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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Harvestman

I passed this lovely long legged creature while I was walking in Boundary Creek Park in Moorestown, New Jersey. Click on the photo to enlarge it. Years ago I would have thought it was a tremendously big spider; it was about 4 or 5 inches from leg tip to leg tip. But it's not a spider. It is a member of the large arachnid order Opiliones, usually called by the common names of harvestman or harvester, daddy-longlegs or granddaddy-longlegs. The opilionids don't spin silk and don't make webs. They don't make venom. Their bodies are not divided into 2 segments with a "waist" like spiders. Many but not all of the thousands of described species of harvestmen have these extremely long slender legs. I always find them like this, sitting motionless upon leaves, possibly waiting for unsuspecting prey like an aphid, mite, caterpillar, or whatnot to stroll past, but maybe just taking in the summer day.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Willet

Shorebird identification can be challenging for new bird watchers. But one of the shorebirds, the long-legged pigeon-sized willet, Tringa semipalmata, helps out by obligingly shouting its name "Pill Will Willet! Pill Will Willet!" and then spreading its wings to reveal white markings that differentiate it from all others. I cannot tell you how many times I've asked "Is that a willet?" to have the question answered by the bird itself with a call and a wing flash. Click to enlarge.
The willet is my pick for a father's day bird because, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, although both willet parents share the task of incubating eggs, only male willets spend their nights on the nest. Happy Father's Day to everybody!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Black Skimmers

Black skimmer couples, Rynchops niger, are nesting now on New Jersey beaches. Sandy beaches with light vegetation like the one pictured are among their favorite places to nest. The nest is just a scrape in the sand. Humans also like beaches like this and human disturbance combined with natural predation, habitat degradation, and flooding has led to these unique birds being endangered in New Jersey. I took the picture from farther away than it looks with a telephoto lens and tried not to seem aggressive. They ignored me so I think I was successful. Click to enlarge.
Adult black skimmers have a wingspan up to about 50 inches. The huge sleek bird feeds by flying  low over water with its beak open, the lower mandible cutting through the surface of the water and closing when it encounters a fish. (Click here to see it on YouTube.) But the thing I like most about them is the way they rest on the beach. Click on the photo above to enlarge; the four birds in the center are lying prone on the sand like a row of downed bowling pins. There is nothing average about a black skimmer.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Peacock Fly!

I was walking in Long Bridge Park in Burlington County, New Jersey, the other day. There are lots of wooden walkways over marshy spots on the trails. Whenever I walk on nature trail boardwalks like that I scan the handrails because they are good places to find insects basking in the sun and caterpillars that have fallen from trees. I was not disappointed. Stopping to investigate a tiny fly I saw the critter pictured above -- a peacock fly with its wings raised over its back, from which it gets its common name. Click to enlarge.
The peacock fly is more formally Callopistromyia annulipes of the picture-winged fly family Ulidiidae. They are found across North America. Both genders commonly strut with their wings up like this and several other individuals were near this one. Being only about the size of fruit flies they are easy to overlook and I had never seen one before.
This all reminds me of the last spectacular thing I found on the handrail of a nature trail: the rarely seen holy grail of caterpillars, a spun glass caterpillar, Isochaetes beutenmueller. It was on a wooden railing near the River Styx in Mammoth Cave Park in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. Sometimes it pays to keep your eyes down. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Happy Memorial Day!

Beverly National Cemetery in Beverly, New Jersey. Click to enlarge.
Sleep the sleep that knows not waking, 
Dream of battled fields no more.  
 
from Soldier Rest! Thy Warfare o'er
by Sir Walter Scott

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Lunch With the Crow

I've always had trouble photographing crows. They see me coming and despite my attempts to approach casually, they always pick up and leave before I get within snapping distance. So I was ignoring a crow one blue morning a few weeks ago as I walked to the edge of Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. I passed the lovely wildflower meadow on Pier 6 pictured here. The crow was calling from a high perch as I reached my favorite bench. Click to enlarge.
I was not even going to try to take that crow's picture. I unwrapped the lox cream cheese bagel I'd brought for lunch.
Then I settled in to watch the boat traffic on the East River; here's a nice red tug heading north past lower Manhattan.
The next thing I knew, that crow had landed really close and was looking at me. After a minute it came closer. I thought briefly of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds before realizing it was looking at the bagel on the bench beside me.
It turns out crows really like lox cream cheese bagels.
And they like to keep clean. Between bites, it flew to a fence railing and wiped the cream cheese off its beak.
Last seen flying toward Governor's Island. Something tells me he's going to become a regular lunch companion at Pier 6.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Coming Soon

I'm going to be in places without Internet service for a week or two, so I'm posting a preview of coming attractions. This crow is the subject of an upcoming blog -- maybe this Sunday but possibly the next. 
The story will also feature this delicious lox cream cheese bagel. 
And be set against the lovely background of Brooklyn Bridge Park on Pier 6.
Click to enlarge and stay tuned. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Spring Flowers

"People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us." Iris Murdoch 
"Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems by heart."
Rainer Maria  Rilke 
"The flower is the poetry of reproduction." Jean Giraudoux. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

April

A song sparrow, Melospiza melodia, getting its feathers ruffled by the wind. For comfort about how cold and rainy it's been this month, a Portuguese proverb: A cold and moist April fills the cellar and fattens the cow

Sunday, April 9, 2017

A Spring Day

I saw this American robin with wings stretched out soaking up sun in the park. My camera click disturbed him  and he folded up and flew away. It was a great day to appreciate spring with blue sky, warm sunlight, and soft breezes reminding me of this poem by Billy Collins. (Click the photo to enlarge.) 
Today

If ever there were a spring day so perfect, 
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw 
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,
indeed, to rip the little door from its jamb, 

a day when the cool brick paths 
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants 
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

And here's a picture of my neighborhood to prove it! A path to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with the skyline of lower Manhattan across the East River. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Bird Fight!

