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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Appreciating August

A ripe watermelon in the field. 

"If it could only be like this always -- always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe and Aloysius in a good temper..." 

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited


Sunday, August 5, 2018

Dog Day Cicadas

Dog day cicadas like the Neotibicen tibicen pictured above are chirping outside right now and have been at it for a few weeks. They are named for the dog days of summer when they appear. The dog days, traditionally early July to early August, are called that because the dog star, Sirius, appears in the predawn sky at that time. And the dog star is called that for being the brightest star we see in the constellation Canis Major -- the great dog. Click to enlarge. 

Here is my favorite cicada haiku. It's by Matsuo Basho

"The cry of the cicada
Gives us no sign
That presently it will die." 

Click here to read a previous blog about the lives of dog day cicadas. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Eastern Tailed Blue Butterfly

I have seen a lot of eastern tailed blue butterflies lately, like the one above. They are small butterflies with a wingspan of about an inch, that's across when open, so sitting like this it's only about half an inch tall. You have to get close to see details. Click to enlarge. 

My favorite detail is the ringed antennae, alternately black and white. Pretty! Also note that it has a small thin "tail" on each hindwing; when perched the butterfly typically moves its hind wings and the tails move up and down. The butterfly also sports three orange dots on the lower surface of the hindwing. Eastern tailed blues are legume specialists. The females lay eggs on a variety of leguminous plants like vetch and clover for the caterpillars to eat.

Eastern tailed blues usually perch with their wings closed. This guy would not open up all the way -- but you can see his nice colors. Males are blue on top and females are brown or gray above. 
And they can eat head down! 

Sunday, July 22, 2018


A female red-legged grasshopper, Melanoplus femurrubrum. Click to enlarge.
Seeing this grasshopper reminded me of this poem, by Mary Oliver. 

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean -- 
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down --
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. 
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. 
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what the prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down 
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, 
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, 
which is what I have been doing all day. 
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life? 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Starling Snack Time

I was walking in Central Park in New York City the other day when I heard the big gray baby starling on the right making a squeaky racket, clearly saying "Feed me! Feed me!" in starlingese. Click to enlarge. 
Parent found a tidbit! 
There you go. 
All the way in. 
More please. Back to picture one. The parent walked, found food, and fed, while the baby screeched for as long as I watched. A starling parent's work is never done. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Caterpillar Envy

A few weeks ago a friend of mine who lives nearby posted a picture on Facebook of a caterpillar like the one above. What a cool caterpillar! Was I ever jealous! Then a few days later this one showed up at my place. So, yay! I got my own! It's the caterpillar of the white-marked tussock moth, Orgyia leucostigma. It has four humps of bristles on its back, two flashy "horns" on its (red) head end, and a tufted "tail." Click to enlarge. 
Male white-marked tussock moth caterpillars eventually become grey moths with a white spot on each forewing. No surprises there. But females are wingless and flightless. The female has a swollen abdomen and stays near her empty cocoon to mate when a flying male arrives. She lays her eggs nearby. I'm combing the plants where I found this caterpillar in search of such a female. If I find one, you'll see it here. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Happy Fourth of July !

A red milkweed beetle, Tetraopes tetrophthalmus. Click to enlarge. 

The white underside of a summer azure butterfly,  Celestrina neglecta.

And the blue highlights of a red-spotted purple butterfly,  Limenitis arthemis
Yay! Have a wonderful holiday! 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

I Moved to Linden Avenue!

A blossoming linden tree. I'm pasting below a blog I wrote a few years ago about linden trees and flowers. Click the photo to enlarge. 
The American linden tree, Tilia americana, is also called basswood, lime tree, white wood, and bee tree. This blog is normally about wildlife, but I'm taking a moment to praise the linden trees that are blossoming in New York right now. In a city not noted for smelling good, the event is a delightful occasion. 

Linden tress smell fresh, green, flowery, and sweet -- a little like melon, a little like honey. The smell wafts hauntingly around the trees and spreads on warm breezes. It makes me stop and inhale. It smells so good that I look forward to passing each linden on my daily route, especially a big old tree on the northeast corer of Central Park West at 66th Street; its flower-covered branches droop over the sidewalk and diffuse perfume all around. 

Lindens are native to eastern North America. They are common in cities, suburbs, and forests, so a lot of places smell good right now. Closely related trees, also called lindens, grow throughout the Northern hemisphere. They are prized for their beauty. Their wood is especially valued by carvers -- linden wood decorates the great cathedrals of Europe. Linden leaves and flowers are used for perfumes and teas. Honey made from linden flowers has a light minty herbal taste that is renowned among honeys. 

Aromatherapists use linden to "calm and relax the body and the mind." We could use more of that. We should plant more lindens. 

