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Sunday, November 11, 2018

Autumn Leaf Edition

from Autumn 
by Rainer Maria Rilke 

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space. 
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Halloween Aftermath

Halloween must seem like a free food windfall to squirrels. Click to enlarge. 
From this. 
To this.  
There are chewed up pumpkins all around. 
Because pumpkins are delicious and nutritious. 
And we love the corn, too. Thank you. 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Squirrel Holiday

I love Halloween decorations. 
So do I. 
A funny thing happened. You know this corn that people decorate with for Halloween?  The other day I woke up and looked out my window. There was something moving out there that I couldn't quite make out. It was the size of a small dog, pale yellow, maybe with waving tentacles, and moving in a jerky run along the sidewalk.  The first thing that came to my mind, not being fully awake, was that it was a big yellow spider. It stopped running and sat and quivered. I still couldn't figure out what it was, so I got my binoculars. It turned out to be a squirrel carrying an ear of dry corn like above with yellow husks still attached, which can look a lot like giant yellow spider legs from a distance if you are just waking up. I figure that one of my nearby neighbors is missing an ear of corn from a Halloween display. Click to enlarge. 
I couldn't photograph the moment, but here is an artistic Photoshop recreation. 
So -- seasonal decorations or tasty snacks? 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Caterpillar Update

Last week's blog ended with a cliffhanger. (Click here to read it.)
Were the black swallowtail caterpillars outside on the parsley plants immobilized by the cold or preparing to molt? The very next day the caterpillar above transformed into the stage pictured below. Click to enlarge. 
That black stuff below is its old skin. 
I touched him and he stuck out his little yellow stinkhorn. 
This morning it looks like this, about an inch and a half long -- about half an inch longer than it was this time last week. It is voraciously devouring parsley leaves. This seems almost certainly to be the generation that will spend the winter in chrysalis form. I want them to be fat and ready before I release them into the field of Queen Anne's lace where my other parsley cats have gone. Just waiting for the one pictured below to get a little bigger. 
I call this one Cat2. It shed a skin this morning. I'll bet it is feeling loose and empty and ready to eat some parsley. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

More Caterpillars on the Parsley

A black swallowtail caterpillar, Papilio polyxenes. This one is on a parsley plant outside on my porch. It's not the first time I've had swallowtails lay eggs on that plant. A month ago I found a family of them and wrote a blog which you can read by clicking on this sentence. I did not have enough parsley to support that whole family so I set them free in a field of one of their host plants, Queen Anne's Lace. You can read about that by clicking on this sentence. I thought it was all behind me and then this happened -- a new cohort of caterpillars appeared on the same parsley plant. I still don't have enough parsley to support them, so this group will be joining the others in the wildflower field. The caterpillar in the picture above is about an inch long. I spotted them when they were less than a quarter of that. Click to enlarge. 
I hope they can deal with the sudden cold snap. This one has been sitting still in this position since the temperature dropped two days ago. Seems to be holding its face in its hands. Maybe tomorrow when it warms up it will get back to eating and growing. Maybe it is just planning to molt its skin; it is hard to tell what caterpillars are planning, but I know it has to get through a few more stages before it is safely wrapped in its winter chrysalis. 

Sunday, October 7, 2018


Leaves are beginning to turn color and fall. It's a great time to take a long walk. 
The marshy shores of the Rancocas Creek are yellow with autumn flowers. 
A carpenter bee works in the goldenrod. Click to enlarge.
A fence lizard warms in the afternoon sun. 
There's clear blue autumn sky above and below. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Flower for a Day

Do you recognize these flowers? Click to enlarge. I am seeing them lately on lawns, and in parks and fields. Some people call them mouse ear flowers for the two blue petals. They  are also known as Asiatic dayflowers, Commelina communis. They are introduced and invasive in the U.S. and reviled as weeds, but let's put that aside for now. I'm working on a project with plants and have been brushing up on botanical terms and flower parts. I took a closer look at these flowers. 
My first reaction was, huh, what is all this stuff? There seem to be too many parts here. I was expecting stamens around a pistil like in a tulip. 
So I took a close photo and read up on this wonderfully complicated little flower. To begin with, there are three petals. There is a small white-colored one below the blue ones and behind the thready white and yellow reproductive parts. As for them: there are five stamens here. The three that look like little yellow flower faces across the top are infertile, just for show, to attract pollinators. The three long filaments with fuzzy yellow pollen-covered anthers on the end are fertile stamens. The long white thread that curves around on the right in this photo is the female style with stigma on the tip: it will catch pollen eventually that will grow down the tube to the ovary at the base to start a seed. Phew. 
Here's a diagram if you are following along at home. 1 = two blue petals. 2 = one inconspicuous white petal. 3 = one style (female part). 4 = three fertile stamens (male parts). 5 = three infertile stamens (tricky parts). And it is called a dayflower because each flower blooms for one day. I took these pictures this morning. The entire bed where I plucked them is flowerless now as dusk approaches.