Sunday, September 21, 2014

Last Day of Summer

Summer ends tomorrow, September 22nd, at 10:29 p.m. in New York City. Goodbye butterflies! (And moths.)

Click to enlarge. 
Tis the last rose of summer, 
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone.

- Sir Thomas Moore

The Last Rose of Summer, 1830

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Spun Glass Caterpillar

The spun glass caterpillar, Isochaetes beutenmuelleri. Click to enlarge.
I was in Kentucky last week, relaxing with horses, caves, and bourbon. While walking in the woods at Mammoth Cave National Park, I saw this lovely larva, commonly called the spun glass caterpillar. It is about 3/8 of an inch long and almost as wide, pale green, practically transparent, and covered with spines and hairs. It looks like a miniature Christmas ornament. Its main food is the foliage of the swamp oak tree. Theoretically, they can be found from New York to Florida and west to Texas and Colorado, but they are uncommon and I had never seen one before. It grows up to become a relatively drab moth, which you can see by clicking on this sentence.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Egyptian Geese

The Egyptian goose, Alopochen aegyptiaca. 

Egyptian geese are abundant in Kensington Gardens in London where I took these pictures. The bird's native range is in the Nile Valley in Egypt and throughout subsaharan Africa. Introduced and escaped birds have established feral populations throughout southern Europe. I sometimes see Egyptian geese in urban parks in the northeastern United States. Feral populations of Egyptian geese are proliferating in Texas around Houston where they were  the subject of a recent scientific study; the results indicated that Egyptian geese seem to coexist peacefully with native waterfowl and may even deter colonization by less well-behaved Canada geese.
Egyptian goslings. Click to enlarge.
Egyptian geese are robust long-necked birds, with pink legs and feet, brownish backs, tan bodies, and black tails. They have conspicuous chocolate-brown eye patches and pink bills with a black nail at the tip. A white wing patch is visible in flight. It is hard to catch a photo of it, but each bird has a chocolate-brown patch low on its breast.

The Egyptian goose is the only species in its genus in the family Anatidae, which contains all geese, ducks, and swans. Technically, and despite their English name, Egyptian geese are not geese. Neither are they ducks. They have characteristics of both and their closest relatives are the goose-like Old World shelducks.

Geese are popular subjects for Haiku. Here are a few written in the early 1800s by the master, Issa.

           honking geese--

            I picture skies

            over inns

            geese and ducks

            wipe their feet...

            on the irises

            geese at my gate--

            another seductive rain

            falls today

            making themselves at home

            asleep, awake...

            geese at my gate

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Happy Labor Day!

The common eastern bumblebee, Bombus impatiens, with big yellow sacs of pollen on its legs. Click to enlarge. 

Bees, by Norman Rowland Gale
You voluble,
Vehement fellows
That play on your 
Flying and 
Musical cellos,
All goldenly
Girdled you 
Serenade clover, 
Each artist in 
Bass but a 
Bibulous rover! 
You passionate,
Pastoral bandits,
Who gave you your 
Roaming and 
Rollicking mandates?
Come out of my 
Foxglove; come
Out of my roses
You bees with the 
Plushy and 
Plausible noses!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Great Black Wasp

The great black wasp, Sphex pensylvanicus
The great black wasp is my absolutely favorite wasp -- for two reasons. First, it is beautiful: jet-black with blue and purple reflections in its wings. Second, it is thrilling to see one because they are so big. I always have a moment before I recognize it, when my subconscious tells me to run away. I know they are not aggressive but it takes a few seconds to overcome my instinct.

They are called great because they are so big -- up to almost an inch and a half long. I see them in my Brooklyn neighborhood from July through October. I've written about them before (click here to read an earlier blog) but I saw the one in the photos today and was reminded how much I like them and how pleased I am to see them every summer.

Click to enlarge. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Snow Geese

I don't remember ever feeling a chilly wind in the northeast in August until last night on my way home from work. August 15th! It reminded me of autumn, and that reminded me of snow geese.

My favorite place to see migrating snow geese is the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Galloway, New Jersey, where I took these pictures last year. The geese begin to arrive there in October. Their numbers peak from mid-November to med-December when the flocks are so large that the water and the sky are often white with them and the place is noisy with the sounds of honking geese.
Snow geese, Chen caerulescens. Click to enlarge.
Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
The bird on the left is wearing a collar band. It must be part of a scientific tracking study. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Tufted Ducks

A pair of tufted ducks, Aythya fuligula, male left and female right. 
I photographed this pair of tufted ducks in a pond in a park in London where they are common. The male's eyes are bright yellow, his beak is blue with a black tip, and he has a conspicuous tuft of feathers on the back of his head from which the species gets its common name. Breeding season has passed and this male is changing into eclipse plumage; in a few weeks his white flanks will be brown. When breeding, his dark back and breast are black, his head has an even brighter purple and green gloss, and his white flanks are brilliant.

The female tufted duck is brown with yellow eyes and a dark bill. 
Tufted ducks are common throughout Eurasia. In winter, they sometimes show up on either coast of the United States and Canada. Rare bird alerts go out and birdwatchers rush to see them and check them off their life lists.

Click to enlarge.

"... ducks are soothy things

And lovely on the lake
When the sunlight draws
Thereon their pictures dim
In colors cool..."

from the poem DUCKS by 
Frederic William Harvey