Saturday, August 31, 2019


Japanese Parasol (Coprinus plicatilis) mushrooms, which appeared for just a few days out by our back pond.

I took these with my iPhone. Quick snaps so I had something.

By the time I got around to taking my 'real' camera out they were gone.

Delicate and ephemeral. And quite photogenic.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Yard Critter - Eastern Kingbird

While brushing my teeth the other morning, I glanced out the window and saw a bird at the top of a tree in the back of the yard. "Looks interesting" I thought. Brushing on hold I went and got my binoculars.

Eastern Kingbirds. A bunch of them. I reported eleven in eBird, but there could have been twice that number. Migration has started. They were all about the tree tops. Flying from tree to tree. The one shown above was comparatively close, this is a cropped image taken with a 600 mm lens. But you can make out the white tail tip, which is diagnostic for this species.

There was also a confused Great Crested Flycatcher mixed in the flock. No doubt wondering who all these newcomers invading its territory were.

I watched and waited and they continued to fly about the yard. Occasionally one would alit closer. Not close, but closer. And sometimes I would be able to get on the bird with the camera, as with this shot (un-cropped, same lens) before it flew.

Finally, a pair landed in the crabapple tree, only to be quickly chased away by a couple of Cedar Waxwings.

And then, when I had given up and gone off to do other things, the birds appearing to have moved on,  some came back. Or a new group arrived. Either way, one displaced the Tufted Titmouse family at the at the birdbath. And I was able to snap a few shots. The lighting wasn't great. But as I'm prone to say, the image was blog-worthy.

And if I had a job I would have missed it all. I so prefer not working.

🐦  🐦  🐦  🐦  🐦

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

Thursday, August 29, 2019


Green Bank Observatory was not the first radio observatory I've visited.

It was this one.

The Very Large Array, which in this picture looks rather small. Hinting at the immensity of the universe.

Unlike the Green Bank Observatory, this one had no restrictions on digital cameras. Cellphones needed to be turned off, although you could turn one on, in airplane mode, snap a picture, and then turn it off. I surmise these scopes are listening at different wavelengths.

No bus tour here, a walking tour instead. And we, that's Patty in her gray coat, were able to walk right up to one of the dishes in the array.

Another difference was that there was no 'radio quiet zone' here. Of course, this is pretty much the Middle of Nowhere, NM so there isn't the need for a quiet zone. At least not yet. And the array is situated in a large valley, the surrounding mountains blocking out much of the radio noise.

The worst source of interference is caused by a source I'm listening to as I type this, satellite radio. The dishes cannot be pointed within ten degrees of one of the satellites as the signal will overwhelm any astronomical source.

📡  📡  📡  📡  📡

We visited the VLA in December 2011. This was our first Christmas trip together. Our main destination was Bosque del Apache NWR,  to see the large flocks of overwintering birds. Maybe I'll blog about that someday ...

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Guard-en Spider

At the end of our driveway, where it meets the street, this Yellow Garden Spider has, for several weeks now, been doing her best to guard our yard from biting flies.

Waging a silent war on these insect pests.

I've written about our deer fence on this blog. Now we need a fly fence.

If we only had enough spiders ...

Southampton, We Have A Problem ...

... too many caterpillars ...

... not enough milkweed.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Yard Critter - Green Stink Bug

Patty, who enjoys walking about the yard and gardens, found these on the Elderberry bush just off the back deck. She's always finding interesting stuff.

Green Stink Bug (Chinavia halaris) nymphs.

A nightmare image for insectophobes ...

But pretty cool for us insectophiles.

🐞  🐞  🐞  🐞  🐞

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

🐞  🐞  🐞  🐞  🐞

Thanks to John Maxwell for identifying these as stink bugs.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Yard Critter - Common Tumblebug

Latin name, Canthon piluarius.

It's a dung beetle. Which you no doubt gleaned from the image.

If not, that's a ball of dung the two beetles are rolling. Click here to see it roll.

"Dung of what?"; "Where they started from?"; "Where were they going?"; are all excellent questions for which I have no good answers. Patty had spotted them out in our bench garden. She alerted me, and I used my pocket camera, the one closest at hand to get these images. And my iPhone for the video.

While photographing I frightened them, with one burrowing into the mulch and hiding. Thus only the other was left to roll to ball alone.

