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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Eye to Eye

This is my cat, Chase. When she’s in bright sunlight her pupils are thin vertical slits. I recently read a paper by Martin Banks, et al. about the pupils of terrestrial animals and why they are different shapes. Click here for the paper. The vertical pupils of cats, it turns out, are typically seen in ambush predators that are active day and night; hunters that sit still at close range and then pounce (which describes Chase to a T). The  pupil shape gives the cat a special kind of depth of field that allows her to estimate distances without moving her head. Stealthy! Click to enlarge.
This goat, on the other hand, has eyes on the sides of his head and horizontal pupils. The study found that’s a common arrangement for grazing animals that are always watching to see who might be sneaking up on them. According to the study, the horizontal pupils help light to enter the eye from in front and behind but not so much from above and below, giving the goat a nice panoramic view of its surroundings and some help evading danger.
Any questions?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Herringbone Root

I saw this while I was taking a walk yesterday. The root has grown through the cracks between the bricks in the sidewalk, turning at barriers and efficiently finding its way. I wonder how long that took? Click to enlarge.

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” 
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Zoo Squirrel

Big bowls of fresh greens, carrots, dried corn, healthy pellets, and other delicious things are intended for residents of the Cape May County Zoo in Cape May Courthouse, New Jersey, but lucky local squirrels easily get past some of the fences and share the bounty. This one is making itself at home. Imagine a bowl of breakfast you could fit a couple of people inside! Click to enlarge.
OMG -- there's corn? I love corn!

Sunday, January 28, 2018


I spied this groundhog walking along the shore of the Delaware River last fall. Groundhogs have a lot of common names, so you may know this animal as a woodchuck or a whistlepig or something else. Its scientific name is Marmota monax. I wonder if this one was starting to get the urge to hibernate. He looks well fattened and ready for a long winter's sleep. 

After having spent a few months in an underground burrow avoiding all the snow and storms we've been through, according to folk tradition, the groundhogs are expected to emerge this Friday, February 2nd, to predict how the rest of the season will go. They say if the groundhog sees its shadow it will run back into its burrow and we will get six more weeks of winter. But if it is not so startled, it will stay outside, signalling the end of winter.

There's an older holiday of February 2nd that also includes a weather prediction -- the Christian feast of Candlemas. A folk rhyme about it goes like this:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another fight;
But if Candlemas Day be clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.

One thing we know for sure is that spring will come eventually and it is not too early to anticipate its arrival. 

Click to enlarge.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

January Thaw

I love the morning fogs that come with January thaws. Do you recognize this landmark that looks like a bridge to nowhere and might give pause to Twilight Zone fans?
Moments later the lifting fog revealed one of the iconic towers of the Brooklyn Bridge over the East River in New York City. Click to enlarge.
By afternoon it is as if the fog had never happened. I bet the birds and animals are as happy as the humans with the pleasant warmer temperatures.
Here is Carl Sandburg's poem, The Fog

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Cedar Waxwing

I forced myself outside to take a walk in the windy cold yesterday and I was rewarded with a cedar waxwing sighting. Look at that smooth sleek masked and crested beauty. There were two of them sitting in a tree that was covered with dry berries, which is what they eat in winter along with cedar berries from which they get part of their name.
The waxwing part of their name comes from their bright red wingtips. The red parts actually are wax, a bright red waxy secretion thought to play a role in mate attraction. Click to enlarge. I'm attracted.
Their yellow tail tips are lovely, too.

The sighting reminded me of this poem, WAXWINGS, by Robert Francis.

Four Tao philosophers as cedar waxwings
chat on a February berry bush
in sun, and I am one.

Such merriment and such sobriety--
the small wild fruit on the tall stalk--
was this not always my true style?

Above an elegance of snow, beneath
a silk-blue sky a brotherhood of four
birds. Can you mistake us?

To sun, to feast, and to converse
and all together--for this I have abandoned
all my other lives.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Wendy's Crows

Today I stood outside in the cold for a while watching this crow forage in the trash behind a Wendy's fast food restaurant. I like the way it is puffing up its feathers. Click to enlarge. 

Another one flew over and then both left when I got too close, making dramatic silhouettes as they went. They are so sharply contrasted against the light sky that they made me want to turn them into Photoshop brushes. (Click here to read how I do that.) 

And here they are! Wendy's crows.