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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Spring Flower Edition

Spring flowers are open all around today. Yay! A quote from Iris Murdoch: "People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us." Click to enlarge. 










Sunday, April 15, 2018

Northern Shoveler Ducks

Here is a pair of northern shoveler ducks, Anas clypeata. The female is in front and the male behind. Shovelers are famous for their larger-than-duck-average bills, which are flattened on the ends, like shovels. The bill shape and their habit of using them to "shovel" food from the water gives the birds their common name. 
You often see them as in this picture, with their bills barely submerged. They sweep their heads from side to side to filter food from the water, finding algae and plant material, aquatic insects, crustaceans, and more. Click to enlarge. 
Shoveling. Makes it look easy, doesn't he?
Shovelers also sometimes up-end like this in a move called dabbling.  It distinguishes them and the rest of the surface feeding or dabbling ducks from ducks that dive underwater to feed. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

New Neighbors

One gray squirrel in the maple tree hole. Click to enlarge.
Wait ... there's two!
Make that three! Cuteness overload!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Still Cold

I have a new set of extension tubes to use with my macro lens. I've been practicing with them inside. Today was going to be the day I'd take them out and shoot stunning photos of insect faces. But thanks to the persistent cold, I have flowers in the snow instead. Click to enlarge. This has to end eventually, doesn't it? Insect faces hopefully coming soon. 


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Finding Spring

It's cold outside. There are still piles of snow out there. There's more snow predicted for Tuesday, the first day of spring. But walking around the neighborhood today I found abundant signs that it has already begun to unfold. Here are some. Click to enlarge.



And once again, it is time for my favorite lines from my favorite spring poem. 
"Hounds of Spring" from Atalanta in Calydon 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 green underwood and cover, 
Blossom by blossom the spring begins. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Another Snow Storm Coming?

Last week. And maybe again tomorrow. Click to enlarge.
But winter won't last much longer. Helleborus and snowdrops are blossoming and spring officially arrives in just 9 days. 
Here's an apt bit of poetry by Robert Seymour Bridges:

While yet we wait for Spring 

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 covert 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 4, 2018

Beaver Dam

I was walking on a trail in a nature preserve in south Jersey the other day when I came to this sign. Closed by beaver you say?
There was an orange warning finger, so I was definitely going that way.
I passed this. Beavers?
Then I passed this. Can't look any more beaver-gnawed than this.
Then the path ended in a pool and a beaver lodge. How cool is that?
Closer. Click to enlarge.
And to the right -- a beaver dam!
A big beaver dam. See it curling away like an S?
And here's the pond that the dam contains. Good job, beavers. I thought I heard a tail slap so maybe a beaver saw me, but I did not see it. I'll be back to check on progress here later, so hopefully I'll get a beaver to pose for me then.



Sunday, February 25, 2018

23 Days Until Spring

In 2012 I spotted this butterfly in New York City in March. Click on the photo above to enlarge it and see if you can spot the butterfly. Its color and shape matches almost exactly the pale petals of the flower so I almost missed it.
Yet there it was. It was my first butterfly sighting of 2012 and more dramatic than usual.

Just wanted to point out that we had a day with undeniably summery temperatures in the Northeast this week, and there are just over three weeks until official Spring. It is not too early to begin to hope for the first butterflies of 2018.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Eye to Eye

This is my cat, Chase. When she’s in bright sunlight her pupils are thin vertical slits. I recently read a paper by Martin Banks, et al. about the pupils of terrestrial animals and why they are different shapes. Click here for the paper. The vertical pupils of cats, it turns out, are typically seen in ambush predators that are active day and night; hunters that sit still at close range and then pounce (which describes Chase to a T). The  pupil shape gives the cat a special kind of depth of field that allows her to estimate distances without moving her head. Stealthy! Click to enlarge.
This goat, on the other hand, has eyes on the sides of his head and horizontal pupils. The study found that’s a common arrangement for grazing animals that are always watching to see who might be sneaking up on them. According to the study, the horizontal pupils help light to enter the eye from in front and behind but not so much from above and below, giving the goat a nice panoramic view of its surroundings and some help evading danger.
Any questions?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Herringbone Root

I saw this while I was taking a walk yesterday. The root has grown through the cracks between the bricks in the sidewalk, turning at barriers and efficiently finding its way. I wonder how long that took? Click to enlarge.

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” 
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Zoo Squirrel

Big bowls of fresh greens, carrots, dried corn, healthy pellets, and other delicious things are intended for residents of the Cape May County Zoo in Cape May Courthouse, New Jersey, but lucky local squirrels easily get past some of the fences and share the bounty. This one is making itself at home. Imagine a bowl of breakfast you could fit a couple of people inside! Click to enlarge.
OMG -- there's corn? I love corn!
Mmm...corn.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Groundhog

I spied this groundhog walking along the shore of the Delaware River last fall. Groundhogs have a lot of common names, so you may know this animal as a woodchuck or a whistlepig or something else. Its scientific name is Marmota monax. I wonder if this one was starting to get the urge to hibernate. He looks well fattened and ready for a long winter's sleep. 

After having spent a few months in an underground burrow avoiding all the snow and storms we've been through, according to folk tradition, the groundhogs are expected to emerge this Friday, February 2nd, to predict how the rest of the season will go. They say if the groundhog sees its shadow it will run back into its burrow and we will get six more weeks of winter. But if it is not so startled, it will stay outside, signalling the end of winter.

There's an older holiday of February 2nd that also includes a weather prediction -- the Christian feast of Candlemas. A folk rhyme about it goes like this:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another fight;
But if Candlemas Day be clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.

One thing we know for sure is that spring will come eventually and it is not too early to anticipate its arrival. 

Click to enlarge.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

January Thaw

I love the morning fogs that come with January thaws. Do you recognize this landmark that looks like a bridge to nowhere and might give pause to Twilight Zone fans?
Moments later the lifting fog revealed one of the iconic towers of the Brooklyn Bridge over the East River in New York City. Click to enlarge.
By afternoon it is as if the fog had never happened. I bet the birds and animals are as happy as the humans with the pleasant warmer temperatures.
Here is Carl Sandburg's poem, The Fog

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Cedar Waxwing

I forced myself outside to take a walk in the windy cold yesterday and I was rewarded with a cedar waxwing sighting. Look at that smooth sleek masked and crested beauty. There were two of them sitting in a tree that was covered with dry berries, which is what they eat in winter along with cedar berries from which they get part of their name.
The waxwing part of their name comes from their bright red wingtips. The red parts actually are wax, a bright red waxy secretion thought to play a role in mate attraction. Click to enlarge. I'm attracted.
Their yellow tail tips are lovely, too.

The sighting reminded me of this poem, WAXWINGS, by Robert Francis.

Four Tao philosophers as cedar waxwings
chat on a February berry bush
in sun, and I am one.

Such merriment and such sobriety--
the small wild fruit on the tall stalk--
was this not always my true style?

Above an elegance of snow, beneath
a silk-blue sky a brotherhood of four
birds. Can you mistake us?

To sun, to feast, and to converse
and all together--for this I have abandoned
all my other lives.