I went to off get my DSLR and macro lens, but when I returned they were nowhere to be found. This all happened back in June and we've not seen them since. But that's true of many of the insect critters we see in the yard. But now we know that they are here, and will be on the lookout.

🐞  🐞  🐞  🐞  🐞

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

Bad Bird Photos of the Week

The other day Patty, who subscribes to every bird alert there is, received a text,"American Golden Plover at the Burlington County Fair Grounds". And as the fairgrounds are just a few miles up the road from us we had to go.

When we arrived our friend Terry, who is doing a Burlington County big year, was already there, bemoaning the large number of Killdeer, over 100, making the search for the plover, a Killdeer sized bird, that much harder.

Our target bird is dead center in this image, in which there are also at least five Killdeer. I used my Canon SX70 HS, the camera with the 1365 mm equivalent lens, and it is still a 'speck bird'.

We also had to contend with a large flock of European Starlings which kept flying about en masse.

Fifteen Starling, ten Killdeer, and one American Golden Plover.

There was also an Upland Sandpiper wandering about that I saw but did not photograph.

The fields in the Fairgrounds are off limits*, so one needs to bird from either the parking area or from along Route 206. And hope that you can get close enough for a good look This is pretty much the best we did.

🦅  🦅  🦅  🦅  🦅

* The fields are off limits ostensibly due to a Bald Eagle nest in the center of the fields. However, any young have long fledged by now, so it is not clear why it is off limits year round.

And one time I did have permission to wander about the fields. I was doing grassland bird surveys for NJ Audubon and a Vesper Sparrow had been reported here. So myself and fellow surveyor Bill Margaretta were asked to check it out and see if we could relocate it. We were not successful. But we did find eight male and two female Dickcissel, the males signing and defending territories. This at a time when one Dickcissel, found in north Jersey, was lighting up the bird alerts. And we couldn't tell anyone because the fields were off limits. And we had no effect on the Bald Eagles.

Sunday, August 25, 2019


Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is consists mainly of a large swamp, located in southern Georgia with just a tiny bit in northern Florida.

I went there looking for a bird. This bird:

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Obviously I found it. But it was not a sure thing.

Once found from New Jersey to Florida, today the species is endangered with a much more limited range. And I spent most of my time at the refuge looking but not finding. And it was only when I was leaving the refuge, resigned to the fact that I would not see the bird, that I spotted it. From my car as I was driving out. I quickly snapped the distant first picture, then getting closer to get a better, but still distant, image, and this with a 400 mm lens (I needed that super zoom!).

I left the refuge happy.

Earlier I had spotted another cool bird, one that can still be found as far north as Delaware, the Brown-headed Nuthatch.

I saw a variety of reptiles, including turtles (two species), lizards (two species?), and alligators. Lots of alligators.

These young, along with a dozen of their siblings, were just off the boardwalk. And were guarded by mom, a much larger beast. I saw adults, juveniles, and newborns (newhatched?) throughout the refuge.

These lizards, along with an all green variety, were common, sunning themselves on the boardwalk. I've not been able to identify them, I believe they are a type of anole, and several species are variable in color, with both green and brown morphs. Thus I may have only seen two color varieties of one species.

The coolest plant I saw was a carnivorous one.

The Hooded Pitcher Plant. Unfortunately I was not there at the peak of the growing season. But still cool to see.

Also cool was the misnamed 'Spanish Moss', which isn't either. The maple seeds give a nice touch of color.

There was also a historical site, the Chesser Island Homestead. Although not everything was so nicely labeled.

For instance, there was no sign to tell me that this is a fence. I was left to figure it out on my own. I guess the park service ran out of money.

The homestead was first settled in the 1850s and the last Chessers moved out in 1958. A hundred year run. Living on an island in a swamp. No wonder they look so happy.

I was only able to visit a small part of the refuge, most is accessible only by boat. There are more canoe trails than hiking trails. Another on the long list of places that merits a return visit.

🚣‍♀️  🚶‍♀️  🛶  🚶‍♀️  🚣‍♀️

Our friend Marie, last seen sitting under a tree, is going on a kayaking and hiking journey from Okefenokee Swamp to Cumberland Island in Georgia. I'm jealous.

