Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Murder Mystery

Monday I found this Northern Short-tailed Shrew lying in the garden path.

Dead. Obviously.

Clearly something had ripped it open. But why? And then why leave it?

These shrews are venomous, with a toxin strong enough to kill small mammals. Perhaps there were no winners in this encounter?

Or perhaps one of the cats we occasionally see in our yard killed this one and left it. That was my theory the last time.

Perhaps both are true and we won't be seeing that cat anymore.

But I suspect this will become a cold case and we'll never know the true story.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

How Does Your Garden Grow?

If it anything like ours ...

... then it grows like crazy when you're not around!

Yep, thats a walk way.


We went away for two weeks and returned to this overgrown cacophony of flowers. Apparently it rained a bit while we were gone (we had nothing but sunshine out west).

Of course the lawn grew just as much. So I'm looking a a Labor Day weekend of yard work.

Yay yard work! [/sarcasm off]

Monday, August 28, 2017

Hurricane's Edge

On our way back home from our Eclipse (and more!) trip to Oregon we passed through Dallas this past Sunday.

I had a window seat looking south as we took off.

This is what I saw.

The edge of the hurricane Harvey. The storm ravishing the the Texas coast.

Yet in Dallas, 225 miles from Houston, it was sunny, albeit with signs that of rain earlier in the day. We had been concerned that our flight would be delayed or canceled. But there were no issues.


There are plenty of issues further south. Click here to make a donation to the American Red Cross to help the victims of this storm.

Yard Critter of the Week - Yellow-necked Caterpillars

Or critters as the case may be ...

These are the same Yellow-necked Caterpillars featured in this post, grown up a bit, Datana ministra, continuing the assault on our Serviceberry Tree.

πŸ›  πŸ›  πŸ›  πŸ›  πŸ›

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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Yard Critter of the Week - Eastern Gray Squirrel

My mom's least favorite critter.

The Eastern Gray Squirrel.

Shown here eating the flying squirrel platform feeder.*

Perhaps the wood of the feeder absorbs something of the peanut butter we put on it. A residue the squirrel finds tasty and delicious.

Otherwise it is just an squirrel that thinks it's a termite.

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


* One of the many reasons mom is so un-enamored of these beasties is that they used to chew through the wiring of her car, while leaving dad's car, parted adjacent in the same driveway, untouched (un-toothed?). So they do have some peculiar eating habits.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Yard Critter of the Week - Camouflaged Looper Caterpillar

I was wandering about our back garden, looking at all the insects busying themselves in our Mountain Mint patch when I spotted some curious movement. A bit of brown, waving in the breeze.

Except, there was no breeze.

Intrigued I looked closer. And spotted this.

At first I wasn't sure if it was a creature of some sort, or just a bit of old leaf, perhaps stuck in some spider web, jiggling as other insects hit the web or the leaves it was attached to.

But no, this is a caterpillar. A Camouflaged Looper Caterpillar.

It takes bits of the plants it eats, it prefers flowers, and using silk it spins attaches them to its body. Here it has adorned itself with the dead flowers from the mountain mint; you can see a few of the brown flowers still on the mountain mint flower head.

This critter is small! It is just to the right of this conveniently located dime, which completely covers a mountain mint flower head.

The Camouflaged Looper Caterpillar becomes the Wavy-lined Emerald Moth. We'll be watching the moth sheet to see if this little fashionista makes it to moth-hood. And if it does I'll let you know.

πŸ›  πŸ›  πŸ›  πŸ›  πŸ›

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Death in the Pines

Luna Moths are quite beautiful and in the adult stage live for one and one thing only: to make more Luna Moths.

To that end they are simply sex machines. They have no mouth parts and no digestive system.

And live for but a single week.

This year we seen a number in the yard; I've caught (and released) three. No breeding project this year.

But I've also found the remains of two in the yard this past week.

Eventually the food reserves built up by the caterpillar are exhausted. And the moth settles to the ground. One final landing.

The body, a tasty morel for some other yard critter. The wings a transient reminder of what was.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Last Time ...

... the Moon covered the Sun around these here parts was November 3, 2013. At sunrise as they both came up over the Atlantic Ocean.

And a hardy crew, including yours truly, was there to witness the event.

Note the proper filtration on the cameras and being used by the fellow (Jeremy) at the far end of the group. Also note the attire, it was chilly, although Joe, not pictured, wore shorts.

As is often the case, it was cloudy along the horizon.

But eventually the Sun poked above the clouds.

We could not yet see it but the eclipse was well under way.

You can get the slightest of hints something is different about this sunrise.

And now it becomes quite obvious.

And once above the clouds there is no doubt.

But the Moon was already leaving the Sun's disk even as it was rising for us.

Here in the Philadelphia area less than half, around 44%, of the Sun's disk was obscured by the moon that morning.

And then ...

... it was over.


This will give you some idea about what you'll see, sans sunrise bits, on the 21st of this month. Although the obscuration will be around 75% this time.

