Sunday, March 31, 2019


Click this link: Frog Calls, and you'll hear what we hear every night here at Piney Place.

Frogs. Lots of frogs. Mostly Northern Spring Peepers. But with some New Jersey Chorus Frogs and Wood Frogs as well. And soon enough Fowler's Toads, Green Frogs, and Northern Gray Tree Frogs will be joining in. It's quite nice actually.

But also frustrating. Because try as I might, I could never find any peepers peeping. They would be right under my nose (and ears) and yet completely hidden.

Until yesterday evening.

When I found not one but two of them in our back pond. The one above (dead center) peeping away.

The one below frozen still, hoping I wouldn't notice it and that I'd go away. I did, but not after getting a few shots. After which it splashed off.

There were plenty more. Right at my feet. Yet undiscovered. Next time ...

🐸  🐸  🐸

I also spotted three of these ...

... Bull Frogs. They're easy to find. And are one of the reasons the other frogs are so wary.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Yard Critter of the Week - Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird

A new yard bird, and there were six of them in the yard this past Monday. And one more one Tuesday.

Sadly, this is a bird in steep decline. The population has plunged over 85% over the past forty years, and no-one is sure why.

To try and figure out what's going on, the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group was formed. And they are asking birders to help out. All you need to do is going birding and report any Rusty Blackbirds in eBird using the Spring Migration Blitz Optional Protocol.

I did.

🐦  🐦  🐦

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

Friday, March 29, 2019

Weekend Wanderings ... The Creek

Many Mind Creek is its official name, but growing up we just called it "The Creek".

It was just down the street from where I lived and was the border of Fireman's Field, the ball field I mentioned in the side note of the Clerks wandering post (this is where I wandered to after that; maybe two miles apart).

What caught my attention while I was driving by was this display. I turned around and went back to look at it. The first paragraph in the upper left makes the claim that the view in the image below is Blue Heron Pond. I don't see a pond. And for all my years living there I don't recall anyone ever referring to this stretch of creek as "Blue Heron Pond". Nor can I recall ever seeing a Great Blue Heron anywhere near here.

I do remember frogs, tadpoles, fish, and eels in this creek. And a mammal that swan and made its home in holes in the bank. The eel would spawn in it. As  kids we'd put a large bucket in the creek, on its side, and wait for things to swim in. Then we'd quick pull it up and survey our catch. I also remember a fish bowl on our back porch where I'd put my day's haul, until Mom made me take it back. Once, I caught an adult eel, it wrapped around the fish bowl and was no doubt rather uncomfortable there. I'm sure it was happy when I dumped it back in the creek.

From time to time the creek would flood, and we'd ride our bikes through the water.

I wonder what the kids did when this happened? The red line on the middle sign is the high water mark, 11 plus feet above sea level, during superstorm Sandy. Also in the picture on the left hand side you can see part of Fireman's Field. And way down on the left you can see a house with blue siding. That's the house I grew up in.

🚶‍♂️  🚶‍♂️  🚶‍♂️  🚶‍♂️  🚶‍♂️

This is the last of Saturday's wanderings. And likely the last time I'll be wandering in my old home town. I'm no longer on "dad duty", my other siblings having taken over until Mom and Dad move to an assisted living complex not far from my youngest sister. It was fun driving down roads I hadn't been on in 30 some years. Curious memories of familiarity and strangeness.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Weekend Wanderings ... Clerks

Clerks is a very funny movie, the first made by Kevin Smith. The action takes place mostly in a convince store.

This convince store:

Where Kevin was working at at the time.

What made the movie even more enjoyable was that some of the scenes were shot at places known to me. Like the Normandy Road overpass over Leonardville Road, two blocks from our family's first home in New Jersey. Or Posten's Funeral Home in Atlantic Highlands, NJ, the town I grew up in.

But I had never been able to identify the convince store. Based on the Normandy Road scene, I had thought it was further down Leonardville Road, in Cambell's Junction.

(Side note: Normandy Road is completely inside the Earle Naval Weapons Depot.)

