Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Feeding Time

Hamster, the Eastern Painted Turtle that has taken up residence in our back pond, is still here, going on four months now. The turtle showed up in June and shows no sign of leaving any time soon.

No doubt one of the reasons why is that we feed him/her on a regular basis.

And he/she has learned to associate us with food. Although that association likely occurred prior to us moving in. Here's hoping Hamster finds an appropriate home for the winter.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Yard Critter - Eastern Phoebe

Sayornis phoebe.

These birds nest in our yard.

And are here from spring to fall.

Several, I've seen as many as three this week, have been my companions as I enjoy my coffee on the deck each morning.

Soon enough they'll be gone. Headed for points south.

But until then I'll enjoy their company. I hope they enjoy mine.

🐦  πŸ¦  πŸ¦  πŸ¦  πŸ¦

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

Monday, October 14, 2019

Yard Critter - Wooly Bear

Pyrrharctia isabella.

The larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth, a somewhat indistinct brown moth.

But this critter's claim to fame is not what it becomes, but what it predicts. It is claimed, albeit without any scientific proof, that the ratio of brown to black is proportional to the severity of the coming winter. The more the brown the milder the winter.

Looks like we're in for a mild one this year.

πŸ›  ❄️  πŸ›  ❄️  πŸ›

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

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Yard Critter - Steatoda borealis

Steatoda borealis, a spider.

A cousin of the Black Widow, both being in the Family Theridiidae, the Cobweb Spiders.

It is standing guard outside our back door and doing an excellent job of catching little bugs. It needs to go to work on the non-native stink bugs ...

πŸ•·  πŸ•Έ  πŸ•·  πŸ•Έ  πŸ•·

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

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Yard Critter - Restless Bush Cricket

Hapithus agitator.

There are more than just caterpillars out in the yard. And it is my job to find them and blog about them.

So here we have a non-caterpillar insect I found on Sunday, a rather distinctive looking cricket.

It really is quite amazing all the stuff that is out there. And I'm quite enjoying discovering it.

πŸ¦—  πŸ¦—  πŸ¦—  πŸ¦—  πŸ¦—

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

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Yard Critter - Southern Leopard Frog

Rana utricularia aka Lithobates sphenocephalus.

I've blogged about this critter before, click here to see, but based on my sightings,  it is a rare visitor compared to the other frogs we see in the yard.

I spotted this one when, while working in the yard, it hopped just into the feeder garden from the bit of lawn between garden and fish pond. Thinking it was hidden it didn't move while I snapped away with my phone. Like with the Northern Gray Treefrog and Wood Frog, I've learned that if I move very slowly I can get quite close. But in this case there was too much foliage and as I moved in I rattled the plants and spooked the frog. And it hopped away.

It is nice to know they are here though.

🐸  πŸΈ  πŸΈ  πŸΈ  πŸΈ

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

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


We have a number of frogs and toads that share our yard with us. And the Wood Frog is one such frog.

I found this one while doing yard work. It paused its frog business to pose for a couple of photos. I do not know what is going on with the green mustache. I suspect it is a reflection of some sort.

Curiously, it was not apparent on side views.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Solar Powered Birdbath

Santa brought us a solar powered birdbath last Christmas (it was on clearance*). We set it up first in the bench garden and then on the deck. We've yet to see a bird anywhere near it.

But for the past couple of days this critter has been a regular visitor. A young Northern Gray Tree Frog.

Look closely and you'll see it at about 11 o'clock, or by the third post from the left. Tiny little thing.

Thanks Santa!

πŸŽ…πŸ»  πŸŽ„  πŸŽ…πŸ»  πŸŽ„  πŸŽ…πŸ»

* The black color keeps the water nice and warm and ensures maximum evaporation. The solar powered pump works only in completely direct sun. And it comes with a stand that is way to flimsy for the weight of the basin. The frog likes it though.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Yard Critter - Red-banded Hairstreak

Calycopis cecrops.

A southern species with New Jersey at the northernmost part of its range, although that range has been expanding in recent years.

One of the so called "groundstreaks" this critter can most often be found down in the leaf litter. In fact the larval 'host plant' is rotting leaves. Another reason to leave the leaves.

This particular individual was hanging out on the screen outside my office. I spotted it while grilling steak for dinner.  A welcome companion.

πŸ¦‹  πŸ¦‹  πŸ¦‹  πŸ¦‹  πŸ¦‹

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


Butterfly bits.

