Wednesday, February 28, 2018

How to Spot an Owl

You look for whitewash (owl poop) and pellets (owl vomit) of course!

Like this:

There are at least a dozen pellets, in varying states of decay, and spots of whitewash in the above image. Recent rains have taken their toll on both the pellets and whitewash, with much of the whitewash washed away.

Here is a close up:

The black things are the pellets while the white spots are, you guessed it, whitewash.

The pellets are the bits of prey animals that the owls don't digest.

Fur and bones and teeth.

Obviously this stuff is found on the ground. So the way to look for owls is to wander about in the woods looking down. Once the whitewash and pellets are found, stop wandering and look up.

And you'll see this:

There are three Long-eared Owls up in the tree. Right in the center of the image.

Here's another view, from a slightly different angle.

This where I usually suggest you click on the picture to bigafy it, enlarging and bringing out detail in the image. Alas that is not of much use here, these owls know how to hide.

Ok, can you see them now?

All three are visible in the above image. (Clicking to bigafy may help here.)

And surely you see this one:


The title of this post was stolen from Pat and Clay Sutton, who wrote a book of the same name, now sadly out of print.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Wood Working

We had friends over on Sunday and had planned to spend a nice afternoon on the deck, enjoying the wildlife in the yard and our brand new fire pit.

Alas, it was a rainy day and the fire pit is yet to host a fire. We spent our time mostly indoors.

But the rain did let up for a bit, so we went for a walk in the woods behind our place (back were we saw the deer stands).

None of us are experts on woodpecker holes, but our best guess is Pileated Woodpecker, which we've seen on several occasions in the yard. Most recently on the 18th and 21st of January this year.

There are a number of trees with similar holes. In these back woods, in our yard proper, and in the woods across the street.

Of course, it could just be the so-called 'hunters' shooting up the trees. But my money is on woodpeckers.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Monkey Monday!

We spotted this fellow spotting us at breakfast time at our lodge in Panama. On Christmas morning.

A White-headed Capuchin monkey. One of a small group on the grounds of the lodge. And one of three monkey species we saw on our trip.

It seemed as fascinated with us as we were with it.

Or maybe it just was surprised we were there between it and the fruit on the bird feeders.

This was our first morning there, and it was no doubt thinking, "where did all these people come from!"

A nice Christmas present from mother nature (to us, not it!).


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Yard Critter of the Week - Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk.

Eastern Pondhawks are voracious predators. And they patrol the airspace above the two ponds in our yard.

I spotted this particular specimen one day last July (July 25th, my mom's birthday!).  I watched as it snatched a very large fly and landed on the leaf to dine.

In the time it took me to rush inside to grab my camera and get back to shoot, you'll see that it has made quick work of the fly's head (click to bigafy).

Alas the big lens was off in Canada with Patty, so the bigificaiton will only get you so much.

These are just one of the species of dragonflies which call our yard home. And not the only one to be a yard critter of the week methinks ...

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

Monday, February 19, 2018

Yard Critter of the Week - American Robin

American Robin.

Often thought of as a harbinger of spring, the American Robin is a year round resident of these here parts.

While it is possible that it is the behavior of Robins that leads to this belief, I think it is at least in part that in winter folks don't spent as much time outside, and thus miss seeing the birds.

We have a number of trees and shrubs in our gardens which produce berries. And the Robins avail themselves of these fruits starting as fall becomes winter and then through til spring. Above one is enjoying Winterberry Holly.

Below, a flock is doing a number on our Crabapple Tree.

There are at least eighteen birds in the tree. And twenty-five birds below it.



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

Sunday, February 18, 2018


Yesterday evening we had a bit of snow. Just a dusting. But it did come down heavy as large flakes, as the temperature was right at the freezing point.

And as the snow was falling we had not one but to Virginia Opossums, "Oppies" visit our garden. And the snow turned them into "Snoppies"!

The first to visit, shown above, found plenty of food under a bird feeder at the back of the garden. We weren't sure what it was munching, but despite hoping it would come in for a closeup, it was content with what was there.

And then we spotted the second between the trees of the triple stump.

(My photo-editing skills are not up to the task of removing the purple-blue reflection off the living room window. Very sad.)

We put peanut butter out for the various critters which visit our yard.


Notice the snow buildup on its back.

We learned on our winter trip to Yellowstone, where the Bison are often snow covered, that this is a sign of how well insulated they are. None of the body heat passes through the fur and thus the snow doesn't melt.

As we see above as, having completed dinner, Snoppie retires for the evening. Or at least, leaves our garden..

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Perhaps They're Bad Shots?

Out behind our property, down the Wildlife Walk, is state forest. Apparently the landowner donated the land to the state. As it was wetlands, the headwaters of the south branch of the Rancocas Creek, it was un-developable. So why pay taxes on land you can't use?