Nope. It was in this very small strip mall in Leonardo. One that has obviously seen better days (and I was there to see them).

The corner store, which is currently empty and was apparently last a BBQ place, was Dodger's Soda Fountain when I was a kid, and I remember eating mint chocolate chip ice-cream and spinning on the seats at the counter. Fun times.

And next to the convince store, many years ago, my Mom and her friend Joanna owned a clothing store. The Blouse House. The store would later move to First Avenue in Atlantic Highlands. It went out of business many years ago. I have no idea how successful it was or wasn't. I do know that the alarm system in the store was the same they installed at the registrar's office at RPI. My student aid included a job in said registrar's office. And when it came time to explain to the non-student staff how to use the new system, they asked me to leave the room. Curious the things one remembers.

🎥  🎥  🎥

In the Bell Labs post, a wandering done on the same day as this one, I linked to the Wikipedia page for my high school, Henry Hudson Regional. And it was on that page I learned that my high school has eight notable alumni. Two world class trampolinists (it's a thing), a pitcher for the Colorado Rockies, and five people associated with Kevin Smith, including Mr. Smith himself.

Rather poor output if you ask me.

😵  😵  😵

Side note: Many years ago my friends and I were playing baseball at the ball fields across from my house in Atlantic Highlands. And these two guys came up to us wearing white shirts, black ties, black pants, and black dress shoes. Religious fanatics of some sort. And one of the questions they asked the very disinterested group of us kids was, "where do you go when you die?" to which my friend John Rosse, without missing a beat answered, "Posten's, he's my uncle." To which we all, excepting the fanatics, laughed hysterically.

Like I said, curious what you remember.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Weekend Wanderings ... The Spy House

Once upon time there was a house, the Spy House, in which drinks were served and Redcoats with loose lips sunk ships. Or so the story went. And that was the tall tale told to me, and many others, by one Mrs. Gertrude Neidlinger.

The actual story, while to the history buff is just as interesting, is much less fanciful.

But to a twelve year old boy tales of spies and Revolutionary War battles fired the imagination. And I ate this stuff up.

I remember going there with my boy scout troop and hearing these stories. Apparently Ms. Neidlinger told some ghost stories as well, but I do not recall those (I had no interest in ghosts).

As the tale went, this was a tavern (it was, but not during Revolutionary War times; tavern days would come much later) and the British had many ships in the Sandy Hook and Raritan Bay at New York City (maybe so?). The British sailors would come ashore to eat and drink. And the proprietor would pass info about the ships to Colonial troops. And while the owner of the house was on the side of the victors in this war, it was a house and home at the time, not a tavern.

Today the house is part of Bayshore Waterfront Park, in the Monmouth park system. Back then, it was a private museum struggling to stay afloat. And I was quite surprised when I visited this past weekend to see no mention of spying. It wasn't until I got home and went wandering on the web that I found the real story.

The New York City skyline in the distance. Much different looking than in Colonial days.

And today it is US Navy ships, like the distant one center left in the image above, that ply these waters, visiting the Earle Naval Weapons Depot.

⚓️  ⚓️  ⚓️

I grew up surrounded by military bases. Army bases at Hartshorne Woods and on Sandy Hook, which also houses an active Coast Guard base. The first house my parent's bought in New Jersey was on a road that ended with a fence across it. On the other side of that fence, which we kids would sometimes sneak under, was the Earle Naval Base. And Hartshorne Woods was immediately adjacent to my high school.

During the Korean War my Dad was in the army. And he was stationed on Sandy Hook and Cape Cod. Defending the east coast from the North Korean navy. History shows that he, and his fellow soldiers, were quite successful at this.

🎼   🎼  🎼  🎼

My Mom was a member of St.Agnes Senior Choir. And that choir made an album of Christmas music. In the late 1960's. On vinyl. Hipsters before it was hip.

If you look closely (bigafy!) you'll discover that Gertrude Neidlinger was the conductor of the choir.

And that my Mom was one of the Sopranos. Who knew?