I know not what led to this.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Ground Cover

Here's another way to help insects, birds, and other critters. And best of all, it involves doing nothing!

We gather up the leaves in our yard each fall and use them as mulch in our gardens. I'm sure this is one of the reasons we've had so many caterpillars this year.

If you want your yard to be a healthy ecosystem and part of the solution, then Leave the Leaves.

🍁  πŸ‚  πŸ  πŸ‚  πŸ  πŸ‚  πŸ

Once upon a time, I was involved with the Sierra Club's Inner City Outings program. We worked with a school in Camden, NJ. And on one of the outings one of the participants said they didn't want to go into the woods because "it was too dirty". When asked for why she thought that, she said look at all the leaves on the ground.

Too many folks think like this young girl. Fallen leaves, a natural ground cover and fertilizer, are seen as litter. Debris to be removed. Just as with viewing a pristine lawn as desirable, it is a viewpoint that needs to to change if we want to get out of the predicament we as a society find ourselves in.

So don't rake those leaves. Leave them be. Or if you do rake them, use them as mulch around you native flower beds. Mother Nature will thank you. Your back will as well.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Bird Crisis

Birds, and by extension the entire ecosystem, is in crisis.

Nearly 3 Billion Birds Gone Since 1970. That is, the population levels are down. By 25%.

Image courtesy the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

One out of every four birds. Staggering.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a list of "Seven Simple Actions to Help Birds".

Image courtesy the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Please take what steps you can. Try to do them all. We do.

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Longtime readers of this blog will know of our "War on Lawn". One of the benefits, both for me and the environment, is less lawn mowing. Another is the habitat provided for what I call "yard critters". A major impetus for our move from lawn to habitat was Douglas W. Tallamy's excellent book, Bringing Nature Home.

Patty and I had the pleasure of hearing, and meeting, Dr. Tallamy at this year's Mothapalooza.

In addition to the talks, Mothapalooza features multiple mothing stations set up and staffed throughout the night. Patty and I visited one, with only the two fellows who set up the sheet as our companions. We had several interesting moths and at one point Patty remarked, "we had this one at Edie's place in the Poconos". To which one of the fellows said, "it is too bad Edie isn't here this year." So I asked, "who should we tell Edie that was disappointed?" "Doug Tallamy", he answered.

One of the points in Dr. Tallamy's very interesting and informative talk (if you have the chance to hear him speak, take it!) was that caterpillar populations are down by close to ninety percent in the period he has data for.

90%. Let that sink in.

If that doesn't set off alarm bells for you then nothing will.

Many birds eat insects. And caterpillars, the jelly donuts of the insect world, are prime food, especially for nestlings. Unlike insects with hard exoskeletons, parts which can't be digested, caterpillars are almost pure nutrition.

The equation is simple: 90% fewer caterpillars = 90% fewer birds.

And this is one of the reasons I was so happy to find some many different caterpillars in the yard this year. It means that the steps we are taking to provide habitat are working.

Dr. Tallamy suggests that cutting the amount of lawn in your yard in half will have significant benefits for you (less moving, watering, and other maintence), critters (providing food and habitat), and the environment (less mowing, more carbon stored in plants). Most of our land is wooded. But of the part that isn't we are well on our way to reaching the 50% goal and should do so next year.

πŸ¦ƒ  πŸ§  πŸ¦  πŸ€  πŸ¦‰

Here are some links with additional information on the crisis, the research behind it, and how you can help.

Original scientific paper: 

Decline of the North American avifauna 
   Science 20 September 2019 Vol 365, Issue 6459
   Kenneth V. Rosenberg, Adriaan M. Dokter, Peter J. Blancher, John R. Sauer, Adam C. Smith, Paul A. Smith, et al.   
$30 for full access (or membership in AAAS or a research library)

Cornell has made a PDF of the full manuscript available:
 (67 pages)


National Audubon:
   North America Has Lost More Than 1 in 4 Birds in Last 50 Years, New Study Says. 
   by Jillian Mock

Cornell Lab:

American Bird Conservancy:

Science News:
   We’ve lost 3 billion birds since 1970 in North America: Scientists found profound losses among both rare and common birds. by Jonathan Lambert

Scientific American:
    Silent Skies: Billions of North American Birds Have Vanished. by Jim Daley.

Washington Post:
   North America has lost 3 billion birds in 50 years. By Karin Brulliard.  