Patty and I decided to take a walk back there today. To see what the recent rains may have done. As it turns out not much.

But we did find a number of deer stands. More that we had seen on previous excursions.

Tall ones.

With or without seat backs.

An old school wooden stand, complete with an orange five gallon bucket seat. Comfy!

A sort one for those with acrophobia.

And a first for out back, a blind. Room for four hunters with a shooting window for each.

So how is it we still have deer in the yard?

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Deer in the Garden

The other evening I looked out the dining room window and saw four (!) deer in the garden. Fortunately Patty had retired for the evening. She would not have been happy. As documented in this very blog, deer and gardens don't mix.

So I grabbed a camera and started shooting.

Patty would have preferred I use a gun.

I don't own a gun.

That's probably a good thing.

It wasn't long before the deer detected the motion of me positioning the camera and adjusting the settings.

And off they went. All but this one.

Which wasn't quite sure what to make of me.

Sniffing was not helpful (I had showered earlier in the day).

And I was in the house. Windows closed.

Eventually the uncertainty of what was behind the glass and no doubt the certainty of being alone got the better of its curiosity. And off it went.

Bye, bye.

Deer above and voles below. We've our work cut out for us to varmint proof the gardens this spring.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Shadow Halos

I looked out my office window on a recent very cold Wednesday and saw this.

All of the car shadows in the parking lot had halos. Something I had never seen before. Nor on the next couple of days as it was cloudy Thursday and Friday. And I don't go to the office on weekends.

And I had no idea of the cause. So I asked the go to guy for optics phenomena, Les Cowley of the Atmospheric Optics website. And his answer, in part, was:

"A puzzling sighting. The only thing that I can think of so far is this - The car shadows will be shortening and swinging clockwise as the earth rotates. The ground inside the shadow will have less heating than the sunlit area. ... "

And I think he was right, although he wasn't sure how it would have resulted in the bright halo. Read on ...

Then on Monday, this was the view. Note it wasn't that cold. Also note the wet blacktop; it had rained the evening before:

The normal view, no halos. And then, the next Thursday, it was again very cold, and it had rained the day before.

And the halos are back.

Now here is the the image that solved the puzzle for me.

Clouds had rolled in and the shadows and halos are gone. And in their place are the apparently dry areas where the shadows had been. But why would the shadow area be dry while the area in the sun is wet?

Solve that and you solve the puzzle.

Look at the red SUV towards the top of the images and the white vehicle above it. The red SUV has a halo and a shadow 'dry' zone while the white car does not.

The clouds passed and the shadows, and halos, returned. But as the sun rises the shadows shrink, the halos follow, and so does the dark wet areas. The next two shots were taken an hour apart.

You can see how the shadows are shrinking by looking at the white lines of the parking spaces.

And how the wet spot follows the shadows in. And that's the key.

The dry areas weren't dry. They were frozen. And as the shadow shrinks the ice is exposed to sunlight. And it melts, making the blacktop wet. And wet blacktop appears darker than the bit of ice exposed. And thus the halo is just that bit of ice that is now in sunlight but which has not yet melted.


This was not my first solution. I had thought that maybe there was a thin layer of warmer air above the cars, and this bent the light up and did so that it exited the warm layer and then was bent down again, not like a mirage. And thus light that would have ended up in the shadow area was redirected to the halo area, as shown in the (not to scale) diagram below.

           /    /
          / _ /
         /  🚗

The light from the sun, the "/"'s,  either hits the car (the right "/"'s) and is bent to the left, the "-", when it hits the warm air layer over the car. And then it is bent down again, "/", when it exits the warm layer and hits the cold air, where it is combined with the light that goes straight from the sun to the halo.

An elegant solution, or so I thought, to the puzzle. Too bad it was not the correct one.


And the final word from Dr.Cowley:

"Yes, you have solved it.   The icy ground looks lighter - Its appearance presumably partly depends on the direction of the illumination and the sky colour.    As the shadow shrinks the ice at the exposed shadow border stays awhile thus generating the light border.

I liked your earlier mirage refraction explanation.   The direction of the refraction and the generation of a light shadow border made sense.  The only problem was the required magnitude of the refraction.   The relatively small air temperature differences from sun warmed car surfaces would not be enough."

Sunday, February 11, 2018

When It Rains, Look for Rainbows ...

While out documenting the flood today I noticed my car had gone psychedelic. Well at least the windshield.

I know it was the car and not me as I was able to get photographs ...


Ok, so technically it's not a rainbow. What we have here is a fine example of Thin Film Interference. The thin film in this case being the water on the windshield. For an explanation of the science behind it, click here.