Sunday, December 29, 2013

Happy New Year!

Click to enlarge. 
My creature of the year award for 2013 goes to ...

The rosy maple moth, Dryocampa rubicunda, of Atsion Lake, New Jersey. The furry pink and yellow adult in the pictures was photographed in April. The larval stage of the rosy maple moth feeds on maple leaves.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Happy Holidays!

A differential grasshopper, Melanoplus differentialis, photographed last summer. Click to enlarge. 
This grasshopper is also called a herringbone grasshopper for its boldly patterned hind legs. The local population is underground now -- overwintering as eggs. They'll be dormant for a few more months, then hatch when warm weather returns. (Hopefully they won't be fooled by the current warm spell in New York City.)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Dabbling Ducks

A few pairs of dabbling ducks. Dabblers do not dive to feed. Instead, they tip over at the water surface with their heads underwater and their tails in the air.
Blue-winged teal, Anas discors. The male has a distinctive white crescent on the face. Click to enlarge. 
Northern shoveler ducks, Anas clypeata, famous for the large bill. The colorful male is on the right and behind the relatively drab but equally big-beaked female. 
The familiar mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos. The green-headed male has a clear yellow bill. 
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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Summer Birds, Winter Birds

An osprey, Pandion haliaetus. Click to enlarge.
Some birds fly south away from us in winter. Others fly south to us.

Osprey leave the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, where the above picture was taken, in early September. They spend the winter along the coasts of Central America and southern North America, and throughout much of South America.

Two male northern pintail ducks, Anas acuta

Northern pintail ducks breed in summer in Northern Eurasia, Alaska, and across Canada. They fly south to spend the winter along the east and west coasts of North America and across the southern half of the United States and into South America. Some pintails, like the ones in this photo, end up at the Forsythe Refuge in south Jersey.

The ospreys are gone, but the pintails are back. Yay!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hooded Mergansers

A pair of hooded mergansers, Lophodytes cucullatus, in the foreground. The female on the left has a cinnamon colored crest. The male's white hood is expandable. 
Running on the water for takeoff. 
Click to enlarge. 
Birdwatchers call them "hoodies." I saw this pair and lots more of them at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Oceanville, New Jersey, on the day after Thanksgiving. The little ducks are about 20 inches long, have a wingspan of about two feet, and weigh between one and two pounds. They are found throughout the eastern half of the United States and in the Pacific northwest year round, and in various parts of North America for winter and breeding. (Click here to see a map if you are interested.) Hoodies are diving ducks, likely to disappear while you are watching them and reappear at a distance in any direction. Underwater they catch fish, crustaceans, and insects, or pick up mollusks and vegetation.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


The wild turkeys of New Jersey, Meleagris gallopavo. 

Slipping into the woods. Happy Thanksgiving! Click to enlarge. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Flesh Flies

A pair of flesh flies, family Sacrophagidae, copulating on a fence rail. Click to enlarge. 
I saw these flies on a fence in Brooklyn Bridge Park. I was the only one of hundreds of people there who was watching the flies have sex. It impressed me with how much of the lives of urban critters goes unnoticed, as if they occupy a parallel universe.

Here is a poem by Ethel Jacobsen.
The Insect's World

Insects are creatures with three pairs of legs,
Some swim, some fly; they lay millions of eggs.
They don't wear their skeletons in, but out.
They come in three parts. Some are bare; some have hair.
Their hearts are in back; they circulate air.
They smell with their feelers and taste with their feet,
And there's scarcely a thing that some insect won't eat:
Flowers and woodwork and books and rugs,
Overcoats, people, and other bugs.
When five billion trillion keep munching each day,
It's a wonder the world isn't nibbled away!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Great Black-backed Gulls

An adult Great Black-backed Gull, Larus marinus. They are called great black backs for short, or just black backs.  Click to enlarge. 
I saw a flock of great black backs on the beach at Cape Henlopen Point State Park in Lewes, Delaware, a few weeks ago. They are the largest gulls in the world. Adults are about 30 inches long with a wingspan of about five feet. They have pink legs and a yellow bill that has a red dot on it near the tip. The adult in the picture above is in non-breeding plumage with faint streaking on the head; when breeding the head is pure white. The bird's size and dark colored back and upper wings make it easy to identify.