NY Times:
   Birds Are Vanishing From North America: The number of birds in the United States and Canada has declined by 3 billion, or 29 percent, over the past half-century, scientists find.  by Carl Zimmer.


Blog post "Dynamic Ecology" blog by Brian McGill
   Did North America really lose 3 billion birds? What does it mean?  Sept. 20, 2019.

Thanks to Laurie Larson for compiling this list and posting it to the Jersey Birds email group.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Death and Life

Unicorn caterpillar.

A recent yard critter.

Alas, it seems at least one won't be turning into a moth

I'm not sure if it was the same individual but this one was parasitized and made a zombie.

Ok, so I'm not sure that this caterpillar was made a zombie, but it sure seems like it.

Creepy and cool at the same time.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Plane Spotting With Max

Max and I were hanging the deck when a C-17 flew over.

Directly over.

Max was fascinated. And maybe just a bit scared.

Yard Critter - Common Buckeye Caterpillar

Junonia coenia.

A caterpillar with a brutal case of acne. And one that does not look like the picture in the field guide.

Thanks again to the folks on the interwebs, Mary Lemmink Lawrence and TeΓ‘ Kesting-Handly, for the ID.

πŸ›  πŸ›  πŸ› πŸ›  πŸ›

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

Monday, September 30, 2019

Yard Critter - Variegated Cutworm

Peridroma saucia.

Patty spotted this one as were were putting our kayaks away (it was on the green one, in case you were wondering.)

A few snaps with my phone, a bit of clean up processing on my computer, and uploading to the internet for an ID, as I was not able to figure it out.

Less than an hour later a suggested ID. Isn't crowdsourcing amazing?

And thus endeth what started as caterpillar week and became caterpillar month. I still have a bunch of caterpillars I'm trying to ID (crowdsourcing isn't perfect!) so you'll still have to put up with more such critters in the future, albeit not daily.

It was fun wandering about the yard each morning and discovering something new each day. I hope you enjoyed it too.

πŸ›  πŸ›  πŸ› πŸ›  πŸ›

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

Sun, Trees, Screen ...

... Light Show.

I was sitting at my desk when I noticed the scene out the window below.

The sun was setting behind the trees and the leaves were acting like pinhole 'lenses' projecting the sunlight. And the screen then acted as a 2D diffraction grating, making the starburst pattern (bigafy to see).

Still sitting at my desk I zoomed in to take this, and the first, images. You can read about the physics behind it here and here. Or you can just enjoy the pictures.

Sunday, September 29, 2019


It is migration time for Monarchs. And we are clearly on the flight path. Add the ones that are emerging from chrysalises and you've got a yard full of butterflies.

Our yard is a flowery oasis in the middle of the woods.

I wonder how they find it?

This was the view from inside our living room. I count nine Monarchs. And there were others flitting about and alit on flowers just out of view. And more elsewhere in the back and side gardens.

They seem to especially like the Tithonia rotundifolia, commonly known as 'Mexican Sunflower', which Patty grew from seed. She already has planting plans for next year.

Fueling up for the next leg of their journey to Mexico they put on quite a show.


Yard Critter - Arge Moth Caterpillar

Apantesis arge.

Formerly Grammia arge, which is the name it can be found under in Wagner's excellent field guide.*

The 'Speedy Gonzalez' of the caterpillar world, this critter can zip along at 1.4 km/h for short bursts. And is was zooming across my driveway.

I took these pictures on August 24th, but it took me awhile to figure out what this is. At least well enough to call it for the blog. And the name change was part of the story. I had, with help from folks on the interwebs, ID'd it to genus Apantesis, but looking up that led nowhere in field guides and even on the web. I finally took the time to brute force the ID by looking through BugGuide, at lots of pictures until I found a match. A bit of work, but it is actually fun to figure it out.

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

* Caterpillars of the Eastern North America, David L. Wagner. But you knew that already, right?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Yard Critter - Red Humped Caterpillar

Schizura concinna.

A repeat yard critter, and a quite common about the yard this year.

From single adults and young.

To groups of over twenty individuals chomping away.

This critter is one I see annually, perhaps because of its bright psychedelic color pattern.

As with most such colored insects, it no doubt serves as a warning to potential predators, as these critters have glands that can emit a foul brew of formic acid and acetones. Yucky for sure.

But cool to look at.
πŸ›  πŸ›  πŸ› πŸ›  πŸ›

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