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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Little Woodpeckers

This female downy woodpecker, Picoides pubescens, seems to like my new suet feeder. She's about 6 inches long. Click to enlarge.
Before she flies to the feeder, she sits in a nearby tree for a few moments. I assume she is checking the area for dangers.
A male came by soon, too. You can tell the difference by the red patch on the back of his head. I often see a male female pair pecking in the trees together. Handsome couple!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sunday, November 26, 2017


The harvestman in this picture is about five inches long from the tip of one leg across the middle to the tip of another. Good thing it is not a spider, but just a harmless member of the order Opiliones, a group often mistaken for spiders. You might know the harvestman as a daddy long legs or a harvester or a variety of other common names. At the end of this long harvest themed Thanksgiving holiday weekend I remembered having heard that some people think the names harvestman and harvester originated from their abundance in agricultural areas at harvest time. This one seemed to be living up to that legend by posing on a leaf of a blueberry bush in a farmer's field. Click to enlarge.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

Some New Jersey wild turkeys slipping quietly into the woods.

 Perhaps the World Ends Here by Joy Harjo, 1951

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat 
to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it 
has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the 
corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to 
be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around 
our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down 
selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the 

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in 
the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents 
for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering 
and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are 
laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Autumn Leaf Edition

"How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days."
John Burroughs
Click on the photos to enlarge. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Thread-waisted Wasp

The season for photographing insects on flowers is coming to a close. Here's one of this year's last  -- the lovely thread-waisted wasp, Ammophila procera, shiny black with silver streaks on the thorax and a wide orange band around the center. Halloweeny color scheme, right? Click to enlarge.
This adult is drinking nectar at flowers but these wasps start life on quite a different diet. After mating, the female digs a burrow in soft ground or sand and then captures a caterpillar or other insect and stings in into paralysis. She places it inside the burrow, lays an egg on it, seals up the burrow, and leaves. A meal of fresh caterpillar will be waiting right there when the larval wasp hatches.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Halloween Edition

Happy Halloween! Gotta love the decorations everywhere. Click to enlarge.

I am seeing lots of animals out there, mostly skeletal, like this bird.
And this bony parrot on the pirate's shoulder.
And lots of mammals, too. I think this is a wolf a-howling.
A rat.
A cat.
A dog.
I even see an occasional horse. The thing about Halloween mammal skeletons is they have ears. Bony ears. Go back and look. Ears make them easy to identify but would not be found on real skeletons. Google a few.
But this spider skeleton is the funniest I've seen because spiders, being invertebrates, don't have any bones inside at all, just rigid exoskeletons. Now that's scary!
And I wish all the humans a fun Halloween!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Green Bees

Metallic green bees are among my favorite insects. I saw these glittering in the autumn sun yesterday as they gathered food from goldenrod flowers. These little native solitary bees nest in the ground, sometimes near each other in aggregations but the females separately supply their brood cells with eggs and provisions of pollen to feed on. There are lots of green bees out there right now getting the last of the year's pollinating done. 
Click to enlarge.

Here's something Ray Bradbury said about bees in his novel, Dandelion Wine:  
"Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don't they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers."

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Another Bubbling Fly

I saw this fly today while walking in a park in Moorestown, New Jersey. Click to enlarge and you will see that it is blowing a bubble. As I watched, it blew the bubble about twice as large as pictured above and then sucked it in and then blew it up again and sucked it in three times! Then it flew away. It's the third insect I've found bubbling.
 I wrote blogs previously about a fly and then a bee I saw bubbling. There are theories about why they do this but no agreement. Based on the number of times I've seen it in just a few years I'm beginning to think it must be common -- or else I'm just freakishly lucky.  You can go to my bubbling insect blogs by clicking on this sentence.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Happy Columbus Day!

A holiday is a good time for a day trip to the country. Seems like Autumn is coming slowly and subtly this year, yet cicadas are calling loudly and there's a constant hum of crickets in the woods. Reminds me of this from E. B. White in Charlotte's Web: 

"The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change."

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Carnivorous Plant Edition

I've been in the New Jersey pine barrens a few times recently, at Whitesbog in Browns Mills and at Brendan T. Byrne State Forest. While I was there I saw three kinds of delightful carnivorous plants: pitcher plants, sundews, and floating bladderworts. The picture above is of a group of pitcher plants. Click to enlarge.
The soil in the pine barrens is poor in nutrients. Up to the challenge, these plants supplement their diets, especially with nitrogen, by trapping insects. Those little pitchers contain water and digestive enzymes. When an insect enters a pitcher it is guided down and in by downward facing hairs on the interior surface which prevent its escape. It eventually falls in and its soft parts are dissolved and consumed.
This lovely but dangerous pitcher beckons with insect-attracting red lips. Pitcher plants and sundews grow in acidic conditions near water with lots of sun. You can find them by slowly walking along the shore of a pine barrens pond.
This sundew plant has sticky drops of liquid on its leaves that can trap an unwary insect and hold it while the leaf slowly curls around and then digests. If you search you can sometimes find empty empty insect victims still stuck to sundew leaves.
This is a floating bladderwort. The spoke-like arrangement of leaves at the water surface is inflated and floats the plant.
Underwater leaves have bladders that can trap tiny aquatic creatures using a trapdoor system activated by trigger hairs that respond to the touch of prey. Amazing, no? You will find these floating in still water.
Cranberries grow in the New Jersey pine barrens, and blueberries too; both are cultivated and can be found growing wild. It is worth a trip for the plants alone and the ecology is fascinating. In fact, a pine barrens special edition is coming soon.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Autumn has begun!

