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.

Look Up In The Sky

I do all the time. And was rewarded with this view as I returned from lunch one day at work.

A sundog, and part of the 22° halo.

And a contrail with its shadow is a bonus.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Choosy Possums Choose ...

Most nights we put peanut butter out to feed the flying squirrels and opossums that call our yard home. The squirrels usually show up immediately. The opossums wander by on their own schedule.

But tonight when Patty went out with the peanut butter the Virginia Opossum was already here. So, moving very slowly, she reached out with some peanut butter, and Oppie ate it. Very cool.


While Patty was doing this I was cleaning up after dinner, and when I walked in to the living room I saw her standing very still by the tree. The angle from the living room hides the platform Oppie is sitting on. But looking closely I was able to see the Oppie's tail. So I grabbed my camera and, again moving very slowly, walked outside to get this shot. Fortunately I was able to get close enough without scaring Oppie off.

She has a habit of feeding critters.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Winter is Coming

More of those birds which only show up in our yard when it get cold.

These winter visitors include ...

A male Purple Finch. Similar to the House Finch, a year round resident in this area, the Purple Finch has a purple wash across its entire body. These birds breed in Canada and spend the winter in the US, mostly east of the Mississippi River. But some prefer California.

A Fox Sparrow, the Red (Taiga) version. This population is also a Canadian breeder, which spends the winter in the US, again east of the Mississippi. There are four distinct populations, and the other three spend the winter out west. It is possible that these populations represent more than one species.

A Hermit Thrush. While technically not a 'winter bird' we only see this bird in our yard when the temps go low. And it is the only spotted thrush to be found in US in the winter months.


Now is a great time of year to put out food for birds. We fill our feeders and are rewarded with non-stop activity. And the birds appreciate the food during the winter months. And it is a great opportunity for citizen science.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Yard Critter of the Week - Wild Turkey

The Wild Turkey.

Highlight of many a meal this week.*

These visited this one morning as I was getting ready to go to work.

 But just as I spotted them they spotted me.

 And they made their way out of the yard and into the woods.

All but one, which is safely ensconced in our liquor cabinet.

It may be a "full moon effect" type observation, but they seem to become scarce just around this time of year. Reappearing in the yard after New Years.


Our first two years here we had Wild Turkeys visiting the yard on a regular basis, often daily in fall and winter. This past winter and throughout the year we've seen noticeably fewer visiting. Those first two years it was not unusual to have flocks of twenty or more birds at a time, and one day we had three flocks converge in our side yard. Over sixty birds that day. Lots of gobbling.

The birds have still been visiting. And we see them in the area, up and down our street, large flocks and small. But no twenty bird flocks in our yard this year.


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


* Not us though, we're having ham. Which is not a bad thing as, to quote Homer Simpson, "I enjoy all the pork products". [Update: we're having turkey and ham! Woo hoo!]

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

For Very Small Values of "Best"

While sitting on the living room couch watching TV (Highly Questionable to be specific) the motion sensitive light came on in the side yard. A common occurrence around this time of night that usually means a Virginia Opossum has come to call.

But not this night.

This night brought a new yard mammal.

A Gray Fox.

It did not stay long, pacing back and forth outside our living room, looking into the dark, away from us. And then gone. I had no time to get a 'real' camera, and used what I had, my iPhone. It was dark and the beast was in constant motion. And thus I got a bunch of crappy images. As I had my iPhone in 'live picture' mode it took a short video with each image. And the image you see here is a single frame extracted form that video, which is of much lower resolution than the associated still image. And this is the best such frame. Like the title says, a very small value of "best".

But it is still proof that we saw it. And should it come back I'll be ready with a 'real' camera. I hope.

Frosty Morning

While the cold can make some things about the morning unpleasant, cold cars, an icy deck, chilly floors, it can also make for some nice views.

I was able to take a few shots as I was leaving for work. I'm sure that if I had the time I could have done better.

I so much prefer not working.

It's Almost Thanksgiving ...

... so you better ge those Christmas lights up!

We spotted this scene while driving home Tuesday evening November 12th.

Only 43 days until Christmas!

What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Piney Woods Photo Safari Part II - Bigger Things

In Part I the focus (pun!) was mostly on mushrooms.

In Part II it is largely landscapes.


Been a while since a train passed this way.

I needed to find an "M" ...

A former cranberry bog, now a lake.

One of the numerous sand roads that make for easy hiking.

I stole this idea from a fellow photographer, as I came upon her shooting it along the trail.

I couldn't quite get it lined up with the sun though.

This is my favorite, sun setting, reflecting off the bog.

And my other favorite, same scene, zoomed out.

A hearty few stayed in hopes of a nice sunset. 
Alas, the photography gods were not kind, and the sun disappeared as the clouds came in.

But when life deals you lemons, you shoot the clouds.


It was a cold day, there was even ice in the pitcher plants, but I was having such a good time I never noticed. And even the clouds didn't dampen my spirits. I'm already looking forward to the next outing.