🖼  🖼  🖼

Clown by Amalie Day

This masterpiece was painted by my sister, in 1971. And is currently hanging in my parent's garage. No doubt because it is too heavy to tape to the refrigerator.

My sister took painting lessons from a local artist. Travers Neidlinger, Gertrude's husband.

(This painting is available, let me know if you're interested. But act fast, it will be gone by the first week of May.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Weekend Wanderings ... Bell Labs

Not far from the Horn Antenna was the main Bell Labs building in Homdel, NJ.

At the entrance one is greeted by a water tower in the shape of a transistor, the latter having been invented here in 1947.

The structure below is a memorial to Karl Jansky, the father of radio astronomy.

It is a stylized rendition of the radio receiver Jansky built and with which he discovered radio waves originating from the center of the Milky Way. As with Penzias and Wilson, Jansky found a hiss that he could not account for and meticulously worked out the source.

Alas, he published his discovery in 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression, and there was no money for follow up studies.

The building, which once housed the preeminent institution of scientific research, is now but an office complex. With a housing development, as seen in the background of the Jansky Memorial, taking up much of the former grounds.

⭐️  📡  🖥  🔭  ⭐️

Back when I was in high school, and this building was still a Bell Labs facility, I and three classmates learned computer programming here. I remember one session, where the instructor left us alone and we somehow starting printing and could not stop, paper continuously spewing out of the printer. I recall unplugging what I thought was the printer, but paper just kept coming out (I had unplugged the wrong printer). Finally the instructor returned, flipped a switch and the printing stopped, totally unconcerned with the paper. More interested in helping us figure out what went wrong.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Non-Yard Critter of the Week

Gray-crowned Crane

Taken on our trip to Kenya in 2015.

It sure would be cool to have this as a yard critter though.

🦍  🦓  🐘  🦏  🦒  🐃  🐆  🐊

My Aunt Ceil recently had both of her hips replaced. She's plenty of time to play on her computer while recovering (there've been some set backs but for the most part she is doing well). Knowing of my interest in birds, whenever she finds an interesting bird picture on Facebook she sends me a message. And whenever possible I send back my image of that same bird. This one I needed to find and process; I'm so behind on my pictures (I've Yosemite shots form 2007 I've not gotten to!). 

😬  😬  😬

As I've plenty of time here at my parent's place I've been going through the image backlog. I hope you've been enjoying them.

Yard Critter of the Week - Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Common winter sparrows include Dark-eyed Juncos, Fox and White-throated, all of which are regulars at our feeders. But recently there was something different.

But it wasn't gonna make it easy, hiding among last season's dead stalks and in the brush piles about the yard. I waited. And it almost came out. But then it flew.

It had been around the yard for a couple days and I had seen enough to know what it was. But no good images.

But Monday I was working from home. So I checked whenever I passed the windows.

And sure enough it came back.

And it's a yard critter.

🐦  🐦  🐦

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

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Weekend Wanderings ... Horn Antenna

Once upon a time the universe went bang. And some thirteen billion years later, the device below detected the radiation from that event, known today as the Big Bang.

This is the famous Horn Antenna at what was once AT&T Bell Labs which the physicists Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson used to detect the cosmic microwave radiation generated by the birth of our part of the universe.

They were not looking for it. A group of physicists at nearby Princeton University (29 miles west) were. And got scooped. Eventually the two groups learned of each other's work and published together.

In 1978 Penzias and Wilson won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery.

Bell Labs was the research arm of AT&T, which had a government granted monopoly on telephone service in the United States until 1982. A consequence of being a monopoly meant that they could invest in basic science and thus today we have such things as the transistor, the C programing language and derivatives, the UNIX operating system and variants including Linux and macOS (an iOS), and more. But the breakup of the Bell System in '82 signaled the end of an era. Today, Bell Labs is owned by the Finish company Nokia, once a cellphone powerhouse.