You can read more about the curious hybrid eclipse of November 2013 here. And about what you'll see for this month's eclipse here.

Walking ...

Another Full Moon Night Hike at Whitesbog ...

.... another thousand mile challenge update.

After the hike I'm at 777 miles for the year. Getting there ...


And as of this posting I'm at 789. Still stepping ...

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Yard Critter of the Week - Red-humped Caterpillar

A Red-humped Caterpillar.

Yes, it is supposed to look like this.

Image courtesy Patty Rehn
From such a great start it turns into a rather nondescript moth.

Patty found several of these on one of our bayberry bushes. This is not the only curious looking caterpillar which enjoys bayberry leaves.


It's caterpillar season. Why not wander about your garden and see what you can find?

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

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Feeder Birds

We tend not to load up the feeders this time of year as food is readily available. But when we noticed that the local Prothonotary Warblers had started to visit them, we put some food out. Although warblers are insect and not seed eaters.

And sure enough this morning we had warblers in the garden and at the feeders.

And then these came a calling.

Wild Turkeys.

Wild Turkeys are frequent visitors to the yard, but I'd not expect them to make use of the feeders. Yet here they are.

Of course they scared away the warblers and other little birds. And the turkeys made several visits, in groups of two and three. Sometimes all together, sometimes apart.

And of course we've stocked the feeders with turkey chow.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Public Service Announcement: Total Solar Eclipse August 2017

On Saturday March 7, 1970 there was a total solar eclipse visible from New Jersey, which is where I lived at the time (and still do today).

My mother made us stay in the house, with all of the shades drawn down, so that we would not go blind.

As neither me nor any of my siblings are blind it must have worked!

This month there will be another total solar eclipse, visible in all or part, across the entire continental United States. And I'm sure we'll see all manner of pseudoscientific silliness of the kind that so worried my mom.

It is true that viewing the sun can lead to blindness. Yet it is also true that one can view all of the phases of the upcoming eclipse in perfect safety. The key is knowing how to view the eclipse and having suitable eye protection when doing so.

In the image below, the moon is completely covering the sun's disk. At this point, which will last just over two minutes in most places, it is perfectly safe to view the sun with the naked eye. But this is the only time for which it is safe to do so.

Solar Corona

But as soon as the sun peaks out from behind the moon, as in the image below, it is no longer safe to look at the sun without adequate eye protection.

If any part of the sun's disk is visible you need eye protection.

Diamond Ring

While it may seem that the sun is dim enough to view directly, infrared and ultraviolet radiation are slowly burning your retina at this point. As there are no pain receptors in your retina you'll have no idea this is happening.

And your vision will be permanently damaged.

Eclipse glasses which are compliant with the ISO 12312-2 safety standard are inexpensive and widely available (click the link to find reputable sources). If you plan to do any eclipse viewing at all now is the time to get a pair of eclipse glasses. This link, to B&H Photo, has a five pack of glasses for $7.99. That's $1.60 each and is representative of the cost.

Enjoy the show. Be safe and smart while doing so.


A week ago Patty and I hosted a moth night at the Rancocas Nature Center. Patty gave her moth presentation inside in the nice air conditioned meeting room.

I set up the light and sheet outside in the warm humid air.

I think the twenty plus folks that came out on a school night, with thunderstorms in the area, appreciated our efforts, many staying until well past eleven. (I had been up since four that morning; a work meeting with folks in out London and Vienna offices. So I was a bit sleepy by the end, or we may have stayed even longer.)

The large moths like this Promethea Moth above are always a hit. It is as big as the palm of your hand. But we had plenty of other interesting, if smaller, moths as well.

Maple Looper Moth.

Wood Leopard Moth.

Splendid Palpita.

Horrid Zale.

This one is of the genus Crambidia, but it is almost impossible to identify the species with out dissecting the moth! Something we were not about to do. 

Be sure to bigafy the image to see the little bug with the curly antenna below the moth.

This is a type of underwing moth. And getting an ID from a picture, especially one where the wings are closed, just ain't gonna happen.

Delicate Cycnia.

Bold-feathered Grass Moth.

Moths were not the only bugs attracted to our light.

This Dog-day Cicada was one of many, the others making their presence known by their incessant (along with the katydids) racket!

A variety of Leaf Hoopers visited the sheet. They are colorful tiny creatures, each about the size of a grain of rice.

This is but a sampling of the many different species ...

... which visit whenever we turn fire up the mothing light.

And it is only after taking a photo ...

... that you see the color and structure. They are just too small.

I have no idea as to the species, except for the last. It's a Saddled Leafhopper.

A number of spiders, including the one below, set up shop in the general vicinity.

I suspect they had chosen their web sites well before we set up the light. But I'm sure they appreciated us pulling in so many bugs into the area.

As did the moth-ers, who, like the bugs, crowded around the sheet.

We ended the night with pizza, beer, and wine (thanks John!).


Thanks to Ann-Marie Woods, John Maxwell, and Bernie Knaupp, my Mothing Mentors and Bug Buddies, for help identifying these creatures.