I wrote a few other posts about linden trees after this one in past Junes. Click here. Or here. I really like linden trees. Then a funny linden-related thing happened. You'll see in the right hand side bar section "about me" that I added a June 2018 update. In short, I retired and moved out of New York City. I'm now living about 15 minutes from Center City Philadelphia, so there will be no lack of urban wildlife to discover. I am also close to the New Jersey Pine Barrens, which is full of interesting things. But the cool thing is  -- I moved to a street called Linden Avenue, and when the leaves on the winter street trees opened in spring I realized that the tree in front of my new home is a linden! And each of my close neighbors has a huge spreading linden out front, too. There are more up and down the block and they are all blooming right now so the air here is sweet with the smell of linden flowers -- fresh, green, flowery and sweet.  Like honey, melon, and limes. Ahhh. 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Happy Father's Day!

Chincoteague wild ponies. Click to enlarge. 
"The heart of a father is the masterpiece of nature."

                               -- Antoine-François Prévost

Sunday, June 10, 2018


A cabbage white butterfly on vetch flowers. Click to enlarge. 
I am appreciating June right now -- the hot sun, cool shade, little breezes, and scents of honeysuckle and privet. This butterfly reminded me of this line from Pablo Neruda's 100 Love Sonnets:

Green was the silence, wet was the light, the month 
of June trembled like a butterfly. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018


Meet the Broad-headed Sharpshooter, Oncometopia orbona. Click to enlarge.
This large leaf hopper is called broad-headed for obvious reasons. There are a couple of competing stories about why it is called a sharpshooter. Maybe it is because it can defend itself by spitting a liquid stream of waste at an adversary, causing a diversion while making its getaway. Then again, it might be named for the magnificence of its accurate bullet-like long distance leaping powers. OR it just might be its stealthy way of disappearing like a military sharpshooter, tiptoeing to hide behind a tree to avoid detection when approached. 

I played a game of hide and seek with this one while trying to photograph her from behind or above. Every time I moved, she moved deftly to the opposite side of the stem and then froze, giving the impression she was tiptoeing -- or should I say tip-tarsus-ing? 

I say her, because what I noticed first about this bug was the bright white wings patches. Female sharpshooters of some species produce this stuff and then store it on their wings until they lay eggs. Then they scrape it off their wings to apply a protective coating to the eggs.

Well met, Ms. Sharpshooter!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Happy Memorial Day!

Beverly National Cemetery in Beverly, New Jersey. Click to enlarge.
Soldier rest! thy warfare o'er,
Dream of fighting fields no more;
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Morn of toil, nor night of waking. 

from Soldier, Rest! Thy Warfare o'er
by Sir Walter Scott 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Feisty Egrets

Here's a lovely snowy egret with gold feet on display and plumes blowing in the wind.  It's  in a great fishing spot near the outflow from a water gate at one of the ponds at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Oceanville, New Jersey. 
It's a spot worth defending, apparently, and any unwary egret that gets too close gets chased.  The  one on the right looks cowed, doesn't it? "OK OK -- I'm going already!"
But egret #2 did not move fast enough and ended up getting a kwok-yelling, wing-beating, flying jump directed at him. 
Then a couple of others showed up and got the same treatment. "Go on, get out of here!"
Ok. Alone at last. Back to fishing. 
Until the next interloper arrived! 
There were interludes of unexpected synchronized flying. Very nice! 
Then finally alone again. This bird looks to me like it would grumble if it could. I'll bet  more challengers showed up after I left. 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Blueberry Robber

I learned something interesting about the eastern carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica. I was walking in the woods in south Jersey in a place near blueberry farms where lots of blueberry bushes grow wild in the understory. There were also lots of carpenter bees hovering around every wooden structure I passed that day; no doubt recently emerged from their overwintering chambers. Some of the bees were visiting blueberry flowers. No surprise there -- who wouldn't want some delicious blueberry flower nectar?                                Click to enlarge.  
Looking closer, you can see the famous white face of a male eastern carpenter bee. Click on this sentence to go to an earlier blog of mine that describes the carpenter bee's life cycle.  Carpenter bees are coming out of their winter homes right now, just as the blueberry bushes are flowering. Great timing! 
I found later that carpenter bees are famous for “robbing" blueberry flowers of nectar. They call it robbing because instead of sticking their heads in and getting covered with pollen, carpenter bees make slits in the sides of the flowers and go straight to the nectar at the base. In the picture above you can see some of these vertical slits on the flowers. Signs of bee robbery! And it doesn’t stop there. Honeybees come to the slits and take nectar. It’s not a total loss for flowers, though, because some pollen gets transferred.

You can click on this sentence to read the abstract of a paper in which it was experimentally demonstrated that the pollen transferred in about three robbery style visits equals that transferred by a blueberry pollinator doing it the conventional way. The study also found that carpenter bee robbery might actually be beneficial because of the large number of honeybees it attracts to the flowers. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018


I met this opossum at an outdoor event in South Jersey last weekend.  He's a wildlife ambassador for a conservation group, helping to promote good will toward opossum-kind by posing for photos and looking cute. He is cute, right? Click to enlarge. He was full of personality, too. 
Here he is eating a raw brussels sprout. The Virginia opossum, Didelphis virginiana, is the only marsupial that occurs naturally in the United States. Like other marsupials, mother opossums have a pouch to carry nursing baby opossums. Fun facts: the babies are called joeys, adult males are called jacks, and adult females are jills. LoL! 

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.