Sunday, November 17, 2019


It's getting cold. The leaves are almost gone. I have to shop for ingredients to bake for Thanksgiving. Must be November! Above are black vultures ruffling their feathers on a roof. Below is a pretty poem by Clyde Watson.


“November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.

With night coming early,
And dawn coming late,
And ice in the bucket
And frost by the gate.

The fires burn
And the kettles sing,
And earth sinks to rest
Until next spring.”

Click on the photos to enlarge.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed hawks are widespread and common across North America. They are often seen sitting on roadside poles and flying over woods and fields. They are tolerant of human noise and activity; I've seen them sitting on traffic lights in the heart of New York City while cars and pedestrians mill below. Click to enlarge the photos.
The hawk in this blog is a resident wildlife ambassador at Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in Medford, New Jersey, photographed at one of their occasional raptor photography sessions. Click here for the website of the refuge.
You've probably heard red-tailed hawks calling overhead. The call is often used as a sound effect in movies and television shows as a kind of generic raptor call.  Click here to listen to recordings of red-tailed hawks from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Somehow I made it through the entire photo shoot without a picture of the hawk's eponymous tail. Face palm! Click here to see a previous blog with some rear views.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Great Horned Owl

Some people call great horned owls "hoot owls" for their famous calls. Click here to listen to a recording from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The great horned owl is native to the Americas and is widely distributed across the United States. You can find them from old-growth forests to suburbs and even in city parks. Click on the photo to enlarge and check out its bark-like camouflage.
Great horned owls are big birds with a wingspan of from three to five feet. Their "horns" are tufts of feathers. Note the big strong feet for grasping prey -- stylishly feathered!

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Happy Halloween

I guess owls are associated with Halloween because they are nocturnal and make spooky sounds in the dark. They can startle you, too, if they suddenly swoop past on silent wings.
The eastern screech-owl, Megascops asio, pictured above, is tiny -- only about the size of a robin, but it can definitely make spooky sounds. If you live in a shady suburb or near a city park -- any place in the eastern US where there are big trees for sitting and open areas for hunting -- you might have screech owl neighbors and not know it. UNTIL you are dozing off on a summer night with the windows open and hear their weird warbling whinny sounds outside. Click here to listen to recordings from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 
Eastern screech-owls come in two colors, the gray shown here and reddish brown. Regardless of color the patterns of both look like tree bark and are excellent camouflage. Click on the photos to enlarge.
The owl model for the photos above is a resident wildlife ambassador at the Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in Medford, New Jersey.  I took the photos during one of the occasional raptor photography sessions they host. Click here to visit the refuge's website to learn about the good work they do.
The owl is so small it fits perfectly on its handler's gloved index finger. Darned cute.

Sunday, October 20, 2019


Autumn is my favorite season. Here is an autumn poem by one of my favorite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from German by another of my favorite poets, Robert Bly.

October Day

Oh Lord, it's time. It was a great summer. 
Lay your shadow now on the sundials,
and on the open fields let the winds go! 

Give the tardy fruits the command to fill;
give them two more Mediterranean days,
drive them on into their greatness, and press
the final sweetness into the heavy wine. 

Whoever has no house by now will not build. 
Whoever is alone now, will remain alone,
will wait up, read, write long letters,
and walk along sidewalks under large trees,
not going home, as the leaves fall and blow away.  

Click to enlarge.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Going to Miss the Butterflies

As autumn begins and the days grow cold, butterflies disappear from the north. Some migrate away, some pupate to emerge next spring, others leave eggs, and some overwinter as dormant adults. I'll miss the butterflies; they are one of the best things about summer. Here are some of the beautiful butterflies of the summer of 2019. Click to enlarge, a monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus.
An orange sulphur butterfly, Colias eurytheme.
A buckeye, Junonia coenia.
A summer azure, Celastrina neglecta.
A black swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes -- the state butterfly of New Jersey!
A variegated fritillary, Euptoieta claudia.
An American lady butterfly, Vanessa virginiensis.
A spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus.
An eastern tiger swallowtail, Papilio glaucus.
A red-spotted purple butterfly, Limenitis arthemis, hanging upside down from a butterfly bush blossom showing off the red spots on its lower surface.
Bye butterflies! Turning my attention to the anticipation of the pretty things of autumn.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Stinging Rose Caterpillars

This is a stinging rose caterpillar, Parasa indetermina.  It's one of the fanciest and prettiest caterpillars ever. I saw a few of them on bayberry bushes by the side of a path at Cape May Point, New Jersey, last week. Click to enlarge. 
The last time I saw a stinging rose caterpillar was almost exactly nine years ago to the day and in the exact same spot at Cape May Point, and on bayberry leaves. Stinging rose caterpillars come in green, yellow, and orange; the ones I saw that time were all orange. I wrote a blog about it then.  Click here to read it.
This time I saw only yellow ones.  If this is a trend, I guess I can expect to see a group of green ones in that spot in 2028. They are very pretty in any color and exciting to find. If you see one, or pretty much any caterpillar covered with spikes and spines, don't touch. They don't call them stinging rose caterpillars for nothing.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Pine Barrens Gentians

I am feeling smug about having found rare pine barrens gentians. These blue autumn flowers are natives of North American coastal pine barrens from South Carolina to New Jersey. This patch was growing beside a bog near Chatsworth, New Jersey.
Some people think the pine barrens gentian is the most beautiful native flower in New Jersey.  Click to enlarge.
Love the dots on the petals like fairy dust.
The flower bud looks to me like an Art Nouveau vase. 
I found an even more rare pink one!
This one is being visited by a common branded skipper moth, Hesperia comma.
Pine barrens gentians bloom from September through early November. They are likely to sprout up in areas that have been disturbed by fire or other things.
Gentian hunting is a great excuse to take a walk in the pine barrens. It's time.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Praying Mantis

Here are some of the praying mantises of the summer of 2019.
This one is doing a good job of blending in.
Watching me. Click to enlarge.
A poem by Ogden Nash: 

From whence arrived the praying mantis? 
From outer space or lost Atlantis?
glimpse the grin, green metal mug
at masks the pseudo-saintly bug,
Orthropterous, also carnivorous,
And faintly whisper, Lord deliver us. 

The other day a mantis appeared on one of my windows. I took its picture, just a silhouette without the usual tangled background of leaves. It was easy to isolate with Photoshop to make graphics like this one. Reminds me of the Karate Kid in this pose.
And this. Gotta love a little mantis art, right?

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Yellow-Collared Scape Moth

I've seen a few of these while watching butterflies this week. It's a little moth with the scientific name Cisseps fulvicollis. They're hard to miss because of the bright collar. Some have orange collars like this one. Click to enlarge.
Here's one with a yellow collar. The moth's common name is the yellow-collared scape moth. Ironically, there are more orange than yellow ones. Luckily, an alternative common name is sometimes used. Did you guess orange-collared scape moth? Correct! I wrote a blog about this one years ago. You can read it by clicking here.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Peach Season

I went peach picking this week in southern New Jersey. It was cool in the shade and hot in the sun with a light refreshing breeze. A perfect day for picking peaches. Click to enlarge.
The orchard was full of lovely twisted trees covered with ripe easy-to-reach fruit. 
I learned that picking peaches is much easier than picking blueberries. Click here to read about my blueberry adventure in July.
I came home with about 20 pounds of peaches.
I made peach jam that tastes like summer in a jar.
It's delicious.
And I saw this lovely orange variegated fritillary butterfly, Euptoieta claudia
... and an orange flower that looks like a harbinger of autumn.