💥  📡  💥  📡  💥

Side note #1: At the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum the is a metal trap, owned by Robert Wilson, and used to catch a pair of pigeons which had taken up residence in the antenna. When Penzias and Wilson were trying to determine what the noise they were picking up was they discovered the nesting pigeons and needed to remove them and their droppings (described by Penzias in the scientific paper as a "white dielectric material"). But the noise remained. The noise was of course the cosmic microwave background radiation, the echo of the Big Bang.

💥  📡  💥  📡  💥

Side note #2: Once upon a time I was a college student, working toward a degree in Physics (got it, BS RPI '82). And Penzias came to give a talk. I remember little of the talk. I do remember talking with him afterward, and hitting him up for a summer job at Bell Labs. Alas, there were no jobs to be had.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Herpin' in the Rain

It's spring and thus time for our annual Beekman Road excursion.

When conditions are promising for salamander and frog migrations East Burnswick closes a section of Beekman Road to vehicular traffic, so as to prevent slaughter by automobile.

This night there were over thirty people out on a chilly rainy school night. All with flashlights walking up and down the road looking for the critter on the sign, the Spotted Salamander.

We did not see any. The was a report of one, found in the middle of the road, but it finished crossing by the time we arrived at the spot.

So we made due with two frogs.

This Spring Peeper, spotted by our friend Bernie.

And what I think is a Green Frog, found by a young lady whose name I do not know.

🐸  🐸  🐸  🐸  🐸

While the lack of salamanders, and herps in general, was disappointing. It was nice to get out and meet up with the aforementioned Bernie as well as our friend Barb (of Spadefoot Toad fame).

Friday, March 22, 2019

Weekday Wanderings ... Midway

On a Wednesday in May 2011 I found myself in San Diego. Just up the hill from the USS Midway, now a museum. So with an afternoon to kill I wandered on down, along with several of my then colleagues.

I was in San Diego for a business conference. My company, two owners ago, hosted an annual users conference, alternating east and west coast locales. The most recent prior owner did away with them.

It seems even on big ships space is at a premium.

Needed to store all the aircraft I suppose.

As a kid I was fascinated by airplanes. And was very cool to see them in person.

Not all that much runway. Now imagine that the sea isn't quite as calm and there are other planes in the air. Some maybe even shooting at you.

Magnificent ingenuity, a testament to the cleverness of us humans. But also a monument to our stupidity and inability to live together peacefully. I feel that way about military aircraft these days. Incredible what can be achieved. Sad what we spend so much resources on.

Angry Clouds

Over the yard.

In like a lion.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Yard Critter of the Day

A bit of yard art acquired at the Philadelphia Flower Show in 2018.

It survived the winter with just a bit of rust and a recently (thanks Patty) re-straightened tail.

All ready for spring.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Spring has Sprung

And the Eastern Chipmunks were out and about.

I noticed one running about on the waterfall, currently shutdown for the winter, out side my home office. (The white lines in these shots are the posts for our deck railing; adds a bit of a 'peeping tom' effect.)

And then I saw a second one, and the two chasing each other. But what made me get my camera was that one, in passing, "hugged" the other. How cute I thought. But what's the chance of that happening again? I figured I had missed the shot.

It happened again.

Now, chipmunks will be occasionally out and about during the winter, when the temperatures are mild. But this was different.

Very different.

Eastern Chipmunks have two mating periods, on in March-April and one in July-August. The gestation period is thirty days. And the young first leave the nest at about four weeks.

The pair will not stay together. The female will tend the nest and raise the young. Deadbeat dads the male are.

And then it was over, and time for a rest.

Or not, as it was but a short interlude.

And then it was really over.

The two of them stayed close to each other for the rest of the day, but as noted above the male will eventually wander off.

But for now, here is the happy couple looking out from under the veranda of their (her?) current home. Which will in the not too distant future be flooded, as the water will be flowing across these rocks.

🐿  🐿  🐿

I suppose if the tunnels were dug in the right way, the nest and food storage chambers may stay dry. And this is not the first year we've seen chippies in the waterfall rocks. So maybe they know what they are doing.

I hope so.