good as there was no one else there). And I grabbed the camera and headed outside.

And after taking a few shots of the bird above as it hid behind the Joe-Pye Weed, I noticed it wasn't alone.

There were a dozen or so of them in the garden, including the two in the image above (the second back along the fence). As they were hiding in the plants it was not easy getting shots. And eventually my moving around on the deck spooked them. And they all left.


Or so I thought.

Back in my office I kept hearing a turkey calling.

This turkey.

It had become trapped in the wide open garden. The rest of the flock was on the other side of the fence. And it could not find a way through. So it kept walking back and forth along the inside of the fence.

As I slowly walked up towards it, it eventually became agitated at my presence, and tried even harder to find a way out. In hindsight I probably should have walked around and came toward it from the other side of he fence. Because as I came toward it, it wanted to move away from me. But of course it could not, because: fence.

Once I saw it have become distressed I quickly walked toward it. And as you can see from this linked video, it eventually realized that there was no fence in the other direction.

And it was free.

(But I had to get back to work.)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Yard Critter of the Week - House Fly

The common House Fly, Musca domestica.

Usually quite difficult to catch, or crush, this one was slowed by the cold temperatures of late. And after a few minutes in our refrigerator was ready for its modeling gig.

But even then, it quickly shook off the cold and started moving about. Making for blurry photos. And since it was not cooperating I had to show it to the door.

The House Fly is very likely the insect with the widest distribution on Earth, living on every continent except Antarctica. They have even been found in the Arctic. Originally thought to have evolved in Asia, they are now native to pretty much everywhere humans are.

Including my house.

🦟  πŸ¦Ÿ  πŸ¦Ÿ  πŸ¦Ÿ  πŸ¦Ÿ

You can find all of the Yard Critter posts listed here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Winter is Coming

 And that means Snowy Owls.

This is the view of one such owl this past Sunday, at Island Beach State Park.

We arrived knowing that owls were there. Yes "owls" plural. This is looking like another irruption year, much like the winter of 2013/14.

And while we only saw this one bird, the day prior there were reports of four (!) seen together at the park.

A bird of the far north, they are not sure what to make of people, and thus will, should one keep a respectful distance, pose quite nicely. As this one did while dozens of photographers shot away.

You can see from these shots that I had time to move around, shooting from various angles. The first as we initially spotted the bird, to be sure I got a shot. The latter two to get better light. I was not the only one. And through it all the bird just sat on the hill occasionally swiveling its head to look at us.


These are magnificent creatures, and I'm glad I, along with Patty and our friends Bernie and Doreen, were able to see one. And where we were, the viewers were all at the aforementioned "respectable distance". Unfortunately, to often there seems to be that "a--hole photographer" that puts getting the shot above respect for the bird. And it is believed that the reason these birds are here is because there is not enough food up north. So they are far form home and hungry. And the last thing they need to be hassled by birders and photographers.

So if you are fortunate enough to be in an area where you can see these owls, by all means do so. But please consider the well being of the bird and watch from a distance.

Happy owling!

Sunday, November 26, 2017


My friend Rosanne put the word out a week ago, the Tundra Swans had arrived. And the watch for T207 was on.

T207 is the tag number of an individual Tundra Swan that has been returning to Whitesbog and vicinity since 2008. You can read more about her here, here, and here.

As you can see (?) we spotted T207 today.

Maybe now you can see? Look at the base of the neck of the middle bird in the image above (as always, click on any image to bigafy it). The collar band has the code "T207" on it.

She was banded in 2006 in Alaska. And makes the trip here each winter.

Simply amazing.

Yard Critter of the Week - Deer Tick

The Deer Tick, aka Black-legged Tick.

A tiny bit of pure evil.

I found this one crawling on me this month. It just doesn't get cold enough long enough soon enough to kill them.

These are the primary vector of lyme disease. Yep, pure evil

This one I found on our cat Max the week prior. It is full of blood. And perhaps missing some of its mouth parts from how I pulled it off (I thought it was just something caught in his fur when I yanked it).


One of the drawbacks of living out here in the Pinelands, we regularly find ticks on us after working in the yard or when we go hiking. Standard precautions include pants in socks and a coating of bug spray with DEET. But we still find them.

And after you find one your skin crawls the rest of the day.

Excuse me while I go scratch ...

πŸ•·  πŸ•·  πŸ•·  πŸ•·  πŸ•·

You can find all of the Yard Critter posts listed here.