The brown checkered plumage of the bird in the center identifies him as a juvenile. He was born this year and is still wearing his first set of feathers. His bill is black. His legs are pink.  

The bird in the center, above, is also immature but changing from  the juvenile state  into his first winter plumage, which is a bit darker and shows some pink at the base of the bill. He is hiding his pink legs. Great black backs take four years to achieve their adult plumage, passing through summer and winter outfits every year until then.  

I walked all the way around the point from harbor side to ocean side. I recommend it. Click here for directions and information. There are two lighthouses!

Delaware Breakwater Light. 
Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Goodbye Broad-winged Hawks

The broad-winged hawk, Buteo platypterus, is pale below with brown barring.  The dark tail has a conspicuous wide white band in the middle, with thinner stripes at the base and tip. The wings are light below with brown barring and have a wide dark band on the trailing edge. Click to enlarge. 
Here's a hawk we won't see again until next spring. Broad-winged hawks are long-distance migrants. They leave early, passing Cape May on the way south in September and early October. The one in the photos is probably in South America now, soaking up the southern spring sunshine. Individual broad-winged hawks have been tracked traveling about 70 miles a day during migration for a total of over 4,000 miles.

I took these pictures on a warm spring day in Whitesbog, New Jersey. When the weather gets warm again, the broad-wings will be back.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Praying Mantis

This is a female Carolina mantis, Stagmomantis carolina. It is one of quite a few different species of insect called "praying mantis." Carolina mantises come in green, brown, and combinations of both. Click to enlarge. 
The females of this species are easy to identify because their wings only cover three-quaters of the abdomen, like a hip-length jacket. I just saw four of these mantises in the space of two days -- all females. Was that a coincidence or are they up to something?
P.S. The brown one was photographed on a fencepost near the pond in Brooklyn Bridge Park. That's a bit north of their traditional range. But it is not unusual for them to get around on plants and by boat, car, truck, train, and other accidental transport. People also introduce them to gardens as egg cases from garden supply stores. Mantises are beneficial insects that prey on insect pests. Happy to see they have found our park!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Gooseneck Barnacles

Gooseneck Barnacles. Click to enlarge. 
I was walking around the tip of Cape Henlopen in Lewes, Delaware last week when I came across the prettiest thing I have ever found on a beach -- a bunch of gooseneck barnacles. Barnacles are filter feeding crustaceans that attach to rocks or flotsam in the marine intertidal zone. These were attached to a floating marker that had broken its rope -- a bright blue and orange rigid plastic ball that said 29.  I expect that when the tide came back, float 29's gooseneck barnacle community went back out to sea.

As surprising as it now sounds, in ancient times these barnacles were thought to be the immature stage of a bird called the barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis). The shell and stalk kind of resemble the head and neck of a white-faced goose, right? Barnacle geese migrate to Britain and Ireland to overwinter there, but they nest elsewhere. Once upon a time, finding no nests, eggs, or chicks, people concluded that the birds grew from gooseneck barnacles until fully feathered and then sprang out of the sea. Very imaginative!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Locust Borer Beetle

A locust borer beetle, Megacyllene robiniae
Locust borer beetles can be found on goldenrod flowers now. You might take one for a black and yellow wasp if you look too quickly. Closer inspection will reveal their exceptionally long antennae; locust borer beetles are members of the family cerambycidae that are called"long-horned" beetles because of them.

They spend their larval stages on black locust trees. When they are not busy eating goldenrod pollen, the autumn adults can be found on locusts tree trunks, mating or looking for good places to lay eggs. The larvae hatch before winter and spend the cold months under the bark. When the weather warms, they'll burrow into the trunk and pupate. They emerge as adults in late summer and early fall and begin the cycle again.
The adult eats goldenrod pollen. Note that the third yellow stripe on its back is shaped like a W. 
One of the prettiest insects ever! 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Picture-winged Fly

This is Delphinia picta, a picture-winged fly. Click on the photo to enlarge. The fly gets its common name from its striking wing pattern; it has two white triangles on the leading edge of each wing and a few decorative white swirls on a shiny brown background. Very attractive!  
Head-on, the fly looks like it is wearing a tiny gas mask. As it walks, it  moves its wings in  a rowing motion. 