A mockingbird with persimmons. Click to enlarge.
I'd like to think that if Walt Whitman were here right now, he'd say: 

"Give me the splendid silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling, 
 Give me juicy autumnal fruit ripe and red from the orchard."


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Insects at Work

This week I noticed a lot of insects working. The honeybee above, for instance, is checking for pollen or nectar in a touch-me-not blossom. Click on the photos to enlarge.I also saw a few insects doing less common jobs.
Like this sand wasp digging at the door of its nest. That blur behind the rear legs is sand flying into the air. Adults typically visit the occupied nest to drop off captured prey like flies for developing wasp larvae to eat.
I also saw this yellow jacket scraping fibers off this wooden post. Note how shaggy the wood looks? It seems like such a popular spot for this activity that the wasps have worn it ragged. This wasp flew away when I approached but it or another just like it returned for more. They use wood fibers for nest building and repair. So many interesting insect jobs being performed all around us!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Summer Azure

I was walking on the sandy shore of the Delaware River in South Jersey right across from Philadelphia when I noticed this little butterfly sitting on a shell. The butterfly is the summer azure, Celastrina neglecta. If you click to enlarge you can see its proboscis extended and lying on the shell so I think it is obtaining moisture and perhaps minerals. Butterflies in its family Lycaenidae are well known for a behavior called puddling; gathering in muddy places to drink and obtain minerals from the soil. 
I usually see summer azures on flowers like this, but I guess they sometimes just get an appetite for seafood.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Happy Labor Day!

Have a wonderful holiday. Maybe make like this Zebra at the Cape May County Zoo and put your hooves in the air like you just don't care? Click to enlarge. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Monarch Caterpillar

I cannot let the summer end without sharing at least one lovely monarch caterpillar, Danaus plexippus. Monarch caterpillars are not very hard to find; just slowly examine a few milkweed plants and you'll eventually find them. What's tricky is getting its entire long caterpillar body parallel to the face of a camera lens so all of it is in focus.                      Click to enlarge.

And here is a thought provoking quote from Chirag Tuisiani:

"I wonder if the caterpillar at the threshold of death ever knew that she would get metamorphosed into a butterfly that she could fly."

Sunday, August 20, 2017

More Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillars

I wrote about milkweed tussock moth caterpillars last week -- Euchaetes egle, remember? And I keep seeing them. Look at all these guys! This must be the tastiest leaf on the milkweed plant. Click to enlarge. As I was wondering what it is like down there in their world I recalled the words below...  
"She sat down in a weed patch, her elbows on her knees,
and kept her eyes on the small mysterious world of the ground.  
In the shade and sun of grass blade forests,
small living things had their metropolis."
                                                                                           Nancy Price

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillar

I was looking at milkweed tussock moth caterpillars, Euchaetes egle, last week as they were eating milkweed leaves. This is the other caterpillar commonly found on milkweeds, in addition to the monarch butterfly caterpillar. Click to enlarge.
There were a lot of them, some in groups, eating side by side and they had eaten most of the foliage from quite a few plants in the patch. As I watched, I reached out to turn over a leaf to get a better look at whatever was under there -- part of a caterpillar was sticking out. I got a big surprise when three or four of them jumped into the air simultaneously; they seemed to spread out all their tufts so they looked like big spiders as they fell into the grass (or so my mind filled in). Then they scrambled into the brush very quickly for caterpillars. I've handled more insects than many people and don't think of myself as squeamish but these guys really made me jump. Great evasive maneuver caterpillars! If I had been trying to catch you, you foiled me and lived to eat milkweed another day!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Thread-waisted Wasp

Here's a wasp that seems to give new meaning to the term thread-waisted. I saw this fine example of Eremnophila aureonatata while it was sipping nectar from a summersweet blossom (Clethra ainifolia) in a park in southern New Jersey. It's a solitary wasp, and a hunter at times. When it is time to reproduce, females of this species prepare a burrow for their eggs and then capture and sting a caterpillar, paralyzing it. You can sometimes see one dragging a fat caterpillar across the ground. The unfortunate caterpillar gets stuffed into the nest for the larvae to feed upon as they grow. Unlucky caterpillar. Beautiful wasp.
Click to enlarge.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Rabbit News

This week's post is an update from the suburbs of South Jersey near Philadelphia. There are lots of rabbits here, hopping on lawns and eating grass. Click to enlarge.
Two days ago I noticed a bare spot on a lawn, bare soil with a shallow hole at one end, and I wondered what it was. The next day I saw a rabbit in that spot with its head in the hole. As I watched, the rabbit hopped around the lawn and gathered mouthful after mouthful of dry grass, which it carried to the spot and arranged to its liking. A nest!
It's a nest that is very hard to see, even if you know it's there. In this photo it is in the lower patch of sunlight.
Note the nicely constructed grass arch over the doorway. Yesterday there was just grass inside. I cautiously inserted a finger today and felt a soft lining of fur. I've read that female rabbits build their nests a few days to a few hours before giving birth and that adding the fur lining is the last step. Mother rabbits don't sit on their nests; they visit to nurse the babies in the morning and evening. So I can peek during the day without disturbing. Watch this spot. Hopefully there will be baby bunny photos in a few weeks.