I visited Okefenokee NWR in March 2011, on my way home from the Winter Star Party in the Florida Keys. Marie's trip prompted me to find and process the images from that trip. I have a good system for ingesting images and filing them so that even though I don't always process them in a timely manner, I at least know where they are. Except I couldn't initially find my Okefenokee pics. Obviously I did, along with a whole bunch of images that have not been added to my archives. Uh oh.

I visited Cumberland Island on that same trip, on the way to the Winter Star Party. And I properly filed and processed those images. And blogged about it back in 2011.

Here are links to the posts:

Wild Horses
Spanish Moss
Live Oaks
Feeding Gull


Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Universe Is Whispering To Us

In July we went to Mothapalooza (something else I need to blog about ... someday I'll catch up with all my pictures). We also visited a number of other places along the way (more pictures to go through).

Including the Green Bank Observatory, in West Virginia.

A bit of serendipity, as this was not on the itinerary.

This was, although not for me:

Image courtesy Patty Rehn
The Via Ferrata at Nelson Rocks. Yeah, no.

Eleni, Rachel, Patty

Our friend Eleni, Eleni's friend Rachel, and Patty in their nice orange helmets, spent the morning engaged in activities no sane person would ever consider.

I. along with our friend Marie, took advantage of the proximity and visited the radio observatory.

The observatory is located in the National Radio Quiet Zone, which limits the use of radio transmitters in the area.

We took a tour to see the scopes up close. Cellphones needed to be off. The motor vehicles allowed in to the scope area were older models, preferably diesel engines, and no fancy electronics. Bicycles were ok. And there are hiking trails though the area.

This truck is full of high tech equipment used to find sources of radio interference in the surrounding area, and work with the owners to remediate the issue. Faulty electric blankets, malfunctioning microwave ovens, WiFi base stations, to name but a few. My favorite was flying squirrels with radio collars.

Another limitation is on digital cameras. Seems the telescopes are so sensitive that even the small bit of radio frequency (RF) noise given off can ruin an observing session.

Thus, unless you have a film camera, all images are at a distance. Alas, I was not aware of this restriction until we were on the tour bus heading out to view the scopes. Has I known I could have purchased one of the disposable film cameras in the gift shop. Oh well.

Fortunately I had a Canon SX 70 HS with me. A camera with a whooping 65x optical zoom, the 35 mm equivalent of a 1365 mm lens. Wowza!

In Uganda (more pictures to process!) several of the participants had so called 'bridge' cameras. Lightweight with superzoom capabilities. The most popular was the Sony HX line. Having a lightweight camera for the Iceland hike (still more pictures to get to, I'll never catch up) was very appealing. But while I'm very happy with my Sony RX 100 II, I opted instead for the Canon for two reasons. The Sony camera was last updated in 2014. And it did not allow for shooting in RAW mode (I'm not good enough to shoot JPEGs). There are tradeoffs. The camera has a small sensor size, and the image quality is not as good as a DSLR. But is another tool in my bag.

I was able to take pictures around the visitors center, of the historical radio telescopes there.

Marie, in the shade of the tree, ponders life, the universe, and everything. And Grote Reber's home made radio telescope. This is not a facsimile, it is the actual telescope, transported from Wheaton, IL to Green Bank where it was reassembled and painted for display. No longer a functional instrument it is a fascinating bit of astronomical history.

Reber had learned of Karl Jansky's pioneering work in radio astronomy at Bell Labs, which inspired him to build his receiver in his back yard. A replica of Jansky's much more primitive receiver is shown above. Jansky was investigating radio noise and discovered that something at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, now known to be a supermassive black hole, was emitting radio waves.

Also on display is the horn antenna used by Harold Ewen and Edward Purcell at Harvard University. With this they were the first to detect the 21 cm radiation from neutral hydrogen.

But the star of the show was the Green Bank Telescope, the worlds largest movable structure. It is massive. And very good at detecting the whispers.

To give an idea of the size, the red light at the top of the secondary holder is six feet tall. The dish could hold two football fields, with room for bleachers.

📡  📡  📡  📡  📡

Sadly, this facility, which was once the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO, which has since added other facilities) was slated to lose all NSF funding starting in 2016.  Thus a private consortium took it over and rechristened it the Green Bank Observatory. It is yet to be seen if these new sources of funding will be enough to maintain the facility long term. I hope so.

Maybe if we used the money wasted on Trumps golf outings ...