Monday, November 23, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

These New Jersey wild turkeys got nervous when they noticed me approaching. Click to enlarge.  
They slipped away into the trees and quietly disappeared. Stealthy! 

Sunday, November 15, 2015


A mockingbird in a persimmon tree. Click to enlarge.
The sun is going down at around 4:30 here now, so by the time I get home from work it's fully dark. Nevertheless there is autumn beauty all around. The wild persimmons are ripe and the birds are feasting on them!

Here is a poem for the season by Adelaide Crapsey. The poet was born in my  neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights in 1878.

               November Night

               With faint dry sound,
               Like steps of passing ghosts, 
               The leaves, frost-crisp'd, break from the trees
               And fall. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Columbus Circle Pigeons

There I was, sitting on a bench at Columbus Circle in Manhattan, eating a hot knish and looking around. A lot of things were going on: food vendors, sirens, souvenir sales, people renting bicycles, pet-walkers, skate-boarders, shoppers, police, horse-drawn carriages, beggars, preachers, pedicab drivers drumming up fares, New Yorkers walking fast, traffic churning, trains rumbling below, someone doing yoga, and a guy playing a saxophone. And right there in the center of it all --- pigeons. They seemed to be perching on the statues with particularly artistic flare. 
Is this boy showing off for his mother?
"Look -- three at once!" 
A pigeon delicately balanced upon the nose. 
A tender moment with mother, child, and pigeons.  Click on the photos to enlarge. This is the sixth blog I've written about pigeons! Type "pigeon" in the search box on the right for the others. 

"Pigeon friend of mine, 
Fly on, sing on." -- Carl Sandburg

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Another Walk in New Jersey

I wrote a blog in August about a walk I took in northern New Jersey. Here's another blog about a walk in New Jersey, but this time around Cape May at the end of October. The trees were turning colors around one of the ponds at Higbee Beach Wildlife Management area.  Click on the photos to enlarge. 
There were a lot of buckeye butterflies around. They are migrating now. Click here to see a previous blog about buckeye butterflies. 
Buckeyes are seasonally dimorphic; the undersides of their rear wings are tan or brown in spring but pink like this one in autumn. 
Through the woods and onto the dune path. 
To the windy beach. 
All the while migrating hawks were zipping overhead -- too fast for me to photograph, alas. 
Then a little more woods walking. 
Past a few of these south Jersey style swamps. 
In the sheltered spots there were green darner dragonflies, Anax junius.  They are migrating now, too. We can tell that this one is a male from the blue on its abdomen. 
Then there was this little metallic bee shining like gold in the sunlight. It's scientific name Augochlora pura means "pure golden green." These bees are usually green but can be coppery or gold like this one. It is one of the prettiest bees ever. 
And here is a spiffy hover fly from the genus Sphaerophoria. You would think it was still summer in some of the sunny protected corners of Cape May's fields. 
Then back to the leafy country road and home. 
There are some really pretty places in New Jersey. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Cape May Point

Cape May Point, New Jersey, is always nice -- but I love it in October. The leaves are changing, the summer tourists are gone, and the hawks are migrating. Click on the photos to enlarge.
Today there were lots of hawks sitting in the trees around the Point, like this handsome Cooper's hawk. 
But one of the best moments of my long walk was when I paused by a creek to investigate a quiet smacking sound. It turned out to be this mallard duck voraciously munching duckweed. Apparently duckweed is beak-smacking good. 
The autumn leaves looked great. 
The rest was soothing scenery. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cicada Killer

Here's an interesting insect from the summer of 2015 -- a big wasp I passed on a hot day in August. It's Specius specious, commonly called the eastern cicada killer or cicada hawk. 
At about an inch and a half long, the cicada killer is one of our larges wasps. Their huge size makes them look dangerous, but they are usually not aggressive and do not often sting us. They are solitary wasps that live alone; they lack the hive-defending sting-whatever-comes-close attitude of the yellowjackets they are sometimes mistaken for.

I saw this cicada the same day. It is also a really big insect, up to about two inches long.  Click on the photos to enlarge. 
It was not accident that I saw both of these on the same day; they are intimately associated. When a female cicada killer is ready to lay eggs she digs a nest in the ground. (Lawns, planting beds, and the edges of concrete slabs are favorite sites.) Then she goes out hunting cicadas.

She stings a cicada to paralyze it and then carries to her nest. The flight is laborious because the cicada is so big and heavy. The wasp will sometimes land along the way or stop to rest, holding onto the prey. Back at the nest, she pushes the cicada in and may go back to find more. After the nest is provisioned to her satisfaction she lays eggs on the paralyzed prey and seals the nest.

The eggs hatch into larvae that eat the fresh cicadas. Then, plump and satisfied, the larvae become pupae and spend the winter underground. They emerge from the nest the following summer, digging upward, and fly about eating flower nectar and plant sap until the time comes to breed, and hunt cicadas.

Check out how this wasp is resting with its front legs folded up to its shoulders. Maybe wasps do that all the time and I never noticed until I watched a giant. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Admiring a Great Blue Heron

I was admiring this photo of a great blue heron and its shadow when I remembered the poem below. 
Heron Rises from the Dark, Summer Pond  -- by Mary Oliver

So heavy is the long-necked, long-bodied heron,
always it is a surprise
when her smoke-colored wings

and she turns
from the thick water,
from the black sticks

of the summer pond,
and slowly
rises into the air
and is gone.

Then, not for the first or last time,
I take a deep breath
of happiness, and I think
how unlikely it is

that death is a hole in the ground,
how improbable that ascension is not possible,
though everything seems so inert, so nailed

back into itself --
the muskrat and his lumpy lodge,
the turtle,
the fallen gate.

And especially it is wonderful
that the summers are long
and the ponds so dark and so many,
and therefore it isn't a miracle

but the common thing,
this decision,
this trailing of the long legs in the water,
this opening up of the heavy body

into a new life: see how the sudden
gray-blue sheets of her wings
strive toward the wind; see how the clasp of nothing
takes her in.

Click on the photos to enlarge.