Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas!

“Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!”
        ― Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Winter Is Coming!

Astronomical winter begins in the northern hemisphere this Wednesday, December 21. It will be the shortest day of the year. After that the days will lengthen, slowly at first, then in increasing increments. In Philadelphia the sun sets today at 4:37. Next week, on Christmas day, at 4:41. Things will get brighter. That's the good news. On the other hand, I'm already pretty cold and winter hasn't even started yet. Click to enlarge.

And now a timely poem. Winter Trees by William Carlos Williams:

"All the complicated details 

of the attiring 

the disattiring are completed!

A liquid moon

moves gently among 

the long branches.

Thus having prepared their buds

against a sure winter

the wise trees

stand sleeping in the cold."

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Bird Treats!


I was walking in a Burlington County park this morning, trying to get some time outside before the rain started, when this decorated bush caught my eye. I went closer to look at the ornaments. Click to enlarge.  

Surprise! They were all edible bird treats.

Like a candy cane shaped waffle garnished with dried meal worms. 

And this waffle wedge with seeds and a cranberry.

I think the seeds and things were stuck to the waffles with peanut butter. You can also make bird treats by melting suet, pouring it into a mold, adding tasty things, and then allowing it to re-solidify.

Congratulations to whoever made these. Well done!

Sunday, December 4, 2022

December Already


This winter wren paused just long enough for one photo. It was foraging for insects among the fallen leaves. Winter wrens are common but often go unnoticed. They are tiny -- only about four inches long and weigh less than half an ounce. They sometimes are mistaken for mice as they scurry out of sight under bushes. In North America, winter wrens breed in northern Canada and then move south into most of the United States to spend the winter. Click to enlarge.

This bird sighting made me wonder how December managed to sneak up on me again. 

As Dr. Suess put it: 

How did it get so late so soon? 

It's night before it's afternoon.

December is here before it's June. 

My goodness how the time has flewn

How did it get so late so soon? 

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Blister Beetle!

A few weeks ago, before it got cold, this inch-long beetle crossed my path. It will probably be the last flashy outdoor insect of the year. It's a sensational one -- a blister beetle in the genus Meloe. Click to enlarge.

It's also called an oil beetle. They are famous for producing a defensive yellow oil from their joints when threatened. The oil contains cantharadin, which causes blistering on human skin. 

 It's also famous having a first larval stage that is radically different from its subsequent grub style larval stages. It's called a triangulan. It's tiny, kind of looks like a silverfish, and has three claws on each of its legs from which it gets the name. It's built to travel to a food source. It's only job is to hitchhike on a bee. 

Each species of Meloe beetle preys on a specific kind of ground-dwelling solitary bee. The kind of bee that makes a little nest in the ground, provisions it with pollen, and leaves eggs there to eat and grow. If the blister beetles have their way, those well planned bee babies either end up sharing their food supply or being eaten. 

Meloe triangulans can work together to do something remarkable to get to those bees. They aggregate on a plant and produce chemicals that mimic female bee pheremones. A unwitting amorous male bee attracted to the scent ends up at a ball of tiny insects that latch onto him. When he finds a real female bee to mate with some of the triagulans are transferred to her and get taken back to her nest where they drop off and start pillaging. 

What an amazing product of insect evolution crossed my path that day! 

If you see one of these -- big, dark, long body, short wing covers -- don't touch! 

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving!


One of our neighborhood turkeys. Click to enlarge.


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 on the gate.

The fires burn and the kettles sing.

The earth sinks to rest until next spring. 

Wishing you all another year filled with things to be thankful for! 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Hermit Thrush


As I stood outside one recent morning, sipping coffee and waiting to wake up, I noticed this bird near me. It stayed very still for a long time. Long enough for me to get my camera and stage a photo shoot. Was it tired from migrating? Click to enlarge.

It's a hermit thrush! Note the spotted breast and throat and the contrasting reddish tail. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology you are more likely to see a hermit thrush in the woods than in a suburban backyard. Except during migration, when one might stop by to forage.

Right again, ornithologists.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Good News Bee, er... Fly


A couple of weeks ago I was in these mountains around Centralia, PA. I was hunting for plant fossils on a big patch of exposed shale; I'll be showing off the fossils I found in an upcoming blog soon. Among many pleasant sights of the day, this...

It was buzzing around ostentatiously, making noise, and flying near me. I thought it was an aggressive wasp at first because of the bright yellow and black stripes. It flew away before I got a better look. Only after seeing the photo did I realize it was a big fly. It's a hover fly or flower fly -- a harmless wasp mimic. It's common name is the Yellowjacket Hover Fly. Click to enlarge.

You can see the tell-tale fly features: a single pair of wings, compound fly eyes, and short antennae. They presumably evade the attention of fly predators by looking like wasps. They actually are helpful pollinators and their larvae eat aphids. All good.