Picture-winged flies lay their eggs in rotten vegetation. The larvae spend a few weeks feeding there, then pupate for a few weeks, and then emerge as adults. When the weather cools, late season larvae crawl into the ground and become quiescent for the winter. They following spring, they wiggle upward, pupate, become adults, and start the cycle again. 

I saw numerous picture-winged flies sunning themselves on benches in Brooklyn Bridge Park this summer (I'm assuming they were sunning, but maybe they were speed-dating). The next generation is surely sleeping under the grass now, not to be seen again until next spring . 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Walk in Maine

One day last week I took a walk in Maine -- on the nearly mile long breakwater to the lighthouse in Rockland Harbor. 
The Rockland Harbor Breakwater Light.

The breakwater that leads to the lighthouse is made of large stone blocks with cracks between them. You have to watch your footing! 
Looking back along the breakwater to the land.  Phew! 
On both sides of the breakwater, double-crested cormorants, Phalacrocorax auritus, were diving for fish. 
Herring gulls, Larus argentatus, were swimming among the lobster buoys. This is an adult in winter plumage.
Click on the photos to enlarge. 
Chipmunks were running around in the little park where the breakwater begins. This is the eastern chipmunk, Tamias striatus

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Autumnal Equinox Today

The autumn equinox occurred at 4:44 this afternoon, EDT, giving us 12 hours of daylight and 12 of dark as the sun crossed the celestial equator. Summer ended. Autumn began. Here are pictures of some of the last of summer's butterflies (and one lovely moth) taken in my Brooklyn neighborhood during the last few weeks.

Cabbage White, Pieris rapae. Click to enlarge. 
Buckeye, Junonia coenia
Sachem, a skipper butterfly, Atalopedes campestris
Ailanthus webworm moth, Atteva aurea
American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis

A haiku written by the Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa in 1814:

are you aware 
that autumn has dawned?
meadow butterfly

Sunday, September 15, 2013

First Winter Herring Gull

A young herring gull, Larus argentatus, flying with a crab in its mouth. Herring gulls are common on both American coasts in winter. Click to enlarge.  
Herring gulls take four years to acquire their adult plumage, molting into different sets of feathers, each with a distinctive appearance, each summer and winter. The bird pictured above was born this year and is in its first winter plumage now in September: mottled brown all over, patterned wings, slightly paler head with a dark eye, a mostly black bill, and pink legs.

Walt Whitman, the poet, also stopped to watch gulls. He might have been thinking about herring gulls when he wrote this in his poem Crossing Brooklyn Ferry:

 ... seagulls -- I saw them high in the air, floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies, I saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies, left the rest in shadow, I saw the slow-wheeling circles, and the gradual edging toward the south. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Flesh Fly

A flesh fly in the family Sarcophagidae. They typically have three longitudinal stripes on the back and a checkerboard pattern on the top of the abdomen. Click to enlarge. 
Flesh fly larvae (maggots) feed on corpses and carrion, and sometimes on the wounds of mammals, hence their common name. They are also found on excrement and decaying organic matter. Adults feed on sugary liquids like nectar, sap, and fruit juice. But sometimes they just sit in the sun casting tiny shadows.

The one I photographed, above, was grooming itself on a yellow sign. It reminded me of this haiku from the Japanese poet, Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828):

Don't strike
the fly! He wrings his hands! 
He wrings his feet! 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is only 25 miles from New York City in Vernon, New Jersey. It's a great place for a day of strolling and wildlife spotting. There are duck blinds, roads and trails, wildflower fields, and boardwalks over marshes.

Wood ducks and eastern bluebirds are some of the wildlife rock stars that breed in the refuge. On a recent walk I saw a mother wood duck steer her flock of seven teenage ducklings deeper into the brush and away from my prying eyes.

If you pause on the boardwalks and look carefully at the marsh vegetation, frogs, birds, snakes, and dragonflies will come into focus.

Check the lily pads for bullfrogs; there are lots. 

This bullfrog had a tail! It was in the last stages of transformation from tadpole to adult. 
A milk snake posed for a photo while being moved from a parking area to a safer place. 
Painted turtles bask by the boardwalks. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Flies on a Rose

Flower flies. Click to enlarge. 

     From the American haiku poet, James William Hackett --

Two flies, so small
It's a wonder they ever met,
Are mating on this rose.