There's a bird in this photo. Look at the end of the horizontal pipe near the top. That pipe holds cables that suspend another traffic light over the roadway. Click to enlarge.
These are favorite spots for New York City's house sparrows (Passer domesticus) to build nests. I see birds coming and going from the ends of these pipes all over town. There is room for two nests, one on each end. The male sparrows fight to claim and keep them.
The urban bird house.
As I was passing this spot today, a pair of male sparrows fell onto the road -- fighting with wings, beaks, and claws. The next moment I realized a car was coming right at them. I had a second only to hope they would break off and fly away as city-birds-on-the-road usually do. But they didn't! The car ran right over them! Whatever I yelled was lost in New York's noise. Then the car passed and there the birds were on the road -- still fighting! It was their good luck to fall exactly in the center of the roadway so the car passed without hurting them. They did break off and fly away then, one doing evasive maneuvers and the other in pursuit. I have no pictures because it happened too fast, just a story. But geez birds. Don't fight in traffic!

Monday, March 27, 2017

March Wind

This immature peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) with feathers ruffled by the wind reminds me that I am cold, ruffled by wind, and increasingly impatient for warmer weather. We are in that time Charles Dickens described in Great Expectation as "those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold; when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade." Click to enlarge. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Equinox Eve

Tonight is the last night of winter! Doubtless these two raccoons I saw sitting in a tree last week looking down on snow-covered Central Park in New York City, will welcome the warmer season. Here's my favorite welcome spring poem. Click to enlarge.
When the Hounds of Spring

by Algernon Charles Swinburne

For winter's rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover, 
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remember'd is grief forgotten,

And frosts are slain and flowers begotten, 

And in the green underwood and over 
          Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Almost Spring

This is how it was around here last week -- all insects in crocus blossoms and the tossing off of overcoats. Click to enlarge. 
The birds were singing and making plans. This robin looks particularly ready and eager. 
But instead of more of this...
This again!
On Tuesday Philadelphia and New York City are expecting as much as a foot of snow, and possibly more. This calls for a poem. 

While yet we wait for spring, And from the dry 

by Robert Seymour Bridges

While yet we wait for spring, and from the dry
And blackening east that so embitters March,
Well-housed must watch grey fields and meadows parch,
And driven dust and withering snowflake fly;
Already in glimpses of the tarnish'd sky
The sun is warm and beckons to the larch,
And where the coverts hazels interarch
Their tassell'd twigs, fair beds of primrose lie.
Beneath the crisp and wintry carpet hid
A million buds but stay their blossoming;
And trustful birds have built their nests amid
The shuddering boughs, and only wait to sing 
Till one soft shower from the south shall bid,
And hither tempt the pilgrim steps of spring. 


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Nest Shopping

Nesting season has begun in New York City. This picture of a pair of European house sparrows, Passer domesticus, shows off the adaptability that helps theses birds live among humans so successfully. They'll make nests in natural cavities like holes in tree trunks, but also will readily move into man-made spaces like the hollow pipe the female on the right is sitting inside. The pipe holds cables that suspend a traffic light over Broadway in Manhattan. All over the city, males like the one on the left are defending traffic light cavities just like this one, and fights among males often break out around the streetlights in early spring. Females sparrows visit while the male nest-owner chirps and hops nearby, hoping a female will move in. This female looks pretty comfortable and might be thinking of how to decorate the interior with grass and fluff to make it a perfect dream nest. Looks like a match has been made. Click to enlarge. 
Meanwhile, in Central Park, this European starling, Sterna vulgaris,  has found a very nice natural cavity. Before long all the nest-worthy spots in the city will be full of cheeping nestlings. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Tufted Titmouse

I saw this tufted titmouse, Baeolophus bicolor, in Central Park on one of those spring-like days last week. Cute, right? It was picking up seeds someone had left on the ground. Click to enlarge. 

The bird preferentially selected sunflower seeds, like the one it's holding in this picture. How to open a sunflower seed if you're a titmouse? The same way a blue jay does it: fly away to a branch, hold the nut in both feet  and jab it with your beak until it breaks. 
Oh. And don't stop too long to watch the photographer. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Happy Washington's Birthday!

Just a gull sitting in a sun-warmed footprint in the sand on the beach at Coney Island in Brooklyn. Like us humans, the birds seemed to be enjoying the unseasonably warm weekend. Click to enlarge. 
Enjoy the holiday! 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Parti-colored Starling

Only kidding. It's so cold and rainy outside that I spent most of it sitting in a comfortable chair playing games and some of it creating imaginary birds with Photoshop from my archive of bird images. Click to enlarge. 
Here's another. I call it a green-belted hawk. 
How about a pink-winged mockingbird? 
Or a blue-breasted robin. Had enough? Here's a bird poem instead. 

A Bird Came Down the Walk 
by Emily Dikinson

A bird came down the walk:
He did not know I saw; 
He bit an angle-worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw.

And then he drank a dew
From a convenient grass,
And then hopped sidewise to the wall
To let a beetle pass.

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all abroad,- 
They looked like frightened beads, I thought; 
He stirred his velvet head

Like one in danger; cautious,
I offered him a crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home

Than oars divide the ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or butterflies, off banks of noon,
Leap, splashless, as they swim.


And this is what the birds above really look like: 

European Starling -- Sturnus vulgaris

Red-tailed hawk -- Buteo jamaicensis
Northern Mockingbird -- Mimus polyglottos
American Robin -- Turdus migratorius