Friday, November 24, 2017


I mentioned that our yard was frost covered this morning.

A brief excursion out on our deck, taking our cat Max out to put him on his leash, resulted in the images below.

Max did not seem to mind the cold (he has a built in fur coat after all).


Perhaps tomorrow or Sunday morning I'll get up early and shoot the frost with a macro.

Or I'll just stay in my warm bed and sleep in. We'll see.

Not Quite the Bumpus Hounds ...

... but a Thanksgiving disaster none the less.

A stuffing explosion.

The glass casserole dish, which we had used many a time in the oven itself, couldn't handle the heat from the stove top. Glass shrapnel was all over the kitchen floor, and strewn throughout the stuffing.

No stuffing could be saved.

Very sad.


(1) The Bumpus Hounds, of Christmas Story fame, ate the Christmas and not the Thanksgiving turkey dinner.

(2) There was more stuffing in the turkey. So all was not lost. And it was very yummy.


It was cold last night and  when we awoke the world out our windows was covered in frost. Eventually that frost melted. And the resultant drops on the covers of our patio furniture looked like this.

All sparkly.

It was Patty who first noticed them. And knowing my interested in such things, quickly alerted me. It was no doubt the sparkling colors which caught her attention. Dew drop colors, frustratingly difficult, for me anyway, to take good pictures of. But I continue to try. And got a few that were "blog worthy" as I like to call them.

The colors arise like those in a prism or rainbow, the differing wavelengths, corresponding to different colors, refract at different angles. Physics in a dew drop. I noticed some other interesting optical effects as well.

Diffraction Grating. The shot above was from inside the house, the others, all outside on the deck. And when shooting from inside it was through a screen, which forms a two way diffraction grating, (up-down, left-right), resulting in rainbow crosses (click any image to bigafy it).

Dew Bow? I'm not sure if this is an actual bow, or if it is an artifact of the curvature of the cover. Interesting nevertheless (at least to me).

Lens. I'm not sure what caused the initial drop in the center to consume those around it and grow larger, perhaps I pressed there when moving about the chair looking for shots.


I'm still trying for that 'perfect' sparkle shot, either of dew drops or ice crystals. Good thing I now longer need to use film!

Keep looking down!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Feeding Time

I mentioned the Flying Squirrels come as soon was we put the peanut butter out.

They've become habituated to our presence, so much so that they will eat out of our hands.

Our friend Barb should have put peanut butter on both hands, as there is a squirrel on each trunk.

They do like their peanut butter. Click the link and watch the upper right as another one flies in.


So why? Why do we feed the critters in our yard? Why pay for food for animals that could easily find their own? And why risk injury and disease by feeding them directly? And why do we feed some critters and not others? Why is it ok for bunnies to eat our plants, but not deer or voles? Why do we get annoyed when squirrels eat our bird food?

For me, I simply enjoy watching them. And of course, taking pictures. And given that we Americans spend over three billion dollars on bird food a year, I'm clearly not alone at this.

Helen Macdonald has some ideas as well. I stumbled across her piece while wandering the web, which is what got me thinking about this.

What do you think?

Rise Against Hunger

Imagine that the entire crowd at the Thanksgiving NFL game of your choice were dead by Sunday.

Sevety-thousand or so people.

That's how many people die of hunger or hunger related causes every three days here on planet Earth.

I did not know this until I volunteered to pack some food one recent Friday at my office.

These may be people in famine areas such as Ethiopia. Or it may be people in Haiti who have not recovered from the destruction caused by earthquakes. Or it may be people in Puerto Rico who were devastated by a hurricane. Or it may be homeless people in your town.

More than 20 thousand people a day. Because they don't have food.

Staggering. Truly staggering. And preventable.


This bag, of rice, soy, and dried vegetables, provides enough food for six meals.

We packed enough for over ten thousand meals that one Friday.

That sounds like a lot. And we spent the greater part of the day doing it.

But if more than twenty thousand people a day are starving, that's not enough food for half of them for one day.

We filled 47 boxes with meals (I was the packer, and I filled them all, counting each packet).

A drop in the ocean.


Our office wasn't the only one to participate in this campaign, and combined we packaged over thirty thousand meals. A big number, but still far from what is needed. The good news is that we are not the only organization that does this. Nor is this the only organization working on solving hunger.

Our meals were sent to International Care Ministries in the Philippines. 


Consider this you enjoy your Thanksgiving meal.
And how we get to a place where everyone can enjoy such a repast.

And do what you can to help.