I am not often impressed by an insect's personality, but I felt like that fly wanted to be noticed. Later I read that in some parts of the country hover flies are called "good news bees" because of their habit of hovering nearby as if wanting to tell you something.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Daylight Savings Time -- Next Weekend

This is an early head's up for daylight savings time. It will end next weekend. Sometime between Saturday night, Nov. 5th and Sunday morning, Nov. 6th, turn your clocks back one hour. Enjoy the satisfying feeling of having slept late even though you get up at your regular time according to the clock. Click on the photo to enlarge and enjoy.

Today I had a confusing moment about DST. I am scheduled to participate in an international zoom call next Thursday. A friend who will be on the call from Warsaw told me to take note of the DST change. I assumed that meant the autumn change was upon us, but later realized that's not until NEXT weekend, after the call. So ... what was he talking about? Digging deeper I found that European countries end daylight savings time, which they call "summer time," on the last Sunday in October. Today.

Who knew? 

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Tree and Sky

It's October and the leaves are turning colors. Today is chilly and drizzling here and I am indoors sitting beside a fire. It is the perfect time for a poem! Click the photos to enlarge.

Tree and Sky 

by William Carlos Williams

-- again 

the bare brush of 

the half-broken 

and already-written 

of tree stands alone

upon its battered hummock--- 


among the shufflings

of the distant 



opens the unmoving 





Sunday, October 16, 2022

Leaf Jokes!


The leaves in the mountains around Frackville, Pa are perfectly lovely right now. I had a short trip there this week. The autumn foliage was stunning. Click to enlarge.

It reminded me of a couple of things that I think I heard first in elementary school. Like...

    What happens when winter is coming? ... Autumn leaves! 

Why is it so easy to trick an autumn leaf? ... They'll fall for anything! 

And... I mainly use the word autumn instead of fall. I hope it does not lead to my downautumn. LoL!

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Autumn Things

Autumn colors are getting better every day here in South Jersey.

Like this. Click to enlarge.

And this.

And -- from my favorite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, a stanza from the poem "Autumn:" 

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Four O'Clocks

These old-fashioned garden flowers are called four o'clocks. They are so named because their flowers open in the late afternoon between around four and eight o'clock. The flowers stay open all night and close the following morning, although sometimes remaining open on cloudy days. Click to enlarge.

I had heard that their scent was delicious so I sniffed a few recently and I can attest that they have a lovely, sweet, orangey aroma.

But why do they bloom at night? And why produce a scent anyway?

Because their pollinators are mainly moths who are attracted by scents and are active at night. It all seems perfectly logical now, right?

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Pine Barrens Gentian Time


In September I make a special trip to the New Jersey Pine Barrens to look for these beautiful rare blue pine barrens gentians, Gentiana autumnalis. Click to enlarge.

These lovely autumn flowers are natives of North American coastal pine barrens from South Carolina to New Jersey. See the sun shine through the cup! 

Some people think this is New Jersey's most beautiful native wildflower.

I love the trails of dots on the petals like fairy dust.

Pine barrens gentians bloom from September through early November.

Hunting for gentians in the pine barrens is a great way to spend an autumn afternoon!  

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Autumn Equinox This Week

Summer ends on Thursday, September 22. Let the autumn begin! After the autumnal equinox, the days will get gradually shorter until the winter solstice on December 21. No more long hazy summer twilights for us until next year. Instead we get to sit beside fires, drink hot chocolate, and think about what to be for Halloween. Click to enlarge.

Let us hope for the kind of autumn that the poet John Keats described as "a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness."

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Artistic Wasp Nests


See the little pot-shaped thing attached to the webbing of my garden chair? It was made by a mason wasp. Also called mud pot wasps and potter wasps, this group builds these little pots from soil and chewed plant material. Nice result, right?

The mother wasp stocks the pot with a sting-paralyzed insect to serve as food, lays an egg in the chamber, and seals the pot shut. The egg hatches into a larva that eats the food and then eventually digs it way out of the pot. Click to enlarge. And it's not the only cool wasp nest I found this week...

Behold the nest of an organ pipe mud-dauber wasp. This set of tubes is about 5 inches across. I found it in the eaves of a gazebo in a park where I was picnicking. Female organ pipe mud-daubers build these multi-chambered tubes, provision each with a sting-paralyzed spider, and then lay an egg and seal the chamber. Male organ pipe mud-dauber wasps stay around the nest to guard. That's a rare instance of parental care in insects. So... artistic creations and parental care. What's next, wasps?

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Happy Labor Day Weekend


This laughing gull pilfered a ketchup-dipped french fry from my picnic and is about to fly away with it. Documented theft right here. I caught him red-beaked! Let it be a reminder that -- around here, at least -- outdoor dining, laughing gulls, and summer are about to end. Have a happy Labor Day! Click to enlarge.